Java is the most densely populated island in Indonesia, with over 140 million inhabitants.
But you wouldn’t know it. As soon as you’re out of the main cities you feel like you’ve gone back in time. It’s rural, isolated and feels untouched by tourists. You can go days, even weeks, without seeing another foreigner. Which is strange, ‘cos Java is well worth visiting.
The island hosts 38 volcanoes that rise up to the sky – many of which you can trek as long you don’t mind your shoes melting on the lava (no joke). Both coasts are graced with world class waves that are seldom ridden and there’s plenty of culture and ancient temples to feast your eyes on…if that’s your vibe. Plus it’s cheap. Really cheap. But what really makes the place are the people. And they’re the smiliest, friendliest bunch you’ll ever meet.
Cimaja is a 3 to 4 hour drive from Jakarta on the west coast. It’s a small surf town with a small town vibe. Everyone knows everyone’s business. And most people will know you within the week. When I first turned up, I thought I was the only tourist there. But within the hour, I saw a few other travelling surfers lurking about. There’s also a few interesting ex-pats living there. They’re either trying to find themselves, or lose themselves further.
The main attraction in Cimaja is the surf. Right in town is a right hand rocky point break. It bowls up and can be heaps of fun.
There’s also a left hand river mouth break just out of town that needs a big swell.
An hour from Cimaja is Sarwana, a quality, powerful left hand reef break.
There’s many other spots around, including some very isolated waves only accessible by boat. But best to ask about those when ya get there.
There’s also some hot springs around 10kms out of town which are well worth a visit.
Things to DO in Cimaja:
• Surf Cimaja point
• Scooter to Sarwana beach. On the road there, the locals will scream and wave at you like you’re some type of superstar.
• Go to the hot springs, where geysers shoot out to the sky and there are plenty of natural hot pools to chill out in.
• Hire a local boat and go fishing or to isolated surf spots.
• Become mates with the many friendly locals.
• Drink the day away at Sunset Plaza then once the confidence is up, stumble downstairs for karaoke.
Places to STAY in Cimaja:
• Daun Daun (on the main road). Super friendly staff. Surfboard hire. 5 minute walk to main break. Nice clean, rooms with A/C. Around 100,000-150,000 per night ($10-15)
• Sunset Plaza. The ex-pat owner has a few stories to share over many a beer. Right on the beach with great views, a pool and very good western food – from wagyu steaks to wood-fire pizza. Starting from around 300,000 rps a night ($30).
• Cimaja Square. Right near the main break. Nice place with cable tv, pool table and cool Dutch lady owner. Not sure how much it is a night.
The view from Sunset Plaza
GETTING to Cimaja :
Bus from Jakarta to Bogor. Then take another bus to Pelabuhan Ratu. From here you could take a small bus to Cimaja or a taxi as is only 15 mins away.
Or Hire a private driver from Jakarta for around 750,000 rps ($75) Be sure to buy your driver a feed when you stop.
Pacitan is a quiet little beach village a few hours drive from Yogyakarta in Central Java. The place is mellow, the people are mellow, and the waves are mellow. (Although super heavy breaks aren’t far away).
It has a a long left hand surf point by the river mouth. It’s pretty relaxed out there so the bigger the swell the better really.
Places to STAY in Pacitan:
- Harry’s Surf accommodation is the place to stay. Good little vibe going on there, friendly owners. Dorm bed from 30,000 ($3) to private room with A/C and bathroom 110,000 ($11).
- There’s another couple of places along the main beach road but I didn’t stay there so can’t comment on them.
Things to DO in Pacitan:
- Surf the sandy point break or learn to surf on the beach breaks.
- Go to the hot springs (about 40 minutes out of town)
- Go to Srau beach and Watu Karas, a big wave surf spot that Bruce Irons put on the map.
- Eat very good (and cheap) seafood at Seafood Plaza restaurant.
GETTING to Pacitan:
Get yourself to Yogyakarta first by a domestic airline such as Lion Air. In Yoyga you can get a mini van to Pacitan from around 80-120,000 rupees depending on whether they charge you for your surfboard or not.
Drink in the culture or just drink. Jogyakarta in Central Java has it all. It’s the island’s most touristy city and for good reason. There’s all sorts of cultural stuff to see, like the world’s biggest buddhist temple, Borobudur. Jogya is also the gateway for volcano trekking. Plus there’s other touristy things like river rafting available and a backpacker district. Again, people are so friendly here you kinda just want them to take you home and adopt you.
Things to DO in Yogyakarta:
- Visit Borobudur (Buddhist) and Prambanan (Hindu) temple ruins. Not cheap (around $20 entry each but overall a good experience, if a little touristy).
- Visit the active volcano, Mount Merapi, only 26kms from Jogya.
- Go river rafting.
- Hang, shop, drink in the backpacker street of Jalan Maliboro.
Places to STAY in Yogyakarta:
I stayed in EDU hostel.
80,000 ($8) for a dorm bed with free breakfast.
Very clean, very well run, very cheap, very helpful staff. But was a little soul-less. If you’re looking for more of a backpackery vibe, then I heard Via Via is good or other places in the Maliboro district.
GETTING to Yogyakarta:
I travelled to Jogyakarta from Pelabuhan Ratu (near Cimaja). I took 2 buses to get to Bandung. Then a train from Bandung to Yogyakarta. It’s about a 16 hour mission.
On this mission, I had a good experience and a bad experience.
The Bad Experience: On the bus to Bandung the bus ticket guy was a rapscallion of the worst kind. He tried to charge me four times the ticket price because I had a surfboard. I offered to pay double the rate to cover the board (even though it was stored in the luggage compartment under the bus). This wasn’t enough for the greedy devil though. He started yelling at me in Indonesian, the word tourist being flung around angrily. I held my ground though. He ended up sitting with me at the back of the bus. He just sat there smoking, staring at me. Jerk.
The Good Experience: On the train to Yogyakarta the train steward offered me some strange looking food.
I said “What is it?”
To which he replied with a big grin: “I don’t know sir. But it’s delicious”.
That was a good enough sell for me. And he was right. It was delicious.
A sprawling metropolis where east meets west….but it’s a bit of a shit-hole really. The people are super friendly though.
You’ll spend a lot of your time stuck in traffic studying bumpers. When I was there, it rained a lot and many parts of the city were flooded, so this may have distorted my view of the place. Apparently a few years before, the city got so flooded a few took to the streets in jet-skis. Rad.
Things to DO in Jakarta:
- Visit China town.
- Eat street food at the local warungs.
- Go drinking in the CBD.
- Get stuck in traffic.
Places to STAY in Jakarta:
I stayed at 6 Degrees hostel. Really well run, clean rooms, good vibe and friendly Irish owner.
There are dorms, single rooms and doubles.
Price ranges from about 120,000 to 230,000 rps for a double (I think).
GETTING TO Jakarta city from airport:
From the airport it’s at least an hour to the city. Taxi fare was around 150,000 rupees ($15).
If you’re on a budget and know where you’re going you could take a bus.