The very name Java conjures up evocative images of steamy jungle, smoking volcanoes, emerald green rice terraces, tea and coffee plantations. It is an island of ancient temple complexes, historic mosques, old colonial grandeur and modern cities, where skyscrapers loom alongside streets of rickety shacks and glittering shopping plazas stand amid the traditional street stalls and markets.
Not only is Java Indonesia’s capital island, it is also its most populous and cosmopolitan region. Over half the country’s 260 million inhabitants can be found here, living on an island half the size of Great Britain. But while Java’s cities are bursting with industrious humanity, the countryside remains scarcely populated, humming to a much quieter and gentler vibe. The landscape is dominated by volcanoes, vivid green rice paddies and the fruit, spice, tea and coffee plantations that Java is known for.
Java’s cultural heritage includes the influential Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms that held court on the island during the first millennium, elements of which are still visible today, most famously in the ancient Hindu temple complex at Prambaran and the Buddhist complex at Borobudur, which has some of the largest and most complete collections of Buddhist relief sculptures in the world. In fact, the spectacular temples at Borobudur are Indonesia’s top tourist attraction. The spread of Islam during the 16th century has also left a lasting impression on Java and most of the population are Muslim. Over the following 500 years, European powers struggled for influence, with the Dutch taking control of the lucrative spice trade, leaving a legacy of old colonial architecture in their wake.
Today, Java is an intoxicating mix of traditional customs and modernity, of fast-paced urban development and rural idylls, of eight-lane highways and active volcanoes, which we think makes it an exciting place to travel and explore. For those wishing to visit Java’s urban areas, nowhere epitomises the extremes of poverty and wealth, modernity and tradition, like the capital city, Jakarta. The traffic is crazy, but the people are friendly, the markets are vibrant and the bar and restaurant scene thriving. The same can be said for Surabaya, but both cities still retain some old colonial charms where you can slow the pace and cool off with a long drink. Yogyakarta is Java’s cultural, artistic and intellectual centre. This is a lovely city to visit and highlights include the Royal Palace, where the sultan still reigns supreme, and visiting the Prambanan temple complex. Owing to the large number of students here, the bar and restaurant scene is especially lively.
No trip to Java would be complete without visiting at least one volcano. Watch the sunrise over the other-worldly landscape of Mount Bromo or head to Ijen Crater to see its trademark bright blue waters as you share the winding the trail with miners carrying sulphur-laden baskets from the crater floor. The countryside is lovely, full of rice paddies and plantations and it’s worth spending some time in rural Java just to relax into the gentle rhythm and pace of life here.