Many travelers visiting the archipelago of Indonesia fail to realize the hidden gems they miss out on in East Java. East Java offers rich culture and diverse natural wonders like waterfalls, volcanoes, and ancient temples. These destinations don’t often get Bali’s praise, but you’ll find that there are plenty of things to do in East Java that surpass the experiences of any Bali beach go-er.
If you are an adventure or outdoor enthusiast, then East Java will undoubtedly delight you.
Visiting Mount Bromo is a bucket list experience that allows you to climb to the rim of an active volcano; Tumpak Sewu and Madakaripura waterfalls are unlike any other you’ll see in Asia, and Kawah Ijen is considered to be the largest volcanic crater lake in the world. It also is one of the few places one can see the blue-flamed fire phenomenon! Yogyakarta hosts two of the most ancient and stunning temples Borobudur and Prambanan, rich in history and uniquely intricate architecture.
With attractions like these, it seems like you’ll have plenty of things to do in East Java!
This is a guest post by Kaylini, a travel blogger of The Curated Travelist specializing in all things Indonesia! Living in Indonesia’s stunning archipelago for several years, Kaylini is an avid traveler and cultural enthusiast. She shares her love for the country’s diverse travel destinations in her blog while exploring the well-known and hidden gems of Indonesia’s 17 000+ islands.
Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links to products, which earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps to fund my blog and bring more authentic articles to you :) Learn more
Watch the sunrise over Mount Bromo from Mount Penanjakan
This beautiful Stratovolcano is in Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park and certainly one to tick off the bucket list when planning your East Java itinerary. Very few travelers can boast of safely visiting an active volcano, but Mount Penanjakan is the place to be perched for sunrise.
At Mount Penanjakan, one can see the brilliant Mount Bromo’s iconic panoramic, along with Mount Batok and Mount Semeru (also an active volcano) sleepily in the background.
To visit this spot for sunrise involves an early start of 3 am while braving the foreign cold air and altitude of the mountain range. Here it’s important to note, though, that getting to this stunning Mount Penanjakan viewpoint simply involves a 30 minute Jeep drive from the park entrance and a short 100-meter walk to the viewpoint. So little effort, with a magnificent reward.
Watching the sun creep through the clouds and the imminent glow graze the tips of the craters is a magical experience. The stillness felt at dawn, even amongst others, is delightfully peaceful. After you’ve taken in the daybreak, your next stop will be to visit Mount Bromo itself.
Climb to the crater rim of Mount Bromo
What makes this destination so appealing is the bragging rights to having hiked up to the rim of an active volcano and the fact the supposed ‘hike’ is not a strenuous task at all.
Reaching the crater rim involves taking the jeep towards the mountain and then walking across a field of volcanic ash. Towards the slope, you find a stairway that leads to the rim of the volcano.
The staircase is not incredibly steep but much easier than having to climb up a slope with your bare hands, so a stairway is a welcome alternative.
The glory of peering into an active volcano is something not many can tout. It’s incredible. If you’ve ever wanted to experience adventure with minimal effort, then this is definitely one to choose!
Get refreshed by Madakaripura Waterfall
One of the things to do in East Java is to visit several waterfalls. Madakaripura Waterfall is one of the places where you genuinely feel the enchanting nature of East Java. Very few travelers have heard of this waterfall despite its stunning appearance. Also located in Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, this beauty is frequently visited as part of a Mount Bromo tour.
Renowned for its 200-meter towering rock face and cavern-like appearance, this watery gem is a delightful and refreshing experience. You get to this waterfall from the entrance with a beautiful walk (or motorcycle ride) through a lush green valley. En-route you’ll pass dense jungled forest and babbling smaller streams.
The walk is 200 meters but builds anticipation nicely as you hear the sound of the rushing water growing nearer. One thing to take note of is to come dressed prepared; you will most certainly get wet. Several small vendors are selling disposable raincoats and flip flops at the entrance if you choose not to.
When you do reach the waterfall, you’ll likely find yourself speechless. Taking in the view is something to be savored. A gentle mist hovers in the air, and gentle clings to your clothing. The ambiance is one of utter enchantment. The moss-covered rocks, the secluded location, and the dreamy landscape make for an incredible moment in nature.
Find tranquillity at Borobudur Temple
Not only is Borobudur temple an ancient temple dating back to the 9th Century, but it’s also the largest Buddhist temple in the world located in the heart of a predominantly Islamic country.
The Borobudur temple is one that makes for a magnificent sunrise experience but is also a photographer’s delight for its unique architectural stupas that you will see on this majestic multi-tiered temple.
Earning UNESCO status in 1991, this temple has weathered volcanic eruptions from Mount Merapi. It depicts an incredible time where the different cultures and religions lived peacefully so close to one another.
Marvel in the Hindu masterpiece of Prambanan Temple
Prambanan temple complex is comprised of over 240+ temples; however, unlike its counterpart Borobudur temple, it did not survive the volcanic eruption in Yogyakarta, which left the temple in partial ruins.
Despite this, the UNESCO heritage site remains a popular attraction to Yogyakarta in East Java, and one frequently visited with Borobudur. This temple is unique in its architecture with a spire-like structure and under continuous restoration. Numerous ancient stones and rumble remain on the grounds and give insight into the forgotten grandeur of this once mammoth structure.
Be mesmerized by a Kawah Ijen, the turquoise volcanic lake
Kawah Ijen is one of the most unusual attractions you’ll find in Indonesia and certainly makes it a must-see place in East Java. Located in the center of Mount Ijen lies Kawah Ijen or Ijen crater. It is the largest volcanic lake in the world, measuring over 20 kilometers wide.
Its turquoise milky-colored hue looks delicious but is deadly. With a depth of nearly 200 meters and an acidic pH level of less than 0.3, it’s not a lake to be taking a dip in!
This volcanic crater lake also sits at an altitude of 2,700 meters, making it a gorgeous place to watch the sunrise.
Getting to the top of this volcano will require an early and a steep walk. The positive part is that the walk is in darkness, so you thankfully won’t notice the steepness en route to the summit. Apart from it being steep, the walk is entirely paved and makes an easy trek.
Witness the phenomenon of blue flaming fire at Kawah Ijen
This is one of the few places in the world to see this incredible phenomenon; however, seeing this unique spectacle will require a little bit of effort.
To see blue fire, one has to be at the summit by 2 to 3 am at the latest; this, unfortunately, means leaving your accommodation at around midnight to reach the park post by 1 am.
The walk to the top takes approximately 45 minutes, depending on your pace. It’s relatively normal to take breaks due to the incline and the thinness of the air on the climb.
Upon reaching the summit, still shrouded in darkness and bitterly cold is where you’ll bear witness to the blue flamed fire.
The blue flames are created by the natural ignition of the sulfur deposits made by the volcanic lake. Unfortunately, the blue flames are not guaranteed daily, and the size is also dependant on the gases that day. Bearing witness to this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and, indeed, one to tick off the bucket list.
Be enchanted by Tumpak Sewu
Tumpak Sewu waterfall translates into 1000’s waterfalls in the Javanese language, and that’s exactly what it is. A giant rock face of soaring height creates a stunning waterfall curtain and exotically tropical panoramic view in the heart of East Java.
The panoramic overhead viewpoint of Tumpak Sewu waterfall is only a few steps from the ticket box and parking area and provides a birds-eye view above the towering waterfall and into the amphitheater-like valley below. Those with drone cameras will also capture the spectacular sight of the Mount Semeru volcano backdrop.
For those more adventurous travelers, you have the opportunity to venture down into the cavern of the waterfall, but it’s important to note here that the trek down to this point is not a stable one. The journey involves making-shift bamboo railings, crossing rocky streams, and a fair level of fitness and agility to get down and back up again.
The reward is certainly worth it, though. The atmosphere is dreamy. The ever-present mist from the falls, the moist vegetation, and the dizzying height of the 120-meter tall waterfall above is awe-inspiring. Equally exciting is that just a few meters away are even more waterfalls.
Take a dip at Goa Tetes Waterfall
Located left of the T-junction while making your way down the Tumpak Sewu waterfall cavern is Goa Tetes Waterfall. This delightful waterfall mirrors the smaller streams of Tumpak Sewu but has a hollowed cave area over which the streams fall. Goa Tetes is not to be missed if you visit Tumpak Sewu Waterfall’s lower viewpoint as it’s only a few meters away.
Visit the rainbow village of Jodipan in Malang
Located in the city of Malang is a burst of vibrant color, making it one of the necessary things to do in East Java! In Javanese, Kampung Warna Warni Jodipan, this area of the town, was considered a slum. However, in 2016, a group of savvy university students changed the area’s tenants’ imminent eviction trajectory by reviving the location with a splash of color. Partnered with a local paint company, the student painted vibrant colors and added murals and brightly colored-covered umbrella alleyways. This location is an absolute feast for the eyes!
How to get to East Java
Reaching East Java is no difficult task as these attractions are thankfully not very remote. For international visitors flying into Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta will be your first stop. Then a second flight or train ride to Yogyakarta to visit Borobudur and Prambanan temples as you make your way East to the other attractions by flight, car, or train.
If you are flying into Bali first, you’ll likely start with Kawah Ijen and make your way west ending with the Yogyakarta temple. There are plenty of tours that take the burden out of these domestic travel arrangements.
10 travel tips for visiting East Java
- Indonesia only has two seasons: wet season (November to April) and dry season (May to November). These destinations are best visited during the dry season, preferably from May to July.
- Visiting these locations will not involve camping as the major cities are nearby, and hotels and hostels can be found in Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Malang, and Banyuwangi.
- Make sure you have comfortable outdoor shoes as well as a warm jacket and clothes for visiting Mount Bromo and Kawah Ijen at sunrise.
- Pack swimwear for taking a dip at the waterfalls Madakaripura, Tumpak Sewu, and Goa Tetes
- Include a set of aqua boots with grip if you are going to the lower viewpoint of the Tumpak Sewu waterfall
- Also, have some small cash notes for tipping the local guides, they are vastly different from those in Bali and do appreciate the smallest of gestures.
- When visiting the temples, dress appropriately (no stomach showing or inappropriately short shorts). Most foreigners will be asked to wear a sarong to cover their knees at Borobudur temple – including men.
- At all of these sites, drone photography is permitted except the temples.
- Using a tour company or tour guides is recommended for these destinations. Certain places will require you to speak the local language as these areas do not have an English-speaking population like the other main cities of Bali and Jakarta.
- Tour packages for East Java often include Mount Bromo, Madakaripura waterfalls, and Kawah Ijen but can often be customized.