15 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN EAST JAVA, INDONESIA
East Java is a land unlike no other. Most regions boast one or two-star attractions but what I found on my road trip is that each day just kept getting better. The next waterfall just got bigger and bigger and the volcanoes became more and more impressive. After 10 days exploring East Java by car, I was blown away. We hired a car in Surabaya when we landed and road tripped to all the popular spots but also found some lesser-known gems along the way. In this guide, I will share with you a list of the best things to do in East Java, Indonesia. I’ll also share with you a suggested itinerary and some helpful tips for your visit to the region.
- At the bottom of this blog post, I have included a map with the 10-day road trip route and the entire day-by-day itinerary. Hope that helps you guys plan out your East Java adventure!
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ARRIVING AT EAST JAVA
Most people will fly to Surabaya airport but it is also possible to take the ferry from Bali, which is another popular option. The third way to arrive at East Java is by train, car or bus from central or western Java.
MOTORBIKE OR CAR FOR EAST JAVA ROAD TRIP
Before arriving in East Java, I could never have imagined wanting to rent a car in Southeast Asia. I mean to be fair the roads are mayhem and only locals who have grown up navigating the craziness can usually handle the traffic and the maneuvers required to survive the drive. However, I had a tip-off from a friend that a car would be beneficial for our trip given the long distances between key attractions.
We decided to rent a car and found some numbers online once we landed in Surabaya. Within an hour of waiting at a cafe, we had a company drive a car down to us. We negotiated 300,000 rupiahs per day for a very new, white SUV. That comes out to about 20 USD at the time with the transfer rate. Split between two of us we were paying $10 a day for transport. In our 10 day journey, we filled up the gas 3 times (like I said a lot of driving), which cost us $25 USD each time. So, let’s say about $15 per day each for gas and transport for the entire trip!
A motorbike or moped would cost anywhere from $6-10 a day depending on your negotiation skills and availability. Gas is a few dollars per tank.
So why the car? There were often drives of 6 hours. For example from Tumpak Sewu to Ijen crater you are looking at a six-hour journey. We didn’t even make that journey we stopped halfway and it was still a mammoth drive. You need to focus every second as cars tend to drive on the wrong side of the directly at you, forget they have the ability to indicate and try and overtake you in gaps that they create! We felt much safer in the car and were much more comfortable in the piercing heat. It made it easy to navigate as my passenger, Nic, assumed that role for the trip and we actually did a lot of planning and research in the car on the way to destinations. It also meant we didn’t have to unpack and pack everything we owned every time we moved.
The last huge bonus was storing things. When we did a hike or visited a waterfall, we simply took our camera backpacks and left everything else scattered in the car. I love moped and motorbike adventures don’t get me wrong and usually, I would snub the car but for East Java, if you plan to cover it all, I would highly recommend the car. If you are solo it is a toss-up as the car may be a bit pricey.
Sidenote: we rented a moped for one day because we thought it would be fun to whip around at Mount Bromo. We weren’t wrong.
HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED FOR EAST JAVA
We spent 10 days and are efficiency ninjas when it comes to adventuring and seeing lots of spots. You know those people who are somewhere for sunrise, mid-morning, lunch, afternoon and sunset. Even with our level of intensity, we didn’t come close to visiting all the spots we wanted to. I know not everyone has the same desire to see every inch of the destination like myself so with that in mind, I would recommend 7-10 days for the regular traveler. For the traveler who likes to spend two nights in a place cause they like to do it a bit more relaxed you won’t be bored with 2 weeks. 7 days is the minimum in my book. Anything less than that and you will be visiting only the common, popular destinations. I call those surface scraper trips and while they are fun, you get some great photos, you kind of miss the point of the adventure sometimes. 7-10 days minimum and you will be golden for the trip of a lifetime! Trust me. If you don’t trust me I have created the entire itinerary below so you can see that you will waste no second and even with 10 days you will be tired the entire time as East Java kicks your ass but wow she is beautiful so it is damn worth it!
THINGS TO DO IN EAST JAVA
Okay, enough about the logistics and my advice. Let’s get into these epic spots. These are all the natural, adventurous spots but East Java does have a lot of interesting mosques and points of interest in the cities if that is your cup of tea. On this blog, I stick to the adventures. I’m going to put these in the order we visited them to help you plan your trip. I will, however, post my itinerary below. (We, of course, missed out on several spots like hiking Semeru and other awesome activities but you can’t do it all and there is always next time! Most of the places on the list below have an individual blog post with more details and photos so you can click on the link to read those if you need. So here we go…
JODIPAN VILLAGE (THE COLORFUL VILLAGE & THE BLUE VILLAGE)
Only twenty minutes from Malang is a curious village called Kampung Warna-Warni Jodipan. This village was struggling. It was dilapidated, polluted and struggling to build a healthy community. Eight students from a nearby university, who were studying event management, decided to apply their knowledge to a real-world situation. Partnering with a local paint company, the students created a social responsibility project. 6,000 pounds of colorful paint was donated and the run-down city was transformed into a colorful village with a bright future.
The village now has a small entrance fee for tourists (only 30 US cents) and the colors have brought in much-needed interest and financing for a village that needed a boost. Tourists will often buy a drink, lunch or souvenirs from the locals. The standard of living has risen and has inspired members of the community to continue improving the village with projects like improving the sanitation and pollution.
One on side of the bridge is the ‘Colorful village’ and on the other side is an entirely blue village (Kampung Biru Arema). In a similar fashion, this village has been painted entirely blue.
COBAN TALUN WATERFALL
Coban Talun is a beautiful waterfall in Batu City near Malang in East Java. It’s only a 20-minute walk along a sandy trail before you can enjoy the stunning waterfall, viewpoints, and caves. As well as the waterfall there is a camping ground and a specialized photography/hangout area with photo perches, wings, and other cool photo opportunities.
Once we reached the bottom of the falls, there were a number of huts set up but it seemed they were only used in high season. We had the whole place to ourselves at 9 am in the morning. There are several cool rocks, which make great spots to take photos but our favorite area was down at ground level in the pool of water. It was freezing but incredible to watch the water trickling down the waves. You can also explore inside the caves behind the waterfall.
Definitely try and visit this waterfall in the rainy season. It was still cool during the dry season but would be 10x more epic with a huge flow of water crashing down!
Need more information? Full blog post: Coban Talun Waterfall
TUMPAK SEWU WATERFALL
Tumpak Sewu Waterfall (also known as Coban Sewu) is arguably Indonesia’s best waterfall. It isn’t the largest, even in East Java, but is definitely the most impressive. From above it looks like the tree of life, from below it is immensely powerful and from all angles, it is quite simply mind-blowing.
The first thing you want to do on your Tumpak Sewu Waterfall adventure from Lumajang is to wake up early. Be at the Tumpak Sewu viewpoint for sunrise. Although the sun won’t be on the waterfall, this is actually what you want. The fog is beautiful in the morning and creates a mystical atmosphere. In the background, Semeru Volcano will be giving you a beautiful backdrop, while Tumpak Sewu slowly comes into focus as the light increases.
Get down to Tumpak Sewu Waterfall on ground level before the sun rises over the waterfall. The trail is right next to the viewpoint where you were for sunrise. It takes about 10-15 minutes to walk down into the canyon and then about another 5 minutes to walk through the canyon to the waterfall.
The trail down is pretty sketchy with bamboo ladders and sections where you are walking through small streams but it is nothing too crazy. Just be prepared and definitely wear shoes, not flip-flops.
Once you reach the canyon you start to get an idea of the scale of the walls. You are an ant within the gorge and you know you are about to witness something incredible. After turning the final corner you will never forget the moment you enter the cauldron at the foot of Tumpak Sewu Waterfall. It is pure magic with more than thirty different waterfalls plummeting down into the cauldron into tiny pools below.
Need more information? Full blog post: Tumpak Sewu Waterfall in Lumajang
GOA TETES WATERFALL
Goa Tetes Waterfall in Lumajang, East Java was one of the most surprising places on our ten day travels throughout the region. We came to visit Tumpak Sewu, the famous waterfall nearby and were recommended to stop past Goa Tetes Waterfall on the way back. It was an incredible sight in its own right with unbelievable caves inside the waterfall. It was the most unique waterfall we visited in all of East Java!
Goa Tetes is essentially a collection of caves and waterfalls all the way up the cliff. You walk up the stream until you reach the caves. From here the adventure is up to you with so many different caves to explore. We scaled one cave in particular and it went really far back into darkness, while the waterfall poured down over the top of us. Absolutely incredible!
Need more information? Full blog post: Goa Tetes Waterfall in Lumajang
KABUT PELANGI WATERFALL
Kabut Pelangi was one of my favorite waterfalls in East Java. The waterfall crashes down into the amphitheater below, which is covered in lush green plants. The trek down to Kabut Pelangi takes about 25 minutes in total. The trail is paved a lot of the way and when it’s not the conditions aren’t very difficult.
The 100m+ Kabut Pelangi is an incredible sight. The force it generates when it hits the pool below is incredible and this is definitely not a place you want to go swimming! Kabut Pelangi translates to waterfall rainbow mist. If you catch the conditions at the right time you will be able to see a rainbow in the mist at the bottom of the waterfall!
Need more information? Full blog post: Kabut Pelangi Waterfall
KAPAS BIRU WATERFALL
Kapas Biru Waterfall is amazing. One huge, thundering stream of water crashes down from what seems like 100m. The pool at the bottom of the waterfall is smashed with the force of the crashing water. It then streams down the river, which has scattered rocks and plants throughout making it a beautiful lead up to the waterfall.
Need more information? Full blog post: Kapas Biru Waterfall
COBAN SRITI WATERFALL
From Kapas Biru, it takes about 20 minutes of scrambling across rocks and river crossings to reach Coban Sriti Waterfall. Two huge streams of water plummet down at least 100 meters onto the huge rocks below. The rocks below must have cracked off the cliff at some stage as they are the size of houses!
At the base of this waterfall, it is incredibly slippery and cold! We hung out here and took photos for a while. It was about 9 am when we arrived and the lighting was quite harsh. I would suggest arriving here just after sunrise or later on in the afternoon but during the harsh sun, it was not easy at all to take photos due to the difference in shadows and light areas.
My favorite part of this area was the huge cauldron. The walls of the cliffs are completely smooth and they seem to encapsulate you as you enjoy the waterfall.
Need more information? Full blog post: Coban Sriti Waterfall
Papuma Beach is a white sand beach with amazing crystal clear blue water! We had no idea it would be so popular. We had to pay 45,000 rupiah, which is only about $3.50 USD but one of the more expensive tickets we paid throughout our time in East Java.
The beach itself is beautiful. It has those crystal clear waters and white sand combinations that people dream of on vacations. Colorful boats line the beach, waiting to take tourists on a voyage around the nearby rocky islets.
The rocky islets make a great backdrop for a fun day of hanging out in the sun with that refreshing blue water waiting there for you all day! It is a popular spot with a huge carpark and multiple restaurants. It is not for people looking to have a private beach type of experience. It would be perfect for a family who prioritizes facilities, restaurants, and ease of access over the adventure.
Need more information? Full blog post: Papuma Beach
PAYANGAN BEACH & VIEWPOINT
Payangan Beach is a pretty unique black sand beach. There are several hill viewpoints here such as Teluk Love and Bukit Domba. We decided to climb up Bukit Domba, which was right next to the black sand beach. The entry was $1 USD and it was a bit full on with huts and paths everywhere. It wasn’t very natural at all but still cool to get up there for a good view of the region.
There are lots of spot for photos out over the beach and huts to relax in. It seemed to be a hotspot for local couples to hang out and chat in the huts. After climbing up the viewpoint in the hot sun, we headed back to refresh in the waters on the black sand beach. Don’t go out of your way to visit Payangan in my opinion, but if you go to Papuma it is only five minutes away so it’s worth an hour extra of your day. Also, I should mention that it will look much nicer with green hills in the rainy season but we visited in the dry season so the hills look brown and dead.
Need more information? Full blog post: Payangan Beach and viewpoint
PULAU MERAH AT RED ISLAND
Pulau Merah was a beautiful spot. In fact, it was probably one of my favorite sunset spots in all of East Java. There is a huge rocky island out in the ocean, almost like Cannon Beach in Oregon. The water is warm, and the waves are good enough to surf. After a long driving day, we really enjoyed watching the sun go down over the layered mountains in the distance. The reflections on the sand from the receding water made for some special photos. The photos below are from sunset and sunrise as we decided to stay the night at Red Island/Pulau Merah.
CYPRESS TREE TUNNEL: JAWATA BENCULUK
Jawata Benculuk as it is known in Bahasa is an epic collection of Cypress Trees just out of Genteng Town. The spot has become increasingly popular and now there are many treehouses and other interesting structures built in the area. The tree tunnels are one of the most unique things to visit in East Java.
The cypress trees are phenomenal. Vines hang from all of the twisted branches. In a moody fog they look straight out of a horror film and when the sun shines through it looks like a magical forest. There is no bad weather to visit this forest.
Need more information? Full blog post: Cypress Tree Tunnel: Jawata Benculuk
HIKE IJEN CRATER
Waking up in the middle of the night and trekking up and then inside a crater sound enticing? Add a gas mask and walk into a cloud of sulfur gas while watching blue flames. Enticed yet? You should be. Ijen Crater is one of the most epic adventures in East Java.
We reached the tip of the crater edge after about an hour of pretty mild climbing and saw there was already quite a crowd. They were all headed down to the blue flame, which occurs near the huge cloud of sulfur gas pouring out of the pipes. Sulfur mining has been underway at Ijen Crater since 1968. The combustion of the sulfuric gases creates a blue glow, which has become famous as the ‘blue lame of Ijen Crater’. I’m sorry but I didn’t fancy coughing on sulfur for 20 minutes to shoot a long exposure of the blue flame. To be honest it is something best enjoyed with the eye.. for 2 minutes then get the hell out!
After the blue flame expedition, you head on further up and around the crater rim to the ‘sunrise spot’. It is an interesting spot because a huge mountain actually blocks most of the sunrise. There are some brick bunkers and structures to shelter in as you wait. This is where most of the crowd will be or back at the blue flame area. Many don’t continue on further than the blue flame as you can actually enjoy the sunrise from anywhere around the crater so for most people that is enough walking for one day!
We decided that we would get away from the crowd and headed further around the rim to an epic knife-edge section that is very dangerous. It was here that we really enjoyed the epic nature and grand scale of Ijen Crater. With no-one else around, huge drop-offs and the ever-changing gas clouds billowing out from the pipes, we felt in a land far, far away.
Need more information? Full blog post: Hiking Ijen Crater
ISLAND HOPPING: TABUHAN AND MENJANGAN ISLAND
The Banyuwangi region of East Java is home to some of the best beaches Java has to offer. I did an island hopping tour to three locations with Bangsring Underwater tours. We visited Tabuhan Island, Menjangan Island and Rumah Apung.
Menjangan Island is actually accessible quite easily from West Bali National Park. We could have swum over to Bali from Menjangan Island, which was pretty cool. The island is 3,800Ha and it’s Savannah terrain is home to unique Javan Rusa deer known as ‘Menjangan’, which is how the island received its name.
There are a couple of beaches on Menjangan with white sand and clear water. There are many great spots to relax on this tropical island and with warm crystal clear water it is perfect. However, the best activities are in the water. The snorkeling and diving at Menjangan Island are great! Corl gardens and extensive marine life make it a perfect spot for snorkelers and scuba divers.
Tabuhan Island was my favorite part of the whole trip. This island was completely empty except for us. The water was incredible. It looked like drinking water it was so clear with the sun making beautiful patterns on the sand beneath the surface.
Tabuhan is only 5 hectares large but as you can see the reef below the surface is actually quite large in itself. In just fifteen minutes you can circle the entire island.
Need more information? Full blog post: Tabuhan Island & Menjangan Island Boat Tour
Madakaripura Waterfall or Air Terjun Madakaripura as it is known locally is one of the most spectacular waterfalls not only in East Java and Indonesia but also in the world.
The first part of Madakaripura Waterfall is actually just the lead-up to the main waterfall but it is equally impressive. Water streams down the lush green walls into the river below. For most of the way you can walk through the river without getting wet but there are some points you have to pass through the falling water. This is truly one of the most magical spots I have ever been.
The main waterfall crashes down into a pool that is a vivid turquoise color. The waterfall is inside a narrow keyhole amphitheater. About 80m in length and 30m in width this is a small area. When you look up you can see the leafy walls curving around you, which is an amazing feeling.
Need more information? Full blog post: Madakaripura Waterfall
KING KONG HILL SUNRISE VIEWPOINT
After freezing our butts off driving the mopes for 2 hours, we reached King Kong Hill for sunrise. Well not quite, we made it to a hill nearby. King Kong Hill is super packed but there are tons of different viewpoints nearby. The viewpoints all look out over the ‘Sea of Sand’. Inside this sea of sand are five volcanoes, one of which is Mount Bromo. The ridges on the volcanoes are just insane and I promise you this is one of the most epic landscapes you will ever witness at sunrise in your life!
Need more information? Full blog post: Mount Bromo without a tour
HIKE UP MOUNT BROMO
Mount Bromo is one of the most incredible volcanoes in the world. It just so happens to be surrounded by several other volcanoes in one of the most magnificent landscapes you will ever set eyes on.
Mount Bromo (known as Gunung Bromo in the local language of Bahasa) is an active volcano. It is part of the Tengger Massif region in East Java, Indonesia, which is one of the most visited tourist attractions in all of East Java and even Java itself. The volcano is part of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. If you are wondering what the term ‘Bromo’ means you are correct if you guessed it held some great significance. It is derived from the Javanese pronunciation of ‘Brahma, which is the Hindu creator god.
It’s really an epic half-day adventure. After the sunrise at King Kong Hill, you go hang out in the ‘Sea of Sand’ on your motorbike or in your tour jeep. Finally, you hike up Mount Bromo to the summit where you will see an astounding crater that literally looks like hell on earth as it bubbles with sulfur at the bottom of the massive pit.
Need more information? Full blog post: Mount Bromo without a tour
EAST JAVA ITINERARY
- Arrive Surabaya
- Rent Car
- Drive to Malang
- Stay the night in Malang
- Sunrise at Jodipan colorful village and blue village
- Coban Talun Waterfall
- Drive to Lumajang
- Stay the night in Lumajang
- Tumpak Sewu panoramic viewpoint for sunrise
- Tumpak Sewu short hike to the base of the waterfall
- Goa Tetes Waterfall
- Kabut Pelangi Waterfall
- Stay the night in Lumajang
- Coban Sriti Waterfall
- Kapas Biru Waterfall
- Stay the night in Lumajang
- Drive to Papuma Beach
- Papuma Beach
- Payangan Beach and viewpoint
- Drive to Red Island (Pulau Merah)
- Sunset at Pulau Merah
- Stay the night at Red Island
- Green Bay Beach (costs $15 we arrived and left due to the fee, it did look nice though)
- Drive to Banyuwangi
- Visit the Cypress tree tunnel: Jawata Benculuk
- Visit Pantai Boom for sunset
- Stay the night in Banyuwangi town (sleep from 8-midnight then leave for Ijen)
- At midnight head to Ijen Crater
- Hike Ijen Crater
- Drive to Watudodol
- Stay the night in Watudodol
- Island hopping to Tabuhan Island and Menjangan Island
- Drive to Probollingo
- Stay the night in Probollingo
- Visit Madakaripura Waterfall
- Other waterfalls in the area if you have any energy left by this point!
- Prepare for Bromo
- Stay the night in Probollingo
- Leave Probollingo at 2 am and drive to Bromo
- King Kong Hill for sunrise
- Hike to Bromo summit
- Drive back to Probollingo
- Drive back to Surabaya
Most epic Indonesian road trip ever is complete!
EAST JAVA MAP
I’ve created the map below to show you how the journey will look. We received a lot of local advice on our route and everything was done for a specific reason. I’m sure there are many ways to do things but I know it is great to visualize the journey first and then you can pick and choose which things you definitely want to do and work that into your time frame. As you can see on the map, it begins in Surabaya and then follows the itinerary I’ve written out above.