There’s a standard backpacker route that most people follow when they explore Indonesia’s largest and most populated island of Java. The journey starts in Yogyakarta where tourists come to see the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites Borobudur and Prambanan. After a short stop in the heart of Java backpackers move on to East Java to watch the sunrise over Bromo and Ijen volcanoes.
It’s an amazing route that combines the cultural highlights of central Java with the striking beauty of the landscapes of East Java. This journey through Java takes a minimum of seven days. Three days are spent in Yogyakarta and four days are spent in East Java.
To help you organise your trip, I’ve created this easy to follow guide for exploring Java on a backpacker’s budget in just one week. Let’s get started…
Of course, if you have longer, you can linger for a while to soak up the atmosphere of this special part of Indonesia. Check out this one month Indonesia itinerary for more ideas of places to go in Java!
Day 1, 2 and 3: Exploring Yogyakarta
The Yogyakarta part of the itinerary is actually pretty simple. Depending on where you are coming from, probably the easiest way to get to Yogyakarta is to fly. You can catch an international flight directly to Yogyakarta Airport from neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia. Yogyakarta Airport also has connections to Bali, Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, and most other popular spots in the country. If you are going to fly and you’re on a budget I recommend AirAsia as it’s the most reliable budget airline.
Accommodation in Yogyakarta is also easy to find. To make the most of your time in Yogyakarta I recommend finding a hotel around either Jalan Prawirotaman or Jalan Malioboro. I personally prefer Jalan Prawirotaman, because it has a nice Bohemian vibe with good restaurants, bars and cafes all within walking distance. Jalan Malioboro is more famous with backpackers even though the area is more crowded and the restaurants and cafes are not as good. For more ideas on where to stay, check out our guide to Yogkyakarta here.
There are a lot of things to do and see in Yogyakarta, not least the famous Buddhist temple Borobodur, as well as the Kratan Palace and the Water Castle. You can easily spend three days enjoying the sights andatmosphere of the city. If you have more time you may like to attempt a climb of the active volcano, Mount Merapi. My personal favourite tourist destination in Yogyakarta is the Goa Jomblang Cave. You can see why I recommend it by just looking at the photo below.
Day 4: Getting to East Java
From Yogyakarta the easiest way to get to East Java is by train. If you are planning to go direct to Mount Bromo, which is what I would recommend, then you should book the train to Banyuwangi. You can find a guide of how to get from Yogyakarta to Probolinggo by train along with train timetables here. Once you have arrived in Probolinggo you will want to get to Cemoro Lawang, which overlooks Bromo Volcano. The cheapest way to do this is to catch a small bus from outside the train station to Cemoro Lawang. The journey by bus takes about 2 hours. It’s a beautiful journey along a winding road that goes up into the highlands of Java.
Cemoro Lawang is a beautiful place to stay, but accommodation here is basic and expensive when compared to Yogyakarta. I’d recommend staying at one of the hotels that has a direct view of Bromo. My personal favourite is Lava View Lodge, which is one of the better hotels in Cemoro Lawang, has a great breakfast and offers beautiful views of Bromo Volcano.
Day 5: Bromo Jeep Tour
Tourists who visit Bromo come here for the sunrise. To view the sunrise you have two options or get a jeep rental. Personally I enjoyed the jeep rental. I saw a lot of people walking who looked like they were regretting their decision to walk last time I visited! So, if you’re lazy like me – opt for a jeep! There’s a great guide on hiking Mount Bromo and what to expect in this article here.
On a side note there is actually an industry of people on motorbikes who pick up tourists who decided to walk and realised that they couldn’t make it. These last minute lifts cost almost as much as the jeep rental. If you’re really determined to walk, keep in mind there is a good chance you will miss the actual sunrise. I digress…
Day 6: Probolinggo to Banyuwangi
The next stop on the Java Tour is Banyuwangi, which is on the tip of Java opposite the island of Bali. There are three ways you can get to Banyuwangi from Probolinggo; bus, train or car. If you have the money I would recommend a car rental. This is the most convenient way to get from Probolinggo to Banyinwangi. A car rental with gas and a driver from Probolinggo to Banyuwanggi will cost you from Rp 800,000- Rp 1,000,000.
Alternatively you can get a train from Probolinggo direct to Banyuwangi. While this is cheaper you will spend a lot of time waiting around and then have to pay for transport to take you from the train station to your hotel in Banyuwangi. Banyuwangi is a port town. It’s not very attractive and there is not much to do in the city. My recommendation would be to check into your hotel, have a shower and simply relax, because whatever form of transport you chose it will have taken you a long time to reach the port. Trust me, you’ll need your energy for later.
Day 7: The Ijen Midnight Tour
Ijen Volcano is the highlight of Banyuwangi. The volcano looms over the town. If you haven’t heard of it before, Ijen is a working sulphur mine. The sulphur colours everything inside of the volcano a bright yellow. There is a turquoise crater lake and sulphur smoke billows out of the crater. The combination of these factors gives Ijen a unique appearance, which attracts tourists from all over the world. Yet the most famous thing about Ijen is the blue fire!
The sulphur gas igniting as it leaves the vents inside of the volcano crater at a temperature of 800 degrees causes the blue flames of Ijen. While the gas catching alight happens all day this phenomenon can only be seen when the sunsets. For this reason I strongly recommend you join the Ijen Midnight Tour.
As the name suggests, the Ijen midnight tour starts at midnight from Banyuwangi. To do the shared tour you can either arrange a private car rental, which will cost you Rp 800,000 or more. Alternatively you can join a shared tour, which will cost around USD $10 USD.
From the base of Ijen it’s a 60-90 minute hike to the top of the crater. When you reach the top you then need to follow the small path into the crater. In the dark it’s easy to get lost on the path, so make sure you follow someone closely (if you join a shared tour you should get a guide). Oh, and bring a piece of cloth to cover your face, because if the wind is blowing in your direction sulphur smoke will cover the path.
The view from the bottom of Ijen Crater with the blue flames burning is really out of this world. It’s a beautiful site and the best bit is that because the crater is sheltered you won’t feel too cold. When I visited I stayed in the crater till almost 4:30 am. I then climbed to the top of the crater for sunrise. At the end of the Ijen Midnight Tour the car will drop you off at the Banyuwangi Port for the short hop on a ferry to Bali or at the Banyuwangi Airport. This marks the end of your Java Tour and the start of the next stage of your Indonesian adventure.
This one-week itinerary for backpacking through Java will leave you with some amazing memories. Yogyakarta is without a doubt my favourite city in Indonesia and you will have a blast when you visit, while the landscape of East Java is really breathtaking. I hope that this guide will help you as you organise your trip!