It’s easy to think that Java doesn’t have that idyllic beach paradise. Being the most populated island and home to 60 percent of Indonesia’s 240 million people, it’s far from the idea of a peaceful stretch of sand.
However, there are corners of the island where things haven’t changed much over the years. The beaches of Pangandaran and Batu Karas fall into this category and are said to be like Bali’s Kuta Beach 20 years ago; not overly commercialised.
Pangandaran and Batu Karas are two adjacent beaches just south of West Java, which have catered to many of the beachy needs of the locals and just a handful of foreign travellers that make the effort to get here…
It’s not the white powder sand of picture postcards, but it still brings the clean fresh smell of the ocean and we reckon this off the beaten track gem will charm you into staying longer than you planned! So what is there more to know?
Places to stay at Pangandaran Beach
Most travellers will head straight to the beach area. There are many hostels, hotels and guesthouses available for all sorts of budgets, from 4-5 star hotels to cheap hostels and even home-stays, all just a walk away from the beach.
The prices of some of the hostels are negotiable, especially during weekdays when the majority of Indonesian tourists are at work – so make sure you try your luck!
If you prefer to book online, these are some of your best options…
Java Lagoon is great value for money, offering private doubles from $16 USD. Blissfully peaceful, clean and with very friendly staff. Breakfast is included.
Villadevi is another great option. Very comfortable and clean with an excellent breakfast and very pleasant dogs. Rooms start at around $20 USD.
If you’d like to splash out a bit more (particularly if you’d like a pool), consider Emerald Hotel. Rooms are clean and comfy and cost around $45 USD.
Where to stay on Batu Karas Beach
Batukaras Beach is less commercialised than Pangandaran. Most of the restaurants, hotels, and surfboard rentals are available on the west corner of the beach.
All of these establishments provide for visitors to the small secluded beach on the end of the road. The eastern side of the beach provides a quieter and more peaceful ambience.
The best places to stay in Batukaras are…
d’Jarwo House@Batukaras. Dorm rooms are available for $9 USD in this resort that’s full of character. Guests love the owner, Dodi who is (assuming he’s the one that does it), the only resort manager who responds to every review he receives on booking.com with a touching review of the guest in question. He appears to be as fond of them as they are of him!
Batu Nebeng Homestay is another favourite, offering private doubles for $10 USD. It’s next to the mosque in a peaceful location.
Susan Homestay offers a similar deal. Basic digs, but at $10 USD for a double, who can complain!?
Ragha Homestay has very clean and comfortable bungalows for $15 USD and offers free bicycles during your stay.
If you’d like to spend a bit more, for $30 USD, Jelajah Batukaras has very nice rooms and the owners are lovely.
Things to do in Pangandaran and Batu Karas:
Where there are beaches, there usually are people in the water. Both Pangandaran and Batu Karas Beach can facilitate your desire for a good splash! The sand is a dark brown colour but the water is still as clean as any beach.
However, it might be good to note that these beaches open up to the Indian Ocean where waves can be pretty rough at times and at certain spots. Local lifeguards, although limited, will be around to put up signs and let visitors know where it’s safe to swim.
Surf the Waves!
Both beaches are ideal for surfing. Annual surfing competitions are usually held at the Pangandaran Beach and several times at Batu Karas. Waves can be the playground for newbies that are grabbing a board for the first time.
There are several local surf schools that can help you jump on the board and ride the beginners’ waves. During different seasons, each beach can challenge a more intermediate bunch of surfers.
Boards are also available for rent, so all you need is about IDR 150,000 /day and some haggling skills, so you can score a lower price. Which beach is best for surfing is debatable. Each beach has its own surf community, which can be found hanging around the beach and approached for more information.
Body rafting at Green Canyon
Somewhere in between both Pangandaran and Batu Karas, lies ‘Cukang Taneuh’, which translates to hole in the soil. It’s known more as the Green Canyon as people experience swimming and boating in a canyon with green surrounding of foliage and moss.
The Green Canyon, known locally as ‘Cukang Taneuh’ (hole in the soil)
The long route through the Green Canyon (2-4 hours): To do this route, you must register with an official tour organiser that will organise the equipment, the transport to the upstream location, and guides to help you manoeuvre through the river.
Once geared up with helmet, life jacket, shin guards, you will be ready to travel upstream (usually by truck) to then walk down to the entry point. From here on it’ll be about floating downstream and making a few climbs over rocks to get to the main river gate.
During the dry season, the river water will be a greenish colour with a mild current taking about four hours. During the wet season, river water would be a brownish colour from rain run-off with stronger currents, and the journey would take about two hours and end at the Cukang Taneuh gate.
Packages are available from local organisers located not far from the Cukang Taneuh gate with prices of about USD 20 per person, which include lunch, safety gear, guides, transport to start point, and insurance.
Note: Of course, personal travel insurance is always essential!
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Short route (Cukang Taneuh): The shorter route is the most common route. From the main gate, visitors need to rent the local boat to travel upstream to the cave opening. It’s a pleasant 20 minutes or so trip along vegetated canyons.
Once at the gate, visitors can climb up and swim upstream through the beautiful tight canyon and even jump off the seven-meter rock located halfway up. Swimming upstream is highly recommended, especially if you’ve reached this point.
The best time to visit is during dry season (May-September). You’ll need to hire a boat to reach the rock gate for about USD 13 at the official gate, which can be shared amongst six people.
Tips for visiting the canyon:
- Weekends and national holidays are packed with holidaying locals. To enjoy the best of Green Canyon, visit during weekdays.
- Having surfing or diving booties is helpful.
Pangandaran Nature Reserve
This nature reserve is located on the eastern side of Pangandaran. There’s a lot of amazing flora and fauna spread amongst almost 500 hectares of the reserve.
Wild deer can be seen around the reserve accommodation area and wild monkeys in almost all areas of the reserve. Beware of your belongings, though. These monkeys are adorable but very cheeky! They will steal and grab any dangling belongings.
Aside from getting close to the greens of nature, you can also visit some of the caves within the nature reserve. The most common caves are the Goa (cave) Lanang, Goa Rengganis, Goa Sumur Mudal, and Goa Miring. No heavy caving equipment is required but a flashlight can help. Each cave would request a small donation so prepare your cash on site.
Getting to Pangandaran
Bus: Direct buses to Pangandaran are available from most major cities in Java such as Jakarta, Bandung and Yogyakarta. Nine hours on the public night buses are the best option as you can save up on your accommodation budget.
Fares are about USD 10 / pax for a bus with AC and reclining seat. Economy buses cost less. Additional trips to Batu Karas on the public bus would cost about USD 3. Motor taxis or ojeks are available for about USD 5 but will take you to your end destination.
Car Rent: Car rentals are possible from bigger cities, which cost about USD 60 (excluding fuel or a local driver). This option is best if you want to travel often between beaches or if you’re bringing your own surfboard.
Plane: If you’re coming in from Jakarta and want to head straight to Pangandaran you can hop on the Susi Air flight. The airlines do this route every morning for USD 55 / pax and tickets can be purchased through Susi Air, which flies out from Halim Perdana Kusuma Airport, Jakarta.
Where to go next?
Bandung: Bandung is the capital city of the West Java province. It’s located up in the mountains and offers a cooler climate compared to the hot humid air of the south coast. For the Indonesians, Bandung is most known for its fashion shopping and delicious local food.
However, for foreign travellers, Bandung is awesome for its easily accessed crater Tangkuban Parahu and its local traditional instrument, the Angklung of the Saung Mang Udjo studio.
Yogyakarta: This city is one of the most visited cities in Indonesia by travellers from all over the world. It’s both backpacker and high-end tourist-friendly. Yogyakarta offers many traditions in its day-to-day existence.
Aside from the obvious cultural events and venues such as the Candi Prambanan, the palace or keraton, and gateway to Candi Borobudur, the city runs on a slow pace as does its people. It’s also a hub for art and crafts, including silver goods and traditional cloth, batik. All in all, a must-visit for backpackers to Indonesia!
About the Writer: This destination page was written by Indonesian native, Murni Amalia (Mumun), who along with her friend Vira run the website Indohoy to help travellers discover the hidden secrets of their fascinating country. (As well as keeping up with their daily jobs!)
On their website, there is loads of valuable information (from a local perspective) for backpackers who are looking to travel to Indonesia, especially those off the beaten track places that only locals know about.
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