Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.Robert Frost
Java’s volcanoes run like a spine through its centre, telling stories of the island’s ancient past and its living present. They’ve created landscapes, inspired societies and sparked adventures. Forming your Indonesia journey around some of Java’s inland volcanoes allows you to witness the sobering power and beauty of these primal giants, and see how they still influence the daily rhythms of the archipelago. This route involves a fair bit of hiking, some longer and more challenging journeys, and a few eye-wateringly early starts, but by choosing the less-obvious path you’ll get to see this part of Indonesia from an extraordinary angle.
Start in the atmospheric central Losari region, where a ring of eight volcanic peaks forms the backdrop to ancient Hindu temples and fertile coffee fields, then travel down to the cultural centre of Yogyakarta and the impressive Borobudur temple. Head east to see sunrises over Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen, wander through their eerie landscapes, and discover the communities and industries that have grown and flourished in their shadows. Finish with an area of Bali that’s stayed off the main tourist trail: a curved bay of volcanic sand, with a backdrop of misty mountains, ideal for relaxing and reminiscing about Indonesia’s most rugged landscapes.
This route starts as it means to go on, with an immediate detour into a less well-known part of Java. Losari is nothing short of breathtaking: lush forested hills surrounded by a ring of eight volcanic peaks that rise above the treeline. By spending your first couple of nights in this out-of-the-way region, you’ll gain a wider perspective on what makes the island tick.
Along the way, take time to wander the ancient pathways of Mt Ungaran, stopping at the ruined temples of Gedong Songo and enjoying panoramic views towards Mt Merbabu from the summit, before heading back on the road towards the MesaStila resort. Right in the middle of Losari’s stunning landscape, the quirky luxury of MesaStila makes it a favourite with the Selective Asia team. Whether you’re staying overnight on this 200-year-old coffee estate, or visiting from another nearby resort, you can spend a day learning the secrets behind the legendary ‘cup of Java’, before tasting the finished product amid the phenomenal surroundings where it was created.
Borobudur & Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta is the perfect counterbalance to the untamed Losari, and beautiful in a completely different way. Begin with a night just outside of the town near the iconic Borobudur Temple (whose carved, pyramid-like form is reminiscent of a volcano itself, being made of grey volcanic stone) and be in a prime position before dawn to see the sunrise between its stupas.
A few days in Yogyakarta gives you time to sink into the history and rhythms of Indonesia’s revered seat of spirituality. Dive into traditional batik production, learning about the meanings behind the intricate patterns once worn only by royalty. Stop at the Sonobudoyo Museum to see over 1,200 keris (Javanese heirloom daggers) and other wonders, amble through the atmospheric Sultan’s Palace and adjacent Taman Sari Water Palace, and pause to people-watch at the Beringharjo market. Sample plenty of the city’s street-food, and wash it down with a soothing cup of kopi joss, its smoking shard of red-hot charcoal echoing those lava-formed volcanic landscapes. Round off your visit back in the countryside, cycling close to smouldering Gunung Merapi (one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes) and visiting Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia.
Bromo & Mount Ijen
There’s always something magical about watching the land around you wake up as the sun rises, and watching it rise over a volcano takes that to a whole new level. Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen are both volcanic, but are wildly different. Seeing how the day begins from each in turn brings their contrasts into sharp focus.
Travelling out of Yogyakarta by train gives you time to watch the elegant cityscape transition into the raw wilderness of Bromo-Tengger Semeru National Park. Take the scenic route to a viewpoint on Mount Penanjakan (at 3:30am!) to watch the sunrise over Mount Bromo, then walk across the otherworldly, grey volcanic ash known as the ‘sea of sand’, climb Bromo’s slopes and peer into its smoking crater.
A day’s scenic drive east, Ijen holds wonders of a different kind. Starting 6,000 ft up at Paltuding base camp, follow a dirt pathway to the summit to see the sunrise over the extraordinarily vivid (and abrasively acidic) turquoise crater lake, and glimpse the region’s miners carrying rough yellow mineral rocks out of one of the world’s last sulphur mines.
One of the best ways to round off an exhilarating and energetic holiday around Indonesia’s wonders is with a few days unwinding on a picture-perfect beach. Bali’s southern shores are always popular, and Komodo is a great option if you’re looking for something a bit more out-of-the-way, but for a trip focusing on volcanoes there’s one northern Bali beach that has to get top billing: Pemuteran.
It takes a little more effort to get to this small fishing village (a ferry from Java, and a winding drive), but once you’re laying back on the bay’s smokey-black volcanic sands, trekking through its bordering rainforests, and hopping over to the the tiny island of Menjangan to snorkel and dive offshore, you’ll be glad you chose the route less travelled. It’ll make all the difference.
The guide price of £1,790US$2,090 is a per person price (not including international flights) staying 2 nights on a Losari Coffee Planation, 1 night at Borobudur, 3 nights in Jogja, 2 nights at Mount Bromo, 1 night in Ijen and 3 nights on the sands of northern Bali; all in our favourite mid-range hotels.
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