The One Thing You Can't Miss: Java, Indonesia

Escape from the urban sprawl with a quick trip to the spectacular volcanic island of Krakatoa
June 14, 2016Words by Brian OhPhotos by Brian Oh

After a few days in Jakarta, Indonesia, you’ll most likely find yourself wondering what there is to do besides another shopping trip to the mall. The city's canopy of skyscrapers and crowded streets leave little room for open spaces or clean air; while Jakarta is incredibly rich in culture and history, it's not a destination for those looking to stretch their legs on an outdoor adventure. Just a short boat ride from the urban sprawl, however, you'll find all the jungles, mountains, and beaches your heart desires.

Common excursions from the land of skyscrapers and traffic include visiting the Thousand Islands or Jakarta’s sister city Bandung, or even taking the short flight to Bali. It takes just a few hours to be transported to prismatic reefs, rolling hills lined with rice paddies, or active volcanoes. But there’s one spot of special significance in Indonesia that’s as striking as it is historic.

From Jakarta it's only a matter of hours to be transported to prismatic reefs, rolling hills lined with rice paddies, or active volcanoes.

A few hours’ drive west of Jakarta will put you on the western coast of Java. From there, any number of tour operators or private boats can take you the rest of the way to a pair of small islands due west; less than an hour on a speedboat and you'll see them materialize through the distant haze. Once you arrive, you'll be at the site of one of the most dramatic and destructive geological events in recorded history.

The volcanic island, Krakatoa, erupted in 1883 and killed more than 35,000 people, going down in history as one of the most violent volcanic events ever recorded. It is also said to have been the loudest eruption ever, reportedly heard more than 3,000 miles away. That eruption formed the smaller of the two islands, Anak Krakatoa.

When you reach the soft black volcanic sands of the shores on Krakatoa, the landscape is as alien as it is fascinating. 

When you reach the soft black volcanic sands of the shores on Krakatoa, the landscape is as alien as it is fascinating. Entire arcs of the island are scored by red, porous igneous rocks from recent eruptions. Dense tropical vegetation springs up out of the black volcanic powder. In other areas, desolate remnants of wiped-out forests are dotted by lingering lava bombs perfect for scrambling over. As you ascend the mountain, the active volcano resolves into more detail – yellow sulphurous smoke billows upward from the ashen lip of the crater.

Guides won’t take you more than about halfway up the 800-meter slope of the active volcano, but Krakatoa hikes are often followed by a trip back to the shore for diving and snorkeling in electric blue waters. After working up an appetite by exploring several vibrant reefs around the perimeter of Krakatoa, take your lunch break back on the ebony shore. Just keep an eye out - massive monitor lizards (which grow up to and over six feet long) patrol the jungles and beaches, and they won’t hesitate for a second to steal your lunch.

If you can, keep tabs on Krakatoa’s activity before you head out to the island. If an eruption is imminent, many boats will moor at a safe distance to watch the fireworks – what some would call nature’s most explosive drive-in show. [H]

What Else to Do and See Near Jakarta

Pulau Seribu (Thousand Islands)
Just 45 kilometers north of Jakarta’s coast lies an archipelago of 100 small islands of private bungalows, secluded beaches, and coral and fish of just as many hues as the place's name suggests.

This sister city is less chaotic than Jakarta, and boasts more culture and history without the dense skyscraper sprawl. Take in the colonial architecture, make a visit to nearby hot springs, and gape at one of the most accessible volcanos in Indonesia, Tangkuban Perahu.

Bogor Botanical Gardens
Located 60 kilometers south of Jakarta, this is one of the rare green parks in Indonesia and the oldest botanical garden in Southeast Asia, and is home to approximately 14,000 species of plants. If you’re lucky, you might be able to see one of Bogor’s five Amorphophallus titanium plants in bloom – giant arum plants reaching up to 2.5 meters tall.

Brian is a Washington, DC-based international development professional, freelance photographer, and writer. Frequent field assignments in developing countries allow Brian to explore and photograph parts of the world not often visited by others. Brian's camera is most attracted to new culture, cuisines, and mountains.


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