The Complete Guide to Bali’s Lesser Known Neighbour
East Java. It’s probably a name you’ve never heard of, but you’ll no doubt begin hearing it everywhere as this rugged province of Indonesia finally begins to emerge from the shadow of what some may regard as its over glamorized and overcrowded big brother; Bali.
Whether you’re a broke backpacker travelling on a tight budget, an annoying travel influencer [insert irony here], or you’re just way too woke for Bali, then East Java is the place for you.
*Disclaimer* If you’re used to luxury, you may be in for a shock - East Java’s strong point isn’t five star travel, and there’s little luxury to be had here - but you will experience raw and real travel which brings with it memories that money simply cannot buy.
Starting Point - Surabaya Airport
If you’ve made it past the disclaimer and East Java sounds like it’s for you, Surabaya Airport will most likely feature as the first stop on your travels to this unsung hero. You’re going to be spending a lot of time on the road for this trip, so one important thing is to hire yourself a driver, ideally an SUV ($50 - $125pd but I paid about $110). One thing you can definitely expect is a lot of traffic! But, if you follow the route below, you’re going to be spending as little time on the road as possible.
Malang Rainbow Village to Mount Bromo
The first destination is down south, roughly a 3 hour drive from Surabaya to Malang Rainbow Village (Kampung Pelangi, Jodipan), a beautiful colourful town in the centre of a big city.
From Malang Rainbow Village, it’s approximately a 2.5hour journey to Mount Bromo, arriving in the evening, ready for sunrise. You’ll need to organise your sunrise exhibition the night before, getting either dirt bikes if you’re a very comfortable driver (but check they work first, unlike me) or a driver with a 4x4, ready to leave around 3-4am the next morning. Rent jackets or bring something warm, and be prepared; the journey to Mount Bromo has serious Mad Max vibes - it is survival of the fittest!
The active volcano definitely draws a crowd but you can easily find your own little pocket of space for sunrise, or just stay a little after as everyone leaves pretty quickly. Then take a hike to the crater for a pretty cool sight; all this by 10am!
All the waterfalls
Get back on the road and head 1.25 hours away to Madakaripura Waterfall, grab a poncho and head inside the amphitheater-style waterfall; it is truly one of a kind. But, watch out for touts, they make you pay for everything!
Next is a 4 hour journey to the next location - find a guest house ready for another day of waterfalls (roughly $10-25). First head to Tumpak Sewu Waterfall, which means a thousand waterfalls. You can either check it out from the top viewing platform or to really experience it, take the 45 minute+ walk down the very steep and treacherous steps. Ideally, you would want about 5-6 hours here to experience this spectacle, all for around $2.50.
About 15-20 minutes drive away and a 50-60 minute hike you’ll find Kapas Biru Waterfall ($0.5 entrance fee). This waterfall is slightly quieter than Tumpak, so if you had to see just one, definitely go to Tumpak Sewu.
If you are after beaches then head to red island in South East Java, approximately 6 hours away, for surfers paradise. Red Island is a fantastic spot for learners as the waves aren’t massive. If you’re planning a trip here, I would definitely recommend a couple of days staying at a surf resort, like the one I did with Mojo surf.
Either 6 hours from Tumpak Sewu waterfall or 3 hours from Red Island, a must visit is Ijen - the number one thing to see. Get up an hour and a half before sunrise to start the hike to ensure you are at the top of it by the time the sun starts to rise; that way you can view the sunrise from inside the volcano. There will be this beautiful blue flame that can only be seen when there is no natural daylight - like nothing I have ever seen before. Hopefully you’ll also get to see this incredible emerald lake and plume of yellow smoke; the reality to where so many people work in the most difficult conditions you’ll ever see, hiking with 50kg of sulfur on their shoulders up and down the crater. It was an unforgettable trip and provided for some pretty incredible shots!
Now, you can either drive about 6-8 hours back to Surabaya or 4-5 hours to Canggu, Bali (including a ferry).
Although Bali is amazing, I hope this shows you that there is so much more to Indonesia!
If you want to see the video I created for this itinerary and learn a bit more, make sure to also watch my video because it’s FULL of information: How To Travel EAST JAVA.
p.s. If you are coming to Bali, I have the perfect guide for you: 5 Hot Tips to traveling in Bali
Let’s get lost again in the next one!