Whether you arrive by air or via ferry from Bali, separated from Java by a slim strait to the east of the latter, you'll be glad you stopped by the Indonesian city of Banyuwangi.
The easternmost point of Java Island likes to call itself “the Sunrise of Java”: at its sun-dappled best, the adventures you can take on from Banyuwangi rival anything you'll find in Bali or Yogyakarta. Use this list to plan a Banyuwangi adventure of your own.
The three-kilometer hiking trail between the base camp of Paltuding and the scenic crater lake of Kawah Ijen feels like a reversed walk from earth to Hell, in the sense that Hell is 2,443 meters above sea level and surrounds an eerie turquoise-colored lake.
Kawah Ijen is an active volcanic crater, with a battery-acid lake and fumaroles emitting the sulfur that permeates the air and chokes the unwary. You can feel the acrid odor in your sinuses long before you see the crater, making facemasks and respirators absolutely essential when attempting a climb.
As you hike up, you'll pass Ijen's sulfur miners, who use the same trail to climb to the crater's edge, break off chunks of sulfur, and cart them down to sell at cut-rate prices. Tourists and miners alike arrive at Ijen long before dawn, the latter to get work done before the heat of the sun sets in, the former to see the eerie blue flame that springs up near the sulfur deposits.
How to get there: Hired 4x4 SUVs make short work of the curvy, pockmarked trail between your hotel in Banyuwangi and the jump-off point in Paltuding.
Visit during the dry season between May and October; avoid during the monsoon season, and especially during Indonesian holidays and weekends. An entrance fee of IDR 150,000 will be charged at the gate.
Pulau Merah: Banyuwangi's Most Scenic Beach
The sandy bottom and tame waves would make Pulau Merah an awesome spot for newbie surfers if the backdrop weren't so distracting: a hill that juts out of the sea a few meters from the beach. Isolated from the mainland during high tide, the island permits access during low tide, allowing visitors to examine the beach's namesake (“Red Island,” due to the hill's reddish soil) up close.
The friendly waves that currently buffet Pulau Merah reach no higher than five meters at their worst, particularly between the peak surfing seasons in April and between September to December. A sandy bottom – the same fine cream-to-brown sand that cushions feet walking on the beach – seals the deal for beginners, encouraging wipeouts without fear of injury.
The beach itself curves some three kilometers around a natural bay fringed with banana and coconut farms. A solitary Hindu temple, the Pura Segara Tawang Alun, stands near the designated parking area. The temple is a survivor: a 1994 tsunami managed to only breach the temple's outer walls.
How to get there: There are few public transportation links to Pulau Merah from Banyuwangi town proper; a hired car is the best way to arrive. Entrance to the beach costs IDR 2,500. The nearby Sumber Agung village offers homestays for guests who want to stay longer; the Red Island Panjul Homestay is typical of the lot.
Baluran National Park: A Piece of Africa in Java
Baluran's flat, tree-fringed Bekol Savannah looks for all the world like a chunk of Africa transplanted into Indonesia. The scrubby bushes, the solitary acacia trees that interrupt the almost uniformly flat landscape – the wrong kind of wildlife breaks the illusion.
No giraffes, lions or wildebeest here in Bekol Savannah: just groups of Java rusa deer and Java banteng (buffalo) grazing or jostling each other around the watering holes. We eagerly ran across the savannah to photograph the herds; it was only when we returned to the roadside that we noticed the sign warning us about poisonous snakes lying in the grass!
The scenic Bekol Savannah, with the dormant Mount Baluran volcano looming in the west, is only the most atmospheric part of the park. Bama Beach offers a wild seaside landscape fringed with mangroves and flanked by coral reefs. The coast is accessible via a mangrove trail that weaves through the trees before terminating at a kiosk on stilts over the water.
How to get there: A hired car can easily make a day trip out of Baluran National Park, taking you from Banyuwangi to Bekol Savannah and back in the space of an afternoon. An entrance fee will be charged at the gate, costing IDR 150,000 on weekdays and IDR 225,000 on weekends.
For overnight stays, lodgings at a few rustic guesthouses in the park can be rented for about IDR 100,000-400,000 a night. For more information, contact Trihari at +62 82 332 213 114, or visit their site.
Plengkung Beach: Surfing "G-Land"
Grajagan Bay makes up the western-facing segment of the Alas Purwo nature reserve. It's no cakewalk to get to any point within the nature park, but expert surfers from all over the world do it anyway, just to cross G-Land off their bucket list.
After setting up camp at Plengkung Beach, surfers paddle over to G-Land's surf break. The waves reach heights of four to six meters, generating long barrels that surfers yearn to ride through. Expert surfers call G-Land the world's second-best wave, beaten only by Hawaii due to the latter's all-year-round ride (G-Land's surfing season takes place between April and August).
The lowland monsoon forest fringing Plengkung Beach reminds visitors of the location's remoteness. There are precious few bars to be had for your smartphone or 3G signal. That leaves only the thrilling, if unforgiving, surf breaks of G-Land.
How to get there: Hired cars travel overland from Banyuwangi to Plengkung, covering a distance of 60km through rainforest to the beach. An alternative route takes you only as far as Grajagan Beach on the western side of Grajagan Bay; you can hire a boat to take you across the bay to Plengkung.
Banyuwangi Batik: A Colorful Bolt of Local Culture
Buying batik in Banyuwangi isn't just a nice way of bringing a piece of your travels back home with you. Your batik purchases channel tourism revenue straight to the local businesses that need those funds the most. Buying batik also puts you in direct contact with a cultural touchstone that's held very near and dear to locals' hearts.
Banyuwangi's batik compares very favorably with the product created further west in Central Java, and the locals know it. Schoolchildren and government employees wear batik at least once a week for their respective uniforms; in Banyuwangi, government officials proudly wear batiks with the Gaja Oling motif, a repeating pattern of question-mark-shaped floral blooms that's unique to Banyuwangi.
Where to buy it: If you want to sample the local wares, you'll find them on sale at any shopping center in Banyuwangi, or at the source in the districts of Tirta Wangi, Sayu Wiwit, and Sri Tanjung.
We love the batiks from Isyam Syamsi's collection, which you can check out at the lobby of the Ketapang Indah Resort in Banyuwangi.
Sukamade Beach: Giant Turtle Hatching Grounds
Sukamade Beach is the giant turtle's last, best hope for survival: a pristine stretch of coastline within the Meru Betiri National Park, located about 60 miles southwest of Banyuwangi city. On full moon nights, visitors can watch magic happen right here, with turtles emerging from the surf and laying their eggs right on the beach.
While this may happen at any given night, peak season for egg-laying happens between November and March. Most of the turtles come in after 7:30 pm, paddling slowly up past the high-tide line and laying a hundred or so eggs each into their respective holes.
Not all eggs are left in the sand; park rangers collect the majority of the eggs laid here, to bring to the predator-free safety of the nearby park hatchery. When the incubated eggs hatch, the rangers release the turtle babies on the very same beach where they were collected.
How to get there: Rent a 4x4 ride from Banyuwangi to negotiate the bumpy three-hour ride to Meru Betiri National Park. The distance and difficulty involved require that you find a homestay nearby – most likely in Rajegwesi town – to spend the night in.
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