One of the most populous places in all of Asia, Java is also characterized by great natural beauty. Its central spine is dominated by hundreds of volcanoes, many of which are still very evidently active, their fertile slopes supporting a landscape of glimmering rice fields spotted with countless small villages. To the south of this mountainous backbone is the homeland of the ethnic Javanese and the epicentre of their arts, culture and language, epitomized by the royal courts of Yogyakarta and Solo. Still steeped in traditional dance, music and art, these two cities are the mainstay of Java’s tourist industry and offer first-rate facilities for travellers. They also provide excellent bases from which to explore the giant ninth-century Buddhist temple Borobudur, and the equally fascinating Prambanan complex, a contemporary Hindu site. To the east, the volcanic massif of Gunung Bromo is another major stop on most travellers’ itineraries, not least for the sunrise walk to its summit. But there are plenty more volcanic landscapes to explore, including the coloured lakes of the windswept Dieng Plateau, and the world’s most famous – and destructive – volcano, Krakatau, off the west coast of Java.
Aside from Yogyakarta (locally called “Jogja”), Java’s cities are not nearly as enticing to travellers, although Jakarta, the chaotic sprawl that is Indonesia’s capital, boasts interesting museums, a host of gargantuan new malls, and the best nightlife on the island. Moving on to Java’s neighbouring islands is easily done – Sumatra is just ninety minutes’ ferry ride from Merak in the west; and Bali is a mere forty minutes from Banyuwangi in the east.