1. Mount Bromo
Perched above the skyline of Surabaya is an active volcano that’s also one of Java’s most popular destinations. Standing a lofty 2,329 metres above sea level, Mount Bromo is the perfect vantage point to witness the scenic sunrise vistas of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park’s mountain ranges and the Sea of Sand, a field of volcanic ash which can be traversed on foot, by jeep or on horseback. For something truly unique, plan your trip around the time of Yadnya Kasada, a centuries-old Hindu festival, where throngs of worshippers make a pilgrimage to the mountain peak and cast offerings into the crater.
Drive two hours out of the city and you’ll be able to marvel at the ruins of what was once the capital of the medieval Majapahit Empire. At its height in the 14th century, this powerful Hindu empire stretched from Sumatra to New Guinea, and with the insight of a local guide, travellers can learn fascinating facts and anecdotes about its majestic remnants. Highlights include the Candi Bajang Ratu, a temple gateway built to commemorate King Jayanegara following his death; Wringin Lawang, a towering monument at the entrance to the kingdom’s capital; the Tikus temple, which was unearthed in 1914 after spending centuries buried; and the Trowulan Museum, a significant site where you will come across a large and varied collection of artefacts from the era.
3. Baluran National Park
Located six hours southeast from Surabaya, Baluran National Park covers some 25,000 hectares of forest and savannah. Open since 1984, the park is home to a variety of unique, endangered birds, such as the green peafowl, as well as rare mammals such as the Java mouse-deer and banteng. You can also take the opportunity to pass by the beautiful Bama Beach, a hidden oasis within the park. It has a scenic birdwatching route surrounded by mangroves and swamps that peacefully flow into the Bama coastal forest.
4. Madura Island
Just across the Madura Strait from Surabaya is a spot that’s beloved by locals but still missing from most tourist itineraries. With a population of three and a half million, Madura Island could well be a city of its own, but minus the congestion and bustle you’d find in other metropolises. The island’s south coast is lined with shallow beaches and cultivated lowland, whereas its north coast alternates between rocky cliffs and sand-dune beaches – providing the perfect break from the dense jungles and volcanic mountain tops of a more typical East Java adventure. Spend your morning taking photos at the picturesque limestone canyons of Bukit Kapur Jaddih before enjoying a day of snorkelling and beach trekking among pristine white-sand beaches at Gili Labak.
5. Pekalen River
Thrill-seekers can make their way to Pekalen River for an adrenaline-filled experience of white-water rafting or tubing in nature’s backyard. It’s worth the three-hour journey from Surabaya to barrel down this body of water while taking in verdant rainforest and perhaps even glimpses of wildlife. Whether with a group of friends or going solo, this river has suitable routes for beginners all the way to seasoned veterans, with over 30 challenging rapids and seven waterfalls sprawled over 12km. People often associate Southeast Asia with heat and humidity, but at Pelakan Falls, the advice is to dress warmly, as the temperatures in the area dip dramatically.
6. Mount Ijen
At the top of Mount Ijen, an active volcano in Banyuwangi, is the breathtaking, one-of-a-kind panoramic scenery of the iconic Ijen Crater. Regarded as one of the unmissable sites of Indonesia, it is located amid a magnificent jagged landscape of volcanic cones. Upon reaching the summit, you will not only see an awe-inspiring turquoise-coloured sulphuric lake – the largest acidic lake in the world – but the unique Ijen Blue Fire, electric blue flames that strike towards the sky as a result of the combustion of sulphuric gases. The entire trek takes approximately three to five hours in a 14-kilometre round-trip hike.
7. Gresik Regency
Just an hour from Surabaya, at a former limestone quarry in the village of Bungah, is the striking Bukit Jamur, or “mushroom hill”. Located in the historically renowned regency of Gresik – an international trade centre since the 11th century – the geological formations here resemble giant mushrooms and can be found spread over approximately three hectares of land. These uniquely shaped rocks, ranging from two to seven metres tall, were formed by wind and rainwater erosion, and create a dramatic and slightly otherworldly scene. Besides Bukit Jamur, travellers can also extend their drive to the white chalk pillars at Bukit Kapur Sekapuk, which, from a distance, resemble Roman ruins.
This article was originally published in the April 2020 issue of SilverKris magazine