The least densely populated of Java’s provinces, East Java (Jawa Timur) is a wild, rolling region with dizzying peaks, smoking volcanoes and unspoilt panoramas.
While the regional capital, Surabaya, has all the accoutrements of a booming Indonesian city, including freeways, multiplexes and a trademark traffic problem, there are far more attractive bases. Malang is a civilised city with a temperate climate ringed by some fascinating Hindu temples. Blitar has more temples and a historic site or two to explore, and Banyuwangi, linked to Bali by a 24-hour ferry service, makes a decent launch pad to two exquisite national parks and one spectacular volcanic plateau.
For most visitors, East Java is all about the raw, rugged appeal of its volcano-studded scenery and awesome landscapes. Nowhere is more synonymous with this than the sublime Bromo-Tengger Massif region, incorporating the volcanic peaks of Gunung Bromo (2392m) and Gunung Semeru (3676m) – Java’s highest mountain. The Bromo area and its puffing giants is an undisputed highlight, but the Ijen Plateau ranks very close, with a stunning crater lake, evocative coffee plantation econcomy, good hiking and fewer travellers.
Baluran National Park is the most accessible of Java’s wildlife reserves, but the southern route through East Java is the most scenic and has two great national parks: Meru Betiri, which protects a virgin beach where turtles nest: and Alas Purwo, which is hallowed among surfers for its gigantic reef breaks at G-Land. Just off the coast near Surabaya is the island of Madura, a place where traditions are particularly strong and famous bull races, known as kerapan sapi, are staged between August and October.