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Central Java, Indonesia: A backpacker’s guide

By Shenny Fierdha 6 November 2020

Header image courtesy of Aditya Permana Putra

When it comes to travelling to Central Java, Indonesia, most people might think of packing their bags for a vacation to Semarang, the provincial capital. However, Central Java has many other cities or regencies that, though not as popular as Semarang, have amazing places of interest. If you are looking for a back-to-nature trip with a touch of history, then you must include Dieng Plateau, Purwokerto, Baturraden, and Purbalingga in your itinerary. Those destinations have it all—ancient temple ruins, sky-high mountains, colourful volcanic lakes, and maze-like underground caves. Check out our backpacker’s guide to exploring Indonesian hotspots in Dieng Plateau, Purwokerto, Baturraden, and Purbalingga, for an adventure of a lifetime.

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Dieng Plateau

Dieng Plateau is 27 kilometres from Wonosobo regency, Central Java, or about an hour’s drive away. It gracefully stands at two thousand metres above sea level, surrounded by dozens of mountains with Mount Prau and Mount Sikunir remaining as the local climbers’ favourites. The plateau’s high altitude contributes to the year-round low temperature that can drop to below 10 degrees Celcius—so make sure you layer up if you cannot stand the cold!

Dieng Plateau is a volcanically active area and you can clearly see the evidence from one of its famous tourist attractions called Telaga Warna, a volcanic lake with sulphuric water that keeps changing colours as days go by—sometimes the water is green, sometimes it is turquoise. The green forest surrounding the lake and bright blue sky create a stunning view that will leave you mesmerised.

Another must-see attraction in Dieng Plateau is Komplek Candi Arjuna, a historical site that is made up of ruins of five temples—Candi Arjuna, Candi Semar, Candi Srikandi, Candi Puntadewa, and Candi Sembadra—dating from the ancient Mataram Kingdom era. Meanwhile, another temple, Candi Setyaki, also in ruins, is located two hundred metres away from the site.

Purwokerto

From Dieng Plateau, you have to make your way down to the small and serene city of Purwokerto, and endure a three-hour journey by land covering 115 kilometres. History enthusiasts surely cannot skip Museum Panglima Besar TNI Jenderal Soedirman during their trip to Purwokerto. General Soedirman (1916–1950) is a national hero who played a prominent role in fighting against the Dutch colonials throughout his life, and the museum is dedicated to preserving and sharing his legacy to the world.

War artefacts including rifles, firearms, as well as dioramas depicting Soedirman’s life and endeavours for Indonesian independence, are on the museum’s first floor. Meanwhile, on the second floor, there is a giant bronze statue—weighing 5.5 tons and standing 4.5 metres high—of the great general sitting heroically on a horse as if he was overseeing the country.

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Baturraden

Baturraden and Purwokerto are only 14 kilometres apart, or 30 minutes by car. Baturraden is a district in Banyumas regency, Central Java, that has many wonderful natural attractions including hot springs, waterfalls, ponds, and lush forests. Perched on the slope of Mount Slamet, Baturraden’s pleasantly cool temperature lures many travellers from the neighbouring areas to cool off while having a great time outdoors.

If you want to chill out, both physically and psychologically, you have to swim in Telaga Sunyi—which roughly translates to “Silent Pond.” The name speaks for itself—the pond is five metres deep, very calm, and crystal-clear with small waterfalls in the middle of a serene jungle. When there is only a handful of visitors, you should hear nothing but silence and the peaceful sounds of water splashing onto the surrounding rocks.

Purbalingga

Purbalingga regency is 37 kilometres away from Baturraden, or 90 minutes by car. Just like Baturraden, Purbalingga lies very close to the slope of Mount Slamet and thus is blessed with dense vegetation and fabulous waterfalls. One site, however, remains as the regency’s number one highlight—Goa Lawa Purbalingga (Golaga).

Golaga is a vast, maze-like, underground cave which was created thousands of years ago following the Mount Slamet eruption. This cave stretches 1.5 kilometres long and has underground rivers as well as 16 smaller caves inside. Many indigenous people have travelled a long way from various areas across Java to meditate in those smaller caves, complete with incense and offerings, hoping that the deities will give them good fortune and wealth.

Several big holes and natural openings can be found on Golaga’s sides and ceilings, allowing the sun to shine through. Colourful lighting installations and bamboo torches brighten up the cave’s interior, giving it an ethnic and rather mystical aura.

Food and transport

Dieng Plateau, Purwokerto, Baturraden, and Purbalingga offer local delicacies that will satisfy your sweet, savoury, and spicy cravings. Some of them include sweet and juicy mountain papayas called carica and tempe mendoan, which is flour-coated tempeh fried over medium heat and served with hot chilli relish. Another dish you have to taste is mie Jawa, a bowl of traditional noodle soup or stir-fried noodles, that you can find almost in any regions across Java. The best part of it all is those foods are available everywhere, from the bustling markets to the sides of busy streets, at IDR15,000 to IDR20,000 per meal.

To start your backpacking adventure, just take a train from Stasiun Pasar Senen in Jakarta and stop at Stasiun Purwokerto. From Stasiun Purwokerto, catch a minibus, officially provided by the Indonesian railway company PT KAI, to Wonosobo. Stop at Terminal Bus Mendolo, Wonosobo, and catch another bus to Dieng Plateau.

If you are going from Dieng Plateau to Purwokerto, you can take a bus from Terminal Dieng and stop at Terminal Bus Mendolo. Then, take another bus and stop at Terminal Bus Purwokerto. To continue your journey to Baturraden and Purbalingga, simply rent a motorcycle for 24 hours at just IDR100,000.

Where to stay

There are plenty of cosy backpacker hostels with moderate facilities in these four destinations. In Dieng Plateau, you can stay at Homestay Seribu Bukit Dieng in Patakbanteng village for IDR120,000 per night, or Homestay Johar Syariah Dieng on Jalan Raya Dieng for IDR150,000 per night.

In Purwokerto, you can stay at Hotel Besar Purwokerto on Jalan Jenderal Sudirman for IDR75,000 per night, or Hotel Roda Mas on Jalan Martadireja for IDR100,000 per night. In Baturraden, you can stay at Hotel Teratai Putih on Jalan Raya Baturraden KM 14 for IDR 155,000 per night, or Hotel Tirta Kencana near Baturraden bus terminal for IDR180,000 per night. 

In Purbalingga, you can stay at JFive Guesthouse on Jalan Gunung Padang no. 5 for IDR175,000 per night, or Wisma Mulia on Jalan Letnan Ahmad Nur no. 7 for IDR245,000 per night.

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Shenny Fierdha

Contributor

Shenny is a freelance writer/journalist/translator who can write both in English and her mother tongue Indonesian. She loves backpacking to lesser-known destinations, especially those with a comfortably cold climate. An avid history fan, she enjoys spending hours at museums while others might yawn and try to find the nearest exit.

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