“Bali or Karimunjawa islands, which do you like better?” My husband and I heard this question from many of the Karimunjawa locals during our weeklong stay on the island. They were all happy to hear that we thought our Karimunjawa vacation was superior to an overcrowded, expensive Bali getaway. The pace of Karimunjawa island is slower, more relaxed, and more genuine. If you’re seeking a leisurely, tropical holiday, this little group of islands in Central Java is worth checking out.
But before you get to experience the leisure of this sunny oasis, there’s work to be done because getting to Karimunjawa island is no easy task. We planned our trip around a work holiday which happened to fall the week before their tourist season starts. This meant the island would be far from crowded, however the perk of exclusivity also depleted many of the travel options. There is a weekly ferry from Semarang, our home, but it does not run until the high season begins on 1 April so that meant we would have to leave from Jepara. We hitched a ride with DayTrans from Semarang to Jepara and stayed one night at the Jepara Marina Hotel in order to be there early enough for the Monday morning fast ferry, Bahari Express, which left at 9:00. Luckily the weather was cooperative and it was an easy two-hour cruise over calm seas.
We booked a room at Breve Azurine Lagoon Hotel which, because they are located a little way outside the city, sent a car to pick us up from the ferry. There are plenty of homestays and smaller hotel or hostel accommodations located near the dock in the small town of Karimunjawa. There are advantages of stores, restaurants and tourist activities that come with staying closer to the city center. Breve Azurine came with a higher price, but the splurge was worth it with amenities like a guest-only beach, complimentary kayaks and the privacy of our own bungalow. Each morning from the porch of our bungalow we watched the sky illuminate the bay with its pink and orange glows of sunrise.
Afterwards we moved to the main building to enjoy a delicious breakfast prepared by the Breve Azurine staff including fresh fruit, fluffy eggs or pancakes and freshly ground coffee (no instant coffee here!!). Sitting on the white sand beach under a canopy of palm trees and thatched umbrellas, it’s hard to imagine ever leaving the resort. But with the whole island at our fingertips there were too many curiosities beckoning for our exploration.
Our days were spent gazing down at the clear-as-glass waters from a kayak or through a snorkeling mask. Though we could have had the hotel book a day of island hopping, it was more cost effective to go with one of the many tour companies in town. We booked a full day of boating, snorkeling and beach selfies for only Rp175,000 per person. The package included a delicious lunch of fresh, grilled fish with rice prepared by our guides on Pulau Cilik.
When we returned from our boat tour, we were dropped right next to the Alun Alun, which was just gearing up for an energetic evening. Karimunjawa has a lively square where the daily happenings can include soccer games, t-shirt and souvenir stands and an abundance of kaki limas grilling up seafood fresh from the waters of the Java Sea. We picked out two langoustines fresh from the waters to be grilled and served over rice and sambal. Even a simple street side meal can feel fancy with fresh seafood and the sun setting in the distance.
After getting our fill of sea exploration, we rented a scooter for two days to see what the rest of the island had to offer. We are far from experienced scooter drivers so I was worried when I learned that it’s more of a BYOH (bring your own helmet) situation. But we fared well on two wheels despite our inexperience and the roads being less than ideal in many places. First we explored a more remote part of the island on the southeast side where a brick road winds you along the palm tree-lined coastline. The road ends at the tip of an inlet where the crescent shaped beach where the water gently laps an old ship where it lays wrecked and rusting.
Next, we took on the road up the west side that led us all the way to the northern tip. The road starts smooth and lined near town but quickly changes to gravel with plenty of potholes. With those kinds of conditions I expected the area to become less populated, but as we made our way north we discovered the road goes back to being nicely paved and lined with homes. I loved seeing the homes in this area that were mostly Bugis homes on stilts. We passed a couple of stores, a mangrove forest, and even another port as we zoomed out past the airport. Though it has no city center, with the airport expanding to offer new flights and what looks to be construction to lengthen the runway, it seems as though this might be the side of the island that will expand quickly as tourism grows.
We attempted to book one of the two weekly flights home to Semarang, but the Airfast planes are small and fill up quickly. Because we missed out on the flight option, we planned to take a ferry the following day but learned that there was no ferry service that day so we ended up extending our stay another night. There’s work to be done to reach Karimunjawa and as it turned out for us, we also had to put in some effort in order to leave, as the schedules didn’t reflect the information we were given from the hotel. But a utopian paradise like Karimunjawa island is not a bad place to be forced to extend your holiday. We used the time not thinking about the hustle and bustle of the city we would soon return to, but further slipping into the slower, relaxed pace of Karimunjawa island life.
About the author
Amanda McLaurin is an American expat living in Semarang with her husband. You can view more of her photography work on Instagram @PTXstudio and read about her travels at PTXstudio.wordpress.com. When she’s not traveling she enjoys spending quiet days at home reading, crafting and attempting to master Bahasa Indonesia.
If you are interested in booking accommodation for your holiday in Indonesia I recommend Airbnb. Sign up through this link to receive a $25 discount on your first booking. For hotel bookings I recommend Agoda for its low price and discounts.