Karimunjawa was the unexpected highlight of my trip to Java. Actually it was not part of my itinerary, but ended up being the place I spent most of my time on Java. This tiny island in the north of central Java is a true paradise! I actually only wanted to stay a couple of days but ended up staying more than a week and I could have easily stayed another week, just enjoying the pristine beaches, soaking up the relaxed atmosphere and chit chatting with the friendly locals.
How to get to Karimunjawa
Despite the fact that Karimunjawa is a true paradise, most Western tourists have not yet discovered it. How come? My guess is that first of all most people hop over to Bali anyways, where there are enough beaches. And secondly, it’s maybe a bit of a hassle coming there.
I came from Yogyakarta where there are several buses a day leaving to Jepara. I decided to take the night bus at 11pm, as the boat was leaving at 6.30 in the morning. I was supposed to arrive at 5am in Jepara, but ended up being there at 3.30 already. Fortunately, time went by quickly as I started chatting with a friendly German guy who was sitting in the same bus and who was heading towards Karimunjawa as well.
There are two different ferries leaving from Jepara to Karimunjawa. The slow ferry which takes about 5 hours and costs around 95 000 IDR and a fast boat which takes 2 hours and costs about 160 000 IDR. It’s a bit tricky finding out the right timetable as this seems to fluctuate. Be aware that not only does the boat leave on different times on different days, but the boats also don’t leave every day. Apart from that, it seems that the boat sometimes doesn’t leave due to weather circumstances. No idea how often this is the case, but I was warned.
Staying in Jepara for the night didn’t really sound very appealing the me. The few guesthouses there seemed to be expensive and rather unattractive. Apart from that the city also doesn’t really have much to offer. All in all, I can understand that this doesn’t really sound very appealing to people who just want to have a laid-back holiday. But with just a little bit of extra organization, you can assure yourself a spot in paradise and it’s really well worth it! (Just make sure you take some extra cash with you as the only ATM on Karimunjawa often runs out of cash.)
Where to stay on Karimunjawa
Karimunjawa offers accommodation in all ranges. You can get hostels starting from 90 000 IDR and can even get a private room for the same price which is what my German travelmate did. He stayed in Asia Jaya, a very cheap guesthouse, but the conditions seemed to be accordingly. He ended up only sleeping over there, but in his spare time he was hanging around my guesthouse, The Coconut House. I decided to get a private room for the time I spent on the island as it was affordable for only 130 000 IDR per night. And I’m happy I chose to stay in the Coconut House. The place is small and cozy, the breakfast is good (one of the few places where you at times would get something else other than just pancakes, sometimes I got surprised with a super rich avocado toast or a smoothie-bowl) and the staff is just so lovely! They really made me feel at home. Everytime I came back from my activities I really felt like coming home which is a feeling I truly love while being on holidays. On my last day, the receptionist even gave me a goodbye present in the form of two key chains and we both nearly cried. I definitely want to come back to this paradise and I already know where my home is going to be!
What to do on Karimunjawa
Probably the most common thing to do is to just rent a scooter for 75 000 IDR a day or 50 000 for 6 hours. If you know you’re staying longer, it’s best to make a deal (e.g. 50 000 IDR a day for 7 days).
There are countless beaches which all seem to be equally stunning. The only “problem” with the beaches is the fact that they are all very shallow for a long time. Especially when it’s low tide, you’ll have to walk into the (warm) sea for quite some time before you can actually swim. Apart from that the beaches are perfect!
Probably two of the most famous beaches are the sunset beach and the Bobby beach, both for which you have to pay an entrance fee of 10 000 IDR. When I first got to the sunset beach I was unaware of this and ended up getting on the beach without paying anything. The trick is not to following the sign that says “main road to the beach”. Just continue walking down the road, turn right and you’ll end up at the beach as well.
When I arrived to the beach I was all alone. There were only some locals preparing their stalls for the evening, but apart from that I was all alone even though it was already 1pm. By around 3pm slowly some tourists came by, in order to see the sun setting, but we’re talking about no more than 10 tourists. I couldn’t believe that my main reason to not go to Indonesia for such a long time (my grandparents are Indonesian, therefore I had a reason to come), was my fear of mass tourism. I guess I got so completely distracted by Bali, it didn’t even cross my mind that Java could be different. Anyways, I was very pleased with the tourism I found on Karimunjawa of which around 80% are local tourists and only 20% are international tourists. And since there are so many beaches and so many other activities to do apart from going to the beach, you’ll always find a practically deserted beach to spend the day on.
Karimunjawa actually has some really great snorkeling to offer! I didn’t expect much when I did my first snorkeling trip, so I was very pleasantly surprised to see such a beautiful underwater world.
There are different ways of doing a snorkel trip. In fact, I went snorkeling three times, all of them arranged differently. The first time I went snorkeling I ended up sharing a boat with 9 other people to Pulau Kecil, a small island just opposite to the Ocean View (meeting point was Baracuda Beach, just next to Ocean View, some 25 minutes on the scooter from the city center). Renting a boat for the day costs about 350 000 IDR, so splitting the bill amongst 10 people leaves you with a pretty cheap snorkel trip pf 35 000! I have no idea who started this idea of sharing the boat, so I don’t know the details of how this was arranged, but the island is small and it won’t be difficult to find out more about it.
The second time I went snorkeling I did the “official” snorkel tour which is offered all over the island. For 200 000 IDR you get a snorkel tour starting from 8.30 am up to about 17.15 pm. The tour includes three snorkel spots, snorkel equipment, lunch and relax time on an island and sunset watching on another small island.
I thoroughly enjoyed all of the snorkel spots, as I wasn’t much of an experienced snorkeller. But I have to admit that I later became a bit spoiled after snorkelling in Komodo National Park on Flores island. After experiencing the snorkeling there, my standards have risen considerably! But fortunately I did the trip the other way around and by that time I was very pleased with what the underwater world of Karimunjawa had to offer. There are not many fish (only some places where you’ll see schools of fish passing by), but the fish that are there are beautiful and colourful. The coral is not particularly colourful, but it’s abundant and has some really intriguing patterns. Don’t expect too many big fish, though I did bump into a reef shark at a certain point.
The last snorkel tour I did was more of an accident. During my time on Karimunjawa I was hanging out with three German guys who decided that they wanted to go fishing. They met a local who offered them to do harpoon fishing for 150 000 IDR pp. Since I was not interesting in killing the fish but rather just watching them, he offered me to come on board as well for only 100 000 IDR. Since I just love being on the water and I enjoyed the snorkeling so much, I decided to join the guys. In the end we ended up on a boat that was doing the regular snorkeling tour. So, in fact I got everything I had the day before, but for half the price! The snorkel spots were different though and the one I enjoyed the most (which is part of the National Park) was not included. I was nevertheless really happy to do the tour again!
Well, you could have guessed that Karimunajwa has some really good seafood to offer. I generally don’t like seafood too much, but in places like these where the fish is extremely fresh, I seriously love it! Every evening at the football place, food stalls will appear, some of them offering typical Indonesian food, others offering fresh fish. You can select the fish you’d like to have and they’ll grill it for you à la minute. If you also decide to go fishing and end up catching some, this is also the place where you can ask the ladies to grill it for you for a small compensation.
Chill with the locals
One of the things I really enjoyed about Karimunjawa were the locals. I felt straight away that the island has the perfect balance of tourism for me. There are enough tourists for people to not stare at you and to have some basic knowledge of English, but there are also not too many tourists, so the locals have enough time to give you some attention. I ended up meeting some really great locals, apart from my awesome receptionists at the guesthouse.
One local (who actually isn’t even really a local himself as he comes from Bali) even invited me to come and see his plot on an island next to Karimunjawa, Menjangan Besar. He is currently planning to build a resort there which is really going to be a dream! He told me it should be done by April next year, so if you’re reading this past April 2020, you should check whether it’s available. Even just staying on this island for the day felt so good! As there is no civilization you’ll only hear the mosque from the city and maybe the ferry passing by. For the rest it’s just peace, tranquility and good company!
Generally, Indonesians are very outgoing people and they enjoy connecting to the tourists. In Karimunjawa I felt it was easiest to meet nice locals, as the island is small and most people have a decent level of English. My German travelmate eventually stayed for 3 weeks on the island, just chilling with the locals and enjoying the island vibes. Before coming to Karimunjawa he was told that 3-4 days on the island were going to be enough since there is not much more to do. This is probably the case for people who want to explore something new every day, but for a social animal and nature lover like me, I’d happily some more days just connecting to people and soaking in the tranquility and the beauty of the beaches.
Obviously, there are also other things to do on Karimunjawa, such as hiking and fishing. I also heard from people that they went camping on a beach on one of the deserted islands for a night. Either way, if you’re the least interested in beaches, water sports and marine life, you’ll definitely enjoy a visit to this gorgeous island!