Traveling is awesome. However, as you probably noticed as well, many places are getting too crowded and touristy. That’s why I try to look for places which are not commonly known and not many people heard of. If you think that those type of places do not exist anymore, you will be surprised. There are still many left. And, Karimunjawa islands are one of them.
These little blissful islands are a vision of the tropics. Perfect white sand beaches with turquoise water which will hurt your eyes. This amazing hidden gem of Indonesia is definitely a “must” destination to visit. It takes an effort to get there as it’s not very known destination (not yet) but definitely worth it.
WHERE ARE THE KARIMUNJAWA ISLANDS?
The Karimunjawa islands are a group of 27 tropical islands in the Java Sea incorporated into the District of Jepara in Indonesia. It is located 80 km from the city Jepera, Central Java. The islands’ name means “a stone’s throw” in Javanese language.
WHEN TO VISIT THE KARIMUNJAWA ISLANDS?
The best time to visit the islands is during the dry season, generally speaking from April to October.
WHY VISIT THE KARIMUNJAWA ISLANDS?
If you love to escape the typical touristic places and try to look for a quiet destination (for now), then the Karimunjawa islands are perfect. The best thing about the Karimnujawa islands is that they are still not very known among travelers. For instance, Lonely Planet just recently started to mention them at all.
HOW TO GET TO THE KARIMUNJAWA ISLANDS?
Getting to Karimunjawa is not that easy. In fact, it took us ages. It was also very confusing for us to figure out the best and at the same time cheapest way. We stayed in Yogyakarta which I really recommend to visit. The two temples Prambanan and Borobudur are really worth seeing.
However, from Yogyakarta you have to get to a harbor city called Jepara. In Java distance usually is only short if one checks for kilometers. If you consider the time it will take in the end it is like traveling to the moon. So, when you check Google Maps, it is 200 kilometers. Unfortunately, Indonesian streets and especially Javanese streets are helplessly overcrowded and chaotic. A Bus/Mini Bus ride will take anywhere between 5-8 hours from Yogyakarta to Jepara.
A private taxi to Jepera is way to much, so we were looking for a travel agency which organizes night shuttle buses to Jepara. Usually they pick you up at a meeting point or your accommodation at 11 PM and you will drive through the night to catch a ferry or boat to Karimunjawa in the early morning. Our mini bus was almost 90 min late (we were close to believing no one will ever come), very small and not very comfortable. At least there was air-conditioning cooling the bus down to a very “pleasant” 10 degrees Celsius. The ride is also incredibly bumpy. Remember my experience on the boat to the Gili islands? Peanuts in comparison.
MY ADVICE: Try to avoid sitting at the back of the shuttle bus. Our bus had a very long wheelbase and the roads are not great neither. So every time we hit a hole I really thought we had an accident. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much of sleep neither.
I even had to take a motion sickness pill, as it felt like I am on a roller coaster to hell.
We arrived at “lovely” Jepara around 4.30 AM. “Lovely” because Jepara is not.
There are two types of boats to choose from in order to get to Karimunjawa from Jepara. Speed boat or ferry. And there are many things to take into account. Depending on your travel agency, on the day you plan to go and also on your budget.
IMPORTANT: Every day there is a different schedule for the boats to Karimunjawa. You can check it here. There are days where the speed boat doesn’t even go. On Thursday, there is not boat at all 😀 So, book your hotel accordingly.
The link is provided by Ayu Hotel on Karimunjawa. When in doubt contact your accommodation for boat schedules. Moreover, you will need to check the wave forecast to make sure that there are boats available. If there is any red color between Java and Karimunjawa no boat will unfortunately go.
For some reason, it is very hard to get tickets for the speed boat especially for the return trip. It seems like that the company sells most tickets to agents and tour guides in Jepara. So it is very likely that you will need to take the ferry very early in the morning and no speedboat at 11.00 AM. But, don’t worry. We had a really good experience taking the ferry, in fact, it was the best part of our journey to the Karimunjawa islands. Just get a VIP ticket and you are good to go.
How much the boat will cost you?
The speed boat costs about 150.000 Rp (10 EUR) one way and takes about 2 hours. The ferry is 50.000 Rp and it takes usually 4.5 hours. However, the queue for the tickets is very long. And that is why, a travel agent or the mini bus driver will wait in the line for you. Usually, they will charge a little tip (around 20.000 Rp). We decided to get VIP ferry tickets which I highly recommend.
A VIP seat costs only 25.000 Rp (ca. 1,50 EUR) extra and will make a huge difference. Coming to Jepara without any sleep, completely destroyed and frozen the boat ride was like a visit to a Spa. The VIP seats are very comfortable, and I slept almost the entire way. The room is also reasonably air-conditioned and does not feel like a butcher’s chamber to keep meat fresh. The common area doesn’t have any Aircon and the seats are very uncomfortable. It is also usually completely overcrowded and super loud.
After 12 hours we arrived at Karimunjawa islands. Honestly speaking, I was thinking: Karimunjawa, you better be good, because it took forever to get here.
ADVICE: If the ferry leaves at 7 AM it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will. It can leave earlier. You need to be at the harbor at the latest at 6.00 AM because the boat will leave once it is full. Both times our boat left at 6.30 😀
On our first day we went to the beach nearby. Karimunjawa as a small islands doesn’t have pedestrian walks. And as all Indonesian islands, it has a huge problem with littering. On the way to the beach, we saw a lot of trash besides the road. It is very sad to see. People just do not care about it. Education about environment and recycling seems to be lacking. The most trash we have seen around the local houses. Makes me really sad as the trash is lying around and kids are playing with empty and dirty plastic bottles.
The beach was nice though. As at that time, it was a low tide, the water was very shallow so we couldn’t really swim.
SNORKELING AND ISLANDS HOPPING FULL DAY TRIP WITH SUNSET IN KARIMUNJAWA ISLANDS
Our hosts from Ayu hotel organized an awesome snorkeling trip for us. This trip was my absolute highlight on Karimunjawa.
The snorkeling tour started at 9.00 AM and we came home after sunset, around 6.30 PM. We were on the boat with another couple, so we had plenty of room and paid 220.000 Rp.
The trip was amazing. Island hopping around Karimunjawa islands is a truly breathtaking experience. The water changes colors constantly, so we could admire many shades of blue. At first, we drove for some time until we reached our first snorkeling stop and beautiful coral reefs. We saw a few clown fish, turtles and of course a huge variety of tropical fish.
After that, we drove for another 45 minutes and we arrived at a deserted island where our captain caught a few fish with a harpoon. That was our lunch. As I love animals very much and I am also a vegetarian I didn’t like how the fish were killed. I don’t eat meat and very seldom fish, so for me it was very hard to watch.
We continued for about 5 minutes and reached GLEYANG ISLAND where we spent around 2 hours.
THIS PLACE WAS SURREAL. AN ULTIMATE PARADISE. The water was incredible. Fine white sand and amazing turquoise water will leave you breathless. I just couldn’t believe it. Also, the swing in the turquoise water kept me busy for some time. Well, I had to make some classy swing pictures 😀 After, we just lied in the shallow heavenly blue water. Seeing this island, I peacefully said: “Well, those 12 hours of terrible ride were definitely WORTH IT.”
Here our captain grilled the fish on fire. Served with rice, vegetables and as dessert we got fresh fruits. I didn’t eat fish but still I was leaving this paradise with a full belly. I was really sad to leave this place. When the captain said that we have to return. I screamed. “Noooooo, just leave us here” 😀
On the way back to the main island we watched a beautiful sunset on the boat. I really love those sunset moments. I felt so lucky to experience it. With every sunset I reflect on my day and the best thing is that there is always a new day after.
SPENT TIME ON ULUNG GELAM BEACH
Next day, our host recommended us to go to a beach called Ulung Gelam. He said that this is the prettiest and the best beach on the main island. We rented a scooter (70.000 Rp) and we went to check it out. He was absolutely correct.
Incredible place. Because we left early in the morning, we were alone there. On the left side of the beach there is a very little bay and this is where we spent the whole day. We were completely alone, surrounded by palms and rocks. We enjoyed this place so much that we even came back the next day.
Warm water and beautiful turquoise water with incredible surroundings will make you come again. As we came in the morning, the water was very beautiful. However, in the afternoon, around 3 PM, more and more locals and tourists from Java come to the beach.
My advice: Come there as early as you can. Also. when we were driving there was no one on the road. We even drove around the coast for 2 hours to explore more beaches but we didn’t like it that much except of one other beach. So stick to Ulung Gelam beach, you won’t regret it.
GETTING BACK FROM THE KARIMUNJAWA ISLANDS
Getting back from Karimunjawa was also a very confusing trip. We actually wanted to go back with a speed boat and the travel agency told us that we have to get tickets back once we are in Karimunjawa islands. Okay.
However, on the first day we went to the ticket office and we just couldn’t get them. The answer was: “The boat is full ” and contradictory: “The boat tickets for the speed boat are being sold a night before the speed boat departs.” He? So the boat is full but the tickets are being sold a night before? Didn’t make any sense but okay. So we went there 1 day before at 07.30 PM. Waiting waiting, waiting… Nothing. The office is closed. After 30 minutes of waiting one person went to ask if they can let us know when they will open the ticket office and how long we shall wait? And they said: “No, there is no point of opening ticket office because there are not tickets left for the speed boat “:D OKAY, Thanks?
Finally, our hosts got us ferry tickets, so we didn’t have to wait in the queue. The next day we left at 6.30 AM to Jepara.
The boat ride was so nice, we were the only Europeans in the VIP room, so a lot of staring eyes. Eventually, a few locals came to us and started to talk to us. They were truly lovely people, always curious and admiring that we are so tall and fascinated by our noses 😀 at least that is what they said.
In Jepara, we somehow found our shuttle bus back to Yogyakarta. The funny thing was that there were more people than seats. We had to tell the lady from the travel agency that we cannot fit there, so they were forced to organize another car. The drive was endless. Driving during the day is even worse than at night, it took us 7 hours. 200 km, 7 hours. We came home and we were completely done. But, still, I am very happy that we went to the Karimunjawa islands.
ALTERNATIVE AND (POSSIBLY) EASIER ROUTE TO KARIMUNJAWA ISLANDS
Get to Semarang where you can also take a speed boat or ferry to Karimunjawa. Like this you can avoid traveling at night with a terrible mini bus 😀
Possibly a more comfortable way is to fly from Surabaya to Karimunjawa. Airfast Indonesia is the airline that does it. Prices are even cheap: around 350.000 Rp/person. However, flights also depend on the weather.
IMPORTANT: There is no online booking possible and there are only 9 seats in the plane. The tickets can be only purchased directly at the airport in Surabaya. Also you have to consider that the Airport in Karimunjawa is around 22km away from most accommodations. Furthermore, there are no taxis to pick you up. A one way ride in a private car should cost around 400.000 Rp.
WHERE TO STAY ON THE KARIMUNJAWA ISLANDS
STAY IN AYU HOTEL
I choose this place as it was mentioned in Trip Advisor with the highest ranking. Also travelfish.org mentioned this place as a lovely hotel. And with a happy smile I can say that the ranking is definitely justified. Amazing hosts Eryl and Marco made our stay in Karimunjawa even more enjoyable. They were very attentive and caring. They have several cute huts which are very specious and nicely designed. I really loved the bathroom which had no roof, so showering and looking at the palms kept me there for a long time. The tasty breakfast every morning boosted our energy even more. Every morning we had a different breakfast (different types of pancakes, omelettes, fruits etc. Further, people who worked there are very kind, lovely and customer oriented. Marco and Eryl also organized for us an unforgettable snorkeling tour for us and you can also rent a scooter at the property (70.000 Rp). All in all, I highly recommend this place and I would stay there again.
Have fun on the Karimunjawa islands 🙂