Located about 90km’s off the coast of Semarang, the Karimunjawa Islands are one of Java’s best kept secrets. Comprising of 27 tropical islands, this tiny archipelago is paradise personified. Picture jungle clad islands, swaying coconut palms, white sandy beaches lapped by warm, clear waters. Now imagine having a beach or even a whole island all to yourself, something that is entirely possible if you visit outside weekends and holidays.
The main islands in the archipelago are Karimunjawa and Kemujan, just a narrow channel and bridge crossing to the north. Karimunjawa is the larger island and contains the only village of any significance, located around the main port for the archipelago on the island’s southern tip. Due to its flatter terrain, the island’s airstrip is located on Kemujan.
Both islands are surrounded by one superb beach after another; it’s really just a matter of getting out there and exploring for yourself. There are so few cars on the islands, the best way to do that is to hire a scooter (75.000Rp per day).
All of the surrounding islands are quite small in comparison. Some not much more than tiny sandy cays and apart from a few temporary fishermen’s camps, most are uninhabited. Ideally you should set at least one day aside in your itinerary to visit a few of them. Be sure to pack a picnic and your snorkelling gear.
Local boat charter generally costs between 300.00-500.000Rp per day depending on whether you go for a local fishing boat or a speedboat. Most homestays or any of the tour desks in town can arrange boat hire for you or you can head down to the beach and do it yourself by asking around. You might get a better deal this way but that can depend on how well you can haggle.
If you’re into diving, there are several dive shops in Karimunjawa offering trips to a variety of dive sites including shallow coral reefs, drop-offs and several shipwrecks. They’ll also hire out snorkelling gear if you don’t have your own.
There’s a good choice of basic to mid-range accommodation on both Karimunjawa and Kemujan although the bulk of it is clustered around Karimunjawa village. The most common type of accommodation is homestays or bungalow style with shared bathrooms. Whilst the digs might be basic, some of the locations right on the beach or nestled in jungle clad hills with million dollar views are outstanding. And if you heard electricity was only available from 5:30-11:00pm, we’re happy to advise that since April 2017, 24 hour electicity is now available across both islands.
If you prefer something a little more upmarket, Karimunjawa does have a couple of small resorts and there’s another on nearby Menyawakan Island. Alternatively, you can camp just about anywhere on any of the islands. If you’re looking to really get away, organise a boat drop-off and pick-up and head to one of the uninhabited islands for a few days. Just be sure to take plenty of provisions including lots of water.
Most of the homestays will provide breakfast and for other meals you won’t have any trouble finding a warung or café; a few of the latter even have free wi-fi. Cash wise, the only ATM is located in Karimunjawa.
The quickest way to reach the islands is by charter flight from Semarang to Dewandaru Airport on Kemujan Island but it’s much cheaper to catch a fast boat from Jepara (Bahari Express). The crossing takes around 2.5 hours and departs 5 days a week but it can get busy so it’s best to book ahead. At the time of writing tickets were 110.000Rp per person. There’s also a slow ferry (Siginjai) that operates 3 days a week between Jepara and Karimunjawa. At 42.000Rp per person it’s a cheap way on and off the islands but the downside is the crossing takes around 5 hours. A fast boat (Kartini) also operates between Tanjung Emas port in Semerang and Karimunjawa but it currently only runs on Thursdays and not at all during low season. Note that boat services can be delayed or cancelled in bad weather.