After more than 6 weeks traveling in Indonesia, enjoying the warm and clear waters from Bali and Lombok, there a was thing that was missing: the waves! As a native from a city close to the Atlantic coast, I’m used to waves, big or small, but always waves… of course that the still waters of tropical white sand beaches are amazing, but I always get a bit bored after a few minutes at the sea if there isn’t the same action!
And in Batu Karas (also written as Batukaras), on the south coast of Java, a few kilometers west from Pangandaran I found a good combination, between nature and waves. But the south coast of Java is famous for surf, due the strong currents, and Batu Karas, once an unnoticed fishing village, has become a name on the surf scene in Indonesia, with a small bay where a rock break the ocean currents, creating organized waves a few meters from the shore, perfect for beginners… and with a sandy bottom!
But to make it clear, Batu Karas has two beaches: a small one that has the surf spot, that is also good to swim despite the strong current that due to the shallow bottom is not danger… the other beach, immediately east located in front of the Batu Karas village, is a very long stretch of sand with a rough sea, strong waves and a rocky bottom that is not inviting or safe to swim, and where is located the fishing activity.
Batu Karas is surrounded by a very beautiful landscape where the green is everywhere, the rice fields, a lagoon, the mangroves… a lot of natural vegetation in a chill and relax atmosphere, where only the weekend visitors bring some agitation. Most of the people stay here for surf, and everywhere you look you see surfboards or people passing by in vintage cars and scooters on the way to the beach with the board hanging on the side!
We can say that Batu Karas is an idyllic place where a visit can easily get stretched for a week or so… but this place, as many others, suffers from the greediness of some people. A few people capable of ruining your mood… Unfortunately, most of the people that speak English will start a conversation in a relax mode, looking like they want to help you, but for sure will end up trying to push you for surf lessons, a tour, a scooter, a guide… it’s a bit annoying and a waste of energy. And if you don’t get any of their services the friendliness ends quickly, and they will not help you with anything. As Buta Karas is a small place is difficult to avoid this local mafia… is like that in many places, but is sad!
What to do in Batu Karas:
Batu Karas is focused on the surf, but there are a few things to do while you wait for the tides.
- The Mangrove is located about 4 km from Batu Karas. Is better to rent a scooter, but you’ll find ojeks on the way that take you there for 20.000 Rp. I did it on foot, as it was a cloudy day and not so warm, but is better starts early morning. The way to reach the mangrove is very nice landscape with rice fields and a countryside lifestyle. Very relax and pleasant. The last part there are a lot of fisheries under construction, that make the way more difficult and less quiet. The entrance ticket is just 5.000 Rp, both for national as for foreigners!!!! There is a wooden path through the mangrove that ends at the lagoon. Is a nice place to chill, surrounded by the tropical humidity of the lagoon listening to the wakes break on the nearby beach.
Mangrove. Batu Karas
- The Green Canyon is the most popular tour, not just for the foreigners but also for the local population that comes from nearby cities. It can be crowded on the weekends and holidays. You need a boat to reach there, and according to how far you want to go (just see the canyon, swim or jump from a rock) there’s a different price. The shortest trip cost 200.000 Rp for a boat that can be shared by six people. So if you are alone just arrive in the morning and wait at the ticket counter for more people to share the boat. I arrive in the afternoon, and not many people saw up, and the ones that come were already in big groups, so after two hours of waiting, I skip this place. At the weekends you have more change to join to the family groups but don’t expect a quiet and chill trip!
- Watch the fishermen (and women) pulling the nets from the sea at the end of the day at Batu Karas beach (not the surf beach). You need to walk a bit east along the beach until you spot a concentration of boats. It’s an enjoyable walk that you can do around 4.30 p.m. when the sun is less strong.
- Crossing the Bamboo Bridge, a short cut from Cijulang to Batu Karas, that crosses beautiful landscapes along a river, with some forest and beautiful views. Really special with the light before the sunset, or early morning. For this, you need a scooter, as it is too far to reach on foot.
- Batu Hiu (shark rock) is located in the middle on the way between Pangandaran and Butakaras, a bit away from the main road. Is not much more than a small cape from where you can have nice view to beaches on both sides where the waves are quite strong. The place lost the natural look with some cheesy improvements and decoration… not really impressive for me!
- Cagar Alam Pangandaran is a nature park located on a peninsula very close by Pangandaran. The ticket for local people is 16.000 Rp and for foreigners is 215.000 Rp. I didn’t even try, as it also look a lot more a recreation park than an intact nature reserve.
- … and of course… surfing!!! On Saturday and Sundays Batu Karas get a lot of visitants from Pangandaran and other cities like Badung and Jakarta, changing totally the place, with the beach full of people where the women bath with clothes, that doesn’t make me feel confortable to sunbathe or swim with a bikini… So is better dress a t-shirt or avoid the beach on the weekends!
Where to sleep in Batu Karas:
At Batu Karas village is the biggest concentration of accommodation… villas, resorts, guesthouses, apartments, homestays… and the prices are above 100.000 Rp. There isn’t any hostel or a place with a dorm at Batu Karas.
But for me is more interesting to stay nearby the Batu Karas surf beach. There aren’t so many options here, but you can find a room for 100.00 to 200.000 Rp, as also a couple of resorts. My favorites, as also the cheapest are the few wooden houses that usually don’t have more than two or three rooms on the top floor. Some are a bit close to the road, so you can hear the traffic noise (not significant except on the weekends), bit others are close enough to the sea to hear the waves… and just about 2 minutes from the sea.
I stayed at the Wooden House from 100.000 Rp, a night for one person. The place is cozy but the bathroom is dodgy; the lady that runs the business is very nice and friendly, and try all to help even if she doesn’t speak English… but a certain point I was kicked out in the middle of my stay, by one of her relatives, just because someone was arriving and will pay a higher price for that room… what to do?!?!?
So, despite some argument, I was forced to move to another place, almost next door, the Lucky Luke Guest House. In fact a place with much better conditions that charge 125.000 Rp for one person. A big room, clean and confortable, with some furniture and a small balcony, run by a friendly couple that doesn’t speak English!
Just next door, still under construction (May 2017) there’s a cool place with room around 150.000 Rp, the Tree House Inn, that is easily identified by the colorful wooden doors. Contacts of Tree House Inn: 08.222.000.9155, 0821.3087.6531
Where to eat in Batu Karas:
There are a few restaurants nearby the surf beach, serving the standard Indonesian food with a focus on the fish dishes, serving also western food, like pasta, chips and burgers. I try a couple of these restaurants and wasn’t impressed by any of them. The prices are slightly higher that you can find in the cities or in the countryside, but reasonable as we are far from any city or town.
At Batu Karas village there are a few option with local food, which sometimes are difficult to recognize if it’s an eatery or a house of someone.
I found a humble place with good food that I become fond of, going there every day. Is located on the main road of the village, nearby a crossroad (that has the Mangrove sign) opposite to Jelajah guesthouse: Warung Nasi Itikuri. The place is very simple and humble, but serving fresh and tasty food with the padang style, based on rice that you can add tofu, tempeh, jackfruit, egg, chicken… a meal, that includes a tea, cost around 10.000 Rp to 15.000 Rp (without meat or egg).
I couldn’t find any fruits in Batu Karas except coconut (10.000 Rp) nearby the parking area of the surf beach.
You can find basic stuff on the local shops, but the prices are higher (for example the the water bottle cost the double in Batu Karas). So for shopping is better to go to Cijulang where you can find, supermarkets, fruit shops, and some more option for meals.
How to move around in Batu Karas:
You can walk around if your destination is not much that get some food or go to the beach.
But to go further you gonna need a scooter. There isn’t a scooter rent shop in Batu Karas but just ask at your guesthouse that they manage to get one. It costs 50.000 Rp/day… and if you need a helmet is better to ask in advance at this is not a common thing in this area.
You don’t need to show any documents: no driving license, no insurance, no nothing!… my scooter didn’t even have a plate number.
ATMs and Money exchange in Batu Karas:
There are a one ATM at Batu Karas village that accepts international cards.
Nearby the surf beach there are also shops that exchange money; but not that here the rats are not so good, so if you have the change is better to exchange your money in Yogyakarta or another big city.
How to go from Yogyakarta to Batu Karas:
No matter from where you came from, if you travel by public transport, you will need to go to Pangandaran. There’s no point to stay in Pangandaran, and the resort/hotel area nearby the beach is not charming. So, even if you are not coming here to surf, Butakaras is definitely the best option to stay.
- From Yogyakarta, I took a bus to Pangandaran that cost 120.000 Rp. I bought the ticket online (www.bosbis.com) and pay it in one of the supermarkets (Indomaret or Alfamart, that charge 7.000 Rp commission). This service has the advantage that you can choose the pickup point and avoid a trip to the bus terminal, but on the other hand your day starts earlier… so the pickup time was at 7 a.m. but they just arrive one hour later (after many phone calls), and then they drop me at the office of the bus company to wait for more people. The bus just started around 9 a.m.
- The trip from Yogyakarta to Pangandaran takes 7 hours; is a a/c bus but not very comfortable. It stops around 11 o’clock for food and rest,
- The bus drops you at the Pangandaran terminal. From here you can catch a bemo (local transport like a mini-van, with beige color) that are waiting on the left side of the terminal entrance, to Cijulang. The trip cost 7.000 Rp and takes almost one hour.
- At Cijulang (pronounces Xijulan) you need to get a ride to Butakaras from one of the ojek (moto-taxis) that are waiting at the entrance. It cost 20.000 Rp and the trip, along with a very beautiful landscape, takes not more than 15 minutes. There’s a bamboo bridge that is a short cut to Butakaras, if the ojek chose this way, you must pay 2.000 Rp to cross the bridge.
- On the way back, from Butakaras to Cijulang you are at the mercy of the local mafia and can’t get a ride for less that 25.000 Rp.
Wi-fi in Batu Karas:
Almost any of the accommodations that I visit in Batu Karas have wi-fi. So just the most expensive places have this facility.
At surf beach, you can only find wi-fi at Java Cove Resort, which has a restaurant where you can just ask for a coffee and use the wi-fi.
How to go from Batu Karas to Jakarta:
- You need to take an ojek from Butakaras to Cijulang as you are at the mercy of the local mafia you can’t get a ride for less than 25.000 Rp.
- The ojek will drop you at Cijulang Terminal, where you can get the beige bemos (local transport like a mini-van) that are waiting there to Pangandaran. The trip cost 7.000 Rp and takes almost one hour.
- The bemos will drop you at the Pangandaran Bus terminal (nearby a market). From there are buses to Yogyakarta (at 6:00 p.m., no a/c) and to Jakarta one at 7:00 p.m. (no a/c) and 8:00 p.m. with a/c. These buses don’t start at Pangandaran, so when they arrive at the terminal they are usually late.
- The bus with a/c to Jakarta costs 95.000 Rp and ends at Kampung Rambutan Bus terminal, located on the south part of the city. The trip takes 8 to 9 hours. The first part is very bumpy and along secondary roads, but after Bandung the trip runs smooth.