The Pros and Cons (And Logistics) Of Visiting Batukaras, The Best Longboarding Wave in the World
The secret’s out -- at least a little: Batukaras, a small fishing village in Indonesia, features one of the best longboarding waves in the world. I’d had my sights set on it ever since Omar, my surf buddy from Malaysia, showed me the photos and videos from his trip last year.
When I asked Omar where it was and how to get there, he issued an important warning: there’s basically no way to get there that takes less than eight hours, so you have to really want it. When he went, he told me, he stayed for several weeks.
Which is what I wanted to do… but I ran out of time. I was only (“only”) in Southeast Asia for two months this year, and I didn’t make it to Java until the last week of my trip. Getting there from Yogyakarta --
-- only (“only”) took about seven hours...
But getting back to Jakarta ended up taking closer to 12 hours. Nevertheless, I had an amazing experience -- my time constraints only made me determined to surf every sunrise and sunset, and to get in at least three sessions per day, every day.
As an added bonus, a swell came in the day I arrived, so I got to surf some pretty big -- though still reasonably mellow -- waves.
Here are the pros, cons, and other logistics of surfing Batukaras.
Great surfing. The waves are super mellow and easy to catch. You’ll be on a longboard (I surf 7’2-8’0 boards, normally, but was convinced to surf an 8’6 at Batu Karas -- it was totally the right decision), which means you’ll basically get any way you paddle for. Unless it’s one of those weird double ones that comes through sometimes… I paddled for a few, unsuccessfully. But some people were definitely catching them (they sometimes, but not always, end up becoming one fast wave at the end, when the rear set swallows up the front one).
Despite what people say, it’s not THAT crowded. Maybe I only feel this way because I’m used to surfing Santa Cruz, CA… Or maybe it’s because I went out to Batu Balong in Bali a few weeks prior, and all the surfers literally looked like a giant plastic island out on the water...
But, yeah. The secret’s out: BK is awesome. You definitely won’t be the only surfer out there. I still had plenty of sessions that I only shared with a handful of other people -- a mix of tourists and locals. The trick, I think, is to go early. I was out every day at 5:30am (Java is on a different timezone than Bali, so the sun rises and sets about an hour earlier than other parts of Indonesia)... which, though early, was typically more crowded than 8am or so.
(Since I was only there a few days, I don’t know if this was because everyone though they could beat the crowds by paddling out at 5:30am, and then they all got hungry and went for breakfast around 8am, or if it had more to do with the tides, or both.)
The kids get out of school at noon, and they go straight to the point break. They’re hungry, and don't have a strong objection to snaking white people. (They’ll give you a look and say, “Go! Go!” if they notice you haven’t gotten one in a while, though.)
Friendly locals. I’ve heard horror stories about locals who are extremely defensive about “their” spots and “their” waves. But no one was really “agro” at Batukaras.
(There was this one white guy, though. He had a huge nose -- like huge. I love big noses, so I couldn’t help but notice he was constantly staring at me from about 15 meters down the line from where I was sitting. I thought it was because he thought I was pretty or something (#ChooseBeautiful)…
But then, when I was paddling back out after one wave, he was like, “You don’t need to go after every wave!” I assumed he was referring to the fact that I’d recently paddled after one wave, but then bailed because another girl had better position,. Knowing I'd done nothing wrong, I just kind of just rolled my eyes and ignored him.
A few minutes later, a set rolled through, and I caught a really pretty wave. I was up and riding it for several seconds when Big Nose Guy, way down the line, glared menacingly before dropping in on me.
That’s not just rude -- it’s also dangerous! Several tourists and locals witnessed this crime against humanity and began booing loudly. To add to his humiliation, I did something I’ve never done before: I grabbed his board and flipped it. Because, as the amazing Danny Wallace writes in F* You Very Much: Understanding the Culture of Rudeness -- and What We Can Do About It (which you should read -- very few nonfiction writers make me LOL when I'm sitting in a room by myself), the only way to stop rudeness is by confronting it.
That was the only unfriendly encounter I had on my whole trip.)
Cheap. I stayed at Buana Homestay, which was about $17 per night (book it using this link and you'll get 10% cash back on your stay). Meals were about $1-3 each, mango shakes were about 70 cents, and beers were about... a dollar? Plus or minus a little. Getting in/out cost about $10 each way -- though it will be slightly more if you take a scooter/motorbike/ojek or car (instead of the public bus) from Pangandaran to Cijulang.
Renting a board is about 75,000 rupiah (~$5) per day, though you can get a better rate for a longer-term rental. You don’t need to pay anything to store the board -- most people leave their private (or rented) boards in unlocked racks on the beach, as there isn’t really a problem with stealing.
Other breaks. There are other places to surf, when the waves are small or the tide isn’t great at the point. I surfed the point almost exclusively, because the swell had come and it was always firing. But I did spend one high tide at the reef break. It’s just a 10-ish minute walk from Buana Homestay, or 15 minutes from the point.
Here's the map -- the reef break is on the top, Buana is in the middle, and the point is at the bottom.
About half of the surfers I talked to wear reef booties at the reef break. I had my O'Neil Superfreak 2mm Tropical Split Toe Booties with me (you should, too, if you plan to surf Bali during your trip), so I figured better safe than sorry. I was definitely glad I had them... but, honestly, probably would have been fine without them.
There’s another break that’s about a 45-minute scooter ride away from town. Ask around -- people will be glad to tell you what they know. I never went, so I can’t comment beyond saying that I heard some people talking about it and they seemed pretty happy about it.
The bus and train rides are (mostly) really pretty. After taking hot, cramped, stinky buses all over the Philippines, then sitting in traffic in Bali, I was really excited for Java’s train system. And I was not disappointed. The train was spacious, cool, and comfortable, with two power outlets at every seat to keep your electronics charged. The views were (mostly) gorgeous, as you pass through rice paddies, little towns, and even mountains. The last 3-4 hours of the trip to (or first 3-4 hours of your from) Jakarta will be mostly city, though, which is way less interesting.
Super hard to get to. There is a flight, which I’ll discuss in the logistics section. But even that is highly inconvenient, because Susi Air, the only airline that flies into Cijulang Nusawiru Airport (CJN)(which is a 15-minute scooter ride from BK, but I believe there is also an airport shuttle) flies out of Halim Airport, which is in East Jakarta. I thought about taking the flight at 5:45am for a 6:45am arrival in East Jakarta, then heading straight to the main airport, CGK, or Soekarno–Hatta International Airport, for an 11:50am flight to Cebu…
But almost everyone I talked to told me there was no way I would make that connection. Even though Google Maps said it would only take about 1.5 hours to get across town, locals predicted it would take closer to four, whether I took public transport or a private car.
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Don’t go to Batukaras if you can’t handle up to 12 hours of transit. Only go if you can accept that when you travel, it can take forever to get places that aren’t that far away.
When I was on the fence, I reminded myself that it had taken almost 11 hours to get from Malapascua to Moalboal, Cebu, even though the two destinations are only 200 kilometers apart. It took almost 8 hours to get to Pavones, Costa Rica, and 10 or 12 to get to Bocas del Toro, Panama -- and half of that way literally on the chicken bus. So sitting on a comfortable, quiet train with a whole seat to myself wasn’t that bad.
Plus, as I once wrote on The Happy Talent, Everything's Always Worth It.
SO worth it! Just like it's worth following me on Instagram :P
It can feel like there’s always someone on the waves you want. That agro Big Nose Dude I talked about earlier was frustrated because I was getting a lot of the waves he wanted. (I mean, there were three other people where I was, but apparently I, the only girl, was also the only one who deserved his wrath.)
But, to me, that’s just kind of part of surfing. Maybe there was a time when you could just paddle out and get all the waves, even if you were catching them way further insider than you could have, because surfing was an unusual sport.
But those days are over, and the feeling of someone always being on your wave is going to be true anywhere.
If someone’s catching the waves you want, you’ve either got to be more aggressive (there’s a difference between agro and aggressive, btw) about where you’re paddling and what waves you're chasing, or patient enough to wait for the waves that aren’t breaking further out.
That said, there were definitely spots where you could catch the smaller waves on the inside. Sometimes, I found myself wondering if it was worth it to sit so far out and catch fewer waves…
But those thoughts melted away when I’d catch a big wave and ride it hundreds of meters, all the way to the orange tsunami thingie at the end of the beach.
Possibly not much to do other than surfing? I don’t even know if that’s true, because when I was in Batu Karas, I made little effort to do anything but surf. (Plus, to be perfectly honest, I was listening to the third book of One Second After, by William R. Forstchen, so I wasn't feeling especially social. :P)
But. I do know that Villa Monyet has this cool event where they serve a grilled fish dinner on banana leaves. Afterwards, they have live music.
There's also the Green Canyon, open Saturday-Thursday from 7:30am-4:00pm, Friday 1:00pm-4:00pm. (Entrance Rp12,500 per person; chartering a small boat (5 persons) about Rp100,000 per hour.) You take a boat through beautiful jungle on a green river of brackish water. At the end of the navigable section, there are waterfalls and rocks to jump from.
I didn't go, because there was a downpour the night I arrived. After heavy rain, the river turns brown for one or two days, so it's not nearly as pretty. Plus, like I said, I didn't have the time or interest to do anything but surf.
Another fun side trip from BK is Citumang, or Green Valley. It's about 45 minutes northeast of BK, and is open from 6am-5pm. There, you can "body raft" (float) down a clear freshwater river in a lush valley, "canyoneering" and jump from several waterfalls ranging into deep water. Enjoy rope swings, relax behind waterfalls, and venture into a cave. Entry is Rp 19,000 (or 24,000 if taking photos).
I list this as a con, even though I didn't really see it as much of a con. Some people have a need to be constantly entertained, and I'm not sure if BK is the place for that. I will say, though, that I’ve never been anywhere in the world where there’s “nothing to do.” Boring people lead boring lives. Playfulness isn’t a trait, it’s a skill. Anywhere I go, there will always be plenty to do -- from guitar singalong jam sessions to songwriting to deep discussions about science, psychology, culture, and the future to improvised games to night hikes to firefly watching to who knows what else?
Saturday mornings bring crowds. Literallly busloads of local tourists come in from Jakarta on Saturdays. They take an overnight bus that arrives at 5:30am, then go straight to the beach and spend their day there.
I have no problem with them playing games on the beach -- in fact, I find their pure joy at even the most simple of games to be contagious. I find it endearing that so many of them want to take photos and selfies with me. In no way do I feel more “entitled” to be there than they are, and it’s an honor to share the beach with them……
THAT SAID. These tourists can be pretty clueless when it comes to water safety and surfing etiquette. When the tide is low, the water in front of the break is shallow enough to stand in. When the tide is high, the tourists go out in tubes. It can make the wave you just spent 15 minutes waiting for hard to navigate, and you might have to bail if there’s no safe way through the crowd.
Meanwhile, they’re smiling and laughing without a care in the world. It’s impossible to get mad at them… but hard not to worry that your (or someone’s) board could hit them.
That said, most of the time it's not that crowded and you can just catch a wave and ride it all day -- sunny or cloudy, rain or shine. :)
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In this section, I will tell you how I arrived and departed, and what some of your other options are.
Arriving from Yogyakarta:
First of all, HUGE shoutout to the family at Griya Batik Giri Sekar Homestay, who not only went above and beyond at being amazing hosts (when I arrived at 8am, they excitedly got my room ready and let me check in early; surprised me with some Indonesian baked goods; offered super affordable, private accommodations -- I paid $8 a night for my room; and were so fun to chat with!)...
But they also patiently helped me figure out the bus and train system to get to Batu Karas. If you visit Yogyakarta on your stay, I highly recommend this little place, which is right in the middle of the city and walking distance to many attractions. (Use my referral link and we'll both get $50).
The bad news: you can't take a train directly to/from Batukaras.
BUT. You can:
1. Walk or take a Grab/GoJek (car or bike) to the train station -- there are two, so make sure you go to the right one.
2. Take the train to either Banjar or Sidareja. Both are about 3 hours from Yogyakarta, and it'll be another 3-ish hours to Batu Karas.
3. Take a bike to the bus station.
4. Take the bus to Pangandaran -- or, if possible, Cijulang. Make sure to specify to the bike driver if you want A/C or no-A/C, because that might make a difference as to where he drops you.
5. Some no-A/C buses will run all the way to Cijulang. If yours does, great! Otherwise, you will need to hop on a public bus to Cijulang once you arrive in Pangandaran. OR. Hire a scooter or car to take you all the way to BK. It'll cost about 100,000 rupiah, but lots of people think it's worth it to avoid the hassle.
6. When you arrive in Cijulang, get a scooter into Batukaras. It should cost 25,000 rupiah.
Make sure you specify if you want an AC bus -- those leave less often, but take less time (because they make fewer stops), and, of course, are air conditioned.
Also be sure of the price before you get on the bus, and have small change. There's a chance the guy who collects the fares will be a crook and refuse to give you change if you pay with a 50,000 or 100,000 rupiah note.
Like this guy. Total crook.
Arriving from Jakarta:
You can take a bus directly to Pangandaran or Cijulang. It will take between 8-10 hours and make one 20-minute stop in the middle. Ask your hotel staff or innkeeper for help finding and reading the bus schedules (I wasn't always able to find them in English).
1. Some no-A/C buses will run all the way to Cijulang. If yours does, great! Otherwise:
2. You will need to hop on a public bus to Cijulang once you arrive in Pangandaran. OR, in Pangandaran, hire a scooter or car to take you all the way to BK. It'll cost about 100,000 rupiah, but lots of people think it's worth it to avoid the hassle.
3. When you arrive in Cijulang, get a scooter into Batukaras. It should cost 25,000 rupiah.
Take the train to either Banjar or Sidareja. Both are about 3 hours from Yogyakarta, and it'll be another 3-ish hours to Batu Karas.
Then follow steps 3-6 from the Arriving from Yogyakarta section.
The most expensive option, but it will save you a lot of trouble. (And possibly time, though the couple I spoke with who had taken a private car from Jakarta hit traffic, and the drive ended up taking 12 hours.)
Depending on how much money you want to spend, you've got a couple of options:
Bike to Bus to Train
For the 9am train to Jakarta, take a motorbike at 4am to Cijulang (arrive 4:15am)
Take the Cijulang bus to Banjar (which can take up to 3 hours; the bus will leave between 4:15am and 4:30am)
Take a bike to the train station.
Take the 9am train to Jakarta
Arrive at Pasar Senan at 5:13pm.
Take a Grab or GoJek to your hotel.
Bike to Bus
Take a motorbike by 6:30am to Pangandaran.
Get on the AC bus Terminal Kampung Rambutan (East Jakarta) at 7:30am. (Double check that this is still the correct time, though, obvs.)
When you arrive in Jakarta, you can either take the airport shuttle to the airport (if that's where you're going), OR
Walk to the police station right outside the bus station. The GoJek and Grab drivers won't pick you up inside the terminal, and this is a good and safe place to wait.
Private car to Train
Whether you're going to Yogyakarta or Jakarta after BK, a private car will save you some time getting to Bajar. You might be able to leave as late as 6:30am for the 9am train, but that would be cutting it a little close.
The good thing about the train is that it's relatively unaffected by traffic. The bus I took to Jakarta ended up taking about two hours longer than it was supposed to due to traffic (but the total travel time ended up being about the same, since taking the train would have required getting up at 4am to take a motorbike to a bus to a bike to the train in Banjar, but taking the bus directly to Jakarta from Pangandaran only required a 630am departure from BK).
And that the trains are nice and spacious and clean.
The bad thing is, of course, all the added logistics.
You can find the train schedule on Kereta Api website or using Rome2Rio. But what I almost always find to be the most efficient and clear way to figure out what's going on is to ask your innkeeper or concierge. That's one thing I really appreciated about Buana Homestay -- the woman who runs the hotel also runs a travel agency, and was extremely helpful when I was sorting through all these logistics.
She even got me a super price on the ojek ride to the bus station, instead of doing what hotels normally do and mark it up. Check her out on Instagram.
Flying to/from Batukaras
The most expensive (~$100, vs. ~$10), though fastest, though not always convenient to your travel plans, option is to fly.
Susi Air is the only airline that conects Jakarta to BK. There's only one flight per day, which was the main reason I didn't just fly to Jakarta. I couldn't make it work with my schedule without spending an entire day in Jakarta, which I had no interest in doing. (I decided I'd rather take the bus or train and get to see the beauty of Java.)
It's a tiny little plane -- I think it's like a 12-seater Cessna. So that will be an experience in itself.
If you're bringing your own board, it could end up costing a chunk of change to check it.
The most important thing to note, if you have another flight before or after this one, is that this does not arrive or depart from CGK, the Jakarta International Airport. It goes through East Jakarta, and it can take 1.5-4 hours to get from one airport to the other., even with a private car.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of hotels and homestays in BK. It’s easy to book online, and you can pay either online or in cash on arrival. Some places will accept a credit card -- check ahead of time if not being able to charge it is a problem for you. (Worst case, you visit one of the ATMs in town. As far as I know, they all work and they don’t run out of money.)
I used as previously mentioned I stayed at Buana Homestay, and that was the perfect price ($17) and location (and, again, use this link and we’ll both save money). It included air conditioning and all the filtered water I wanted, and there was a drying rack outside for all my swimsuits and rashguards and stuff.
However, if AC isn’t a priority and you want to stay in the most unique, Instagrammable accommodation in all of Batukaras (and possibly all of Java), then you’ll want to book The Treehouse. It’s very close to the point break (about a 2-minute walk), but without a beach view -- but you’ll have a freaking tree growing up through your floor.
You can book it through Airbnb (use my referral link to get a $40 Airbnb credit) for $15/night.
Another amazingly cool option is Gubuk Cinta On Top. It's a short, two-minute walk from the beach... but you'll feel like you're in the middle of the jungle. The property also boasts fruit trees, which you are encouraged to eat from, a hot tub that's heated by the Cobb pizza oven in the open kitchen. Extremely Instagrammable, and only $24 per night (less if you use my link for a $40 AirBnb credit).
Where to Eat
Anywhere you go will be good, really. I was told before I went to Indonesia that the food would be soooooo amazing. I thought it was good. But it wasn’t Thai or Malaysian good.
The place I visited most was Kedai Mini Batukaras. It was cheap and the fried rice was very flavorful. They also had pizza, which I never ordered, but I smelled them cooking it once and it filled me with longing.
The avocado smoothie I ordered at Salt Cafe didn’t really taste like anything -- it was just kind of green blended ice -- but I really liked their gado-gado, which is vegetables (mostly cabbage, but also others) in spicy peanut sauce, as well as their bakwan, which is like onion rings, but with other kinds of vegetables, and in crab cake form. Or perhaps it could be likened to vegetable fritters.
Finally, if you want a special, social experience, check out the aformentioned Villa Monyet for fresh fish and vegetables served on banana leaves
Again, renting a board is about 75,000 rupiah (~$5) per day, though you can get a better rate for a longer-term rental. You don’t need to pay anything to store the board -- most people leave their private (or rented) boards in unlocked racks on the beach, as there isn’t really a problem with stealing there.
Getting photos and videos
If you’re bringing your own board, you can stick a GoPro mount on the nose.
If you’re renting a board, you won’t have a hard time finding one with the GoPro mount and backup leash thingie. I’ve gotten some cool photos and videos of myself from this angle. Your legs will look really long and amazing due to the curved lens.... Though you might make your grandmother blush, as it's vaguely up-crotch-ish.
Another way to get your own GoPro footage is using the mouth mount -- which, admittedly, looks really weird. But the footage I’ve seen from this mount is pretty epic.
I did not get to use mine on this trip, because my kitesurfing instructor broke my GoPro.
You can also try to find a photographer in town. There are plenty of guys who will do it for you. I bought two photos from a local guy, who also does video.
Enjoy your trip to Batukaras -- and if you have additional tips or recommendations, feel free to share them in the comments!
7/11/2018 02:48:05 pm
Thanks SO much for this. I've been trying to figure out these logistics, and these are the clearest insturctions I've seen yet. Thanks for the heads-up on the flight, too. I couldn't find it listed on the websites I checked on and now I know why.
7/16/2018 12:10:27 am
9/21/2018 06:01:04 pm
I seem to remember there being a few markets, and there's definitely something within scooter distance. I didn't do any cooking there, because the food at restaurants is pretty cheap.
9/21/2018 06:09:15 pm
Did you get Bali Belly (or West Java Belly, lol) from eating out all the time?? I'm sure there's a risk involved in eating out a lot, no?
9/27/2018 12:07:55 pm
I didn't get sick from eating at restaurants, it even street food. You just have to be careful. Don't eat raw fruits or veggies that you can't peel. Don't drink the water -- and be careful about ice, as it's often made from tap water. If it looks like it's been sitting out for a while, don't eat it. If they can't answer your questions about the food, it's probably better to move on to make sure you're not eating something you didn't mean to. If you're reasonably careful, you shouldn't get sick. That said, I also travel with probiotics, which I take as a precaution. There been shown to prevent and treat travelers' sicknesses.
9/9/2018 04:57:15 pm
Hey, This is GREAT info! Thank you!!
9/21/2018 05:59:57 pm
On the bus, that will be tough. You can probably get a private car from Bandung Airport for about $100. I haven't traveled with a board before, since I normally rent, so I hope that helps :)
2/2/2020 12:59:00 am
This place is so crowded. I been coming here for some time. Sadly old days are gone. So crowded. Local kids haven't been taught the rules and drop in. Minimum 20 pepole at the small point on a bad day. Forget it if it's good. If you speak nhasah you can hear them saying don't let bule have a wave. There's a couple of the older surfers who are cool. But unfortunately it's too crowded. Sad had such fun here. 😢
3/7/2020 10:08:04 am
It helps if you go early, while the kids are still in school.
3/5/2020 10:30:12 pm
3/7/2020 10:07:34 am
There isn't a dress code. The locals wear what the locals wear, but they don't care what you wear. If you're in a bikini, there's a chance local tourists (they come down on the weekends from Jakarta) will want selfies with you, but they always approach you with a big smile.
4/2/2020 09:08:50 pm
Actually, people do care what you wear in Batukaras, it's only ignorant foreigners that flaunt themselves in g-strings without considering the locals or culture. Java is a Muslim country, you might find yourself in trouble with this attitude...how about showing respect to the place you are visiting!
4/4/2020 07:41:21 pm
"jodie" is incorrect. I wore what I wanted, and made tons of friends with locals, tourists, and local tourists (they come in from Jakarta and other parts of Java).
5/28/2020 06:57:48 am
This was the best accidental read I've enjoyed in ages. I will never get to this place -- too much ground to cover and not enough years to spend -- but fabulous guide. Really enjoyable and enlightening. Thank you.
9/16/2021 05:46:32 am
9/30/2021 10:19:10 pm
There are so many distinctive balance layouts available with different fit, materials, and innovation, it tends to be difficult to choose what Surfboard fins Balances will suit you best. Surfing with the right size and kind of blade layout is fundamental for the manner in which your board performs.
2/14/2022 12:15:39 am
I'm thinking about traveling here alone this summer. Anyone who has been is it safe for a 20 year old to stay here for a few weeks lol. First big trip alone. I just want to surf everyday definitely going to bring 2 boards with me one my 9'4 hopefully it wont be too hard on the buses and planes. Let me know pleaseeeee. I think I might go to bali first for over a week.
2/15/2022 09:15:31 am
I think it should be very safe for you, especially once you arrive in Batu Karas. Towns whose main or only source of income is tourists tend to protect their tourists. Jakarta, I'd be more careful. Don't.... don't go during a contentious election. Don't protest. Use common sense. You should be fine.
12/20/2022 07:32:53 am
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2/28/2023 06:42:20 pm
Amazing post, just some little update.
4/8/2023 06:05:46 am
4/13/2023 06:02:22 pm
Resorts are more comfortable and offer various activities for guests.
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