The elixir of life flows abundantly throughout Indonesia, and with such a dramatic topography caused by billions of years of volcanic and tectonic activity, this nation of islands is literally teeming with examples of water hurling itself over cliffs. There are literally hundreds of waterfalls throughout the archipelago, and we visited as many as we could during our seven week meander through Java and Bali. Here’s a look at several of the most intense and distinct waterfalls we were fortunate enough to immerse ourselves in…
Air Tarjun Kedung Kandang
Located about 24 kilometers southeast of Yogyakarta, just getting to this place by motorbike was an adventure in itself. The last few kilometers are tucked within a maze of local roads crisscrossing through dense jungles with no signs to speak of. Luckily we’re not shy about asking directions, as that’s about the only way this place can be found, and the friendly locals in this region are always eager to assist.
Kandang is uniquely breathtaking in it’s beauty, as it is a perfect juxtaposition of natural splendor and agricultural ingenuity. For centuries farmers have been growing rice in paddies carved into the terrain that surrounds these stunning falls that supply the water for this staple crop in abundance. Equally impressive for us was the wide variety of fruit trees and veggie crops growing amongst the paddies and cascades in a style that would make any permaculturalist drool. We were drooling. And when we weren’t drooling, we were pooling. One particular waterfall in this series of cascades, drops into a deep, roiling pool of crisp, cool water. Releasing myself to bob and float freely in this swirling waterhole was truly one of the most blissful water experiences I’ve had in a while. That pool sits somewhere in the middle of a 3 kilometer loop that winds it’s way through this picturesque valley, so this isn’t one of those drive up, walk a few minutes, see a pretty waterfall and then skedaddle kinda deals, but as we were soon to find out, very few waterfalls in Indonesia are.
Banyu Tibo Beach
Following our time in Yogyakarta, we spent a week in Watu Karung, which is a surfer’s paradise and a wonderland of gorgeous beaches for miles and miles. One of those beaches is Banyu Tibo, which boasts the unique feature of a waterfall gushing out onto its pristine sands. It’s the epic shoulder massaging shower to bask in after dips into the ocean to play in the waves.
Getting to this place is a bit of a challenge, as it’s on one of the gnarliest roads we encountered in Indonesia, which is a statement for sure. Our bungalow host, Jefri, who runs Prapto Homestay lent us a motorbike and guided us over there, which made the journey a lot easier. But the best part of that 45 minute ride was the collective reception given by all of the local people along the way. I’m not exaggerating when I say that 90% of everyone we saw along that road dropped what they were doing to smile, wave, yell “hello” or just exude pure happiness in a display of friendliness that I’ve never seen anywhere else on this planet. The waterfall and beach were great, but it was the people in this little slice of paradise that will forever be engrained in our memories.
We usually do our research pretty thoroughly before heading out somewhere, and Haruka in particular tends to have a good grasp on what we’re about to get into before we get there, but Coban Sewu is a notable exception. I suppose we were going on the information regarding the main entrance to the waterfall, and were thus unaware that there was an alternate entrance. The 60 km journey from Malang took over 2 hours by motorbike, so by the time we got into the area and saw the first sign pointing toward the waterfall, we were eager to get there and didn’t question that the parking area was down some narrow alley at someone’s shack of a house with no other vehicles around. We paid the small parking fee and headed down the tiny footpath that was pointed out by the guy who took our money.
Within a few minutes, we were treated to a spectacular view of Coban Sewu from above. From there the path led into the deep jungle, and before long we encountered a bamboo ladder which took us down the first of many vertical drops down into the valley. The density of the jungle made it impossible to see what was really going on below, as we’d go down a ladder and then shimmy along the steep slope a bit before dropping down to the next ladder. The first three or four ladders were fairly sturdy, but they seemed to get more and more rickety the further down we went. About halfway down, one of the bamboo rungs broke under my weight, which gave us cause for pause, but we reasoned that going back up would be just as dangerous as going the rest of the way down, so we persevered. As we neared the bottom, we noticed a group of locals pointing and laughing at us. All in all, there were about a dozen half-rotten bamboo ladders and a few very narrow steel ladders that facilitated what was easily the sketchiest “trail” we’ve ever descended.
When we finally got down, the group of locals was giggling and calling us crazy, and so we asked them if there was some other way down. They pointed to the relatively much easier trail on the other side of the valley, and we all got a good laugh out of that. Part of me was angry that some local villager takes advantage of unknowing tourists for a few bucks and a venture that potentially puts people in real danger, but another part of me was thankful to him for providing us with such an exciting adventure. With that behind us, the waterfall itself was absolutely massive and raging with sheer hydro energy. It was so intense, that we couldn’t get within 20 meters of it, but it was good for one of the best natural showers of all time!
Moving over to Bali now… Aling Aling is the largest fall in a series of cascades that has become a sort of natural water amusement park. This was the only waterfall we encountered in Indonesia where a guide was required, and who knows, maybe it was a scam. Whether it’s an official regulation or not is often hard to decipher in Bali, but we weren’t in the mood to grapple over a few bucks (50,000 rupiah each), and once we saw what we were getting into, we were happy to pay a nice, local guy to safely guide us through the high adrenaline experience up there.
The trek through the jungle is relatively easy, but before we could go check out the sacred Aling Aling waterfall, we had some thrills to take care of first. You start with a 5 meter cliff jump into an intensely roiling pool below. Life jackets are available, and at first we refused them as we’re pretty strong swimmers, but our guide insisted, and in retrospect, I think it was the right call. Jumping from that height and the higher spots later on, plunges you quite deep into the pools where the turbulent action in the water aggressively spins and flips you around, so getting to the surface quickly is a bonus. From there we climbed up the opposite bank to ride a 10 meter waterslide, which is a near vertical plunge, exacerbated by massive amounts of water accelerating you deep into the pool below. After that, there’s another slide about half the size of the first one, a 10 meter cliff jump and then a 15 meter leap to finish off the extreme portion of the tour.
After we got our blood pumping, it was time to go upstream and check out the sacred Aling Aling, which is prohibited to get into because of it’s spiritual significance to the local people. Our guide Kedek, besides being a quirky little character with about 20 English words that he used with extreme vigor, was a deeply spiritual jungle being. We were super impressed with his reverence to nature, as he was continually cleaning up trash and leaving offerings of flowers and woven grass sculptures to the gods, as he vocalized his prayers and gratitude to the earth that provides for him. He was also very passionate about flinging himself off of cliffs into the deep water below!
This one is perhaps the most famous waterfall in Bali, and as such, the local boys are eagerly looking to rip off tourists with exorbitant guide fees, which they claim are required, but they definitely are not. We found a lot of conflicting info online about how to avoid these scammers, and once we got up there, it was rather confusing, so I’m going to lay it out clearly for anyone looking to self-guide themselves through this wonderland of waterfalls.
As you approach the site, you’ll see an entrance and parking area to the right where there will be a crowd of local men wearing day-glow vests. Enter there, and drive right through even though they’ll be imploring you to stop and hire a guide. There will be pressure to stop, but they won’t force you or come after you. From there, head down that road for a kilometer or so, and it will narrow as it enters into a small village. We took it until it was getting so steep and narrow that it was getting dicey to stay on the path, and then we spotted a small shop with locals playing cards and drinking moonshine. They happily let us park for free and we reciprocated by buying some mangosteens and then mie goreng for lunch when we returned. There were plenty of spots before that to park as well, but you may need to negotiate a small parking fee with the landowner. From there it was another few minutes walk down the narrow trail to the entrance where we paid a fee of 30,000 rupiah to enter.
I was expecting one big, impressive waterfall, but there are actually three massive waterfalls in this valley of dense jungles, each one about a 15 minute walk apart from the next one. Most people head straight for Sekumpul, which is the middle one, but we caught a glimpse of another one upstream to the left as you’re approaching Sekumpul. There’s no trail up this tight little gorge, so some bouldering and some slogging through the river is required, but the payoff is a stunningly powerful cascade with absolutely nobody else around. For us, this no-name waterfall was the star of the day due to its gorgeousness, its solitude, its swimmable pool and the challenge of getting up there and back. Sekumpul is notable for it’s sheer intensity and raw force, but getting anywhere near it is like being in a category 5 hurricane.
Further up around the bend is Lemukih Waterfall, which is another beautiful, high water-volume cascade that requires a few river crossings to get to, and it’s totally worth it. For some folks, hiring a guide may be a good idea, as there are quite a few slippery spots and technical crossings, but they’ll probably have to haggle hard for a fair price. It’s also worth noting that we visited all of these falls during the rainy season, so the flow was heavy and the tourists were very few, which suited us just fine. Thank you Mother Earth for continuing to blow us away day after day!