Banyuwangi: Fragrant Waters

As the ferry chugs across the Bali Strait to Java’s east coast the thought springs to mind that we are entering a land that has traditionally been known as ‘Fragrant Waters’.

Words by Jack Orchard

E805A6 Beautiful Teluk Hijau (Green Bay) beach in Banyuwangi, East Java, Indonesia

The name of Banyuwangi town is derived from an old Javanese folk tale involving a rather temperamental knight and a wronged damsel. Apparently, the faithful damsel swore that if she were innocent then no blood would flow at her execution. As promised, ‘fragrant water’ flowed miraculously from the kris wounds that killed her.

These days Banyuwangi has become a base camp for a whole series of adventures and expeditions throughout the region. Some visitors are just passing through the town en route to the legendary surf breaks of G-Land or Red Island. Others come to dive at Tabuhan Island or to visit the famous turtle hatcheries at Sukamade Beach. Baluran National Park (just 30 minutes from the city) offers wonderful trekking and camping amid an unexpected piece of what appears to be African savannah that is home to wild buffalo, deer, monkeys and countless bird species. The majority of Banyuwangi’s visitors, however, are lured by a chance to explore the dramatic volcanic peaks in the area.


Mount Ijen is the holy grail of the whole chain of spectacular volcanoes in this area. Local experts Backyard Travel ( offer a week-long tour that starts in Yogyakarta and tackles mighty Mt Bromo before crossing Banyuwangi region to end with an unforgettable climb to Ijen’s summit with its famous sulphur mines. Banyuwangi has historically been a vibrant trading port and Banyuwangi Mall online ( has recently opened to usher in a new era for the city’s craft, tourism and trade potential. The portal was set up as a collaboration between state-owned enterprises with government support and with Rumah Kreatif as the operation’s nerve centre. When it was launched in late April it saw thousands of dollars’ worth of transactions within the first three hours.

Banyuwangi Tourism ( is also boosting the town’s tourism profile with a calendar of more than 50 festivals and sporting events for 2016. Several famous jazz festivals are among the highlights, along with a great Kite and Windsurfing Festival (20–21 August) and a Batik Festival (9 October).


It’s true that there is little left of the fort on Jalan Benteng (Fort Street), but the so-called Asrama Inggrisan is a unique piece of history as it has served as Dutch barracks, a British telegraph office (connected with Darwin) and a Japanese Second World War defence post. In some ways time has stood still in Banyuwangi. It is easy to imagine that, throughout all these eras, the marketplace along Jalan Susuit Tuban has been packed with produce from the fertile volcanic lands both sides of the Bali Strait and locals have gathered every evening to watch a hundred thousand sunsets on Pantai Boom. Here at ‘Boom Beach’ you can sit and watch the setting sun cast golden rays onto the highlands of Bali and – amid the scented smoke of fresh barbecuing fish and steaming soto – there is no doubt that you are indeed gazing over fragrant waters.


Jakarta to Banyuwangi via Surabaya

Flight Time 2 hours 15 minutes

Frequency 7 flights per week

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From Colours June 2016


5 Senses – Sight

Banyuwangi is the traditional homeland of the Osing people (now mostly Muslim but historically closely related to Balinese Hindus). Against their colourful cultural backdrop several unique traditions have grown. The Gandrung dance is the most famous and is a hauntingly beautiful dance that is believed to simulate the joy and relief that comes with a plentiful harvest. The best time to see this dance is during Festival Gandrung Sewu (17 September) when the dance is performed by more than 1,200 women!