For whatever inscrutable reason, West Java does not feature on the tourist map at all. Travelers fly to Jakarta and immediately hop on the train to Yogyakarta - those few, that is, that do not limit their trip to Bali. In fact, this province constitutes almost half of Java and has numerous attractions. Anak Krakatau volcano just off the coast keeps blowing up and re-growing, like a phoenix. The last Javan rhinos roam the jungle in Ujung Kulon National Park. Kawah Putih garbs itself in creeping, ephemeral, mildly toxic mists. Most of the province is mountainous, covered with primary forest, full of waterfalls, traditional villages, and mountain lakes. One of the latter, Situ Gunung, is known among Jakartan photographers - but not internationally - for particularly beautiful sunrises.
The lake itself is uniquely beautiful. Surrounded by jungle, the flat, placid, mirror-like dish of water reflects the vegetation on the opposite shore, forming a circle of green. Cool temperatures at 900 m asl ensure abundant mists in the morning, and tree canopies split the low rays of the sunrise into single beams, clearly visible in the fog. A trail circumambulates the lake, but depending on the season and the current level of maintenance, it can be only partly passable: some of the banks are very swampy. Keep your eyes and ears open to spot wildlife – Javan langurs are quite common here, gibbons are occasionally sighted, as well as some rare avifauna.
But there is much more to see at this site. The longest hanging bridge in Indonesia, built solely as a tourist attraction, is just a few km away. Crossing it will eventually lead you to Curug Sawer, a tall but rather unexceptional waterfall. There is even an elevated café overlooking a solid massif of primary forest along the same path. This is where most Jakartan holiday-makers go, so do not expect solitude. None of them, however, are willing to wake up early enough to reach the lake at dawn. This natural attraction you can usually have entirely to yourself.
Situ Gunung can easily be reached from the town of Sukabumi in West Java if you do not mind a bit of walking. Red bemos (public minivans) will get you as far as Kadudampit. From there, follow the road uphill for about an hour to the entrance gate. To capture that ephemeral light at sunrises, however, you will have to stay in the vicinity of the lake. One option is camping; another – one of the fancy villas and basic guesthouses lining the road up from Kadudampit. Keep in mind that both types are insanely overpriced for their comfort level, especially on weekends. In fact, weekends are generally not a good time to visit Situ Gunung, since the site is very popular with Jakartans and gets crowded, utterly destroying the natural ambiance. Be aware of the usual racist dual pricing of entry tickets: about 1,5$ for Indonesians, roughly 13$ for foreign travelers. One way to avoid it is to reach the lake first, then cover (or skip) the remaining attractions. Assuming you aim for the sunrise, and therefore, start walking before dawn, the entrance gate will likely not be manned. Once inside, nobody checks the tickets anymore.
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