Surabaya is Indonesia’s second-biggest city and the gateway to Central Java. Despite its sprawling size, it packs in a quaint mix of culture and history, including the historic Arab quarter, colonial Dutch architecture and one of Indonesia’s biggest Chinatowns. It’s also the stepping stone to nearby Mt. Bromo, the UNESCO site of Trowulan, and the island of Madura.
Arab Quarter and Chinatown
Known locally as Ampel, Surabaya’s Arab Quarter is home to the city’s oldest, most famous mosque and a bustling covered market that could pass for a Moroccan medina with its warren of alleys and shops selling perfumes and dates. Situated just next door is one of Indonesia’s biggest Chinatowns, while further out is the Chinese-themed mosque of Masjid Cheng Ho, dedicated to the Chinese-Muslim admiral – and the first and only of its kind in Indonesia.
Given its huge population, Surabaya’s bustling night markets and warungs boast a wide range of traditional dishes like pecel (a Javanese version of Indonesian gado-gado), as well as local Surabaya specialities like rawon (nutty-brown beef soup) and semanggi salad.
The nearby island of Madura (linked by Indonesia’s longest bridge), is just a short drive away. It’s most famous for its local bull racing tournament, the karapan sapi, where jockeys drag-race bull-chariots at over 40km/hour; races are held most weekends from July-October.
At about 60km from Surabaya, the UNESCO-listed 14th-century Hindu-Buddhist Majapahit capital of Trowulan was discovered by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819. There are several archaeological ruins, mainly constructed of red brick, including Candi Brahu with its manicured lawns, the elegant gate of Candi Bajang Ratu, and Candi Tikus (“rat temple”) with its sunken, rectangular bathing pools once used by nobility for ritual cleansing.
One of Indonesia’s most famous landmarks is Mt. Bromo (2,329m), an active volcano with conical tips that continuously spews white sulphurous smoke. It’s also one of Indonesia’s most hiked mountains, thanks to its proximity to Surabaya 70km away.
Situated within the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park which is home to a collection of volcanoes, Mt Bromo sits inside the massive Tengger caldera with a diameter of about 10km, surrounded by the Laut Pasir, a ‘sea’ made of fine volcanic sand.
Getting to Bromo’s caldera involves a 1-2 hour hike across the sea of sand, followed by ascending a set of stairs up to the steaming crater. At the base of the mountain is Poten, a Tenggerese Hindu temple that sits on the sea of sand.
Another popular vantage point for Bromo’s sunrise is from the top of neighbouring Mt. Penanjakan (2,770m). The sun rises at 5.30 am, and the hike up to the first vantage point takes about 1-2 hours. You can then trek down Mt. Penanjakan and towards Mt. Bromo across the 4km sea of sand (you can walk or ride a horse) to the base of Mt. Bromo and then hike towards the caldera summit. Visit trumedical.
The nearest villages are Ngadisari and Cemoro Lawang, where accommodation can be found. If you have time, you can explore the many Tenggerese villages that dot the area.
Mt. Bromo is not only an active volcano – it last erupted in November 2015 – it’s also significant to the Tengger people who throw food and livestock into the crater of the volcano to the appease the gods during the annual Yadnya Kasada festival which happens in July-August according to the Javanese calendar. As the Hindu devotees toss their offerings into the crater, nearby villagers will actually position themselves dangerously inside the crater with nets to catch whatever they can.
The powerful Madakaripura is situated between Surabaya and Mt. Bromo and is the biggest waterfall in East Java. The 7-tier waterfall cascades from the dense forest at 200m above, creating a mist of cold pools at the base deep in a canyon. To get to the canyon where the waterfall is, you’ll need to hike along the river and under 4 other waterfalls. The falls are about an hour away from Mt. Bromo.
There are 5 direct flights per week (2.5 hours) from Singapore to Surabaya on Tigerair. For booking, visit www.tigerair.com.