Banten is the westernmost part of the island of Java in Indonesia. This article covers most of Banten province, but the northeastern parts of the province are suburbs of the Indonesian capital, and are covered in the article on Greater Jakarta.
- Cilegon — industrial city on Banten's west coast.
- Labuan — port city with a well-known fish auction and market.
- Merak — sea port with frequent passenger ferries to Sumatra island.
- Pandeglang — regional centre for southwestern Banten.
- Rangkasbitung — town on the north side of the impenetrable jungle of the Baduy people.
- Serang — provincial capital.
- Anyer — well-known beach resort on the west coast.
- Banten — small village on the north coast, but once the centre of the powerful Banten sultanate.
- Carita — more west coast beaches, with panoramic views of the Krakatoa volcano.
- Panimbang — fishing village and the beach resorts of the Tanjung Lesung peninsula.
- Sawarna — beach on the Indian Ocean coast.
- Ujung Kulon National Park — the largest remaining lowland rain forest in Java, a refuge for rhinos.
The province of Banten covers the westernmost part of the island of Java. The province was created in 2000, when it separated from the province of West Java. The northeastern part of Banten, notably the cities of Tangerang and South Tangerang, are part of the Jabodetabek metropolitan area (Greater Jakarta), and therefore they are not covered in this travel guide.
The town of Banten on the north coast had been an important port for centuries, when a group of Javanese that had recently converted to Islam captured the region and established the Sultanate of Banten in 1527. The sultanate became very powerful and at its peak it ruled much of Western Java and the southern part of Sumatra. The town of Banten (nowadays often called Old Banten) became one of the major ports of Southeast Asia. Starting in the 17th century, much of Banten came under the control of the Dutch, and finally in 1813 the entire area was incorporated in the Dutch East Indies. Nowadays, the once important town of Banten is just a small village, but you can visit the old sultan palaces and the Great Mosque of the sultanate.
In the Dutch colonial time, the town of Anyer on the western coast was an important port, and the western terminus of the Great Post Road. However, most of Anyer was destroyed by the eruption of the Krakatoa volcano in 1883. Anyer is a popular beach resort town nowadays, and the most important port of Banten by far is now Merak, with very frequent ferries across the Sunda Strait to Sumatra.
Apart from the historical sights in the town of Banten, the region has a large number of mainly natural attractions. In the southwest, Ujung Kulon National Park covers the western peninsula and Panaitan island. The area, covered by rainforest, is only accessible by foot or by boat, and is known as the last refuge of the endangered Java one-horned rhinoceros. In addition, there are of course beaches on all sides of Banten, with the beaches of Tanjung Lesung (Panimbang) and Sawarna standing out for their beauty.
Most of the people in Banten speak Sundanese (the language of Western Java), but in the northern part of the region Javanese is widely spoken (a leftover from the Javanese that established the Sultanate of Banten. Virtually everyone however also speaks the national language Indonesian, and for more and more young people in the cities this is their first language. English is not widely spoken, but people in touristic jobs (such as upscale hotels at the beach) usually speak at least a little English.
The busiest airport of Indonesia, Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (CGK IATA), is in Banten province. The main cities and towns of Banten can all be easily reached from the airport. There is a direct bus connection from the airport to the port of Merak, via the cities of Serang and Cilegon.
The port of Merak is linked by very frequent ferries to the island of Sumatra. Keep in mind that Sumatra is a very large island. It is useful to take the ferry to Banten if you are in southern Sumatra (in Lampung province), but if you are in the north Sumatra it is much quicker to take a plane to Jakarta.
There is one railway in the region, running from Jakarta via South Tangerang, Rangkasbitung, Serang, Old Banten, and Cilegon to Merak. Trains to Rangkasbitung are relatively frequent (about 15 trains per day), but to the other parts of the region there are just four trains per day. It is commonly easier and quicker to take a bus.
Most larger towns and cities in Banten can be reached by direct buses from several bus terminals in Jakarta. Serang is also served by buses from other destinations, such as Bandung and Central Java, and at the bus terminal of the port of Merak there are buses from destinations throughout Java and Sumatra.
The road network of the northern part of Banten is extensive, with the major toll road between Merak and Jakarta connecting the largest cities, and major trunk roads to all other towns. However, roads tend to be severely congested especially in the areas near Greater Jakarta. The toll road sees long traffic jams especialy during holidays. In the southern part of Banten, road quality is sometimes poor.
The larger towns and cities are interconnected by a network of buses. The most frequent bus route is between Jakarta/Tangerang and Merak via the toll road, with many buses stopping on the way in Serang and Cilegon. To get to smaller towns and more remote areas you can take an elf (minibuses on routes between smaller towns) or angkot (public minivans within the cities, and to nearby villages). In the northern part of the region you can get around relatively quickly (although traffic congestion is common). To get to the southern part of the region (such as Sawarna beach), you need to keep in mind that the journey may take many hours.
There are some taxi companies in the region of Serang and Cilegon, with the taxis of Blue Bird Group being generally reputable. In other parts of the region this is more limited. However, in all towns and villages you can rent an ojek (motorcycle taxi), which are usually available at all major street corners. Other transport options in some places include becak (bicycle rickshaws), and delman (horse carriages).
Historic and cultural sights
The main historic sights of the region can be found in the town of Banten on the north coast. As the town was the centre of the Sultanate of Banten, there are various historic buildings, including the old sultan palace and the 16th century mosque. In addition, the town boasts a Buddhist monastery as well as a Dutch colonial fort. The number of historic buildings of interest in the other cities is limited, but beach town Anyer has a lighthouse from the Dutch time (which is also the starting point of the Great Post Road).
The westernmost tip of Banten is covered by the Ujung Kulon National Park, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the oldest national park of Indonesia, and the largest remaining lowland rain forest in Java. The park is a refuge for the endangered Java one-horned rhinoceros, the rarest large animal on earth, but there are also many other rare flora and fauna species. There are no roads in the National Park, so you can only get around by foot, or by boat on the seas and rivers. The holiday resorts at Tanjung Lesung (Panimbang) are a starting point for tours to the park.
Other natural point of interest in the province include the active Mount Karang volcano near Pandeglang, and the extensive jungle area south of Rangkasbitung. In this jungle, the Baduy people live. The Baduy are a traditional Sundanese community, that has not had much contact with the outside world, and does not use modern technology. To get near the area of the Baduy community (it is not allowed to get into the area) requires several hours of trekking.
Being surrounded by seas, there is a large number of beaches in Banten. The most popular beaches are along the west coast, notably in Anyer, with a well-developed tourism infrastructure. The further you get away from Jakarta and the larger cities of Banten, the quieter the beaches get. The village of Sawarna on the Indian Ocean coast has a good surf spot. Obviously, there are very beautiful and very quiet beaches in the Ujung Kulon National Park, but getting there requires a long trek, or hiring a boat.
Key activities are either at one of the beaches (surfing is popular in Sawarna, and jetskiing is popular in Anyer), or in the natural areas such as Ujung Kulon National Park (jungle trekking). The city of Cilegon has a golf course.
In most of the region, shopping is limited to local village stores and traditional markets. The cities of Serang and Cilegon more shopping facilities, including modern shopping malls.
One of the dishes Banten is known for is Sate Bandeng (milkfish satay), which is deboned milkfish frilled in its skin on bamboo skewers. Another dish with milkfish is Pecak Bandeng, which is roasted fish covered spices and sambal (chili sauce), served with rice and fresh vegetables. Another type of satay that originates from Banten is sate bebek Cibeber. Cibeber is a district of Cilegon. The satay here involves bamboo skewers with duck meat, and a sauce made of brown sugar with lemon grass, turmeric, nutmeg, and coriander.
Apart from the typical Banten dishes, most of the regular Indonesian food can be found in all cities and villages. In the cities and in the beach resorts you may find modern restaurants, but in smaller villages the food offering is usually limited to roadside stalls.
Alcoholic drinks are not widely available in cafés and restaurants, but can usually be found in upscale restaurants and bars as well as hotels and resorts.
- Greater Jakarta — one of the busiest urban areas in the world, with many possibilities for shopping and nightlife.
- Lampung — the southernmost province of Sumatra across the Sunda Strait, with two national parks.
- Krakatoa — volcanic island in the Sunda Strait, known for one of the heaviest eruptions in modern history (1883).