Indonesia is a fantastic destination for landscape photography featuring many photogenic places. In this guide, I share one of those with you: Sawarna. Located in the southwest of Java island, it offers countless opportunities to photograph spectacular coastal landscapes.
Sawarna is a coastal village located in the Banten province of Indonesia. It is known for its beautiful beaches and stunning natural landscapes, making it a popular destination for local photographers. The area features lush green hills, rocky cliffs, sea stacks, and pristine sandy beaches that stretch along the Indian Ocean.
When we visited Sawarna back in 2022, I found that while it's a popular holiday destination for people living on Java island and for Indonesian photographers, it's not well known outside of Indonesia. I only knew of it because of photographers from Java I follow on Instagram. Sure enough, during the four days we stayed in Sawarna, we were the only western tourists.
It was a great experience. The locals were some of the most welcoming people we met during our travels through Asia, the seafood was great, and the seascape photography was amazing. The only thing you must be aware of if you plan a visit is: Nearly nobody speaks English in Sawarna. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the most common Indonesian words and install Google Translate on your cell phone.
How To Get To Sawarna
For locals with a car, it's easy to travel to Sawarna. From Jakarta, it's a drive of 5 to 6 hours along paved roads which get hilly and steep for the last part of the trip. As a foreigner visiting Indonesia, it's not that easy. Traveling to Sawarna via public transport is not an option unless you want to plan a layover somewhere along the way. I didn't find a reliable bus route that would ensure reaching Sawarna within a single day.
You might think renting a car would be the right thing to do. There are several car rentals in Jakarta, and you can rent a car with an international driver's license. The problem with that is insurance. While you can get insurance that'll cover damages done to the rental car, it's not possible to get proper liability insurance - I didn't find an option with good cover. And because of the way people drive in Indonesia, this is the most important insurance to get when renting a car. Otherwise, you can get into big trouble if you are involved in an accident.
A much safer option to travel to Sawarna is hiring a driver via Bogor Private Tour Guide. We paid around $90 for a driver and a comfortable car. Included was a pick-up at our hotel in Jakarta, water, English speaking driver, and a safe ride to Sawarna. Considering that this means a 10+ hour day for the driver, it's a reasonable price. We stayed in Sawarna for four days and paid another $90 for the ride back to Jakarta.
In Sawarna, no car is necessary. Most of the photo spots are within walking distance. And there are also many locals on their motorbikes, who will take you around for a few dollars.
Where To Stay In Sawarna
Since Sawarna is not yet used to western tourists, finding and booking good accommodation is tricky. On Booking.com you'll find a few hotels, but the ratings are not that great. If your sole focus is photography, they'll be fine though.
The best hotel in Sawarna is the Sawarna Resort. They are not on Booking, so if you want to book, you must send them an email or reach out via WhatsApp. They don't speak English but are very adept at using Google Translate, so you'll have no problems getting a room if they have availability.
The hotel is well kept, with beautiful climatized rooms, a little restaurant, and a welcoming staff. A room for two costs between $30 and $35, including basic breakfast.
Where To Eat In Sawarna
If you visit less touristy areas in Indonesia, finding a good place to eat can be difficult. While Sawarna has several small warungs close to Tanjung Layar beach, we found only one restaurant with reliable opening times. Fortunately, the restaurant called Wa Nyai is just a short walk from Sawarna Resort, and it serves some of the best seafood in the area. Even if you are a vegetarian, you'll find a few options.
Landscape Photography in Sawarna
Let's now get to the main topic of this article: Indonesia landscape photography in Sawarna. Within a 5-kilometer radius of Sawarna, you'll find many dramatic seascapes that offer fantastic photo opportunities. In the four days I spent in the area, I focused on two locations I could reach on foot within half an hour from our hotel.
Tanjung Layar beach is one of the best coastal photography locations in Indonesia. It's an ideal photo spot for sunset. Aside from a massive sea stack, this area is full of interesting subjects. Depending on tides and weather, you'll be able to capture waves crashing on the shore, rock pools, and reflections.
One evening I captured a dramatic seascape photo while standing at the edge of the ocean. To photograph this perspective, you must head to Tanjung Layar between low and medium tide on days with good surf. If the water level gets too high, staying on those rocks is too dangerous.
If the tide is too high to capture the scene above, you'll find more subjects closer to the shore. In the photo below, I photographed a nice set of rock pools and reflections, which are safe to get to as the tide rises. But be careful since those rocks can be slippery, and sea urchins hide in the rock pools.
You'll find Tanjung Layar at the eastern edge of Sawarna beach. It's a bit of a walk from Sawarna Resort with close to 3 kilometers. To get back you can ask the locals to give you a ride on their motorbikes for a little fee.
Karang Bokor, a few kilometers west of Sawarna, is less popular than Tanjung Layar but an equally great spot for landscape photography. The best time to photograph it is during sunrise with a medium tide. But make sure to scout the area before because the rocks you'll be standing on while taking your photos are treacherous, with many holes and crevices.
If you head to Karang Bokor during the day, you'll have to pay a small entrance fee. It once was a more popular location with a camping area. Not much of it remains, but someone will still collect the fee during the day. Early in the morning, this is not the case.
If you find somebody to drive you there on a motorbike before sunrise, it might be the quickest way to get there. But the road is very steep, and it's not safe to sit on the back of a scooter for some sections. That's why walking there might be the better option. In the morning, there are no cars on the road, and after about 2 kilometers, you'll reach the entrance to Karang Bokor. From there, head toward the coast and follow the signs as I show in the video above. On the way back, you can try to hitchhike. There'll now be cars driving by, and I was able to grab a ride in one of them.
Although it's not part of the typical travel routes through Java, making a detour to Sawarna is worth it for any landscape photographer. Besides the two photo locations I show above, there is also Pantai Legon Pari with Karang Taraje at its eastern end and the Coral Coast Beurem at the other end. Pantai Goa Langir is also worth a visit. All those photo spots make Sawarna one of the best places for landscape photography in Indonesia.