Sawarna is a hidden gem situated on the south-west coast of Java in Banten Province. Much less popular than its better-known neighbours Pelabuhan Ratu and Anyer, it offers some unique beaches and surfing opportunities not easy to find so close to the capital city of Jakarta. You need to be patient on your long journey from the capital but the rewards are simply great, and there are many interesting spots on the way to rest for a while and dine.
There are two ways to reach Sawarna from Jakarta, both of which take five or six hours. One is via Sukabumi-Pelabuhan Ratu and the other is via Serang-Pandeglang. I chose the latter and I thoroughly enjoyed my journey, taking in hitchhikers on the way and making friends with them. Once you drive past Pandeglang it is common to spot people waving or raising their thumbs by the roadside because transport from this place towards Sawarna is hard to find. I stopped at around three different spots, including at Malingping (an hour before Sawarna) where I had a seafood lunch by the beach.
Once you drive up to Sawarna, you are greeted by the sight of the vast expanse of the ocean from above a hilly road. This is when I realised the true value of my long drive.
The rock formations on Sawarna’s beaches are very imposing and, in some parts, like Karang Teraje, they resemble ancient temple structures such as the one in Borobudur. The tall and powerful waves on these beaches dash against the high walls of rock and create momentary waterfalls on the other side. I spent a great amount of time at Tanjung Layar beach, the most famous of the four beaches in Sawarna. One of the best parts of beach-hopping is that you have to ditch your car and ride a motorcycle, because this is the only way to access the beaches through narrow alleyways and along rice fields and vegetation. Some of the hotels can also only be accessed by crossing a bridge on a motorcycle.
On the rocky parts of Tanjung Layar families make the most of their time, taking selfies and admiring the ocean views while eating food from the beach warung. It is pleasant to walk in the shallow waters and pose for pictures with the background of the twin peaks and the amazing Indian Ocean. There are many seafood restaurants arrayed on this beach and the food is probably half the price of that in downtown Jakarta. I occasionally saw fishermen coming ashore with their freshly caught fish and distributing them to different restaurants. Fresh seafood is assured.
A few metres away at the same beach I saw some foreign faces – Australian and Japanese surfers making the most of the high tide in the afternoon. It was cloudy but the surfers didn’t seem to care and two or three of them enjoyed the challenging surf without having to compete with a host of surfers as they would need to do on popular beaches.
Wawan, my motorcycle driver and guide, negotiated the narrow alleys along the fields and the rickety wooden bridges with ease but I was slightly nervous. The beaches located around Tanjung Layar are Karang Bereum (from where you can see the sunrise), Legon Pari and Karang Teraje. Only Legon Pari has a sandy area where you can play in the sea and enjoy the sun. These three beaches are connected and are within walking distance of each other. At Karang Bereum people gather in front of a wall of rock to witness “a waterfall in the sea”. The dance of the waves over this wall is really exciting to watch and a group photo with this background can be an excellent souvenir to take home.
Quite a few hotels and homestays are available in Sawarna with the costs starting from as little as Rp200,000 per night up to Rp1,000,000. There are little huts on Pasir Putih beach which can be rented very cheaply.