We recently took the Java to Bali ferry from Banyuwangi, Java to Gilianuk, Bali, and though the trip was more or less an accident, we are so glad that we chanced upon the experience!

Most people arrive in Bali via the Denpasar airport: Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport. Perhaps because of this, the most developed areas of Bali include the adjoining surfing town of Kuta (followed by the beach and shopping areas of Legion and Seminyak further north), Jimbaran and Nusa Dua to the south, the capital city of Denpasar itself and then of course the artsy-cultural town of Ubud, about an hour and a half to the north east. Almost everyone I talk to about visiting Bali can wax poetic about the yoga and cooking classes in Ubud, the shopping and dining in Seminyak, the beaches of Legion, the spas and tranquility of Nusa Dua or the seafood at Jimbaran. As the below map demonstrates, all these places (indicated by red pointers) are within close proximity to the airport, with Ubud being the furthest-flung destination.

But I didn’t realize just how little anyone visits the rest of Bali until we moved to Indonesia. Even though the towns and areas mentioned above roughly encompass a mere one-fourth of the island!

Here’s a map showing Bali’s most visited areas, indicated by red pointers:

How we ended up taking a ferry to Bali instead of flying

Thanks to a flight gone very, very wrong over Indonesia’s Independence Day weekend in August, we found ourselves with a significantly changed itinerary … and an opportunity to try out the Java to Bali ferry from Banyuwangi, Java. I’ll skip the horror of our bed-bug-hotel layover in Surabaya, the hours of hair-wrenching frustration and other aspects involving questionable professional ethics. Suffice it to say, instead of departing from Balikpapan Friday early evening and arriving in Bali at 22:30 that same night, our “new and improved” itinerary had us enjoying the aforementioned night layover in Surabaya, with a connecting flight to a town on the east coast of Java called Banyuwangi at around 11:45 in the morning the next day. From Banyuwangi, we would enjoy a few more hours of quality airport time before another flight whisked us to our final destination in Bali, arriving a little before 18:00 on Saturday evening.

On a holiday weekend with completely booked-out flights, this was the best offer we could get. The silver lining to our extended tour of Indonesia airports and seedy hotels was that we had plenty of time to consult our guide book before arriving in Banyuwangi. And what we discovered was that, less than an hour north of this tiny town we’d never before heard of, the Java to Bali ferry terminal provides passenger and vehicle transport to the Island of the Gods every hour of every day of the week!

How to get to the Banyuwangi Ferry Terminal from Blingbing Sari Airport

Armed with this new-found information, as soon as we landed in Banyuwangi, we grabbed our bags and hightailed it out of the airport, which is so small you’d hardly believe it is a functioning airport at all. (In fact, I took some photos to share with you, but alas, I lost that camera later on in our Bali adventure.) Outside, there are dozens of taxis waiting, so we hailed one and asked the driver to take us to “Pelabuhan Ketapang” which translates to Ketapang port. You could also say “Ferry Ketapang” and that should work as well.

Approaching Bali Ferry Terminal from Java.Java to Bali Ferry

Even though the Banyuwangi Ferry is actually not in Banyuwangi — it’s in Ketapang as you may have deduced — it is considered part of Banyuwangi. And because the good people of Banywangi like to keep a traveler on her toes, it should also be noted that the Banyuwangi airport is also not actually in Banyuwangi, either, but rather in an even tinier town to the south called Blingbing.

So, when I was researching our ferry prospects, I was confused to find our boarding passes indicating our arrival in Banyuwangi, but when consulting google maps, the only airport nearby was in fact Blingbingsari airport! Confused? Here’s the short and sweet:

Banyuwangi Airport = Blingbingsari Airport (“Bandara” in Indonesian)

Banyuwangi Ferry = Ferry Ketapang

Gilimanuk Ferry Tickets.Java to Bali Ferry

With that cleared up, we discovered the Java to Bali ferry is only a 35-minute drive from the airport … if your driver is a frisky one like ours. If you’d rather not feel the jostle of brakes and constant horn-screeching, however, it probably takes a normal driver closer to 45 minutes or so in regular traffic. Taxis use the meter here (or they are supposed to). Our metered fare cost us 147,000 Rupiah — roughly 10.50 USD.

If you are traveling by bus or train to Banyuwangi, then those stations are considerably closer to the ferry terminal. The train station (brown indicator in the map above) is nearly adjacent while the bus stations (yellow indicators) lie a bit further south in Banyuwangi proper.

The ferry terminal is quite prominent from the main road, and the ticket counter within is intuitive to reach. Just walk through the entrance from the main road and follow the strange sidewalk through the ferry terminal building until you see a booth to your right, just before the passenger turnstile. Here, indicate your destination, which if you are headed to Bali should be “Gilimanuk, Bali.”

Then brace yourself for the whopping Java to Bali ferry ticket price:

About 50 cents USD (or 7,500 Rupiah per adult)!

Just present your ticket to the employee at the turnstile, go through and then climb on board the ferry! Since these things are leaving every hour, there is pretty much a ferry ready to board anytime you arrive, so it makes things simple enough. Once on board, you can climb the steps leading to the second and third floors of the boat. The second floor is covered, has rows of benches, restrooms and a few kiosks selling food and drinks. But it’s the top floor you want.

Top deck of Gilimanuk Ferry. Java to Bali ferry, Indonesia

Because this is where the action is. No walls to keep in the cigarette smoke, just fresh wind and 360-degree views. There are chairs grouped in several areas and a few spots offer shade so you don’t roast yourself during the hour-plus journey. And we didn’t even realize it at the time, but our seats ensured prime viewing of what we soon learned was an entertainment tradition in these parts:

Coin diving!

Boy diving off Java to Bali Ferry. Banyuwangi, Indonesia

Yep.

Here’s how it works: shortly before the ferry departs, several local kids will board the ferry and climb to the top deck. Everyone must know the jig, because within a matter of seconds, ferry patrons start tossing coins into the water. The kids shout and dive from the ferry to catch the coins, then swim about, shouting up at everyone to throw more money. It shocked us at first — we didn’t understand what was going on!

Coin Divers swimming at Banyuwangi Ferry Terminal. Java, Indonesia

Java to Bali Ferry. Boys diving for coins at Banyuwangi Ferry Terminal

The show stops when the ferry departs. And then, even though the trip technically takes an hour, it … doesn’t.

Java to Bali Ferry Crossing

Java and Bali are surprisingly close; you can see both shores at any point in the journey, but the reason why it takes longer than geographically necessary is because the Gilimanuk ferry terminal only has four ports. So, if the ports are still full when your ferry approaches, you end up hanging out in the straits between the two islands until a spot is cleared! As we waited, we saw a few other ferries doing the same. The picture below shows the popular “hanging out” area!

Ferries waiting to enter Gilimanuk port. Java to Bali ferry

Top deck of ferry. Banyuwangi Java to Bali ferry

On the bright side, the scenery was gorgeous, the wind refreshing, but mostly, we were just happy to be outside instead of waiting  another few hours at the Banyuwangi airport for our connecting flight.

All in all, I’d guess the Java to Bali ferry voyage took about an hour and a half. Still, not bad! Especially considering the fact that we arrived in Gilimanuk, Bali, nearly two hours before our connecting flight was scheduled to arrive in Denpasar! Plus, we had a way better view. And all it cost us was about 11.50 USD for the taxi and ferry rides combined … and a little time posing for selfies with fellow passengers!

Java to Bali Ferry: Selfies on Gilimanuk Ferry

Once at the Gilimanuk ferry terminal, just follow the walk to the exit, which spits you out onto the main road. Hang a right and then take a left at the first juncture, where you will find the local bus and mini-bus (angkot) station. Normally, buses and angkots can take you to all parts of Bali for extremely cheap prices, but since it was the holiday weekend, most transport appeared off-duty. We finally bargained for an angkot driver to take us to the town of Pemuteran, which is 38 kilometers from the ferry terminal, for 150,00 Rupiah. Even though the cost is only a little over 10 USD, honestly, it should have cost us less than 20,000 Rupiah.

Even so, we ended up in Pemuteran, checked into a super-cute room and were walking on the beach surrounded by curtains of mountains in less time than our plane would have touched the runway of Denpasar airport!

Our experience on the Java to Bali ferry was the best thing that had happened to us since leaving Balikpapan, and even though it was more or less an accident, it definitely ended up being a happy one. Next up: the beautiful coastal area of Pemuteran, then on to the lush, mountain town of Munduk.

4 thoughts on “The Java to Bali Ferry: How to reach it and what to expect

  1. halo, it is very entertaining to read your article. :)

    i’m from banyuwangi myself, your article shows me what foreigner think about my city.
    actually it’s Blimbingsari, it’s a sub district of Banyuwangi. In indonesia we divide administrative area into 4 administration. in descending order, province (provinsi) -> regency/district (kabupaten) -> sub district (kecamatan) -> village (desa/kelurahan).
    for example: balikpapan is the capital city of East Kalimantan Province. and its divided into 5 districts (kabupaten).
    back to blimbingsari and ketapang, that two are parts of banyuwangi district which is called sub-district (kecamatan). so it is still called banyuwangi.
    hope it would help. :)
    but seriously, your article is very entertaining. makes me smiles.
    feel free to come again to banyuwangi. we have a lot travel destinations too. ijen crater for instance. there are only 2 spot in the world that have blue flame, and one of it is in ijen crater banyuwangi. that off course if you like trekking the mountain. but if you don’t, you can always visits our amazing, secluded almost private beaches. green bay (teluk hijau), red island (pulau merah), tabuhan island (very tiny island). just come, before it’s too crowded :)

    salam from banyuwangi. :)

    1. Hello Dian,

      Thank you for the explanation on how administrative areas are identified in Indonesia. That is quite helpful, indeed! :)

      And you are right that Banywangi has a lot to offer in its own right. Until very recently, I had no idea that there was so much to see and do in the Banyuwangi area. If my husband and I ever get some more free time, we would like to see the famous blue flames of the Ijen volcano for ourselves!

  2. hello,

    thanks for this post. very nice read. would you happen to have any thoughts on travelling the area with a 4 year old? will be in kuta, bali and was thinking about trekking across bali and taking the ferry to banyuwangi. sorry, kind of an open ended question, but would appreciate any opinions you might have. thanks!

    1. Thanks for visiting, Andrew. Your trip sounds pretty awesome! Regarding your question about the ferry, I am not sure how to answer that as I feel that is a personal judgement call. What I can do is give you the facts as I see them:

      Sam and I have taken the Banyuwangi/Bali ferry twice now. Between those two times, one of the Java-Bali ferries capsized, killing at least one person. This did not stop Sam and me from taking another ferry trip subsequently, but it is a fact worth noting nonetheless. Part of the reason why we’ve taken the ferry is because of the unique experience it offers. It feels much more off-the-beaten-tourist-track (indeed, on the first occasion, we spotted three other tourists on the ferry and one on the second) and the trip itself is quite pleasant and scenic. Also, it is a great way to see north Bali and then scoot over to Java. Lots of Indonesians use this as their normal means of transport, even after the aforementioned capsizing. One regret we have is not spending any significant time in the Banyuwangi, Java area, as it has many interesting things on offer that would most likely feel much more unique and authentic than much of the touristed areas of Bali.

      As far as children are concerned, many families take their young children on board these ferries, so a four-year-old would not be an unusual sight (though a four-year-old tourist will probably garner attention). That said, safety precautions on board are minimal at best. I recall seeing a few life dinghy’s on the top level of the ferry, but I never did spot where the life jackets were kept (assuming any were actually on board). The ferry has several levels and lots of open areas, so children should definitely be kept at one’s side or held at all times.

      If you are worried about theft, pick-pocketing, etc., that never presented a problem with us, but we did exercise practical caution as we would anywhere else.

      I’m sorry I can’t provide a better answer, but I hope this helps somewhat. In any case, good luck with your adventure!

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