Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia) is the official language of education and business. The majority of Central Java's population also speak Javanese, a related but mutually incomprehensible language. English and sometimes other European languages are widely understood in the major tourist areas.
The main transport hubs for tourists are Yogyakarta and Solo, both well connected with domestic flights (and a few international ones) and within easy striking distance of the main attractions of Borobudur and Prambanan. The provincial capital Semarang also has a major domestic airport.
Purwokerto, Yogyakarta, Solo and Semarang are connected to other cities with intensive railway service , providing various classes of accommodation for all budgets. Central Java cities often have more than one railway station, a legacy of the many private railway lines during the colonial era.
Hiring your own car is the most convenient way to cover some of the large distances in the region. However, even by Indonesian standards, driving practices in Central Java will scare most visitors. You will enjoy your visit more and may be safer, if you hire a car with driver.
This region is well served by trains with two main lines. The North Line runs along the north coast linking Solo, Semarang and Tegal, with stops in between. The South Line links Solo and Yogyakarta with small towns on the south coast. There is also a north-south cross island line in the west of the region, passing through Purwokerto.
The loop line in the northeast of the region linking Semarang with Jepara and Kudus is long disused despite still being shown on many maps.
Borobudur is an ancient Buddhist stupa and temple complex dating from the 9th century, and is the single most visited attraction in the whole of Indonesia. That brings with it some issues and the site can be over-run. Visitors keen to really enjoy the undoubted magnificence of Borobudur should consider staying the night in the area and visiting early the following morning before the hordes of day-trippers arrive.
No less impressive is the Hindu temple complex at Prambanan dating from the same period. The huge, imposing candi rise 40 to 50 metres in height and make for a truly awe-inspiring spectacle. Prambanan was tragically damaged by a major earthquake in May 2006 but the site is open again as restoration work continues.
Both Borobudur and Prambanan are easily combined with a visit to the ancient city of Yogyakarta, and these three destinations account for the vast majority of visitor arrivals in the region. Yogyakarta is the undoubted cultural capital of Java with a wonderful palace (kraton) and many historical attractions.
The Dieng Plateau is a little off the beaten path for overseas visitors, and certainly so when compared to the preceding destinations. This volcanic plain in the highlands north of Wonosobo is home to the oldest standing structures in Indonesia (Hindu temples dating from the 8th century). It is though the scenery that draws most visitors here. Spectacular conical volcanoes, steaming sulphurous pools and eerie mountain lakes make for an almost other-worldly landscape.
The active might want to consider a climb of Mount Merapi, the most active volcano in a country of very active volcanoes! Experienced trekkers will make the summit in about 3 hours from the last village on the northern slopes. Sunrise is truly spectacular here as are the molten lava flows. Needless to say, always heed safety advice - this is a very dangerous mountain.
The food of Central Java is renowned for its sweetness, and the dish of gudeg, a curry made from jackfruit, is a particularly sweet. The city of Yogyakarta is renowned for its ayam goreng (fried chicken) and kelepon (green rice-flour balls with palm sugar filling). Surakarta's (Solo) specialities include 'Nasi liwet (rice with coconut milk, unripe papaya, garlic and shallots, served with chicken or egg) and 'serabi (coconut milk pancakes topped with chocolate, banana or jackfruit).Some foodies insist that in a country of interesting cuisine, the best of all hails from Central Java. That may or may not be the case, but several wonderful dishes originate from this region. These include:
Gudeg served in the traditional way with white rice on a banana leaf
Gudeg. A coconut-infused stew of young jackfruit, chicken and hardboiled eggs with a subtle sweet and savoury taste. Vendors all seem to have their own secret recipes for Gudeg, but the flavour base usually seems to include bay leaf, coriander, candlenut, onion, garlic, galangal, ginger, palm sugar, and unusually, teak tree leaves. This is a Yogyakarta speciality and is sometimes called Gudeg Yogya. The not-to-be-missed dish of the region. Best tried in Yogyakarta but you will also find it elsewhere.
Bakpia. A small sweet pastry, traditionally filled with sugary mung bean paste. Other fillings are now sometimes used with cheese being especially popular. These originated in the Pathok district of Yogyakarta and are also called Bakpia Pathok. A box of Bakpia travels quite well and is a very authentic gift for any visitor to take home.
Lumpia Semarang. Lumpia (spring rolls) could almost be the national dish of Indonesia, and the Semarang variety is one of the very best. Fillings vary but always include bamboo shoots. Dipping sauce might be sweet soy with chopped fresh chillies (sos manis paket cabe potong), spicy sambal or a sweet garlic, tomato and chilly blend. Look for streetside vendors and always choose the busiest - locals will know for sure who makes the best Lumpia.
Bakso Solo. Bakso (meatballs in hot broth with noodles, various vegetables and chilly sauce) wil be well known to any visitor to Indonesia. The Solo version uses truly huge super sized meatballs. Typical Indonesian humour has resulted in this dish sometimes being called "Bakso Tennis".
Nasi Bogana. This very convenient dish has almost fastfood status across Indonesia these days, but it originated from Tegal on the northern coast of this region. White rice accompanied by a whole host of other possibilities is tightly wrapped in a banana leaf packet. It can then be heated by steaming at any time inside the packet - hence the convenient fast food tag. Accompanying dishes could be chicken curry, tempe (fermented soya beans), tofu, egg, dendeng (spicy beef jerky), chicken livers...... the list goes on. Most likely is a combination of them all. If you are travelling on a budget, keep an eye out for Nasi Bogana street hawkers in any city or town.
Opor ayam is a chicken cooked in coconut milk from Indonesia, especially from Central Java. usually eaten with ketupat and sambal goreng ati (beef liver in sambal).