Earlier this year my husband and I experienced the real rural life in Central Java. We went to a village called Candi Rejo. It’s located about half an hour away from Borobudur, the biggest Buddhist temple in Indonesia.
We heard from our partners in Indonesia that Candi Rejo has started a community-based & eco-tourism project. We went to learn more about this project. In our perspective, community-based tourism means tourism that consults involves, and benefits the local community. We wanted to see if this was the case in this village.
At first, we were not sure what to expect. We bought our tickets from Bali, made arrangements with the village chief, and the next thing we know we were at Jogjakarta’s airport.
Our guide was called I.J. (pronounced EE-Jay). She was very friendly and talkative, even though her English was limited. She was an interesting lady. She’s about 35 years old, and every day she wears a hijab (head scarf) and long sleeves shirt to cover her arms even though the weather was very hot.
It’s a normal look for Muslim women there. IJ is a single mom, raising 2 kids by herself. She is the only female guide in her village, and she’s very proud of that. She said when there are no visitors to guide her around she farms just like the rest of the people in her village.
After we meet IJ we drove to the town, which is about 1 hour from the airport. The view was amazing. We could see a volcano in the distance while we passed mustard fields, cornfields, tapioca farms, and other kinds of vegetable farms. We also passed a 9th-century Buddhist temple called Pawon. It is dedicated to Kuvera, the God of Fortune.
The first thing we did when we got to Candi Rejo was to meet the village chief. We thought he would be this older man with a grey mustache just like many other Indonesian government officials. We were surprised when the village chief, Mr. Ian, showed up. A charming 28-year-old man, soft-spoken and very well-dressed.
He explained briefly the history of eco-tourism in Candi Rejo. Only a few years ago an Indonesian NGO approached the village and introduced the concept of community-based ecotourism. After many village meetings, the community in Candi Rejo embraced the idea. The village also has the benefit of being very close to Borobudur, the biggest Buddhist temple in Indonesia and a great wonder of the ancient world.
They have a river that can be used for white water rafting and also has a nice trail called Watu Kendil, which is the path to Kendil Hill. From the top of this hill, one can view 5 volcanoes and also the whole construction of Borobudur Temple.
The ecotourism project in Candi Rejo is a pilot project in Indonesia. The village has about 5,000 people, and the majority of the people there are farmers. The main unit that managed the tourism industry in Candi Rejo is the community runs cooperative (co-op), not the government. The head of the cooperative still reports to the village chief, but the revenue goes directly to the locals.
The locals voluntarily joined the cooperative. For example, those who have extra rooms in their houses can sign up as accommodation providers. People who have horse-drawn rickshaws can join the cooperative as one of the village transportation providers. Everyone in the cooperative has to agree with the roster system, which gives the guides, porters, village tours, trek trail maintenance, and handicraft sales equal opportunity to make money.
No doubt that the ecotourism project has increased the village’s economy. Since Candi Rejo gained it’s official “tourism village” status in 2003, it has developed into a cleaner and wealthier village. The village chief has ordered every home in the village to grow “Rambutan”, a tropical fruit tree in front of their houses. The result is: this village is becoming very green and shady. The weather in Central Java can get very hot, so these big trees can protect pedestrians from the burning sun.
When we asked the village chief whether or not he is worried that one day the tourism industry would bring outrageous pollution to the village, he said the cooperative limited the number of visitors per year. The tourism programs that they’ve developed also mainly focus on green tourism, not touristy programs. So naturally, the majority of visitors who come to Candi Rejo are green-minded travelers. They want to learn about agriculture or experience real Javanese rural living.
In 2007, the village saw about 800-900 visitors. We saw photos of their previous visitors. Some schools from Indonesia’s big cities have sent students to visit Candi Rejo to learn about farming and rural living. Indeed, many Indonesian children who grew up in a big city don’t know what the trees and fruit they eat look like in the ground. These kinds of learning programs teach them where the food in the market came from. It also raises awareness among the students of how important it is to sustain your environment.
It’s not only students from all over Indonesia that come to Candi Rejo. Governments from other villages in Indonesia also visit Candi Rejo to learn about village tourism and ecotourism.
We can’t forget how nice the people in Candi Rejo are. Everyone was so friendly and accommodating. We felt that community-based tourism fit their characters. Their natural eagerness to accommodate their guests made our trip so smooth and memorable.
In Candi Rejo we learned how to play the Javanese Gamelan (their traditional musical instruments). We also played volleyball with the locals, which was very fun! We took the horse rickshaw everywhere during our stay there (0 emissions for sure). We were also invited to visit the village chief’s house for a community gathering. It feels like we were visiting our family there.
We left Candi Rejo with fond memories of this village. We would go back in a heartbeat. Hopefully next time we could take our travelers there with us. We’re proud that the ecotourism and community-based tourism movement in Indonesia is developing rapidly. We hope these projects can alleviate poverty, create more job opportunities, and most importantly sustain Indonesia’s ecology.