Candi Rejo Village – Community Tourism Project in Central Java
Earlier this year, my husband and I experienced true rural life in Central Java. We went to a town called Candi Rejo. It is located half an hour from Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in Indonesia.
We heard from our partners in Indonesia that Candi Rejo has started a community-based and eco-tourism project. We went to learn more about this project. In our perspective, community tourism means tourism that consults, involves and benefits the local community. We wanted to see if this was really the case in this town.
At first, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. We bought our tickets in Bali, made arrangements with the village chief, and the next thing we knew, we were at the Jogjakarta airport.
Our guide was called IJ (pronounced EE-Jay). She was very friendly and talkative, although her English was limited. She was an interesting lady. She is about 35 years old and wears a hijab (headscarf) and a long-sleeved shirt to cover her arms every day despite the hot weather. Obviously, it is a normal look for Muslim women there. IJ is a single mother and is raising two children alone. She is the only female guide in her village and she is very proud of that. She said that when there are no visitors to guide, she cultivates just like the rest of the people in her village.
After meeting IJ we headed into town, which is about 1 hour from the airport. The view was wonderful. We were able to see a volcano in the distance as we passed mustard fields, corn fields, tapioca farms, and other types 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 meet the village chief. We think it would be this older man with a gray mustache like many other Indonesian government officials. We were surprised when the village chief, Mr. Ian, appeared. A charming 28-year-old man, soft-spoken and very well dressed.
He briefly explained the history of ecotourism in Candi Rejo. Just a few years ago, an Indonesian NGO approached the village and introduced the concept of community ecotourism. After many meetings in the village, the Candi Rejo community accepted the idea. The village also has the advantage of being very close to Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in Indonesia and a great wonder of the ancient world. They have a river that you can use for rafting, and they also have a nice trail called Watu Kendil, which is the way to Kendil Hill. From the top of this hill, you can see 5 volcanoes and also the entire construction of the Borobudur Temple.
The ecotourism project in Candi Rejo is a pilot project in Indonesia. The village has around 5,000 inhabitants and the majority of the population are farmers. The main unit that managed the tourism industry in Candi Rejo is the community that runs the cooperative (cooperative), not the government. The head of the cooperative still reports to the head of the village, but the income goes directly to the locals.
The locals voluntarily joined the cooperative. For example, those who have additional rooms in their houses can register as accommodation providers. People who own horse-drawn rickshaws can join the cooperative as one of the village’s transport providers. Everyone in the cooperative must agree to the roster system, which gives guides, porters, village tours, trail maintenance, and handicraft sales the same opportunity to earn money.
Without a doubt, the ecotourism project has increased the town’s economy. Since Candi Rejo obtained its official “tourist village” status in 2003, it has become a cleaner and richer village. The village chief has ordered that all the households in the village grow “Rambutan”, a tropical fruit tree in front of their houses. The result is: this town is turning very green and shady. The climate in Central Java can be very hot, so these large trees can protect pedestrians from the scorching sun.
When we asked the village chief whether or not he is concerned that the tourism industry will one day bring scandalous pollution to the village, he said that the cooperative limits the number of visitors per year. The tourism programs they have developed also focus primarily on green tourism, not tourism programs. So naturally most of the visitors who come to Candi Rejo are eco-minded travelers. They want to learn about agriculture or experience real Javanese rural life.
In 2007, the town received between 800 and 900 visitors. We saw photos of your previous visitors. Some schools in large Indonesian cities have sent students to visit Candi Join to learn about agriculture and rural life. It is true that many Indonesian children who grew up in the big city do not know what the trees and fruits they eat on the ground look like. These types of learning programs teach them where food comes from in the market. It also creates awareness among students about the importance of maintaining their environment.
Not only students from all over Indonesia come to Candi Rejo. Governments of other Indonesian villages also visit Candi Rejo to learn about rural tourism and ecotourism.
We can’t forget how nice the people at Candi Rejo are. They were all very friendly and helpful. We felt that community tourism really fit their characters. His natural enthusiasm for pleasing his guests made our trip so peaceful and memorable.
At Candi Rejo we learned to play Javanese gamelan (their traditional musical instruments). We also played volleyball with the locals, which was a lot of fun! We took the horse rickshaw everywhere during our stay there (0 issue for sure). We were also invited to visit the village chief’s house for a community meeting. It feels like we are visiting our family there.
We left Candi Rejo with good memories of this town. We would go back in a heartbeat. I wish next time we could take our travelers there with us. We are proud that the ecotourism and community tourism movement in Indonesia is developing rapidly. We hope that these projects can alleviate poverty, create more job opportunities and, most importantly, maintain Indonesia’s ecology.