Yogyakarta (or “Jogja”) is the cultural capital of the region with numerous UNESCO world heritage sites and beautiful landscapes. Particularly to mention are the temples of Prambanan and Borobudur, the heritages of Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms
Yogyakarta’s metropolitan region has about 4 million inhabitants and a lot to offer. Our favorite in the city itself, was the great Taman Sari (called the water palace) built by the Portuguese as a present to the sultan. The castle is called that way due to its numerous pools and its past as royal gardens. Furthermore, it has catacombs that are fascinating to explore.
Yogja is not only called the cultural capital based on the historic sites, but also because it has the most prestigous University of Indonesia.
TIP: If are looking for a non-touristy place to catch the sunset, Pinus Pengger is your place. There is no public transport to get there, but you can get there by motorbike or car and it takes around 30 minutes from central Yogayakarta. At the time we were there, there was no entrance fee but you are invited to leave little money as donation.
Situs Warungboto & Taman Sari
Situs Warungboto is a former resting palace for the royal family of Kesultanan. Therefore, it is an amazing place to immerse yourself in Yogyakarta’s culture, especially if you love interacting with locals.
Currently, it is one of the most instragammable places in Yogyakarta. It can get really busy during weekends. So if you are planning to visit Situs Warungboto, make sure you get there early in the morning.
Taman Sari is the site of a former royal garden. It was built in the mid-18th century. The functions of Taman Sari was a resting area, working and a hiding place. Similar to Situs Warungboto, Taman Sari gets quite full after 10 am during weekends and its cost ¡s around 2€.
It is a big complex, so make sure you have enough time to explore the main parts. There are three main sights to visit at Taman Sari. The bathing complex, Summer Gumuling and the beautiful tunnels.
The highlights, however, are in the area around the city. There is for example Prambanan which is a big temple site with 240 temples built by Hindu rulers. It comprises a huge area. However, bike rentals (10k IDR/30min) are available and they even have tandems (20k IDR/30min). Furthermore, there is a buggy who can take people around as well.
It is possible to go up the stairs of the temples and enter them. Enjoy some time inside and try to feel the history of this place.
In order to enjoy the beauty of Prambanan to the fullest, we recommend to go early in the morning for sunrise (between 5 and 6). By then it is still very quiet except for some beautiful Javanese music. Additionally, it is not as hot as later during the day. This is also recommendable for other temples on Java. The entrance fee to Prambanan is 337,000 IDR including a drink. Estimate a minimum of 2h to explore the whole complex and even more if you like shopping in the market at the exit of the temple.
When talking about temple sites in Java, it’s not possible to ignore Borubudur. It is the biggest Buddhist temple in the world which is surprising considering the fact that Indonesia is the biggest Muslim country in the world. If you, once in a while, dream away being Indiana Jones discovering a mystic place surrounded by jungle in an exotic country, then you could dream about Borubudur. You can see it from the hills or mountains in the area enthroned above the jungle with volcanoes in the background. The temple has 76 stupas, consists of 9 floors and is 123m long and wide. It was built around the year 800 AD. Particularly during sunrise or sunset with the sky colored in orange and red, the temple is even more beautiful and mystic. It is again better to go for sunrise, although there are more people as at Prambanan.
It costs 475,000 IDR per person and it is possible to enter the temple site at 4:30 in the morning.
TIP: The temple gets really busy during sunrise. If you want to have some quiet time to explore the compound, stay a bit longer right after sunrise when everyone leaves for breakfast.
Where to stay
The best place to explore the different sights in and around Yogyakarta in our opinion, is the Royal Ambarrukmo Yogyakarta. It is a high end luxury 5 star hotel with all amenities an explorer needs after a long sightseeing day around the area.
The hotel offers a delicious breakfast buffet with many Indonesian specialities as well as international delights. Be prepared to eat more than you expected due to the huge variety. The restaurant in general serves very nicely presented dishes. Ice cream fans will love that Royal Ambarrukmo offers their self-produced ice cream in many different flavours.
The garden area is beautifully designed and some of the buildings are from the sultan when it was still used as the main royal palace. The buildings are beautifully maintained and host the spa of the hotel which provides an historical influence on the relaxation. Furthermore, the Royal Ambarrukmo has a new kids club in the gardens so that you can enjoy your holidays to the fullest.
Our highlight of the hotel was the service. The staff is very helpful and super friendly. In other words, they read every wish from your lips and arrange whatever you request from them.
How to get there
Yogyakarta has an own airport and they currently build a new one in order to get more international flights into South East Java. The flights from Singapore are fairly expensive so the other options are to fly to Surabaya or Semarang. Semarang is 2,5-3h per car and Surabaya 5h by train (which is actually a very comfortable way of traveling in Java). We actually combined to visit Surabaya and Semarang on the same trip.
TIP: Keep in mind that buying train tickets online in Java is not the easiest task ever. You need an Indonesian credit card or you need them to get your international credit card approved. We tried several times to contact them in order to be able to pay but every time was unsuccessful. Finally, we booked our times the night before at a supermarket in Surabaya. The price increases the longer you wait, so book well in advance to get a good deal.