“You Name It, Jogja Has It” is our tagline for Yogyakarta, the Indonesia city most famous for its Borobudur World Heritage Site. Yogyakarta also known as Jogjakarta, or Jogja for short has something to offer for every type of travelers – cultural landmarks, historical ruins, white sand beaches, volcano trekking, river rafting, caving, orchard gardens, shopping and gastronomic tour, café hopping etc. Despite being the second most popular tourist attraction in Indonesia after Bali, Yogyakarta is still very much laidback with a relax atmosphere and friendly locals. If Jogja is not under the radar destinations for your next vacation, we believe the recommendations below will change your mind.
Sunrise Over Borobudur
There are three main places to watch sunrise over Borobudur; Pethuk Setumbu Hill, Dagi Hill and within the Borobudur Park itself. Both Pethuk Setumbu Hill and Dagi Hill offer bird’s eye view of the temple with the menacing Mount Merapi and Mount Merbabu in the background. The 400m tall Pethuk Setumbu Hill is located about 4km from Borobudur or about an hour drive from Yogyakarta. The lookout point is a 15 minutes uphill trek from the carpark. To reach the lookout point in time for sunrise, you would have to leave Yogyakarta around 4am. Dagi Hill located within the extensive Borobudur Park is about 300m west of the Borobudur main temple. The 300m high hill is believed to be used as a watch tower during the construction of the temple in the 8th century. Today, its slopes are covered with beautiful pine trees with a clearing at its summit. A concrete stairs of 200 steps leads you through the forest up to the clearing. The best season to capture a clear sunrise is during the summer months from June to August when the air is less misty. If you prefer to capture Borobudur covered in mist, anytime will be fine as well. A sunrise tour within the temple complex provides the best opportunity to capture close up of the temple and its subjects in their best. The morning sun casting its long oblique rays on the temple will bring out the texture of its stone sculptures and reliefs. You will be given a special pass to enter the temple ground early in the morning around 430am before the hordes of tourists arrive.
The Ramayana Ballet is an outdoor dance and theatre performance held against the backdrop of the Prambanan Temple. The play is based on an ancient Hindu love story and follows the tale of King Rama and Princess Shinta, summarized in four scenes, namely the kidnapping of Shinta, Anoman’s mission to Alengka, the death of Kumbakarna or Rahwana, and the meeting of Rama-Shinta. The story revolves around the duties of relationships; the qualities of the ideal wife, king, brother and servant. Gods, mortals, giants, monkeys and beautiful women all come together to tell the colourful story of a courtship punctuated by a kidnapping and battles. This world class performance is a spectacular visual treat that combines classical dance, music, costumes, lighting and drama. The story presented in this performance is similar to the reliefs engraved on the Prambanan temple. The performance is held in the evening, 2-3 times a week from May to October.
The highlands of central Java is the source of many raging rivers that flow through the narrow gorge of the mountains to the Java Sea in the north and the India Ocean in the south. Some of the best rafting rivers in Java are found near Yogyakarta. Beginners or families with children can go for Sungai Elo, an easy grade 2-3 rafting river while experts can exhibit their skills at the grade 4 rapids of Sungai Progo. Novices eyeing for a greater adrenaline rush can try the grade 3-4 Sungai Bongowonto. It will be a test of personal perseverance and team spirit as you paddle your raft down the tumbling river with swirling rapids. The rafting duration varies from 1.5 hour for the easier rivers to 3 hours for the more challenging ones. It is usually done as a half day trip from Yogyakarta so that other activities like Borobudur tour can be done in the other half day.
Enter Jurassic Park where mosses, ferns, bushes and even big trees remain untouched and preserved over thousands of years. The Jomblang Cave that leads down to the ancient underground forest is a colossal sink hole that measures 50m in width and 80m in depth. To reach the bottom of the cave, one has to abseil down via a single rope pulley system. Image hanging by a safety harness in the air while descending into unknown territory. The adventure continues after you touch ground. Jomblang Cave is just part of a cave complex in the area. A further 250m along the ancient forest is another gigantic cave called Goa Grubog with a subterranean river that flows out to the sea. Other than the endemic flora, interesting geological structures and adrenalin abseiling, the best highlight is unarguably the heavenly light effect created by the diffusion of sun rays through the sink hole. Jomblang Cave was discovered by the Indonesia’s Indiana Jones Cahyo Alkantana an entrepreneur cum explorer who stumbled upon the cave in the 1980s. Since then he has developed it into an eco-adventure site for outdoor enthusiasts.
Gumuk Pasir Parangtritis Sandboarding
You heard of skateboarding, wakeboarding and snowboarding. How about sandboarding? Enjoyed since the times of Egyptian pharaohs, sandboarding is a combination of snowboarding, surfing, and skating, only it is on sand dunes instead of snow, waves or streets. Good thing is you do not need to travel all the way to Egypt to try it out. There are natural sand dunes in Indonesia and they are just an hour drive from Yogyakarta. The 15km wide mini desert called Gumuk Pasir Parangtritis is formed by wind and water movement which brought volcanic sand from nearby Mount Merapi into the area – a phenomenon which has puzzled geologists for years. Try out different styles of sliding; standing up, sitting down or simply lying flat on your stomach – who knows you might have an innate talent for sandboarding.
Timang Beach Cable Car Ride
Game for an open-air cable car ride across crashing waves? What if the “cable car” is made of wood and operated via nylon ropes instead of steel ropes? The daredevil “cable car” is the only form of transport used by local fisherman to bring them across the narrow strait from the coral hills at Timang Beach to Watu Panjang Island. The rocky outcrop about 20 meters off the shore harbors a rich lobster colony. Upon reaching Watu Panjang Island safely, you will be rewarded with sweeping view of the beautiful coastline from Krakal Beach to the twin Turtle Island at Nglambor Beach. Timang Beach which faces the Indian Ocean is just one of the many beautiful beaches in the Gunungkidul district. Yeah beach hoping after your adrenaline rush!
Merapi Lava Tour
Get an adrenaline rush by standing on the slopes of Merapi – one of the most active and dangerous volcano in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Merapi has erupted regularly for more than 10,000 years and is believed to be the cause of demise of the Hindu Kingdom of Mataram in 1006. Ride on the legendary Jeep Willys to retrace the barren trail that was created during the major 2010 eruption which devastated a number of villages along its lava path. Along the trail is a truck size boulder that was hurled a few kilometers out from the volcano crater during the eruption. Visit an underground bunker which was built as an emergency shelter for the villagers in the event of eruption but which turned up to be the burial mound for the two guys who sought refuge inside. Witness the horror of the eruption in the Museum Sisa Hartaku (translated as My Remaining Treasure) – a modest museum created from the remnant of a house that was destroyed by the eruption. On display in the house are some of the surviving furnishings including one partially melted clock with its hands frozen at the time of eruption.
Mountain Trekking for Novices
At 2565m above sea level, Mount Pra is the tallest mountain on the Dieng Plateau. Mount Prau (Prau means boat in Indonesian language), so named because the shape of the mountain looks like a boat. The mountain which takes about 3 hours to hike from base to summit is readily accessible via a 3 hours’ drive from Yogyakarta, making it an excellent day outing from the city. Unlike most mountain trekking routes, the trail up Mount Pra is along its ridge with unblocked scenery. During the hike, you will pass by vegetable and fruit plots, savannas blooming with wild daisy flowers and beautiful meadows called Teletubbies Hill. At the summit you will be rewarded with sweeping view of nearby and distant volcano peaks like Lawu, Merapi, Merbabu, Sumbing and Sindoro and down to the Dieng Plateau itself. Dieng Plateau which means ‘Abode of the Gods’ in Sanskrit is dotted with many fascinating geological and historical sites like the bubbling Sikidang Crater, the multi-coloured Telaga Warna Lake, and the ancient Arjuna Complex etc.
Kalibiru National Park
Kalibiru National Park situated in the Menoreh Mountains is the epitome of eco-adventure destination in Yogyakarta. This park is most famous for its unique lookout points – wooden platforms built on top of trees – where you can capture Neo Geo worthy pics of the tranquil Waduk Sermo reservoir in the midst of lush vegetation with pretty hills and endless sky in the backdrop. You can also stroll around the various trails to enjoy the fresh mountain air and greenery or challenge yourself in some adventure games like rock climbing, tightrope walking or flying fox.
Mangunan Fruit Garden
Mangunan Fruit Garden is an up and coming eco-nature hill resort in the vicinity of Yogyakarta. In additional to its refreshing atmosphere, it has one of the best sunrise view in the region. At dawn, the heavy mist casting over the forest canopy creates a magical phenomenon of sea of clouds. As the sun rises, the mist slowly disperses to reveal the meandering Oyo River on the valley below. It also offers an excellent lookout point of the Parangtritis beach with the Indian Ocean in the background. You can also try out the various fruits grown in the orchard like durian, mango, rambutan, orange, mangosteen, duku fruit, longan, guava, guava, star fruit, jack fruit, snake fruit and sapodilla.
Ullen Sentalu Museum
Museum lovers will not want to miss out the Ullen Sentalu Museum, voted by many critics to be the best museum in Indonesia. The privately run museum houses a vast array of artifacts that illustrates Javanese history from the era of the powerful Mataram Kingdom that built the world famous Borobudur. The physical setting of the museum – a charming colonial stone building surrounded by well-tend gardens in the midst of pine and cinnamon forest – is enough to set it apart from other museums in the country. The sprawling maze-like building consists of many interconnecting small galleries above ground and tunnel like galleries underground. The collection includes antique furniture, batik, topeng, kris, wayang kulit puppets, sculptures, paintings of kraton princesses and sultans (each with a story of its own), handwritten letters, love notes and black and white photographs of the royal family etc. The visit usually starts with an informative guided tour and ends with a serving of Ratu Mas, a secret herbal cocktail that is believed to bring health and beauty.
Yogyakarta is considered by many to be the culinary capital of Indonesia. Its most representative cuisine is Nasi Gudeg, a rice dish made from young unripe jackfruit stewed for several hours in palm sugar and coconut milk, usually served with egg and chicken. Yogyakarta is sometimes nicknamed “Kota Gudeg” (City of Gudeg). Gudeg Yu Djum located close to the Sultan’s Palace serves one of the best Gudeg in Yogyakarta. The stalk which is now helmed by its 4th generation also offers diners an opportunity to look at how Gudeg is made in its kitchen. The runner-up after Nasi Gudeg is probably Brongkos, a sweet and spicy rawon-like beef brisket soup cooked with spices, tolo and red beans. Warung Handayani located at Alun-Alun Kidul is the crown of Brongkos in town. Fried chicken diehards should not miss Ayam Goreng Kalasan – fried chicken pre-marinated with coconut milk – reputed to be tastier than Popeyes. Street food lovers will find their paradise in Jalan Malioboro with street eateries selling local snacks and deserts like satay, wedang ronde (glutinous rice ball in ginger soup), kelapa muda (young coconut drink), rujak es krim (ice cream rojak) etc. Café-hoppers will also not be disappointed as cafes selling coffee and gelato are big businesses in Yogyakarta.