Yogyakarta is an extraordinary Indonesian city nearby two stunning UNESCO world heritage sites. The Borobudur and the Prambanan.
I highly recommend spending time in Yogyakarta and using the city as the base to visit both sites.
The Borobudur and the Prambanan temples are vastly different in architecture and style, the first is Buddhist and the other Hindu. Prambanan impresses more for the details, and Borobudur impresses because of its size.
Borobudur had my slight preference, purely because I loved the carvings and the views from the top. I also really liked the Prambanan’s temples set against a green landscape but in the end, Borobudur left a bigger impression.
Both deserve a visit and if you are short in time you can visit both easily on the same day, without a tour, using only public transports.
Just keep in mind that Borobudur and Prambanan are not close to each other. Borobudur is located to the northwest of Yogyakarta (45km) and Prambanan is closer to the east part of Yogyakarta (16km).
How to see both Borobudur and Prambanan in One Day
My suggestion is to visit the Borobudur temple in the morning and the Prambanan temple in the afternoon catching the sunset.
Get the Trans-Jogja busses 2B or 2A (Rp 3,500 ~$0.25) to go from central Yogyakarta to Jombor bus terminal located in northern Yogyakarta.
Get the bus to Borobudur Bus Terminal, the journey takes about 60-90 minutes (Rp.25,000 ~$1.40)
From Borobudur, Bus Terminal walk 5-10 minutes to the Borobudur Temple.
When you finish visiting the temple, take a bus from Borobudur back to Yogyakarta and get the TransJogja bus that goes directly to Prambanan – Route 1A (Rp.4,000 ~$0.22)
The Prambanan Temple was built in the 9th century and is the biggest and most complete remains of Java’s period of Hindu culture. Nowadays it comprises the remains of some 244 temples.
Prambanan is Indonesia’s largest Hindu site and a World Heritage site part of the UNESCO.
Prambanan’s temple highlight is the central compound, where eight main and eight minor temples are assembled on a raised platform. Each of them has beautiful carvings and a religious statue inside.
The three biggest temples, called Trimurti (“three forms”), are dedicated to the three Hindu Gods: Shiva the Destroyer, Vishnu the Keeper and Brahma the Creator.
Even though Prambanan is a big tourist sight, it wasn’t too crowded when we visited. I was there at the end of the day, which is a good time (just like early morning) to avoid larger groups of tourists. The complex is open from 6.00 to 18.00 daily.
Visiting the temple without a tour
Personally, I like to sightsee on my own and I always avoid tours unless completely impossible. I don’t really mind if it’s harder or it takes longer because I love the flexibility for doing what I want for as long as I like.
Visiting the Prambanan Temple on your own, its simple and easy to do.
The entry fee for Prambanan is Rp.325,000 ($23.85), but you can get a combined ticket to the Prambanan and Borobudur for Rp.520,000 ($38.15).
How to get there
Prambanan Temple is a one-hour drive from Yogyakarta, using the local public bus. From downtown, simply take a Route 1A or 1B bus to the final stop, Terminal Prambanan, because is the end of the line, you don’t have to worry about missing your stop.
Local bus tickets cost Rp.3,600 ($0.25), they run fairly frequently, are comfortable and have air-conditioned.
The other options you have is to hire a driver for the day, take a Grab Taxi or rent a scooter to have the flexibility to explore other sites.
Thoughts about Prambanan
Although I enjoyed the Borobudur temple more the Prambanan was also a highlight, It was absolutely lovely to spend the afternoon strolling around the temples and the lush green garden surrounding them.
If you are planning to go to Yogyakarta and Borobudur temple, you should definitely head over to Prambanan too. Just be prepared to have locals approaching you to take photos with you!
Borobudur is located high on a mountain in Central Java. Although it is the largest Buddist temple in the world, Borobudur Temple was lost for centuries until it was found again in 1814. Today is a World Heritage Site, part of the UNESCO.
I found Borobudur one of the most impressive temples I’ve ever seen. Comparable in a way to the temples of Angkor in Cambodia.
The Borobudur Temple
The Borobudur temple is made up of five large square terraces, with three circular platforms on top of them, ringed by 72 stupas, representing the spiritual journey from the life of desire, through meditation to Nirvana. All platforms are covered with intricate carvings.
When you reach the very top there is a magnificent stupa.
The views from the top are absolutely stunning, surrounded by green and volcanic peaks.
Visiting Borobudur Temple
Because it’s a popular attraction the site gets absolutely packed during the day. The Borobudur Temple is the single most visited site in Indonesia. So make sure you arrive as early as you can.
If you plan visiting the Borobudur temple and the Prambanan temple is worth it to buy the combo ticket for $40, instead of buying the tickets separately.
At the entrance, after buying the tickets they have an area with complimentary drinks where you can have a cup of coffee, tea or water, and where they give you a sarong to use inside.
They also have wifi, so you can download the free app ‘cultural places‘ and use it as an audio-guide.
Is possible to before the official opening hours to get see the sunrise, although you pay a higher admission fee, and there is no public bus that can get you there on time. The first bus leaves at 06:00 making it impossible to arrive before the sunrise.
How to get to Borobudur
Borobudur is in Magelang, 40 km northwest of Yogyakarta and is not difficult to get there using public transports.
So to get the public bus go to the Jombor terminal in the north of Yogyakarta (takes roughly 1hour and a half to 2 hours) and cost Rp30,000 ($2.10). The journey is quite straight forward and the buses leave regularly to Borobudur between 06:00 and 16:00.
The Borobudur terminal is a 10-minute walk from the temple complex. The last bus back from Borobudur leaves at 16:00.
Alternatively, you can rent a scooter, find a travel agency offering tours, or hire a driver/guide to take you.
Most of the visitors are Indonesian and there aren’t many tourists on the bus either, so be prepared to pose and take some pictures with the Indonesian tourists.
The next most significant is another Unesco World Heritage Site, the 9th and 10th century Hindu complex of Prambanan, that can also be visited, located on the island of Java.
The Ijen volcano is famous for its Blue Flames that light up in the darkness of the volcano crater. Located in the Banyuwangi Regency on the East Java, Indonesia.
For many, hiking the Ijen is the highlight of their Indonesia trip and an extraordinary experience. Find here how to hike to the heart of the Ijen Crater and chase the blue flames, without a tour.
After doing my trip to Ijen I really have mixed feelings about this place. I can’t really understand why people love it so much, for me it is a very controversial tourist attraction with serious problems.
Why I don’t recommend the blue flames
Trekking down the crater during the night can be extremely dangerous, there’s no paths or railings, the terrain is boulders and rubbles and there are so much more people than you can imagine doing the same as you at the same time.
When you get to the centre of the crater, and you look up, it’s just horrifying, to see thousands of tiny dots from the torches coming down, in a flow that never stops.
The rocky path down to the crater is breaking up because of the number of people walking on it daily.
Wind, as you know, is unpredictable so that means that sometimes is nearly impossible to breathe or see, and you’re trapped in a sulphur mine. During my visit I had to sit on the floor, several times close my eyes and try to breathe as slowly and calmly as I could, till the wind was blowing the fumes in a different direction.
Despite having a gas mask you can barely breathe and the gas stings your eyes.
You see impressive photographs from the blue flames on the internet but if you’re lucky to see them at all is just a small defuse light far in the distance.
The Sulfur Miners in Ijen
Miners do an arduous and inhumane work in conditions that can only be described as hell. In the middle of toxic fumes and heat, without equipment.
They trek up Ijen’s 9,000-foot slopes during the night and descending another 3,000 feet into the crater, where they extract the sulfur, they then carry 150 to 200-pound of the so-called “devil’s gold” back up the crater twice a day, earning an average of five dollars per trip.
While miners are working thousands of tourist invade the space, making their work even harder, asking them to pose for photographs, and blocking the path ways.
Can’t really get my head around it, it seems to me that this is the commodification of human suffering and the objectification of people living in terrible conditions.
For me, visiting the ijen during the nighh was an intoxicating, scary and not memorable experience, that I wouldn’t repeat.
Visiting the Mount Bromo, contemplate the sunrise or sunset, can be done easily for free and without a tour.
First, you need to reach the small town of Cemoro Lawang, find a room and overnight there. If you arrive during the day, I recommend visiting the Bromo crater that day, after the tours left.
I woke up at 3.20am and left to the hike to the top of Mount Penanjakan, by myself, and could be easier. The trek uphill is about 5km long so you need some good 2 hours.
It’s important to have a good torch, proper shoes and warm clothes, its frizzing cold during the night, remember that you are at 2,217 meters above sea level.
Hiking to the top of Mount Penanjakan during the night
First, you walk on the concrete road for half of the journey and then you go into a rocky mountain trail, The hike is not difficult but you need to have a reasonable level of fitness. Its deep dark but using the offline map app – maps-me makes the tasks pretty easy, as long as you have a light source with you.
It’s amazing to stop occasionally to look at the starts here, the visibility is just superb.
On the day I did my hike, I only pass through a couple of small moving light points from other travellers. This is not the same route taken by the jeeps (tours) and there are not many people climbing up this way.
After a while, I reached a viewing point that I liked (you will find many) and waited there for the sunrise. Slowly started to get brighter and brighter… It was magical, such a stunning and magnificent view over the caldera with Semeru volcano in the background.
I contemplated the sunrise wrapped in a blanket and stayed a bit longer having breakfast (that I carried in my backpack) looking at the views.
The weather was getting warmer and I went down to town, sat for a coffee, rest and finish an amazing morning.
The Ijen volcano is located near the eastern tip of Java island, and anyone visiting the island is probably planning a visit to the vast volcanic region of the Ijen plateau.
This region has three volcanos, the Ijen (2368m), the Merapi (2800m) and the Raung (3332m). The vast majority of visitor goes only to the Ijen.
Hiking the volcano, contemplate the Acid Lake, the Blue Flames and the sunrise can be done easily independently without a guide or a tour.
You can get to Ijen via Bondowoso or Banyuwangi.
Java is well connected by bus so its easy to get to one of these towns from any place in Java.
To get to Ijen you will need to rent a scooter or hire a taxi. If you are used to drive a scooter, the roads to Ijen are really good, and because you do it during the night there is no traffic, plus the route is quite straightforward and well sign-posted.
At the entrance
Once you arrive you need to go in direction of the building where you can buy the entrance ticket. It costs Rp.100,000 (~£7.10) on weekdays and Rp.150,000 (~£10.60) on weekends for foreign visitors.
Ijen – chasing the blue flames
To chase the blue flames its starts with a midnight hike to the crater edge, although is a steady walk up a hill, it’s no easy task.
Once you get to the crater rim, you’ll find lots of guides offering to help you on the way down, but it’s up to you whether to get one at this point, to be fair you don’t need one at all.
Whatever you decide to do, the only thing that really matters is to put the gas mask on and keep it at all times, the sulphuric fumes are toxic, corrodes the skin, stings the eye and cause breathless.
Descending to the volcano crater
When you start descending the terrain turns to boulders and rubbles and its important to take care where you step. The rocky path down to the crater is breaking up because of the number of people walking on it daily.
Be mindful that you will not be the only person doing this journey, the place is completely packed with tourists plus you have the miners making their way back up with their baskets full. Its horrible to see the miners working in conditions that can only be described as hell —a portrait of bone-crushing physical labuor.
Once inside the crater, you can see the blue flames of the sulphur mine if the weather allows it. The ones I saw where quite small, much more impressive than the flames are the miners work in such harsh conditions, where is almost impossible to breathe.
The ‘Blue Flames’, are Sulphur gas escaping from the walls of a dormant volcano igniting to 300 degrees when in contact with oxygen.
At the time I visited the Ijen, it was really cold and very very windy, that means that the visibility was terrible plus the fumes were blowing in all direction. When the fumes are on top of you, you can’t open your eyes and is really hard to breathe, would I repeat the experience, probably not.
After you’ve explored everything inside the crater, climb up to contemplate the sunrise overlooking the landscape.
Once the sun is up, the views over the largest acid lake on earth are quite nice, this lake has a pH lower than that of battery acid, caustic enough to dissolve metal, can you believe it?!
The way down from the volcano rim is not easier than the way up, I’m sorry to say it.. the downward slope is absolutely killer on the knees.
warm clothes and gloves
snacks and water
The rest of the Ijen plateau area is worth exploring, with its breathtaking views, countless streams and hot springs and coffee plantations. There are also a few nice isolated settlements.
If the crowds, toxic smokes are nor for you, you may prefer visiting the magnificent Mount Bromo.