Yogyakarta, Indonesia may not be as well known as Bali but it’s still a great place to visit. Joga (as it’s known) is full of history, food, and great people. If you’re planning on visiting this great town in central Java, here is a great 5 day itinerary to see the sites and experience the culture.
- Day 1 – Arrive in Yoyakarta
- Day 2 – Water Palace, Fort, Malioboro
- Day 3 – Prambanan
- Day 4 – Borobudur
- Day 5 – On to your next adventure!
Day 1 – Arrive in Jogja
Getting to Jogja is easy but you’ll more than likely have to transit through Jakarta first. There are a few flights that fly here internationally but most flights will be domestic to/from the city. Luckily, flights to Jakarta are numerous and cheap.
Upon arrival, getting to the city is easy. The easiest way is to take a taxi but the airport takes all the guesswork out of the fare. When you walk inside the arrivals hall, you’ll see a bunch of booths that will allow you to take a prepaid taxi to your hotel. The taxi is a flat rate depending on the location and you pay at the booth. Once you pay, you’re given a piece of paper that designates where you want to go.
As you exit the airport, follow the signs to the taxi stand area. They’re marked but if in doubt, just walk outside and you’ll see a lot of people trying to get a taxi. Since the airport is so small, you can’t really get lost. Once you get to the taxi stand, just had the man in charge of flagging down taxis your piece of paper. He’ll get a taxi for you and tell the driver where to go but you’ll want to confirm just in case. I love this system at airports because the process is straightforward and you don’t have to worry about whether you’re getting ripped off or not.
For hotels, you’ll pretty much be able to stay anywhere in town since it’s pretty small. You immediate reaction will be to stay on Malioboro street but you can really stay anywhere. Ideally, you’ll want to stay on a street parallel to Malioboro but a couple blocks out since you won’t have to deal with the traffic. Malioboro is the main street of Jogja so to say it’s crowded is an understatement. Although it’s great to stay there, the traffic can get old pretty fast.
While I was there, I stayed at the Marriott which was a few minutes away from Malioboro. Although it was a little farther away than I wanted, it was in a great area that allowed me to walk to get local food.
After checking in, it’ll more than likely be too late to do any major excursions so you’ll probably want to walk around Malioboro street and get the lay of the land. You’ll find everything on Malioboro from places to eat, shop, and stay.
The one thing I’ll say is that if you want to get a batik shirt (a traditional Indonesian style shirt) you’ll really want to think about where you buy it. There are a TON of places that sell batik merchandise and Malioboro is no exception. However, be weary of buying the cheap stuff. Not only will those colors fade, the shirts will probably shrink after washing pretty quickly. Quality shirts don’t fade or shrink. You can find a wide variety at Hamzah on Malioboro but if you go into a more formal mall, you ‘ll be able to find some quality batik stores as well.
For dinner, you might want to think about trying some bakso. The best I can describe it, it’s like Indonesian spaghetti and meatballs but served in a broth. It’s delicious and you can choose the type of meatballs you want. Also, bakso is just a really cheap dish so you should be able to get a bowl of it for less than $5.
Day 2 – Attractions around Malioboro
To get around Jogja you can hire a taxi or you can just walk around. I suggest that you start with the Water Palace and work your way back up to the Malioboro. That way you can see the sites on that side of town and get it out of the way.
The Water Palace costs (I think) 15,000 IDR for entry. That’s about a $1 USD. It is nice and beautiful but the complex is pretty small. It won’t take you more than 30 minutes to tour the grounds. I don’t know how early you should show up but you’ll definitely want to come before all the locals do. The locals pay a far cheaper price so when I was there, tons of families were out enjoying the day in the setting. It just made for a crowded experience in a fairly tight space.
A short walk from the palace is Sumur Gumuling. Your ticket to the water palace will also get you into Sumur Gumuling. Unfortunately the signs aren’t really marked well to find the entrance to Sumur Gumuling from the Water Palace. The path from the back of the palace to Sumur Gumuling seems to take you through a residential neighborhood so finding this place was near impossible for me. Luckily I met a local girl who not only spoke English but was kind enough to walk me all the way to the entrance because she knew I was lost.
Sumur Gumuling is actually a really uniquely designed building. The problem is it’s tough to find and it isn’t clearly marked. However, if you’re going from the Water Palace to Sumur Gamuling, just follow the line of locals who go there. Locals will outnumber tourists here by a lot and it seems to be some sort of meeting or general hang out spot. I didn’t know this when I went so I didn’t expect to see so many locals. If you want to take photos with no one there, you’ll just have to get lucky or go when the weather is terrible and drives everyone away. Otherwise you won’t be able to even walk around without feeling like you might accidentally be bumped off the side of the stairs. It really is a unique building but not very large so it won’t take more than a few minutes to walk around.
From there, make your way up to the Palace of Yogyakarta. This is the palace of the sultan of Yogyakarta and is an active palace so there will be place you won’t be allowed to enter or step. Also, they charge an extra 2,000 IDR (some like 15 cents?) for our camera but it’s something to know. The site is interesting but don’t expect to see the opulence of a royal palace. I thought it looked a little drab to be honest. It doesn’t take too long to visit and I didn’t do the tour but it might be helpful if you’d like to understand more about the history. I don’t think I saw a tour schedule that was led in English so wandering solo may be the way to do it.
Next, swing by the Fredeburg Museum. I’m not usually a big fan of museums but this was pretty entertaining (maybe because it’s in an old fort?). The entrance is right off Malioboro street so you by the time you make it here, you’re right back to the southern portion of the main drag. The fort for me was just a nice change of pace but I’m not sure if I learned anything. I may have missed something since it seemed like there were dioramas around but I’m not sure if I understood the full context. I did enjoy the fort complex though since it is kinda fun to walk through structures like that.
Now that you’re back on Malioboro street, you may want to cross the street and go into the massive Hamzah Batik store. This store sells much more than just batik clothing though and in actuality is a massive gift shop. I think there were 3 stories and the top floor is great to get those small items for friends and family back home. Of course the store will have the obligatory key chains, bottle openers, and magnets, but it has some cool stuff in there too. I enjoyed it just to see what I could find and really enjoyed getting some locally made sand art things.
Also, if you have an questions, the main tourist office is just across the steet as well (back on the Fredeburg side of the street). The staff there is super helpful and they really go out of their way to help. I was having issues trying to get a cab so they actually called one for me and even waited with me until it came to make sure I got in the right one. Then they told the driver where to go and even got the price up front for me so I wouldn’t have to worry. I was really impressed and have to give the staff there a huge thumbs up.
By this time, you can walk around Malioboro and try some street food depending on the time of day. One of the things that’s sold is this potato desert thing. It isn’t too sweet though. It had the texture of a dense scone and it tasted like it was just potatoes that had been sweetened and formed. You’ll see it made and sold on the street and it comes in a paper box with 20 pieces inside. You’ll get them piping hot as well. I didn’t know what it was so I just bought a box and tried one on the spot. The ladies there started laughing and got a kick out of my curiosity but they were happy with my reaction. It isn’t much so just get some to try. It’s pretty good.
You’ll see a ton of street food stalls around but you can also duck into one of the many malls as well. There will always be a food court area and if you’re in a local mall, the vendors will all be locals. The menus will be written in English but it won’t really mean anything if you don’t know what any of it means. You’ll have to some decipher what you can but I just figured ikan bakar is some sort of grille fish dish and ayam was a sort of chicken dish so that pretty much covers a good portion of the menu. The rest must mean how it’s cooked (that’s what I think anyways). Just walk in and figure it out. If 20,000 IDR is about $1.50, it really isn’t too bad an idea to just pick something and try it.
I imagine at this point you’ll be plenty tired to go back and relax. It may even be evening at this point so just relax by the pool. Your legs will thank you for it.
Day 3 – Prambanan
Prambanan is one of those spots that’s cool to see but tough to photograph. It’s a Hindu temple complex with massive structures. You can even walk around since some of them. The site is in a few clusters of temples and the site is relatively large. There are two entrances. One or residents and one of tourists. Obviously tourists pay more but it is far less crowded to go through the tourist line vs. the locals line. Also you can buy a combo ticket of Prambanan and Borobudur if you plan to visit the sites on back to back days.
You’ll want to get there fairly early since tour busses will come consistently throughout the day. I did notice that tour busses don’t necessarily come too early in the morning though since the site is pretty close to town. However, don’t wait too long since once the tour busses start to arrive, it gets crowded fast and any hope of getting a clean photo is lost.
The site is relatively huge so it’ll take a good 2-3 hour at least to walk around. You can certainly spend more time there if you want but for me a few hours was enough. After a while, I got a bit of temple fatigue and was ready for a change of pace.
The rest of the day is up to you. I just went back to town and tried some more street food then went in search for some popular bakso and ikan bakar. It seems like those are unofficially official dishes for Indonesia. Bakso is served everywhere from regular street vendors to restaurants and it fun to try and see what makes one better than the other. Ikan bakar is a grilled fish dish that tons of spices. It has so much flavor it’s amazing. Usually you’ll have that with a few other side dishes as well so that’ll round out the dishes.
You could try to go up to Borobudur if you’re feeling really up for it but I’d suggest doing this in reverse order. If you have limited time, you’ll want to to the Borobudur temple first and go for sunrise then come back to Prambanan for the sunset. However, you’ll either have to hire a car for the day or drive yourself. I think it’s easier to do each site on separate days but that’s up to you.
Day 4 – Borobudur
Wake up early and go to Borobudur. Now you’ll have to figure out if it’s worth it for you to go to watch the sunrise. It’s been my experience that whenever you have an event everyone is trying to witness at a small space, the end result is just an unenjoyable experience. I feel like the sunrise at Borobudur event is one of those things where it could be a magical and worthwhile experience if you were the only one there. But having to jostle for position all for a reward of a few minutes just doesn’t seem worth it. The ticket to witness the sunrise also costs more and and is not included in your combo ticket price.
I rented a car with a driver and got there just after sunrise in about an hour. Early enough that I would have plenty of time to see the site but late enough where most of the people who showed up to watch the sunrise had already left. However, even at that semi early hour, the place was still packed with locals and I found out later it’s because they were on break from school.
Borobudur as a site isn’t that large (in terms of land area). The temple if massive but in terms of things to do at the site, there really isn’t too much to do. Even if you took your time walking every bit of the temple, it still wouldn’t take you more than a couple hours. As you leave, you’ll have to navigate the maze of stalls all trying to sell you something.
There are a few other spots to stop while you’re in the area. You can try luwak coffee at a coffee roaster in the area which is great if you’re a coffee lover. There are also smaller temples you can visit as well. As you drive back though, you’ll find a fairly large jewelry shop that specializes in silver. It’s a great place to shop if you’re looking for gifts at a great price. The place I stopped at was a large, two story jewelry store with tons of options. I’m not a huge fan of shopping but everyone hits a price point it just seems idiotic NOT to buy something.
The drive back might take a bit longer since traffic can be horrendous later in the day but it still shouldn’t take more than an hour and a half. Once you’re back, you’ll have time to do whatever you want with your remaining time. Since it’s your final night, you may want to check out the night scene on Malioboro or a quiet evening at the hotel. It’s up to you.
Day 5 – On to the next adventure!
All you have to do is make sure you get to the airport on time. One thing to note about the airport is that it’s small and the check in area is very small. Although you’re probably used to getting to the airport a good three hours before departure, you won’t need to do that here. Most of the fights are domestic flights. Although it’s an international airport, there aren’t that many international flights that arrive/depart the airport so going through immigration will only be the number of people on your flight. Once you’re inside the departures hall, there isn’t much to do so you’ll pretty much want to minimize your time at the airport. I’d say 90 minutes is plenty of time.
Yogyakarta is a great place to visit. Although the town is easy to get to, getting to Borobudur and Prambanan is going to take some time if you don’t want to arrange transportation. It obviously doesn’t have the popularity of Bali so it’s still relatively unknown to most vacationers. But it won’t be long before others figure out where and how to get here. Hopefully this quick 5 day itinerary will be a helpful guide to get you to the top spots in Yogyakarta.