Borobudur Temple has always been high on my list of places to visit in Indonesia. It’s a great addon for those already looking to visit Bali as a quick 2-3 day stop. It also makes for a perfect weekend destination if you’re living in Bali or Singapore. This is precisely what I did coming here on a Friday to Monday trip.
Borobudur and Prambanan are two of the most immaculately preserved temples in SE Asia. While they are often overshadowed by the more famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia, they are by no means any less impressive.
History of Borobudur
Borobudur Temple is an ancient marvel located in Central Java, Indonesia. It stands as one of the most magnificent Buddhist monuments in the world and has captivated visitors with its grandeur and spiritual significance. The history of Borobudur Temple spans several centuries and is intertwined with the rich cultural and religious heritage of the region.
Construction of Borobudur Temple began during the Sailendra dynasty in the 8th century. The Sailendras were a prominent Indonesian dynasty that ruled over Java and Sumatra. The temple was built under the patronage of the Sailendra kings, who were devout followers of Mahayana Buddhism.
The exact date of Borobudur’s construction remains a subject of debate among historians, but it is believed to have been completed around 825 CE. The temple was built on a hill overlooking the fertile Kedu Plain, a strategic location that symbolized the spiritual journey towards enlightenment.
Borobudur Temple was constructed using volcanic stone blocks, meticulously carved and arranged to form a massive pyramid-like structure. The temple consists of nine stacked platforms, six square and three circular, topped by a central dome. The entire structure is adorned with intricate reliefs, totaling over 2,500 panels, depicting scenes from Buddhist teachings and Javanese life.
The reliefs on the lower levels of Borobudur depict intricate narratives of Karmawibhangga, Lalitavistara, and Jataka tales, which are stories about the previous lives of Gautama Buddha. As visitors ascend the temple, the reliefs transition to more abstract and symbolic forms, representing the journey towards enlightenment.
Borobudur Temple’s design is based on Buddhist cosmology, with each level representing a different realm of existence. Pilgrims traditionally walked clockwise, starting from the base, as they circumambulated the temple, following the path towards enlightenment. The top three circular platforms symbolize the realm of formlessness, the highest level of spiritual attainment.
Despite its grandeur, Borobudur Temple had a relatively short period of active use. Following the decline of the Sailendra dynasty, Java experienced a shift towards Hindu and Islamic influences. Over time, the temple was abandoned, and the dense tropical forest reclaimed it, burying it under layers of volcanic ash and vegetation.
Borobudur Temple remained hidden and forgotten for centuries until it was rediscovered in the early 19th century by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the British ruler of Java at the time. Recognizing its historical and cultural significance, restoration efforts began in the 20th century, with extensive restoration work undertaken between 1975 and 1982, funded by UNESCO and the Indonesian government.
Best time of year to visit Borobudur
Borobudur and the Yogyakarta area enjoy the same climate as nearby Bali. The rainy season typically runs from November until April with the dry season running from April to November. During the dry season, expect warmer temperatures, sunny weather, and a great overall view of the temples.
During the rainy season, Java sees a decent amount of rain but it is still a good time to visit the temples as less crowds and cooler temperatures means a better viewing experience!
Where to stay in Borobudur?
Borobudur is located 1-1.5 hours outside of the main city of Yogyakarta. I would recommend you stay in the city of Yogyakarta and make the day trip to the temples. There is a lot to do in the city so after your temple visit, you can relax and enjoy the city including its wide array of street food and cafes. Yogyakarta is an underrated city in my opinion and I wish I had more days to spend. It is the only region of Indonesia that is still ruled by a Sultan after all!
There are plenty of hotels right near to the temple but there is not much going on in the area. If you want to be away from it all and closer to nature, rice fields, and the temple, then there are a few options to consider near to the temples. Otherwise, I would stick to staying in Yogyakarta!
Sunrise at Borobudur
Just like with Angkor Wat in Cambodia, sunrise at Borobudur is an absolute spectacle. Sunrise is magical over the temples as the golden rays of the morning magically illuminate the temples.
No more sunrise in Borobudur temple
Sadly, there is no way to see the sunrise at Borobudur temple anymore. Starting in March 2023, the Government closed down the temple for sunrise patrons until further notice. This means, you cannot walk up to the top of the temple for sunrise anymore like you previously could.
Yes, this is very sad indeed as the photos of the temple at sunrise are stunning and magical. Don’t worry, you can still enter the temple but only after sunrise has finished.
Sunrise at Setumbu Hill
Instead of sunrise at the Borobudur temple, I ended up going to the Setumbu Hill for a wonderful sunrise view over the valley. While this is not anywhere near the temple, you can still see it slightly in the distance. This viewpoint is more about nature and the beautiful landscapes of Java than the temples itself.
Unfortunately, this is the only thing you can do nowadays until the Government decides to reopen Borobudur for sunrise.
To get to Setumbu, you can either hire a private driver for the day like what I did or a join a small group tour that visits for the sunrise, and then to the two temples of Borobudur and Prambanan.
It’s a 10 minute walk to the top of the hill from the parking lot where you’ll be greeted with incredible sunrise views of the valley.
If you’re staying in Yogyakarta, you’ll want to leave around 4am in order to make it in time. It’s roughly 1h drive from Yogyakarta to Setumbu Hill in the morning hours before there’s any traffic. Factor in another 10-15 minutes of walking and you’ll reach the viewpoint just before 5:30am. You can expect to find crowds here as it has become a very popular sunrise destination. Sunrise happens shortly thereafter with the sun visible from 6:15am onwards.
There are numerous picture spots in Setumbu Hills where you can take incredible pictures of the valley including this beautiful treetop platform.
Sunrise at Manohara Hotel Gate
In previous years, you were allowed to witness the sunrise over the temples at the Manohara Hotel. This hotel is located right next to the temple and they offer a viewpoint over the temples for the sunrise. Entrance would start at 5am and you could actually buy tickets for this spectacle. They put this on pause while I visited but I suspect this will resume in the future. Nevertheless, sunrise at the Manohara hotel does not mean you can enter the temple or see it from the inside.
You can also stay at this hotel if you want to be closer to the temples.
Cost of visiting Borobudur Temple
The entrance ticket cost for Borobudur continually increases. It has seen a lot of change in recent years and you can expect the price to continue going up. It’s not a cheap destination to visit but if you’re already here, you’ll probably pay anything to enter. I think it’s likely the Government will try to market Borobudur as a premium destination in the future and charge upwards of $100 for an entrance ticket!
As of June 2023, the costs of Borobudur are as follows:
Bodobudur Temple Ticket – 362,000 IDR
Borobudur & Prambanan Combo Ticket – 652,000 IDR
Expect these prices to increase in the future. I ended up buying the combo ticket because I was planning to visit Prambanan and this would have saved me money. These tickets are valid for 2 days so you can visit both temples in one day or save one for the following day.
Cash and Credit cards are accepted at Borobudur and Prambanan.
Borobudur Operating Hours
Borobudur is open every day except Mondays from 6am until 5pm. Note that these times are simply for the temple grounds as if you want to walk inside the temple, that is a whole different situation.
The best time to visit Borobudur in my opinion are the early hours. The temperatures are much more pleasant in the early hours and photos of the temples are much prettier with the morning sun.
Try to avoid the temple on Indonesian public holidays as it will be much busier with domestic tourists.
Walking inside the Borobudur temple
In years past, the regular ticket would allow you to enter the temple and walk around as you please. No longer starting in 2023.
In order to better preserve this beautiful structure, there are now limitations on entering the temple itself which I can fully support. In order to enter the temple, you’ll need to purchase a guided tour option.
As of 2023, the only way to enter the temple is to purchase a guided tour. There is no way around this. If you do not purchase this tour, you can roam the temple grounds freely and admire the temple from the outside but you will not be able to climb or enter the temple.
The cost of this tour is an extra 75,000 IDR that you can pay with cash or credit card at the ticket office. These guided tours only start from 8am which means there is now no way to watch the sunrise from within the temple itself.
Booking a guided tour of Borobudur
Guided tours operate on a first come first serve basis. I would highly recommend going as early as possible as even at 8am, the colors are still beautiful. I would recommend getting to the ticket counter at 7am so you can secure your spot as one of the first groups to enter the temple. I ended up going around 9:30am as it was very busy the day I visited and it was already way too hot for comfort!
Once the tour starts, you’ll be taken to an area where you are given flipflops to wear inside the temple. This is to reduce wear on the temple and must be worn at all times. They give you a bag to put your existing shoes and you can keep these flip flops as a souvenir.
The guide will talk about the history of Borobudur and offer interesting insights of the temple before finally entering the temple itself. It was so hot by the time we entered that I barely paid attention to the guy as I was trying to find shade inside the temple. After about 45 minutes of the tour, we finally climbed to the top of the temple with the iconic bell sculptures.
Can I fly a drone in Borobudur?
Drones were allowed once upon a time but that time is no longer. Drones are specifically banned in the Borobudur temples and they specifically check for drones nowadays at the ticket office. Do not fly a drone otherwise you’ll be in big trouble.
In fact, you are not allowed to fly a drone within a 5km radius of the temple so do not attempt to fly a drone from the nearby parking lot!
Visiting Prambanan Temple
After a wonderful visit of Borobudur, it was time to see the Prambanan temple which in my opinion is just as beautiful if not more so than Borobudur.
Prambanan temple is located about 30 minutes west of Yogyakarta and can be visited in the same day as a visit to Borobudur or you can simply wait until the following day.
History of the Prambanan Temple
Prambanan Temple, also known as Candi Rara Jonggrang, is an awe-inspiring Hindu temple complex located in Central Java, Indonesia. It stands as a testament to the region’s rich cultural heritage and serves as a magnificent example of ancient Javanese architecture. Built in the 9th century during the Mataram Kingdom’s rule, Prambanan Temple is dedicated to the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
Commissioned by Rakai Pikatan, a ruler of the Mataram Kingdom, the construction of Prambanan Temple began in the mid-9th century. The temple complex was intended to be the royal sanctuary, symbolizing the kingdom’s devotion to the Hindu gods. It was strategically situated near the earlier Hindu temples dedicated to Brahma and Vishnu.
Prambanan Temple originally consisted of over 200 structures, including towering temples, shrines, and auxiliary buildings. The main temple, known as Candi Shiva Mahadeva, reaches a height of approximately 47 meters (154 feet) and is the focal point of the complex. Elaborate stone carvings adorn its walls, depicting scenes from ancient Hindu epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
Following the decline of the Mataram Kingdom and a period of political instability, Prambanan Temple was abandoned and left to decay. Natural disasters, such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, further contributed to the deterioration of the structures. It wasn’t until the 18th century when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, a British ruler, ordered an excavation and survey of the site, leading to the rediscovery of the temple complex.
Restoration efforts commenced in the early 20th century, aiming to revive Prambanan Temple’s former grandeur. Diligent work has been carried out to reconstruct and conserve the intricate architectural features. Today, the temple complex stands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors from all over the world.
Entering Prambanan Temple
Prambanan is a 30 minute drive outside of Yogyakarta. It’s possible to simply take a Gojek taxi or scooter from the city to the temple and back.
As I approached Prambanan Temple, its grandeur took my breath away. The tall spires beckoned me closer, their mystical charm irresistible. Stepping into the temple grounds, I was awed by the sheer size of the structures that surrounded me. The main temples dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva stood proudly, adorned with intricate carvings that told stories of a bygone era. The air felt sacred, filled with a sense of spirituality.
I wandered through the complex, discovering a maze of smaller temples. Each one was a treasure trove of art and meaning. The walls were decorated with detailed reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu epics. It felt as though the stone came alive, transporting me to a time when these stories were integral to the lives of the people.
Ascending the steep steps of the main temples, I reached their inner sanctums. There, in the quietness, I observed the remains of statues and imagined the vibrant religious practices of the past. It was a powerful moment, a connection with history, as if the presence of those who once worshipped there lingered in the air.
For the best photos, I think the areas outside of the main temple complex are best as you are able to fit in all the individual spires. Some of them really tower dramatically in front of you creating fantastic photo opportunities. I think visiting around sunset time will bring out the colors perfectly. It’s hard to take a bad photo here though!
1 Day Itinerary to Visit Borobudur and Prambanan Temples
As mentioned in previous sections, it’s very much possible to visit both temples in the same day. In this section, I will go into detail about how I visited everything in one day and how I scheduled my time.
4am – Wake up for the sunrise. Grab a light snack if you can but otherwise, leave in your prebooked transport to the temples. From Yogyakarta, it is a 1 hour drive to Borobudur.
5am – Arrive at the base of the Setumbu Hills. Because it is no longer possible to visit Borobudur for the sunrise, Setumbu Hills is one of the most popular options.
5:20am – Walk from the parking lot of Setumbu hills to the top of the hill. Enjoy sunrise for the next hour.
6:30am – Leave the Setumbu area and drive towards Borobudur temple.
6:45am – Purchase tickets for the two temples as a combo ticket. In addition, book the guided tour that will allow you access into the Borobudur temple. The earliest time for the guided tour is at 8am so hopefully it is not too busy and you can go as soon as these tours start. In the meantime, grab a nasi goreng from one of the numerous food stalls at the entrance.
8:00am – Join the guided tour to enter Borobudur. This tour will take 1.5 hours and you will be able to enter the temple and ascend to the 8th floor of the temple. The 9th floor is reserved only for Buddhist monks. Once the tour is over, you’re free to explore the temple grounds as long as you’d like.
10:30am – Leave Borobudur temple and drive back towards Yogyakarta. This will take roughly 1.5 hours.
12:00pm – Have lunch at Sate Ratu. This is one of my favorite restaurants in Yogyakarta serving authentic Indonesian style sates. It’s incredible and immensely popular with locals!
14:00 – Make drive to Prambanan Temple and visit this wonderful Hindu temple. It won’t take you more than 1-2 hours to visit the temples and take photos. If you want nicer photos, I would recommend coming here after 16:00 which will also mean the day time heat will subside. If this sounds like something for you, simply visit a cafe after lunch for a coffee before visiting Prambanan temple.
16:00 – Arrive back in Yogyakarta.
How to get to Borobodur
Borobudur is located about 1 to 1.5 hours outside of the city of Yogyakarta. Yogykarta is the main city and the gateway to visiting Borobudur and Prambanan temples.
Yogyakarta is home to a large new international airport that was recently completed. To get to Yogyakarta, you can fly from popular places like Bali, Jakarta, and numerous other Indonesia cities. There are also direct flights from KL, Singapore, and other international cities.
How to get from Yogyakarta Airport (YIA) to the city
The new airport YIA (not to be confused with YOG) is located about 40 km outside of the city of Yogyakarta. It’s a 1 hour drive from the airport to the city through the Java countryside. As you can expect, the two lane roads here will mean traffic can be brutal.
The alternative is to take the brand new train that services the airport to the city center of Yogyakarta. This train only takes a half hour and arrives in the central Malioboro district of Yogyakarta.
A Gojek/Grab taxi will cost about 250,000-300,000 IDR but the train will only run you about 30,000 IDR.
How to get from Yogyakarta to Borobudur
There are many ways to visit Borobudur from Yogyakarta. The simplest way is to hire a driver for the day. This way, you can easily visit Borobudur and Prambanan temples in the same day. I paid about 1m IDR with my hotel but could probably find someone even cheaper than this. This driver drove me for over 12 hours all over the area.
If you’re a solo traveler, I would recommend booking a day trip from Yogyakarta that visits all the places on this blog post. It is the main activity to do in Yogyakarta after all. These trips can be booked for anywhere between 600,000 IDR to 1m IDR for the day.
Alternatively, you can take the public bus from Terminal Giwangan which is the main bus terminal in the city. The buses will drop you off at the main bus station within Borobudur and from here you can take a Gojek scooter taxi to the entrance of the temple. You can expect to pay about 30k to 50k for this trip one way. However, with this method, you are at the mercy of the bus schedule and you won’t be able to visit places like the Setumbu hill for the sunrise.
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