borobudur stupas in the morning light

One day in Yogyakarta: Borobudur Sunrise to Ratu Boko Sunset

Yogyakarta, Indonesia – a whisper of ancient temples, a vibrant tapestry of batik-clad smiles, and a heartbeat pulsing with the rhythm of gamelan. In just one day, this captivating city unveils the enigmatic soul of Java, inviting you to wander through history-whispering alleyways, savor the fiery kiss of sambal, and lose yourself in the kaleidoscope of a sunset over Borobudur.

So, lace up your walking shoes, grab your adventurous spirit, and let’s embark on a 24-hour journey through Yogyakarta, where every sunrise promises a new wonder and every corner begs to be explored. We’ll chase sunbeams through Ratu Boko, dive into the culture of Jogja, and find serenity amidst the moss-cloaked grandeur of Borobudur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s most awe-inspiring Buddhist monuments.

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How many days do you need in Yogyakarta?

While most travelers spend a minimum of 2 to 3 days in Yogyakarta to properly soak in its essence, you can still enjoy Yogyakarta in one day.

Spending more days in Yogyakarta allows you to delve into the city’s heart, witnessing the majestic Borobudur and Prambanan temples, haggling at bustling markets, and indulging in sunset strolls through kratons (royal palaces).

For those seeking deeper immersion, add 1-2 days to your adventure. Unwind in nearby villages, conquer Mount Merapi’s slopes, or delve into traditional batik workshops. Remember, Yogyakarta’s allure extends beyond its borders, rewarding curious souls with unforgettable experiences.

Starting the day in Yogyakarta

Sleep-deprived and with a flashlight in hand, we made our way to the foot of Borobudur temple in Yogyakarta. With the earliest call time yet of 2:30 am, our bus dropped us off at Manohara Hotel to meet our guides. Around 4:30 AM, we navigated carefully in the dark, with only the dim silhouette of the biggest Buddhist monument in the world to guide us.

We were ready to catch the sunrise in Borobudur. Candi Borobudur was one of three temples in Southeast Asia where I wanted to experience the sunrise. Carried over from years of watching National Geographic and History channels.

The other two, Angkor Wat (Cambodia) and Shwesandaw Pagoda (Bagan, Myanmar), I already had the privilege of seeing. So when by a stroke of luck, Borobudur was included in our #TripOfWonders itinerary, I was overjoyed. I couldn’t contain my excitement.

READ: WHERE TO STAY IN YOGYAKARTA: ROYAL AMBARRUKMO HOTEL

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Borobudur: One of Yogyakarta’s Historical and UNESCO World Heritage Sites

mount merapi borobudur sunrise

Even older than Angkor Wat by 300 years, this archaeological marvel was hidden for centuries beneath the solidified volcanic ash. It was assembled from interlocked volcanic rocks with no cement or mortar used, making it all the more amazing. From afar, it may look like a giant stupa. But seen from above, it resembles a mandala, a Buddhist symbol of the entire universe.

Located in the plains of Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, the temple dated from the 8th-9th century is one of the most visited places in the country.


Borobudur Sunrise Experience

borobudur sunrise buddha

Trying to ignore the morning chill, I climbed as fast as I could along the wooden planks built on top of the old stone stairs. Like the other temples in Asia, one is sure to find a crowd gathered on top (even during the low season) especially if you’re not early enough. Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. As you go on up the uppermost stupa, the crowd thins.

I descended once again, choosing to wait beside one of the buddhas not enclosed inside a stupa. Facing the cloud-covered Mt. Merapi, I waited with bated breath for the much-anticipated sunrise.

Slowly, the clouds shifted as the mist on the ground rolled in. I zoned out, worrying about the uncertain future and thoughts of someone.

As the first golden rays of the morning sun pierced the skyline, I was filled with hope. It had been a while since I’d seen a sunrise. The plains, stupas and buddhas, lush vegetation, and the surrounding buildings were slowly illuminated as the sun revealed itself.

The brilliant rays shake me out of my trance and headlong into the moment. I drew a deep breath and clicked to my heart’s content. My camera may not have captured it perfectly, but I will forever cherish it as a remembrance of another day to be thankful for.

With the sun fully rising, we only had a few moments to explore more around the terraces. I had hardly taken notice of the bas-reliefs depicting the life of Buddha. Yet another reason for me to come back.

Despite the numerous No Climbing signs placed around, a lot of tourists still wouldn’t heed this warning. Although they say that if you touch the Buddha enclosed in the perforated stupa, your wish will be granted, tourists are now highly encouraged not to touch the stupas and statues to help preserve Borobudur. I was also surprised by the lack of dress code, unlike other famous temples in Asia.

Borobudur Sunrise Tour photos

borobudur-headless-buddha_opt
stupas borobudur sunrise
bas reliefs borobudur
Borobudur’s bas-reliefs
borobudur entrance
@sartorialpanda ready to explore Borobudur

Borobudur Breakfast

Around seven in the morning, we went back to Manohara Hotel to have our snacks. At first, I thought it was our breakfast already but later learned that the real breakfast was yet to come. We also exchanged our tickets for a red scarf with a stupa on it. One of my favorite souvenirs from the trip!

We headed to Stupa Restaurant by Plataran, which is part of Plataran Borobudur Resort & Spa. With a view of the rice fields, we feasted on Javanese cuisine in an open terrace-style dining area.

Yogyakarta Cycling and Andong Tour plus Pottery and Batik-Making

Next up was the Cycling tour, also offered by the hotel. But since a handful of us didn’t know how to bike, we had to follow the rest of the gang in horse carriages (Andong). Not a bad alternative! 🙂

We passed by rice paddies, lush sceneries, villages, and even locals preparing for the Feast of Sacrifice. The tour ended in Warung Kopi Borobudur where we had the chance to indulge our artistic side and try pottery and batik making. It may look easy, but I guarantee that you’ll certainly be challenged if you’re new at this. It was certainly a good way to spend our morning in the plains of Borobudur, Yogyakarta.

Cultural lunch in Wanurejo village, Magelang, Yogyakarta

local performane yogyakarta

Welcomed by the melodious sounds of saron, we walked towards our lunch venue where a local Javanese performance was also waiting for us. I chose the dance over food this time. Even though we don’t know the history of this dance, music, and art are at least universal. In the end, we at least got the gist of the story the dance portrayed. Kudos to the locals for performing with their best efforts despite the heat and their heavy costumes.

Ratu Boko Sunset

sunset ratu boko

After the afternoon Hi-Tea ceremony in the Royal Ambarrukmo Hotel, we were again on the road. This time, to head towards another archaeological site in Yogyakarta to witness the sunset.

What makes Kraton (Palace) Ratu Boko mysterious is that no one knows what is the real name of the site and its history remains unclear. Its present name (Ratu Boko) is derived from a legendary king in a local folklore.

Although not as famous as Borobudur and Prambanan, Ratu Boko is another significant reminder that religions coexisted peacefully in Yogyakarta, for the complex has both Buddhist and Hindu structures on site.

Standing in one of the stone gates, looking around the ruins made me imagine how grand the ancient Javanese kingdoms must have been. Walking further afield, one could get a glimpse of Prambanan and Mt. Merapi in the distance. This is also a favorite local destination so better head early if you want to have time to explore around before the sunset.

ratu boko sunset

As I watched the sky transform its colors to make way for sunset, I tuned out the gathering crowd and said a simple prayer of thanks. The brilliant hues of red and orange with the yellow threads of light symbolizing our journey of chasing the sun in Yogyakarta, gave way to the night. Indeed, it was another wonderful day spent in Indonesia.

And I’ll surely come back for Prambanan and more of Borobudur. 🙂


Best time to visit Yogyakarta

The best time to visit Yogyakarta depends on what you’re looking for in your trip:

  • Dry weather and sunshine: If you want to avoid rain and enjoy outdoor activities, the dry season is the best time to visit. This is typically from April to October, with June to September being the driest months. The temperatures are fairly consistent throughout the year, averaging around 26°C to 29°C.
  • Fewer crowds and lower prices: If you’re on a budget or prefer to avoid crowds, the shoulder seasons (April-May and September-October) are a good option. The weather is still pleasant, and you’ll find better deals on hotels and flights.
  • Cultural events: Yogyakarta is a vibrant city with a rich cultural calendar. If you’re interested in experiencing some of the city’s many festivals and celebrations, plan your trip around one of these events. Some of the most popular include:
    • Ramadan: This holy month for Muslims is a time of reflection and fasting. It’s a special time to visit Yogyakarta, as the city takes on a festive atmosphere.
    • Lebaran: This holiday marks the end of Ramadan and is a time for feasting and celebrations.
    • Malioboro Festival: This annual festival celebrates the Malioboro shopping district, one of the oldest and most popular in Yogyakarta.
    • Yogyakarta Art Festival: This festival showcases the best of Indonesian art, music, and dance.

VIDEO: 1 DAY IN YOGYAKARTA HIGHLIGHTS


Other Yogyakarta tours to choose from:

via KLOOK:

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via GET YOUR GUIDE:


Airlines flying to Yogyakarta International Airport (YIA)

  • Air Asia
  • Batik Air
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Lion Air
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Scoot
  • TransNusa
  • Citilink
  • Pelita Air
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Disclosure: This is part of the Wonderful Indonesia series, and I was invited to be one of the Southeast Asian influencers in the Trip of Wonders September batch. As always, opinions and comments are my own. 

Where else to go in Indonesia?

Check the rest of Indonesia stories and guides here!


Have you been to Yogyakarta? How was your experience?

Darlene is currently on the road again and traveling full-time after being an expat/overseas Filipino worker in Qatar. She's rediscovering what it means to travel solo and in her 30s while working on her blogs.

Comments

  • Indonesia is at the top of my travel list and hopefully I’ll get to visit Borobudur soon! It looks so magical from the architecture to the panoramic views from the top – just beautiful!

  • Chrysoula

    I am not a morning person and I usually miss sunrises but I would definitely wake up for this one. It is on my bucket list for a long time. You had a great day exploring the area and I think too that the horse carriage is not a bad alternative at all

  • Wow! You said it was crowded, but I still was surprised when I saw all that people waiting for the sunrise in the movie. I even don’t want to think how it looks during the peak of the season. Batik making and the dance was fun. I really like traditional crafts and culture, so I’m sure I would enjoy it 🙂

  • Sandy N Vyjay

    The sunrise in Borobudur is pure magic. Hope to get there some day. I loved your video, it brings alive the vibrant and colourful life of Indonesia.

  • You got in some spectacular sunsets here! I’m usually NOT a morning person lol but this definitely warrants getting up at the crack of dawn! Borobudur is really high on my bucket list; I had no idea it was 300 years older than Angkor yet. Hopefully will have the chance to get to Yogyakarta within the next year, we’re in Australia so reasonably close by in terms of organizing a flight.

    Sad to hear though that tourists were’nt respectful of the no touching / climbing signs. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site for petes sake!!

    So glad you had an amazing time, your photos look incredible!

  • That is so great that you’ve been able to watch sunrise from Angkor Wat, Bagan and now Borobodor. I’ve been able to do only one – Bagan. (But going to Angkor Wat in a few weeks. Excited)

    That’s quite an exciting day you had. Those are some great photos you got there and loved the video. Thanks for the detailed info on the tour.

  • Oh wow your pictures are amazing, I didn’t make it for sunrise but was blown away by this temple. It has such a lovely feeling of serenity and it’s hard to believe they uncovered it in the jungle not so long ago. Beautiful place

  • I’ve not yet been to Indonesia but it’s very high on my list. We are slowly visiting more of East Asia, and loving it. I love your photos of the sunrise, and your notes about your thoughts in the moment, even if unrequited love did fleetingly enter your thoughts!

  • Debra Schroeder

    Gorgeous photos. The fourth one with the mist settling in just after sunrise is my favorite. I’m surprised you made it to sunset especially after having gotten up to see the sunrise. I’d be wiped out. I haven’t been to Indonesia yet but am hoping to get there this year.

  • Borobodur and Yogyakarta is actually higher up on my travel bucket list than Bali (for Indonesia) – now the urge to get there is getting stronger!

  • Stephanie Langlet

    Indonesia was my first trip to Asia. I’ll keep a wonderful souvenir of Java and Borobudur. I was in a lovely small guesthouse where we were like friends. They took us around, showing the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises, the trance dance in a remote village. After that, we have enjoyed the magnificent sunrise on Bromo and the beauty of the culture of Bali <3

  • Very nice Photos!! beautiful place.

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