The centre of Javanese arts and culture, Yogyakarta (pronounced as ‘Jogjakarta’, or ‘Jog-ja’ for short) is a city with culture and customs as rich as they were centuries ago, governed independently by a traditional Sultanate system which differs from the rest of Indonesia.
If Jakarta were to be the heart of the nation, powering the economy and the industries, Yogyakarta is the soul, keeping the spirit in perfect balance and harmony.
Contrary to that in larger cities, life in Yogyakarta is a lot more laidback. The locals are friendly, the food is good, and there’s an endless list of places to go to.
Besides well-known historical and cultural landmarks such as the many temples left behind by ancient civilizations, Yogyakarta is a gold mine of astonishing natural landscapes that reminds you of Mother Nature’s greatness.
So if you’re wondering where to go, here’s our take on the best that Yogyakarta has to offer.
1. Hang on a Thread on a ‘Cable Cart’ at Timang Beach
Everyone knows that the Gunungkidul Region is home to the most beautiful beaches of Yogyakarta, including the Timang Beach, which is located 35 kilometres south of Wonosari. It exhibits a fulfilling sight of white waves crashing into coral stones and cliffs.
Photo via cendanaoktaviani
And that’s not all of it – if you’re an adrenaline junkie, you’ll love to try this out:
Photo via Yunaidi Joepoet
Visitors can test their courage by crossing onto Watu Panjang Island on a wooden ‘cable cart’ tied together on pulleys that are not made with the usual steel cables, but with fabric rope!
Photo via alvin.effendy
Originally used as a means of transportation by local lobster fishermen, those brave enough to endure dangling above treacherous waves can even bring back a lobster for dinner!
Photo via Listiaevalinas
Take a 1-2 hour’s drive westward from the city and you will immediately notice the decrease in temperature and vanishing buzz of motorcycles. So here, it’s all fresh, cool air and quiet roads – very much best for a retreat from work.
Past the hairpin turns and up the Menoreh mountain range lies Kalibiru National Park, which is built and run by the local residents since 2009, and is gaining a lot of attention from travellers everywhere.
Photo via Affi Nizar
Unlike most parks that offer the regular outbound activities, the rock climbing and tightrope walking at the Kalibiru National Park is fully scaled and comes with an amazing view from the top of a mountain.
Photo via: Nofendi Syaifudin, emelianalian
Photo via: MahardikaGilang
To finish it off, the flying fox ends at a deck on top of a tree with a view overlooking Lake Sermo, and if you are lucky enough, you might just see the white waves of the south seas crashing on sandy beaches!
Photo via: emelianalian, amala vika
3. You don’t need to Visit Africa to See Sand Dunes: Gumuk Pasir Parangkusumo
Stare into the sunset as you recline back on sand dunes with your toes buried beneath the sand, as calming winds carve linear patterns as far as the eye can see. Here, time stands still and you forget that you are in Central Java.
Photo via Dune StefanusAjie
Photo via: bang tora
Ever wanted to try sandboarding? Save yourself from planning an expensive trip to Africa or the Middle East. Simply travel here in Yogyakarta for a more accessible alternative. You can also rent ATVs, and instead of camels, there are horse rentals too – so it’s time to unleash your inner Indiana Jones!
Photo via: purnomo paris beach, dwisaktisetiawan
And yes, you can also take pre-wedding photos here (many couples have done that before) – Gumuk Pasir Parangkusumo is a unique photogenic sight rarely found anywhere else in Indonesia.
Photo via: prewedding poetrafoto
To end the day, you can head over to the nearby infinity pool of the Queen of the South resort and enjoy the sunset.
Photo via: jessinovia, tintinpic
4. Meditate Behind a Watery Curtain at the Luweng Sampang
Here, you can appreciate the contoured lines made by layers of rocks stacked thousands of years ago, only to be sculpted beautifully by the humble power of water, continuously running and eroding curves that resemble the canyons of Colorado.
Photo via: kukuhaldy
Dip your feet and splash around in the cool refreshing water straight from from the mountains of the Sewu Mountain Range. Satisfy your curiosity and explore the chambers and tunnels hidden behind the eternal curtain of water.
Photo via: nadiera
Unlike most of its kind, Luweng Sampang is so secluded that you don’t need to pay an entrance fee, not even a donation for the upkeep (yet)!
So make time to visit this exquisite spot for some solitude while you still can.
Photo via: IchsanPhotoworks
5. Underground Cave Tubing on Nature’s Lazy River
Bored of floating on the usual waterparks? You should try the lazy river at the Goa Pindul.
Photo via: anggadwi, toekangpoto
Feast your eyes on the beauty of the stalactites and stalagmite rock formations carved on the walls over hundreds of years ago, some with special attributes such as the 4th largest stalactite in the world, or stalactite rock formation believed to enhance ‘manliness’.
Notice how the blue river water comes in contrast with the brown limestone that acts as walls, with splashes of green moss and ferns as decorations illuminated by sunlight beaming through cracks and holes from above.
To put a cherry on top, visitors looking for a jolt of adrenaline are welcome to take a leap of faith off a six-metre tree trunk into a lagoon!
Photo via: nurlela adeliaputrii
Not challenging enough for you? Try a more testosterone-pumping alternative – body rafting at the Kalisuci Caves, with faster river currents that rush through twists and turns past a boulder-filled obstacle course.
Photos via: cubatefa, Bintang Anjaya
So you can still get your adrenaline rush without giving up the spectacular sight of underwater river caves!
Jomblang Cave was formed thousands of years ago when a patch of land measuring 300 metres across dropped into a sinkhole. Till now, the vegetation in the cave consists of weeds, mushrooms, ferns and even large trees that remain untouched and preserved over hundreds of years.
Photo via: Fakhrul Aizat
Descending down to almost 80 metres from the mouth of the cave, you can start to smell the damp aging trees standing by layers of rocks built up over the centuries, both a thrilling and exciting experience!
Photo via: JetjepRusyandi
During the right time of the day (somewhere between 10am to 2pm), the sun’s rays shine through the opening, illuminating the forest below, creating a mesmerizing sight to feast your eyes on.
Photo via: Zexsen Xie
Because of the remote location and limited daily visitors, make sure you make a reservation with the contact person for a tour package (including transportation) beforehand, since not many locals know about the place. Bring spare clothes to change into, including an extra pair of socks, unless you don’t mind lugging a smelly lump of dirt home.
Check out Firsta’s blog about her Jomblang cave experience!
7. Visit the famous Prambanan Temple and catch a ballet! – Prambanan Temple, Ramayana Ballet
When in Paris, you visit the Eiffel Tower, and when in Jogja, you visit the Prambanan Temple – a UNESCO World Heritage Site consisting of 240 temples!
Photo via courtneysolinger
This 9th century Hindu temple was built and dedicated to 3 Hindu deities, Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Preserver) and Shiva (Destroyer), and towers at 47 metres high!
Photos via capt_rekha, monsurjaya
Not convinced yet? Well, mix up your visit to Prambanan Temple with a must-watch performance in Jogja, the Ramayana Ballet.
Catch the spectacular ballet during the evening where over 200 dancers and musicians perform on an open air stage – with the Prambanan Temples rising majestically in the background.
Photo via yourye
It’s a truly majestic sight, and an absolutely unforgettable cultural experience.
The ballet itself is based on the story of King Rama. While it originated from India, the current story has since been adapted to the Javanese style, culture and music.
Photos via daraninggarla, quicchote, nadiapita_11
For those who love a good cultural experience, the Ramayana Ballet is one that’s not to be missed.
PS: It comes with a delicious dinner too!
8. Release your inner Aquaman: Umbul Ponggok
At first sight, the rectangular pool of the Umbul Ponggok might look just like a regular public pool, only slightly oversized.
Photo via: njogja
But if you stare deeper into the water (literally), you will be in for a surprise. The sand and boulders that cover the floor of the Umbul Ponggok are brought to life by many strange props and a kaleidoscope of freshwater fish.
Photo via: jogjapetualang
Rent a snorkeling kit and swim with a school of fish. Or better yet, rent an underwater camera or get someone to take underwater pictures for you. Remember to bring your own unique props or costumes for even more outlandish pictures!
Photo via: RioAndikaYuliansyah
9. Daredevil’s Trek Towards a Mystical Cave: Langse Cave
(Warning – this trek is extremely dangerous. We do not encourage readers to try it unless you are very experienced in rock climbing in dangerous places.)
Self-proclaimed adrenaline junkies might even think twice before jumping onto this one – the path to the Langse cave has claimed countless number of lives over the years, but that still hasn’t stopped the most dedicated monks from reaching their sacred place for meditation.
Stretching about 750 metres in length, the pathway might not seem to be much of a difficulty at first. Visitors are greeted with a stony pathway surrounded by vegetation. After that comes very short and steep staircases along the sides of limestone cliffs and a 400-metre-drop into despair on the right. So, a flat but very narrow ledge equipped only with wooden handles nailed on the walls is what stands between you and the cave.
Photo via: kelana kecil, agus arie
Photo via: yusuf ori
Upon reaching the Langse Cave, the smell of incense and jasmine fills the air. Visitors can even bathe with natural spring water found in the cave, fresh for a meditation session in a place so peaceful that the only sounds you can hear are crashing waves.
Photo via: tirtabakti
Do you think it’s worth the risk?
The Number One destination for holidaymakers in Yogyakarta, the Borobudur is the largest and possibly one of the greatest Buddhist temples in the world.
Photo via: Marc Schmittbuhl
Still a major pilgrimage site for Buddhists from all over the world, the Borobudur is a virtual textbook preaching moral values of reaching Nirvana, which was significant to life in Java in the 9th Century, the age of warriors and kings.
Being Indonesia’s most visited tourist attraction, the Borobudur may be crowded at times. The best time to see it is in the early morning, the earlier the better. Situated on a hill, it’s a mesmerizing view when the sun beams through the holes in the stupa and lights up the carved reliefs on the walls.
11. Ponder at Nature’s Mural at the Mangunan Fruit Gardens
Sitting on top of a hill in Imogiri’s wilderness lies the Mangunan Fruit Gardens, a destination that’s currently gaining more attention from social media dwellers.
Photo via: Rezahandhika
Photo via: Widarko Hartono
After a short hike up Mangunan, visitors will reach a terrace right on top of the hill – with a breathtaking panoramic view of the surrounding hills and the Oyo River at the bottom of valleys.
Photo via: kelanakecil
The best time to visit is at dawn, when the clouds still appear below where you would be standing. As the rising sun shoots beams of light through cracks and holes in the clouds – it’s picture perfect!
Photo via: ceritawarga
Visitors can also bring back a variety of fruits picked right from the trees in the gardens for a reasonable price.
Photos via: nasirullahsitam, infotakterduga, sili suli
12. Wander into the Secrets of a Water Fortress: Taman Sari
Europe isn’t the only place to indulge in 18th Century architecture. This garden chateau elaborated with a series of swimming pools in the middle courtyard, which was built by the Portuguese in their short period of residing in Java as a gift for the wives of Sultan Hamengku Buwono I, is a perfect representation of Yogyakarta’s royalty a few hundred years ago.
Photo via: hotelrengganisyogya
After you have meandered along the corridors that lead to the castle tower (which boasts of a magnificent view), take a few steps down past the Gapura Agung (Grand Entrance), and descend into the Tajug, a system of mysterious underground catacombs that once served as bunkers during war, and a tunnel connecting the Taman Sari, the Keraton, and Pulo Kenongo.
Photo via: farachvio
Photo via: azzam rizaldi
Explore the many passageways past hidden chambers and vaults that provided storage areas for the Sultan’s arsenal. As you wander further into the catacombs, you will find yourself in the Sumur Gumuling, an underground mosque where the sound of prayers can reverberate throughout the catacombs.
Photo via: agriaryoko19, sabrinamaleqiano, AdiConx
13. Climb a Natural Watery Stairway at the Sri Gethuk Waterfall
Surrounded by green ricefields sits a legendary waterfall believed to be the home of the Kethuk, a traditional instrument owned by spirits that guard the area and still heard occasionally by a few selected people to this day.
Photo via: atinwa72
From the parking area, which also serves as a fishing area, there are two ways of getting to the Sri Gethuk Waterfall – walk through a jungle trek surrounded by Jati woods, paddy fields and palms trees, or raft against the river currents up the Oya River.
Photo via: dadiwiryawan, RomzyDjibran
Upon reaching the waterfall, the silence shrouding the wilderness is broken by gushing water pouring down onto beautiful rock formations. Take a leap off the boulders into the clear waters for a refreshing dip!
Photo via: resti ui, adrian adendrata
14. The Birthplace of a Piece of History: Rencang Kencono Cave
You’ll appreciate the mammoth Kalumpit tree standing right at the mouth of the cave, centuries in age.
The Renang Kencono Cave also becomes illuminated by a blue and red glow, bringing it to life.
Apart from its spectacular beauty, the stone walls surrounding the cave were once witness to the formation of a rebellion led by the Mataram troops against the Dutch. Inscribed on its walls is ‘Prasetya Bhinnekaku’, the oath recited by the troops.
Photo via: yohanes rianto
Further into the the narrow corridors are a few more chambers, one of which contains a pedestal where ancient monks once meditated – and in that very place, a normal person can barely stay for 10 minutes before suffocating from low levels of oxygen and humidity.
Photo via: hardivizon
15. Witness Mount Merapi’s Volcanic Aftermath at Kaliadem
Mount Merapi’s eruptions in 2006 and 2010 have brought upon major changes in the landscape surrounding the area. What was once a vast meadow of green is now a barren moon-scape.
Being the closest village and the best place to see what is left of Mount Merapi, Kaliadem is usually the final stop of what is commonly referred to as a Lava Tour, a journey that adventurous explorers often embark on.
The highlights of the Lava Tour includes stopping by two lava ravine landforms carved by the eruptions, and a visit to the Sisa Hartaku Museum (which roughly translates to ‘My Remaining Belongings’), which displays objects damaged by the eruptions such as a motorcycle, cattle skeleton, furniture, and even a wall clock that stopped working at the exact time of the eruption – how eerie is that?
Photo via: kukuhaldy
Photo via: backpackerakhirpekan, khatulistiwa
Got your own wheels? Cut down your spending by negotiating with the local motorcycle drivers (called ‘ojek’) for a guided tour of the area. It shouldn’t cost more than Rp. 150,000 (USD 12) per trip. Just make sure that your vehicle is capable of facing tough terrains.
Photos via: sansaputra, tribakti
16. Admire Stars on Earth: Bukit Bintang
Enough with daytime attractions, there are many more sights to see in Yogyakarta after sundown. One spot you shouldn’t miss is Bukit Bintang at Gunungkidul’s Pathuk Hills.
In spite of the name Bukit Bintang (meaning ‘Star Hill’), you may not be able to see so many stars, as you’d need to get further away from the city to do so. Instead, being high enough on a hilltop, visitors can admire thousands of specs of light scattered across the horizon as if they were stars in the night sky.
Photo via: TulusTraveler
Popular with teenagers and young couples, the Bukit Bintang is a simple yet memorable place to take your partner to.
Photo via: endangtriharta
Bring your own snacks and drinks for picnic and chat for hours while the sound of serenades entertain the night. Or try out the many eateries recently opened in the area, ranging from warungs to cafes and restaurants serving a variety of local and international dishes.
17. Experience the Life of Ancient Royalty: Ratu Boko Palace
Make your way up the pathway, past refreshing waterfalls and other stone carved ornaments that decorate King Boko’s Palace, and you will start to bask in the blue-blooded atmosphere where Javanese royalty once resided.
Photo via: AzramMahulauw
Admire each of the three temples located in the royal compound, including the caverns scattered at secluded areas where monks once meditated. Not to forget the many stone ponds where natural ground water runs, believed to possess healing and cleansing powers.
You’ll appreciate the majestic portals that stand at the end of each staircase, welcoming you to each level of the chateau, as you ascend to the very top where a balcony sits. Located on a plateau right in the outskirts of the city, the balcony overlooks Yogyakarta’s skyline, including the nearby Prambanan temple – another marvelous site to watch the rising sun.
18. Uncover the Mystery of the 7 Families at Gunung Api Purba Nglanggeran
Once an active volcano around 60 million years ago, the Gunung Api Purba Nglanggeran is one of the oldest volcanoes in the Central Java region. Its unusual shape may be due to the fact that it was once an undersea rock which emerged above the surface from a volcanic eruption.
Standing 700 metres above the Gunungkidul countryside, this two-peaked mountain surprisingly only requires about 60 to 90 minutes of trekking past exotic rock formations, native inhabitants and narrow stone walls, just like a scene out of 127 Hours.
Photo via: thomasdian
Upon reaching either the West or the East peaks, you may come across a few residents along the way.
Photo via: YanuarWisnu
According to local beliefs, there should be exactly seven families living on the mountain – any more or any less, and a catastrophe is bound to happen.
But enough with the myths and legends. The phenomenal view of the karst mountain range and lush greenery can take you back to the Java that stood several hundred years ago.
Photo via: travelmagz, telusurindonesia
And in addition to the view, the Embug Ngalanggeran is a water reservoir that is both a beautiful sight and functional, providing water to the surrounding villages and farms.
19. Delve into Secrets of the Ancient Past at the Ullen Sentalu Museum
Even if museums aren’t really your thing, the Ullen Sentalu Museum, crowned as Indonesia’s best museum by National Geographic, is a must-visit.
The Ullen Sentalu museum exhibits a privately owned collection that illustrates history from the era of the Mataram Kingdom, one of Indonesia’s most powerful kingdoms from the 8th Century that built the Borobudur and most of the temples in Yogyakarta today.
Photo via: giofando
Upon entrance, you will be brought around by a complementary tour guide through the maze of narrow alleys connecting the rooms displaying artefacts, such as furniture, pictures, artworks and a brief history of batik.
Photo via: wxssy, seethatseethis
One notable room to look out for is the Guwa Sela Giri, an underground tunnel that displays paintings, each with a story of its own. It is said that one painting of a woman appears to be following you wherever you are in the room – creepy!
The tour ends in a lavish garden guarded by moss covered stone walls under the shade of old trees, where you will be served with a glass of Ratu Mas, a secret cocktail of seven natural herbs that is believed to bring health and beauty.
Photo via: intaninchan
20. Lucky Enough to Spot a Whale?: Laut Bekah
Unlike most seaside scenery in Yogyakarta, Laut Bekah offers no sandy beaches where you can stroll about. Instead, it boasts of limestone cliffs that extend into the vast Indian Ocean up to 70 metres in height.
Photo via Moch Achsanto Ali
Photo via: Doni Afitrisnadi
Since Laut Bekah doesn’t have much of a reputation yet, it is the perfect place for those looking for a little solitude to replenish the mind. But getting there takes a little more effort. Would the trip be worth it? You decide.
If fishing is your passion, have a go at rock fishing, a type of fishing that is rising in popularity in Indonesia.
Photo via: Doni-Afitrisnadi
The Tebing Bekah provides direct access to deeper waters, meaning bigger fishes, and even the occasional sight of whales!
Photo via: Matin
21. Delve into the Corridors of a Snake’s Lair: Si Oyot Cave
Don’t worry, there haven’t been many reports of snakes found in one of Gunungkidul’s longest cave system, which stretches approximately 900 metres long and takes at least 90 minutes to explore.
Local folklore depict a legendary gigantic snake that created passages in the rocks, forming the twists and turns of the cave.
Photo via: si oyot
Besides the stalagmites and stalactites emerging from the floor and ceiling, tree roots slip through cracks and notches in the rocks to form additional decorations on the walls, adding another shade of the seemingly endless hue of brown.
Do take note that the Si Oyot Cave is only open during the dry seasons between April and September when the water level falls. Despite this, you will still need to either crouch or walk through muddy waters up to chest level at some points, so remember to bring some extra clothes.
22. Test your Bargaining Skills at a Souvenir Haven : Malioboro Street
From batik shirts to miniature rickshaws, Malioboro Street is Yogyakarta’s answer to Bangkok’s night markets.
An overcrowded street during weekends is usual, as it has been serving as Yogyakarta’s centre of trade since the colonial era.
A concoction of traditional gamelan music blasting on crackling loudspeakers, dubbed with the yells of hawkers, is the soundtrack for a stroll through this street market.
A seemingly endless line of handicrafts, jewelry, and tacky T-shirts are a staple here, and when it comes to markets in Indonesia, the keyword is cheap – everything can be brought down to half its price, so be persistent at bargaining!
Photo via: IbnuPrabuAli, FeriansyahPz
The birthplace of the term nongkrong (roughly translates to ‘hanging out’, specifically on a street side), here, many places for nongkrong are scattered nearby.
Try out bite-sized rice meals which are referred to as Nasi Kucing (Cat Rice), or have a sip of the local novelty, Kopi Jos – coffee with a scorching red chunk of charcoal dipped in it!