Written by Adelina Luft
Edited by Jiayi Ng
When a place is called the Special Region, you better be sure that it’s gonna be really special!
Yogyakarta, or as locals would call it – Jogja – is a wonderful destination in Indonesia that has pretty much everything a traveller would look for! With everything from culture, arts and history to well preserved local traditions and adventurous natural spots, the only things that could make your vacation better are the mouthwatering food stalls and street food.
It’s a welcoming place for everyone, but beware: you might get ‘trapped’ in Jogja’s rich culture and wish you’d never have to leave! And why would you, when everyone here is so kind and friendly?
When you travel here for the first time, you’ll definitely be amazed and taken aback by the social contrasts and splendour of the famous landmarks in and outside the city. And we’re here for you, here’s all the things to do and best recommendations from the locals!
So step right into our Yogyakarta one-stop guide, and you’re all set for a vacation of a lifetime!
P.S. Did you know? Yogyakarta is known as a Special Region as it’s the only region in Indonesia that is still governed by a pre-colonial monarchy, the Sultan of Yogyakarta!
A. Getting to Yogyakarta
B. Overview of main areas
Yogyakarta is a rather small city with around 4 million people. When you first arrive, be sure to familiarise yourself with the four coordinates that the city is separated into – North, South, East, West – as people will give you directions based on these! The North and South axes are the most important.
From Keraton Palace as the centre, North Yogyakarta comprises of Kaliurang, Palagan and Merapi, while the South is home to the touristic area of Prawirotaman, all the way to Parangtritis and the ocean.
Other than the iconic landmarks, North is mostly known for its cooler weather, residential and urban areas, as well as youth crowds (generally college students), while the South tries to keep traditional, artsy (with galleries, batik and local handicrafts), humble and conservative.
Depending on what you want to experience, these are the main areas (South to North) to explore for your first visit to Yogyakarta:
If you have less than 3 days to spend, we recommend staying in Mergangsan/Prawirotaman, Mantrijeron, or Malioboro area, and make trips to Borobudur temple, Gunung Kidul, Kaliurang or Palagan.
C. Yogyakarta classics you don’t want to miss
Culture, Adventure, and Food!
1. The Must-go icons of Yogyakarta
Don’t tell us you’ve been to Yogyakarta unless you’ve visited Borobudur, Prambanan and Merapi. Although you might not have time for all three in one day, it’s definitely worth the effort to at least experience one of these amazing sceneries.
No matter what you choose, make sure the weather is on your side, and enjoy these views at their fullest (send us a picture!).2. Unique Attractions in Yogyakarta
Are you a city girl or guy? Are you a beach-loving free spirit?
Yogyakarta doesn’t care, because it combines these two elements, playfully bringing entertainment and the open air together for unique local experiences. Stonehenge in the tropics? Ancient ruins? These urban gems are undoubtedly not your typical tourist spots.
3. Marvel at the Sea of Clouds
If you’ve ever wondered what the expression “head in the clouds” would actually look like, well… these two spots in Yogyakarta will show you! Both places are above a sea of clouds in which you can swim endlessly (not literally, but good enough).
4. Restaurants with a View
Say goodbye to enclosed spaces and nasty brick walls – you can finally have a chance to feel for yourself the sweet taste of dining amongst nature.
While everything in Yogyakarta is set horizontally, restaurants can freely open up for acres and offer guests views that stretch endlessly. If you’re travelling with friends or family, don’t miss out on these restaurants for the most authentic Yogyakarta dining experience!
5. Yogyakarta’s Best Beaches
If you’re a wild child with a thirst for adventure, the beautiful beaches laying on the South coast of Yogyakarta will be your best friends. The two-hour drive from the city to the beaches is already an adventure in itself, and the wild destinations will impress you with their rawness and sense of liberty.
Adventurous sports are readily available, so if you’re ready to make your friends scream, it’s time to pack your bags!
6. Unique Local Souvenirs
What’s a trip without souvenirs to prove you’ve really been there? Shake off your family’s “Photoshop” suspicions with these uniquely Yogyakarta souvenirs, the perfect bookend to your trip!
7. Scenic Cave Adventures
Did you know, Yogyakarta has perhaps more caves than petrol stations?
With over 600 caves recorded in the area, they date back to a time before indigenous people even settled in the island of Java. From serving as war time hiding spots to recreation destinations for adventures, these caves haven’t changed in one way – they still evoke a sense of adventure!
8. Best Local Street Food
It’s all too easy to miss out on truly authentic food when you’re busy trying to experience everything a city has to offer. Thankfully, you have us – don’t miss out on these representative dishes, which will wow you with their unique taste and selection of ingredients!
9. Most Scenic Natural Waterfalls
Everyone knows about the gorgeous, unspoilt nature of Yogyakarta’s surroundings, and waterfalls are a proud member of this family. If the crowded city is getting a little too hot for you, these beautiful works of nature are the perfect escape for a refreshing time!
D. Where to Stay in the Most Welcoming City
1. Affordable stays with gorgeous views of nature (More info)
2. Live like a Javanese royal at affordable costs (More info)
3. Budget stays to share with your friends (More info)
E. Getting Around (Made Easy!)
Rent a car with a driver/tour guide
Travelling around is much less of a hassle when you’ve got your own driver to take you wherever you want!
Rental packages usually include fuel, toll fees, parking, and the driver’s meals throughout the day (make sure these things are communicated and discussed clearly with the driver/company before making a booking). Most operators will offer similar prices, with a general range of below Rp. 500,000 per day (USD $37) for 4-6 passengers.
Mr. Ukhi has built a very good reputation over the years, and has now launched his own website. He speaks English fluently and can arrange the trip according to your requirements.
Best of all, he knows all the best spots around town, and his vehicle of choice is usually the Toyota Avanza – a 7-seater that gives most groups more than enough room! (But he can definitely make arrangements for larger groups as well!)
F. Best Time to Travel to Yogyakarta
If you’re travelling here for the first time, we recommend that you visit the city during the months of March, April and early May, as it is right after the rainy season.
During May, many students will arrive in the city for college applications, and Eid Al-Fitr (Islamic Celebration) also takes place during around May till June, so you’ll get to enjoy the most vibrant side of Yogyakarta!
The peak season is from June to mid-August, and December to early February, so enter at your own risk!
September to November is also a good time to travel, but the weather will be rather hot (you have the waterfalls to help you with that).
G. Recommended Length of Stay
Exploring only the culture and local food in the city: 2 days
Travelling to Borobudur, Prambanan, and other places out of town: 3 days
For adventurers who want to hike Merapi, trek into caves, etc: 3-4 days