Researched and written by Patrick Moran – AIYA’s National Blog Editor

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From gaping caverns to historic temples, Yogyakarta offers tourists a diverse range of sights, and fantastic opportunities for cultural immersion.

For many Australians, travel to Indonesia is centred around Bali, but for those who follow a different path, Indonesia’s ‘cultural capital’ is a fantastic alternative.

The following guide will outline the key attractions of Yogyakarta, and its surrounding region; both the majestic temples to explore, and the incredibly diverse array of natural sites and landscapes.


The region is home to some of South-East Asia’s most iconic temples, with the Borobudur, and Prambanan temples both having lasted over 1000 years.

Borobudur, perhaps Yogyakarta’s most iconic monument, was built during the Shailendra Dynasty, between the eighth and ninth centuries. A buddhist monument, the temple has three major levels; the base, five square terraces, and three circular terraces. Each stage symbolises a stage of the Buddhist enlightenment process according to National Geographic.

Tourists and pilgrims alike can climb the temple, with the typical pilgrimage involving a clockwise 5km walk to the top of the pyramid shaped structure.

Yogyakarta’s Borobudur Temple. Photo by Gunawan Kartapranata / CC BY-SA 4.0

Some have speculated that the Prambanan temple complex, which was built not long after Borobudur, was constructed to compete with the Shailendra Dynasty. Indeed, historians have suggested that the construction of the Prambanan Temple was designed to mark a return of Hindu power in Central Java under the Sanjaya Dynasty. In this sense, the two temples can be viewed as symbols of competing dynasties.

Both temples were lost for a considerable time period, buried in overgrown vegetation after a volcanic eruption, before being rediscovered and restored in modern times. 

The Prambanan Temple complex differs from the pyramid structure of Borobudur, with the temple unable to be climbed. Prambanan has three separate temples dedicated to three separate Hindu divinities; Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma, all of which can be viewed from ground level. The central building is 47m high.

The temples of Yogyakarta reflect the rich religious and cultural history of the Central Javanese region, helping it live up to its name as Indonesia’s ‘cultural capital’. 

Natural Sights:

Whilst Yogyakarta is best known for its rich cultural and historic sites, those in search of natural scenery will not be disappointed by the Javanese region.

The famous Jomblang Cave, perhaps Yogyakarta’s most unique natural attraction, is a gaping cavern, 60 metres deep, with ancient plantlife still growing inside the cave.

The cave, formed by the collapse of limestone into a sinkhole, can be explored by tourists, who can be lowered into the cavern by rope. At certain times of day, the angle of the sun points directly into the cave, creating a remarkable, almost heavenly scene. 

This is a site of true natural beauty, and one which those seeking a unique and diverse Indonesian adventure, would be well advised to explore.

Like much of the Indonesian archipelago, Yogyakarta boasts active volcanic sites, and lush areas of forest. Mount Merapi, the most active volcano in Indonesia, is viewed as a sacred mountain to the Javanese. The volcano last erupted in 2010, tragically killing 353 people.

Mount Merapi is an adventurous option for tourists, with numerous companies offering Jeep tours of the mountain. Tours often involve other sites in the region, such as sunrise at Borobudur.

Gunung Merapi yang terlihat jelas dari Candi Prambanan. Foto oleh Arabsalam / CC

The Kalibiru National Park took considerable reforestation efforts to regenerate. Unsupervised burning and illegal logging rendered the region barren, prior to the local community’s restoration effort in 1999. 

The lush forest can once again be enjoyed by tourists, having been declared a tourism spot in 2008, with over 7km of walking track to explore. The national park is a mountainous, and naturally scenic region, with a viewing deck for visitors to appreciate the scale and beauty of the region.

Yogyakarta boasts a wide array of natural and human attractions, offering a unique insight into Indonesian culture, history, and environment. Whilst COVID-19 has put international travel on hold, for Australians seeking a deeper engagement with a close neighbour, Indonesia’s cultural capital should be high on the priority list.