The stupas of Borobudur are amongst the most famous and recognisable landmarks in Indonesia. It’s no wonder that doing a Borobudur sunrise tour is high on every travellers bucket list.
On my last trip to Indonesia I was unlucky enough to be in Bali while Mount Agung was erupting.
While the touristy areas of Bali were perfectly safe we decided we didn’t feel comfortable staying there, so we decided to cut our Bali trip short and we went to explore Java instead.
Since I had already been to Bali anyway, this seemed like a great opportunity to see a new place, and finally visit Borobudur! My favourite part of this Java trip was exploring the temples of Yogyakarta.
We did a one-day Borobudur and Prambanan tour, which allowed us to not only see some of the most famous temples in Indonesia, but also many other smaller temples!
If you would like to do a Borobudur and Prambanan tour, I’ve listed in this guide everything you need to know. So let’s dive in!
About Yogyakarta and its temples
Yogyakarta is both a city and a region in the island of Java in Indonesia. It has its own international airport so it can easily be reached by other cities in Indonesia or Asia.
Yogyakarta is especially famous for its cultural heritage, temples and traditional arts, but also the beautiful green landscapes and beaches on the Southern coast.
Borobudur and Prambanan are the main attractions that bring thousands of travellers to Yogyakarta. These stunning temples can easily be visited in one day on a Yogyakarta full-day temples tour.
Where to stay for a Borobudur and Prambanan tour
Most Borobudur sunrise tours will depart from Yogyakarta, the nearest big city. I have listed below some accommodation options for every budget in Yogyakarta.
Budget: Losmanos Hostel – this hostel has spacious and clean dorms, a pool with hammocks and lots of communal social spaces. What more could you want from a hostel?
Mid-range: Venezia Homestay and Garden – this lovely homestay has both private rooms and dorms depending on how much you want to spend. They also have a pool where you can relax after exploring Borobudur and Prambanan!
Luxury: Swiss-Belboutique Yogyakarta – if you want to treat yourself, this is the perfect place to do so! After all getting up for sunrise can be pretty knackering, treat yourself to a luxury stay after!
Organising your Borobudur sunrise tour
Sure, the sunrise at Borobudur may be the main thing that you want to see, but did you know that in Yogyakarta you can find also Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia?
My point if, there is more to Yogyakarta than just the sunrise at Borobudur, so don’t miss out on the other beautiful temples in the area!
Doing an organised full-day tour is the best way to ensure you see all the temples in one day. You will also have a guide with you to explain a bit of the history of the temples, something you wouldn’t get if you visit alone.
The easiest way to arrange your Borobudur and Prambanan tour is to book it online. That way you know you have it all arranged before arriving in Yogyakarta.
Most tours will include pick-up, all temple entrance fees, breakfast and/or lunch and drop-off back at your hotel.
Our Borobudur & Prambanan tour experience
We really enjoyed our tour since it didn’t only take us to Borobudur and Prambanan. We spent the full day with a lovely guide, who took us also to Pawon, Mendut and Sewu temples.
I’ve outlined below our experience and what you can expect from a Borobudur and Prambanan tour.
Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and was our first stop on our temple exploring day. The sunrise from Borobudur is supposed to be stunning, which is why most temple tours in Yogyakarta start with Borobudur.
We woke up at 3:30am since our pick up was arranged for 4am. The drive from central Yogyakarta to Borobudur took about an hour and a half, although I was so knackered I slept in the back and barely noticed.
You will reach Borobudur around 5:30am, which gives you a bit of time to find somewhere nice to sit before the sunrise.
From the parking lot you will have to walk through the lobby of the Manohara Resort, where you can leave bags in a storage space and where they will give you torches.
From there to the actual temple it’s a short 10-minute walk. Despite being there early enough to get good seats unfortunately it was a very cloudy day, so there wasn’t much of a sunrise for us to see.
Even if we didn’t get to see a sunrise visiting Borobudur so early in the morning was still a magical experience. We got to walk around the stupas (the huge bells) and explore the temple without too many people around.
It was fascinating to walk around the temple and learn about its history. Every stupa has a Buddha statue inside and a couple of the bells have had the top removed so that you can see it.
We also enjoyed playing a game of “spot which stones are original and which have been reconstructed” with our guide.
He showed us how due to earthquakes and over time people stealing the rocks with which Borobudur was built they had to reconstruct part of the temple. The new rocks have a small white dot on them to identify them as not original.
Today however Borobudur is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there is no risk of people stealing its rocks anymore. The only risk you run there is of not being able to take a photo without other people in it.
At 8am they open the temple to the general public and as we were leaving we saw huge crowds of people going to the temple so we were glad we had the opportunity to see it relatively empty.
Before leaving Borobudur we stopped at the Manohara hotel where included in the tour ticket price we got a light breakfast of tea or coffee, fried banana and a small cake.
Prambanan temple was the next big stop of our tour, but before heading straight there we stopped at a couple smaller temples on the way there. The first one was Pawon, a small Buddhist temple.
Pawon is also a tomb, however it’s still unknown who is buried beneath it. The temple has some beautiful carvings both inside and outside, which depict part of the history of the region.
The second small temple we saw on the way from Borobudur to Prambanan is Mendut.
Mendut is located on a straight line with Pawon and Borobudur, which suggests there might be a symbolic religious relationship that ties these temples together, although the exact ritual is unknown.
We enjoyed visiting these smaller temples, even if they were less spectacular than their more famous counterparts they had a certain beauty to them. We also enjoyed the fact that we were the only tourists there to admire them.
Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia. It’s spread out over a very large surface area and is actually a compound formed by 240 temples.
There are 16 different ones in inner area or central compound, which are surrounded by 224 smaller temples arranged in 4 concentric square rows displayed in a mandala layout.
The bigger temples in the centre of the compound also have small rooms inside it where statues are displayed.
Each statue has a different meaning and serves a different purpose. There are four rooms which you can access from small staircases on each of the four sides of the building.
Prambanan was extremely busy when we visited, however it is such a large temple and spread out over such a huge surface area that the crowds are never particularly annoying.
Even if it was low season we were visiting during a holiday weekend in Indonesia, which meant there were a lot of locals visiting the temple.
Just 800 metres north of Prambanan is the Buddhist temple Sewu, also known as “thousand temples”.
Just after the access gate of Prambanan there is a small train that drives past at regular intervals that you can jump on for free that will take you around the grounds of Prambanan and to Sewu.
Similarly to Prambanan Sewu also has a central compound with a large temple and is surrounded by hundreds of smaller temples. The vast majority of these however have been destroyed by the 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake.
They had to erect metal frame structures around the main temple to prevent it from collapsing, today these metal structures are gone and you can visit the inside of the temple.
They are trying to reconstruct also the other small temples around it but this is a long and laborious task, made harder by the fact that a lot of stones are missing.
What to pack for a Borobudur and Prambanan tour
You don’t need to pack much for a Borobudur and Prambanan tour beyond the usual travel essentials. However I wanted to list below a couple things you want to make sure you don’t forget.
A scarf and/or sarong to cover your shoulders and legs – don’t be like me, you can see from the photos in this post that I wasn’t really appropriately dressed to visit a cultural site. At the time I didn’t know better, and despite having a guide with us he didn’t correct me, so I was dressed inappropriately at every temple we visited.
A water bottle that you can refill during the day, that way you can save money and reduce plastic consumption!
Power bank – you don’t want your phone to die while you’re capturing these beautiful temples!
Have you visited the temples of Yogyakarta before? How did you find it? Let me know in the comments below!
We only had one day in Yogyakarta so we did an organised tour that took us to see all the temples in one go.
My personal favourite was Borobudur, although Prambanan was also impressive in its size and architecture. If you want to explore more temples in Indonesia, check out this guide to the best 15 temples in Bali.
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