Visiting Borobudur and Prambanan Temples
A visit to Yogyakarta is incomplete without seeing two historic temples, one Buddhist and one Hindu. I'm talking of course about Borobudur Temple and Prambanan Temple!
After posting this photo to Instagram, I got a ton of questions about Borobudur temple, the best time of day to visit Borobudur and Prambanan and a number of accommodation and transportation questions so I thought I would compile all the logistical information in today's post.
Yogyakarta is the name of the city in Indonesia where these two magnificent temples are located. Locally the city is often referred to as “Jogja” or “Jogjakarta”.
In the Indonesian language, y's are pronounced more like j's. This confused me the first time I told someone I was going to Yoga-yakarta and they kept talking about “Jog-ja”!
Another helpful Indonesian word to learn? Candi means temple or shrine in Bahasa.
Borobudur is a stunning monument to an ancient Buddhist civilization, which built the lotus-shaped pyramid sometime between the 8th and 9th centuries.
Borobudur is located on the Indonesian island of Java, about 25 miles northwest of cultural capital Yogyakarta and approximately 9 miles south of Magelang.
Borobudur temple was built in three levels. They were meant to signal,
- the world of desire and lust Kamadhatu
- the world of form, Rupadhatu
- the world without any form Arupadhatu
In total, the temple consists of 6 terraces, 3 circular platforms and 504 buddha statues. The overall form of Borobudur is in the shape of mandala symbolizing the cosmetology of the universe according to Buddhist teachings.
Photography at Borobudur: If you're an avid photographer, you'll want to book the Borobudur sunrise entrance ticket, as this allows entry before opening time. More info below.
Some time in the 9th century, the ruling Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty gradually lost power and the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty arose.
It is believed that the construction of Prambanan was meant to signal the rise of the new faith and rulers and ultimately supplant Borobudur.
Prambanan is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia. Unlike Borobudur, Prambanan has many individual temples surrounding one large towering central building.
The temple is dedicated to the Trimurti, the expression of God as the Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Destroyer (Shiva) and walking inside each of the temples you will find a statue dedicated to each expression.
The temple is located about 17 km (11 mi) northeast of Yogyakarta between the boundaries of Central Java and Yogyakarta provinces.
Borobudur and Prambanan in 1 Day
Most visitors traveling to Yogyakarta want see both temples, as they're each quite distinct and worth their own visit. If you're tight on time, you can easily combine a visit to both Borobudur and Prambanan in one day.
But, know that they are quite far from each other so the best way to do this is to either book a guided tour or rent a car while in Jogja.
I recommend viewing Borobudur at sunrise.
The combination of seeing the sun slowly climb up over the pyramid and the early morning mist from the volcanic mountains creeping down the monument are a magical combination. I felt transported back in time to what the original British and Dutch settlers must have witnessed when they first went searching for the magnificent temple.
A special sunrise ticket must be purchased if you plan to see Borobudur at sunrise. Some people then choose to combine Prambanan in the latter half of the afternoon and see that temple at sunset. If you do plan to see both monuments, buy a Borobudur and Prambanan combo ticket as it will be cheaper.
For other Yogyakarta tourist attractions, read my guide to the must see attractions in Jogja.Read more: The Best Indonesia Itinerary.
Pricing & Entrance Fees
Temple Tour Hours: Both temples are open everyday from 6am to 5pm, including public holidays.
Weather: In Yogyakarta, the dry season is from April to October and is the best time to visit. Rainy season occurs from November to March and brings with it swarms of pesky mosquitoes.
Luggage Storage: available at Borobudur
Borobudur Ticket Price: For Foreigners, entrance fees during regular hours are $20 USD and can be paid in rupiah, debit or via credit card (mastercard/visa only). Tickets can be purchased online here.
Prambanan Entrance Fee: For Foreigners, it costs $18 USD and can be paid in rupiah, debit or via credit card (mastercard/visa only). Tickets can be purchased online here.
A Borobudur and Prambanan combo ticket is available as well for $32 USD. Tickets can be purchased online here.
Borobudur and Prambanan Tours
To get between the two temples, it's easiest to either rent a car in Yogyakarta or book a joint Borobudur and Prambanan tour.
There are some tours which will pick you up in time for the Borobudur Sunrise tour and others which will just do both tours in one day. Since getting around Yogyakarta can be difficult, these tours are great for those who want transportation taken care of.
Recommended Yogyakarta Tours
Private Guided Tour: This private tour offers hotel pickup, lunch, a driver and guide to see the best of both temples in one day. Best of all, it's affordable and takes care of all the logistics and traffic!
Check availability here
Temples + Yogyakarta City Tour: This tour not only takes you to both Borobudur and Prambanan but also provides a guided tour of Jogja's city center.
Check availability here
Borobudur Sunrise Tour: If you're like me and want to see the temple at its most magnificent, this sunrise tour is a great value. It provides hotel pick up and transportation so you can make the 4am call time without having to worry about a thing.
Check availability here
Other tours of interest while in Yogyakarta include:
- hiking volcanic Mount Merapi where you can see the after effects of items destroyed in the last eruption
- exploring the beautiful light-filled cave Jomblang
- visiting other smaller temples in Yogyakarta
Borobudur Sunrise Ticket
This is a special ticket to buy if you want to go before regular opening hours to catch sunrise.
A sunrise Borobudur ticket costs 400,000 IDR for adults and 200,000 IDR for children. If you're staying at the on-site hotel, Manohara, you still have to pay a top-up price for the sunrise ticket but it's a discounted rate of 250,000 IDR for adults and 125,000 IDR for children. I've quoted the “foreigner” ticket prices here.
I recommend going at sunrise not only for the best pictures but also for the best experience – Indonesia gets incredibly hot in the afternoon and with all the stone and exposed areas you'll be boiling in no time. I went to Prambanan around 2pm and was boiling hot.
Is the Borobudur Sunrise Ticket Worth It?
In my personal opinion, the visit to Borobudur in the early am was magical.
Walking towards the temple at night in darkness, Borobudur seemed to suddenly rise from the ground like a pyramid out of the jungle. As the sun rose, volcanic Mount Merapi in the distance emitted a beautiful hazy mist over the tops of the temple.
What's really unique is that from the sky, the monument is structured in circular waves to resemble a lotus flower unfurling. You can see a great example of an aerial shot on my friend Mike's aerial photo here.
Tips for Visiting Borobudur at Sunrise
If you purchase the sunrise ticket, staff will give you a flashlight so that you can make your way over in the dark. Be careful of the steps up to the platform. As with most ancient structures the steps are high and uneven. I wore flip flops with a long dress and was perfectly fine but just watch your footing.
After you're done sightseeing, you can help yourself to a light traditional snack and a coffee back at the main entrance. If you return your flashlight, the museum gives you a souvenir scarf to keep which I thought was a nice touch.
I also visited in October, when sunrise starts at about 5am and the day already gets hot and strong lighting conditions by 6am. If I didn't pay for the sunrise ticket option, I would have missed the golden window, so to speak.
Finally, I thought the Borobudur sunrise ticket price – while not cheap (around $30 USD at time of writing) – was really worth the experience.
Where to Stay in Yogyakarta
From the Yogyakarta airport, Borobudur temple is a one hour drive northward. If you're planning to visit at sunrise, you'll need to get up around 3am and be at the temple around 4:30am.
In October when I went, the sun rose at about 5am. We arrived extra early but there were already tons of tour groups and tons of people staking out their spot on the top of the highest platform.
Photographers at Borobudur are allowed to use tripods although you should not place a tripod on any of the stupas, buddhas or circular platforms. There is definitely a bit of jostling for “the perfect seat” in the dark but honestly the best time is the hour after sunrise when the entire temple is illuminated.
Best Hotels Near Borobudur
Because you'll need to make your way to the temple extremely early in the morning for the sunrise shot, I recommend staying at these hotels which are near Borobudur Temple:
2. The Phoenix
A good choice if you plan to book a tour of the temples and want to stay longer to explore the city of Yogyakarta. The Phoenix is ideally located in the historic city center and is a beautiful, historic hotel with every level of comfort (including a stunning pool!).
3. Atria Magelang
Another good choice. Its located in Magelang, 9 miles (about a 15 minute drive) from Borobudur and more affordable.
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