'Yogya', as it is affectionately known, is one of the most attractive and ancient historical cities in Indonesia and undoubtedly one of the most popular and rewarding tourist destinations the country has to offer. It was established in 1755 when Prince Mangkubumi built the Kraton Palace, called himself Sultan, and created the most powerful Javanese Kingdom since the 17th century. Today it remains a symbol of resistance to Dutch Colonial rule, as well as the centre for classical Javanese art and culture, including batik, Ramayana ballet, shadow puppetry and traditional music.
Yogyakarta is a special city to explore and rates far more highly with tourists than the capital, Jakarta. Whereas Jakarta is a sprawling melting pot of all things Indonesian, Yogya is a typically Javanese centre with an individual charm. Also unlike Jakarta, Yogya has a lovely city centre where a number of attractions are clumped together within easy walking distance for visitors. It's a great city for shopping, with many markets and craft centres, and the perfect base for exploration further afield.
With its ancient historical city, museums, cultural performances, lively atmosphere, and an abundance of accommodation and restaurants, as well as its proximity to two of the most impressive religious monuments in the country, it is no wonder that this splendid city is a major stop on the tourist route.
Shadow Puppet performances are a proud part of Indonesia's cultural heritage. In fact, UNESCO has declared wayang kulit a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, which means that the art form is considered a global treasure. The puppets are lovingly handcrafted out of buffalo hide or goat skin, and mounted on bamboo poles, with moveable limbs that are worked by a highly skilled puppeteer from behind a backlit screen, casting the shadows of the puppets onto the surface to tell spellbinding stories.
The puppeteer is usually the creator of the puppets, the director, producer and main narrator of the shadow world. The masters of wayang kulit are called dalangs and these talented artists are known to perform through the night at times. The stories have their origins in classic Hindu mythologies and Ramayana tales and are narrated in the local dialects. Although shadow puppet shows in English are not unheard of it is unlikely that you'll find one. However, don't be discouraged by the language barrier, as even without understandable words the puppets express themselves eloquently through movement and action and the effect is amazing. Watching the story unfold narrated in a local dialect is arguably far more interesting and authentic. Catching one of these unique shows is a wonderful addition to an Indonesian holiday.
Rivalling the Buddhist monument of Borobudur, this magnificent Hindu temple is the largest in Java and arguably the most beautiful in Indonesia. Prambanan was built in the 9th century, possibly to compete with the splendour of Borobudur, or to celebrate the return to power of the Hindu dynasty in Java at the time. The complex is dominated by three main temples, Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu, each dedicated to their namesake, and the walls are decorated with exceptional relief carvings depicting scenes from the famous Hindu classic tale of Ramayana.
The Shiva Temple is the largest of the three, soaring above the others at a height of 154 feet (47m), and contains the impressive statues of Shiva, his elephant-headed son, Ganesh, and the goddess, Durga. From May to October the Ramayana Ballet, a traditional Indonesian dance based on the Ramayana story, is performed on an open-air stage in the complex during the full moon - it is a spectacular sight involving hundreds of dancers, singers and musicians. Prambanan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and never ceases to amaze visitors; there is nowhere else in the world quite like it. It is a good idea to walk a little away from the temples to get a view of the whole complex, and to walk around the outside is also interesting. Avoid the heat and crowds of midday by going early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
One of the greatest Buddhist monuments in South East Asia, Borobudur was built in the 8th century and stands on top of a hill surrounded by volcanoes and overlooking green fields. It is an immense, multi-tiered structure with the Great Stupa (bell-shaped monument) at the top standing 128ft (40m) above the ground, surrounded by numerous smaller stupas, some still containing Buddha statues inside. It is part of a 2.5 mile-long (4km) chain of smaller temples, with the Mendut Temple containing three exquisitely carved giant statues of Buddha and two disciples inside. The terraces of Borobudur are covered in sculpted reliefs, with narrative panels illustrating Buddhist beliefs and teachings, and covering an estimated length of 3.5 miles (6km). These masterpieces of individual artistic value have been acknowledged as the most complete and splendid collection of Buddhist reliefs in the world. Built out of millions of blocks of the local volcanic rock joined without the use of mortar, Borobudur is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the primary tourist attraction in Java, as well as one of the most iconic sites in Indonesia.
The temple lies 25 miles (41km) northwest of Yogyakarta. Unsurprisingly for such a famous attraction, Borobudur can get very crowded, which diminishes the impact of the place for some - try to get there for sunrise to avoid the throng and for the magical experience of seeing the day begin at the temple.
The Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park encloses spectacular volcanic landscapes and one of the most impressive natural sights in Indonesia. The ancient Tengger crater in its midst stretches for six miles (10km) and within its sheer volcanic walls are three peaks; Batok, Kursi and the smoking Mt Bromo. Thousands of tourists make the journey up Mt Bromo for the unforgettable spectacle at sunrise (during the dry season) when the surrounding landscape takes on an otherworldly quality. The views from the top and into the smoking crater are unbelievable. To reach the foot of the volcano one must cross the vast Sea of Sand out of which Mt Bromo rises, either on horseback or by foot, and then climb a flight of stairs that leads to the crater rim where the unmistakable smell of sulphur permeates the air. Mount Semeru, another volcano in the park, is one of Indonesia's most active volcanoes and every 20 minutes or so it belches out smoke, to the delight of visitors. The small village of Cemora Lawang, perched at the edge of the Tengger crater, is the most popular place to stay and has the best views of the area. With unique landscapes that look like something out of a fantasy novel, this National Park is an exciting area to explore and a dream come true for photographers.
The nearest big city to the park is Yogyakarta, and although it takes more than 10 hours to drive to the volcanoes, it is a popular excursion and is included in many tour packages.
Yogyakarta is a lovely city, popular with tourists and brimming with attractions. It is the arts and crafts centre of Java and has retained its traditional charm and character while still developing into a modern city with all the expected amenities.
At its heart lies the quaint Old City with the elegant Sultan's Palace at its centre, containing the Water Palace, an interesting bird market and several museums and galleries. Guarded by traditionally dressed gentlemen, the splendid interior features extravagant pavilions and courtyards. Leading away from the centre, where sightseers usually start their adventures, are boulevards and backstreets filled with the confusion of markets containing galleries, shops and numerous other craft industries - a shopper's paradise for souvenirs and Javanese art. The silver centre of Yogya, Kota Gede, has streets lined with silver workshops creating the well-known and distinctive designs. Workshops allow the visitor the opportunity to watch traditional art in action. On every corner becaks (bicycle rickshaws) clamour for business, wobbling their way down the windy streets with bargain-weary passengers inside.
Yogya is also a great base for further travels on Java, especially as it is conveniently close to two of the most famous tourist attractions in Indonesia: the Buddhist temple complex of Borobudur, and the Hindu temple complex of Prambanan. It is also near the volcanic splendour of the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park.
No direct flights from Heathrow to this Destination