Prambanan Temple

The ultimate 4-day explorer’s guide to Central Java and Yogyakarta

Explore Semarang Old Town, discover the magic of Borobudur at sunrise, stay the night at a coffee plantation, and more! Come with us on an unforgettable adventure that combines the best of the region’s gems in one exciting trip.
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If you’ve always wanted to take a trip through the middle of Java to uncover its treasures, you’re in luck. We’ve cobbled together the perfect itinerary. Starting from Semarang, the capital of Central Java, we’ll take you on a journey from the northern reaches of the island all the way down to Yogyakarta in the south. Visit some of the region’s most iconic temple compounds from Borobudur to Prambanan, both designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites, view Indonesia’s most active volcano, descend 60 meters into a vertical cave, and more. This four-day Central Java and Yogyakarta itinerary is the ultimate explorer’s guide crammed full of historical landmarks, old towns, natural wonders, and secret mountain hideaways.

Borobudur Temple — Central Java & Yogyakarta Itinerary
Image by reggaelooper via Pixabay

Safety while traveling

Remember to check the status of Indonesia’s travel restrictions during this time. Certain areas and attractions may be affected by the current pandemic. Check out our handy guide on Indonesia’s travel advice related to COVID-19 for information on local restrictions.

Getting to Semarang

Your journey starts in Semarang. Due to its strategic location, Semarang is highly accessible by air and land. Domestic airlines fly directly into Semarang from Surabaya and Jakarta, while bus and train services run from Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung, and Malang to Semarang. From Semarang, it is easy to rent a car to drive around Central Java and Yogyakarta. Many of the locations mentioned in this guide are easily accessible by car.

Day 1: Semarang — Gedong Songo

Explore Semarang Old Town

Immerse yourself in the history of bygone Semarang when you pay a visit to the Kota Lama, otherwise known as Semarang Old Town. A charming atmosphere envelops this area of the city, heightened by a scattering of buildings that feature old Dutch architecture, time-worn temples and churches, and even a forgotten Chinatown nearby. Semarang’s history as a port dates back to the 17th century, and influences from its past as an entrepot for spices can be seen today in the melting pot of Chinese, Arab, Indian, and European cultures. See the eye-catching Gereja Blenduk, its unusual copper-domed roof easily visible in the heart of the Old Town. The 18th-century Protestant church is the oldest church in Central Java.

Venture into Lawang Sewu

A couple of kilometers down the road from Gereja Blenduk, you will find the iconic Lawang Sewu. The large building once served as the colonial-era headquarters of the Dutch East Indies Railway Company. During World War II, the Japanese converted it into their military headquarters. Over the years, the building has gained a reputation with thrill-seekers as being haunted. Today, Lawang Sewu — its name literally meaning “Thousand Doors” in Javanese — is visited by those looking to catch a glimpse of the supernatural. Go on a guided tour of the compound and learn about its unique history.

See the Great Mosque of Central Java

Image by Febrian Zakaria via Unsplash

The Great Mosque of Central Java, or the Masjid Agung Jawa Tengah, is an incredible highlight worth visiting. It is the largest and most important mosque in the province, covering an impressive 10 hectares and featuring traditional Javanese architecture mixed with Arabic and Roman influences. While being a place of worship, the mosque is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in Semarang, with buses and trams available to take visitors on guided tours around the grounds. Be sure to go up the Al Husna Tower and treat yourself to panoramic views of Semarang city from the 19th floor.

Ascend Mount Ungaran to visit the Gedong Songo

After your exploration of Semarang, it’s time to leave the urban city behind and traverse to an ancient site. South of the city, just under an hour’s drive away, you will find the Gedong Songo (“Nine Buildings”) sitting 1,200 meters up on the volcanic slopes of Mount Ungaran. Prized as some of Java’s oldest antiquities, the Gedong Songo is a complex of several small Hindu temples made of volcanic stone that date back to the eighth century. Accessible by car or by horseback from the mountain town of Bandungan, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the countryside on the way up.

Spend the night in the middle of a coffee plantation

After a long day of exploration, there is one lovely hidden gem you’ll want to spend the night at. The picturesque MesaStila Resort and Spa, located just 20 kilometers south of Gedong Songo, is a secret retreat set amidst a verdant coffee plantation overlooking the beautiful mountains of Central Java. The resort offers 23 traditional Javanese villas nestled amidst lush greenery and a stunning infinity pool with mesmerizing views of mist-shrouded mountains and leafy forest canopies.

Day 2: Dieng Plateau — Sekar Langit

Catch a perfect sunrise at Dieng Plateau

Wake up before dawn and drive west to Dieng Plateau, located 70 kilometers from MesaStila Resort and Spa. The plateau sits over 2,000 meters above sea level and is famous for its beautiful scenery, marshy calderas, colored lakes, and historical sites. Catch a blazing sunrise from this spectacular vantage point — don’t worry, the main area of the plateau can be easily reached by car. Interested in hiking the area? Read more about Dieng Plateau and the nearby Mount Prau in our article on 7 Best mountain hikes in Indonesia with the most stunning views.

Visit the cascading Sekar Langit waterfall

After your exploration of Dieng Plateau, head back towards MesaStila Resort and Spa and take a quick detour. You’ll want to stop by the scenic Sekar Langit waterfall. Located in Telogorejo and surrounded by verdant greenery, the waterfall is one of the natural gems of Magelang. This gushing waterfall towers almost 30 meters high and makes for an excellent photo spot. You will also find a majestic pine forest and scenic bamboo grove as you explore the area.

Spend the night at the inspired Villa Borobudur Resort

Travel 45 kilometers south through Magelang to find the dreamy Villa Borobudur Resort, where we highly recommend you stay the night. Hidden on the slopes of the Menoreh Mountains amidst the emerald-green folds of a forest, the luxurious resort provides breathtaking views of the Borobudur Temple from its perch. The Borobudur Temple itself sits just three kilometers away, making this resort the perfect place to set off from in the morning.

Day 3: Borobudur Temple — Mount Merapi — Prambanan

Witness a magnificent dawn at Borobudur Temple

Time to learn all about the world-famous UNESCO World Heritage Site of Borobudur Temple! This massive ninth-century Mahayana Buddhist temple is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. It is considered one of the great archeological sites of Southeast Asia alongside Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and Myanmar’s Bagan temples. Undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist destinations in Indonesia, there’s no better time to see the Borobudur Temple than at dawn. Beat the crowds and watch as the first rays of sunlight bathe the magnificent bell-shaped stone stupas in golden hues. Thousands of volcanic stone blocks make up the incredible temple, and its construction is said to have taken 75 years.

Alternative sunrise view of Borobudur Temple

For a different (but just as magnificent) view of the Borobudur Temple at sunrise, head to the beautiful viewpoint at Punthuk Setumbu.

Borobudur Temple — Yogyakarta Itinerary
Image by Ikhsan Sugiarto via Unsplash

The hill is a 15-minute drive from the temple and the entrance fee is 50,000 IDR. From the ticket counter, you will need to climb another 15 minutes up some stairs to get to the top, so wear comfortable shoes if you plan to visit. Arrive at around 5:20 am to see the sun illuminate the sea of fog shrouding the temple.

See the Merapi volcano by jeep

Mount Merapi is a stratovolcano situated on the border between Central Java and Yogyakarta. It is the most active volcano in Indonesia, erupting regularly since 1548, and many tourists from far and wide travel to the area to marvel at this indomitable creation of Mother Nature from nearby. While climbing the volcano is not possible, there are several tours you can go on that allow you to witness the beauty of Mount Merapi from its nearby foothills, most notably the popular off-road jeep tours. Rumble across rocky terrain and get a selfie with the conical volcano in all its glory. Wonderful Borobudur Tours and Java Heritage Tour offer jeep tours to Merapi, among several other operators.

Watch the sunset over the Prambanan temples

Now, we head another 40 minutes further south to visit the largest Hindu temple compound in Indonesia: the Prambanan. Constructed in the ninth century, the Prambanan compound is an ancient collection of impressively ornate hindu temples. The entire complex is divided into three zones. The outer zone, once surrounded by a wall, is now an open space used by priests and worshippers. The middle zone has over two hundred small shrines — Candi Perwara or “guardian temples” — arranged in concentric rows around the central compound. The main temples are found in the central compound, the biggest of which are dedicated to the Hindu trinity: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Today, the Prambanan temples are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Explore the historic grounds and witness a magnificent sunset over the majestic temples as evening falls.

Check into the Lafayette Boutique Hotel

It’s time to head into Yogyakarta City and settle into comfortable accommodation for the night. The city center itself is located 20 kilometers from the Prambanan temple compound. A quick 30-minute drive gets you to the chic Lafayette Boutique Hotel, located in a bustling commercial area of the city. We recommend this stately hotel for its opulent rooms, delightful rooftop bar with glittering city panoramas, and stunning outdoor infinity pool with mountain views that allow you to spy Mount Merapi in the distance.

Day 4: Bukit Panguk Kediwung — Jomblang Cave — Yogyakarta Old Town

Watch the sunrise at Bukit Panguk Kediwung

Get up as early as you can and head to the beautiful hilltop sunrise spot at Bukit Panguk Kediwung, located about 45 minutes from the city center. Multiple viewing platforms here allow for excellent sunrise photo ops across the misty countryside. If you can make it to the spot before 6 am, you will be able to catch the changing colors of the mountainscape and beyond, from pink-tinted cotton candy clouds to a brilliant orange-painted horizon.

Visit the illuminated Jomblang Cave

About 50 kilometers southeast of Yogyakarta City, you will find Jomblang Cave, a natural cave with some delightful secrets. If you love adventure, this destination is the perfect treat for you. Sign up for a cave tour and take on the role of a true explorer to find out why so many tourists flock here! Once geared up and attached to a safety harness, your guides will lower you down 60 meters into the depths of this vertical cave. From inside the cave, you will discover a view straight out of a fairy tale: illuminating rays of sunlight from above shining down into the cave, piercing right through the deep shadows to create a heavenly contrast of light and dark.

Explore Yogyakarta Old Town

No Yogyakarta itinerary is complete without a visit to the bustling old quarters of the city. Head back to Yogyakarta City for this final activity of your four-day journey. Take a slow and relaxing tour of the charming Kota Gede, also known as Yogyakarta Old Town. The suburb is a highlight for heritage hunters who dream of getting lost along narrow lanes of the past. The old quarters are now a treasure trove of traditional Javanese houses, silversmith shops, delightful street art, and preserved historic buildings. A wonderful way to end your adventure.

Yogyakarta Airport is located about eight kilometers northeast of the old town.

Traveling elsewhere? Refer to our handy resource, The Ultimate Guide to COVID-19 Travel Restrictions, to remain up-to-date with regulations around the world.

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