A trip to the island of Java in Indonesia wouldn’t be complete without visiting its cultural and spiritual heart, Yogyakarta.

This is where much of the culture of the islands stems from and in encapsulated, and is a launch off point to visit one of the most famous landmarks in Indonesia, the Borobudur Temple.

Getting to Yogya is easy, there are multiple flights per day from Jakarta and shuttle buses which zip along Javas highways which can get you there within 10 hours. I highly recommend, if you have the time, taking the train from Jakarta. You’ll be treated to some of the most amazing sights Java has to offer, with huge mountainside rice paddies and traditional Javanese agricultural life on display right outside your window. The train should cost $18 or so for a first class ride.

rice paddies

Yogya itself is a breath of fresh air after the hectic pace of Jakarta. There isn’t a lot to do but relax, and if you like you can go shopping since you’ll find the best art and crafts in Java. There are also some pretty cool museums for the history buffs who want to know more about the rich heritage of Java and the culture. You can stay at any of the home-stays, known as Losmen, which you can arrange either before you get here or upon arrival.

Yogya also offers plenty of trendy little cafes where you can enjoy Indonesia’s home-brewed coffee and eat some of the Javanese traditional foods (Gado-Gado, Nasi Goreng). Just relax, unwind, and enjoy the city. Go for a walk and perhaps take a ride on a Becek, which is a man-powered tricycle (no, the old dude operating it is not an exploited human, he literally relies on passengers to feed his children and you’re doing him a favor by riding with him).

‘Smokers will also find a wide variety of traditional Indonesian style cigars and cigarettes in Yogya. Be aware, however, that the Kretek clove cigarettes are harsh on the lungs, and unless you’re a very heavy smoker, they may knock you for six.’

Sayoga Cigar Seller

Once you feel you’ve had your fill of Yogya, be sure to arrange a tour to Borobudur. This is an ancient Buddhist temple which was lost to the world for centuries, buried deep in thick dust and mud after a volcanic eruption. Archaeologists rediscovered it, and extensive restoration efforts mean you can now witness one of the most intriguing and interesting religious sites in the world, telling a tale of Indonesia’s ancient Buddhist/Hindu past pre-Islam, which is widely practiced today across the archipelago.

Heading to Borobudur is easy, and again many set off early to catch the sunrise. You’ll have to pay a little more than the local price which can be annoying, but remember, in Indonesia, these annoyances are almost always worth it in the end. Once you buy your ticket, head in and explore on foot. There’s no need for a tour guide unless you want a history lesson, and the area is small enough that you can find your own way around.

You can also check out Prambanan nearby, which is an old Hindu temple. Most tours actually include both. Sadly, Prambanan was badly damaged in an earthquake some time back, and the last time I checked restoration efforts are still ongoing and access is again possible to a limited extent.

All in all, Yogya is well worth a visit. It is the rich, cultural heart of Indonesia’s most populous island. While the crowds on Java can be a little irritating, you simply can not understand the nation you are visiting without understanding and seeing Java in all it’s glory.