Yogyakarta (12 hours by bus from Jakarta) is the cultural heart of Java and is the home of the Indonesia’s most powerful sultan. If you are going to spend time in a city in Indonesia it is a much better idea to spend it here than in Jakarta. Located at the foot of the very active Merapi volcano in one of the most densely populated areas the world, it is a city of busy main streets and village-like back streets filled with wooden houses, horse-drawn carriages, bicycles and three-wheeled trishaws. While clearly a modern Indonesia city, it is fiercely independent and remains loyal to old Javanese customs and way of life.
Yogyakarta (pronounced and also spelled “Jogjakarta” and known as Yogya for short) is home to about a 400,000 half million people. The special region of Yogyakarta has a population of about 4 million people and covers an area of 3,196 square kilometers. It is headed by the sultan. Yogyakarta is one of Indonesia’s premier tourist destinations and is filled with hotels, guesthouses, restaurant, souvenir shops, Batik shops and, unfortunately, lots of touts and pushy batik hawkers. Only Bali attracts more visitors. Yogyakarta is also a base for exploring Boribudur, Prambanan and other places in Central Java. Both Solo and Yogyarkarta are Javanese cultural centers and offer a variety of events and shopping opportunities.
Yogyakarta is located in Central Java Province, about 300 kilometers southwest of Surabaya. Although it is steeped in rich tradition and history, it is remain young as it is a university town, attracting students from all over Indonesia. With the pounding Indian Ocean not to far to the south, Yogya has a mild climate and is much easier to deal with than Jakarta. By one count there are about 70,000 handicraft industries based in Yogyakarta. Try to make some time to watch the silversmiths produce amazing jewelry at Kotagede. Because there are so many things to see in Yogyakarta and around it is best go on a tour organized by a local travel agency if you don't have much time. Never hire an unlicensed travel guide. Bring lightweight clothing, hats and sunglasses, Yogyakarta can be quite hot and the sun can be very bright. Dress comfortably and wear sneakers for walking and bring an umbrella in case of rain. In evening, bring some warm clothes as it can get quite cool. The Tourism Police are known locally as the Bhayangkara Wisata.
Susan Spano wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The Yogyakarta region, with a population of about 3 million, is the only Indonesian province still ruled by a sultan, a special status recognizing the role the region played in the war for independence against the Dutch. The city is now home to several major Indonesian universities, which gives it a smart, young air. But its center remains Sultan Hamengkubuwono's palace (or kraton), a walled, whitewashed compound with open-air pavilions. A 175-piece gamelan orchestra, an ensemble of wind, string and percussion, performs here. It has its own bank, a 2,500-man military garrison, a museum of mostly hideous gifts given to sultans, 20 vehicles in the royal garage and 75 bird cages.” [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2012]
The special region of Yogyakarta stretches from the slopes of mighty Mount Merapi in the north to the wave-swept beaches of the powerful Indian Ocean to the south. Today, Yogyakarta is Java's cultural center known for drama and dance festivals, as well as for its handicraft industry. The city is an important tourist center and has beautifully preserved Hindu temples and monuments. The walled palace of the sultan of Yogyakarta served as Indonesia's provisional capital in 1949-1950, and now houses Gadjah Mada University. Islamic University of Indonesia and several colleges are also located here.
History and People of Yogyakarta
The people of Yogyakarta are known for their hospitality and good manners. If you show proper respect, you will be welcome in any part of the city. While it’s a bustling cultural hub, Yogya is also slower paced and more relaxed than other cities in Indonesia. Many locals consider Yogya the perfect place to retire because of its air of serenity, tolerance and harmony. There is a reason why people say that time moves slower in Yogya.
Yogyakarta, together with its twin city Surakarta (Solo) are regarded as the cradles of civilization on Java. Nearby are the magnificent temples of Borobudur and Prambanan produced in the 8th and 9th century. Today, it continues to produce philosophers, thinkers, master painters and master craftsmen.
Yogyakarta was established at the time that the Mataram Empire was split into two sultanates: one in Yogyakarta and one in Solo. Not really that old, Yogyakarta came into being in 1755, when a land dispute split the power of Mataram into the Sultanates of Yogyakarta and Surakarta (Solo). Prince Mangkubumi built Kraton of Yogyakarta and created one of the most powerful Javanese states ever. Today many of the Mataram traditions live on and are a part of the city’s daily life.
Yogyakarta was the site of a revolt against the Dutch in the early 19th century, and played an important role in the Indonesian independence movement from 1946 to 1950. Throughout its history Yogyakarta has been associated with resistance against the Dutch. In the 1820s, Prince Dipeonegro led his fight here. After World War II, the Dutch captured the city but were afraid of arresting the sultan, fearing the passions of million of Javanese would be inflamed if they did. Instead they let the sultan remain in his palace, where he provided support and sanctuary to the rebels fighting the Dutch.
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Yogyakarta is a historic city which is still inhabited. Hence, it has naturally grown under the influences of other cultures as well as the need for development. The city has been influenced especially by Western and Chinese cultures which added new elements to the city. This is evident in the existence of western-style buildings such as Fort Vredeburg, Dutch Resident House (now: Presidential Palace or Gedung Agung), churches, shops, and hotels along the philosophical axis. While the Chinese influence has created Chinese shops and houses mainly along the Malioboro Street and in nearby kampongs such as Ketandan, Gandekan and Gondomanan. The need for development has also changed the historic city centre of Yogyakarta, particularly when the city has grown to become education centre and tourism destination in Indonesia. During the struggle for Indonesian independent, this city was turned into temporary capital city of Indonesia (1946 — 1950). However, the original plan of the city centre designed by Hamengkubuwana I and its philosophical axis are remained to be easily recognised. What is more, efforts to reinstate the historic urban landscape have been undertaken by the government.” [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Indonesia]
Javanese Cosmology of Yogyakarta
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The main components of the Historical City Centre of Yogyakarta signify the human life cycle. This historic urban landscape is an associative cultural landscape reflecting the Javanese philosophy of the human life process, from the very beginning of life to the reunification of the soul with the God (sangkan paraning dumadi). The female and male elements (represented by yoni Panggung Krapyak and lingam Tugu Pal Putih respectively) meet to generate life which is represented by the Kraton (as central part of the city). The pathway from Panggung Krapyak to Kraton (south to north) reflects the conception of life whereas the pathway from Tugu Pal Putih to Kraton (north to south) manifests the passage to the death and reunification with the God. Hence, the Kraton itself is perceived as the beginning and the end of human life. The philosophy behind the city plan of Yogyakarta is indeed a blend of local Javanese thought, Hinduism, and Islam. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Indonesia]
“The historic city centre of Yogyakarta was built as a representation of microcosmos based on the Javanese cosmology and philosophy. This was manifested in its specific location in the wider landscape as well as the plan of the city centre. The city is situated between Merapi Volcano and the South Sea and flanked by three rivers each to the east and west. Such a landscape is perceived as the replica of the Universe and indeed an ideal place to establish the Kraton (Palace) as the centre of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta which is also considered as the centre of the world.
“The plan of the historical city centre of Yogyakarta was designed by the Hamengkubuwana I to signify the human life cycle, from the very beginning of human life to the reunification of the soul with the God. This universal value has been embodied in the main components of the city centre along the so-called philosophical axis of Yogyakarta. In addition, some particular components of the city centre also represent the other basic concepts of human nature, i.e. to maintain harmonious relations between God — Human — Nature through manunggaling kawulo gusti (unity of God with Human as well as the King with his people) and to create a peaceful and beautiful world. The Javanese philosophy implemented in the plan of the historical city centre of Yogyakarta is indeed a blend of local wisdom, Hinduism, and Islam as a result of intensive cultural interaction of different civilizations in Java.”
Orientation and Tourist Offices in Yogyakarta
The main road in Yogyakarta is Jl Malioboro. It runs straight from the train station to the Kraton (palace area). There are two man accommodation centers: Sosorowijauan, near the train station, and Prawirotaman southeast of the kraton. Most places of interest to tourist, including the palace where the sultan lives, the Water Castle, batik shops and the Bird market are all within the Kraton area. You can get around easily on foot but there is a shortage of good sidewalk space or get around by taxi or becak (bicycle rickshaw).
Yogyakartans are fond of using compass points when giving directions, so it’s a good idea to remind yourself which direction is North before you get there. If you ask someone for directions they are just as likely to say "Go North or East" than "Go to the left or right.” To get around Yogya, try the “becak” the three-wheeled cab, or the traditional 4-wheeled horse-drawn carts called “andong”.
Tourist Information Office: is located on Jl Malioboro 16 (☎56-6000). The staff os helpful. It gives out maps ad calnder of evets and other tourist literature. The Tourism Board is at Jl. Malioboro No. 56,Yogyakarta 55213,, Tel. (62-274) 582628, 587486, fax: (62-274) 565437 Provincial Culture and Tourism Office is at Jl. Cendana 11, Tel. (62-274) 562628, 589350; Website: yogyes.com
Yogyakarta Culture and Entertainment
Javanese culture is very much alive in Yogyakarta. Gamelon music, classical dance, wayang kulit leather puppetry; all of the things for which Javanese culture is famous are found here expressed in their highest form here. There also many lovely buildings to visit as well and renowned craft shops that offer silver sculptures, pottery, leather shadow puppets and of course Batik. A good way to get around town is by "among," a four wheeled horse drawn cart. The city is home to more than 40 colleges.
Yogya is the center of refined Javanese arts such as court dances but is also at the forefront of modern art and performing art. The city is also a center of traditional textile production, particularly batik. The distinctive batik of Yogya uses the basic colors of brown, indigo and white with in geometric designs. Many young artists of Yogya have also embraced the modern art of batik-painting. Yogya is also known for its leather and wooden puppets crafts used for traditional shadow-puppet performances, as well as wooden puppet performances (wayang golek) that are used to act out ancient epics which contain popular but deep philosophical thoughts and teachings. [Source: Cities of the World, Gale Group Inc., 2002, adapted from a 2001 U.S. State Department report]
Wayang kulit performances are held at the Sasano Hinggo and Sono-Budoyo Museum and a few other places. Wayang Golek is also performed. Check with the tourist office for places and times. Dances can be seen at the the Purawsuta amusement area; Ndalem Pujokusman; and the Indonesian Institute of Arts. If you get the chance don’t miss the chance to watch a performance of the Ramayana at Prambanan, the famous 10th century temple outside of Yogyakarta.
Gamelon Performances in Yogyakarta are held at Kraton Yogyakarta (Royal Palace) on Sunday (with dancers) and Mondays and Wednesdays (rehearsals); Siswa Aming Beksa (Kraton Dance School) in the evening; Romo Sas; ISI (Institute Seni Indonesia), the Institute of Performing Art; Jalan Malioboro, the main shopping district; and Prambanan Temples on nights of the full moon in dry season from Mach to August.
Food and Restaurants in Yogyakarta
Throughout Java and Indonesia, Yogya is known for it’s authentic but reasonably priced Indonesian cuisine. Delightful snacks and foods including bakpia cookies, wingko babat and enting-enting kacang. The food is relatively mild and sweet in flavor. Watch out for sambal and chili-based dishes if you don’t like spicy food. There are many local 'warungs' (food stalls) that serve local foods around Malioboro road, the Bird Market and Water Castle Area and Beringharjo market, Yogyakarta's main market. Many high-end hotels in Yogya have high quality restaurants which serve a combination of modern Western food and traditional Yogya cuisine
Gudeg is one of Yogyakarta's specialties. This dish is made of young jackfruit simmered in coconut cream and spices is served with chicken, egg or tofu. Cow's inner skin, cooked until tender, usually accompanies gudeg with steamed rice. Most traditional restaurants in Yogyakarta sell this specialty. Locals will tell you that gudeg tastes best when eaten at sidewalk stalls in the evening. Other popular dishes from Yogya include: Ayam goreng (fried chicken simmered in coconut cream with pepper, onions and coriander), Nasi Langgi (Langgi Rice, is warm rice served with various side dishes), kipo (bite size snacks made of green colored tapioca dough filled with sweetened grated coconut, commonly sold in Kotagede) and Jadah Tempe, a sandwich of rice cake and sweet beancake found in Kaliurang.
Tea is a specialty of java, where the climate is perfect for growing it. The warm climate throughout the year also means that nothing is more refreshing than glass or even a a big pitcher of ice cold Javanese tea. A big cup of cold ginger Javanese tea usually costs only IDR 2,000. Wedang uwuh is a local drink whose literal translation is ‘rubbish drink’. Don’t be taken aback; it is actually a delicious combination of cloves, nutmeg, ginger and palm sugar. Restaurants all along Malioboro road serve refreshing shaved ice drinks with every imaginable tropical fruits in season as well as a variety of Indonesian, Chinese and Western dishes. For further information try the Yogyakarta's Dining Guide.
At night, the streets around Malioboro comes alive with merchants opening up tents serving all kinds of local cuisine. You need to sit down cross-legged in the tents, which the locals refer to as "lesehan". Enjoy your meal while taking in Malioboro's vibrant nightlife. If you wish to dine like royalty, the private home of the Sultan’s brother, Hadinegoro, is open for groups of 30 people and for special occasions. Here you will be served authentic royal food served only to the Sultans (for further information contact Vista Travel at Garuda Hotel). As a souvenir, you can bring back boxes of the famous bakpia for your family and close friends. Bakpia doesn't last long, though, so please ask the salespeople what expiration date is.
Shopping in Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta is famous for arts and crafts. There are plenty to choose from: batik clothings, silverwares, gold items, silver jewelry, potteries, wayang figurines made of cow's hide or wood. At the silver workshops in Kotagede you can pick up beautiful handmade jewelry, plates, vases and souvenirs and watch silversmiths practice their craft. Yogya silver distinguishes itself by its embossment and contrasting black on white silver. The best pieces are made of sterling silver. Kotagede produces beautiful silver tea sets, bracelets and necklaces and fine filigree brooches. At the Ngasem bird market birds and unfortunately exotic animals are on sale. Bring a backpack to store the items that you've bought. It's more environmental friendly than carrying things in plastic bags.
The most famous of handicrafts in Yogya is Javanese batik. Many factories produce traditional hand-drawn batik tulis as well as the cheaper stamped batik cap. You can buy material and get a tailor to create a custom made batik design for you but there is also plentiful ready-to-wear batik clothing on sale. In many factories visitors are welcome to view batik being made in the back of showrooms. Batik was declared a unique cultural heritage by the UNESCO in 2009. . There are batik tablecloths, sarongs, pillow cases, clothes (even batik ties!), paintings, and accessories. One of the best known Yogyakarta districts for batik is off Jl Tirtodipuran in the south. If you buy hand drawn batik, or even machine-printed ones make sure you wash it separately first, using lerak (available on this street) or mild detergent as it may run.
No visit to Yogyakarta is complete without experiencing Malioboro street. Rows of shops and outlets sell many kinds of souvenirs and clothing items. Located in the heart of Yogya, Malioboro is the city’s main street, and was once the ceremonial avenue for the Sultan to pass through on his way to and from the Kraton. Malioboro is the place to buy souvenirs such a jewelry, bags, keychains and posters. Shops and street vendors sell a variety of stuff at affordable prices and the quality especially with batik may be suspect. This street tends to be packed with locals and tourists, and occasionally thieves so take care with your belongings. For more exclusive items, visit stores such as Mirota in Malioboro Malioboro is the perfect place to use your bargaining skills; haggling over prices is expected.
You can get to Malioboro on foot or ride a becak (pedicab) or the ubiquitous four-wheeled horse-drawn carts called “andong”. The best way to take in the sights of Malioboro is on foot. Stalls and stores line up the streets. Malioboro is within walking distance of Stasiun Tugu (Tugu Railway Station). At night, the street comes alive with merchants opening up tents serving all kinds of local cuisine. You need to sit down cross-legged in the tents, which the locals refer to as "lesehan". Enjoy your meal while taking in Malioboro's vibrant nightlife.
Malioboro isn’t the only place to shop. The area around Vredenburg fort is now a center for arts and painting exhibitions. On the same side of the road is Beringharjo market, Yogya’s crowded main market, where you can buy batik and souvenirs at cheap prices. Entering into the market off the street and you enter into a different world. This is a place where tropical fruits are piled high, colorful batik is on display and everything from second hand car parts to bamboo baskets are on sale. As you navigate your way down the narrow aisles and hidden corners, beware of pickpockets and ‘guides’ who attach themselves to you.
At traditional markets and Malioboro, most of the items on sale are bargainable. When in doubt, ask if the wares are bargainable or not. Bargain at least half the price the seller offers first. If you're not certain, take a look around and ask for the similar item's prices, for comparison. If you have a travel guide from a travel agency, ask her/him to bargain things for you. If you're being offered things that do not interest you, be firm and say no.
Accommodation and Getting Around Yogyakarta
There is no shortage of accommodations options in Yogya. From five star luxury hotels to budget losmens, there is accommodation to suit every type of traveler. Yogya is used to international tourists and innumerable inns and hotels that cater to them. The Malioboro area offers wide selection of hotels and inns to suit all budgets here and ranging from bed and breakfasts to star hotels. Among the high-end hotels are the Sheraton Mustika Yogyakarta Resort and Spa. It's near the airport and has a large pool as well as gift shops, entertainment, and food. The Hyatt is another luxury hotel. Many hotels in nearby Yogya also have high quality restaurants where serving a combination of modern Western food and traditional Yogya cuisine
Yogyakarta is a small city. Some Yogyakartans consider two kilometers to be very far. Transportation options include walking, riding an andong (horse-drawn cart also called a or delman), and using the bus or other public transportation. There also taxi, minibuses and becaks (pronounced be-chak, a traditional three wheeled, pedal-powered cart also called a trishaw). Remember to negotiate the price before you start on your journey.
Try to avoid to much walking the middle of the day when it is really hot. If you want to visit interesting sites outside the city, it is best to hire a car with a driver or go on a tour. Some drivers offer you a city-tour for almost a whole day for US$ 20 or even less. Traditional horse-drawn carts known as andong can be found in the tourist areas of Yogya. These are a relaxed and romantic way to take in the sights. and horse-drawn carts provide transport. Horse-drawn carts follow fixed routes; trishaws will go to specific locations. If you know how to ride a motorbike you can hire one in the city but keep in mind a lot of tourist get into accidents.
Taxi's can be hailed on the street or arranged through your hotel. Buses are the major form of public transportation however their hours of operation can be limited. If you take a bus beware of pickpockets. Bicycles and motorcycles can be hired using a nominal fee
According to ASIRT: “ Increasing traffic volume is a factor in rising road crash rates and air pollution levels. Traffic jams are common. The public transport fleet is increasing 13 percent and private car ownership 28 percent annually. The traffic mix is shifting from non-motorized to motorized vehicles.Conditions of roads in the city and surrounding province: 68.10 percent-well maintained, 28.75 percent-good condition, and 3.15 percent-poorly maintained.” [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT): PDF, 2008]
Getting to Yogyakarta
Tugu train station close to Malioboro Street has several inexpensive express trains to and from various destinations in Java everyday. The is good express service between Jakarta and Surabaya. Prambanan Express (Pramex) train connects Yogyakarta with Solo.
Yogya is also easily accessible by road. Buses also operate regularly to Borobudur and Prambanan Temples. Buses provide intra-city and inter-city transport all over Java. Buses are often overcrowded. The main bus stations are Umbulharjo, Rejowinangun, Terban. Semarang and Solo can also be reached by train or inter-city buses from Jakarta or Surabaya.
There are numerous daily flights to Yogya from Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, Medan, Makassar, Balikpapan, Banjarmasin, Denpasar in Bali, Pontianak and Batam. Yogyakarta is also served by AirAsia from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The train service from Jakarta and Bandung to Yogyakarta takes approximately 8-12 hours, Some travel agents and rental cars also offer trips to Yogya from big cities with a reasonable fee. The journey will take longer than 12 hours from Jakarta or Bandung.
The Achmad Yani Airport in Semarang is internationally accessible from Singapore via Batavia Air, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia via AirAsia. Domestic flights are available from Jakarta, Surabaya, Denpasar, Bandung, Banjarmasin, and other smaller cities around Indonesia. Flights to Solo are available internationally from Singapore via Silk Air, and domestically from Jakarta, Balikpapan and Banjarmasin. Garuda Indonesia, Mandala, Merpati Nusantara Airlines and a number of domestic airlines fly to Yogya.. AirAsia is the first international airline that flies direct from Kuala Lumpur to Yogyakarta. From any of these three airports, you can catch a cab direct to where you want to go.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( indonesia.travel ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020