During my initial research for the Yogyakarta trip, one thing kept me up at night: could I visit the UNESCO sites of Borobudur and Prambanan in one day? Well, yes. Just bear in mind a teeny tiny logistical issue in your planning.
Logistics: Borobudur is located North of the city centre, roughly 1.5 hours from the Phoenix Hotel, along the major road to Surakata. Again, this is all subject to traffic conditions, as the roads can get congested for no apparent reason sometimes, and it narrows from dual-lane to single-lane carriageway halfway through your journey.
Prambanan is located East of the city centre, past the airport. On a good day, particularly in the morning, you can get there within 30 minutes from the Phoenix Hotel. The road is mostly dual-carriage all the way, so that makes life simple.
Kraton Yogyakarta is just south of the commercial core, a 15 minute becak ride from the Phoenix Hotel.
Opening hours: Borobudur is one of those famous UNESCO sites where you wake up at an absurd hour just to watch the sunrise. For those with a sunrise ticket, you get in an hour before everyone else. Expect to pay a premium for this privilege. For normal ticket holders, you get in at 0700. The site closes at 1800, with last entry at 1700.
Prambanan opening hours? Gates open at 0700, close at 1800 with last entry at 1700 for sunset.
Kraton Yogyakarta is only open in the morning, between 0800 to 1200, so you are stuck with a morning palace stroll.
Best times? Personally, I like to avoid the crowds, so I like mornings. I went to Borobudur right after I got back from climbing Mt Merapi at 1130, so I got in just as the crowds were at their mid-afternoon peak. That said, most head straight to the top terrace, so the side terraces as you ascend the ‘mountain’ are quiet.
I went to Prambanan right after breakfast, getting in at the site around 0800. It was absolutely perfect. Very few people, and I could feel the forlorn majesty of the place, hopping from temple to temple to right the right angle to frame Mt Merapi amidst the Hindu shrines.
Having squeezed in Prambanan in the first half of the morning, I managed to get to the Keraton by around 1000, just in time for the Monday Gamelan performance. Best time? Check schedules for the cultural performances. Mid- to late-morning is best. Nothing like listening to hauntingly beautiful gamelan music as you stroll through an early 19th century Javanese palace.
Weather? Morning in Prambanan was crisp. Mid-afternoon in Borobudur was bearable. Then again, I went during the rainy season in end-January so that may have affected my experience.
Recommendation? Borobudur in the morning, for the sunset and to avoid a big chunk of the crowd, and quickly head down to Prambanan after. You will be spending part of the day in a car, so make sure you get a comfy ride.
Or: you could do Borobudur individually on one late afternoon, when the crowds apparently get thin, and then do Prambanan and the Kraton the next morning.
Regardless of your options, just bear in mind that you can only do the Kraton Yogyakarta in the morning.
Verdict: Could a Yogyakarta Quickie be done? Well, yes. Suggested itinerary if you are really short on time and only have 1 night in Yogyakarta is as follows:
Sunrise at Borobudur, then head out to the Keraton by mid-morning (factor in the 2-hour drive).
Race down to Prambanan after lunch (with the 45-minute drive), and if you are so inclined, board your plane right after for an evening flight.
That way, you’re heading north, back to the city and then east towards the airport.
I usually wouldn’t recommend it, unless you are very strict with a 1-1.5 hour visit to the sites.
Borodudur: IDR 325,000
Prambanan: IDR 252,000
Combi (Covers both Borobudur and Prambanan): IDR 420,000
Keraton Yogyakarta: IDR 12,500 (there is an additional camera charge of IDR 3,000)
Jason is a world traveller and avid seeker of high perches, on a mission to capture the unique experiences that makes destinations iconic.