Best known as a base for exploring the magnificent archaeological site of Borobudur, Yogyakarta (affectionately known as ‘Jogja’) has a lot to offer in its own right. Bursting at the seams with history, art and tradition, it is the colourful, soulful centre of Java and the cultural heart of Indonesia. The city is presided over by its sultan, who has been at the helm since Yogyakarta was the revolutionary capital during the Dutch occupation. Today, locals are fiercely protective of their traditional ways of life, with the Javanese court Kraton at the centre. There is plenty of exquisite architecture throughout the city and the winding narrow lanes are great for ambling on foot or by bike. Wherever it takes you, you will never be too far from a fascinating display of local art, dance, poetry or theatre that seems to shape the daily lives of Yogyakartans - even public transport takes traditional form in the twee andong, or horse-drawn carts.
Uncover the Javanese culture at Ullen Sentalu, an interesting museum providing an understanding of the culture, royal history and art as told through the accounts of ancient Javanese Princesses (and the odd king). For those excited by the local cuisine, Yogyakarta is the place to be as it is home to some of the most delicious food Indonesia has on offer. Don’t leave without trying Gudeg Jodja, a jackfruit based dish with rice, chicken and sambal.
Just out of the city, at a towering 2,911m, lies Mount Merapi (or ‘Fire Mountain’), Indonesia’s most active volcano that, despite its destructive nature, is still home to many small villages. If conditions permit in the dry season (between April and September), it makes for a great but strenuous hiking adventure, particularly if you make it up the top for sunrise to admire the spectacular view and blistering golden rays.
Aside from the famous Borobudur complex, closer to the city you’ll find the largest Hindu temple site dedicated to Shiva in Indonesia, Prambanan, with some 244 temples. While it doesn’t have the same level of fame as Borobudur, and still hasn’t been restored to its former glory, it is undoubtedly a magnificent piece of architecture. Set on a lush green plateau amongst volcanic peaks, with the sculptures and reliefs on the main Shiva temple being some of the best examples of Hindu art around, it most definitely warrants a day trip from Yogyakarta.