For tourists exploring Indonesia, the laid back city of Yogyakarta in Central Java is not to be missed. Ruled by the Sultan of Yogyakarta and steeped in Javanese culture, this assured and bustling city thrives in the shadow of the countries most active volcano. It is a perilous existence, yet the city continues to attract students and tourists from all over the world.
Places to Stay
Most of the popular tourists hotels in Yogyakarta are centered on Malioboro road. Even though I'd normally steer clear of tourist hotspots, this part of the city has a nice feel to it and the best nightlife, a perfect combination. Regardless of where you decide to stay there are a huge variety of hotels to choose from in Yogyakarta and new places keep on popping up all of the time. So whether you’re on a tight budget or you want to rent a penthouse suite, there’s something here for everyone. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that during the holiday season Yogyakarta gets packed, so it’s worth booking ahead of time.
Getting around Yogyakarta is pretty easy. The city also has a great public transportation system with nice air-conditioned buses, but this is not my preferred option. Personally I would advise renting a motorbike, which costs about $5 a day. Granted this is not the ideal solution for a family! For short distances you can also get a skinny old man to cycle you around while you sit in the front of his rickshaw (it's actually quite romantic if you're travelling as a couple).
The Best Things To Do
Shopping, famous historical monuments, beautiful beaches and yes, the chance to climb the active volcano are all great things to do in Yogyakarta. Of these activities, only two of them can be done within the city limits, but all of them are within easy travelling distance.
The most famous shopping mall in Yogyakarta is Malioboro, a corruption of the name Marlborough (a reference to the English Duke and not the American cigarettes), which Indonesians had difficulty pronouncing, but not smoking. Stalls spill out of the mall onto the high-street making this a bit of a shopping district and a great place to find bargains. If you’re looking for things to do in Yogyakarta and you want to buy some handicraft and other goods then you can’t go wrong with Bantul market, which is on the way to Parangtritis beach. The market and indeed the village are famous locally for the numerous artists that live here.
There are so many temples in and around Yogyakarta that it would be like sitting through a history lecture if I listed them all. Suffice to say the most famous of them are Borobodur and Prambanan. Both temples predate the arrival of Islam to the area. Prambanan is the older of the two and dedicated to the Hindu religion, while Borobodur is one for the Buddhists. Of the two sites I personally prefer Prambanan, which has slightly fewer tourists and more shade. For those of you who want to make a schedule of things to do in Yogyakarta, I can tell you that these two sites can be done in a day.
Everyone, including the guidebooks will tell you to go to Parangtritis; it's the Javanese equivalent of Bondi beach, except everyone is covered up and nobody is swimming. My advice is to miss this place and head for the little known Ngrenehan beach. Situated in a cove, this is the only beach around Yogyakarta where it is actually safe to swim. Make sure to try the fresh barbecue fish at any of the small huts near the waters edge. The food here is simple and delicious.
Climb Mount Merapi
Depending on how fit you are the climb will take you anywhere from three to six hours plus. The way down on the other hand took me just forty minutes and made me glad I have long legs. If you do make the journey, try and overnight in the cave at the top. It's perfectly sheltered, comes complete with a furry friend and offers you an incredible view of the valley.
Places to Eat
After weeks or months on the road you might just want a taste of home. If pizza and pasta sounds tempting to you then the best place to go in Yogyakarta is Nanna Mia. This place is a hit with the tourist crowd and has been busily expanding over the years since I first lived in Yogyakarta. If this doesn't tickle your fancy then no need to worry. The street is packed with small restaurants offering everything from vegan dishes to tender chicken kebabs with peanut sauce.
Things to Drink
Coffee Luwak is the caffeinated equivalent of gold. In a strange twist of human nature, people pay a lot of money to drink coffee beans that have been defecated by a shrew like animal (a Civet to be precise). Personally I put it down to a case of the Emperors New Clothes and some clever advertising. Still, if you're interested in having a cup of this delicacy then head to Malioboro Mall. The cafe at the top offers a great view of the city and cups Coffee Luwak for the bargain price of US$10. If you fancy something more down to earth, head round the corner to the Bintang Cafe, which is one of the cities most popular drinking spots.
Best kept Secret
I was in two minds about sharing the location of my favorite restaurant in Yogyakarta. In four years of living in Indonesia I have never once met another foreigner in this restaurant, which shows you how much of a secret this place is. The most famous traditional food in Yogyakarta is Gudek, a dish that takes 12 hours to prepare. While you can find Gudek just about anywhere, the best place I’ve found is a little traditional home restaurant on Jalan Profesor Dr. Soeporno. The restaurant has no name and only opens at 10 in the evening and closes as soon as it sells out, which happens very quickly. This might make it sound like you’re going to have problems finding it, but if you stop anyone on the street and ask for Gudek then they’ll point you in the right direction.
About the Author: Nico Prins is a traveller who realized that life waits for no one. He is a blogger who wants to explore the world and a journalist who works on TV to make ends meet. You can keep up with his adventures on A Travellers Journey.