As impressive as Machu Picchu, the ancient Buddhist temple of Borobudur in Indonesia is regarded as one of the world's great wonders. But did you know there was so much to discover nearby?
Conceived as a Buddhist vision of the cosmos in stone, Borobudur sits on a hill looking across misty plains to the mountains beyond.
It is the world’s largest Buddhist temple, made from over two million stones. It features exquisite reliefs carved in stone, as well as its famous bell-shaped stupas, each containing statues of Buddha gazing serenely into the distance.
Sunrises and sunsets are extremely special here – the temple silhouetted against an orange streaked sky is an extraordinary sight. There is a surcharge to visit at these times, but it’s worth the price.
Consider visiting during Vesak, a Buddhist Festival held here every May. When night falls, a procession of saffron-robed monks walk five miles from Mendut Temple to Borobudur, carrying candles. The temple is illuminated especially, and after an evening of chanting and praying, the monks release candle-lit lanterns into the night.
Where Borobudur is Indonesia’s largest Buddhist temple, Prambanan is the country’s largest Hindu temple.
Built during the ninth century, the World Heritage Site is home to the ruins of 244 temples. The most impressive are a cluster of intricately carved candis (towers), hewn from grey stone, that soar above the lush green plains that surround them.
Dedicated to the three greatest gods in Hindu mythology - Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma - the complex sits to the east of Yogyakarta and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. It’s a large site, so consider hiring a bike to visit the outer ruins.
There’s also a discount on entrance if you buy a combined Prambanan/Borobudur ticket.
Yogyakarta is the cultural heart of Java. It's also a royal city: a sultan still lives in the historic kraton (palace) in the city's heart.
It is here that ancient traditions and arts are cherished and preserved. Java’s hippest new cafes, restaurants and galleries make it the perfect base for a well-rounded visit to Borobudur and the surrounding attractions.
The Kraton should be top of your list. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to catch a gamelan concert of a traditional dance performance. Then head into the surrounding kampung (neighbourhood) - a warren of narrow streets and old houses - for a taste of old Yogyakata, including delicious street food from the hawkers along Tugu Street.
The locals call Dieng Plateau the ‘Abode of the Gods’, and it isn't hard to see why. An intriguing landscape of lush terraced fields, coloured lakes, sulphur springs and geysers, it is reminiscent of Yellowstone National Park in the US - but with the odd ancient Hindu temple dotting the landscape.
The area is best explored on foot, with a number of hiking trails taking in the most famous sights, including Sikidang Crater, where you can see bubbling mud and hot springs, and small villages with colourful markets and friendly, if inquisitive, locals.
The people who live here regard the plateau as supernatural, a place of natural magic. No doubt it will bewitch you, too.
Jomblang is one of the biggest caves in Indonesia, and exploring it is one of the most adventurous things you can do in this part of the country. Surrounded by thick forest and 60m deep, you enter by being lowered in by rope, using a trolley set up at the lip of the entrance.
The cave can only be visited as part of a tour, so you’ll have experienced caving instructors on hand to keep you safe. After you've been lowered into the cave and scrambled to the assembly point, take a moment to look back. Light streams through the entrance, creating an otherworldly sight that locals call the ‘Light of Heaven’.
Deeper in the cave, you’ll discover a labyrinth of connecting caves, beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, and an underground river. Some tours offer the chance to tube along the river's crystal clear waters.
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