Borobodur Temple

How To Visit Borobodur Temple

Introduction

The story of Borobodur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple, on the island of Java in Indonesia is one of volcanoes, earthquakes, lost temples in the jungle, vandalism, looting, and rescue.

Built in around 858 C.E., Borobodur was abandoned sometime in the 1400s. Islam came to Indonesia in 1500 and the largest Buddhist temple in the world laid buried by volcanic ash and covered by dense jungle for centuries.

Buddha statue at Borobodur Temple

Borobodur was built between two volcanoes and two rivers on the Kedu Plain. Recent excavations of the ‘sacred plane’ have discovered a ritual relationship between two other Buddhist sites on the plain. The three temples are in a direct line to each other. This sacred geography is common in Buddhist Southeast Asia.

Location of the three Buddhist temple complexes including Borobodur
 Indon [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

For centuries myths continued to carry the memory of Borobodur and it was physically rediscovered by the British when they colonized Indonesia. Sir George Raffles sent an expedition out to have a look at the area in 1814, having heard rumors of the existence of a monument in the jungle. 200 trees were chopped down in order to reveal an amazing hidden Buddhist complex of clear spiritual significance and importance.

A misty morning at the Borobudur Temple with volcanoes in the background

The World’s Largest Buddhist Temple

Like all Buddhist temples, stupas, and pagodas, the story of creation and the order of the universe is represented physically in the architecture, dimensions, and arrangement of elements. Borobodur is unique in its size and also because of its origins and the reasons for its existence and its size are lost to us.

Borobodur temple is part of the sacred geography of this plain near Yogyakarta, enclosed by major geological formations such as volcanoes and rivers. Its architecture is “standard” Buddhist architecture, albeit on a gargantuan scale.

This UNESCO World Heritage Temple has:

  • The base
  • Carved stone reliefs: 1460 placed along the first four levels of galleries and another 1212 line the pathways. There are a further 160  hidden behind the structures that have been used to shore up the base of the Temple.
  • 72 latticed stupas, each containing a sitting Buddha statue
  • Buddha statues: 504
  • 4  galleries
  • 3 open-air upper terraces
  • Large central stupa at the apex of the Temple.

The Galleries and Reliefs

Reliefs at Borobodur Temple

The temple was designed by an architect and poet named Gunadharma. He designed a three-dimensional mandala, or map of the spiritual world or cosmos that is used for the purposes of meditation.

Buddhists visit this site in a particular order that is similar to how all pilgrimages of Buddhist sites occur.

Beginning at the base, Buddhists follow a particular path. Walking meditation is an early form of meditation that Buddhist monks use. The rhythm and repetition of steps make it easier to meditate when you are first starting out.

reliefs at Borobodur Temple

Of course, the idea of a pilgrimage – of walking a long way past and to holy sites – occurs in many cultures and Buddhism is no exception.

Gallery Level at Borobodur Temple

Understanding the concept of following a path towards Enlightenment is key to understanding the architectural design of Borobodur Temple. The center of the temple represents the center of the world (the axis mundi). Buddhist pilgrims meditate by walking through the open passage around each of the tiers of the Temple and along the galleries, climbing higher with each rotation. This process of walking in a circular motion around Buddhist monuments is called circumambulation.

The open-air passages radiate out from the center of the Temple and movement around each platform brings you back to the passage and another set of stairs to climb. The goal is to reach higher states of consciousness as you meditate your way ever higher along the path to the top of the Temple and finally to reach Enlightenment. (It also gives you a better view from the top…)

The Upper Terraces

Borobodur Temple Upper Terraces

Eventually, you emerge onto the three open-air upper terraces and here you metaphorically emerge from the darkness and into the light. The dark-light spectrum is a central theme in many religions and symbolizes in Buddhism the emergence of higher states of consciousness on the path to Enlightenment.

Borobodur Temple Upper Terraces

The Central Stupa

After these open-air terraces – my favorite place at Borobodur – you move upwards to the central stupa – the center of the Buddhist cosmos, flanked by Buddhas. From up here, you can understand the physical setting of the site on a plain between volcanoes and rivers.

Borobodur temple monk in perforated stupa

The Most Visited Site in Indonesia

More volcanic eruptions, more vandalism, and ongoing sagging of the structure due to water damage have meant the site has been closed at times for urgent repairs. It has been reclaimed as a Buddhist space and monks use the site on Buddhist holy days.

Now Borobodur is the most visited tourist destination in Indonesia. It had been on my bucket list for a long time. The statues of monks in their stone latticed stupas and the cylindrical arrangement of the stupas around the tiered galleries bedecked with Buddhist stone reliefs are worth the taxi or bus ride from Yogyakarta. It is certainly worth visiting if you are staying on the island of Java or in Jakarta and there are some high-quality tours that make the journey simple.

Borobudur Temple

Many tourists also visit the nearby magnificent Hindu temple of Prambanan (built in the tenth century). Below I describe my favorite tours of Borobodur and of Prambanan and even include a guided bicycle tour around Borobodur village! There is a nearby cruise ship port and there is even a well-reviewed tour of Borobodur that leaves and returns from Semarang Port.

NOTE: There are elephants chained at Borobodur Temple. The administrators of the site get inundated by horrified travelers expressing their outrage at the evident mistreatment of these wonderful creatures. Please don’t ride them.

Best Time of Day to Visit Borobodur Temple: Sunrise, Sunset, or During the Day?

There are a number of tours that will take you to a nearby mountain to view the sunrise over Borobodur Temple and others that will take you to the Temple itself for early admission (see below for my recommendations). Many travelers believe sunrise is the most magical time to see Borobodur Temple. I personally prefer 6 am in the morning when the humidity is still low, the sun is rising and the crowds haven’t yet arrived.

Borobodur becomes crowded in the Indonesian holidays and during the dry and cool season. I have visited in the middle of the day during the humid wet season and it was not crowded but it was hot!

If you wish to see the site at sunset, much of the humidity of the day is beginning to wane and it is a popular time and a little less crowded than the sunrise tours.

Where Is Borobodur Temple Located?

Map of Borobodur

Borobodur Temple sits beside the village of Borobodur on the Kedu Plain, approximately 60-90 minutes southwest from the city of Yogyakarta, on the island of Java, Indonesia. You might see the word “candi” on maps of the area. The word “candi” means temple in Javanese and it is pronounced “chandi”.

The Kedu Plain contains a number of historic ancient Temples and is still intensively farmed with rice and bananas.

How To Get To Borobodur Temple?

View of Borobodur Temple

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It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s sometimes raining cats and dogs. Traffic is a nightmare. But it’s totally worth it. There was a time when I would just hop a bus (or 5 if that’s what it took). But look, save yourself the hassle. Get an air-conditioned taxi for US$16 each way. It makes no sense to visit any site in the tropics in the middle of the day! Or better still, think about a private or semi-private tour that you can book before you arrive in Indonesia. It’s also possible to purchase the ticket before you arrive in Indonesia.

If you’re like my younger self though, knock yourself out with the bus system.

The nearest town to Borobodur Temple is Muntilan. For accommodation options close to the Temple and in Yogyakarta, see below.

Hotel in Yogyakarta with Borobodur Temple water feature

Public bus is the cheapest way to get from Yogyakarta to Borobodur. In the north of the city is the Jombor terminal. It takes approximately 1 and a half hours to get to Borobodur Temple. The first bus is at 6 am so you will miss the sunrise.

My preferred way of getting between Yogyakarta and Borobodur (and Prambanan) is a private car and driver. The Yogyakarta: Private Car Charter with Driver is a personal chauffeur in a quality air-conditioned car for 10 hours for only US$45 for up to five people. You are picked up and delivered back again to your hotel in Yogyakarta. This means the day is yours and you can see Borobodur village, its back roads, and fields, Mount Merapi, ancient ruins, and eat some wonderful Javanese food for a very low price. You need to know where to go and what to see. If you aren’t sure about this, there are some great Borobodur Tour options listed below.

Minivans are arranged by tour agencies in Yogyakarta for about US$6 per person for a return trip to Borobodur Temple.

How To Choose The Best Tour of Borobodur Temple

In the past few years, tour companies have begun to advertise sunrise tours of Borobodur. It has the advantage of being slightly cooler than the middle of the day. If you love a good sunrise over a monument, there are a number of tours I recommend below.

Other considerations include the time it takes to get to and from the Temple and the ability to pack more into a day of sightseeing if you take a longer tour.

Best Half-Day Private Tour of Borobodur Temple

Borobodur Temple Half-Day Private Tour

This tour is 6 hours in total and includes pick-up and return transfers from your hotel in Yogyakarta. It is a highly rated tour with excellent reviews. You arrive at Borobodur Temple and can remain at the Temple for about three hours (until it is time to return to Yogyakarta) or you can choose to visit the nearby Mendut and Pawon Temples as well.

Best for: 

  • Travelers wanting to see Borobodur Temple by a quality tour company with English guides but without spending a whole day on the excursion.
  • Travelers wanting to be picked up and returned to their hotel

What’s included: Admission ticket to Borobodur and return hotel transfers

Not included: A local guide at the Temple

Check prices, reviews and availability here

Best Full-Day Private Tour of Borobodur and Prambanan Temples

Borobodur Sunrise & Prambanan Full-Day Private Tour

This tour is 12 hours in total and includes pick-up and return transfers from your hotel in Yogyakarta. You arrive at Borobodur Temple in time for sunrise and then spend three hours at the site. The transfer to Prambanan Temple takes between 90 minutes and two hours and then you have two hours at the site. There is a stop for lunch before you arrive back at your hotel between 1 and 2 pm.

Best for: 

  • Travelers wanting to see the two most iconic ancient sites in Indonesia in one trip by a quality tour company with English guides.
  • Travelers wanting to be picked up and returned to their hotel

What’s included: breakfast, entrance fees to Borobodur and Prambanan, return transfers

Not included: A local guide at the Temples, lunch

Check prices, reviews and availability here

Best Full-Day Tour of Borobodur Temple Including Merapi Volcano Excursion

Borobodur Sunrise, Merapi Volcano & Prambanan Full-Day Tour

This tour is 12 hours in total and includes pick-up and return transfers from your hotel in Yogyakarta. You arrive at Borobodur Temple in time for sunrise and then explore the site on your own. You then transfer to Mount Merapi where you have a jeep tour of the volcano. There is then a transfer to Prambanan Temple and again, you explore the site by yourself.

Best for: 

  • Travelers wanting to see the two most iconic ancient sites in Indonesia in one trip by a quality tour company with English guides.
  • Travelers wanting to see the sunrise over Borobodur Temple.
  • Travelers wanting to visit one of the world’s most active volcano on a jeep tour.
  • Travelers wanting to be picked up and returned to their hotel

What’s included: Entrance fees to Borobodur and Prambanan, jeep rental at Mount Merapi return transfers

Not included: A local guide at the Temples, lunch, and dinner.

Check prices, reviews and availability here

Best Full-Day Shore Excursion Tour from Semarang Port

From Semarang Port: Borobodur Private Shore Excursion

This tour is 10 hours in total and includes pick-up and return transfers from your cruise ship berth at Semarang Port. This tour company has excellent reviews and guarantees that you will be returned to the Port on time. The tour generally picks up from the Port at 8 am and returns by 4 pm but this schedule can be changed once the tour is booked if there are time changes required.

A driver will hold up a nameplate containing your name at the arrival gate of the Port. Your transfer is a scenic route through rice fields to arrive at Borobodur Temple. The distance is 100 km and takes approximately 2 hours.

After exploring Borobodur Temple the driver takes you to a restaurant for lunch before returning you to Semarang Port.

Best for: 

  • Cruise ship passengers wanting to visit Borobodur Temple without the hassle of finding transportation there and back.
  • Travelers wanting to be picked up and returned to their hotel

What’s included: Entrance fees to Borobodur, return transfers from your cruise ship

Not included: A local guide at the Temples, lunch

Check prices, reviews and availability here

Best Guided Bicycle Tour of Borobodur Town

Yogyakarta: Private Guided Bike Tour

This tour is  1.5 – 3 hours in total and includes pick-up and return transfers from your hotel in Yogyakarta or in the Borobodur area. You have the choice of riding through Borobodur village or through the Yogyakarta countryside. If you are cycling around Borobodur village the transfer time is 90 minutes in each direction.

You can cycle or take a horse cart and you can walk through the villages meeting locals as well. This is a great short add-on to give you a sense of everyday life in Indonesia.

Best for: 

  • Travelers wanting to see the two most iconic ancient sites in Indonesia in one trip by a quality tour company with English guides.
  • Travelers wanting a short add-on to their visit to Borobodur who would like to see a little of the culture and of Indonesian life around Borobodur.
  • Travelers wanting to be picked up and returned to their hotel.

What’s included: bike and horse cart rental fees, snacks, return transfers

Not included: Helmets

Check prices, reviews and availability here

Borobodur Temple Admission Ticket Only

Borobodur Temple Admission Ticket

Best for:

  • If you prefer to make your way to Borobodur via a taxi, car, and driver or public transport then pre-purchasing a Skip-the-line Admission Ticket for Borobodur is also possible.

Check prices and reviews here

Where to Stay in Borobodur

This is a part of the world that has dramatically increased the number and standard of its hotels. There are several luxury hotels and resorts near to Borobodur. Very few are within walking distance of Borobodur Temple.

Amanjiwo – just wow! A perfect 10/10 on all reviews. A five-star air-conditioned hotel with a pool and beautiful grounds and views within walking distance of Borobodur Temple. And, with airport transfers available. Just perfect.

Plataran Borobodur – incredible views and serene and elegant space, both indoors and outdoors. Villas with private pools are available in this quality five-star hotel.

Plataran Heritage – light, airy, elegant with lovely views, a great four-star hotel.

Jolan Jalan Homestay is a three-star bed and breakfast with perfect reviews. It ranges from a tent to a deluxe bedroom with wi-fi. Car and bicycle rental are onsite. It has clean rooms and is light and airy and very inexpensive.

Check prices, reviews and availability of all Borobodur accommodation

Where to Stay in Yogjakarta

Yogyakarta is a great city. Central Javanese food has flavors that are slightly sweeter than the rest of the island. Spicy chicken curry with coconut rice is reason enough to spend a night in Yogyakarta to see the most of Borobodur and Prambanan Temples.

Hyatt Regency Yogyakarta – this is my choice in Yogyakarta and the five-star hotel I prefer. It feels Indonesian and it has beautiful gardens and still has the excellent facilities of the Hyatt Regency brand. I always enjoy staying here and it’s easy to get a taxi organized from here to Borobodur.

The Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta by Sofitel is a close second and an elegant find. It lacks the large grounds of the Hyatt Regency but it has the most beautiful guest rooms in Yogyakarta.

Satoria Hotel Yogyakarta is a very affordable and well-reviewed four-star hotel with a lovely rooftop pool area.

Jogja Village is a charming three-star very affordable hotel with wonderful outdoor areas, pool, and bar.

Check prices, reviews and availability of all Yogyakarta accommodation

Links and Further Information

  •  Get Your Guide Borobodur travel activities are here
  •  It’s important to know what you’re eating when you travel, so read my post on Indonesian Food: Culture through Food in Java.
  • Visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia is an unmissable part of any trip to Southeast Asia. Read my comprehensive guide to Angkor Wat here and if you’re planning a trip to Thailand, you can read about the Khmer Empire’s most important outpost, Phimai, here.
  • Visiting Bagan? Click on my ultimate itinerary for one, two or three days in the largest archaeological site in the world, including a Bagan Map for each day: Bagan Itinerary: Best of Bagan Temples in 1, 2 and 3 Days
  • See all of my posts on Myanmar here
  • More detailed information on how to book transport, airfares, accommodation, and travel insurance is available on my Travel Resources page.

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How to visit Borobodur Temple

24 thoughts on “How To Visit Borobodur Temple”

    1. Hi Karen, it’s great to visit somewhere in Southeast Asia that has been restored well and the government has big plans to keep making it stable and secure!

  1. Very good guide. Thanks for giving ideas based on the amount of time we have in Borobudur. We haven’t planned our trip yet and might be doing it as part of a cruise.

    1. thanks Amy. I think the cruise option is great – so much cheaper than booking a shore excursion when you’re already on the ship!

  2. Fascinating stuff, especially about circumambulation. I use a walking meditation to clear my head after hours on the computer – getting outside, walking uphill – I’m not surprised that it is an ancient practice.

    1. Thanks Annie! I began to use it when I learned that monks in Myanmar use it as the first form of meditation because its easier than doing it seated in an uncomfortable position for long periods.

    1. Thanks Lauren! I try and make them all that detailed :). I hope that by drawing attention to the elephants it might eventually get the Borobodur site managers to stop the practice. It’s a wonderful easy going and happy part of the world – I hope you do get there soon!

    1. Thanks Larch! I’ve also seen a day-trip from Bali to Borobodur for the time-poor but a ferry is the best kind of island slow-travel!

  3. What a shame that such a spiritual place houses such an abhorrent practice with the elephants. Almost don’t want to go because it. Still a beautiful place. kx

    1. Hi Karen, yes, Myanmar’s views on animal rights are pretty awful and it’s unfortunate that there are so many wonderful and rare animals in the Myanmar jungles and forests. The illegal animal trade to China has been occurring largely unchecked for decades 🙁

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