When we told people that we were heading to Yogyakarta, it was pretty much an exercise in the 5 W’s you learn in primary school. Where? When? Why? What are you going to do? Who’s going- are you taking bubs too?
Well, to explain our seemingly odd choice of holiday destination, my family had booked a trip to Bali for my Dad’s 60th birthday celebrations. Yogyakarta, or Jogja as it is more affectionately know, is just a hop, skip and a jump away. There was the allure of ancient temples and stunning natural sights waiting to be explored, not to mention a city with a reputation for being more youthful, arty and innovative than its neighbours, owing to the many university campuses situated here.
Like every destination we’ve visited in Indonesia so far, Jogja has its own distinct feel and some wonderfully friendly people. We definitely weren’t disappointed with our choice to spend 5 nights here and will return in the future when little miss is old enough to do some of the more adventurous stuff. But here’s what we managed to get up to with a toddler in tow..
See & Do
Borobudur Temple is the largest Buddhist structure in the world and a sight to behold. It is believed that the temple was built in the 8th century and took around 75 years to build. The scale and detail is beautiful, as are the views from the top. Little miss loved pointing out the animals in the stone carvings that lined the lower levels.
Many people visit Borobudur at sunrise as this offers some amazing photo opportunities. But, if like us, you don’t fancy dragging yourselves out of bed that early, 7.30 a.m. is a good arrival time. You’ll beat the tour buses and be done before the heat of the day sets in. It’s still hot though, so be sure to bring a hat, sunscreen and water with you.
Unless you have your own transport, you will need to arrange a driver to take you to the temples at least one day in advance. Arrange a private car if you prefer flexibility when traveling with a toddler, but there are plenty of group tours to pick from if you would like to cut costs or have older children.
When you arrive at Borobudur ask for a combo ticket. This will get you into both Borobudur Temple and Prambanan Temple at a reduced rate, but this isn’t advertised at the ticket desk. The ticket is valid for two days so you can split up your sightseeing if that works better for you.
As with most attractions in Jogja, it is best to visit on a weekday when it is less crowded. Lastly, please be respectful and wear conservative clothing that covers your knees and shoulders. If you don’t, you’ll likely be asked to hire a sarong to wear.
Approximately 90 mins south-east of Borobudur sits Prambanan Temple. Its imposing presence is amazing, similar to seeing Angkor Wat for the first time. The sheer size of the Hindu temples within this complex is very impressive. The architecture is quite different from Borobudur. For the kids, there is a miniature train, eagles, owls, deer and one random cassowary to see after walking around the temples. Of course, little miss didn’t see any of this- she was fast asleep by this point.
If you are a history buff and are keen to explore all the temples within the Prambanan complex, you may wish to hire a guide and break up this excursion over two days. There is also the option to visit in the afternoon and stick around for the Ramayana Ballet, which is performed on the grounds of Prambanan Temple each evening.
Sri Gethuk Waterfall & Rencang Kencono Cave
Get out of town and into the country-side. Approximately 1 hour south-east of Jogja is this beautiful cascading waterfall. While not on par with some others in neighbouring Bali, it is still a nice peaceful spot to visit and cool off. You have the option to catch a boat up the river or like us, you can just enjoy the 10 minute stroll (beware there’s some steep, sometimes slippery stairs).
Want to visit the most random badmington court in Jogja while you’re here? You’ve got it! Just next door to the waterfall carpark is the Rencang Kencono Cave, where locals are known to play a spot of badmington out of the sun’s fierce heat. It’s worth swinging by the check out the tree which grows through the opening to the cave. If you’re a bit more adventurous you can go further into the cave and look at where monks used to meditate or try and spot a bat or two.
Hutan Pinus, Imogiri
Insta photo op alert! Guys, this is where all the hip kids hang out. Who would’ve thought that a pine plantation would be such a hit. Hutan Pinus is a great place to escape the heat as it’s located up in the hills. There’s plenty of props for your insta photo shoot, like swings, hammocks, ladders and look outs. We combined it with our trip to Sri Gethul to cut down our transport costs. Avoid on the weekend if you can as it gets very busy. Oh, and be prepared for your little one to be one of the attractions.
Taman Sari Water Castle
A bit closer to home is Taman Sari, once a playground for the Sultan of Yogyakarta. In its heyday there were beautiful, fragrant gardens, swimming pools, meditation areas and secret tunnels. It’s easy, and a tad creepy, to imagine the Sultan watching his potential wives from the windows of the tower overlooking the main bathing area which is one of the few well preserved areas. The complex was once much larger than what we see today, having been damaged by war and earthquakes over the years. It is said to have been designed by a Portuguese architect who was shipwrecked and after learning Javanese found favour with the Sultan. Local legend also has it, he was assassinated after finishing the design so no-one would know of all the secret tunnels.
Be sure to hail a traditional Becak (bicycle tuk tuk) for a fun and informative ride there.
A short walk from Taman Sari is Sumur Gumuling, an underground mosque with amazing acoustics thanks to the circular design. Guys, you will get lost finding it, but don’t worry the locals are so used to this that they’ll point you in the right direction with a knowing smile. Make sure you keep your ticket from Taman Sari as it will be checked again here.
Inside the mosque are five staircases representing the five pillars of Islam. Be prepared to wait your turn if you’re after that famous stair instagram shot. This provides a nice opportunity to chat with other tourists and locals anyway.
Via Via Cafe
Our top pick for travelling Jogja with kids. This place has it all- a playground, bakery, fair trade store, high chairs, yoga studio, tour company and good, healthy meals to top it all off. If you’re on a budget swing by the bakery after 8 pm for half price baked goods- the cinnamon scrolls were one of our outing staples!
Milas Vegetarian Restaurant
A very close runner up was Milas. As you enter, you are welcomed by a garden with cabanas to settle in. They didn’t have high chairs but it didn’t really matter- there was still a playground, toys and a kids menu to keep bubs happy. And there was healthy vegetarian food and fresh juices to keep us happy too! We can recommend the gado gado and spicy eggplant- yum!
This simple cafe serves up vegetarian food like tempe burgers and Magelang noodles which I fell in love with while in Java. The staff are lovely and while there aren’t any high chairs for bubs they have benches which your little one can sit on. If they are anything like little miss they’ll spend the whole time entertaining the staff by dancing on the tiled floor anyway!
Rumah Makan Mbah Buyut
This warung is run by the most lovely local family and is cheap as chips- our becak back to the hotel cost us more than our dinner for three! And the food… We’re salivating just thinking about it. Needless to say, we visited multiple times. You can dine in, but bubs tends to get a bit cranky pants in the evening so we often just get our meals to go and have a nice ‘lil picnic back in the hotel room.
House of Sate
Probably the least child friendly restaurant we ate at.. But having said that, they had a high chair and were super nice and accommodating, cutting up a plate of fruit for little miss. Not surprisingly there was a variety of meat and vegetarian sate dishes on the offer including a very yummy gado gado.
Aglioo Pizza & Pasta
Cos sometimes you just need a break from the local food, no matter how good it is. And this is a pretty good place to get your fix. We sat upstairs on a couch and watched the world go by as we scoffed down a pretty delicious pizza. The only downside? The service was pretty slow- only an issue if you’re playing with fire (i.e. a toddler’s bed time) like we were that night.
We love a hotel with character and this place had tons of it. The lobby and rooms were beautifully styled and its centrepiece a gorgeous pool, provided sanctuary from the afternoon heat and city buzz. If you’ve got kids that need lots of room to burn off energy, it’s probably not the place for you, but for travel with a relatively chilled out under 2 it was perfect.
Extra Bits of Advice
Yogyakarta isn’t pronounced Yoga (*cough* Cherie *cough*) but Jog-jah.
The best time to visit Yogyakarta is during the dry season, April to October.
Don’t bother bringing a pram (unless you’re visiting multiple destinations on your trip)- just use a carrier if you have one.
A typical day’s meals for little miss was: bread and fruit for breakfast, mee goreng (fried noodles) or pasta for lunch, and rice/veggies or pizza for dinner. Tell waitstaff to make the food tidak pedas which means not spicy.
Buy bottled water in bulk as you can’t drink from the tap here.
If you don’t want your daughter to be confused with a boy, get her ears pierced- dressing them in pink won’t suffice :p
Got any questions about travelling Jogja with kids? Just ask us.