Borobudur Sunrise Tour: How To Beat The Crowds
Borobudur is Indonesia’s most visited tourist attraction. It dates back to the 8th century and besides being a Unesco World Heritage Site, it is also the single largest Buddhist structure anywhere on Earth. Looming out above the surrounding jungle, this giant monument survived volcanic eruptions, terrorist bombs and earthquakes. So when you find yourself on the island of Java, make sure you visit this spectacular site, preferably at sunrise. But how to do this without the company of about a hundred other tourists?
You can easily spend the night at the Manohara hotel, which is located on the grounds of the Borobudur complex and sells tickets for a special sunrise tour that will allow you to enter the complex at 4:30 am, before all other visitors. The price for this tour is 250 000 IDR if you stay at the hotel and book the tour at the hotel. A night in a double room sets you back 1 150 000 IDR. This is a total price of 1 400 000 (€92/$103). You can also opt to stay in Yogyakarta, and book the tour with the hotel in the morning when you arrive very early in Borobudur. The price then is 400 000 IDR (€27/$30).
The normal entry price for Borobudur is 280 000 IDR (€18/$20) or it’s even cheaper if you buy a combination ticket with Prambanan, which costs 390 000 IDR and allows you to visit both temple complexes in two days.
And that’s what we did. We visited Prambanan on our first day in Yogya, went to bed early and woke up at 3:30 am. We got ready to leave on our motorbike around 4:00 am. It’s a 40 km ride that will take you about an hour to get to the temple of Borobudur. When we arrived at gate 1 (the main gate), there were no other visitors, and the gates were closed. There were however some Indonesian men in orange fluorescent vests yelling “Sunrise Tour!” at us. We told them we would wait (since we already had our combination entrance ticket), but they kept asking to bring us to the “Nice view on Setumbu Hills yes?”. We kept telling him no, and asked about parking space instead to change the subject.
If you want to watch the sunrise from the Hills, I don’t know about the price or if the view is good, but leaving at 5:00 am for a drive that takes more than an hour, will not get you to see the sunrise in time I guess. So if you might be interested in doing this, I guess you could enquire about it in town, or at least leave earlier.
The men showed us parking space in front of gate 1 for our bike, but it would not open until 6:00 am. That bummed us out a bit, because we wanted to enter the temple at 6:00 am, not waste time on searching for parking space. We lingered around for a while and found more gates along the road on the right side of the first gate. There we also found parking space available for only 3000 IDR and we could park our bike immediately. We entered the complex by sneeking through gate 3 and walked around to find the actual entrance. There we had to wait a bit together with only a handful of other tourists. The sun would rise at 5:43 am this morning, and at the time that we entered it was already light, but the sun was not really up. We did not see her bright rays shine over the temple complex yet. At 6:00 am the gate opened and we hurried inside, showed our tickets, got scanned, politely refused the complimentary drinks and practically ran to the top of the temple.
Yes there were a few people at the top already, and no we were not enjoying the sunrise by ourselves. The people at the top of the temple, were the members of the famed Sunrise Tour (we knew because they all had little stickers on their shirts); the ones that paid twice or even triple what we paid, and here we were, all of us waiting for the first rays to hit the stupa’s. It was a breathtaking view as soon as the sun emerged from the horizon, to shine on the temple and the jungle behind it, rays dancing through the morning fog. It was a wonderful sight, but ofcourse you have all the people from the sunrise tour taking pictures as well. Selfie sticks are everywhere and careless tourists who keep wandering into your photo’s are not a rare sight here as well. So we waited around for quite a while to just take in the views, and to our surprise, more people were leaving, and we had the place a bit more to ourselves. Finally time to take some good pictures and enjoy the complex! It was absolutely beautiful. We are happy that we did not pay the tour, and that we arrived as early as possible. We still had plenty of time to enjoy the sunrise, and to visit the temple before the giant amount of tourbusses would arrive and drop off crowds of people ready to disturb the peace that surrounded this amazing place.
- Hire a scooter in Yogyakarta. You can hire them per 24 hours so you can take advantage from this and visit Prambanan as well in this time frame. Scooter should cost you around 70 000 IDR for a day, without fuel. Make sure you are comfortable riding around the scooter, on the way back it might be busy! Oh, ask for a helmet if they don’t give you one. You never know!
- Visit Prambanan first, so you already have your entry ticket when you arrive at Borobudur. This way you don’t have to wait in line to buy a ticket and can just walk through.
- Leave Yogyakarta around 4:00 – 4:30 latest. It’s about an hour’s drive, so if you want to make sure you are in the correct place and such, be on time. Look up when the sun will rise on that morning as well. Oh and take some breakfast with you for when you have to wait at the gate.
- Don’t stay at Gate 1. You will have to wait to park your bike and people will keep harassing you to go on a Sunrise Tour. Go to Gate 3 instead.
- Park your bike cheap across the road from Gate 3. It costs 3000 IDR per bike. You can then get inside by sneaking through the gates, and walk to the main park entrance.
- When the gates open, just go in and show your combi-ticket. Don’t lose time on complimentary drinks, just go!
- Walk straight to the top of the temple, you can visit all the other halls and levels and murals when you come back down.
- Find a good spot, take some pictures of the first sunlight and be sure to wait around. The people from the Sunrise Tour will leave and the light will still be amazing and you have more photo-opportunities.
- Enjoy the sunrise, and the fact that you saved yourself a lot of money!
! These tips may not be good enough for any day of the year. There will be times when the sun will rise a lot earlier than 5:43 am. So we were lucky to be here in March. Consider that when the sunrise is for example already at 5:00 am, it might not be possible to catch the early rays and then maybe the Sunrise Tour is the better option. They do offer it in Yogyakarta travel agencies for less than 400 000 as well.