Mesmerising Borobudur is the world’s largest Buddhist monument. Dating from the 9th century, this gigantic stupa forms the shape of a mandala – a geometric aid to meditation. There were originally 10 levels at Borobudur, each falling within one of the three divisions of the Mahayana Buddhist universe: khamadhatu, the lower spheres of human life; rupadhatu, the middle sphere of ‘form’; and arupadhatu, the higher sphere of detachment from the world. Its US$25 million restoration was completed by Unesco and Indonesia between 1973 and 1983.
Indonesia’s great ‘lost’ Buddhist monument
The approach to the Unesco World Heritage Site at Borobudur (daily 6am–5pm) passes through busy roadside communities and rich countryside. Allow yourself a minimum of two hours to tour the candi (temple), though you could easily spend half a day here.
Built sometime during the relatively short Sailendra dynasty between AD 778 and AD 856 – 300 years before Angkor Wat and 200 years before Notre Dame. An estimated 30,000 stonecutters and sculptors, 15,000 labourers and thousands more masons worked on Borobudur.
Yet, within little more than a century of its completion, Borobudur was mysteriously abandoned as the focus of the royal power in Java shifted to the east.
It's a popular myth that Borobudur was ‘lost’ for many centuries, concealed beneath layers of volcanic ash, before being ‘rediscovered’ by Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1814.
In fact, the monument’s existence was always well-known in the region – there was a local taboo forbidding Javanese princes from visiting the site. It was also visited by Dutch travellers in the 18th century.
The six lower terraces at Borobudur are carved with Buddhist bas-relief scenes. Three upper tiers with 72 lattice-work miniature stupas each contain Buddha images that are unique in Buddhist art.
Best things to do in Borobudur
Obviously, you come here to visit the Borobudur, which could easily take up to one day. Make sure you have enough time to check out the entire site and explore the things listed below.
#1 Admire the bas reliefs
The six lower terraces at Borobudur are carved with Buddhist bas-relief scenes. Look for the processional terrace and four concentric galleries whose reliefs (beginning at the eastern staircase and going around each gallery clockwise).
They show the life of Prince Siddhartha on his way to becoming the Buddha, scenes from the Jataka folk tales about his previous incarnations, and the life of the Bodhisattva Sudhana (from the Gandavyuha).
These tales are illustrated in stone by a parade of commoners, princes, musicians, dancing girls and saints, with many interesting details of daily life in ancient Java.
#2 Seek out the miniature stupas
Above the square galleries, three circular terraces support 72 perforated dagobas (miniature stupas), which are unique in Buddhist art. Most contain a statue of the meditating Dhyani Buddha.
Two statues have been left uncovered to gaze over the nearby Menoreh Mountains, where a series of knobs and knolls are said to represent Gunadharma, the temple’s divine architect.
These three terraces are, in fact, transitional steps leading to the tenth and highest level, the realm of formlessness and abstraction (arupadhatu), embodied in the huge crowning stupa.
#3 Visit the two onsite museums
Before leaving the park, have a look at two museums near the exit gate. The Karmawibhangga Museum houses stones, Buddha images and other pieces from the original structure.
The Museum Kapal Samurrarska houses an outrigger ship built to replicate vessels seen on the reliefs. The ship undertook an expedition to Madagascar in 2003–4, recreating a trade route that might have been used when Borobudur was constructed almost two millennia ago (the Madagascan language is related to the main languages of Indonesia).
#4 See Pawon and Mendut, Borobudur's two smaller candi
Two smaller, subsidiary candi lie along a straight line directly east of Borobudur. The closer of the two is tiny Candi Pawon (meaning ‘kitchen’ or ‘crematorium’; daily 6am–sunset), situated in a shady clearing 1.7km (1 mile) from Borobudur’s main entrance.
It is often referred to as Borobudur’s ‘porch temple’ because of its proximity, and may well have been the last stop on a brick-paved pilgrimage route.
Just 1km (0.6 mile) further east, across the confluence of two holy rivers (the Progo and the Elo), lies beautiful Candi Mendut (daily 6am–5pm).
Every year, thousands of Buddhists arrive from all over Asia to walk in procession from the nearby Mendut temple to Borobudur in celebration of Waisak (the date changes annually), the holiest day of the year for Buddhists.
#5 Make your way to Prambanan too
You can combine your visit to Borobudur, with Prambanan. A Hindu temple complex that dates back to the 9th century. The intricate carvings and towering spires of the temples are a testament to the skill and artistry of the ancient Javanese people.
It features thousands of carved stone reliefs and statues depicting scenes from Buddhist cosmology. Both sites are UNESCO World Heritage sites and offer a glimpse into Indonesia's fascinating history and culture.
Best places to stay
Most Borobudur visitors will stay in the cities of Yogyakarta, Solo, or Semarang but a whole host of accommodations has sprung up in the hills and forest surrounding Borobudur.
Here, travellers have the choice of first-class resorts, relaxing spas, boutique B&B and local guesthouses, giving you an excellent amount of choice.
Do note that Vesak Day (held annually on the night of the May full moon) is the most sacred da on the Buddhist calendar and accommodation near Borobudur sells out weeks, if not months in advance.
Things to know before visiting Borobudur
Borobudur is open daily from 6am–5pm. There are licensed guides available at the entrance to the temple.
Tickets for Borobudur are priced at $25 for those 10 years and older; and $15 for students (with a valid ID card) and those aged 3-9 years. Toddlers and babies are free. There is a cheaper entry fee for Indonesian citizens and permanent residents.
Visitors can pay an additional surcharge to get into Borobudur for either sunrise or sunset. Note that these times are also very busy.
You can buy your tickets online via Borobudurpark.com. The entry fee includes a free audio guide.
The Borobudur Museum onsite hosts live gamelan performances at 9am and 3pm.
Each June/July, thousands of Buddhists from throughout Asia join a procession from Mendut temple to Borobudur to meditate in honour of the Day of Enlightenment, the biggest day on the Buddhist calendar. It's quite a sight, but expect it to be very busy.
The nearby Mendut Buddhist Monastery hosts group meditations daily at 7pm and welcomes visitors.
How to get here
With flights from Singapore and Malaysia as well as a host of destinations throughout Indonesia, most visitors to Borobudur will fly into Yogyakarta. The temple is also accessible from across Java by bus.
With flights from Bali, plus a host of other Indonesian cities, many travellers will fly into Yogyakarta International Airport. Located 44km northwest of the airport, it takes around an hour to get to the temple by taxi.
Buses to Borobudur leave from Jombor Bus Terminal in Yogyakarta roughly every 30 minutes.
By ride-hailing app
Go-Jek and Grab are available in Yogyakarta and Borobudur town. Download the app to book a taxi or motor-taxi.
It's possible to cycle to the temple from Borobudur town. Numerous places rent bikes, including hotels.
Best time to visit Borobudur
The best time to visit Borobudur is during the dry season (April to October) when the weather is best and there is little chance of rainfall.
Note, though, that for Buddhists, the full moon in May is the sacred Vesak Day, which will mean there are thousands of pilgrims visiting Borobudur. Accommodation gets fully booked months in advance and the temple will be busy. Avoid if you're not part of the celebrations.
If you prefer cooler temperatures and don't mind a bit of rain, the wet season from November to March is also a good time to visit, as the surrounding landscape is lush and green, and the temple complex is less crowded. Just be prepared for occasional showers and some humidity.
Find out more about the best time to visit Indonesia.