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It is impossible not to be impressed with Prambanan, the ancient 10th century Hindu temple located on the outskirts of Yogyakarta. Here are some helpful tips for visiting Prambanan, including how to get to Prambanan, how much it costs and tips for making the most of your visit. We’ve also covered whether it’s possible to visit Prambanan and Borobudur in the one day, and where to stay if you visit these temples.

Prambanan
Prambanan

1. About the Prambanan temples

Prambanan once housed over 200 separate temples and is rivalled only by the Buddhist temple of Borobudur when it comes to spiritual significance and stunning architectural beauty. Both of these temples have been impacted by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and changing religious beliefs. Prambanan, in particular, suffered significant damage in the 2006 earthquake, with small amounts of architectural debris around the site acting a reminder of its turbulent history. However, the remaining temples have since been repaired and can now safely be visited again either on a day trip or a sunset tour.

Prambanan
Prambanan temple complex
Prambanan
Prambanan carving

2. Getting to Prambanan

It costs US$25 to see Prambanan or you can pay US$32 for a ticket to both Prambanan and Borobudur and visit both temples on consecutive days. This is a good idea as it’s a bit cheaper and also gives you more time to really enjoy each temple complex. If you have a current student card, entry to each site costs half as much. Locals pay less than US$4. Be warned that you can spend a lot of time in traffic getting to both sites, as it is a two hour drive by car between Borobudur and Prambanan (doing the trip by bus is possible but takes even longer).

You can also visit both sites in one day on a tour. A taxi from Yogyakarta to Prambanan costs around US$10 one way or US$15 to US$20 if you want the driver to stay and wait and then take you back to your accommodation. Prices for taxis and cars are negotiable so don’t be afraid to bargain using the above rates as a guide. You may well be able to get it cheaper than I did because I don’t haggle that hard. I figure the locals need the extra money more than I do.

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3. Prambanan or Borobudur first?

If you’re going to visit Prambanan and Borobudur, do Prambanan first. It is closer to Jogjakarta and sets you up for a great journey through the history and culture of both the Hindu and Buddhist cultures. It pays to read up on the temples before you arrive so you have a basic understanding of the history and engineering and artistic work that went into their construction. If you don’t want to read up on the history of Prambanan beforehand, you can hire a guide at the gate. This costs around US$8 and is well worth it, provided you get an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide who speaks English clearly. Don’t forget to explore the nearby Candi Sewu Buddhist temple, located about 750 meters from Prambanan, as it is in fantastic condition and included in your admission price.

Prambanan

4. Cultural tips for Prambanan

This is a place of religious importance so remember to dress appropriately. Make sure your shoulders are covered and pants or skirts are below the knee. If you don’t have suitable clothes, you can hire a sarong at the gate for around US$2 and cover up that way. Dressing modestly also helps to protect you from the sun which can be fierce as there is very little shade at the site.

Prambanan
Prambanan

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Western tourists are a novelty at Prambanan which means that you can sometimes become an ‘interesting attraction’ for domestic visitors. Be prepared for LOTS of locals asking to take your photo (usually with them in it). At one point during my visit, I was getting stopped every 10 metres or so. It might sound annoying but this made for a lovely cultural exchange and was a lot of fun. It is one more reason you need to allow plenty of time to see the site.

5. When to visit Prambanan

Gates open at 6am and close at 6pm every day. Indonesia is hot throughout the year so get there early or late to avoid the heat and humidity. In summer, the temperature hovers around 35 degrees Celsius with 90% humidity. Bring a hat, water and sunscreen and wear sensible shoes like joggers. This site has a lot of steps which are narrow and it gets very crowded in peak times so you need the right shoes. Take your time as it’s a large site and there is a lot to explore.

Prambanan
It can get very hot as there isn’t much shade

6. Taking photos at Prambanan

Timing is everything at most historical sites and Prambanan is no different. Early morning or late afternoon is best as the light is beautiful and there are fewer tourists. As the site opens at 6am, there is opportunity for sunrise shots in winter but sunset is the easiest with regard to timing. Weather also plays a part as the wet season in Indonesia is very wet. Come prepared with some protection for yourself and your photo gear. Even a plastic bag from a grocery store to keep your camera dry is better than nothing.

Don't forget to bring an umbrella
An umbrella protects you from the sun and rain

Don’t forget to allow time for your camera time to acclimatise if you have been in an air-conditioned car for the journey to the site. If the lens gets foggy due to the move from an air conditioned car to the hot temperature outside, it can take up to an hour to clear. Have your camera ready to go so you don’t to stand around in the sun and wait before you can take photos.

Look for interesting angles
Look for interesting angles

Take a lens cloth, spare batteries and spare data cards but not much else. The most important thing is to travel light and only take what you think you need. With temperatures nearing 40 degrees and high humidity, lugging around a heavy camera bag will leave you tired and cranky or even heat affected if you are not careful. Drink lots of water and take your time, you will enjoy your visit to this special site so much more.

Disclosure: The writer paid for his transport and entry to Prambanan. 

If you are visiting Prambanan, you should also visit Borobudur while you’re in Yogyakarta.

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Trevor Templeman is a photographer and writer who travels the world capturing the essence of locations through their landscape, architecture and people. His words and photographs are published in magazines, newspapers and online around the world.