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Yogyakarta, or short Yogya is one of the two still excisting traditional royal cities of Central Jawa; the other is Solo. The city is in the centre of a wide belt of fertile ricefields, which are dominated in the north by the smouldering Gunung Merapi ('Mount Merapi'), and in the south is limited because of the rough Indian Ocean.

Surocolo caves
Forgotten charms to lure tourists

Yogyakarta, as the cultural heart of Java, boasts a wide range of tourist attractions, including historical and archeological sites. However, the sheer number of attractions means that some of them are neglected, despite their obvious potential to draw tourists.

One example is the hilly karst region of Surocolo in Seloharjo village, Bantul, some 24 kilometers south of the provincial capital of Yogyakarta. Located some 400 meters above sea level, Surocolo has got everything it takes to be a tourist destination. Yet, very little is known about the area.

Locals are familiar with its natural spring that never dries up, regardless of the season. The spring, which measures some four meters by three meters in area and is about 1.5 meters deep, has been covered with a concrete housing since 1989. This keeps the water clean, which is important as it is the main water source of four neighboring villages: Ngreco, Poyahan, Blopan and Blali.

"Even after very heavy rain, the water from the spring is always clear and cool," Sumardi, a Poyahan villager said. Within walking distance of the spring are historical sites and artifacts, natural caves, and bunkers that were built during the period of Japanese occupation.

Some 50 meters south of the spring is a cave where local hero, Sunan Mas, meditated. Access to the eight-meter-deep cave has been improved with the addition of black stone steps, courtesy of the late Sultan, Hamengkubuwono IX. The air is cool and the surrounding foliage, lush and green, making it an ideal place to relax or meditate.

Other caves in the area include Goa Siluman, Goa Kendil and Goa Tarub. Goa Kendil, was so named as it is shaped like a kendil (traditional earthenware container used to cook rice). Goa Tarub was so named as its shape resembles that of a tarub, a traditional Javanese grandstand made for a wedding party.

Not far from the caves is a 100-meter-high rock face. With an incline of 70 degrees to 90 degrees, the face is popular with rockclimbers from Yogyakarta and Bantul. "We also use it as a place to view the surrounding environment," said environmental activist Wahyudiana, 28, of Save the Water, a non-governmental organization headquartered in Bantul.

Some 1.5 kilometers from the caves is a line of bunkers that were built by Japanese troops during the Japanese occupation, from 1942 to 1945. There are 18 of them and they are interconnected. The 50 cm to 70 cm-thick, 1.5-meter-high walls of the bunkers are made of white stone.

Located nearby are the remains of a kitchen, including stoves. The southern ocean and Parangtritis beach are clearly visible, which explains why the Japanese, for whom surveilling the beach was a priority, built their bunkers there. The area is particularly beautiful at sunset and sunrise, and, if you are lucky, you may also encounter a wild deer.

"Locals often see them. At one time they hunted them, but changed their minds and decided to protect them instead," Wakijan of the Bantul Forestry Office said. Archeological digs in the area, particularly near the spring and the caves, have also uncovered ancient stone and metal artifacts.

The most astonishing discovery was made in 1976, when locals found a box of gold jewelry near the bunkers. The findings were handed over to the provincial archeological office. "Former president Soeharto once instructed us to closely monitor everyone visiting Surocolo, considering that other artifacts might remain in the area," Seloharjo village head Sudarno said.

It is unfortunate that a place as rich in tourist attractions as Surocolo is not well-managed. Better management would increase the incomes of local people through tourism-related activities.

The only asphalt road heading to the location, for example, is marked with numerous potholes. Other public facilities, such as toilets, musholla (a place for Muslims to perform their prayers) and resting places have not yet been provided.

"That certainly makes people reluctant to come here, particularly as the road is steep," Sudarno said. In 1984, the then regent of Bantul, Murwanto, tried to encourage visitors to Surocolo by facilitating the sealing of the 2.5-kilometer-long road that heads to the hilly region.

The initiative failed, however, partly because the local community was not involved in the project. Sudarno has long desired to develop Surocolo as a leading tourist destination, but has always encountered funding problems. He proposes a community-based tourism agency that would manage and develop Surocolo. He is also aware that Surocolo offers unique attractions, including the magnificent view of Parangtritis beach from Surocolo hill at sunset.

Location map of Surocolo caves

Last revised on September 02, 2011
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