Bali is mostly known for its idyllic beaches and resort towns. What many beach-bummin’ backpackers and travelers seem to forget is that there are also over 20,000 shrines and temples in Bali! It’s hard to travel more than a mile without passing a handful of these ancient sights. Instead of spending your entire trip buried in sand & surf, carve out a day or two to visit some of these spectacular Balinese temples…
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Pura Luhur Lempuyang
Like many temples on the island, Pura Luhur Lempuyang is part of a complex of pura. Unfortunately, it isn’t so easy to reach.
To get to the top of the temple, you’ll need to climb about 1,700 narrow steps cut into the mountainside. After close to two hours of heart-pumping, quad-burning action, you should reach the top, exhausted and thanking your own god that the worst of it’s over.
For your sacrifice, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most breathtaking views you’ll ever experience. From the top of the temple, you get an open view of Gunung Agung, an active volcano and the holiest and tallest mountain in Bali.
After viewing the holiest mountain from afar, trek over to the island’s holiest temple. Pura Besakih is about 3,000 feet up Gunung Agung and part of a complex of 23 separate pura. Some of these temples date back to the early 10th century.
The central complex at Pura Besakih can take hours to explore. In fact, you may want to plan to carve out almost a full day on your Bali trip itinerary at this temple, especially if you want to visit more of the complex.
After visiting the central temple, you can climb up Pura Pengubengan for a spectacular view of the surrounding region.
Pura Ulun Danu Bratan
On Lake Bratan, you’ll find Pura Ulun Danu Bratan. It’s a unique temple with a luscious green hedge surrounding the outer edges of the temple grounds. It also appears to float in the lake, although it’s a bit of a sneaky illusion: It’s actually connected to the mainland and a complex of other temples.
The center of Pura Ulun Danu Bratan features a towering pagoda with 11 roofs. The design is a little whimsical and looks like something out of a children’s fairytale, shadowing the fact that it’s a holy site dedicated to the goddess of the rivers & lakes.
Pura Tanah Lot
Built on a large rock formation in the sea, Pura Tanah Lot is one of Bali’s most famous landmarks. Unfortunately, fame isn’t always a good thing. As of late, Pura Tanah Lot has become a bit of a tourist trap. Even on a slow day, it’s jam-packed with throngs of onlookers.
The area surrounding Pura Tanah Lot is lined with vendors selling various trinkets and souvenirs. To avoid the worst of the crowds, some people skip the temple itself and simply enjoy the sunset view from one of the many seaside restaurants.
Pura Luhur Uluwatu
Like Pura Tanah Lot, Pura Luhur Uluwatu provides stunning sunsets against never-ending seascapes. It’s a tad higher up, though. Instead of being built on a rock formation, this temple is perched about 70 meters high on the top of a large cliff. In the evening, Pura Luhur Uluwatu truly feels like a mystical spot, especially when its kecak fire dance performance is in session.
The trip to the temple requires you to walk along some steep steps on the side of the cliff. It’s a safe passage, but it takes about an hour and may tire some tourists. In fact, most people often turn around before reaching the temple grounds. (Big mistake, man. Big mistake.)
Goa Gajah, one of the top places to visit in Ubud, is an interesting destination that’ll leave you either inspired or frightened. Also known as the Elephant Cave, Goa Gajah is famous for its intricately carved entrance. Before you enter, you’ll pass through the mouth of a large demon carved into the side of the mountain.
To be fair, the carving isn’t really a demon. Historians say it either represents a child-eating mythological creature or the Hindu god Bhoma. (I apologize if that first image is even more unsettling.)
Fortunately for the squeamish, the interior of Goa Gajah is less frightening. The temple features a worship area and Hindu statues.
Pura Taman Ayun
When you first arrive at Pura Taman Ayun, you may assume the temple is floating on the water. In reality, it’s surrounded by a carefully carved moat with clean edges and straight lines.
The temple was built sometime in the 1600s as a public place of worship and remains one of the most well-kept temples in Bali.
The descendants of the Mengwi royal family that built Pura Taman Ayun continue to maintain it today. The courtyard features a large gate and a variety of detailed carvings and pagodas.
Pura Tirta Empul
Built in 960 AD, Pura Tirta Empul is listed as a national cultural heritage site. The courtyard is mostly comprised of a large pool filled with water from a nearby spring that flows to the Tukad Pakerisan River.
Just beware: Pura Tirta Empul is a crowded destination. It’s full of tourists taking pictures and locals visiting the temple to perform cleansing rituals with the holy water from the various pools and ponds. While it’s fine to experience local culture, you may want to stay away from the holy water.
Pura Gunung Kawi
The Tukad Pakerisan River that flows near Pura Tirta Empul also takes you close to Pura Gunung Kawi. This ancient temple complex features detailed rock carvings and a courtyard with a series of terraced pools.
The path to the temple is an easy one. Be prepared, however, to deal with a never-ending line of vendors, art shops, and food kiosks. By the time you reach the temple, you may be out of money, but it’ll be worth every rupiah. (Obviously, we’re kidding, as Indonesia is one of the cheapest destinations to visit in Asia!)
Pura Taman Saraswati
After visiting several Balinese temples, they can start to look a bit too familiar. If you want to see something different, visit Pura Taman Saraswati. It’s a water temple full of large ponds with lily pads and pink lotuses.
The temple is free to enter and houses a café with a great view of the ponds and the temple’s stage. Every evening, dancers put on a traditional dance on the stage, providing the perfect end cap to a day of visiting temples throughout Bali.