With over 20 000 temples strewn about the island, it’s super easy for curious tourists to get their fix of fascinating culture and incredible architecture. And while there’s no way you can see them all in a single trip, there are a few must-see temples you simply can’t leave without ticking off your to-do list. Take a look at these top temples to explore on your holiday in Bali.
Perched upon the slopes of soaring Gunung Agung, the tallest and most revered volcanic mountain in Bali, it’s easy to see why Pura Besakih is considered Bali’s holiest temple. Known at the ‘Mother Temple’, Pura Besakih consists of an impressive series of over 80 Balinese temples, the biggest and most important being Pura Penataran Agung. Visit beautiful Besakih Village with its scenic rice paddies and lush forests. Hike the steep stairs up the mountain. Marvel at the amazing views from the top. Feel the weight of centuries as you step into the pyramid-like stone temples dating all the way back to prehistoric times. While the town has been hit with a number of volcanic eruptions, Pura Besakih was miraculously spared from the molten lava flow, adding to its legendary status.
Pura Gunung Kawi
Just beyond the picturesque village of Tampaksiring, Valley of Kings, you’ll find the ancient and revered Gunung Kawi Temple. Walk down a deep stone-carved staircase where you’ll discover towering cliff faces featuring statuesque carvings sculpted into the rock. Known as candi (shrines), these carvings are thought to honour Balinese royalty from the 11th century. Flowing through it all is the Pakerisan River, the sacred spring that feeds Tirta Empul. The holy water that flows here is believed to have restorative powers and the ability to bring good fortune. For a small donation, you can take a dip in the refreshing pool or wash under the water fountains for a sprinkling of Balinese luck.
Pura Tanah Lot
Picture this: A rocky outcrop rises above crashing ocean waves. At the very top is an ancient Hindu shrine backlit by the most breathtaking sunset you’ve ever seen. And that’s just a glimpse of what you’ll find at the beautiful and spiritual temple of Tanah Lot. Adding to the temple’s mystery is the belief that it’s the work of revered 15th century Hindu priest, Nirartha. Located on the coast of Beraban Village, just a 45-minute drive from Kuta, Tanah Lot is a magnet for tourists in search of a truly dramatic sight. If you’re willing to brave the crowds and hordes of vendors, you’ll be rewarded with a view unlike any other. Take the footpath to the raised cliff area for postcard-worthy photos, then walk to the base at low tide for a close-up look.
Goa Gaja means ‘Elephant Cave’ in Balinese. And while there aren’t actually any big grey pachyderms in the area, there’s still a whole lot to see. This archeologically impressive site boasts a veritable treasure trove of ancient relics, fascinating rock carvings, serene pools and rippling fountains. Arguably the most impressive sight is the dramatic entrance to the cave itself. Step into the cave through the yawning mouth of a monstrous statue where you’ll find an ancient statue of the Hindu god Ganesha and a worship area devoted to Shiva. Located 6km from Ubu just outside Bedulu Village, Goa Gajah is said to date back to the 11th century. And while no one really knows the origins, legend has it that the temple was carved in one night by a mythical giant named Kebo Iwa using only his fingernails.
With its precipitous position atop a cliff side, with magnificent sunsets in the distance, beautiful Uluwatu challenges Tanah Lot as Bali's most scenic temple. Elevated 70m above the tumbling waves, Pura Luhur Uluwatu offers sweeping views over the ocean. Ancient architecture and striking sculptures add to the breathtaking surrounds. Watch as culture and history are brought to life in the cliff-top amphitheatre where regular performances are held at sunset, including the not-to-be-missed Kecak fire dance. Be sure to watch out for cunning monkeys though, as they’ll grab whatever they can get their paws on, including your sunglasses!
Temples are places of religious worship. It’s essential to show respect by wearing the right clothes and behaving appropriately. You’ll need a sarong and sash to cover up. These can usually be rented outside the temples.
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