Pura Besakih temple in Bali with a view of the surrounding area

Visiting Temples in Bali – A Mini Guide

This post was last updated on July 7th, 2020 at 02:33 pm


You’ve probably heard of the term “island hopping”, but have you ever heard of “temple hopping”?

 

Visiting temples is something you should definitely do when you are in Bali. You will find thousands spread over the entire island. Indian people also call temples “Pura”. That is why the names of the buildings often start with this word.

 

By the way, not all temples in Bali are accessible to tourists. Some of the larger temples are in places where they can protect the island from external harm.

 

In this article, we will give you a handy step-by-step plan that you can follow if you are going to visit various temples on the largest island in Indonesia. We also make various temple recommendations. And no, it is not going to be boring. Believe us. 🙂

 

What are the steps we recommend you take? You can find them below:

 

1. Choose the Temples You Want to Visit

The most essential thing is to make a shortlist of temples you want to visit. If you have no idea where to go, you can always check with your hostel or even better: ask the locals (see step 6).

 

We advise you not to overdo the number of temples you visit per day. Stick to three to four temples, you are not supposed to get tired because you will no longer have an eye for the beautiful details.

 

Below are some of our favorites to choose from:

Do you want to see the largest temple in Bali? Then the Pura Besakih temple in the eastern part of the island is the place to be. It is also called the mother temple of Bali and consists of approximately 200 structures. At the top, you can enjoy a memorable view of the ocean and the fifth highest mountain in Indonesia: Mount Agung.

 

Green nature around the Pura Besakih temple complex on Bali
Pura Besakih, the largest temple in Bali

 

The Pura Besakih Temple at twilight with dark streets and lanterns

 

You enter the temple complex through the split gate of the Pura Penataran Agung.

 

TIP – Do not respond to locals who pose as “guides”. They are usually not a guide at all, offer themselves “for free” and want to make money quickly by letting you pay (way) too much. Explore the temple yourself, you don’t need a tour guide for this!

 

However, if you have not read up on the temple properly, it may be worthwhile to have a guide with you. In that case, agree on a price in advance, so that you do not have to pay 100,000 Rupiah (~ US$7) or more afterwards.

 

Bali also has a temple in the sea. We’re talking about Pura Tanah Lot, the structure that sits on top of a rock on the southwest coast of Bali. Nice to know is that “Lot” literally means “sea”. You can only visit this crowded attraction during low tide. Especially at the end of the afternoon, at sunset, all the ingredients for beautiful photos are present.

 

Pura Tanah Lot, the temple in the sea in Bali
Pura Tanah Lot, the temple on the water

 

TIP – If you want to avoid the crowds, go later in the evening. The biggest flow of tourists will be gone (fortunately).

 

The complex known as the temple of the holy water is Tirta Empul. Today, this structure serves for both spiritual and physical cleansing, often during ceremonies. The locals do this with the holy water that comes from a nearby source. It will not surprise you very much that “tirta empul” means “crystal clear stream” and in other words “holy water”. The temple is located north of Ubud, about a 40-minute drive away.

 

Woman standing and praying in the holy waters of Tirta Empul
Tirta Empul, the temple of the holy water

 

In the southern part of Bali – in the Uluwatu region – there’s another sea temple: Pura Luhur Uluwatu. A 10th-century masterpiece built on top of a 100-meter rock. This is a Hindu temple, characterized by the elephant heads on both sides of the entrance.

 

In our opinion, one of the most special temples in Bali is Pura Kehen, which means “flame temple”. The 11th-century building is located in the Bangli region. It consists of eight terraces and it is the most important temple in this area. To get to the sanctuary, you first have to climb a staircase with 38 steps. Keep in mind that your legs should be completely covered.

 

38 steps of the Hindu Pura Kehen, the flame temple in Bali
The 38 steps of the Pura Kehen, the flame temple in Bali

 

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is also a temple that is well worth a visit. It is located on Lake Bratan between spectacular green hills, just under an hour’s drive from Ubud. The 17th-century structure is also known as the Irrigation Temple. The mountain village of Bedugul is also nearby, here you can walk through the Bedugul Botanical Gardens.

 

Pink flowers and the Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, the water temple in Bali
Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is one of the most famous temples in Bali

 

The “elephant cave”, in other words, Goa Gajah, is a temple complex that was discovered relatively late, namely in 1922, while the building was already built in the 11th century. The entrance to the cave is a kind of monster with its mouth wide open.

 

Structure with a wide open mouth - the Goa Gajah temple
The monster with its wide-open mouth, do you dare enter?

 

As you enter, you will see a sculpture of Saint Ganesha, the Hindu god with the head of an elephant, the god who removes obstacles. In addition, there is a room that is equipped for the other god: Shiva. This is Ganesha’s father.

 

Furthermore, the Pura Pasar Agung can also be called special. Even if only because of the special location of the complex. The temple is located near the highest mountain in all of Bali: the Gunung Agung, just like the aforementioned Besakih temple. From Ubud, you can get there by scooter in about 45 minutes.

 

Finally, we mention Pura Lempuyang, a spectacular temple that lies at the foot of the mountain of the same name and on the Seraya hill. If you want to get to the top, you will have to walk over 1,700 steps. Once at the top, you have the most beautiful views.

 

Woman standing at the Ancient Gates of Pura Lempuyang Temple (Gates of Heaven)
The magical gate of the Pura Lempuyang temple

 

It is a place where many Balinese Hindus gather to make offerings and pray. For them, the way to the highest point is a pilgrimage, impressive to see. The temple is located in Amlapura and is fun to visit when you are in Amed. We recommend that you go very early in the morning if you can handle it so that you can see the sunrise over the mountains and the sea. After that it also gets dramatically busy, so you will have to wait for hours. Note, by the way, that you may encounter monkeys on the way that can be a bit mischievous.

 

2. Read Some Background Information Before Departure

We recommend that you do some research beforehand so that you are aware of the background of the temples you are visiting. More knowledge about the temples in question automatically means that you become more interested.

 

Each temple has its own history and meaning. It is nice to know what certain symbols, drawings, and structures mean. If you do not know this, it quickly becomes sightseeing without content. A shame, especially now that you have the chance to get acquainted with the history of Bali.

 

3. Rent a Scooter For Your Trip

If you want to go from temple to temple, we recommend renting a scooter. This way you are not dependent on local transport and you can travel further when it suits you.

 

The price for renting a scooter is about 50,000 IDR (~ US$3.60) to 60,000 IDR (~ US$4.30) per day. Gasoline prices range between 6,000 and 7,000 IDR, which amounts to US$0.43 to US$0.50.

 

Keep in mind that you need to have an international driving license on hand, know the terms and conditions well, and always wear a helmet. Traffic in Bali can be very busy and the police (here and there) quite corrupt! Therefore, make sure that there is no reason for them to apprehend you.

 

If you are alone and you like to go out with other backpackers, ask in your hostel if someone wants to join you. This way, you can also immediately share the costs of driving the scooter 🙂.

 

TIP – Also drive to the less touristy parts of Bali. Chances are that you will pass a temple where a local ceremony takes place.


4. Bring Enough Food and Drinks

The distances to be covered can be quite large without passing facilities where you can get something to eat or drink. In addition, you prefer not to waste time looking for a restaurant. After all, you are on your way to see temples.

 

Therefore, bring water, fruit, street food, or possibly some snacks. Before you leave you can walk past a food stand to get, for example, chicken with rice and vegetables. This often costs a little more than US$1.

 

5. Make Sure You Stick to the Etiquette

As we said above, consider the clothes you wear before entering a temple. Especially the real Balinese locals are quite conservative, so try to be respectful.

 

This means that you do not put on a tank top, but a t-shirt that covers both your shoulders and upper arms. When your shoulders are bare, you are usually not permitted to enter a temple.

 

It is also appreciated if you wear long pants. Don’t have these at hand? Then purchase a sarong and wrap it around your hips so that your legs are not visible. You can generally rent them at the tourist temples.

 

Feet are considered unsanitary in Bali. Therefore, always make sure not to point your feet at the shrines. This is why the locals are always sitting with their legs crossed.

 

In addition, it is considered rude if you enter a temple while blood is showing. So, if you have a (visible) open wound, don’t enter the structure.

 

Finally: don’t forget to make a small donation. This is not mandatory, but it is a very kind thing to do. Think of amounts between 5,000 and 25,000 IDR (~ US$0.36 – US$1.80).

 

You also have to pay a small entrance fee for the more famous buildings. For example, entry to the Pura Luhur Uluwatu is 20,000 IDR, or about US$1.45 and that of the Pura Besakih is 10,000 Rupiah (~ US$0.70).

 

6. Ask the Locals For Tips

If you’re lost or looking for insider tips, ask the locals for help. They usually appreciate it if you ask them for directions and they know the best routes to get to the temple in question.

 

As we said at the beginning: there are thousands of temples in Bali, many of which cannot be found on the internet. Locals can take you to structures you could never have visited without their help and return home with unique experiences. So make use of this!

 

These kinds of stops are also a great opportunity to refuel, figuratively speaking ;). Grab some water, eat a snack, and switch places if you are on the road with someone else.

 

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