While Bali is undoubtedly frequented by tourists for its beautiful beaches, there’s more to lounging on the beach and enjoying the world-class accommodations. Exploring some of the island’s majestic ancient temples is a must-try experience when spending your holiday in Bali. Many of these temples are more than a thousand years old with most of them perched precariously on seaside cliff-tops or atop volcanoes, exuding both breathtaking views and fascinating history. This list details ten of Bali’s must-see temples:
1. Pura Tanah Lot
Perched on a rock just off the shore, Pura Tanah Lot is one of Bali’s nine Directional Temples. It is possible to walk to the temple itself at low tide, but the best viewpoints are from the shores of Tanah Lot Beach. To capture the temple at its magnificent form, it is best to view it at sunset when the temple transforms into a mystical silhouette against the sea and sky. This coastal temple is 45 minutes drive from the southern tourist regions of Legian, Seminyak and Kuta on the road to West Bali.
2. Pura Ulun Danu Bratan
The two pagodas of Pura Ulun Danu Bratan are dedicated to the Lake Goddess, Dewi Danu. From afar and during high tide, the temples seem to float on the waters of Lake Bratan. To reach this iconic temple, you can take a small canoe after passing through an ornate temple structure on land, directly to the pagodas. This famous Bali temple is located 50 kilometers north of Denpasar.
3. Pura Luhur Uluwatu
On the steep headlands above Uluwatu, this temple is perched seventy meters above the waves of the Indian Ocean, offering visitors spectacular views. It is one of the nine Key Directional Temples of Bali and has been a spiritual haven since the eleventh century. An interesting highlight of visiting the temple is seeing thousands of native monkeys which inhabit the surrounding forests and which are believed to be the protectors of the temple.
4. Pura Besakih
A World Heritage Site and considered as the island’s ‘Mother’ temple, Pura Besakih is the most important temple in Bali. It has a breathtaking location – high up on the slopes of the Mount Agung volcano, which adds to its majestic effect. Travelers wanting to get the best out of a visit to this temple should allocate one full day to explore its eighty individual temples, each of which boasts of architecture unique to itself. Pura Besakih is believed to be more than a thousand years old.
5. Pura Gunung Kawi
The Balinese version of Egypt’s “Valley of the Kings” is believed to provide refuge to the souls of Bali’s ancient leaders. It consists of ten burial towers, carved intricately into the rock cliffs of a river valley. The temple is situated near Tampak Siring Village in the popular Ubud Region.
6. Tirta Empul
Dating back to 926 AD, Tirta Empul features a sacred spring that is known to have invigorating health benefits. A large fish-pond, with water coming from the spring, is surrounded by the temple’s ancient pavilions. Tirta Empul is located near Ubud Village and is accessible by public transport providing daily trips to the site.
7. Pura Luhur Lempuyang
Another of Bali’s Directional Temples, Pura Luhur Lempuyang sits imposingly on the summit of Lempuyang Mountain. The 1,700 steps to the main temple are well worth the climb as the temple’s unique architecture and the mountain’s breathtaking views are best seen from the very top.
8. Goa Gajah
The ancient Buddhist meditation cave of Goa Gajah is also known locally as the “Elephant Cave” due to the intricate rock carvings around its entrance. It had spiritual significance to Javanese since the Eighth Century and remains a site of reflection and prayer for both Buddhist and Shivaite followers. It is located six kilometers from central Ubud, at the western end of Bedulu Village.
9. Pura Taman Ayun
This temple was the central place of worship for the Royals of the Mengwi Empire. The temple seems to float on the huge fish pond surrounding it. Designed in a traditional multi-tiered roof and Balinese architecture, the temples are constructed on park-like grounds, gaining it the reputation of being the most beautiful of Bali’s temples. Situated just eighteen kilometers north of Denpasar, tourists can easily access the temple site.
10. Pura Goa Lawah
The sacred cave of Goa Lawah is surrounded by temple structures dating back from 1007 AD. The temple structures are still in use today as places of worship. Pura Goa Lawah is one of the Nine Directional Temples of Bali. Thousands of bats have made the cave temple their dwelling place, thus the name, “bat temple”. These bats have become an interesting feature of the cave temple. It is said to house a river, the water of which has miraculous healing properties. Pura Goa Lawah is located three kilometres to the east of Kusamba.