Bali’s portfolio of historic Hindu temples is a must for visitors. Pura Luhur Uluwatu is the best known and sits on a precarious cliff 70 metres above the pounding surf of the Indian Ocean. Tanah Lot is another of the so-called Bali direction temples and is perched on a small islet off the west coast of Bali. The sunsets here are amazing and a major encouragement for tour guides to try and arrive in time to catch them.
Other directional temples include Besakih and Goa Lawah. Balinese claim Besakih is the most important of the island’s temples which may in part be due to its spectacular site 1,000 metres up the side of Mt Agung. Besakih is actually a complex of 20-plus temples with Pura Penataran Agung as the focal point. A lotus throne is the spiritual core of this temple.
Tanah Lot is another spectacular cliffside temple, though without the lofty perch above the ocean, instead the waves literally crash around the rocks and thatched buildings. This 16th C site lies just north of the busy Kuta-Seminyak area and is usually the first stop on most tours. This is a busy pilgrimage temple so expect to share it with locals, adding to the experience.
The summit of Mt Agung itself is a major draw for trekking and climbing but the three routes up are arduous and not suitable for those in anything less than tip-top physical condition. Guides are mandatory and most hikers visit as part of a trekking tour. West Bali National Park is popular tour option and open to the less physical able. Hikers here have the chance of spotting banteng wild cows, muntjac deer, hawks, eagles and the albino Bali starling.
Ubud is the singular most popular choice for a Bali cultural tour. Ubud is a series of interlinked villages considered the bastion of Balinese heritage and traditions. Artisans’ galleries abound and are a great source of souvenirs to take home. Puri Saren Agung is the home of the local royal family and its courtyards, gates and pagodas are open to the public.
The 11th century Pura Puseh Temple is five kilometres outside Ubud and is renowned for its elaborate stone carvings. Pura Gunung Kawi is a temple and royal burial complex set deep in a river valley with emerald-green stepped rice terraces on either side. The main carvings and monuments are reached via a flight of 371 stairs.
At 20kms outside Ubud, Tirta Empul Temple is the same distance as Pura Puseh. It was built over hot springs hundreds of years ago and the pond in the centre of the temple still fizzes from the volcanic gases. Locals say the water cleanses the spirit and the body and take baths in it. Visitors are allowed to do the same but will need to dress decently to do so.
Ubud is a centre for activities and within a 50km radius people can enjoy bamboo forest and eco-cycling tours, trekking and white-water rafting. Two relatively recent additions to the collection are canyon tubing and ATV trekking. A lovely stretch of the Siap River is the venue of choice for canyoning while ATV tours are restricted to the sparsely populated district of Payangan.
Ubud and Alas Kedaton monkey forests plus the main block of Tegallalang Rice Terraces are other key landmarks that most visitors in Bali try to take in if they have sufficient time. Alas Kedaton is only 30kms from Kutu and an easy half-day excursion. The jungle surrounding an old Hindu temple is home to seemingly friendly tribes of monkeys.