Bali is known as “The Island of a Thousand Temples” but in fact this tiny Indonesian island has many more than 1,000 temples. The Balinese religion, Hindu Dharma, is infused into the culture and daily way of life and not a day goes past when there is not an elaborate temple ceremony taking place somewhere on the island.
Every Balinese home has its own temple and each village has several temples for communal prayer and religious ceremonies. Balinese temples are stunning in architecture and visitors can’t help but soak up the spirituality from the fragrant incense smoke and brightly coloured offerings that are placed daily as a gift to the gods from the devoted.
Visitors to Bali are welcome to visit most temples and it is definitely worth trying to observe a temple ceremony while you’re visiting the island. The fruit and cakes piled high, being carried on the heads of women dressed in rainbow kebaya makes for some great photo opportunities but you must be careful to respect local customs and etiquette.
1. Besakih (Mother Temple)
Besakih is the largest temple complex in Bali and is certainly the mother of them all at over 1,000 years old and perched on the slopes of sacred Mount Agung. Balinese from all over the island will make pilgrimages to this temple for special ceremonies, some of which happen only once every 100 years.
Mount Agung is an active volcano, which last erupted in 1963 while one of these 100-year ceremonies was being performed at the temple. Lava destroyed villages at the foot of the volcano and ash rained for miles around but the lava flowed around the temple and it was spared.
2. Tirtha Empul
Tirtha Empul is famous for its holy water springs, which are said to cleanse and purify. The waters are thought to be particularly potent on auspicious days such as full moon and if you visit the temple on one of these days you will see the bathing pools crowded with hundreds of Balinese Hindus, queuing for their turn to wash in the spouts that feed water directly from the holy spring.
Uluwatu is perched high on a cliff with impressive views of the ocean below. It is also inhabited by a troop of mischievous monkeys, who will probably grab your camera or your sunglasses if you get too close.
4. Tanah Lot
Tanah Lot is definitely one of Bali’s most picturesque temples, built on a rock that becomes an island at high tide. It is particularly stunning at sunset and is probably the temple most visited by tourists.
5. Gunung Kawi
Deep in a valley just north of Ubud, Gunung Kawi, dating from the 11th century, is special because of its candi – huge shrines carved into the rock face. Visitors must descend down many steps, flanked by rice terraces, in order to enter the temple grounds.
6. Ulun Danu Bratan
At the edge of scenic Lake Bratan, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is one of Bali’s most popular postcard scenes and is used for making offerings to the Balinese goddess of water, lakes and rivers, Dewi Danu.
7. Goa Lawah
On the northeast coast in the regency of Klungkung, this small temple would normally hold no interest to tourists. What sets it apart from the rest is the cave in the grounds that is home to thousands of bats. Goa Lawah makes a great stop off when visiting the beaches of Candi Dasa or Padang Bai.
8. Taman Ayun
Taman Ayun is a Royal family temple in Mengwi, Badung regency. It is set in beautifully landscaped gardens and the grounds make a lovely setting for a relaxing stroll.
Pura Luhur Batukaru is located in west Bali and is built on the slopes of Mount Batukaru, surrounded by tropical rainforest. It is one of the six main temples in Bali that are believed to protect the island from evil spirits, along with Pura Uluwatu, Pura Goa Lawah and Pura Besakih.
10. Goa Gajah
Just outside Ubud, Goa Gajah or Elephant Cave, is a 9th century bathing temple and cave housing Shiva relics. The rock around entrance to the cave is carved into a demon’s face, with the mouth being the entrance.