With over 20,000 temples, it is hard to pinpoint the best temples to visit in Bali. Many of the best Bali temples have attained worldwide renown thanks to Instagram and other social media. But photography and online likes apart, Bali’s temples are an integral part of its history and culture and hold immense importance in the lives of its citizens. Moreover, the temples serve as performance venues for kecak and other dances in the evenings.
Indonesia is not a rich country and many of the temples have a small entry fee. They are called ‘pura’ in the local tongue and sometimes require a dress code to enter. But in general, modest clothing that does not include sleeveless and short outfits is advised. Stashing a sarong or scarf in your bag could help cover up quickly in case you find that your clothing is deemed inappropriate.
Bali is a large island, and the temples are spread out all across. A few of the scenic shrines are easily accessible from Ubud, while others are closer to the shore. It might not be possible to cover all the best temples in Bali in one visit unless you have a really long time on the island. Nevertheless, this list is sure to spike your wanderlust.
Tanah Lot Temple
Perched atop an oddly shaped rock, seeing Tanah Lot temple silhouetted against a setting sun will enshrine Bali in your memories forever. The temple’s name means ‘land in the sea’, which is rather appropriate given its location. The rock juts out 300 metres into the sea, and the temple is situated in Tabanan. Seeing the waves crash gustily on the rocks below with their mist dotting the air, is one of the must-have experiences in Bali.
According to local mythology, Tanah Lot temple was built by Dang Hyang Nirartha, a powerful spiritual leader. The shrine is dedicated to the Sea God, known as Bhatara Segara. Time your visit during the festival of Odalan to see processions of Balinese devotees carrying offerings for their deity.
Have you been looking for the gateway to heaven? You will find it in Bali at Pura Lempuyang, which is one of the most photographed temples in Bali. When you see the misty mountains etched beyond the iconic gateway of the temple, you can indeed believe that the heavens lie beyond. Pura Lempuyang comprises of seven temples located on the slopes of Mount Lempuyang, which is considered to be sacred.
When you cross the gate, you will see three staircases lined with snakes. They will take you to the lowest temple in the complex. Pura Lempuyang is one of the oldest temples in Bali and the topmost shrine in the complex is called Pura Lempuyang Luhur. It takes two hours to reach the top and if legend is to be believed, complaining is forbidden!
Pura Ulun Danu Bratan
Easily accessible from Ubud, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is a lake temple on the banks of Lake Beratan in the Bedugul mountains. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and one can even go boating on the lake. In the early morning, the temple looks particularly appealing, surrounded by misty mountains, with the tiered meru’s reflection sparkling in the lake’s waters. As the day advances, you will be able to appreciate the greenery around you.
The temple complex is set in the midst of manicured gardens and you can spend some time walking around and enjoying the views. There are four main structures composing the temple, a Buddhist stupa, and many smaller shrines within the main ones. The temple is usually open from 8 AM to 5 PM.
Puru Luhur Uluwatu is yet another stunning sea temple that is situated on the precipice of a cliff, like the Tanah Lot Temple. Luhur means ‘a thing of divine origin’, while Uluwatu is ‘the rock at the land’s end’. This temple is among the nine important ones in Bali. The temple’s cliff rises 70 meters above sea level, and the water below is a clear, deep blue.
The inner sanctum is the part that towers above the sea, with surf breaks and soapy waves circling the rocks below. According to legend, the temple was created by a Majapahit monk around a thousand years ago. The temple has two entrances, both of which feature remarkable sculptures and carvings. Inside, there is a rare winged gate made of stone.
If you were wondering about THE most important temple in Bali, it’s Pura Besakih. The temple is also the biggest and holiest shrine on the island. It is located on the slopes of Mount Agung in Besakih village. Inside, there are a mind-boggling 86 shrines, although the main temple is the Pura Penataran Agung. Mount Agung is a volcanic mountain that is still active at times, which adds to the excitement of visiting this temple.
Often called the ‘Mother Temple of Bali’, Pura Besakih features picturesque gates at the top that are a bit like Pura Lempuyang. A long flight of stairs leads to the gates and festive processions feature devotees laden with sacred offerings. In the vicinity, you will find rice paddy fields and dense forests.
Pura Tirta Empul
The Holy Water Temple of Bali is different from its counterparts, as it features a pool that devotees can dip into to be purified. The water comes from a holy spring that is believed to have been conceived by Lord Indra. Locals are also convinced that it has healing powers. Barack Obama and his wife and daughters are among the many who have bathed in the temple waters.
If you are staying in Ubud, you can reach Pura Tirta Empul in Manukaya village easily. Above the temple lies the Presidential Palace of Tampaksiring. Apart from the spring, other attractions at the complex include the various smaller temples and a koi fish pond. The outer courtyard of the temple is truly marvellous, featuring a golden roof and numerous expressive guardian sculptures.
Candi Gunung Kawi
Also near Ubud, Candi Gunung Kawi is one of the oldest temple complexes on the island. It is located in the town of Tampaksiring, at the base of a verdant river vale. ‘Candi’ refers to a temple relief that is carved straight on the surface of a craggy cliff. It goes without saying that this temple complex is a true architectural wonder.
The temple faces the Pakerisan River, and includes ten memorials. All the shrines are carved out in the same manner, and resemble real-life structures. The reliefs tower 8 meters above the ground, stretching across different sides of the valley. Although the candis resemble doorways, nothing lies beyond of course. The site is also home to tiny stone caves that served as meditation spots for ancient Buddhist monks.
Synonymous with the Elephant Cave Temple, Goa Gajah is picturesque, and a major tourist magnet. The sacred site of the temple marks the confluence of two streams on the hillside. The entrance of the temple is rather forbidding, as you have to walk into the gaping mouth of a creature with eyes that leap out at you! According to legend, this creature is an elephant, and thus the moniker ‘Elephant Cave Temple’.
The temple houses the remnants of a Shiva lingam (phallus), accompanied by the symbolic figures of the lord’s cohort and son, Ganesh. The complex also includes two bathing pools with fountains. The temple sits along the banks of the Petanu River, and is surrounded by thick forests and many walking trails that are yours to explore.
Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal
The Great Temple of Death is located in Ubud’s famous Sacred Monkey Forest, and has an air of magic. There are two other shrines that make up the complex. The main temple is dedicated to an avatar of Lord Shiva, and dates back to 1350. It can feel like a surprise when you chance upon this temple during your exploration of the monkey forest.
The inner temple is quite menacing, as it is carved with Rangda (the demon queen) figures making short work of children! You will find several groups of crab-eating macaques outside and around the temple.
The Underwater Temple
The Underwater Temple of Bali is a well-kept secret and few are lucky enough to see it. The Devata Vishnu Temple is located in North-West Bali, and you have to dive 90 feet under the sea near Pemuteran Beach to reach it. It is not one of the ancient temples of Bali and in fact, was constructed only recently to encourage marine life and corals to populate the reef.
The manmade reef is called ‘temple garden’. There are structures closer to the water for those who don’t relish diving so deep. The Taman Pura features breath-taking Hindu and Buddhist statues seated on the ocean bed, along with a gateway that is four meters high.
Pura Taman Saraswati
Also called the Ubud Water Palace, Pura Taman Saraswati is unbelievably beautiful. Dedicated to the Goddess Saraswati, the temple is flanked by lovely lotus ponds on either side. The water garden is very artistic, and the entrance is marked by a tall statue of the devil Jero Gede Mecaling. The temple is relatively new, with construction having been finished in 1952.
Located in Ubud, the temple is set apart by its red brick gates, a padmasana shrine, and a majestic golden throne. Three more thrones occupy a pavilion, and are meant for the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. There is also a bale barong, used for exorcisms by the villagers.
Goa Lawah Temple
Pura Goa Lawah is among the less touristy temples on this list. It is home to numerous bats and a gigantic serpentine king according to Balinese mythology. Locals also believe that there is a river at the temple with healing powers. A shrine whose roots belong to 1007 still gets daily prayers and attention – isn’t that amazing?
The temple’s name means ‘bat cave’, so be prepared to meet a lot of the nocturnal creatures. As per legend, the snake king eats the bats and wears a crown! The beautiful temple structures are located at the entrance of the cave but there’s no saying how far back it extends. Some believe that it leads to another town.
Pura Taman Ayun
Featuring tiered merus in the styles of Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, this temple is located in Mengwi village in the regency of Badung. The complex consists of the temple and a serene garden. The water temple is enveloped by a picturesque moat, and served as the primary shrine of the Mengwi Kingdom. In 1891, the kingdom fell after the conquest by Badung and Tabanan.
Dating back to 1634, this ancient family temple found a place on the TV show ‘Around the World in 80 Gardens’. Taman Ayun is only one among the six royal temples of Bali and means ‘Garden Temple in the Water’. There is a large fish pond on the site. The temple complex is made up of four main structures as well as guardian shrines.
As you can see, Bali’s temples are worth a visit not only for their impressive aura and architecture, but also for the surrounding natural beauty and interesting souvenir shops. Since the island enjoys a tropical climate all year round, make sure you stay hydrated and carry your sun gear. Also steer clear of touts and scammers and always look for the main entrance and ticketing booth.
One thing’s for sure – no two temples in Bali are exactly the same. Some differ in the way they are built, a few are water temples, and others are perched atop seaside cliffs. During your Bali holiday, make sure you visit at least a few of the temples in this list. Visiting at sunrise is a great idea to avoid long lines and crowds, and carrying cash is always recommended.