Bali is known as the Island of the Gods or Island of a Thousand Temples. It’s easy to see why since there’s a temple (
Unlike the rest of Indonesia, which is predominantly Muslim, the main religion in Bali is actually Balinese Hinduism. You’re likely to encounter the smell of incense and see canang sari offerings everywhere you go. These daily ceremonial offerings are placed in front of shops, throughout hotels/villas/homes, and on statues and altars in a ritual performed to ensure good health, happiness, and prosperity.
The Balinese believe there are mystical forces present in our world so offerings are made in the morning to the heavenly gods and evening offerings are to the earthly gods. The offering trays are made out of woven banana leaf fronds and filled with symbolic items like flowers, incense, a coin or a small bill, a few grains of rice, and/or sweets. Each flower type and color also has a different symbolic meaning.
A trip to Bali won’t be complete without visiting at least one temple. Here are a few incredible temples to explore. I didn’t get a chance to visit the last 3 temples since I didn’t have time and started to encounter temple fatigue. Yes, that’s a real thing! See too many temples at a time and they start to blur together. Then you lose the appreciation for each one’s uniqueness so we don’t want that to happen. But they are definitely on my list for my next visit!
1. Pura Tanah Lot
The temple is perched on a rock that you can only access during low tide, creating a picture perfect setting. This is probably the most famous and most popular temple in Bali and you can tell from the huge crowds of people there. Despite being super touristy, Tanah Lot is one of my favorite temples in Bali.
Visit during low tide right before sunset so you can walk along the coast and stay for the stunning sunset. It’s so impressive to see how far the ocean can come in during high tide because you can see fresh seaweed everywhere. So if you’re willing to walk a little further out, you can get away from the crowds. The unobstructed sunset view is gorgeous with all the different colors and you can see rays of sunlight shine throughout the sky and cast on to the water. High tide can also provide a unique view to see the temple surrounded by water and also possibly avoid the crowds.
2. Pura Luhur Uluwatu
Uluwatu Temple stands precipitously on the edge of 250 feet tall sheer cliffs. Even though the temple itself is not open to the public, the stunning scenery around it is worth the visit. The soaring cliffside views also provide a prime spot to watch the sunset. You can mesmerizingly watch the pounding surf waves break against the rocks. Beware the monkeys that live near the temple though!
After sunset, you can view the kecak fire dance, a traditional Hindu Balinese dance performance. Kecak is famous for using an entire cast of male dancers who chant “Chak! Chak! Chak! Chak!” at a fast pace. These human vocals take the place of traditional gamelan instruments as the music to depict the epic tale of Ramayana.
3. Pura Ulun Danu Bratan
Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is also known as the Floating Temple since part of the temple is on an island in Lake Bratan. When the Bratan river water is high, the temple looks like it is floating on water. You can rent a boat to row around the lake and get a more close up view of the beautiful 11-tier pagoda structure. The mountain and lake provide a beautiful backdrop to the temple.
The temple is dedicated to worshipping the water, river, and lake goddess Dewi Danu. As such, this is the most important temple to farmers since Lake Bratan is the main source of irrigation for central Bali, providing water to many rice paddy fields. To further emphasize the importance of this temple, you can also see this temple featured on an older version of the 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah banknote!
4. Tirta Gangga
Tirta Gangga literally means Water of the Ganges. This is a sacred water palace temple that was a former royal palace in Eastern Bali. In 1963, the palace was almost entirely destroyed entirely by Mount Agung, a volcano that’s still active today. When you walk around, you can find evidence of it slowly being rebuilt and restored. The grounds form a maze of pools and fountains that are filled with giant koi and surrounded by a lush garden. Hop or walk on stepping stone tiles to weave around intricate stone carvings and statues in the large main water fountain pond. You can pay a small fee to go swimming in the pools in the back too. Even though I didn’t hear or read much about this place, it was a lot more touristy than I expected so I recommend going early to avoid the crowds.
5. Pura Tirta Empul
Pura Tirta Empul is one of the largest and busiest water temples in Bali. Participate in a holy bathing ritual to purify and cleanse your mind, body, and soul with holy water. The sacred holy water spring Tirta Empul is believed to be infused with magical curative powers for healing and spiritual well-being. Locals journey from all over Bali especially on holy days to purify themselves in the crystal clear pools of the sacred water, seeking blessing and protection to ward off evil.
6. Gunung Kawi
Climb down 370 steps where you’ll pass rice paddy fields before crossing under an archway that drops you in front of massive stone candi (shrines) carved into the hillside cliffs. The Pakrisan River runs through creating a valley through the temple grounds. The river stems from Tampaksiring the holiest water source that feeds Tirta Empul. If you look around closely, you’ll be able to find some steps that can take you down closer to the ravine to get an alternate perspective of the shrines. Standing beneath the shrine reliefs gives you a sense of their impressive size. Prepare yourself to climb all those steps back up to the top though. If needed, you can take a break at the shops along the way.
7. Gunung Kawi Sebatu
Gunung Kawi Sebatu can be easily confused with Gunung Kawi. They are both located quite close to each other but very different temples. Instead of large shrine reliefs carved into the cliffs, this temple boasts a beautiful pond filled with carp and lotus flowers. A figure of Saraswati, Hindu goddess of knowledge, art, and wisdom, dances in the middle of the pond. A “floating” pavilion nearby allows you to feed the fish. As one of the least visited temple complexes, it is totally off the beaten path for tourists and feels extremely tranquil. Near the back of the temple, there are ancient shrines surrounded by crystal clear pools.
8. Goa Gajah
Even though Goa Gajah is known as the Elephant Cave, there are actually no elephants in the temple neither real nor statues nor carvings. It’s actually named for the Elephant River that’s nearby. The temple itself is quite small and famous for the menacing facade of the entrance to the cave. You enter through the demon’s mouth. The cave is quite small with rooms dedicated to worshiping the Hindu gods Ganesha and Shiva. There was a ceremony the day I visited so the entrance to the cave temple was decorated with offerings, which made it hard to see the full facade. However, I thought the more interesting part of the temple grounds was the garden in the back with waterfalls and some leftover blocks that looked like they fell off a temple. I felt like I was Lara Croft or on a set of Legends of the Hidden Temple. Large banyan trees can also be found here.
9. Pura Gunung Lebah
A short walk from downtown Ubud, I discovered this temple when I was looking for the entrance to the Campuhan Ridge Walk, which I highly recommend hiking. Campuhan Ridge Walk allows you to hike along a mountain ridge and look down into the valley of rice fields and palm trees on both sides. It was a delightful surprise to see these temple walls with ornate carvings before taking a turn to continue looking for the trail. You can look down into the river valley from the nearby bridge before continuing your trek to the ridge walk. The name of the temple translates to ‘small hill’ to describe its location on a rock where two rivers meet creating a valley. It is also associated as the birthplace of Ubud.
10. Pura Taman Saraswati
This is a beautiful water temple in central Ubud. Despite the busy main street and chaos of traffic in front, it’s surprisingly calm and tranquil within the temple. The temple features a large water garden filled with lotuses making it appear to float. The temple is also dedicated to Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, art, and wisdom. Every evening, the front area turns into a stage where guests can watch dancers perform traditional Balinese dances.
11. Ubud Palace
Ubud Palace or Puri Saren Agung is across the street from Pura Taman Saraswati in central Ubud and considered to be the official residence of the royal family of Bali. There are many shrines within the temple complex. You can also watch traditional Balinese dance performances in its courtyard and lush surroundings here every night. During my time in Ubud, there was a royal wedding where the temple was closed for the celebration.
12. Monkey Forest Sanctuary
Also located in central Ubud, the Monkey Forest Sanctuary is home to over 600 grey Balinese macaque monkeys who can be extremely aggressive. There are 3 temples in the forest you can visit – Pura Dalem Agung, Pura Beji, and Pura Prajapati. Walk through dense jungle with all the lush greenery and large stone carvings surrounding you. Feel transported to a world where the monkeys rule.
13. Pura Besakih
Pura Besakih is the holiest and biggest temple also known as the Mother Temple. It is located 3300 feet up the slope of volcanic Mount Agung, the tallest point in Bali, which provides a beautiful background to the temple’s serene surroundings. The complex actually comprises 86 temples within the compound. There are a ton of stairs to climb but you’re rewarded with beautiful views of the surrounding mountain. Be wary of touts due to the popularity of the temple as a tourist destination though.
14. Pura Luhur Lempuyang
This is the temple with the Instagram famous Gates of Heaven. I’ve heard the site has become so popular now that a fee is charged to have your picture taken in between the gates. Additionally, you have to wait hours in line. The photographers also use a mirror to create a reflection in the photo so the mirroring image often seen in pictures is actually not real. Aside from the photo op, the temple itself is quite important. It’s one of the nine directional temples that “protects” Bali from evil spirits, making it one of the oldest temples in Bali. The temple also exhibits an amazing view since it is at the top of Mount Lempuyang but you’ll need to climb up 1700 stairs.
15. Pura Taman Ayun
Pura Taman Ayun is one of the six royal temples found in Bali, a family temple of Mengwi empire. “Taman Ayun” means “beautiful garden” and the temple definitely showcases one. A moat also surrounds the temple, which also gives the complex the appearance of floating on water. The temple contains many traditional architectural features such as towering tiered shrines.
Tips for Visiting Temples in Bali
Almost all the temples have an entrance fee and usually only take cash.
For most of the temples, a sarong and sash are required even if you’re wearing long pants. Sometimes they are free or you can borrow them by paying a small donation. If you wear a long maxi dress, you just need to borrow a sash.
Note that women are not allowed to enter most temples during menstruation.
Go early in the mornings to avoid crowds and the heat. Check for days with special ceremonies, festivals, or performances. There are many religious holy days and days of a full or new moon are also significant. The temples tend to be even more crowded than usual on these meaningful days.
Be wary of the monkeys especially at Uluwatu and the Monkey Forest Sanctuary. They are aggressive AF and known to steal phones, sunglasses, hats, and flip flops. They especially like shiny objects like earrings and sunglasses. It’s best to have your bags zipped closed and be alert when they are around.
Never bring any food unless you want unnecessary special attention from the monkeys. I know someone who actually got bit by a monkey at the Monkey Forest Sanctuary! He was carrying a water bottle that the monkey wanted. When the monkey jumped on him, he didn’t let the monkey take the water bottle so it bit him! Definitely be cautious and do not antagonize them anyway.
Remember these temples are places of worship. Always be respectful since many locals are visiting these temples for religious reasons.