There are over 20,000 temples on the island of Bali. Some of these architectural wonders have stood for over 1,000 years and no two temples (at least on this list) are alike. Certainly no itinerary is complete without a visit to at least one of these temples, but we say you should make sure all of the following are on your Bali travel checklist!
A Bit Of Bali Background
Bali subscribes to a unique form of Hinduism, Balinese Hinduism, called Agama Hindu Dharma. Hindu is the religious minority in Indonesia but most of that minority population call the island home. You will find many of the practices of this branch of Hinduism - and even the language - exist only on this island.
Agama Hindu Dharma originated from the neighboring island of Java and is a blend of Shivaism and Buddhism. The influence of Indian Shivaism can be seen in the indigenous beliefs that form the backbone of many of the religious rituals. This is a hybrid religion only found here. As the Balinese saying goes “The truth is one; the interpretation, multiple.”
Balinese people believe that nature is power. The temples are often entwined into the natural settings from the jungle of Ubud, the cliffs of Uluwatu to the shore of Lake Bratan - the second largest lake in Bali. The following five temples are examples of these nature-themed temples (and are all featured on our 18 day group backpacking adventure).
Uluwatu Temple (Day 2 of 18)
Location, location, location! What makes Uluwatu Temple so incredible is its cliff-top setting where it towers on 80 metre cliffs (about 250 feet) above the waves of the Indian Ocean. In Balinese, 'ulu' means the ‘top’ or ‘tip’ and 'watu' means a ‘stone’ or ‘rock’. Archaeological remains found here show the temple dates back as far as the 10th century. Don’t mind the hundreds of grey long-tailed macaques that call this home. Locals believe the monkeys guard the temple from bad influences and are illegal to remove!
Tanah Lot Temple (Day 3 of 18)
This is probably Bali’s most iconic temple. The temple was built in the 16th century on top of an outcrop of coral just off the coast. At low tide, you may cross to view the rock base where locals say ‘guardian’ sea snakes dwell in crevices to protect the natural spout of water. Yes, of freshwater coming up under the sea! This spout is the source of holy water for all the temples in the area. Waves flood walkways making it impossible to cross at high tide.
Goa Gajah Temple (Day 8 of 18)
Also called Elephant Cave, Goa Gajah dates back to the 11th century, built as a designated place for meditation. The northern side of the complex is mostly Buddhist while south towards the river it’s mostly Shivaite influences woven into the jungle.
Some relics found here date all the way back to the 8th century and yet the pool of flowing holy water at the center of the temple was not discovered until 1954! The cave itself is small and inside are three stone idols each wrapped in red, yellow and black cloth. This temple is lesser-known but well worth a visit.
Pura Tirta Empul Temple (Day 15 of 18)
Built in 960 AD and dedicated to the Hindu water God Vishnu, Tirta Empul means ‘holy water spring’. The name actually refers to the water source located within the temple compound. The temple consists of a bathing structure, famous for the holy spring water, where Balinese Hindus flock for ritual purification.
Locals believe that the water in these pools has magical powers to cure their illnesses and cleanse of sin. Our expert guide explains how to dress and use the pools to add to the mystic experience.
Pura Ulun Danu Temple (Day 17 of 18)
This temple sits 1,500 metres (about 5,000 feet) above sea level just next to Lake Bratan. The structure was built in adoration of the Goddess Danu abutting the second largest lake in Bali. Danu, in Balinese, means lake. The goddess Danu is queen of water, lakes, and rivers.
The area surrounding the temple is believed to have been a site of worship and religious rituals. A sarcophagus found here was dated back to 500 BC! Water from the lake irrigates hundreds of farms and is a life-source of both food and income for Balinese people.
20,000 temples is no small task when you consider that the population of Bali is just half that of London! These ancient temples definitely deserve consideration and should be on the travel list for anyone heading to Bali. If you prefer to let us do the planning, they are featured on our 18 day group backpacking tour adventure.