LAND OF 1000 TEMPLES: WHERE TO FIND SPECTACULAR BALI SACRED SITES
Talk to travellers who’ve fallen in love with Bali, and you’ll hear, over and over, that there’s just ‘something’ about it. That ‘something’ could be monkey-filled jungles, diving in Amed or just the joy of eating Nasi Goreng for breakfast.
But, there’s also a sacred side to Bali. You can literally feel it in the spiritual hub of Ubud, see it during Hindu morning offerings and smell it in the incense-infused air. No matter where you go in the Land of 1000 Temples, you’ll find sacred sites for special moments.
To start your journey, discover Bali’s exquisite temples. Here’s where to find some of the most spectacular.
Dedicated to the Sea Gods, Tanah Lot is possibly the most photographed temple in Bali. Perched on a high rock surrounded by crashing waves and fiery sunsets, that comes as no surprise. You’ll certainly have to battle tourist crowds here, but it’s worth the effort.
This is one of a few key sea temples built within viewing distance of each other, offering a chain of protection to keep bad vibes off the island. Said to be guarded by sacred sea snakes, Tanah Lot is steeped in romantic myth and legend. It’s located in the Tabanan Regency, about a 30-minute drive from Denpasar.
Otherwise known as the Mother Temple, Besakih aligns with the highest and holiest peak in Bali, the active volcano, Mount Agung. In the past, lava from the erupting sacred mountain has narrowly missed the sprawling complex, adding further proof to legends surrounding its spiritual significance.
More than 80 individual temples rest dramatically on the slopes, in the midst of rice paddies and verdant forests. Tourists flock to visit and snap a selfie within the iconic Gates of Heaven. However, the temple is integral to Balinese Hindu culture, and you’ll see authentic rituals and ceremonies taking place year-round.
Surfers will be familiar with Uluwatu’s famous reef breaks and lush cliffs hugging white sand beaches. Looking out over the pristine sea is Uluwatu Temple, one of Bali’s oldest and home to hundreds of cheeky monkeys. In terms of spiritual significance, it’s an important site for Hindu pilgrims and is said to offer a portal to heaven.
According to legend, this was the last temple built by Hindu priest, Dang Hyang Nirartha,
who also built Tanah Lot among other sea temples. He died after it was completed in the middle of a prayer session in the temple, and myth suggests onlookers saw his body floating towards heaven.
Goa Gajah / The Elephant Cave
You won’t see elephants inside the mysterious Goa Gajah. Instead, the archaeological site, named after the Elephant River, could be the entrance to a mythical underworld. Dating back to the 11th century, Goa Gajah was apparently built as a meditation site, that you enter via a demonic-looking mouth carved into the rock face.
One Balinese myth suggests the entrance depicts a child-eating witch, while others claim it represents Bhoma, the Hindu Earth God. Exquisite stone carvings, ancient bathing pools and emerald rice paddies contradict the scary overtone of legends, making it a place of beauty just outside of Ubud.
Though many of Bali’s sacred sites now seem devoted to the tourist industry, you can’t help but feel the spiritual and cultural significance of its temples, built as one with nature and the compelling myths surrounding them.