Part of the Small Sunda Islands archipelago and separated from Java (the most populous island in the country) by the Strait of Bali, the island is characterized by an incredible variety of natural landscapes. The areas where tourism is most concentrated are the southern coastal areas, which mainly attract water sports enthusiasts such as surfing. In the north, on the other hand, there are wonderful seabeds, suitable for snorkeling. However, it is Ubud, located in the center of Bali, that plays a key role both as a tourist and cultural center of the country: in addition to terraced rice fields and lush forests, here are the main religious buildings and architectural attractions of the whole island.
Here are the best things to do and see in Bali:
1. Ubud Monkey Forest
Considered a veritable sanctuary for Balinese long-tailed monkeys, the Mandala Suci Wenara Wana (more commonly known as Ubud’s Monkey Forest) is certainly one of the most unmissable places on the island of Bali, which welcomes more than 12,000 foreign visitors each year. The forest has three large temples dedicated to Hindu gods, the most famous of which is the Temple of the Holy Spring, as well as 186 species of plants that make up the 12 hectares of the park.
The main attraction, however, remains the Balinese monkey, whose specimens are recognizable by the characteristic coloring of the fur (reddish-brown on the dorsal side, lighter on the belly). Pay attention, however, to the valuables (sunglasses, cameras and lenses, wallets, etc.): these little monkeys, apparently so nice and funny, are quite spiteful and it is not uncommon for naive tourists to find themselves robbed of something!
2. Tanah Lot Temple
The island of Bali abounds with temples and other religious buildings of great interest, but one of the most appreciated and scenic is certainly the Temple of the Sea of Tanah Lot. Dedicated to Hindu sea gods and poisonous snakes (who seem to live in the cave in front of the temple, ready to drive out evil spirits and people with no good intentions), the Temple of Tanah Lot is located on a rocky islet in the Pacific, just off the south coast of Bali, and can only be reached on foot at low tide. The complex, one of the most characteristic of the whole country, is part of a series of seven sea temples, all built between the 15th and 16th centuries.
3. Garuda Wisnu Kencana
The Mandala Garuda Wisnu Kencana is an important cultural park, located on the Bukit peninsula. Dedicated to the male deity Vishnu (typically represented with his four arms and his sky-blue skin, indicating his divine origin) and his faithful traveling companion Garuda (the divine progenitor of all birds), the park consists of gardens, temples of different sizes, statues, squares, etc.. located at a height of 260 meters above sea level: from the park, you can enjoy beautiful views of the ocean and the island of Bali.
One of the most significant attractions of the site, however, is the statue of the god Vishnu, more than 70 meters high (and weighing more than 4,000 tons).
4. Blue Lagoon Padangbai
The sea of the Indonesian island is not only suitable for water sports enthusiasts (diving, surfing, snorkeling, etc.) but can also attract those who want to enjoy a bit of relaxation on the beach, surrounded by palm trees and tropical plants overlooking water worthy of a glossy cover. For this reason, if you are looking for a break from your cultural holiday and can’t wait to get some sun on a beautiful local beach, I suggest you head for the Blue Lagoon of Padangbai: fine white sand, turquoise sea, a bay sheltered from the wind and chaos… Need I say more?
5. Ulun Danu Bratan Temple
Among the most iconic sites in cultural Bali, it is impossible not to mention the Ulun Danu Bratan Temple: it is, in fact, the most important Shivaist temple on the island, which stands inside a caldera of an old volcanic crater now extinct, where Lake Bratan now stands. Founded in 1633, the complex is located on the western side of the lake and is divided into two parts, one of which is “floating” on a small island surrounded by water. Not far from the beautiful site, there is also the famous traditional market of Candi Kuning, where you can find typical handicrafts, local spices, and delicious red fruit sweets that are produced right around the lake (and that are delicious).
6. Uluwatu Temple
Another temple worth visiting if you are in Bali is the Temple of Uluwatu, located in Pecatu and built in honor of the Vedic god Rudra (Hindu god of storm, hunting, death, and wind). The peculiarity of this place, as the name itself indicates (ulu=” on top”, watu=”cliff”), is its location on the top of a rocky cliff overlooking the ocean, which according to legend is part of the now petrified ship of the sea goddess, Dewi Danu.
To get to the temple, all you have to do is walk up a flight of steps that runs along the rock overhanging the sea and access it through a stone portal. Be careful, though: here too, as in the Temple of the Sacred Spring, the surrounding area is populated by mischievous little monkeys who often bother the careless tourists.
7.Jatiluwih rice terraces
You can’t say you’ve been to Bali if you haven’t spent at least a few hours surrounded by what is the Balinese landscape par excellence: the terraced rice fields. Distributed throughout the island, many terraces can be found alternating with areas where the jungle thrives: among the most popular and beautiful, we recommend those of Jatiluwih, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although they are a little out of the way compared to Ubud, they certainly deserve to be considered. If you prefer to stay close to the city, you might think about following the promenade along Jalan Matahari, an untouristy pedestrian street that winds through the rice fields. Unpublished views are insured in both cases.
8. Tirta Empul Temple
This temple, built around 900, is still regularly visited by the Hindu faithful, who go to this place of worship to purify themselves by diving into the pools dedicated to sacred ablutions. The water that feeds the pools comes directly from the sacred spring that gushes out next to the mountainous area of Bali, and the faithful, proceeding from west to east, after having exposed their prayers, pass head bent and hands joined under the 13 fountains present.
The site is also open to tourists (if they want to participate in the ceremony themselves, they must apply at the entrance). A mystical and highly suggestive experience.
9. Gates Of Haven
Bali is not only one of the many destinations where you can go on holiday, but it is a place that encompasses a complex and varied common imagination that has been emerging especially in recent years. In this regard, one of the most popular images of Bali on the Internet and social media, just after that of the rice fields, is the one depicting particular stone monuments (often photographed at sunrise and/or sunset, when the light makes them even more magical): these monuments, which have recently become very famous, are none other than the Gates of Paradise, the most famous of which can be found on the Pura Lempuyang website. To take pictures of these wonders, however, arm yourself with patience and get ready to work hard: in addition to the endless crowds of tourists, more than 1,700 steps separate you from the Gates of Heaven!