Bali’s highlands and coasts are home to many ancient temples. In fact, it’s said that there are actually more temples than homes on the island. Several have become Bali’s most iconic landmarks and talked-about places, but each is wholly unique and offers views facing the mountains, sea, or sunrise.
Here’s our curated list of temples to visit while you’re there.
PURA TANAH LOT, WEST BALI
Tanah Lot is one of Bali’s most important landmarks. Famed for its panoramic views and cultural offerings, this temple is nestled on a small island off the coast and is only accessible during low tide. It’s located in the Beraban village of the Tabanan Regency, approximately 20 km (12.5 miles) northwest of Kuta, and is home to the Tirta Pabersihan fountain, the source of holy water for all other temples in the area. The ancient Hindu shrine is perched atop an outcrop amid crashing waves — an idyllic scene when paired with a sunset backdrop. Just make sure to watch out for the legendary “guardian” sea snakes that dwell in the crevices of its rock base.
Operating hours: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Location: Jalan Raya Tanah Lot, Beraban Village, Kediri, Tabanan
PURA BESAKIH, EAST BALI
Situated on the southwestern slopes of Mount Agung, Bali’s largest volcano, Besakih is a complex comprised of 23 temples. It’s easily Bali’s largest temple complex, and is also considered the most holy. It has been called the island’s “Mother Temple” for over a thousand years, and each of the temples in the Besakih grounds serves a different purpose, though the Pura Penataran Agung is regarded as the most important.
Because of its towering location, Besakih is surrounded by breathtaking views of rice paddies, hills, mountains, and streams, which add to its almost mystical atmosphere. At least 70 ceremonies and celebrations are held at Besakih every year, as each shrine has its own anniversary, so make sure to check the 210-day Balinese Hindu calendar before your visit.
Opening Hours: 8 a.m to 5 p.m. daily
Location: Besakih Village, Rendang, Karangasem
PURA LUHUR (ULUWATU TEMPLE), SOUTH BALI
Perched on the Bukit Peninsula’s most southwestern point, Pura Luhur is full of Balinese architecture, traditionally designed gateways, and ancient sculptures. The highlight of this temple is its location on the edge of Uluwatu’s towering cliffs that lead to the Indian Ocean (ulu means “top” and watu means “stone” or “rock” in Balinese). The view from the temple is most spectacular at sunset, and Kecak dance performances are held at the temple around that time, too. Balinese Hindus believe that Pura Uluwatu is dedicated to protecting the island from evil sea spirits, and several archaeological remains have proven that the temple dates back to around the 10th century.
There is a serpentine pathway to the temple that winds along the cliffside and a small forest that lies in front of the grounds, home to hundreds of monkeys. They are believed to guard the temple from bad influences, but they’re also master pickpockets, so watch out!
Also note that anyone can enter the temple grounds, but the smaller, inner temple is reserved only for practicing Hindus.
Opening Hours: 8 a.m. 5 p.m. daily
Location: Pecatu Village, Kuta, Badung Regency
PURA TIRTA EMPUL, CENTRAL BALI
Tirta Empul is one of Bali’s most revered temples because it is where worshippers purify themselves in holy water. Located about 20 km (12.5 miles) northeast of Ubud, the temple is named after the sacred spring that flows through its grounds and is recognized as a national cultural heritage site, dating back to 960 A.D. The temple features shrines that honor Shiva, Vishnu, and Mt. Batur, among others, but the main attraction is the large, rectangular stone-carved pool, where 12 fountains pour holy spring water into its koi-filled waters. Balinese Hindus from all over the island visit the temple to pray and cleanse themselves in the pool, so it can get very busy around religious holidays. Although it’s tempting to try out the purification bathing ritual yourself, the formal routine is strictly meant for pilgrims and devotees.
Opening Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
Location: Manukaya, Tampaksiring, Gianyar
PURA ULUN DANU BERATAN, CENTRAL BALI
Located in an ethereal setting between the mountains that flank the shore of Lake Bratan, Pura Ulun Danu Beratan (or Pura Bratan) is dedicated to the goddess of water, Devi Danu. This picturesque landmark sits in Bali’s central highlands on the western side of the lake, and, during high tide, the reflective surface of the water surrounds most of the temple’s base and creates a unique floating illusion. The striking scenery and atmosphere of the iconic sanctuary have made it a favorite sightseeing spot for visitors and locals alike.
Visits to the Ulun Danu Beratan temple require an entrance fee of 7,500 IDR for domestic tourists and 10,000 IDR for foreigners (roughly 1 USD). There is also a small zoo next to the temple where you can hold a snake or a bat, if you so please.
Opening Hours: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Location: The western side of the Beratan Lake, Candi Kuning, Bedugul, Tabanan Regency
PURA GOA LAWAH, SOUTHEAST BALI
Although most tourists visit to see the bats that live inside its grounds, Pura Goa Lawah is a very important temple to the Balinese. Just west of Candidasa, this temple was built around a cave in the cliffside that is packed with tens of thousands of fruit bats. Legend has it that the cave is also home to a dragon-like snake called Basuki that feasts on the winged mammals. The Goa Lawah bats usually stay quiet during the day, so if you’re not fond of the flying creatures, don’t fret. Located only 10 minutes from Kusamba, the temple is one of the nine directional temples in Bali.
Opening Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
Location: Pesinggahan, Dawan, Kabupaten Klungkung
PURA GOA GAJAH, SOUTHEAST BALI
Goa Gajah is an important Hindu archaeological site that was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in 1995. Although its name translates to “Elephant Cave,” you won’t find any pachyderms there. Filled with relics, rock-wall carvings, meditational caves, bathing pools, and fountains, Goa Gajah is great stopover for anyone visiting the Ubud region. As it’s located on the western edge of Bedulu Village, just outside central Ubud, you won’t need more than an hour to descend into its courtyards and view the historical meditation complex.
Opening Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
Location: Bedulu, Jalan Raya Goa Gajah, Blahbatuh, Gianyar
PURA TAMAN AYUN, WEST BALI
Taman Ayun is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Mengwi, about 10 km (6 miles) northeast of Tanah Lot. Its name translates to “beautiful garden,” a title that suits it perfectly as the temple’s tranquil garden is one of its main attractions. In addition to its expansive tropical garden, the temple contains lotus and fish ponds, fountains, courtyards, paved footpaths, and moss-lined walls, as well as about 50 shrines and pavilions. Taman Ayun is a great example of traditional Balinese Hindu temple architecture, as you actually have to cross a moat to reach the temple grounds.
A trip to the Taman Ayun temple complex is usually included in journeys to the central or northern regions of Bali and is a frequent stopover for visitors who opt to spend time in Bedugul.
The entrance fee for the Taman Ayun temple is 3,000 to 4,000 IDR (roughly 0.30 to 0.40 USD).
Operating Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
Location: Jalan Ayodya, Mengwi, Kabupaten Badung
PURA GUNUNG KAWI, CENTRAL BALI
One of Bali’s most unique archaeological sites, Gunung Kawi is comprised of ancient shrine reliefs carved into the face of a cliff. There are four hidden on the west side of the temple, another five on the eastern side of the river, and one more across the valley to the south. The main site overlooks the sacred Pakerisan River and a temple courtyard featuring old Hindu shrines of a more contemporary architectural style. Gunung Kawi is also said to have been a meditation site where Buddhist monks and Balinese Hindus coexisted in harmony.
The temple is a popular stopover for those traveling through the central uplands of the Gianyar Regency, and, at only a few hundred meters east of the Jalan Raya Tampaksiring main route, it’s easy to find.
Operating Hours: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Location: Banjar Penaka, Tampaksiring, Kabupaten Gianyar
PURA LEMPUYANG LUHUR, EAST BALI
One of Bali’s oldest temples, Lempuyang is believed to predate the majority of Hindu temples on the island. Located on the peak of namesake Mount Lempuyang, the main temple rests at 3,855 ft (1,175 m) above sea level.
If you want to reach the temple on the peak, you’ll face a steep climb of over 1,700 steps, but the trek promises sightings of macaque monkeys and sweeping, panoramic views of the eastern Bali mountain range and coastline. (Locals also believe that there is a spiritual aspect to the climb, and complaining is strictly prohibited.) After about two hours uphill, the Lempuyang temple welcomes weary pilgrims with a calming place of rest. Although the temple is smaller in size, there is a mystical feel to its setting.
If you’re not up for the hike, you can still enjoy the views of the Pura Penataran Agung temple located at the foot of the mountain. Although Penataran Agung offers impressive sights and towering dragon staircases, Lempuyang is home to Bali’s iconic “Doors of Heaven.”
Operating Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Location: Mount Lempuyang, Bunutan Village, Karangasem
The Balinese are more than happy to welcome you into their culture, but remember that temples are holy places. When you enter one, show respect for the local customs and dress accordingly. In general, that means your legs should be covered and you should be dressed in a modest fashion. At some temples, a sash is also required, but you can usually rent one at the entrance, as with sarongs.
Also remember to take off your shoes before entering any holy place on the island (if you’re nervous about it, just look for the pile of sandals), and use common courtesy when taking photos.
Header image by Shayna Pitch.