Central Bali is a mountainous area in Bali, mostly popular for its art, culture, temples and lakes.
- Bedugul — mountain lakes, the botanical gardens, Candikuning market and the famous Ulun Danu Bratan temple
- Tabanan — black sand beaches, Mount Batukaru, UNESCO World Heritage site of Jatiluwih and gateway to West Bali
- Bangli — Batur Lake, Batur Hotsprings, Mount batur and gateway to east Bali, Central Bamboo Crafts
- Ubud — the centre of art and dance in the foothills, with an interesting small palace, monkey forest, and lots of arts and crafts shops
This by definition is a large and varied region. It is mostly known though for the artistic and cultural capital of Bali in Ubud and the mountains and lakes around Bedugul. Several of Bali's most notable archeological sites are also to be found here as well as two of the key nine directional temples.
With a prevalence of artistic, cultural, historical and scenic attractions, Central Bali appeals most those looking for break from the sun, sand and partying in South Bali or to those who are seeking a more thorough understanding of this complex island.
The climate in the elevated areas of this region is remarkably cooler than elsewhere on the island, especially around Bedugul. Bring some warm clothes as temperatures can get to a low of 10 degrees Celsius at night.
The rain is a lot less predictable here, especially when you get high up the mountains. When visiting Mount Batukaru, the humidity is particularly high and it rains a lot in this area.
The central region is approachable by road from all other areas of Bali. The most commonly used routes are:
- From South Bali to Ubud on the main Jalan Ngurah Rai bypass to Sanur and east Denpasar and then into Central Bali via the villages of Batubulan and Sukawati to Ubud. Time approximately 45 minutes.
- From East Bali to Ubud using the main road from Klungkung through Gianyar. Time approximately 1 hour.
- From South Bali to Jatiluwih. Time approximately 1h30.
- From North Bali to Bedugul on the main southward route from Singaraja or Seririt. Time approximately 1 hour.
- From West Bali to Bedugul on the north coast road to Singaraja and then south to Bedugul. Time approximately 2 hours.
- From West Bali to Tabanan on the south coast road. Time approximately 2 hours.
This is a large region with few taxis and also Go-car and Grab are not easy to find. Most visitors get around by renting a car with or without a driver or a motorbike. Expect to pay about Rp 500,000 per day for a good quality car with driver and including petrol.
Arts and Crafts
Ubud is rightly regarded as the arts and crafts capital of Bali. In around the town you will find many shops, galleries and workshops dedicated to various aspects of the art of Bali, both traditional and modern.
- Museum Puri Lukisan (Museum of Fine Arts) (In the center of Ubud. The entrance is signposted from Jalan Raya just west of the main market.). When it opened in 1954, this was the first private museum in Bali. There are three buildings showcasing traditional and modern Balinese art (mostly paintings and sculpture). Apart from anything else, visitors will find a visit here very helpful in understanding the different schools of art in Bali as there are exhibits dedicated to several of the main categories. Perhaps the most noted artists with works shown here are I Gusti Nyoman Lempad and Rudolph Bonnet. The latter was instrumental in the setting up of this museum and made several donations of his work.
- Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA) (In Pengosekan village on Jalan Hanoman 1 km east of central Ubud.), ☎ . daily 9AM-5PM. This impressive museum, library and gallery is the brainchild of leading art dealer Agung Rai and it showcases works by well known Balinese artists as well as international artists who made Bali their home such as Walter Spies, Adrian Jean Le Mayeur, Rudolph Bonnet and Arie Smit. The only painting in Bali by renowned Javanese artist Radan Saleh is exhibited here. Rp 25,000.
- NEKA Art Museum (In the village of Kedewetan about 3 km west of central Ubud on Jalan Raya Campuhan.). Daily 9AM-6PM. Opened in 1982, no less than six pavilions house the various collections which include dedicated rooms for artists Arie Smit and I Gusti Nyoman Lempad. Rp 20,000.
The areas immediately around Ubud have much to offer in terms of art and each village seems to specialise in a particular artform or craft. For woodcarving head to Mas, 2 km south of Ubud on the main road heading towards Sukawati and Sanur. For silver-work Celuk is further south on the same road. There are many high end jewellery galleries here and well as more humble workshops. Stonecarving is the deal in Singakerta and further south in Batubulan.
Historical and Archaeological Sites
The areas in and around Ubud, Gianyar and Tampaksiring have several sites of great archaeological interest and significance. A day devoted to visiting these would be a day very well spent.
The Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) complex at Bedulu village is just 2 km south east of Ubud on the main road to Gianyar. The centerpiece here is a cave dating back to the 11th century the entrance of which is an ornately carved demon's mouth. Inside are some fragmentary lingam and yoni (phallus and vagina) statues, as well as a statue of Ganesha. Statues stand guard around pools near the entrance. A number of the relics here strongly indicate that the site has a Buddhist as well as Hindu past. Despite its great antiquity some parts of the Goa Gajah complex were not excavated until the 1950s. Tentatively nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Entrance fee is Rp 6,000 and the complex is open daily from 8AM-4PM.
Nearby are the far less well known rock carvings at Yeh Pulu. These date to the 14th or 15th century and are in a very attractive rice field setting. You can reach Yeh Pulu on foot through the rice fields from Goa Gajah but you will definitely need a guide for the 45 minute walk as there is no path to speak of. Alternatively turn off the Ubud to Gianyar main road about 400 metres east of the entrance to the Goa Gajah complex. Drive through Banjar Batulumbang until the road comes to an end. For here walk down the track to Yeh Pulu passing the small warung on your left. As well as the carvings there is a holy well here and the attendant priest will be happy to bless you with the well water. Temple dress code applies here. Yeh Pulu is a much under-rated and under-visited site - highly recommended.
The historically important area of Tampaksiring is about 20 km northeast from Ubud town centre. 300 metres north of the bemo terminal in Tampsaksiring on the main road, the entrance track to Gunung Kawi (poet mountain) is signposted. Dating from the 11th century, this is presumed to be the burial complex of King Anak Wungsu and his many wives. Reached by climbing down 371 steps, the location at the bottom of the steep Pakrisan River valley is stunning. The smaller complex on the south side of the river is presumed to be for the king's wives, while the larger complex is thought to be for the King himself and perhaps his favourite concubines. About one km downriver there are further tomb cloisters. On the way back up, take a break at Cafe Kawi, which has cold drinks (Rp 10,000 & up) and fresh breezes (free). Entrance is Rp 6,000, open daily 8AM-4PM except during major religious hoildays.
About 500 metres to the north, off the main Tampaksiring to Penelokan road, is the temple complex of Tirta Empul. This splendid temple dates back to the 10th century and is one of the holiest in Bali. Bar a few relics though, most of what you see is a modern replica. The site was built around hot springs that still bubble in the central courtyard. This is a very important sacred site for the Hindu Balinese who come here to cleanse themselves physically and spiritually - a process called melukat. During Galungan festivals the sacred barong masks are bathed here. Entrance is Rp 6,000, open daily 8AM-4PM except during major religious holidays.
The Subak Museum in Tabanan is a repository that showcases the centuries-old Balinese agrarian way of life - the management of rice fields and its irrigation systems collectively known as 'subak'. Unique to Bali, the subak, as well as the wealth of traditional agricultural methods and tools, are collected, recorded and kept within this Subak Museum, located on Jalan Gatot Subroto, in the Kediri district of the Tabanan regency. The museum is approximately an hour’s drive from Bali’s capital city Denpasar, and only five minutes from the town centre of Tabanan.
Mountains and Lakes
The central mountain range of Bali contains some of the very best scenery and geographical features on the island as well as important temples. No visitor to Bali should miss this area.
The area known loosely as Bedugul is right in the heart of the central mountains and is framed by the three large crater lakes of Bratan, Buyan and Tamblingan. Pura Ulun Danu Bratan (Lake Bratan Temple) is perhaps the most photographed temple on the island and is certainly one of the great iconic images of Bali. The temple sits on the western shore of Lake Bratan and it can give the illusion of actually floating on the water. Built in 1633, the temple is devoted to Dewi Danu, goddess of the lake. A beautiful temple in a truly stunning setting. Open 7AM-5PM, daily and the entrance fee is Rp 5,000.
About 1 km back up the hill from Lake Bratan is the Bukit Mungsu traditional market. The highlands around Bedugul are cool and fertile and there area has become a key growing area for fruit and vegetables including those that demand a cool climate. All manner of very fresh local produce is for sale here as well the spices for which Bali is so well known.
Further west again from the market are the Bali Botanical Gardens (Kebun Raya Eka Karya), tel: +62 368 21273 . One of Indonesia's four official botanical gardens, the best and the cleanest among Indonesia's botanical garden with a lake and cactus greenhouse. The entrance road is identified by the presence of a giant stone corn on the cob! The gardens are huge covering some 160 hectares and any visitor with an interest in plants and trees could easily spend a whole day here to see 1,500 species of 16,000 plants. There is also an informative library and gift shop. Open daily 8AM-6PM, admission price Rp 6,000. Can get very busy during local school holidays.
Photo opportunities and stunning scenery are plentiful in this area but no more so than around the lovely mountain village of Munduk. From Lake Bratan continue north passing Lake Buyan and look for the immediate turn to the west (left) which takes you along the northern shore of Lake Buyan, past Lake Tamblingan to the villages of Munduk and Gobleg. Stop often, take it all in and absorb the truly magnificent scenery.
South and west from Bedugul, Bali's second highest peak Mount Batukaru dominates the landscape. There are many scenic drives in this area centering on the UNESCO World Heritage Site nominated Jatiluwih and the roads into the foothills of the mountain around the villages of Gunung Sari, Marga, Wongayagede, Sanda and Sarinbuana. Arm yourself with a good map and enjoy perhaps the best scenery in the whole of Bali. You can make a long trekking (around 3,5 hours) through the rice terraces of Jatiluwih (UNESCO World Heritage site) or do a tour on an electric bike. There are plenty of restaurants around or even in the rice fields all with breathtaking views. There are many waterfalls in the area to visit as well as hot springs.
Pura Luhur Batukaru (Batukaru Temple) near Wongayagede village is one of Bali's nine key directional temples and a site of pilgrimage for the Hindu Balinese. Majestically situated on the slopes of Mount Batukaru since the 11th century, this is an especially sacred site, even by Balinese standards and all visitors must carefully read and abide by the temple rules posted clearly at the entrance. The temple is high on the slopes of the mountain and the often misty, drizzly micro-climate here just adds to its undoubtedly mystical atmosphere.
There are many cultural dance performances in Ubud on an almost nightly basis and this town is also a haven for all kinds of spa treatments and other wellness centres.
Outdoors types might like to take a relatively gentle hike through the rice fields and valleys at Jatiluwih near Bedugul and for the more energetic and experienced, a climb of mighty Mount Batukaru is an option. Also longer trekkings are available through the rice terraces of Jatiluwih as well as more relaxed tours with electric bikes.
The region has limited coastline so opportunities for water sports are limited, but there is excellent white-water rafting available in the Sayan valley close to Ubud. This is relatively safe for the inexperienced because most is grade-2, with some grade-3, on the white-water rafting scale.
Central Bali's south coast from Tabanan to West Bali has beaches with black sand and rocky and scattered round stones. However, it also has two surfer beaches: Soka Beach just past Tanah Lot is a bit more than one hour's drive from Kuta and Balian Beach is 5 kilometers west of Soka Beach.
Eating in Central Bali is pretty much like elsewhere on the island, but an interesting try is the delicious traditional fruit market Bukit Mungsu in the village of Candikuning at Bedugul. There are plenty of restaurants with amazing views over the rice fields, particularly in Jatiluwih and Bedugul.
This is a quiet, cultural region and there is barely any nightlife to speak of. Ubud has a few places for a quiet drink but strictly enforced regulations ensure that all live performances and loud music end by 10:30PM.