With over a thousand temples in Bali, how do you decide which ones to visit?
The temples in Bali all play a role. Some roles are more important than others. And some temples are just simply beautiful, regardless of their rank and function. So before deciding which ones are the best, it helps to know a little bit about the different types of temples in Bali. We’ve kept all of this in mind while compiling our list of the 15 top temples in Bali, so if you’d prefer to skip ahead to that list, feel free to do so below.
For the rest of you, welcome to our quickie guide to Bali temples.
The Directional Temples of Bali – 9 temples that protect the island
We’ve already mentioned that there’s over a thousand temples on the island. That’s a-freaking-lot. Of those, only nine receive the honor of protecting the island from harm, so you can guess that they’re quite important. Located at key spots around Bali’s perimeter, these temples face outward to ward off evil spirits. We recommend visiting at least one of these directional temples on your trip to Bali, but we’ve only included a handful of these on our list, so we’ve marked those that made the cut (our favorites) with an asterisk below.
- Pura Besakih* – on the western slopes of Mount Agung in East Bali | Bali’s most important temple
- Pura Pasar Agung – on the southern slopes of Mount Agung in East Bali
- Pura Goa Lawah* – on the main road near Padangbai in East Bali
- Pura Lempuyang – on the slopes of Mount Lempuyang near Amlapura in East Bali
- Pura Luhur Uluwatu* – on the western end of the Bukit peninsula
- Pura Masceti – on the south coast close to Ketewel
- Pura Luhur Batukaru – on the southern slopes of Mount Batukaru in Central Bali
- Pura Ulun Danu Bratan* – in the Central highlands in Bedugal
- Pura Ulun Danu Batur – in the eastern highlands in Kintamani
The 15 Best Temples in Bali
We’ve divided our favorites by type, so you can have a sampling of everything. These are our top favorites.
The Bali Water Temples – Pura Tirta
In addition to their religious function, water temples–known as pura tirta in Bali–play an important role in the irrigation system on the island. Authority rests with the temple priests to allocate water to the rice paddies and fields in the villages surrounding their temples. Some of these temples also contain bathing pools where the local Balinese use their holy waters for prayer and purification rituals. Viator offers a full day water temples tour visiting 3 of the most photogenic temples in Bali (which are, of course, also featured in this list).
Pura Taman Ayun – The Royal Temple of Mengwi
The Royal Temple of Mengwi– or Pura Taman Ayun– marked the very first temple we ever visited on our trip to Bali, so it holds a special place in our hearts. Its Balinese name means Garden Temple in the Water, and that’s perfectly fitting for a complex that’s completely surrounded by canals and only accessible by a bridge. The innermost courtyard contains tiered shrines representing Balinese gods, and the entire island symbolizes Mount Meru, the home of the gods that forever floats in the sea of eternity.
Pura Ulun Danu Bratan – The Temple on Beratan Lake
Dedicated to the water goddess Dewi Danu, the main temples of Pura Ulun Danu Bratan rest upon two small islands on Lake Beratan, giving the illusion that the temples are almost floating upon the water itself. One of the most visually stunning temples, Ulun Danu also serves as the main water source for most of the region and provides water to smaller temple systems downstream. The entire complex consists of land structures located along the water’s shore as well as the inner temples lying within the lake.
As one of Bali’s nine directional temples, it’s so important that it even appears on the 50,000 note of the local currency–the rupiah.
Taman Ujung Water Palace – Karangasem Water Temple
Taman Ujung translates to water palace, but this site is also commonly referred to as Taman Sukasada or Karangasem water temple.
Originally constructed in 1921, much of Taman Ujung has been restored after the 1963 eruption of Mount Agung nearly destroyed the entire complex. A rare combination of both Balinese and European architecture, the elaborately designed buildings and bridges connect three main pools together to create a visually stunning water garden.
Pura Taman Kemuda Saraswati Temple
Famous for the Plumeria tree-lined lotus pond surrounding its inner temple, Pura Taman Saraswati stands in dedication to the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, art, and wisdom. You can find it in one of Bali’s more popular tourist towns– Ubud.
Pura Tirta Empul – Holy Water Temple
Tirta empul means “holy water spring,” and the pools that feed the temple are integral to the lives of Balinese Hindus who use it purify themselves through ritual bathing. A spring fed pool supplies the bathing pool with its sacred water, and locals line up to wait their turn to pray and dunk their heads under each of eleven faucets, moving from left to right until they’ve purified themselves under all. (There are actually thirteen spouts total, rather than eleven, but since the last two on the far right must only be used to purify the dead during funeral rites, it’s taboo to stand or bathe under these.) This temple dates all the way back to 962 AD and is located near Ubud in the village of Manukaya.
The Sacred Cave Temples in Bali
Far older than the man-built temples on the island, cave temples are often respected as ancient sites of important architectural significance where Balinese Hindus make pilgrimages of prayer.
Pura Goa Gajah – Elephant Cave Temple
Named for the menacing face carved into the entrance of the cave, Goa Gajah–“Elephant Cave”–contains bathing pools, statues, and fountains. And despite its appearance, it’s thought to have been a place of meditation and sanctuary, dating back to the 11th century.
Pura Goa Giri Putri – Cave Temple on Nusa Penida
The entrance to this cave is tiny, but the cave is huge. Considered a place of pilgrimage for Balinese Hindus, you have to climb 110 steps to reach the entrance to Goa Giri Putri. The cave’s mouth narrows so tightly that you must kneel and crawl to get inside.
Pura Goa Lawah – Bat Cave Temple
One of Bali’s nine directional temples that protect the island from evil spirits, Goa Lawah– or the “Bat Cave”– really does contain live bats. (Unlike the Elephant Cave which contains no elephants.) Local legend states that the cave hides a river of healing water and also a crown-wearing snake king– Vasuki– who survives by feeding off the thousands of bats inhabiting the temple. Balinese Hindus make annual pilgrimages to pray at the entrance.
Bali Sea Temples
Bali’s sea temples are located by the sea in order to appease the sea gods and deities.
Pura Luhur Uluwatu – Bali’s Cliffside Sea Temple
Uluwatu stands at the edge of a 70 meter high cliff and is inhabited by monkeys who are notorious for snatching visitors’ belongings. They’ve learned bartering behavior, however, so if you offer them some fruit, you usually can persuade them to give your items back. Aside from these hilarious antics and the stunning scenery, this temple also functions as one of the nine sacred directional temples protecting Bali.
Pura Tanah Lot
Bali’s most photographed temple, the gorgeous Pura Tanah Lot sits upon a rocky island on the ocean’s edge, and it’s name fittingly translates to “Land in the Sea.”
Sacred forest sanctuaries exist to maintain harmony between humans, nature, and the cosmos while renewing contact with the spiritual world. Many trees are considered holy by Balinese Hindus and have important roles to play during festivals and religious ceremonies.
Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
Both nature reserve and Hindu temple complex, the Ubud Monkey Forest houses around 700 monkeys and 186 species of trees in 12.5 hectares of forest, temples, and statues. Local villagers give offerings and prayers to Balinese gods as well as to the spirits of trees and statues in the forest.
Pujangga Sakti Temple of the Bunut Bolong
in Manggisari village 11 km north of the main Denpasar – Gilimanuk road, an ancient evergreen ficus tree grows with a hole through its trunk. Meaning “tree with a hole in it,” the bunut bolong can accommodate two side-by-side cars passing through its large arch. The spirits of two tigers guard the tree, and their likeness has been depicted in the statues topping the shrines that flank the tree. These shrines collectively are known as the Pujangga Sakti Temple. Because the spirits who inhabit the tree will never agree to move elsewhere, the tree cannot ever be cut down, so the road will forever pass through its center.
Underwater Temples in Bali
Known as underwater temples or underwater temple gardens, these unique and sometimes hidden dive sites across various Bali beaches have been steadily gaining fans and followers in recent years.
Sunken Buddha Temple in Tulamben & Underwater Temple in Amed
Just off shore of Jemeluk Bay in Amed, a 3.5 ton underwater temple adorned with traditional Balinese carvings has become the highlight of snorkelers and divers who frequent the region. Though not an official place a worship by Balinese Hindus, its popularity with tourists has soared, and many are trekking all the way to this beach to see it for themselves. Even cooler– the “temple” actually functions as a working mail box. Adventurers can purchase waterproof postcards from local dive shops and then deposit their letters inside the shrine to be collected and mailed by the local postman. Lookout for sunken sculptures of water nymphs, mermaids, and treasure chests nearby. You can also find a sunken Buddha statue around 9 to 17 metres below the water’s surface in Tulamben, Bali.
Bali’s Mountain Temples
Mountain temples in Bali are built upon the slopes of mountains or volcanoes and are considered to be the abode of gods.
Pura Besakih – Mother Temple of Besakih
We saved this one for last because it’s the largest and most important Hindu temple in Bali. It lies on the slopes of volcanic Mount Agung– Bali’s holiest mountain. Not surprisingly, this temple is also one of the nine important directional temples. And Besakih is actually a dragon god, so of course we love it here at Adventure Dragon.
We owe a huge thanks to Allison Smith from Flights to Fancy for inviting Adventure Dragon to be her
fire-breathing bodyguard little sidekick buddy while exploring beautiful Bali. All photos of Dragon in this Bali temples guide are courtesy of her amazing photography skills.
Please do not copy or reproduce any of the photos or content on this page without permission. It makes dragons sad. And nobody likes a sad dragon. Except for maybe sad people. Away with you, you poopy pirate.