Humour us. Just say the word ‘Bali’. Go on, say it out loud. Chances are, your mind was just filled with dreamlike visions of postcard-perfect white sandy beaches, spectacular sunsets over misty mountains and lush rainforests hiding ancient, mystical temples. That’s because Bali is more than just an Indonesian island: it’s a genuine tropical paradise.
Known as ‘The Island of the Gods’, Bali was home to settlers from China who arrived over 4,500 years ago, and people have been flocking to the island ever since. In the 16th Century, a ship full of Dutchmen accidentally landed on Bali. Two years later, when it was time to leave, they simply refused to go. Why should they? They’d found paradise.
I want some photos to remember. Where should I go for the best viewpoints in Bali?
Well, we spoke to the Indonesian Embassy in London and asked them the same question. Their answer was “anywhere and everywhere.” (Really! That’s exactly what they said!) And we understand what they meant: more so than any other island in Indonesia, Bali is a photographer’s dream. No matter where you point your camera, the views are simply jaw-dropping. But to get you started, here are five of our favourites.
The Gateway to Heaven (Pura Lempuyang)
With so many spectacular views in Bali it’s hard to know where to start, but most people agree that the ‘Gateway To Heaven’ is in their top three. With the majestic Mount Agung as a backdrop, it’s easy to see how this temple (pura) got it’s name. The Lempuyang Temple, or Pura Penataran Agung Lempuyang, is one of the oldest and most sacred Hindu temples on the island and the first of seven temples on a hiking trail of over 1,700 steps. Entrance is by donation (about €2 is customary) and all visitors – men and women – should wear a sarong.
If you just want the ‘Instagram moment’ then you can stop here, but if you’re reasonably fit then you should attempt the full trail which gives spectacular views of the other six temples. The trek up and down the full trail takes about three hours. There’s no public transport here, so either book a tour or hire a car and driver for the day (about €35). The best time to visit is either early morning, to beat the crowds, or at the ‘golden hour’ of sunset.
(Fun fact: There is a local belief that pilgrims with a heavy heart will never make it to the top of the trail. So…..are you feeling light-hearted?)
The Jatiluwih Rice Terraces
The Balinese irrigation system, known as subak, has been around since the ninth century and is still used today. Using a complex system of canals and underground tunnels, subak is regarded as the essential link between god, man and nature. The rice terraces cover almost 50,000 acres of the island and annual crop helps to make Indonesia the third largest exporter of rice in the world. There are five terraces in total and they all have their unique features, but the largest – and in our view the most picturesque – can be found at the village of Jatiluwih.
Access is by road, about 90 minutes from Ubud, and again we recommend hiring a guide with a car. Once you reach Jatiluwih there’s a small entrance fee (about €2) and then you choose one of the four hiking trails. There are lots of little side tracks that lead to temples and local restaurants, so we suggest you make a day of it and just go where your feet take you.
(Fun fact: The name of the village, Jatiluwih, is derived from two words – jati, meaning ‘real’, and luwih, which means ‘beautiful’. So the name literally translates as ‘really beautiful’!)
The Bali Swings
For one of the most unique viewpoints of Bali, how does sitting on a little wooden plank 75m above the ground grab you? Yes, we’re talking about the famous Bali Swings.
There are loads of different places offering a Bali Swing experience, and you can pay from €20 to over €150 depending on whether you book an inclusive tour or venture out on your own. We’ve heard that some of them can be a bit ‘rushed’, especially at peak times, whereas others give you a bit more time on the swing. Also, some of the operators are a little too keen for you to sign a waiver as soon as you get to the ticket booth.
That being said, the more established operators offer swings with incomparable opportunities for photos and they’re perfectly safe. The most famous, with the biggest queues, is the Bali Swing Ubud, but we recommend travelling a little further than most, and going to the Wanagiri Hidden Hills swing (that’s the one in our picture above). Go early – very early – to avoid the crowds, and don’t forget your GoPro!
(Fun fact: The first-ever Bali swing was built at the Zen Hideaway Villa, and the view is actually nicer than from Bali Swing Ubud. Although the swing is primarily for guests of the villa, if you contact the owners through AirBnB you can book a 30-minute session. Or you could just book a room at the villa and use the swing whenever you want…..)
Tanah Lot and Batu Bolong
Tanah Lot is a must-see for visitors to Bali. It’s what Americans call a ‘twofer’ (two for one), because from this one location there are two amazing views. Firstly, there is the Tanah Lot Temple, which is one of the seven sea temples around the Balinese coast. It’s built on solid sea rock (tanah translates as ‘land’ and lot means ‘sea’) and at high tide it’s impossible to reach on foot. Although surrounded by seawater, under the rock is a cave with a freshwater pool which is the source for all holy water in the area. You can visit the cave, cup your hands and drink directly from the pool which is said to have mystical healing properties.
Head north for a few minutes and you’ll find Batu Bolong beach. The beach itself is nothing special, but from here you can line up a photo that will make people think you’re a pro. Because further along the beach is the Pura Batu Bolong – another temple built on solid sea rock. Over the centuries, the sea water has sculpted a natural rock overpass to this temple and at sunset, if you time it just right, something magical happens……..
To make certain you capture an image like the one above, we recommend that you find a spot an hour or so before sunset, as you’ll find many keen photographers with the same idea and it’s often difficult to navigate through all the people and tripods. But it’s definitely worth the wait!
(Fun fact: Legend has it that Tanah Lot Temple is guarded by a giant sea serpent, which was formed from a sash owned by the 16th-Century priest Nirartha, who travelled from Java to Bali on top of a pumpkin!)
Mount Batur and Mount Agung
We’ve suggested where to go for a gorgeous sunset, but where should you go to see the sun rise? Well if you’re happy to wake up at 3am, then the top of Mount Batur (Gunung Batur) is the place to be. Book a tour (about €50 per person) and trek up to the top, which will take about 2-3 hours, depending on how fit you’re feeling at 3am! Once you reach the summit, you’ll see the clouds over the lake that’s bordered by Mount Abang (which used to be part of Mount Batur). And then, when the sun comes up….
We really think the sunrise from Mount Batur is a spectacular start to the day; and as we said earlier, it’s easy to understand why Bali is called ‘The Island of the Gods’.
(Fun fact: Your tour guide will probably offer you a boiled egg when you reach the top of the mountain. That doesn’t sound too special, until you realise it’s been boiled in steam that comes straight out of the volcano!)
Well, that’s our choice of five amazing viewpoints in Bali. There are so many other places to visit: the island has over 20,000 temples – such as the iconic Ulun Danu Bratan Temple at the very top of our page – which are all unique in some way and well worth a photo or two. But rather than just give you a list of landmarks, we hope we’ve managed to give you an idea of the vast range of different viewpoints that Bali has to offer. And as for those Dutch sailors who refused to leave: well, can you blame them?
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