Though less traveled than the southern beaches and the spiritual heart of Ubud, East Bali possesses numerous cultural and natural attractions. From majestic volcanoes, and pristine beaches to richly ornate temples, exploring this region is a true pleasure.
Venturing across East Bali, I realized that this land is as diverse as anywhere on the planet. Dramatic sights are the norm here, with the mighty Mount Agung presiding over tropical forests and rice paddies. Further north, Batur caldera, which is often shrouded in fog, holds its own secret. Along the coast, black sand beaches embrace deep blue water which is brimming with marine life.
Dotted throughout this lush landscape are intricately decorated Hindu temples. Two of them – the Pura Besakih and the Pura Lempuyang – are among the island’s holiest sites. There are also villages of the Bali Aga – the original Balinese who have retained a traditional lifestyle for centuries.
1. Mount Agung
Soaring 3,031 meters above sea level, Mount Agung is Bali’s highest peak. Its omnipresence dominates the entire East Bali, and visitors can hardly resist its majesty. Mount Agung, together with a chain of volcanoes, forms the backbone of the island. It is still active, with the latest eruption dating back to 2019. The volcano is covered in a green carpet of trees and bushes at lower elevations. But this soon gives way to a desolate landscape of volcanic rocks and ash scree. The peak of Mount Agung is, however, often veiled in clouds, making this giant looks genuinely mythical.
Indeed, Mount Agung is of great importance in the Balinese spiritual life. Locals believe that the mighty volcano is a replica of Mount Meru – the central axis of the universe and home to Hindu deities. Therefore it is no surprise to see Bali’s most sacred house of worship – Pura Besakih or the “Mother Temple” – built on this mountain slope. Dating as early as prehistoric times, Pura Besakih comprises 23 stone entities that sit on parallel ridges. Its main sanctum resembles a megalithic pyramid with six stepped terraces and flights of stairs.
Northwest of Mount Agung is Batur – a spectacular landscape featuring an active volcano in the middle of two concentric calderas. This extraordinary phenomenon occurred when the old Mount Batur forcefully exploded millenniums ago. Before those eruptions, Mount Batur was even grander than Mount Agung, measuring up to 3,800 meters above sea level. When the sides and top of the volcano collapsed inward, they created enormous craters, including Bali’s largest body of freshwater – Lake Batur.
Sitting on the caldera rim is a series of villages that relies on agriculture for a living. The uniqueness of the geology combined with the humidity generates the perfect condition for growing coffee and sweet orange. These products have a surprisingly clean, light flavor. In recent years, tourism has become more important as the villages offer a dramatic view of the entire calderas. Some settlements also become the starting points for the popular sunrise trek to the summit of the central crater (young Mount Batur).
3. East Bali’s Coast
Far from the overcrowded and chaotic southern beaches, the shoreline of East Bali features a rugged, wild beauty. Here, volcanic beaches show a striking contrast to the deep blue ocean and the surrounding lush forests. This jet black sand is the result of the island’s volcanic activity — lava hits the ocean and shatters into tiny fragments as it cools rapidly.
Under the water’s surface, a wonderful world is waiting to be explored. You can expect to see a huge variety of corals, fish, and other marine life in this area. Some dive sites, such as the reefs called Blue Lagoon, are suitable for beginners, with little waves, and nearly-perfect visibility.
4. Tenganan Village
Just a few kilometers inland from the beach town of Candidasa is Tenganan village – home of the first Balinese. Known as the Bali Aga, these people have retained a pre-Hindu culture that differs substantially from the Balinese residing in the lowlands. They live in a relatively closed community and adhere strictly to ancestor worship and cosmology. The Bali Aga in Tenganan speaks a distinctive dialect of the Balinese language. It dates back thousands of years and varies from other Bali Aga villages.
In terms of architecture, Tenganan is highly different from the standard Balinese design. The whole village is laid out in the form of a mandala, with four entries and the ceremonial halls at the center. The village is also known for its refined craftsmanship, such as basketwork or the tri-colored fabric called geringsing. This sophisticated textile is created by the double ikat method which is exceptionally delicate and time-consuming. In fact, Tenganan is the only place in Indonesia that produces these works of art.