Mount Agung shrouded in clouds

East Bali: The Part Less Traveled

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.

Mount Agung shrouded in clouds
Full view of Mount Agung
Pura Besakih on the slope of Mount Agung

2. Batur

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).

Batur caldera and Lake Batur
Young Mount Batur inside the caldera

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.

The coast of East Bali
Volcanic beach
The ripple of sunlight reflected on the coral reefs

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.

Tenganan village
Drying the cotton to make geringsing
Geringsing – An example of refined craftsmanship


6 thoughts on “East Bali: The Part Less Traveled”

  1. Bama – Jakarta, Indonesia – Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.
    Bama says:

    I really enjoyed East Bali for the same reasons as you mentioned in this post. I loved how less touristy it was, and how peaceful the sites I visited were. However, of all the coral reefs around Bali, I’ve only seen those in the northwestern part of the island, which were so beautiful! What I don’t understand is why I haven’t been to Tenganan despite the fact that at one point I actually stayed in Candidasa. Really love this post!

    1. Haha when we were younger, we preferred the beach over a traditional village. I’m glad that you like the post, Bama!

      The visit to Tenganan is an eye-opening experience. But some tourists might disagree with me. I overheard a couple talking about how “inauthentic” the village is. Just because there is neither split gate nor Hindu temple 🙂

      I was lucky to have a guide who knows the village well. So we can understand about the buildings and can meet the artisans. He even explained to me the meaning behind some geringsing patterns.

      Next time, I will try to see the western and northern part. Honestly, Bali is much larger than I expected 😛

      1. Bama – Jakarta, Indonesia – Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.
        Bama says:

        Too bad those tourists came to Tenganan without understanding why the village is special.

        It’s always a good idea to visit places like this with a guide so you’ll be able to see things and details you would otherwise overlook if you go by yourself.

        Until recently, the central government planned to build a second airport in Bali located on the island’s north coast. I was worried that this would forever change North Bali’s charm and tranquility. But luckily a few weeks ago it was announced that they decided to scrap the plan.

      2. Such a relief! It would be catastrophic for the island if that plan wasn’t stopped. Honestly, I don’t want to see another Kuta of the North. Besides, I think the current airport is large enough.

  2. Alison and Don – Occupation: being/living/experiencing/travelling In our sixties, with apparently no other authentic option, my husband Don and I sold our apartment and car, sold or gave away all our stuff and set off to discover the world. And ourselves. We started in Italy in 2011 and from there have travelled to Spain, India, Bali, Australia, New Zealand, SE Asia, South America, Egypt, Japan, etc. - you can see the blog archive. We travelled full-time for nearly six years, and then re-established a home in Vancouver. We now travel 2-3 months per year. We are interested in how the world works, how life works, how the creation of experience works, how the mind works. As we travel and both "choose" our course, and at the same time just let it unfold, we discover the "mechanics" of life, the astounding creativity of life, and a continual need to return to trust and presence. Opening the heart, and acceptance of what is, as it is, are keystones for us both. Interests: In no particular order: travel, photography, figure skating (as a fan), acceptance, authenticity, walking/hiking, joy, creativity, being human, adventure, presence, NOW. Same for Don except replace figure skating with Formula One motor racing.
    Alison and Don says:

    Oh I so enjoyed this. It brought back so many wonderful memories. We never went near the southern beaches. We based in Ubud for a month and had a wonderful guide who took us all over the island on day trips. We snorkelled at those eastern beaches, and yes climbed Batur for sunrise. Best of all he included us with his family in their pilgrimage to the temple during an annual festival at Besakih. Truly memorable.
    Your photos are gorgeous. I want to go back!

    1. Fantastic! It was such an honour to participate in the ceremony. My guide also showed me his clan’s temples. How was your sunrise hike? I had to cancel that hike at the last minutes due to torrential rain 🙁 It was also cloudy so there was zero chance to watch sunrise.

      I spent one afternoon in Legian, before catching the early flight. Even though I come from chaotic Saigon, this place surprised me. And that was in June 🙂

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