Once the beaches and parties in the south and the yoga cafes in Ubud start to tire, Central Bali is a great escape. Here you’ll find dramatic volcanoes, lush plantations, stunning crater lakes and mystical temples. The higher elevation also means that the temperatures are much cooler than other parts of Bali. For trekkers, nature lovers and those simply looking for a mountain hideaway, the highlands are the place to be.
To escape the crowds in Ubud, head north and slightly east to Tampaksiring where you will find two fascinating historical sites. Gunung Kai is an 11th-century temple complex and the burial site of King Anak Wungsu and his many wives built on the banks of the pretty Pakerisan River. Tirta Empul temple dates back to the 10th century, and the Balinese believe that the waters in the hot springs and bathing pools here will cleanse the body and the soul.
Drive north of Tampaksiring, and you’ll reach Kintamani, a network of traditional mountain villages resting along the rim of the Mount Batur caldera. Visitors will find many cafes and restaurants with stunning views across the lakes and lava fields here, although the touts along the main road can be particularly aggressive.
If you really want to see breathtaking views, get up before the sun rises to climb Mount Batur. The 2-hour trek is relatively easy, and when you see the rays of sunlight slowly washing over the neighbouring volcanoes and valleys, you can see why Bali is often called ‘the Morning of the World’.
Kintamani is also home to Pura Ulun Danu Batur, one of the holiest of the nine directional temples of Bali. The temple is dedicated to the goddess of Lake Batur, who also happens to be the protector of all water and irrigation in Bali. Visit on a ceremonial day, and you will see lavish decorations and hundreds of Balinese people giving offerings and praying at the shrines.
To the west of Kintamani lies Bedugul, another elevated region that contains many small villages surrounding the three crater lakes of Bratan, Buyan and Tamblingan. This area is known as the fruit and vegetable basket of Bali, as there are many plantations and fertile fields in the valleys and on the slopes of the mountains. The town of Bedugul is at the centre of it all, and this is where you will find the beautiful Bali Botanical Gardens, as well as a bustling traditional market selling everything from fresh strawberries to handicrafts to tiny bunny rabbits.
Bedugul is an outdoor playground for trekkers, as there are many scenic trails through the forests and valleys. Explore Munduk to take in lush, hilly plantations and a dramatic gushing waterfall, Jatiluwih to see vast expanses of emerald green rice terraces, Mount Batukaru for steep slopes and the mystical Pura Luhur Batukaru temple or Angseri for soothing hot springs. Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is also a must-see temple, as it rests on the shores of Lake Bratan and almost looks as though it floats directly on the water. The black tiers of the temple make for a majestic sight reflecting in the blue waters of the lake and backed by misty mountains.
Where to Stay
Escape to the heart of the Balinese countryside where rice fields spread out before you and the peak of Bali’s sacred volcano, Mount Agung, rises out of the mist in the background. Designed by renowned architect Popo Danes, Villa Bayad is a collection of four separate stand-alone bedrooms positioned around the main villa building like a traditional Balinese compound. Two swimming pools also sit in the lush tropical gardens, and everywhere you wander along the paths you find waterfalls, lotus ponds, and open-air bales and terraces where you can enjoy the spectacular views and utter serenity. Chances are you won’t want to leave this tranquil abode, but if you do, Ubud is only a short drive away.
Located in the peaceful village of Sebali just a 10-minute drive from Ubud, Villa Vajra sits on a hill overlooking a deep river gorge, and it was designed to flow seamlessly into contours of the hillside. Nature is the key here, as each of the four bedrooms allows for views over the rice fields and river valley, and the villa staff make every effort to be as environmentally friendly as possible with organic food, an organic waste garden and energy saving policies. Yet this is no hippie enclave—everything here screams understated luxury from the soft furnishings to the lengthy pool backed by a waterfall, and the gorgeous outdoor Jacuzzi.