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Visit Uluwatu Temple: Monkey Mayhem and Cultural Marvels

It was my last full day in Bali and I wasn't ready for my trip to end. I had spent an incredible month exploring many diverse wonders of Indonesia but my phone pinged with a reminder to check in for my return flight. Before heading home there was one more thing that I wanted to experience... a traditional Kecak Fire Dance.

I had discussed this with my trusted driver and newfound friend, Jai. He had been my companion for much of my time in Bali and I trusted his advice. He had shared so much about the country, its rich traditions, and the hidden gems. I couldn't imagine not spending my last day with him. Jai had told me that Uluwatu Temple had the best Kecak Dance Performance on the island. Not only was the performance the best on the island, but the temple also boasted of one most spectacular sunset views in all of Bali. I was all-in. We arranged our day so we would arrive at the temple by mid-afternoon to ensure that tickets for the sunset performance would be available.

Uluwatu Temple is so much more than just another temple with a great dance performance. It's a sanctuary of tranquillity and spirituality, perched on a spectacular cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean and home to the mischievous monkeys that were such a recurring delight throughout my trip. Spending part of my last day in Bali with these playful creatures seemed like the perfect way to cap my trip.

Come meander with me as I share my visit to Uluwatu Temple, a place where history, culture, and natural beauty comes together. I'll share the gorgeous temple, the monkey encounters and the thrilling dance performance as well as offer some practical tips to help make your visit smooth.

Practical Advice for Visiting Uluwatu Temple

Uluwatu is located at the southern end of the island of Bali, about 45 minutes south of the airport. It is slightly off-the-beaten path with beautiful, rugged beaches as well as trendy bars, luxurious resorts and beach clubs.

Getting There

I've repeated this in all my posts about Bali and will say it again here. There is no public transportation. You'll either self-drive or hire a driver. There are not a lot of route choices and Bali traffic is awful. It's only about 50km from central Ubud to Uluwatu Temple but it will likely take at least 2 hours to get there. Even the drive from Kuta takes nearly an hour.

Costs and Tickets

The temple is open to visitors from 07:00 to 19:00 daily. There is a small charge of 30 000 IDR (cash only) to enter the temple grounds. There is an extra charge for parking.

The Kecak Fire Dance performance is an additional 100 000 IDR. Tickets can be purchased on-site but the ticket booth doesn't officially open until 17:00 and the line-ups start at least an hour before. Luckily for me, Jai's friend who works there was able to put aside tickets for us and Jai was willing to stand in the line while I explored the temple. I would recommend buying your ticket online, if queuing up isn't something you want to be doing.

We arrived about 15:00. It wasn't noticeably crowded but it wasn't long before large tour busses began to arrive and the crowds grew.

The performance area opens for general seating shortly after the ticket booth starts selling. There is no assigned seating and the wooden bench seats are not comfortable. The best seats for viewing the sunset and the performance are the lower seats in the middle. These seats have no shade and the sun will be directly in your eyes during sunset, which may have you regretting your decision but only until the show begins. Bring water, a good hat, and sunglasses.

Dress Code

Uluwatu Temple is one of the major temples in Bali; modest dress is required. Those wearing shorts will need to borrow a sarong to cover their knees. Even if your shorts/skirt is long enough, you will need to wear a prayer sash around your waist. Bare shoulders seem to be accepted, but covered would be even better.

Other Important Information

The monkeys here are very skilled and sneaky thieves -- even more so than in Ubud's Sacred Monkey Forest. Hold your belongings tightly, put everything inside your backpacks and don't tempt the little beasts with food, dangly items, or shiny jewellery. If you can see without your glasses, put them away. The monkeys like to sit on the walls which provide perfect perches for scooping treasures from unwary tourists.

History and Significance of Uluwatu Temple

Uluwatu Temple is a sea temple and one of Bali's nine key directional temples. These nine temples were built according to the ancient Balinese calculations of various celestial bodies including stars, comets, and planets. It is believed that these temples protect Bali from evil spirits arriving on the island. I had previously visited the north temple of Ulan Danu Beratan, Uluwatu is the south west temple, dedicated to Dewa Rudra, God of Harmony and Peacekeeper of the Universe.

The temple was founded at least a thousand years ago by Empu Kuturan, a Hindu priest from Java, and expanded by Dang Hyang Nirartha. The legend of the temple tells of Dang meditating for months on the cliffs before building the temple as a portal to heaven. After many additions, repairs, and renovations today's temple complex includes multiple shrines, a Balinese gate, a hallowed Banyan tree, and paved walkways along the cliff top.

Mischievous Monkeys of Uluwatu Temple

Hold onto your belongings! These monkeys are adorable trouble-makers and skilled pickpockets. They have learned to associate humans with food and have no fear about helping themselves to anything that grabs their attention. They have learned that they can steal tourist treasures and bargain for their return.

During my visit, several tourists had glasses snatched right off their faces, a phone was stolen from a woman's hands, and several people had snacks, water bottles, hats, and jewellery grabbed. Multiple people had monkeys jump on them: none of the eyeglasses survived, necklaces were broken, stolen snacks quickly consumed, and most of the jumping monkeys were just passing by. The phone was eventually retrieved (scratched but working) by one of the employees who traded the monkey a bag of fruits for the phone. I had a couple of youngsters use me as one of their parkour bases as they chased each other

Monkeys are cute but they are not well-mannered. They are cared for, so you don't need to worry about rabies but it's best not to approach them... and especially if there are babies. Keep your distance and give them plenty of space... they will usually do the same. Keep any food item well buried in your backpacks. Do not make eye contact or bare your teeth -- both are signs of aggression in the monkey world. If they do snatch something of value, do not try to retrieve it yourself. Find a staff member to assist.

While I was there, the monkeys were putting on quite the show. I saw monkeys wandering throughout the site; some sitting along the temple ledges and some posing like Instagram models. One group of youngsters enjoyed a good game of chase, while others were begging food from one of the employees. Another group lazed on the grass napping or idly grooming each other. I spent a lot of time watching the monkeys without any problems. Once they realized I had no food and posed no danger, I was ignored.

There is also a white monkey that lives in a large cage. This unfortunate albino fellow gets attacked by the other monkeys and was severely injured on several occasions. It was eventually decided to separate him from the other monkeys for his own safety.

Pura Luhur Uluwatu

Pura Luhur Uluwatu is the main temple complex located at the top of an impressive set of stairs. The ancient stone walls are intricately carved with mythical creatures and divine carvings. Visitors cannot enter the prayer areas of the temple but you will be able to look through the iron gates. The complex includes several pavilions and shrines. Look for the tower that includes the Kulkul, a wooden slit drum used to gather the community.

I spent a fair amount of time watching the monkeys play at the pavilion with an arched statue structure over a pool. The arch featured a large statue of Kumbhakarna. Legends tell the story of how the giant Kumbharkarna battled with evil monkeys. The Uluwatu monkeys did not seem at all intimidated by him as they climbed all over the arches, slid down, and jumped into the pool below. I was thoroughly entertained watching them play and was more than a little envious since it was such a hot day

Scenic Walks and Hidden Gems at Uluwatu Temple

The most popular trail is the cliffside walk that offers stunning panoramic views of the Indian Ocean and the beaches below. It will take about an hour to walk the full length. This path is paved making it very accessible for those with mobility issues. The walkway has a beautiful wall on the cliff side and the forest on the other side. The wall is approximately shoulder-height and has plenty of viewpoints along the way. The monkeys love to sit on this wall, checking out the tourists going by. On the forest side, family groups of monkeys hang out in the shade, near the feeding areas. Several vendors were set up along the path selling souvenirs and water.

For visitors with more time, there are trails that lead to the Bukit Peninsula and the stunning Padang Pandang and Bingin Beaches. I didn't get that far as Jai had picked up the Fire Dance tickets and letting me know that it was almost time to it was time to line up to ensure we had good seats.

Kecak Performance at Uluwatu Temple

I am not convinced that I have the words to fully describe the mesmerizing Kecak Fire Dance. It is a feast for the senses with extravagant costumes, captivating choreography, enchanting music and a fascinating storyline.

The first evening show is from 6 pm to 7 pm. A second show runs from 7 pm to 8 pm. The first show begins as the sun touches the ocean. Twilight gradually fades during the show and it is quite dark by the time the fire scenes are performed. The second show is lit by artificial lights for most of the show, but I'm guessing the fire scenes are even more impressive.

The Kecak Dance, also known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant, dates back just about 100 years. It was first performed by Wayan Limbak who combined traditional Balinese dance and music to tell the tales from the Hindu epic, Ramayana. The music is provided by a chorus of 50 -100 chanting men in checkered sarongs. The beautiful female dancers, dressed in traditional Balinese clothing, bring the story to life with expressive body and facial gestures and intricate footwork.

Every twist and turn of the performance holds deep symbolic meaning, and showcases the triumph of good over evil and the power of love and loyalty. It's an awesome visual and auditory spectacle that will leave you enchanted.

I'm not going to dive into the detailed description of the Kecak Dance Performance in this post because it deserves so much more than a paragraph or two. A post next week will go into detail to unravel the mysteries, delve into the intricate choreography, and take you behind the scenes of this spectacle. So, make sure to become a member/subscriber so you'll be notified when that post is published.

For now, imagine the flickering torches, the entrancing rhythms, spellbinding movements and spectacular costumes. The Kecak Dance Performance at Uluwatu Temple is a must-see experience, a celebration of Balinese culture that will leave you yearning for more.

And guess what? Exciting times lie ahead because this year's summer van life adventures are just around the corner! In a couple of weeks, I will be hitting the road in Beautiful British Columbia once again, seeking new horizons, breathtaking landscapes, and unforgettable encounters. I hope you'll come along.


Thanks for meandering with me! Let me know your thoughts and feedback in the comments below. Share the link with a travelling friend. Become a member/subscriber (it's free!) to get notified of new content and to get access to our (women's) FB travel discussion group.

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