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Central Bali is a mountainous area in Bali, mostly popular for its art, culture, temples, lakes and treks.
This by definition is a large and varied region. It is mostly known though for the artistic and cultural capital of Bali in Ubud and the mountains and lakes around Bedugul. Several of Bali's most notable archeological sites are also to be found here as well as two of the key nine directional temples.
With a prevalence of artistic, cultural, historical and scenic attractions, Central Bali appeals most those looking for break from the sun, sand and partying in South Bali or to those who are seeking a more thorough understanding of this complex island.
The climate in the elevated areas of this region is remarkably cooler than elsewhere on the island, especially around Bedugul. Bring some warm clothes as temperatures can get to a low of 10 degrees Celsius at night.
The rain is a lot less predictable here, especially when you get high up the mountains. When visiting Mount Batukaru, the humidity is particularly high and it rains a lot in this area.
The central region is approachable by road from all other areas of Bali. The most commonly used routes are:
This is a large region with few taxis. Most visitors get around by renting a car with or without a driver or a motorbike. Expect to pay about Rp 500,000 per day for a good quality car with driver and including petrol.
Arts and Crafts
Ubud is rightly regarded as the arts and crafts capital of Bali. In around the town you will find many shops, galleries and workshops dedicated to various aspects of the art of Bali, both traditional and modern.
Right in the centre of Ubud is the Museum Puri Lukisan (Museum of Fine Arts), . The entrance is signposted from Jalan Raya just west of the main market. When it opened in 1954, this was the first private museum in Bali. There are three buildings showcasing traditional and modern Balinese art (mostly paintings and sculpture). Apart from anything else, visitors will find a visit here very helpful in understanding the different schools of art in Bali as there are exhibits dedicated to several of the main categories. Perhaps the most noted artists with works shown here are I Gusti Nyoman Lempad and Rudolph Bonnet. The latter was instrumental in the setting up of this museum and made several donations of his work.
In Pengosekan village on Jalan Hanoman 1 km east of central Ubud, you will find the Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA), Tel: +62 361 975742. This impressive museum, library and gallery is the brainchild of leading art dealer Agung Rai and it showcases works by well known Balinese artists as well as international artists who made Bali their home such as Walter Spies, Adrian Jean Le Mayeur, Rudolph Bonnet and Arie Smit. The only painting in Bali by renowned Javanese artist Radan Saleh is exhibited here. Entrance Rp 25,000, open daily from 9.00 AM to 5.00 PM.
The NEKA Art Musuem  houses perhaps the most important collection in the whole of Bali. NEKA is in the village of Kedewetan about 3 km west of central Ubud on Jalan Raya Campuhan. Opened in 1982, no less than six pavilions house the various collections which include dedicated rooms for artists Arie Smit and I Gusti Nyoman Lempad. Entrance is Rp 20,000, open daily from 9.00 AM to 6.00 PM.
The areas immediately around Ubud have much to offer in terms of art and each village seems to specialise in a particular artform or craft. For woodcarving head to Mas, 2 km south of Ubud on the main road heading towards Sukawati and Sanur. For silver-work Celuk is further south on the same road. There are many high end jewellery galleries here and well as more humble workshops. Stonecarving is the deal in Singakerta and further south in Batubulan.
Historical and Archaeological Sites
The areas in and around Ubud, Gianyar and Tampaksiring have several sites of great archaeological interest and significance. A day devoted to visiting these would be a day very well spent.
The Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) complex at Bedulu village is just 2 km south east of Ubud on the main road to Gianyar. The centerpiece here is a cave dating back to the 11th century the entrance of which is an ornately carved demon's mouth. Inside are some fragmentary lingam and yoni (phallus and vagina) statues, as well as a statue of Ganesha. Statues stand guard around pools near the entrance. A number of the relics here strongly indicate that the site has a Buddhist as well as Hindu past. Despite its great antiquity some parts of the Goa Gajah complex were not excavated until the 1950s. Tentatively nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This sight is quite dissapointing comparing to other sights around Ubud. Entrance fee is Rp 15,000, including sarong rental, so don't buy sarong because it's included. The complex is open daily from 8.00 AM until 4.00 PM.
Nearby are the far less well known rock carvings at Yeh Pulu. These date to the 14th or 15th century and are in a very attractive rice field setting. You can reach Yeh Pulu on foot through the rice fields from Goa Gajah but you will definitely need a guide for the 45 minute walk as there is no path to speak of. Alternatively turn off the Ubud to Gianyar main road about 400 metres east of the entrance to the Goa Gajah complex. Drive through Banjar Batulumbang until the road comes to an end. For here walk down the track to Yeh Pulu passing the small warung on your left. As well as the carvings there is a holy well here and the attendant priest will be happy to bless you with the well water. Temple dress code applies here. Yeh Pulu is a much under-rated and under-visited site - highly recommended.
The historically important area of Tampaksiring is about 20 km northeast from Ubud town centre. 300 metres north of the bemo terminal in Tampsaksiring on the main road, the entrance track to Gunung Kawi (poet mountain) is signposted. Dating from the 11th century, this is presumed to be the burial complex of King Anak Wungsu and his many wives. Reached by climbing down 371 steps, the location at the bottom of the steep Pakrisan River valley is stunning. It's not easy to climb all those steps but one of Bali's oldest and largest acient monument in this lush green river valley is worth it. The smaller complex on the south side of the river is presumed to be for the king's wives, while the larger complex is thought to be for the King himself and perhaps his favourite concubines. About one km downriver there are further tomb cloisters. On the way back up, take a break at Cafe Kawi, which has cold drinks (Rp 10,000 & up) and fresh breezes (free). Entrance is Rp 15,000, including sarong rental, so don't buy sarong because it's included. The complex is open daily 8.00 AM to 6.00 PM except during major religious hoildays.
About 500 metres to the north, off the main Tampaksiring to Penelokan road, is the temple complex of Tirta Empul. This splendid temple dates back to the 10th century and is one of the holiest in Bali. Bar a few relics though, most of what you see is a modern replica. The site was built around hot springs that still bubble in the central courtyard. The complex dates to 960, but the present buildings are largely modern reconstructions. This is a very important sacred site for the Hindu Balinese who come here to cleanse themselves physically and spiritually - a process called melukat. During Galungan festivals the sacred barong masks are bathed here. Take extra clothes if you want to bath with locals. Water from the spring is clean and believed to have magical powers. Entrance fee is Rp 15,000, including sarong and sash rental. The complex is pen daily 8.00 AM to 4.00 PM except during major religious holidays.
Mountains and Lakes
The central mountain range of Bali contains some of the very best scenery and geographical features on the island as well as important temples. No visitor to Bali should miss this area.
The area known loosely as Bedugul is right in the heart of the central mountains and is framed by the three large crater lakes of Bratan, Buyan and Tamblingan. Pura Ulun Danu Bratan (Lake Bratan Temple) is perhaps the most photographed temple on the island and is certainly one of the great iconic images of Bali. The temple sits on the western shore of Lake Bratan and it can give the illusion of actually floating on the water. Built in 1633, the temple is devoted to Dewi Danu, goddess of the lake. A beautiful temple in a truly stunning setting. Open 7 AM to 5 PM, daily and the entrance fee is Rp 30,000 as of March 2014.
About 1 km back up the hill past the always present strawberry sellers, from Lake Bratan is the Bukit Mungsu traditional market. All manner of very fresh local produce is for sale here as well the spices for which Bali is so well known. It is located back off the noisy main road in the heart of town, not far from the concrete corn cob in the centre of the main junction.
The highlands around Bedugul are cool and fertile and there area has become a key growing area for fruit and vegetables including those that demand a cool climate. Vegetable patches take up almost every spare bit of open ground around the towns here.
About 1.5km from the market are the Bali Botanical Gardens (Kebun Raya Eka Karya), tel: +62 368 21273 . One of Indonesia's four official botanical gardens. It is not well signposted from the main road but you turn down the hill through a large balinese gateway near the concrete corn cob in the junction. This road leads directly to the gardens and is an easy walk past wonderful plant nurseries and even a small place selling lovely pet rabbits. The world class gardens are huge, covering some 1500 hectares and any visitor with an interest in plants and trees could easily spend a whole day here. Getting around is easy with excellent roads and concrete pathways. It is even remarkably wheelchair friendly. Toilet blocks are dotted throughout but the cafe is not open during the week so bring your own water. There is a staff cafe under the administration building at the top of the divided road but it is not advertised.
The gardens are divided into many areas, each dominated by varieties of the main tropical plant species. Dark, mossy rain forest, open grassy conifer forest, palm groves, tall tree fern walks.. Seating and the occasional gazebo make ideal spots for picnics.There is also an informative library and gift shop at the main entrance. The gardens are Open daily 8 AM to 6 PM, admission price Rp 20,000. It can get very busy during local school holidays but during the week, you will pretty well have the place to yourself.
Photo opportunities and stunning scenery are plentiful in the highlands but no more so than around the lovely mountain village of Munduk. From Lake Bratan continue north passing Lake Buyan and look for the immediate turn to the west (left) which takes you along the northern shore of Lake Buyan, past Lake Tamblingan to the villages of Munduk and Gobleg. Stop often, take it all in and absorb the truly magnificent scenery.
South and west from Bedugul, Bali's second highest peak Mount Batukaru dominates the landscape. There are many scenic drives in this area centring on the UNESCO World Heritage Site nominated Jati Luwih and the roads into the foothills of the mountain around the villages of Wongayagede, Sanda and Sarinbuana. Arm yourself with a good map and enjoy perhaps the best scenery in the whole of Bali. You can take a walk through the fields for a small fee, drive through or eat at one of the restaurants with a breathtaking view. There are also a few modest but clean homestays worth checking out.
At Angsri, a small village nearby is a wonderful hot spring. Entry fee is 30,000rp and you can enjoy a warmish rather than hot private tub or relax in the open pool near a waterfall.
Pura Luhur Batukaru (Batukaru Temple) near Wongayagede village is one of Bali's nine key directional temples and a site of pilgrimage for the Hindu Balinese. Majestically situated on the slopes of Mount Batukaru since the 11th century, this is an especially sacred site, even by Balinese standards and all visitors must carefully read and abide by the temple rules posted clearly at the entrance. The temple is high on the slopes of the mountain and the often misty, drizzly micro-climate here just adds to its undoubtedly mystical atmosphere.
There are many cultural dance performances in Ubud on an almost nightly basis and this town is also a haven for all kinds of spa treatments and other wellness centres.
Outdoors types might like to take a relatively gentle hike through the rice fields and valleys at Jati Luwih near Bedugul and for the more energetic and experienced, a climb of mighty Mount Batukaru is an option. There are also several good hiking treks in the village of Wanagiri on top of lake Buyan and lake Tamblingan. There are well maintained stairs leading down to the lakes right on top of the land bridge between lake Buyan and lake Tamblingan. To the north there is a hiking trek through the waterfall valley of Wanagiri, it is marked with red signs on trees along the path.
This region has no coastline so opportunities for water sports are limited but there is excellent white-water rafting available in the Sayan valley close to Ubud.
Eating in Central Bali is pretty much like elsewhere on the island, but an interesting try is the delicious traditional fruit market Bukit Mungsu in the village of Candikuning at Bedugul. This is the centre of the strawberry trade and sellers dot the main roadway. Be prepared to haggle. Punnets are sold off really cheaply in the late afternoon. There are plenty of restaurants with amazing views over the rice fields, particularly in Bedugul.
This is a quiet, cultural region and there is barely any nightlife to speak of. Ubud has a few places for a quiet drink but strictly enforced regulations ensure that all live performances and loud music end by 10.30PM.