Pura Luhur Uluwatu temple is at the southeast tip of the Bukit peninsular, situated on top of a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean.
One hundred metres above the beach, the temple as it is now was built in the Majapahit period in the 15th century, but an earlier building had likely been there since the 10th century. One of Bali's nine key 'directional' temples and Bali's 'spiritual pillars', Uluwatu displays the iconic Balinese architecture, traditionally-designed gateways and ancient sculptures. Its backdrop is magnificent and the temple is a wonderful place to view the sunset.
A holy priest from eastern Java, Dhang Hyang Dwijendra, chose Uluwatu Temple to be the endpoint of his spiritual journey. Devotees believe that he reached the highest point of 'spiritual oneness' by a strike of lightning and vanished. Pura Uluwatu was barely accessible until 1983, and another lightning strike in 1999 set some parts of the temple on fire, but the temple has since been restored.
The two entrances to the temple area are split gates with leaves and flower carvings. Behind the main shrine in one of the courtyards of Uluwatu Temple lies a Brahmin statue facing the ocean, which is likely a representation of Dhang Hyang Dwijendra. One of Uluwatu's 10th-century relics is a one-piece winged stone gate leading to the temple's inner courtyard. The Pura Dalem Jurit temple was added in the 16th century. There are three statues inside, one of them depicting Brahma. There are also two stone troughs in the temple area which, if they were joined, would form a sarcophagus, or a boat, depending on who is telling the story!
The temple is surrounded by a small forest that is home to hundreds of macaque monkeys, said to be the guardians of the temple. As delightful and amusing as they are, watch out for your sunglasses, phones and wallets. These 'maling-maling' (thieves) will steal them straight out of your hands and then try and swap your possessions back to you for peanuts or bananas (sold cheaply by enterprising Balinese around the temple). The walk along the main path is very pleasant, cooled by sea breezes you will look over the famous surf break across the vast Indian Ocean and feel that you, too, are between heaven and earth at the end of the world.
The entrance fee for the temple is IDR 50,000 for adults and 30,000 for kids. This includes a sarong rental, which you will need if you are wearing shorts or skirts that reveal the knees (men and women). They also make for a good photo. The temple is open from 9 am and closes at 7 in the evening. In the parking area before the entrance, you will also find facilities such as toilets, food and drinks stalls and the ubiquitous souvenir shop.
The famous Kecak Dance starts at around 6 pm, finishing just at sunset, and it costs a further 100k (around US$6). These performances aren't particularly spiritually significant and were in fact developed specifically as a tourist attraction in the 1930s. However, the dance is fun and the setting is stunning, held in the open auditorium of the temple. A group of around 75 performers in fabulous costumes chant, dance and act out episodes of the Ramayana epic.
Deep in a monkey forest, Rama is accompanied by his wife Sita and loyal younger brother Laksamana. The evil demon king Rahwana (or Ravana) spies on the beautiful Sita and kidnaps her. The two brothers go to great lengths to rescue her with help from the monkey king Hanoman and his monkey army. Rahwana is eventually subdued, and the two lovers are finally reunited right after the setting sun.
The temple is 27km from the main tourist beach of Kuta; the traffic across the isthmus can be bad so leave plenty of time. If you have a chance to visit a beach or eat a seafood lunch in Jimbaran, this is a good use of time. If you get to the temple in the later afternoon, the light is spectacular and you will be around for the Kecak Dance.
The south of the Bukit peninsular is a busy drive from Kuta but doable for a day trip. You should be able to fit in a beach excursion and a seafood lunch or dinner on Jimbaran. If you are coming from Ubud, you might consider an overnight stay on the peninsular, but a day trip is also fine; there are plenty of places to stop, eat and drink.
Some things to remember:
Don’t take photos directly in front of worshippers.
Try not to step on the small offerings — called canang sari — left on the ground. Palm leaves are woven into a small box, and flower petals herbs, money, snacks are inside. These offerings are to appease the spirits. The gods take their offerings quickly so no-one will be upset with you if you walk or drive on them accidentally.
The temple you are in is a space of reverence to the Balinese people.
Cash remains king in Bali — even major tourist attractions like Uluwatu still don't provide credit card facilities.
Insider's tip: As for other day trips from Ubud, leaving early is better to avoid heat and crowds, but cafes tend not to open until 7.30 or even 9 am. If you are in a villa or a hotel that doesn't offer an early breakfast, order iced tea or coffee from senimans the night before your trip and leave them in the fridge (I suggest senimans because it comes in a useful screw-top bottle). When you leave Ubud, get your driver to stop at a pasar page (morning market) on the way and pick up some bantal as a breakfast snack. These are tasty little parcels of slightly sweet steamed rice with banana, wrapped in their own natural packaging. Another option is to skip early breakfast and go to one of the many cafes in Ulu since they will be open after the drive down from Ubud.