Named the world’s best tourist destination by TripAdvisor in 2017, Bali, the famed island of the gods, is a living postcard. A 95-mile-wide strip of land located in the Indian Ocean, its mere mention evokes thoughts of a beach bum’s paradise. But Bali is so much more than sun, sea, and salty breezes. It’s a cocktail of culture—a stirring and foreign blend of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Animism. From the Ubud Monkey Forest to Goa Gajah, here are the top five non-beach destinations that’ll get you into a tropical state of mind.
Ubud Monkey Forest
This cool and dense swath of jungle houses 750 long-tailed Balinese macaques, who swing through the shade, laze along pathways, and feast on sweet potatoes, bananas, papaya leaves, and coconuts. They may be considered sacred because of Hanuman—the Hindu monkey god from the Ramayana, an ancient Indian epic poem—or through their association with the area’s three temples.
Strictly for prayer and built from Majegan, Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal is the main temple, built for Shiva the destroyer. The widow-witch Rangda flanks its main staircase. The second temple, Pura Beji, features holy water to cleanse the body and soul before worshipping Gangga, the goddess of the river Ganges, and the third temple is Pura Prajapati.
Dedicated to the “lord of all creatures”, it’s surrounded by 115 tree species, including the Banyan, whose leaves are used in cremation ceremonies, and the Pule Bandak, which embodies the spirit of the forest and is used to make traditional masks. “They’re only used inside the temple,” says Emily Perry, a yogini, acupuncturist, and herbalist in Santa Cruz, California. “An auspicious day is chosen and the Pemangku asks permission of the tree’s spirit to cut a small piece of its wood. The spirit thus remains embodied in the mask.”
One of Bali’s four sacred Mountains, Mount Batur is believed to be home of Dewi Danu, the goddess of water. “An active volcano, Mount Batur is a giant bowl. Sitting in the heart of a nine-mile crater, its bottom half is submerged by turquoise waters and a set of volcanic cones juts out of its middle. It’s also covered with bubbling hot springs that cascade over its lower slopes. Sound spectacular? It is. Famous for its sunrise trek, hikers climb for two hours in the pitch black, bumper to bumper over steep, slippery rubble. Once they reach the top, the thick blanket of darkness is replaced by glistening orange and golden rays, bursting from the silhouette of Mount Agung.
Not far outside of the city of Ubud is a Buddhist-Hindu archeological site known as Goa Gajah, or, the “Elephant Cave”. Visitors are forgiven for finding this name confusing—there were never any elephants in Bali. The temple’s name might actually come from the nearby Petanu River, which at one time was known as the Elephant River. Or it may be named after Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god of wisdom, prosperity, and new beginnings.
Built around the 11th century, the site is actually thought to have been a place of meditation and spiritual cleansing, where religious offerings were left. Buddhist monks carved the cave’s face into a demon with bulging eyes staring over the doorway that acts as its screaming mouth. This Hellmouth is surrounded by a sea of rolling flames and smaller sculptures of gods and demons—which were meant to ward off evil rather than invite it.
In front of the barely-lit cave, there are two square bathing pools, featuring six women pouring water out of jars into a central bath. To its left, there’s a statue of Hārītī, a child-devouring ogress who’s said to have been converted from her cannibalistic habits by Buddha. Inside the T-shaped cave lies the fragmentary remains of a triple lingga, the phallic symbol of the Hindu god Shiva, and its female counterpart, the yoni.
Bali Bird and Reptile Park
Travel from the misty cloud forest of Borneo to the tropical grasslands of the African Savanna at the Bali Bird and Reptile Park. Walk side-by-side with flamingos, cassowaries, crested-cranes, and storks. Listen to the songs of 1,000 birds from 250 species, including the vulnerable Pesquet’s Parrot from New Guinea and the all-but-vanished Bali Mynah. Handfeed pelicans, who have the longest bill of any bird in the world, and rainbow-colored lories. Snap photos with macaws, cockatoos, wreathed hornbills, and a breeding pair of Eclectus Parrots, who’ll perch on your shoulders.
The park’s reptile section includes a serpent cave that holds King Cobras, Mambas, Vipers, and a 26-foot Reticulated Python—one of the largest snakes in captivity. Pet salamanders, water monitors, iguanas, and turtles, or marvel at Komodo dragons: giant monitor lizards that are direct descendants of the dinosaurs that lived nearly 100 million years ago.
Ubud Art Market
Featured in the movie Eat Pray Love, the Ubud Art Market is located at the corner of the Ubud Monkey Forest and Jalan Saya Ubud, the main street that runs right through the center of town. It’s a two-story labyrinth of stalls bursting with basket bags, cotton sarongs, silver jewelry, batik fabrics, garuda sculptures, and Kamasan-style paintings.
Open from 6 am to 6 pm, the merchants negotiate with tourists for a living. “To get the best prices, hit the markets as early as physically possible, and ask for the “harga pagi”, i.e., the morning price,” says Geneva Vanderzeil, the author of DIY Fashionista. If you’re finding a steal instead of a deal, head to the stalls upstairs, where you’ll find the same products at a lower price.
*Featured photo: Nicola Lemmon