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Drive in Central Bali: Batuan, Goa Gajah, Mount Batur

This article will invite you on a scenic drive in Central Bali, through jungles and villages and up the mountain. To see all this we rented a car and a driver and headed north from the tourist areas.

Driving through the artist villages of Batubulan and Batuan we went to see jewels being made and visited a painter’s home and a temple, Pura Desa Batuan.

Driving on to Mount Batur, the volcano, we walked in the jungle and looked into the elephant cave at Goa Gajah.

In this post you will follow our trip through Bali’s fantastic countryside, absorbing the island’s ancient culture.

Drive in Central Bali: through jungles and villages

Drive in Central Bali: through jungles and villages

To make the trip we rented a car and a driver. How we found a car and a driver is explained in my post How to make a Bali day trip by car. The post also tells you what driving in Bali is like. In brief, I suggest you trust a professional driver that knows how to behave in the traffic.

This article contains our drive from Sanur to Mount Batur, one way.

The journey will continue in my next post where I will show you the best places to see when driving back from Mount Batur. To see more we took another road down and learned on the way how Bali coffee is being made and what Tegallalang rice terraces are like. Recommend!

But now from Sanur to Mount Batur:

Our Drive in Central Bali on the Map


Our Central Bali driving itinerary on the map

The map shows our Sanur to Mount Batur driving ititnerary.

We started at Sanur as that was our base in Bali, driving through Batubulan and Batuan to Goa Gajah that has the elephant caves. From the caves it was uphill to Mount Batur, one of the biggest Bali volcanoes. Look at the map and you will see its huge crater. There we went.

So first about Batubulan:


Bali statues, drive to Central Bali

Batubulan statues, drive to Central Bali

Leaving behind Sanur there were statues, statues and even more statues, on the roadside and everywhere.

The next village to the north is the artist village Batubulan, known in all Indonesia for its great artwork. Stone carving is the main craft and sculptures literally fill the roadsides all the way through the village.

They say everybody born here is very handy and talented in some kind of artwork. That’s why even more than statues is crafted here. You can see carved teak wood furnishings and things like that all over the village.


Batubulan, the artist village of Bali

In addition, Batubulan is famous for another kind of art: Barong Dance (Barong and Kris Dance) which they perform at five different stages in the village.

We went to a Barong Dance show and you can read about how it was in my other Bali post Bali Day Trip by Car.

A typical Bali village lane, drive in Central Bali


A typical Bali village lane, drive in Central Bali

Driving in Bali is fun. Even when the roads are so narrow they are nice to drive on as they all are surfaced.

This village has red and white Indonesian flags on both sides of the main road. They are there were Independence day celebrations on August 17. This year there was a major celebration and all flags are kept on poles a week after the big day.


More Bali village life

After an endless row of small villages comes Batuan:

Drive in Central Bali: Batuan

A typical Bali temple gate at Batuan

A typical Bali temple gate, Batuan

This is Batuan, Bali’s painting center known for a special painting style, Batuan painting. This specific style was born in the 1930’s and has since developed into a major Balinese artistic style.

Traditional Batuan paintings are dark, carefully detailed drawings of themes from daily life, to which they add spooks, witches and animal monsters.

The artist village of Batuan, Bali

We first went to a small jewelry to see small bracelets being made, and then to a painter house.

Visiting a Bali Painter House

I Wayan Mardiana painter house gate

Drive in Central Bali: visiting I Wayan Mardiana painter house, Batuan

Our driver wanted to show us a painter house that at the same time was the painter’s private home. Of course we wanted to see a Bali home.

Just like in any Bali home, the house gate had guardian statues on both sides. Even when house looked small from the outside there was plenty of room inside.

Like all Hindu houses, this house, too, has its own family temple to pray. The private temples for ceremonies get the most central places in Bali homes. The tiny temple in this house has small Maru towers and an offering place with yellow frangipani flowers on the ground.

A Bali home temple in photos

Frangipani trees grow all over Bali and they have either yellow or red flowers. The yellow ones are dried on the ground and the red ones used for offering. To offer, they put them in small baskets called canang sari, together with rice, leaves, grass and more flowers.

The Balinese offer to their Gods three times a day so this is an important part of their daily life. For them offering means sharing and is a sign of gratitude. You can see small offering baskets everywhere in temples and on sidewalks.

What is a Bali Home Like?


A Bali painter’s home in photos

In a Balinese home the rooms are in separate buildings with an open space in between. This sounds like a good system that certainly works in a hot tropical climate.

There are certain rules for house planning. Firstly, the kitchen’s place is south. In the painter house the kitchen was very basic and laundry was done in a side street where flowing water was accessible.

Then the temple is located north east and adult bedrooms north. And the younger generations sleep in rooms to the west.

Normally all generations share the house. However at a defined age the youngest son will get the house and the parents move into a side building.

Balinese offering baskets

Yellow frangipani flowers

Balinese offering baskets and yellow frangipani flowers on the ground

As this was an artist’s house all terraces were full of paintings. The Balinese love strong colors in their paintings but they also like traditional black and white Batuan painting. Making a  Batuan painting takes an awful lot of time, making one painting takes something like four months. One of the pictures above shows a Batuan painter at work.

After the house owner had held his presentation about his house and the family’s daily life we left the painter house and continued to the village center.

We went to see Batuan’s temple, Pura Desa:

Pura Desa of Batuan

Pura Desa Batuan Temple

Instrument player in the Pura Desa of Batuan 

Every Bali village has a temple in its center and all these village temples are called the same, pura desa. 

So we went to the Pura Desa of Batuan, a temple with a long history. Pura Desa of Batuan was founded in 1020.


Pura Desa Batuan in photos

As Batuan is an artist village, the temple, too, is ornamental and artistic.

This carved gate is where you enter the temple. It’s a typical split gate:

Drive in Central Bali: temple visitors dressed in sarongs

Drive around Central Bali: temple visitors dressed in sarongs

All Bali temples require that every visitor, both women and men, wears a sarong. Luckily there were sarongs for hire. Just tie one around your waist to go in.

Drive in Central Bali: to the Mountains

Batuan countryside, drive in Central Bali

Burning rice straws on Bali’s countryside

After we had seen enough of the temple it was time to head on. As most of the four million people living in Bali have settled south of the mountains, there is village after village.

In between are some open rice fields, and then comes the next village with its hundred temples and statues.

To fertilize fields they burn the dry rice straws after harvest.


Village views and Bali farmlands as seen on our drive in Central Bali

Drive in Central Bali, a goose family

A goose family crossing the road, somewhere in Central Bali

There are children playing on the road, goose families waddling on the roadside, whole families sitting on one scooter, school children in their neat school uniforms, and shops and vendors on the road. Normal Bali village life.

Drive in Central Bali

Penjors and Indonesian flags

Here again are some flags that still remain after the independence day celebrations.

What there also is: penjor poles that every Bali household makes every July for a Hindu ceremony.

They prepare the penjors with care, following centuries old traditions and using bamboo and other plants as materials. They don’t collect the poles away after the celebrations, but keep them standing out there as long as they last.

Drive in Central Bali, a Bali child

Drive in Central Bali, a Bali child walking on village lane

Walking to a Jungle Waterfall

Batuan countryside flowers, drive in Central Bali

Frangipani, typical Bali jungle flowers

Then our driver wanted to show us a Bali jungle, containing a waterfall. That was somewhere north of Ubud.

He parked the car and said we should walk to the waterfall through the jungle, and listen to the bird song. Here, like everywhere in Bali where tourists go, they took paid for parking. The place was a bit too touristic but the jungle walk was nice.


Walking to a Bali waterfall

Then, the elephant cave we had been waiting for:

Goa Gajah Elephant Cave

The Goa Gajah Elephant Cave is on the UNESCO World Heritage list and looks like this:

Goa Gajah cave entrance

Goa Gajah, the UNESCO listed elephant cave of Bali

The cave is an important archaeological Hindu site and dates back to the 11th century. The entrance looks like a demon’s mouth and the whole facade a relief of demons and other creatures carved right into the rock.

Two elephant statues are guarding the cave door and more elephants are found inside.

Goa Gajah elephant statue

Elephant statue guarding the Goa Gajah entrance

The cave itself is not big. It is shallow and dark and almost black from the inside. At one end there are three stone idols in black, red and yellow clothing, and at the other end a statue that looks like the ones outside.


The dark elephant cave interior

In front of the elephant cave are some massive bathing pools and fountains. One of the pools has seven statues on its sides, holding vases that work as waterspouts.


Photos of Goa Gajah, Bali

For more information and photos of the Goa Gajah Elephant Cave check out the cave website:  Goa Gajah.

Driving to Mount Batur

Fruit stall along mountain road, drive in Central Bali

Fruit stall along mountain road, drive to Mount Batur

After the elephant caves the road starts climbing. When we were driving there was a lot of road construction work that filled the air with dark dust. Why was the dust so black? Since this is a volcanic area and lava ground is black in color.

We didn’t stop in any of the villages on the way up, except in a place where piled fruits looked so good on the road side that we had to stop and look. We wanted to taste.

Once again we started counting the many zeros that Indonesian bills have. As everything costs either thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions, buying things in Bali is a bit of a problem.


Looking for money to buy Bali fruits

The fruits we bought were so good, fresh and tasty – and SO EXPENSIVE. I guess we ended up paying 8 euros for a little bag of oranges and plums.

What we learned, you should never forget to ask the price before buying. We paid too much, but never mind, maybe they need the millions more than us.

Drive in Central Bali: Mount Batur!

Lake Batur, drive in Central Bali

Lake Batur, a volcano lake in Bali

Mount Batur is an active volcano located at the absolute top of the island, but it’s not the only volcano on the island, there are many more of them. Mount Batur has two calderas, one of which is filled with water. The name of the lake is Danau Batur. This is where Bali gets its drinking water, from this lake.

Mount Batur’s first eruption known for sure was in 1804, and there have been many more since then.

Above is a caldera view from the village of Kintamani hanging on the western edge of the caldera, and below some views of the village.


Views of Mount Batur and Kintamani village, Bali

Kintamani has a stunning panorama of Mount Batur and the lake. For this reason the village has become very touristic and has some aggressive sellers trying to force you buy what they have.

The nearby local market is much nicer, as a place where everyday items and house animals change owners.What about buying a mountain dog?

Locals at Kintamani, day trip to Central Bali

Mount Batur locals

The air is cool up here, and I think people living in the mountains look very different from those living at lower altitudes. Higher up people are adapted to a climate that is much harder than the soft tropical air lower down.

Mount Batur is 1717 m high.


Mount Batur’s local market

There are 15 villages at the mountain top in all, and the famous temple Pula Ulun Danu Batur is located a bit further along the road.

As this is a very unusual area of Bali I could think about staying a bit longer, and maybe trekking to Mount Batur. But this is just a day trip and we have to start driving back.

The Drive in Central Bali Continues

We took a different road down and back to Sanur. Where did we go?

First we spent time walking on a coffee plantation, then watched Hindus take a ritual bath in a holy temple and finally walked on rice terraces. And in the evening we saw a big religious happening.

To read about those places in Central Bali, check out my next post on Bali where our journey continues.

Driving from Mount Batur to Sanur: Saturday night in Bali

Returning from Mount Batur to Sanur: Saturday night in a Bali villagei

More on Bali Travel

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