Bali attracts sunseekers with its tropical climate and verdant rainforest studded with waterfalls. Besides snorkeling, surfing, and volcano trekking, traveling to Bali provides an opportunity to engage with the unique culture of the spiritual sanctuary known as the Island of the Gods.
Unlike the rest of Indonesia, island residents practice Balinese Hinduism. Although the principal Hindu gods are worshiped, Balinese Hindus pay significant attention to their agricultural and ancestral deities. Practices overlap somewhat with Buddhist beliefs.
In addition to the 10,000 temples scattered across the island, shrines are encountered on just about every street corner. Balinese Hindus place daily offerings called canang cari on these shrines as well as outside their houses and shops. Consisting of a small woven basket containing flowers, rice, money, and incense, canang cari are an expression of gratitude.
Ubud: Bali’s spiritual heart
Situated in the uplands, Ubud will open your eyes to traditional Balinese customs. Ubud Palace hosts a Barong dance recital every evening, a spectacle with animal costumes and music.
Symbolic of prosperity in Balinese culture, water is a typical motif at temples in and around Ubud as well as in the north of the island. Dedicated to the goddess of learning, literature, and art, who once took the form of a river, the ornate Saraswati Temple is set upon a lotus pond in Ubud town.
Colloquially known as Ubud Monkey Forest, the Mandala Suci Wenara Wana sanctuary complex is buried in the jungle. This network of temples, sculptures, and banyan trees is home to over 1,000 monkeys.
On the outskirts of Ubud, you can visit the funerary complex of Gunung Kawi Sebatu where holy shrines are carved into the cliffs next to serene pools. Balinese Hindus pay regular visits to the springs of Pura Tirta Empul to partake in a purification ritual. In fact, tourists are welcome to participate.
Barefoot luxury at Gili Trawangan
Accessible via fast ferry from the mainland, Gili Trawangan is the largest of the three Gili Islands, a cluster of isles located off the northwest coast of Bali’s sister island, Lombok.
With powdery white beaches, diverse marine life, and no motorized vehicles, visiting Gili Trawangan is like stepping back in time while beachfront resorts provide the barefoot luxury experience. When vacationing on the island, you will spend your day cycling, snorkeling, and enjoying traditional Balinese massages. Developed on the island, this full-body treatment uses techniques inspired by the holistic medicines of India, China, and other countries in Southeast Asia.
Typical Balinese cuisine revolves around pan-fried vegetables with tofu, meat, or seafood served with rice. Dishes are generally seasoned with shallots, garlic, turmeric, ginger, and Kaffir lime while sambal – a spicy red sauce – is available as a condiment.
Nasi campur is one of the classic dishes to sample in Bali. A mound of rice is paired with side dishes that include vegetable salad, peanuts, eggs, and fried-shrimp crackers plus a piece of meat or tofu. It’s often available with sate lilit, Bali’s version of satay. In place of tofu, tempeh is a delicious alternative source of plant-based protein made from fermented soybean.
Alongside tasting traditional cooking, the island is awash with cafes where you’ll find nourishing smoothie bowls, matcha coffee, and comforting brunches. With Balinese Hinduism sharing Animistic beliefs, this is one of the best food destinations for vegetarians and vegans.
Balinese cooking classes are available in both Ubud and Gili Trawangan plus the beach resorts of Canggu, Seminyak, and Kuta.
Contact me when you are ready to book your cultural getaway to beautiful Bali.
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