Sunset, Sea View or Kecak Dance – Dilemma of my Uluwatu Temple Tour

posted in: Asia, Heritage, Indonesia | 18

When in Bali, especially if it is your first time, you cannot miss the Uluwatu temple tour. It isn’t just because of the importance of it in the Balinese heritage. It is far more than that. The Uluwatu temple offers you a fine display of the Balinese culture in the backdrop of its exotic location. The manner in which these elements come together at the Uluwatu temple actually created a dilemma for me. Which one should I spend my golden hour at? And the best part of it all, it wasn’t my first time here. It happened earlier and it happened again and it will happen the next time I go. Wondering what?  Just read on!

Uluwatu Temple Tour - one of the key Bali attractions
Uluwatu Temple Tour – one of the key Bali attractions

History of the Uluwatu Temple

Pura Luhur Uluwatu – as is called in Bali, is one of the six “spiritual pillars”, revered by the Balinese Hindus. It dates back to the 10th century. Inscriptions credit a monk – Mpu Kuturan for this temple. In fact, the same monk is said to have built several other significant Balinese temples. A priest by the name – Dhang Hyang Dwijendra (also, called Danghyang Niratha), is said to have found his nirvana here. He is said to have reached this difficult location and then vanished with lightening. With such spiritual aura surrounding it, Uluwatu temple etched itself as one of the holiest places for the Balinese Hindus.

Ulu means tip and Watu refer to rock. Put it together and you get a clue of the location of the Uluwatu temple. The Uluwatu temple is located atop a hill, 70 m above sea level. The hill overlooks the Indian ocean giving the temple an exotic feel. The whole setting is in the middle of a forest – that of course, has depleted over time. However, owing to this strategic location, a visit to the Uluwatu temple firmly finds a top spot in the best things to do in Bali.

The architecture of the Uluwatu Temple

Given the importance of the Bali temple, I expected an elaborately carved shrine. This comes with the Hindu temples of India. However, to my surprise, the Uluwatu temple is far from it. It is a simple set of 3 shrines enclosed in a small area that is out of bounds for all except the Balinese Hindus. Even the Indian Hindus are not allowed to get in and have a look.

The guardians at the Uluwatu temple gate
The guardians at the Uluwatu temple gate

There are two entrances to the temple – one towards the north and the other to the south. The largest shrine that faces the sea is dedicated to Lord Shiva (Siva) while the other two are for Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma. The powers of these three Gods – the Trimurti as called in India- merge at this holy point. The Balinese dedicate their offerings to them – especially Siva Rudra – whom them consider as the deity of all elements of nature. Every year there is a festival for three days where thousands of Hindus across Bali come to pay their respect.

Now, knowing me, I bet you are wondering  – if the temple isn’t so big, why the dilemma at Uluwatu temple?

My dilemma at Uluwatu

The Uluwatu Temple is open between 7 am to 7 pm. However, most Uluwatu temple tours take place around sunset. The reason for this is that you can catch one of the best Sunsets in Bali right here. In addition to that, there is a daily performance of the famous Balinese Dance – Kecak dance that people love to catch. And therein lies my dilemma at the Uluwatu temple.

My dilemma on my Uluwatu Temple Tours
My dilemma on my Uluwatu Temple Tours

On one side, I had these lovely sea views that I wanted to take in. And then there was the golden ball of sun going down while at the same time, we were to catch the Kecak dance. Arggh! Over my two trips to Uluwatu, I did manage to take all this in but not without getting torn over which one to focus on. I bet when you go through the rest of my guide to Uluwatu temple, you too will be in a soup. It will be interesting to know your choice  – just remember to leave a comment in the end about it.

The exotic sea view from the Uluwatu Hill

There is something calming to see the waves lash against the rocks. Angry, calm or even the playful ones. It was this that I loved at the Uluwatu hill. Walking along the long walls of the Uluwatu temple, you get plenty of viewpoints to see this drama of the water, sand and the rocks. Add to this a colorful splay of bougainvillea. They create such picturesque spots for your framed memories. Somehow, I could not tear myself away from the lure of finding these photo points.

The soothing sea view from Uluwatu Temple
The soothing sea view from Uluwatu Temple

Sadly, with the golden hour coming close, you are forced to abandon this hunt and start focusing on the golden hues behind the temple. The only consolation is that the music of the waves and the salty breeze promise to keep you company.

Uluwatu Temple Sunset

There are generally two places in Bali that are recommended for a beautiful sunset by a sea temple. One is Tanah Lot and the 2nd is Uluwatu temple. I have been lucky to have witnessed both of them. And no – I cannot pick as to which one was better. Even after having visited Uluwatu the 2nd time, I still cannot make that decision.

Sunset that lights up the bougainvillea and casts the perfect silhouette of Uluwatu Temple
Sunset that lights up the bougainvillea and casts the perfect silhouette of Uluwatu Temple

The Sunset at Uluwatu temple gives you that perfect silhouette of the temple before the sky reflects a kaleidoscope of colors. On a clear day, you can almost trace the sun going past the temple and sinking into the sea. I particularly love the way those golden rays ignite the bougainvillea – turning the pink into fiery orange.

If it is so beautiful – why the predicament? Well, if you are lucky and the sun sets a little before 6 pm, then there is no issue. You can catch the Kecak dance as well as get your fill of the stunning sunset view. However, if not, then well, you better get the seats at the far end of the Kecak dance arena – one that allows you to get at least some glimpse of the sunset while watching the lovely cultural performance. Sigh! I had to pick on both my visits. The first time around it was the sunset while the 2nd time, I caught the Kecak dance.

Kecak Dance – the highlight of Uluwatu Temple Tour

In one of my earliest posts on Bali culture, I had shared a video of this fire dance as witnessed at the GWK Cultural Center. It was then that I found a lot of similarities between the dance and the Indian classical dances. With a repeat performance on this trip, I found stronger connections to the Indian Classical Dances. Quite like them, Kecak dance is also, a dance drama. Just like the origin of the Indian ones in the temples, Kecak too, was performed at the Bali Hindu temples. They too, are based on Hindu Mythological stories – specifically the Ramayana and extensively use hand gestures (mudras in Indian dance) and emotions.

Hanuman in the Uluwatu Kecak Dance
Hanuman in the Uluwatu Kecak Dance

History of Kecak Dance

If you are pronouncing Kecak as “Ke..ka..k” – I would love to correct you. The way you say it is “Ke-cha-k”. The origin of Tari Kecak goes back to a trance dance performed in the temples. It was in the 1930s that a German musician – Walter Spies discovered it and took it worldwide with the help of an Indonesian artist – Wayan Limbak. The dance was originally performed only by men. It was only in 2006, that women became a part of this musical drama.

The concept of Kecak Dance

The dance starts with the lighting of fire by a group of men. The Group enters the arena chanting Ke-chak-ke-chak…in different intonations. The chanting actually sounds like Chak Chak. They form a circle and then slowly, the drama unfolds. The main characters dressed in elaborate costumes come in scene by scene and recreate the epic tale of Ramayana.

The circle of the fire dance
The circle of the fire dance

All the while the circle of original men keeps chanting. There are no musical instruments involved in this performance. Just one of these men, keep using commands to accentuate and change the main chanting. The circle of men consists of over 50 men. Typically there are around 150 but the number can go up. They say that the record so far has been of 5000 men.

Costumes and Music of Kecak

Elaborate make up of the character playing Rama in the Kecak Dance
Elaborate makeup of the character playing Rama in the Kecak Dance

The group of chanters generally are bare-chested and wear only lungis or loincloths. The main characters are the ones who are elaborately dressed. The eyes are accentuated and depending on the character, they wear an intricate head-dress. The villain – Ravana (Rawana) and the characters like Jatayu, Sugriva (Sugriwa) and Hanumana also, wear a mask.

Uluwatu Temple Kecak Dance

The Uluwatu Temple Kechak Dance is true to its original form. Ramayana is quite a long story and hence, it is not possible to perform to the entire tale in just one hour. Hence, normally parts of the story are taken forward in the performance of that day. The last show that I attended showcased the abduction and rescue of Princess Sita. Here is how it went in during the show.

The Opening scene introduced the characters – Rama, Laxmana and Sita. They are seen to settle down in the forest as a part of their exile. During the day, they hear the call of a golden deer. Sita requests Rama to get it to her. Rama leaves with Laxman to capture the deer. Laxmana creates a protective circle around Sita and requests her to stay within for her safety.

Rama hunting the Golden deer during the performance
Rama hunting the Golden deer during the performance

The next scene shows Ravana disguised as a mendicant begging for alms. He tries to enter the circle but is prevented by the spell. Sita has to step outside to give him alms. That is when he reveals his true form and kidnaps her. Jatayu – a vulture attempts to stop Ravana from kidnapping. He is wounded and falls down injured.

Sita waiting for Rama
Sita waiting for Rama

Rama and Laxmana come back to find Sita missing. They take the help of Sugriva and his army of monkeys to reach Lanka and rescue Sita. This is when my favorite character in the drama enters – Hanuman. Depicted as a white, mischievous monkey, Hanuman jumps all-around entertaining the crowd with his antics. He even gets into the crowd and pulls away someone’s cap or sports a lady’s goggles. Quite like the monkeys of Uluwatu who actually tend to snatch away your possessions. (So do be careful).

Hanuman entertaining the crowd by sporting a pair of goggles taken from a spectator
Hanuman entertaining the crowd by sporting a pair of goggles taken from a spectator

Hanuman goes to Lanka to spot Sita and let her know that help is on the way. He gets caught while returning and his tail is set to fire. He jumps around and sets Lanka on fire before escaping to safety.

And with that, the performance ended. The Uluwatu performance kept me quite engaged. Sure a part of me wanted to run out and see the dusk but the gripping performance did not allow me to move. This is where I recommend adding this to your Bali itinerary but at the same time, pass on my dilemma to you. So what are you going to pick – should you have to make a choice – the views, the sunset or the dance?

Other things to do at Uluwatu

Note that in this section, I share a few things that will take you away from the temple. These are things that you can do around the temple. They need a bit of travel.

Head over to Sundays Beach Club

Sundays beach club near Uluwatu temple
Sundays beach club near Uluwatu temple

The Sundays Beach Club is a lovely party beach that is situated at the base of the cliffs. To get to the beach, you need to take the little tram from Ungasan Clifftop Resort. The peppy music and the lively atmosphere with warm waters to wade in making it a great place to unwind and relax. You can engage in a variety of watersports here – paddle-boating, kayaking and even simple, plain old swimming. I happened to get here on a day different from the Uluwatu temple tour and thus, witnessed the sunset too.

Sunset at the Sundays Beach Club
Sunset at the Sundays Beach Club

The club cafe is a great place to dine too. Not only do you get your local delicacies but the regular continental food too. Since the place is secluded, you can expect only a fixed crowd – which is not too little but not overflowing either.

Explore the foodie in you at Jimbaran Beach

Seafood fiesta at the Jimbaran Beach in Bali
Seafood fiesta at the Jimbaran Beach in Bali

If you are a connoisseur of seafood, then after the Kecak dance at Uluwatu temple, you should head over to Jimbaran Beach. The seafood stalls there are bound to make you salivate. You can get some live cooking done and enjoy it by the beach in candlelights. Note, there isn’t much for vegetarians and if you are one, you might find the smell of seafood a little too strong here.

Discover Nyang Nyang Beach

It is not a very easy beach to reach and therein lies its charm. The beautiful stretch of white sand with blue waters of the ocean lapping it makes your visit to Nyang Nyang beach just perfect.

Visit the Eat Pray Love Beach – Padang Padang

If you are a fan of the book and movie – Eat, Pray, Love, then you might want to head over to Padang Padang beach. This is where some of the scenes from the film were shot. You can find that lone rock where Julia Roberts stood and take a picture for yourself while here.

And with that, I hope you have added more than a day for Uluwatu. Maybe that is a good solution to the possible dilemma that you might face when here. Best you get here, stay here and see it all. What say? Go on, pin this and let me know what is your solution to this dilemma.

How to get to Uluwatu?

Malindo Air has regular flights to Denpasar
Malindo Air has regular flights to Denpasar
  • Denpasar airport is your gateway to Bali by flight. There are plenty of airlines that will get you here from across the world. I flew Malindo Air from India via Singapore to Bali. They have regular flights that are quite comfortable and affordable.
  • Uluwatu is quite away from the main center. It is around 25 km from Kuta. To get to Uluwatu from Kuta, you will need to budget at least one and half hours -keeping in mind the traffic conditions. You can either hire a bike or a cab from Kuta or book one online through this link. The booking will not cost you anything additional but it will get me a commission to keep this website going.
  • If you are stationed in Ubud then Uluwatu is going to be quite a drive. The distance between Ubud and Uluwatu is double that of Kuta and thus, expect double the time to get here. You can use the same link as above to book your transport for your visit to Uluwatu from Ubud.

Where to stay in Uluwatu, Bali?

Given the distance and the plethora of Uluwatu attractions, it might be a good idea to scout for accommodation in Uluwatu itself. Luckily for you, there are plenty of Bali hotels in Uluwatu. In fact, you can opt to stay at the same resort where the Sundays Beach Club is located. It did seem quite comfortable and nice and given that it is by the beach, you are bound to love it. Check out the rates and reviews here and use the same link to book Ungasan Clifftop Resort.

Alternately, browse through the list of other hotels in Uluwatu and see if any of them catch your fancy.

Booking the Uluwatu Temple Tour

Every hotel and resort can help you book a Uluwatu Temple Tour. There are multiple options that you can consider.

  • Just a transport to Uluwatu Temple and back
  • Uluwatu temple tour with entrance tickets included
  • Uluwatu temple tour and the Kecak Dance package.

The reason I mention these options is for the fact that your prices will depend on the option you pick. If you are considering booking one online, here are a few options that you can book online through this Klook link. The affiliate links will not cost you anything additional.

  • A basic Úluwatu tour that picks you from the hotel and drops you back after your time at Sunset, Kecak dance and dinner at Jimbaran (optional). The tour has fairly good reviews. 
  • Before you get to Uluwatu, if you wish, you can head out to Padang Padang beach. This Klook Uluwatu package includes the beach in addition to the sunset at Uluwatu temple, the Kecak dance and an optional dinner at Jimbaran. 

Travel Tips

  • The entrance tickets to the Uluwatu temple are IDR 50,000 per person. This is just the entrance fees. For the Kecak dance, the price is 100,000 IDR. However, be aware that there are limited seats for the dance and you better get them as early as you can.
  • There is a dress code for the Uluwatu temple. Not only do you have to be fully clothed (no bare shoulders or short dresses), but have to wear a sash or a sarong when here. You can get one on hire at the Uluwatu temple entrance. The Uluwatu Temple dress code is compulsory, even if you are wearing trousers or jeans.
  • The Uluwatu temple is infested with monkeys. They are believed to be guardians of the temple and have become quite smart. They are known to snatch things from various travelers and have to be bribed to get them back. On one of my trips, one of the Uluwatu temple monkeys ran away with fellow bloggers’ shoes. So keep your bags close to you and avoid taking out food of any sort. Keep your cameras strapped and be on your guard.
  • There is plenty of parking space at the Uluwatu temple.
  • There is no cafe or shops near the temple.
  • Washroom facilities are available at the Uluwatu temple.
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.

 

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18 Responses

  1. Danik

    That is a horrible dilemma to be in but if I had to choose, I would go for the sunset over the dance any day of the week (unless there was lots and lots of clouds about then I would go for the other). I never heard of Uluwatu but I would totally come here. The temple looks beautiful and the views also. For me, the dance is something extra and if I encountered it, it would be an added bonus.

    • Ami

      Oh Danik, you haven’t yet seen the dance. Trust me, it is something you would want to watch. But well, so is the Sunset then. Maybe you can catch the dance on some other day 😉

  2. Jennifer Prince

    What a gorgeous place to include in the itinerary! And the views are fabulous. I love it when places really teach you about a culture. The culture in Bali is so different from what I know in the US – I would definitely want to soak in the dancing, too. Great tip about the monkeys – we had that experience at a temple in Nepal. They’re fairly swift. Glad you made the most of your time while at Uluwatu!

  3. Mara Y

    It is interesting you recommend the sunset tour. I havent been to Bali, but in Cambodia there was one temple that was promoted for sunset…and it was ok. I wouldn’t recommend it. I will have to keep your post in mind when I do go visit this temple. The sea views look amazing from your pictures.

    • Ami

      This one also has a cultural program attached to it. Which is why you might want to get there.

  4. Mijia Eggers

    Bali is an exotic place that I have been dreaming for years. I would like to view the sunsets and watch the local dancing. How many days did you stay there? My friends spent one week there and think that they could stay longer. The seafood siesta is also very attractive to me .

  5. Naomi

    Hanuman sounds like my favourite character in the dance! I’m thinking of going this year, so will bookmark this page. Nyang Nyang on the list too now!

  6. sherianne

    This sounds like an amazing visit. I do not know much about Balinese culture and it would be a great introduction. The cliff views and that sunset are fabulous, can understand the dilemma. The dance performance would be the highlight for me without any doubt. Bonus that there is a nightmarket with food stalls and the Eat Pray Love beach is nearby

    • Ami

      You must plan an entire day at Uluwatu given your interest. Start with the Padang Padang beach, head to Uluwatu and finish with Jimbaran beach. You will possibly cover it all.

  7. Linda (LD Holland)

    We went to Uluwatu but made a strategic error. We went by Uber which was fast and cheap. So we had trouble getting a ride back. So unfortunately that meant we missed the Kecak Dance. Your photos show why I am sorry we missed the dance. But we did not miss the crazy monkeys around the temple stealing our sunglasses. We definitely need to return.

    • Ami

      Ah that is something a lot people unfortunately do on their first trip. Which is why my post. I do hope you get to go there again and this time, see the dance.

  8. Chloé Arnold

    I’m still so sad we never made it to Uluwatu when we visited Bali. It looks so beautiful, I can’t believe we missed it. Guess we need to go back

  9. Indrani

    Yes in spite of the second tour here I too had the same dilemma which to see first. But the dance any day scores high for me. I can never tire of seeing it. The chak chak sounds keep ringing in my ear. Loved your pics, especially the Hanuman.

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