Exploring Ubud and the Spiritual Side of Bali: ‘The Island of the Gods’

Bali is Indonesia’s most popular tourist destination, famous for it’s beaches, surfing and luxury resorts. But there’s so much more to this beautiful island than just fun in the sun.

This tropical island is larger and more diverse than many people realise and it’s easy to escape tourist hotspots like Kuta, Legian and Seminyak and explore the cultural and spiritual side of Bali – the side that stole my heart and keeps me coming back again and again.

Exploring the Spiritual Side of Bali

Escape Kuta to explore the spiritual side of Bali. Where luscious jungles, green rice terraces, mountains, waterfalls and traditional villages and green rice field terraces dominate the interior.

The majestic cone of Gunung (Volcano) Angung presides with a God like presence over the whole island, while waves crash creating epic surf breaks around the temple topped cliffs of the Bukit Peninsular.

Image of crashing waves and sunset at Ulu Watu temple, Bali
Sunset at Ulu Watu temple

Ubud, the Spiritual and Cultural Heart of Bali 

Ubud was made famous as the spiritual hub of Bali by the popular book and film – Eat Pray Love.

Having seen the film I had high expectations for Ubud, alas the center has become quite busy and touristy so those visiting on a day trip may not understand what all the fuss is about.

But take some time and stay in Ubud for a while as there’s plenty to do here and you can still experience the cultured, artistic, spiritual Ubud. Walk through the rice fields, take in the stunning rice terrace views, admire Balinese paintings, watch a traditional dance, practice yoga, relax with a Balinese massage and listen to traditional gamelan music – the real soundtrack of Bali.

Image of stunning rice terraces near Ubud, Bali
Stunning rice terraces near Ubud, Bali

Spiritual Bali – The Island of the Gods

For me, the omnipresent, enchanting, ancient temples and the culture, religions, traditions and hospitality that is uniquely Balinese make the island of Bali such a paradise.

This ‘island of the gods’ has a unique culture all of it’s own, a Hindu enclave very different to the rest of Muslim dominated Indonesia – the largest Muslim population in the world and the 4th most populace country in the world.

spiriutal bali beautiful Gunung Kawi water temple
Beautiful Gunung Kawi water temple

The Hindu society here is the only one left in South East Asia and the religion differs from that found and practiced in India.

Hinduism in Bali still has a strong focus on animism and a belief in the good and bad spirits, and positive and negative forces, that are omnipresent in the world. Religious activity still permeates almost every aspect of Balinese life, so much so that religious events apparently occupy a third of the average Balinese social calender.

Daily life is still dominated by the rituals. Enchanting little offerings called canang are made from banana leaves for the gods appear all over Bali every morning, in every nook and cranny and on every weathered statue.

Image of offerings and Balinese deities
Offerings are left at the feet of old statues of deities all over Bali

Each canang is different. I’m told that all that matters is that what ever you offer comes from the heart. Holy water is sprinkled on the offering and incense lit to let the deity know to come and get the offering.

Offerings are even tossed across the pavements and the beach as even the demons and bad spirits can also be appeased with offerings. The smell of sandalwood incense fills the air wafting up from ancient statues of mythical creatures wrapped in cloths sheltering under elaborate umbrellas.

Completing the magic are the the penyor (ornamental bamboo poles) bowed down with garlands of flowers that wave in the breeze arching over the roads always pointing the the volcano Gunung Agung that is revered, feared and respected in equal measures.

spiritual bali
Devotees throng into the temple celebrations

The Island of a Thousand Temples

Every house has it’s own temple shrine – this is why Bali is called the ‘Island of a Thousand Temples’ but this is still a massive understatement.

You would be extremely unlucky, even only on a weeks holiday, to miss a temple festival or ceremony. Each of the 20,000 temples of Bali holds an annual festival to entertain the gods with processions, offerings, traditional dances and cock fights.

Witness the Balinese in their beautiful traditional dress of sarongs, sashs and head cloths called udeng; a kaleidescope of colours perched on mopeds swerving through the evening congestion. Thronging to the temple laden with offerings upon their heads trying to avoid the cheeky monkeys.

Despite the natural beauty, the real magic of this island lies within the Balinese, who approach everything with a smile, faith and good grace, illuminating this beautiful island with an ever present spirit that is what makes Bali so special.

Image of colourful, tradtionally dressed Balinese girls
Colourfully dressed, smiling Balinese girls

Read More Ubud Travel Blogs

Where to Stay in Ubud

Yoga Retreats in Ubud

Yoga Teacher Training in Ubud

Things to do in Ubud

2 Week Bali Itinerary – Yoga, Surf and Spirituality 

 

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16 comments

Kyle August 28, 2014 at 8:31 pm

Amazing photos of Bali! You make it look like such a little piece of paradise 🙂 I can’t wait to go there!

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Anna Phipps August 28, 2014 at 10:32 pm

Thank you! Bali is really beautiful – just stay away from Kuta if you want more spirituality that shooters! Enjoy

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James October 16, 2014 at 11:10 pm

Oh this makes me want to go back!

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Anna Phipps October 16, 2014 at 11:23 pm

I’d love to return to Bali too! And I also want to explore some more of Indonesia’s islands, especially Borobudur on Java. Have you explored any more of Indonesia?

Reply
Danial April 23, 2015 at 10:03 am

I’m going to Bali again in July & would love to spend more time in Ubud and probably explore the northern coast of the island. After experiencing Kuta the first time around, I’d totally avoid it for this upcoming trip.

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Anna Phipps April 23, 2015 at 11:06 am

Yes, I would totally avoid Kuta! It’s not just Kuta in Bali either there are many other places that have just been ruined by too many tourists! Ubud was really nice but still don’t expect to have it all to yourself! I didn’t get to visit the north much so I’d be really interested to hear how you liked it – I’m sure I’ll be in Bali again sometime!

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Jason Briggs March 18, 2017 at 10:27 am

Really great post! ‘Eat, pray, love’!! Ace. Loving the Hindu vibe too

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Anna March 18, 2017 at 12:33 pm

Thanks so much Jason 🙂

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Global Gallivanting March 21, 2017 at 6:15 pm

Thanks Jason Briggs 😊 Have you been to Ubud?

Reply
Jason Briggs March 21, 2017 at 7:07 pm

Nope, but feel like I have now!!

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Christopher Deli March 19, 2017 at 5:08 pm

Agree! Ubud is the best of Bali!

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Global Gallivanting March 21, 2017 at 6:15 pm

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Isabelle May 6, 2017 at 6:48 pm

I love the rice terraces of Bali, it is such a magical place and I cannot wait to visit!

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Anna May 9, 2017 at 6:57 am

Yes the rice terraces are really beautiful 🙂 Hope you get to see Bali for yourself soon

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Rich April 1, 2019 at 2:46 pm

I love the rice terraces! I think that spirituality can merely be found in being totally present in the moment. The world’s most spiritual place- nature microwaved meditation
this column addresses it further. Hope it adds

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My Pick of the 5 Best Bali Yoga Retreats - Global Gallivanting Travel Blog March 21, 2022 at 8:37 am

[…] is a place that is filled with culture, heritage and spirituality. It is an island that is packed with stunning, luscious landscapes, magnificent architecture, […]

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