The temple of Pura Luhur Uluwatu is spiritually important to the people of the Indonesian island of Bali, as it is one of Bali’s sacred directional temples (kayangan jagat) protecting the island from evil spirits in the southwest. It's this proximity to evil, presumably, that compels the temple's guardians to require the wearing of special sashes or sarongs, as they are supposed to protect visitors from evil influences.
The most compelling part of the temple complex, however, comes from its nightly kecak and fire dance performances, which adapts the famous Ramayana Hindu epic, and plays out against a gorgeous Balinese sunset.
The Pura Luhur Uluwatu Temple
The temple at Uluwatu was built by the Javanese Hindu guru Empu Kuturan in the 10th century. Seven hundred years later, the guru Niratha added further to the temples on the site. "Ulu" means head, and "Watu" means rock; the temple at "the head of the rock" stands atop a sheer cliff rising two hundred feet above the Indian Ocean. The temple commands a wonderful view of the sea breaking against the base of the cliffs below, and a totally unforgettable sunset.
Entering Pura Luhur Uluwatu
Getting into Pura Luhur Uluwatu – and ultimately, watching the kecak performance – will cost you about 40,000 IDR (about $3 USD) for entrance into the temple grounds, and 100,000 IDR ($7.50 USD) for the kecak performance itself. You'll be asked to wear a sash around your waist in any case and a sarong too if your clothes are too short.
The pathway leading past Pura Luhur Uluwatu and down to the kecak amphitheater is rimmed with trees and full of monkeys who like stealing anything glittery. A sign at the entrance warns visitors to stow away their jewelry, eyeglasses, and other valuables to make sure the monkeys don't get to them first.
Kecak and the Fire Dance
Kecak is derived from an old Balinese ritual called the sanghyang, trance dance driven by its participants' repetitive chanting. In its ancient form, the sanghyang communicated the wishes of the gods or of the ancestors.
The kecak performance takes place on a circular stage, surrounded by bleachers that rise to a maximum of ten feet above ground to give everyone a good view. The performance plays out as the sun sets, and the culmination involves a giant fire display that is integral to the plot. No musical instruments are used in a kecak performance. Instead, you find about thirty bare-chested men sitting in a circle and chanting. The repetitive vocals and costumes is trance-inducing and is described by many as a "trippy experience."
Getting to Uluwatu
Uluwatu is at Bali's southwest end, eleven miles south of Kuta. Your taxi or rented ride will take the Bypass from Kuta, heading to Nusa Dua down the road Jalan Uluwatu.
The best way to get to Uluwatu would be to arrange a trip with your hotel or travel operator. If you have to, you can also take the local bus called the bemo and ride the dark-blue Tegal from Kuta to Jimbaran, then take a taxi all the way to Uluwatu.
Coming back is more difficult if you don't have a ride pre-arranged, but you can try hitching a ride from any of the folks leaving at the same time as you.
Many tour operators arrange a two-for-one deal with travelers, packaging the Uluwatu kecak performance with dinner on the beach in nearby Jimbaran.