Tabanan is the capital town of the regency of Bali with the same name. Parts of Tabanan regency lie in Central Bali and other parts would be more often regarded as part of West Bali. For the purposes of this guide the Tabanan area will be classified in Central Bali as that is where the key areas of interest to visitors are located.
The coastal areas in the south were previously not popular with visitors due to a lack of infrastructure but these have been lightly developed in recent years and there are now some high profile accommodation options there. Tabanan is though more usually associated by visitors with rolling green landscapes, hills and especially the imposing Mount Batukaru, Bali's second highest peak at 2,276 metres.
The town of Mengwi has a long and rich history associated with its royal family and the best modern day manifestation of this is the splendid temple complex at Taman Ayun.
How to get in
The main coastal road from Denpasar to West Bali passes right through Tabanan and access from the main tourist centres in South Bali is straightforward. Most visitors to the Tabanan area arrive with their own transport. The town is served by buses departing from Ubung bemo terminal in Denpasar. These arrive on the northern outskirts of town at Pesiapan.
How to go around
There are a lot a bemos available in the town of Tabanan and some of these will be useful in getting you to interesting sights in the region. Taxis and private vehicles for hire are thin on the ground here though. Most visitors arrive either with a car and driver, in their own hired vehicle or by motorbike and get around the region in that way.
So who was Ngurah Rai?
You have seen his name. Of course you have. The main road into town from the airport is named after him. But just who was he?
The Balinese effort in the Indonesian fight for independence from the Dutch after World World War II was led by a feisty young officer called Gusti Ngurah Rai. The most famous battle of this campaign resulted in his death along with 96 of his soldiers in a ritual puputan (fight to the death) in the village of Marga.
This heroic act (and every Balinese individual who died in the independence struggle) is commemorated in the Margarana Memorial Park. This very pleasant park is open daily from 8AM and exhibits many statues, houses a graveyard for the war-dead and has a shrine to Ngurah Rai which includes his photograph. Marga is about 15 minutes north from Mengwi and all Balinese drivers will know how to find it. Few tourists make it here but it is worth the effort.
What you can see
The black sand beaches. There are numerous smallroads and unmade tracks that lead from the coast road south of Tabanan to the waterfront. The beaches here are all black sand. The most well known of them and one with some good accomodation options is Yeh Gangga. This is well signposted from the main coast about 2.5 km past Tabanan, heading west. Be warned though that much of this west coast shoreline is unsafe for swimming.
Bali Butterfly Park (Taman Kupu Kupu Bali), Jalan Batukaru, Banjar Sandan lebah, Wanasari vilage, Tabanan (5 km north of Tabanan town centre on the road to Mount Batukaru), ☎ +62 361 814282. 8.00 AM to 4.00 PM daily. A small but well maintained centre for research and education into butterflies with some very spectacular species on show. Who doesn't like butterflies? Best to visit in the early and mid morning when the butterflies are at their most active. Rp 60,000.
Pura Luhur Batukaru (Batukaru Temple), near Wongayagede village. One of Bali's key directional temples and a site of pilgrimage for Hindu Balinese. Majestically situated on the slopes of Mount Batukaru since the 11th century, this is an especially sacred site, even by Balinese standards and all visitors must carefully read and abide by the temple rules posted clearly at the entrance. The temple is high on the slopes of the mountain and the often misty, drizzly micro-climate here just adds to its undoubtedly mystical atmosphere.
Pura Taman Ayun (Mengwi Water Temple), (2 km west of Mengwi on the road to Abiansemal). This very pleasing temple was built in 1634 by the King of Mengwi as his family temple. The terraced courtyards of the temple are set in very well maintained grounds surrounded by man-made waterways and entered over a bridge. Mengwi is about 8 km east from the town of Tabanan. Rp 5,000.
Sangeh Monkey Forest (Bukit Sari), Sangeh (Sangeh village is on the small road that leads from Abiansemal to Petang, just to the north east of Pura Taman Ayun). The macaques here act as guardians of Puri Buki Sari (Bukit Sari Temple). Legend has it that these monkeys are descendents of the army assembled by the monkey king Hanuman and that the forest here is a fragment of Mount Meru that fell to earth. The temple was built in the 17th century. The monkeys here are as bold as elsewhere in Bali so hang on to your belongings. Sangeh combines well with a vist to Pura Taman Ayun. Rp 6,000.
Subak Museum (Mandila Mathika Subak), Sanggulan village (2 km east of Tabanan town centre). This museum is dedicated to the famed subak system of unmechanised irrigation which has been in use in Bali since AD 600. donation.
What you can do
This is a very different experience to Bali's other major climb up Mount Agung. Unlike Agung, Batukaru is a long extinct volcano and it is forested to the peak. There is none of the desolate, barren beauty of Mount Agung. It is though an interesting climb through some areas of dense primary forest and despite its relatively minor elevation (2,276 m) one which should only be undertaken by the physically fit.
Weather conditions are a critical factor in any climb here. Batukaru is a damp place and it rains for much of the year. This is probably the wettest place in Bali. Do not even think about a climb of Batukaru in the wet season (mid-October to late March) or when rain is forecast. The paths become running streams very quickly here. July and August are the best months.
There are 3 main ascent routes all of which converge at the same point at Munduk Nyanggang. The start usually depends on where you are staying: Wongayagede, Sarinbuana or Sanda. The Sanda route is the toughest and longest (6 to 7 hours to the top) and the Sarinbuana route the easiest. From the point of convergence at Munduk Nyanggang, the peak is another 2 to 3 hours of tough climbing depending on your level of fitness and the prevailing weather conditions.
A bonafide guide should always be used and can be arranged through your local hotel or employed directly at Pura Luhur Batukaru. Expect to pay anywhere between Rp 700,000 and 1,000,000 for a good experienced guide for a day return trek. All of the local guides also offer less arduous treks in the local area including the ascent to Munduk Nyanggang only.
Camping is allowed on the mountain although there are some restrictions close to Pura Luhur Batukaru during important ceremonies. For enthusiastic outdoors types, there is ample scope here to camp out on the mountain for one or more nights and really explore the area. Ask a guide for some ideas.
There is no food or water (some stream and spring water is OK but be careful) for sale on the mountain so bring in enough with you. Due to its sacred nature, no beef or beef products are permitted on the mountain.
A drive of the scenic mountain road from Antosari to Pupuan is highly recommended. Take the main coast road west from Tabanan for about 12 km until you reach Antosari. From there turn north (right) off the coast road. The next 30 kilometres is very scenic indeed as you pass through several small villages to reach Sanda and then onwards to Pupuan. Throughout this drive Mount Batukaru rises majestically to the east and areas to the west are largely unpopulated all the way across to West Bali National Park. Lots of excellent photo opportunities along this route. You can continue on past Pupuan to the north coast at Seririt or turn south west to return to the coast road at the village of Pekutatan close to Medewi Beach.
The famous surfing beaches at Balian and Medewi are less than one hour west from Tabanan.
Tabanan itself is a very commercial town and does not have shopping aimed at visitors.
At any of the main tourist attractions you will find the usual souvenir stalls. On the drive from Antosari to Pupuan there are several coffee plantations and processors who offer the chance to purchase freshly roasted beans.
All hotels and resorts have their own restaurants attached.
In Tabanan town there are numerous decent local restaurants and a night market.
Those visitors who especially enjoy mountain views should stop for an afternoon break and perhaps a cup of coffee on the scenic drive from Antosari to Pupuan.
The beach resorts at Yeh Gangga are a great spot to enjoy a sunset cocktail.
Bali Prana Resort, WongayaGede village, ☎ +62 361 736654. Ten traditional bungalows in a beautiful rural setting on the slopes of Mount Batukaru. Strong sustainability and eco emphasis here. From US$ 55.
Bali Wisata Bungalows, Yeh Gangga beach, ☎ +62 361 7443561 (email@example.com). Beachfront cottages, some with private kitchens attached. Large seawater swimming pool From Rp 200,000 to 450,000.
Cempaka Belimbing Villas, Br. Suradadi, Belimbing, Pupuan, ☎ +62 361 7451178 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Ten villas in a beautiful area in the shadow of Mount Batukaru. Take environmental considerations very seriously and a winner of the Green Paradise Award. From US$ 70 to 195.
Puri Taman Sari, Dusun Umabian, Desa Peken, Kecamatan Marga (5 km north of Taman Ayun), ☎ +62 361 288096 (email@example.com). This charming traditional style homestay is owned by the Mengwi royal family and gives visitors a real opportunity to experiecne the life stay of an authentic Balinese high caste family. Guests are encouraged to become involved in the daily routines of making offerings, cooking, prayers, dance and music rehearsals etc. The six guest rooms are offered for nightly rental and are very comfortable indeed. From US$ 55.
Sanda Boutique Villas, Sanda Village (on the western slopes of Batukaru reached from the main road from Antosari to Pupuan), ☎ +62 828 3720055 (firstname.lastname@example.org). A villa resort in the mountains that attempts to create the atmosphere of a colonial plantation house. Grow their own produce and offer a full range of Mount Batukaru-based outdoor activities. From US$ 99.
Sarinbuana Eco-Lodge, Banjar Biahan, ☎ +62 361 7435198 (email@example.com). Four two storey bungalows in a truly spectacular setting on the slopes of Mount Batukaru at Biahan close to Sarinbuana. There is a huge emphasis on sustainability and other eco-matters here. A great base for exploring the untamed natural beauty of this mountainous region. Can arrange trekking and a whole host of local outdoor activites. Owned and run by an award-winning Dutch couple who are genuinely committed to environmental conservation. From Rp 1,000,000.
Waka Gangga, Yeh Gangga beach. Tasteful luxury hotel right on the black sand beach at Yeh Gangga. Individual cottages. Has top notch in-house spa and restaurant. From US$ 230.
Yeh Panas Hot Spring Spa Hotel, Penatahan village (close to Wongayagede), ☎ +62 361 262356 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Set in 2 hectares of lush green grounds surrounded by terraced rice paddies. Bathing in the hot springs is a key attraction of staying here. The resort also offers a full range of Mount Batukaru-based activities. From US$ 45.
The main east-west road in South Bali passes through the Tabanan area and going back to the main tourist centres in South Bali is straightforward. Heading westwards, the quiet surfing village at Medewi Beach is less than one hour from Tabanan while the ferry port at Gilimanuk can be reached in two hours.
The north coast can best be reached via the scenic Antosari-Pupuan-Seririt road.
Another way to reach the north coast is by driving north from Mengwi and taking the eastwards cut across from Wongayagede. You will drive through Jatiluwih and Bedugul from where the north coast at Singaraja is less than a one hour's drive. You can visit the Pura Luhur Batukaru temple near Mount Batukaru and the area around Jataluwih has spectacular rice fields nominated for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Bedugul has a fruit market, a botanic garden and the picturesque Pura Ulun Danu Bratan temple.
Bemos for all directions depart from Pesiapan on the nothern outskirts of Tabanan town.