Gunung Batur is an active volcano situated in the middle of a massive caldera about 1000m above sea level with a history of regular eruptions: at least 20 have occurred since the 1800s.
The caldera, located 60km from Denpasar and close to due north of Ubud, is approximately 10km across and is the remainder of a massive volcano that reputedly exploded some 30,000 years ago. Inside the caldera today is large Danau Batur, which measures 7.5km by 2.5km, and the impressive Gunung Batur, which rises 700m above the level of the lake.
From the caldera rim around Kintamani and Penelokan, the views of Gunung Batur and Danau Batur are fantastic, with towns inside the caldera visible as well as old lava flows which to this day are mined for use in the construction industry.
Inside the caldera are three towns that most visitors will either visit or seek accommodation in: Kedisan, the first town upon entry into the caldera from the rim at Penelokan, Toya Bungkah, the most popular town for those wishing to spend the night in the caldera, and Trunyan, a village famed for its unique method of dealing with the bodies of the dead.
The guesthouses and homestays around Gunung Batur are mostly on the budget end of things and the food scene in the caldera is likewise no-frills, with most guesthouses having an attached restaurant and a small variety of warungs serving local foods.
Upon descent into the caldera, it is common for local people to follow visitors to try and influence them to stay in certain hotels, buy artwork and arrange trekking. While this is an annoyance, the best approach is to politely decline the offer and proceed to your chosen destination. The same hard-sell mentality pervades at various points inside the caldera, such as when choosing to visit Trunyan or visiting the Guide Association office, and this is perhaps why the whole area has a rather negative reputation.
The highlights of the caldera are climbing Gunung Batur and viewing the cemetery at Trunyan. Both can be done in the same day, meaning only a short stay in the area is required.
The guides of Gunung Batur have formed an exclusive association, the HPPGB, which effectively runs a cartel on the provision of guiding services to tourists. The cartel ensures that everyone shares in the revenue generated by tourists and that operators from outside the local area don't exploit the mountain without remunerating the local people.
The problem for tourists is that the cartel keeps prices artificially high to the point where the trek is an expensive excursion for most backpackers, despite local wages being low. The guide association maintains a fixed price policy on the surface, but is in fact open to negotiation (though it will insist that you don't mention this to others).
The HPPGB has an exclusive license with the government to provide guides for the mountain and they are able to forbid anyone from climbing the mountain without a guide. On this basis, and more importantly, for you own safety, we suggest you use one of the cartel guides — the typical Western view that the natural environment is free to explore for everyone does not apply here.
There are ATMs in the vicinity, and internet is not widely available, although you may have some luck accessing some of the guesthouses' private connections. Medical help in these parts is very rudimentary and it is best to make the journey to Singaraja if you are injured.
By Adam Poskitt