The mountainous region of northeastern Bali centring around massive Batur Caldera delivers one of Bali’s most dramatic sights — the majestic cone of smouldering Gunung Batur, an active volcano that rises 700 metres from molten black lava flows and overshadows a crater lake below, Danau Batur. A contrasting patchwork of vegetable farms which thrive in the fertile volcanic soil, along with red-roofed villages lining the lake, complete the scene. Crisp and fresh mountain air gives a pleasant respite from the sometimes sweltering coastal regions.
In 2012 the area became Indonesia’s first Geopark, part of the UNESCO Global Geopark Network. Commonly the region is referred to as Gunung Batur, however locally it’s widely known as Kintamani, one of the larger towns in the region. Sitting 1,000 metres above sea level, the caldera is approximately 10 kilometres across and is the remainder of a monstrous volcano that reputedly exploded some 30,000 years ago. Gunung Batur has a history of regular eruptions: at least 20 have occurred since the 1800s. It’s monitored, and occasionally closed due to increased activity.
Every day, busloads of tourists make the trip to the villages edging the crater, Kintamani and Penelokan, admire the view, eat an overpriced buffet lunch and return. An army of pushy souvenir sellers targets all and sundry with a level of hassle unmatched in Bali — hence the area has a rather negative reputation. However don’t let that put you off; we think the region is worth more than a quick day trip and has many interesting things to offer — the number one highlight, climbing Gunung Batur is a moderate trek for someone with a reasonable level of fitness and is really a must-do activity for the adventurous when visiting Bali.
Up on the rim, Kintamani is home to Pura Ulun Danu Batur, one of Bali’s important holy temples and the second largest on the island. A wander through the maze of temples and shrines with the mountain backdrop offers highly photogenic scenes. An interesting geological museum in the village of Penelokan will give you some insight into how the caldera was formed. It’s free to enter and worth a quick stop, particularly if you plan on climbing the volcano.
Within the caldera the lakeside town of Toya Bungkah offers a selection of thermal springs, perfect for soaking weary bones after a volcano trek, or warming up on a cool mountain evening. Across the lake, the fascinating traditional village of Trunyan is famed for its unique method of dealing with the bodies of the dead and you may be invited to play out a scene from Hamlet.
Most activities could be covered with an overnight stay; we recommend seeing most sights on the first day, then climbing the volcano and finishing with a soak in the hot sprigs before heading to your next destination. However if you’d like to stay longer, the trip along the lake would make a great long trek or bike ride (don’t walk across farmlands without asking permission). Unfortunately you can’t circumnavigate the lake. Mountain bikes can be hired from Batur Natural Hot Spring in Toya Bungkah — do be careful of trucks on the road.
The road down into the caldera from Penelokan is heavily trafficked by overloaded trucks filled with sand and rocks illegally mined from the lava flows for the construction industry. Often the contents are dumped on the road if the truck is weighed down, making the winding journey even more dangerous. Be very careful if you are riding a motorbike (or a car) — during our research we witnessed a tourist come off his motorbike here, luckily only with cuts and bruises. The trucks continue day and night, disturbing an otherwise peaceful area with constant traffic noise.
Along this road, it’s common for touts to follow visitors to influence them to stay in certain hotels, buy artwork and arrange trekking. While this can be a annoyance, the best approach is to politely decline and say you already have a booking.
Hotels and guesthouses can be found dotted along the villages on the rim of the caldera, or in Kedisan and Toya Bungkah, both down by the lake. Many offer package deals with the volcano trek included along with a bed. While much of the accommodation in the area is run down and overpriced, there are some good choices for budget to midrange travellers.
Food options are somewhat limited — up on the rim are the ubiquitous buffet restaurants with fleets of tour buses outside. They have fantastic views, and the food is okay, though far from gourmet, and unless you are a huge eater, it's pricey. Standing out from the crowd is a branch of Ubud-based Sari Organik with a delicious and fresh modern menu that’s sure to please the health conscious. They also offer a couple of budget rooms. Lakeside, the food scene is more no-frills, with most guesthouses having an attached restaurant and a small variety of warungs serving local food. Fresh tilapia (nila) fish is farmed in the lake, and is offered fresh in most local restaurants barbecued, fried or steamed.
Evening temperatures can be cool and it is often cloudy and wet, so bring a jacket or jumper if you have one. Be mindful this is a conservative traditional community and modest dress is appreciated.
There is very limited public transport in the area — a few bemos pass by Kintamani and Penelokan in the morning, and there is no public transport to towns within the caldera. Ojeks can be difficult to find although you could ask your hotel for help. Hotels can arrange a car and driver along with transfers for the volcano climb.
The majority of ATMs are found along the caldera rim in Kintamani and Penelokan, with one lakeside in Kedisan near Hotel Surya. WiFi is offered in most hotels, however it’s often slow.
Medical help in these parts is very rudimentary and it is best to make the journey to Ubud or Singaraja if you are injured. For mountain weary muscles, we have had some success with traditional healers in the villages here — ask the locals for recommendations.
Mini-markets selling snacks and sundries are found in all the villages. All over the Batur area you will be offered small paintings that use volcanic sand, they are somewhat unique. If they appeal — bargain.
By Sally Arnold.
Last updated on 8th June, 2016.