Central Bali is famous as the cradle of Balinese culture and art. The island’s artisans, based primarily in the town of Ubud, produce both traditional and modern artwork for a growing international market.
For travelers riding north from Denpasar, their first encounter with Central Bali begins at the village of Batubulan six miles northeast. Batubulan is known for its trade in door-guardian statues carved from soft volcanic rock. Shops selling the sculptures can be encountered along the village's main road.
The Bali Bird Park nearby offers a colorful wildlife encounter with birds from all over Indonesia, grouped into exhibits based on their home islands.
Batubulan is also known for its barong dance troupes, who put on shows every morning for the tourist trade. The Danjalan, Tegaltamu, and Puri Agung barong groups call Batubulan home, and all three perform in the outer courtyard of Pura Puseh Bendul.
Celuk is Bali's center for silver and gold artisanship. The long and winding road between Batubulan and Celuk is lined with smithies working these precious metals. Celuk's gold and silver trade is export-oriented, although many shops are also open for retail customers.
You can browse and buy the wares of selected shops, and you can even have some pieces made to order (though you will have to give them time to fulfill your requests). Bargain hard to get the best price for your purchases.
Woodcarvers also do brisk business in Celuk, especially wayang carvers who make traditional puppets based on both Balinese and Javanese designs.
Only about 2.5 miles south of Ubud, the tiny village of Mas is Central Bali's foremost woodworking town - its main street showcases the work of the town's woodcarvers and sculptors, often open to visitors who want to watch the masters go about their business.
Furniture crafters also make their home in Mas - if your want to have some pieces shipped home, you can't go wrong with Mas' furniture crafted from rattan and bamboo.
Ubud’s higher altitude provides a welcome respite from the muggy Bali weather. It’s also home to several museums and art galleries, all signs of the town’s devotion to art. Both traditional and modern art styles are practiced here, produced by Balinese artisans and foreign artists who have settled down in Ubud’s creative environment.
The art scene in Ubud has transformed the place into a major tourist destination, with villas scattered amidst the surrounding rice paddies taking advantage of the museums and cultural performances in the area.
- Museum Puri Lukisan: a private museum that showcases traditional Balinese art
- Neka Art Museum
- Seniwati Gallery of Art by Women
- Pura Taman Saraswati temple
Outside Ubud, the town of Pejeng is home to several temples: Goa Gaja, Pura Penataran Sasih, Pura Kebo Edan, Pura Samuan Tiga, Pura Pusering Jagat and Pura Agung Batan Bingin.
While you're there, don't miss seeing the ancient reliefs at Yeh Pulu, the oldest known in Bali, dating from the 15th century. The 90-foot long series of reliefs may depict everyday life on Bali, or may be scenes from the life of the Hindu deity Krishna.
It’s not every day you can tee off in a golf course built inside a volcano crater – you can do just that at the Bali Handara Kosaido Country Club, Bali’s first golf club, near the mountain town of Bedugul.
Another attraction close by: the Ulun Danu temple rising from the surface of Lake Bratan. Pura Ulun Danu features a Buddhist stupa (unusual in a largely Hindu island) with figures of meditating Buddha along the base.
The temple also houses meru dedicated to the goddess of the sea. Visit the temple in the morning for the best effect.
Sukawati and Batuan
11 miles north of Denpasar, the twin towns of Sukawati and Batuan are so closely tied together, only locals can tell you where the boundary lies. Many of Bali's puppet masters are based in Sukawati.
The main street is lined with artisans selling their wares. The area is also home to the Pasar Seni Sukawati art market, where craft items like wood carvings and paintings can be purchased at low prices.
In Batuan, the northern half of the twin towns, the artists are recognized for their expressionistic painting styles which chronicle both mythology and scenes from everyday life. The local painting style may have been influenced by Dutch patrons who introduced local artists to European paintings.
Batuan is also known for its ancient gambuh dances, and the wooden relief sculptures that local artisans specialize in.