Often obscured by clouds, Gunung Agung dominates the horizon in East Bali. Not only is Gunung Agung the tallest volcano on the island (10,308 feet), the slopes are home to the most sacred Hindu temple in Bali: Pura Besakih.
Gunung Agung's 2300-foot-wide crater occasionally belches menacing smoke, reminding all that the volcano is only taking a break between eruptions. Adventurous trekkers have the opportunity to climb the sacred mountain for an unforgettable sunrise and views that encompass most of Bali. Even Gunung Rinjani on Lombok can be seen before the clouds move in.
A Miracle on Gunung Agung
In Hindu belief, the Eka Dasa Rudra ceremony is to be performed every 100 years in order to save the world from destruction. Before the ceremony could be performed in 1963 - the scheduled year - Gunung Agung erupted explosively, costing at least 1,500 lives; more perished during a secondary eruption later that year. The violent eruption actually removed the top 400 feet from the mountain, but miraculously Pura Besakih was untouched during the devastation. Reports claim that the lava came within yards of the temples in different places, but none were destroyed.
- Read more about Bali's sacred Hindu temple complex Pura Besakih.
Trekking Gunung Agung
Most adventurous travelers looking to climb an active volcano in Bali end up on Mount Batur in Kintamani. While Mount Batur is certainly exciting, the two-hour trek pales in comparison to Gunung Agung.
Trekking up Gunung Agung requires a minimum of five leg-burning hours to reach the summit; plan on around four more hours for the descent. Depending on the route taken, extremely fit trekkers can make the summit in around five hours with very few breaks. A midnight start is crucial for reaching the summit before sunrise and enjoying the views before afternoon clouds take over.
Although there are several approaches to Gunung Agung, the most popular start is in the village of Besakih, one kilometer south of Pura Besakih. Expect a lot of hassle from local guides if you begin up the trail independently; always team up with other solo trekkers for safety.
An alternative route begins from Pura Pasar Agung. More straightforward and easier to follow without getting lost, the trail from Pura Pasar Agung is more suited for people trekking without a guide. Unfortunately, the extremely steep trail ends at a lower point on the summit than the longer trail from Besakih. Regardless, the views are still excellent when the clouds are cooperating.
- Read about other great volcanoes in Indonesia that can be climbed.
While no real climbing equipment is required to summit Gunung Agung, some common sense items will keep you out of trouble.
- Cold Weather Jacket: Temperatures in the morning are extremely chilly; the wind is strong on the exposed summit.
- Waterproof Gear: Gunung Agung influences the whole climate in Bali. Be prepared for unexpected rain even during the dry season.
- Sun Protection: The sun becomes quite strong in the afternoon. Read about how to protect yourself from sunburn in Southeast Asia.
- Proper Shoes: The volcanic rock will make short work of sandals and exposed toes.
- Water: After a teeth-chattering wait for sunrise, the sun appears in full force and temperatures rise quickly. Take a hat and sun protection.
- Food and Snacks: Overpriced and low quality, the tourist-targeted food near Pura Besakih is not the best example of Indonesian food. Take your own snacks to replace calories burned on the ascent.
- Flashlight: Navigating the trail before dawn is impossible without a flashlight, and getting lost without one would turn your adventure into a nightmare.
Sunrise Tours of Gunung Agung
As with other volcano climbs in Indonesia, pushy guides are never hard to find around the start of the trek. Guides can be hired on the spot for between $35 - $50. Trekkers can group together to negotiate a better price per person. Alternatively, you can book a tour in advance through your accommodation or a travel agent. Be ready for a very long day - tours usually begin the night before with a pickup at your hotel around 11 p.m.
Tours typically include a simple breakfast on top of Gunung Agung during sunrise. Very little time is spent at the summit before starting back down. Tour prices can be negotiated, but typically end up costing around $80 per person with a minimum of two people.
- Read tips for negotiating prices in Southeast Asia.
Getting to Gunung Agung
Gunung Agung is located in the Karangasem district of East Bali about an hour from Ubud - Bali's cultural hub. Numerous travel agencies around Ubud advertise transportation to Pura Besakih. Located on the southern slope of Gunung Agung, the Pura Besakih temple complex is close to the usual starting point for treks. Your accommodation can also arrange a private driver if you wish to make your own way to Gunung Agung without a tour.
Motorbikes can be rented in Ubud for around $5 per day; the scenic drive to Gunung Agung is worth the effort if you are confident enough on a scooter.
Gunung Agung can also be accessed via the Kintamani region by driving south one hour toward Rendang.
When to Go
Trekking Gunung Agung during the wet months between November to March is unrecommended. The slippery paths become dangerous; the mudslides can be fatal.
- Read this introduction to Bali.