Tanah Lot is no doubt a tourist magnet, and it is easy to be discouraged by the swarming crowds. However the number of engagement and bridal photos shoots taking place there is a testament to the beauty of this part of Bali, especially at dusk.
What is Pura Tanah Lot?
Popular Balinese tourist attraction, Tanah Lot meaning “small island floating on the sea,” is a rocky, part-time island located on the south-west coast of Bali, approximately 30km northwest of Denpasar City. The outcrop is accessible from the mainland during low tide, and the location was chosen for the temple known as Pura Tanah Lot in the 16th century. The temple is one of a series, each located within sight of the next along the coastline, forming a spiritual guard between the coast and the spirits of the sea. Black and white striped sea snakes are common in this area and are thought to be guardians of the temple.
Fake or fabulous?
As Lonely Planet points out Tanah Lot “has all the authenticity of a stage set – even the tower of rock that the temple sits upon is an artful reconstruction (the entire structure was crumbling) and over one-third of the rock is artificial.” While the rock may have needed a little patchwork over time, it is understandable given its age and the battering it receives from wind and water. Where Tanah Lot is thoroughly authentic, is in its sacredness to the local Balinese people.
The legend of Tanah Lot
Indonesia is a predominantly Islamic nation, however, the island of Bali is home to a mostly Hindu population. The story goes that a 16th century C.E. Hindu priest named Dang Hyang Nirartha travelled to Bali to share Hinduism with the locals. Along the voyage, Nirartha’s boast sprung a leak and local islanders patched it with pumpkin leaves. Nirartha left his family to travel in the repaired boat and went ahead himself on a pumpkin. How very Cinderella-esque!
Upon reaching Bali Nirartha began to spread the word of Hindusim. He was teaching villagers in the town of Beraban when the village chief, who had doubts about Niratha and his new religion, made and objection and attempted to expel the priest from the town. Nirartha stood his ground and demonstrated the use of his meditative powers by shifting an enormous rock out to sea. His robes miraculously transformed into sea snakes around its base and the rock was named Tengah Lod ‘in the sea.’
Converted into a believer, the village chief pledged faithfulness to Niratha’s and Hinduism, and in return Nirartha gifted the chief a kris dagger, which is a weapon thought to possess magical powers. That very kris dagger is said to be amongst the relics of the Kediri royal palace.
The blade is paraded along an 11km pilgrimage to Nirartha’s former meditation site at Tanah Lot upon each Kuningan Day. Falling every 210 days, Kuningan marks the end of the Gaungan holiday during which the ancestor’s spirits temporarily roam the earth again. Kuningan Day farewells the spirits for their return journey back to heaven. Following Kuningan Day, many Balinese Hindus will travel to Tanah Lot to partake in a ceremony known as Piodalan. At this time they show gratitude for past blessings and ask for future salvation and prosperity.
Tanah Lot architecture
Nirartha was responsible for introducing the padmasana “lotus seat” architecture to the Hindu temples of Bali such as Pura Tanah Lot. The style typically incorporates a padmasana which is a raised dais that is created as a resting place for gods attending a temple festival. In the Shaivism branch of Hinduism practised in Bali, the padmasana would be intended as the seat of Shiva, the supreme god. The padmasana is generally accompanied by a Meru, a wooden building on a stone base, with a tiered roof.
Visiting Tanah Lot
If you decide to take in a sunset at Tanah Lot, be prepared that there will be plenty of fellow tourists who share your interest. I found when the tide is low, that the combined space of the rocky shores and well-groomed coastal park offers plenty of space to find your own vantage point. You will not be able to enter the temple, as this is a local worshipper’s only privilege, but at low tide, you may walk out to its base and explore the surrounding rock pools.
The best time to arrive at Tanah Lot is about an hour before sunset – you can check the time for your visit using this tool. Obviously, sunset and low tide don’t always correlate, so check the tide chart here. If you want to visit during the day, arrive prior to 10 am when the first large groups of tourists show up.
I don’t recommend the onsite restaurants, but the park is a great spot for a picnic. Take your mosquito repellent if you plan to be there at twilight, and be patient, exiting the carpark may require a long wait. The reward is a stunning tropical sunset over a signature silhouette of Bali.
How to get to Tanah Lot
It will take around 45-60 minutes by car to reach the site from the main tourist areas of Kuta, Legian, Seminyak and Ubud, depending on the time of day and traffic.
A taxi from Kuta will quote around IDR 300,000 (USD 21.15) for the return journey. They will wait in the carpark at Tanah Lot while you look around – parking costs an additional IDR 5,000 (about USD 0.35). Note, the appearance of your taxi and driver along with the whereabouts in the parking lot – it gets really crowded in there!
One-way fares are possible to negotiate but not advised, as most people accept the return journey so there aren’t a lot of free taxi drivers around. You can get a one-way ride to Tanah Lot using GoJek, Grab or Uber but the local taxi cartel prevents drivers from picking up passengers in the area, so you will likely need to resort to a taxi, which again aren’t in abundance.
Also, consider that there are many organised tours to Tanah Lot, so ask at your hotel and compare prices.
The entry fee to Tanah Lot is IDR 60,000 (USD 4.25) for adults and IDR 30,000 (USD 2.11) for children.
Enjoy your time in Bali!
Peace, love & inspiring travel,