Take a look at a satellite map of central Bali and you can’t help but notice a cluster of volcanic cones encircled to the north by three lakes. This is the Buyan Bratan volcanic complex formed sometime between 500,000 to 1.3 million years ago after two cataclysmic events. In the years since, several young stratovolcanic cones formed in the central south west of the complex bringing the total number of volcanic cones within the complex to seven.
The ancient Catur volcano which now occupies a spot on the north eastern caldera rim, is believed to have formed eastern caldera which cradles Lake Bratan. The emergence of Tapak volcano near the centre of the complex formed the smaller western part of the caldera including Lake Buyan and Lake Tamblingan. The combined caldera, now known as Bedegul caldera finished up 6km wide and 11km from north to south. The younger stratovolanic field includes Mounts Batukaru (2,276m), Adeng (1,826m), Pohen (2,063m), Sengayang (2,087m) and Lesung (1,865 m).
The mineral rich volcanic soils, further enriched by volcanic ash from the nearby Batur and Agung eruptions, coupled with the high rainfall tropical climate have made the entire caldera particularly fertile so the entire region is heavily vegetated or under agriculture. The scenery is gorgeous and with its climbable peaks, jungle trekking, tranquil lakes, waterfalls, hot springs, temples, local markets, villages and an interesting tunnel carved into the mountain side by Indonesian prisoners during the Japanese occupation of WWII, the area is ripe for exploration.
Perched out over Lake Bratan, the much photographed Shivaite and water temple of Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, is usually the first stop for visitors, followed by Gua Jepang, the Japanese tunnel and the Bedugul Botanical Gardens. Canoeing on Lake Bratan is delightful, especially if you get out early after the morning mist has cleared but before the afternoon cloud rolls in. For those looking for something a bit more adrenalin inducing, there’s also parasailing and water skiing available on the lake.
Among the more nature based activities such as hiking around the lakes is climbing to the 2,096m Mount Catur (also known as Pucak Mangu). The trailhead is located at Gua Jepang and snakes off up the hill at an initially gentle incline that becomes progressively steeper the higher you climb. All up it takes about 3 hours to summit and little less coming back down; it’s not too strenuous and doable for anyone with a moderate level of fitness. The trail is well defined so there’s no need for a guide and thankfully, unlike some of Bali’s more popular climbs, there aren’t any hustlers trying to convince you otherwise. However, if you prefer to have a guide, you can easily arrange one in Candi Kuning, the main gateway to the area, by asking around.
Candi Kuning can be reached in 1½-2 hours by private car from Ubud or Kuta so without climbing Catur, you can get see the highlights in a day trip. However, with so much to see and do, consider staying for a night or two. Candi Kuning has a range of accommodation ranging from budget to luxury and all can help you arrange your sightseeing activities.
Whilst you’re in the area, a visit to Banyumala Twin Waterfalls is highly recommended. The twin cascades stream down the inclined rock face like a fine lacy shroud amid the lush green surroundings. Just gorgeous! If you can handle the icy water, there’s a good size plunge pool at the base of the falls.
Banyumala falls are located at the north eastern end of Lake Buyan just off the crater rim road between Munduk and the main highway from Singaraja to Denpasar. There’s an easily missed signpost pointing down a small rural road away from the lake, then a series of more easily missed orange arrows. If you’re lucky you might find the beginning of trek into the falls on your own but this is one occasion where you might need to have a guide show you the way. The trek to the falls is around 1km (you may be able to get a little closer on a scooter) and takes around 30-40min. It’s not difficult but the ladder down to the base of the falls may not be for everyone.