Mount Batukaru in Bali’s wild central west rarely gets a mention in tourist circles although it is very well known to the locals. Standing at 2,276m, Batukaru is Bali’s second highest peak and is regarded as sacred by the Balinese. The ancient Pura Batukaru, one of Bali’s nine directional temples, has been perched at 823m on the mountain’s southern flanks since the 11th century. A series of smaller temples are interspersed along the trail all the way to the summit where more shrines await the Hindu pilgrims that make the climb.
The Batukaru massif contains three ancient volcanic craters and is densely covered with primary rainforest although attractive terraced rice fields and banana plantations occupy some of the lower slopes. Much of the summit has been cleared to accommodate the temples giving excellent unobstructed views of Mount Agung to the west. On clear days you can see all the way westward ton Java’s easternmost peaks and eastward to Lombok’s Mount Rinjani.
There are three main ascent routes up the mountain, all converging at Munduk Nyanggang about 2 hours before the summit. The most popular route starts just behind Pura Batukaru temple. Unfortunately, the behaviour of self-appointed guides around the temple has earned them a very bad reputation for harassment and price gauging; as much as 800,000-1,000,000Rp for a return trip. To put that into perspective that’s the equivalent of about a week’s salary for a doctor or lawyer in Indonesia. The “guides” will pull every trick in the book to convince you that you must engage one of them including scare tactics (you’ll get lost – pretty hard along a well-worn trail with shrines spaced every 200m or so apart) and the ever reliable claim that it’s compulsory to have a guide (it’s not).
In an effort to avoid this sort of harassment, many trekkers prefer to start their climb from Jatiluwih on the southeastern foothills. Apart from a hassle free start to your trek, the village itself is surrounded by gorgeous UNESCO world heritage listed terraced rice fields. Leave the main road near Jatiluwih and head up the mountainside towards Pura Luhur Bhujangga Waisnawa temple. The road is narrow and rough but doable in a standard vehicle.
Luhur Bhujangga Waisnawa is quite an elaborate temple with an eleven tiered roof so it’s worth a look before continuing on foot along a concrete path to another temple 50m higher up the mountainside. From there, the serious uphill trekking starts though the forest setting is delightful. Giant fig trees, native orchids, ferns and unusually for higher altitudes, even pandanas trees abound. The trail is quite obvious all the way towards the summit and like the alternate route, there are intermittently spaced shrines marking the way. At around 1,450m the track converges with the Pura Batukaru route; just keep heading straight on up the mountain. By either route it takes 4-5 hours of fairly strenuous climbing to reach the grassy summit and 3-4 hours to descend. There is a third alternate route from the west commencing near Sanda village but it takes 6-7 hours and is a much tougher trek.
Provided you get an early start, you should be able to make the return trek comfortably inside a day but as camping is permitted on the mountain and there’s plenty of space to set up a tent so it would be a shame to miss sunset and sunrise from the mountain top. But of course, you would need to be totally self-sufficient.
Keep in mind, Batukaru is probably experiences more rain than anywhere else in Bali. The rainforest trail can become quite slippery and little streams form in an instant and that’s during the dry season. Attempting the climb during the rainy season is definitely not recommended. Be prepared for leaches. At the higher elevations, expect misty rain, cloud and chilly overnight temperatures. Fortunately most mornings dawn clear and bright so you can get that perfect panorama.