Karangasem is an area rich in history, tragedy and royalty.
It is a regency that takes up much of the eastern part of Bali.
The area was a kingdom and, before the Dutch conquered Bali, royalty was centred around the city of Amlapura.
Now, large portions of Bali’s population have migrated to the south, drawn by tourism work and facilities.
This left Karangasem a quiet but historically interesting location.
Many royal relics, such as buildings and monuments, can be found in the regency, including Bali’s famed Besakih Temple, the Mount Agung Volcano, a Bali Aga Village, and a number of beaches.
1. Royal Palace
The Royal Palace of the former kings of the region is in Amlapura.
It is Karangasem’s capital and once the focal point of royal life in the area.
Some sections of the palace have been opened to the public by the descendants of Karangasem’s royal family.
The building is considered particularly interesting due to the unique architectural and decorative styles on the palace.
These include traditional Balinese architecture with Dutch and English furnishings as well as Chinese decorations.
On display in the compound is a royal bedroom, living room and traditional clothing from the period.
Price: from Rp. 10,000/person.
2. Water Gardens
There are two water gardens in the Karangasem area.
The first, and undoubtably more well-known, garden is the Tirtagangga Water Garden, while the second is Taman Ujung closer to the coast.
At Tirtagangga visitors can explore three levels of fountains, pools, gardens and sculpture.
Alternatively, take a swim in the waters that the local Balinese people consider to be holy.
The gardens were damaged significantly following the eruption of Mount Agung in 1963.
However, restorations have been successful and are continuing.
Taman Ujung is not as well maintained, but was built by the same Raja and contains similar decorative ponds, fountains and buildings with a number of water bridges.
Tirtgangga Water Garden Price: Rp. 10,000/person entry; additional Rp. 10,000/person to swim.
Taman Ujung Water Garden Price: Rp. 20,000/person
3. Besakih Temple
Besakih Temple, also known as the Mother Temple, is Bali’s largest and arguably most important temple.
Located around 1000m up Mount Agung, the temple is actually made up of 23 separate, but interrelated temple constructions.
The largest of which is Pura Penataran Agung.
Besakih Temple is thought to be around 2000 years old, but this has not been verified.
A number of areas are available for visitors to explore and photograph.
Although access does change on various days of the year as ceremonies are held and worshippers fill the temple.
To avoid local prayer and tour guide scams, travel to the site with a reputable guide to show you around.
Price: Rp. 15,000
4. Mount Agung
Measuring in at over 3,000 metres above sea level, Mount Agung is the highest mountain on Bali.
It is the fifth highest volcano in the Indonesian archipelago.
Home to the Mother Temple Besakih, Mount Agung is of particular significance to the Balinese people.
They believe that the Hindu God Pasupati broke up Mount Meru (the universe’s spiritual axis) and created Mount Agung with a piece of it.
Mount Agung erupted in 1963 killing around 2000 people in an event considered one of the largest of the 20th century.
It is possible to climb Mount Agung, and many choose to watch the sunrise from the peak.
However, only experienced climbers and trekkers should attempt the 6 – 7 hour hike, which is very physically demanding.
Price: Guide fees vary between Rp. 400,000 – Rp. 1,000,000
5. Bali Aga Village
Tenganan Aga Village is home to some of Bali’s most authentic Bali Aga people.
They are considered to be the original inhabitants of the island.
Despite the environmental changes that have taken place since the 1970s, such as communication development and tourism opportunities, the village is still known for its unique Bali Aga cultures and traditions.
The villages still follow closely to the traditions, ceremonies and even rules of their ancestors.
Tours are available, and visitors come to see the ancient architecture, listen to the unusual form gamelan music, and observe the methods of creating double ikat textures.
Price: Donations usually requested, bring money for souvenirs.
6. Beaches and Diving
The quiet east coast of Bali is not known for its beaches and diving.
But it happens to offer some of the island’s best in both categories.
There are a number of stunning beaches.
Check out the white sand Prasi Beach 20 minutes from Candidasa or the black sand beaches of Amed, caused by volcanic ash in the soil.
Visitors can also enjoy either snorkelling or diving at reef formations offshore from Candidasa, Padang Bai, Amed, Tulamben and more.
- Staying in Karangasem – The coastal village of Candidasa is a popular location for visitors wanting to explore the Karangasem regency. The village, which is located around 2 hours from the airport, is well serviced and makes it easy to access Karangasem’s many sights.
- Planning Your Trip – Karangasem is a big regency with many attractions, both historical and natural, to see. It would be impossible to see them all in one day, so if you aren’t planning to stay in the area try picking 3-4 options for a day of sightseeing.
- Scams – Always be aware that in areas of high tourist activity there is a higher chance of scams and cons occurring. Unfortunately, some areas of Bali are now known for this activity, as people seek to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists. Although avoiding scams can be difficult, being aware of their presence is definitely the first step. Likely the only way to properly avoid them is to travel with your own guide, or an organised tour.
- Car/Motorcycle: Travelling from the south of Bali to the east can take several hours with traffic, and directions are not well signed. It is much easier to explore Karangasem from a closer area like Candidasa, where many attractions are close-by and tourist maps are available in most hotels.
- Tour: For those staying in the south of Bali, there are a number of tour options available to explore areas of Karangasem. These include those exploring the areas royal heritage specifically, and more wide-reaching tours covering Mount Agung, sacred sites and some royal locations.
- The Karangasem regency is just short of 900 kilometres squared in size, and is home to just over 400,000 people.
- The Saren Jawa village, located in Karangasem regency, is unique in Bali as it is home to a group of 100 long-standing Muslim families. These families have lived in their village following Muslim traditions, despite being surrounded by Balinese Hindu village. The village inhabitants are an interesting combination of two cultures, even using traditional Balinese first names in front of their Muslim names.