Weird & wonderful Bali: festivals & traditions on the Isle of the Gods

Weird & wonderful Bali: festivals & traditions on the Isle of the Gods

From ancient make-believe battles to honour the Balinese god of war to death-defying fire dances and mysterious burial traditions, this selection of Bali’s most curious customs is sure to pique the interest of any culturally hungry traveler. Don’t forget to pack the kite for this one folks!


Bali Kite Festival

Believe it or not, Bali is kite mad! From the youngest ages, the folk of the Indonesian Isle of the Gods are wrapped up in kite making and kite flying. And it’s not your usual diamond-shaped flier in the breezes either. No sir, the folk of eastern Bali hit the sands from June until October with their elaborate creations, making the most of the gusty breezes of the Indian Ocean (the same that offer up Bali’s awesome surfing swells!). The Bali Kite Festival goes on for the whole season, and visitors can gawp at everything from colossal dragon-shaped kites to huge goldfish kites to intricate anthropomorphic kites. The beaches around Padang Galak are some of the best spots to watch the show in motion!

Kecak fire dances at Uluwatu

Considered one of the absolute must-see attractions for any traveler making their way along the southern coastal stretches of Bali (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t hit the iconic southern beaches and surf spots?), the Kecak dances of Uluwatu rarely fail to draw a gasp. They take place atop a sheer-cut clifftop, as the sun dips in red-pink glows behind the horizon and the Indian Ocean waves crash against the rocks below. The dances start as Balinese men and women dressed in elaborate and fearsome masks parade with fire sticks and colourful robes, playing out ancient stories from Hindu mythology. No wonder our trip to the Kecak dances are a real fav on our Blissful Bali itinerary! 


The Bali Aga of Trunyan Village

Bali Aga refers to the few remaining pre-Hindu folk of the Isle of the Gods. These ancient clusters of people still pepper the less-trodden sections of the island, offering a glimpse at the folksy, deep histories of the Nusa Tenggara. Trunyan is perhaps the prime example of an Aga settlement. Located in a beautiful spot on the shores of Batur Lake, beneath the steaming peaks of the island’s countless volcanic domes in the north, the village is a medley of crooked bamboo longhouses and jungle-shrouded temples. However, the most fascinating aspect of a visit to Trunyan has to be the chance to see the curious burial practices of the local peoples. Here, deceased relatives aren’t cremated or buried, but laid to rest in open bamboo boxes, surrounded by walls and walls of the bones and skulls of their compatriots.

The Pandan War of Tenganan Village

Nestled deep in the wild and less-visited reaches of the eastern regencies, the village of Tenganan is a picture of ancient Bali at its best. The locals dwell in bamboo-built longhouses and mysterious animist come Hindu shrines pepper the town concourse. As a testimony to the deep traditionalism of the village, the people here still follow the custom of the Pandan War; one that’s been a curious annual occurrence here for centuries, carried out to honor mighty Lord Indra, Balinese god of war! Locals can be seen battering each other with thorny tree branches plucked straight from the surrounding forests, battling to the tune of clanging gamelans and clashing shields from morning to night. It’s a real display of Balinese warrior strength and power.


The Makepung buffalo races

A little jaunt up the western shore from the party strips and surfside bars of Seminyak and Kuta is where travelers will discover the fishing towns and hills of Jembrana: the buffalo racing capital of Bali! Drawing huge crowds of local farmers and rearers right throughout the high season months, the various heats of the Makepung races culminate with a final showdown of the finest bovine pairs in November. It’s a truly fascinating way to spend a day on the Isle of the Gods; watching as hefty buffalos career carelessly through the baying crowds. There’s also a neat little buffalo fashion show – you know, for those who don’t fancy risking their skins on the front row of the races.


"Rich is a traveler, writer and filmmaker who's always after somewhere new to go. He's been hopping around the globe since 2011, from Poland to Paris, Mumbai to Ho Chi Minh. He runs several travel sites of his own, from Ski Eastern to Live Krakow to Crabs Move Sideways. When he's not planning his next trip, he's usually listening to 50s jazz, surfing in Wales, skiing in the Alps, or just swigging (too much) great craft beer."

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