- Elevation: 3,031 m (9,944 ft)
- Prominence: 3,031 m
- Ribu category: Sangat Tinggi
- Province: Bali
- Google Earth: kml
- Other names: none
- Eruptions: 1808, 1843, 1963-64, 2017-19
FROM 2017- 2020, AGUNG REMAINED OFFICIALLY CLOSED DUE TO INCREASED VOLCANIC ACTIVITY. NOW IN 2023 THERE ARE NUMEROUS NEWS REPORTS SUGGESTING A COMPLETE BAN ON ALL MOUNTAIN HIKES ACROSS BALI EXCEPT FOR RELIGIOUS REASONS. THE REALITY MAY BE DIFFERENT (FOR NOW) BUT PLEASE CHECK WITH LOCAL GUIDES ON THE LATEST.
This Ribu is the highest point on the popular island of Bali and holds incredible spiritual significance for the Balinese. Folklore has it that when the deities made mountains for their thrones they set the highest peak in the east, the direction of honor to the Balinese. In every temple a shrine is dedicated to the spirit of Gunung Agung. The tapering form of cremation towers, pagodas, and even temple offerings bear the shape of a mountain, mirroring reverences for this holy volcano. Every aspect of Bali’s geography and ecology is influenced by the towering range of volcanic peaks that dominate the island. They have created its landforms, periodically regenerated its soil, and helped to produce the dramatic downpours which provide the island with life-giving water. The Balinese recognize these geophysical facts of life, and the island’s many volcanoes, lakes and springs are considered by them to be sacred.
There are two main routes to reach the crater rim which leave from different places. If you aim to reach the highest point of Gunung Agung without scrambling then one needs to depart from Pura Besakih (1,180m), Bali’s most sacred temple. The best guides are to be found in the nearby village of Selat. However if you are happy to reach the rim only which is short by about 150 meters from the very top, or are are a confident scrambler, then start hiking from Pura Pasar Agung (1,600m) which is Bali’s highest elevated temple. Views from both sides are just spectacular.
Significantly increased volcanic activity at Agung started in mid-September 2017 not long after hikers filmed minor fumarole activity in the crater. Since then there has been an exclusion zone extending several kilometres from the crater meaning no hiking has been legally permissable since. Thousands of local people have already had to evacuate. Agung was at the highest level of alert – (Level 4 AWAS) for a number of weeks and an eruption looked imminent in late September. However, activity then slowly decreased and the alert level was brought back down to Level 3 SIAGA (of a total of 4 levels). Local people began to return home and a small number even made religious offerings at the crater. In late November 2017, after some phreatic (steam-based) eruptions, activity increased again considerably, with a genuine magmatic eruption occurring and the alert level was been raised once more. What happens in 2020 and beyond is difficult to predict, but further activity is fairly certain.
Pura Besakih route
To reach the summit from Pura Besakih takes approximately 6 hours, and many people climb at night in order to reach the top for sunrise. Pura Besakih is not one temple but a vast complex of temples sprawling across the mountain side. For most visitors the first impression is of the hundreds of towering meru, their many tiered roofs of black palm fibre thatching pointing skyward. Their structural core, is an unobstructed square tunnel down which deities, ancestor, and spirits can descend on festive occasions to take their places in the shrines at their base. Pura Besakih is a landing field for the Gods.
The central temple in the complex, Pura Penataran Agung, is dedicated to the God Shiwa. Pura Batu Madeg (Temple of the Standing Stone), approached from behind the Pura Agung and to the left (northwest) is dedicated to Wisnu. Pura Kiduling Kreteg (Temple of the South Bridge) over a bridge and across a gully to the right (southeast) is dedicated to Brahma. There are nineteen more temples spreading up the mountain slopes, each with its own purpose and ceremonial season, but the three dedicated to the Hindu trinity are the most important. Almost every day village groups come to pray and collect holy water to take home for local temple ceremonies, or to pay their respects upon completion of the complicated cycle rituals.
Each temple in the complex has its own annual ceremony and approximately every tenth year the impressive Panca Wali Krama, a purification for the whole of Bali, draws almost everyone on the island to refresh their links to the Gods.
If you wish to be on the summit for sunrise then it is wise to spend the night prior to the adventure at one of the home stays that are easy to find at the parking area of the temple. Your home stay will also organize your compulsory guide that is absolutely essential for successful climb. Estimate six hours for your hike to the summit which includes 45 minutes of rest time, meaning that you need to start your extremely exhausting but most memorable adventure around midnight. The first 45 minutes will lead you past the mother temple (927m) , and then along vegetable plantations following an actual trek that is used by worshipers to reach the last temple (Pura Bangpuhan, at 1,180m) belonging to the Besakih temple complex. Once you pass the temple, cross the parking area and then the path leads slightly downhill before ascending past two recently cleared open fields. This will take a good 20 minutes ending at the entrance of the forest, (1,316 metres) where the actual fun starts.
For the next three to four hours a good torch or much better a high quality head light is absolutely essential, as the dense forest prevents any moonlight from penetrating down to the track. The first hour and half is steep but still comfortable and often broken by flatter passages across ridges. This first 1/3 of the uphill struggle ends at a point which we call the “super root ”, (1,723 metres) a very steep section across some massive roots offering good grip.
The following two hours are very tough, steep and often very slippery. Here one starts to realize why Gunung Agung is without doubt one of the hardest volcanoes in Indonesia to climb, as the path leads straight up towards the summit and not crisscross up a flank like found on most hills in Europe. At an altitude of 2200 meter the forest gradually gets less dense and with it the path starts to become stonier and often covered by loose gravel offering an additional challenge. After four hours of hard and strenuous slow climbing our so called base camp (2,622 metres) is reached. This is an area which offers very little space for two tents and is often used by local hikers as a resting point before heading to the summit for the sunrise.
The next section, which is a good 300 metres long, climbs just over 100 metres altitude and is the only part of the entire hike where utmost care needs to be taken. This is the only area where one could fall over a cliff and with it get seriously injured. The final hour of the climb continues to be very steep and frustratingly slow going. You reach the final cone of the volcano which is very rocky at the lower section. The last 100 metres before the first summit are not that steep anymore but offer terrific views of the highest point of Gunung Agung which is about 350 meters ahead to the East. Once again at this point extra care must be taken from the often howling trade winds which can gust up to 100km an hour. There are several cracks in the ground offering protection from these freezing cold winds. Especially during the months of June, July, August and September we were several times forced to quit here as it was simply too dangerous to continue with our quest. This first western summit is actually only 10 metres or less lower than the highest summit and is listed on the Bakosurtanal map as being 3,028 metres high.
The final 15-20 minutes along the ridge to the true peak are an absolute joy. By now the sunrise is only minutes away and the entire horizon is painted with the warm colours only found during tropical sunrise. Despite the glory in the distance one needs to watch every step along the mostly less then one metre wide track. Missing a step could easily result in a disaster as on both sides the mountain falls down several hundred metres. About half way across the ridge there is one last technical passage which requires the utmost of attention, as the path winds in the shape of a horseshoe around and up a recent rock slide. This section is very slippery and offers very little grip and is best conquered going up on all fours or downwards on your backside.
Once past this section, there is only 100 metres left to the summit of a very special mountain, offering some of the best volcanic views in Indonesia. The crater is an impressive 700 metres in diameter. For most Balinese Gunung Agung is very simply their holy mountain and only very few ever consider actually venturing to the top of this sacred volcano. The catastrophic eruption of 1963 killed thousands of people and left an everlasting deep respect for this life giving and life taking mountain of the Gods. Many maps still list Agung as being over 3140m high – in truth it is approximately 100 metres less than that – probably as a result of the powerful 1963 eruption.
Every summit is very special in its own way and Gunung Agung is certainly not different. What makes this mountain very different is the fact that after 6 long and extremely physically demanding hours you reach the summit of a mountain towards which every single building and temple on Bali is orientated. Not a day passes in the lives of every Balinese where not at least once a day he visits his temple at home for a prayer in respect of the holy mountain and Pura Besakih the mother temple.
Pura Pasar Agung route to the crater rim or summit:
Traditionally, the route from Pura Pasar Agung was used by tourists as an easier option in order to reach the crater rim only but not the summit. However, it is now possible to reach the true summit but you will need a guide who is experienced and knows the way and be a confident scrambler. The junction is about halfway up the crater rim route described below: straight on for the crater rim only, or west towards the true summit. Only recommended for confident scramblers.
There are always guides waiting at the car park of Pura Pasar Agung (1,600m). The hiking adventure starts at the car park with a welcoming or heart breaking 297 steps to, or from the temple. At the gates of the temple, guides will make an offering to the Gods, to ask for forgiveness, protection and a safe return from this sacred mountain. It would be terrific if you also show your respect and light up a few incense sticks, place them on one of the shrines and say your own short prayer as a sign of respect to the people and culture of Bali.
The path first leads to the left around the temple, past a couple of water reservoirs tanks, from where you have beautiful views of the temple. Then across a small opening in the woods and then immediately into very steep and dense high alpine rainforest. The track climbs steeply up a narrow path that is carved by deep ravines and littered by countless roots from magnificent tall trees often requiring hands and feet to scramble over. If you depart at 2.30 am for a sunrise at the summit then a good torch light is absolutely essential to illuminate the path. More practical is a headlight allowing you to keep your hands free.
After a good hour the forest gets gradually lighter and less dense and eventually the path passes a small concrete dam which channels rainwater from the higher mountain region into PVC pipes back to the reservoirs just above Pura Pasar Agung. This normally marks the first third of the track. Here the path flattens for a couple of metres and offers good views on the return journey.
After a short flatter passage across a small ridge the path now inclines again rather steeply, but this time up the first rocky surfaces. Here the forest is not as dense anymore and every metre altitude gained offers increasingly better views of Bali far below. At times this section can be slippery, especially after recent rainfall. There are several short and steep drops requiring your hands for additional safety, but definitely nothing to worry about. This next section will take about 1 hour of continuous hard steep hiking ending once the vegetation gives way to pure volcanic rock surface. If you depart Pura Pasar Agung around 4 am, by now the horizon will be lit up by early morning light, making the remaining route clearly visible.
At this stage (2,425m), for those who wish to turn left and scramble up to meet the trail from Besakih to the true summit it is crucial to be lead by your local guide as there is no more clearly visible path ahead. The only signs of this side trail are countless graffiti painted by local mountaineers over the years. If you are on the way up, and should for some unexplained reason become separated from your guides then simply follow these markings up to the top. However on the way down those markings are rather difficult to see and should you be unlucky to experience a weather change with thick mist and fog, then you are in deep trouble.
Many simply opt to continue to the more easily-reached crater rim itself. The final third of the track to the crater rim is very steep, rocky and at times very slow going and often slippery, but what a small price to pay for the dramatic scenery unfolding in every direction. Two-thirds of Bali including the coastline as well as the neighbouring islands of Lombok, Nusa Lemongan, Nusa Penida and Nusa Dua far below you. Then to the West the entire mountain ranges of Bali including the towering volcanoes of East Java in the misty distance. Finally ahead of you a rugged mountaintop with the the peak of Gunung Agung high above to the left, which is separated by a deep – and impossible to pass – volcanic ravine.
The last third will take a good 1 to 1 1/2 hours of very hard work, and concentrated high altitude climbing. The final 75 metres are not as steep and the going gets suddenly easier which increases the personal satisfaction. The view from the rim (2,866m) is simply breathtaking. Volcanic scenery at its best. Here your guides will make offerings and prayers to the Gods and thank them for protecting everyone on their journey as well as for the joy received by reaching the top.
Eventually the decision has to be made to start the long, hard and strenuous journey back towards Pasar Agung – a journey that will take about as long as it takes to get up.
Less popular alternative routes
There are at least two other possible routes to the crater rim of Gunung Agung, but they are infrequently used, with few if any signs and vague paths requiring more time – quite possibly 2 days and 1 night. If you can find a genuinely experienced local guide for either then adventurous hikers may wish to try them but going alone would be unwise as it is easy to become lost and they will probably be overgrown and dangerous in low visibility or poor weather.
The route from the east starts in Kedampal at an elevation of around 750 metres. It reaches the rim on the eastern side at an elevation of around 2,940m and it seems unlikely you would be able to join up with either the Pura Pasar Agung or Besakih routes due to the terrain, meaning that bagging the true summit from this direction is probably not possible. The route from the north starts in Pucang at an elevation of around 900 metres and appears to meet the Besakih route at the western peak on the ridge before the true summit.
Good viewpoints for photographs of Gunung Agung
Obviously not everyone that is interested in the volcano has the energy or the interest in making the gruelling ascent. Therefore we thought we would add a small number of good places that are accessible and offer decent views from afar.
Jemeluk Beach, Amed, East Bali. This lovely, laid-back area is a great place to gaze up at Gunung Agung, especially during late afternoon and sunset if the sky is relatively cloud-free. You can photograph the volcano from the beach itself or from ‘Jemeluk Viewpoint’ which although only 20 metres or so above the sea is a very nice spot. You can also get to the Gilis quite easily from Amed, with daily fast boats.
Pura Lempuyang (Lempuyang Temple), East Bali. This hillside temple complex with numerous steep stone stairways on the slopes of Gunung Lempuyang has become immensely popular in the last couple of years thanks to Instagram. Located about 30 minutes before Amed (assuming you are driving out there from the Denpasar or more central region), Agung is clearly visible on the other side of the valley and looks especially enchanting from the entrance portal known informally as heaven’s gate. The recent increase in popularity has meant long queues, numerous ‘fees’ to pay and a crass commercialization of what is a very special location. However, if you go before 8am to beat the crowds, put up with all the different mini-payments required, and are lucky with the weather then you will certainly get some superb photos.
Bagging information provided by Heinz von Holzen, updated by Dan Quinn (May 2020)
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Origins and Meaning
‘Great’ mountain in Balinese/Indonesian.