The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary (Mandala Wisata Wanara Wana) is one of the world’s most famous animal sanctuaries, and is located in Bali’s cultural heart, the Ubud district. While a recent appearance in Eat, Pray, Love has sparked an increase in tourism to the area, Ubud still retains much of its traditional character and the sanctuary is no exception.
Accessible via Monkey Forest Road, this 27 acre site is a tapestry of Hindu sculptures, sacred temples and lush forest, strung together with well-worn paths of both human and animal alike. For a modest fee (about $3US for adults and $1US for children) visitors can spend the day exploring these extraordinary surroundings. Unlike most other animal-focused tourist attractions, where thick cages and high fences are the norm, the some six hundred long-tailed macaques that live in the sanctuary are free to move about as they please.
In Balinese Hinduism, the monkey is representative of both positive and negatives forces, and this duality is apparent in their presence in the sanctuary. They believe the monkeys assist in guarding the temples from evil spirits, and so those that live in the sanctuary are well protected, but tourists may not find them quite so helpful. A word of warning: the monkeys are no longer afraid of visitors and won’t hesitate to open bags or rummage through pockets if they get wind of something interesting. Tour guides advise against bringing in glasses, earrings, shiny objects, or food, and although it may seem like a cute idea to feed one of them a banana the monkeys have been known to bite.
Once you’ve had your fill of meeting some animal cousins, the sanctuary is also the site of the Padangtegal Temple of Death (Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal), whose vivid carvings will satisfy Indiana Jones fans. Further is the ornate Dragon Bridge, which has stood for some seven centuries beneath a giant banyan tree. On the other side lies the Sacred Bathing Temple, one of the holiest sites in Bali, where a dip in the water can purify the spirit. Environmentally conscious visitors can make a donation at the information centre, where the money will be used to plant trees to offset the carbon footprint of your journey. For animal lovers, as well as anyone interested in the history and culture of Balinese Hinduism, the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is an essential visit.