Bali, Goa Gajah – the Elephant Caves

We make lots of treks north to Ubud but this is our first trek south and it’s a good one, the Elephant Caves, Goa Gajah.

More about Goa Gajah:

Goa Gajah’s name is slightly misleading, lending the impression that it’s a gigantic dwelling full of elephants. Nevertheless, Goa Gajah ‘Elephant Cave’ is an archaeological site of significant historical value that makes it a special place to visit. Located on the cool western edge of Bedulu Village, six kilometres out of central Ubud, you do not need more than an hour to descend to its relic-filled courtyard and view the rock-wall carvings, a central meditational cave, bathing pools and fountains.

I’m really glad we didn’t walk it, most distances in Bali are deceiving unless you’re on a motor scooter. If the kids were older we would have rented them, they are very cheap something like $7/day but we didn’t want to risk them getting hurt.

So, taxi it is, we get there and back for just a bit more than the usual “blue note” (50,000 note). The first driver was willing to bargain, the second not so much because he knew there weren’t as many options for us so we paid him a bit more than 50,000. Always have some “Blue Bills” in your pocket for taxis. 🙂

You arrive at the entrance to the Caves and you are required to wear a yellow belt and a sarong if you are showing any leg. Not a worry, they are actually quite comfortable.

We walk down the path and our first view is this:

Goa Gajah looking down from the entrance walkway
Goa Gajah looking down from the entrance walkway

And this when we reached the bottom:

Goa Gajah looking down from the entrance walkway, a little further down
Goa Gajah looking down from the entrance walkway, a little further down

There’s a sacred pool and fountain so we had a look around. You can walk right down into it, the pools are quite shallow and the walkway in the middle is pretty dry.

The sacred pools at Goa Gajah
The sacred pools at Goa Gajah

There’s a quiet murmuring of conversation drowned out by the gentle breeze and bird calls. A pretty serene spot, though by this time it’s getting pretty hot for us.

The sacred pools at Goa Gajah, we're down the stairs and at pool level
The sacred pools at Goa Gajah, we’re down the stairs and at pool level
The sacred pools at Goa Gajah, at pool level looking to the right
The sacred pools at Goa Gajah, at pool level looking to the right

This tree reminded us a lot of Kauri back home in New Zealand; stretching straight as an arrow into the sky.

The sacred pools at Goa Gajah, at pool level looking up at the massive tree nearby
The sacred pools at Goa Gajah, at pool level looking up at the massive tree nearby
The sacred pools at Goa Gajah, at pool level looking to the left at the three fountains
The sacred pools at Goa Gajah, at pool level looking to the left at the three fountains

And the Elephant Cave. Elephants are gods in Hinduism, so it makes sense they have a revered place in Balinese culture. This cave stretches back a few metres and then goes left and right at a T intersection. It’s hot and humid inside so we don’t stay overly long. But very quiet and reverent inside.

The sacred pools at Goa Gajah, at the Elephant Cave. It's even hotter and more humid in here, I thought it would be cooler
The sacred pools at Goa Gajah, at the Elephant Cave. It’s even hotter and more humid in here, I thought it would be cooler

All around there are ornately carved temples, given even more care than most homes in Bali. Such exquisite carving work, and they fit in so well with nature itself.

The sacred pools at Goa Gajah, at the Elephant Cave looking to the right there are many of these traditional temple buildings
The sacred pools at Goa Gajah, at the Elephant Cave looking to the right there are many of these traditional temple buildings
Goa Gajah headed toward the lower sanctuary
Goa Gajah headed toward the lower sanctuary
Goa Gajah headed toward the lower sanctuary
Goa Gajah headed toward the lower sanctuary

Everywhere we go outside, shade is welcome. We breathe a sigh of relief every time we find some. Funny how you get used to being cold, then being hot isn’t quite as much fun. Then you go back to being cold and you wish it were hot again!

Goa Gajah headed toward the lower sanctuary, amazing flowers
Goa Gajah headed toward the lower sanctuary, amazing flowers
Goa Gajah headed toward the lower sanctuary, a refreshment vendor here felt a bit out of place, but handy in a pinch
Goa Gajah headed toward the lower sanctuary, a refreshment vendor here felt a bit out of place, but handy in a pinch

A cool experience here I overheard some Spanish tourists and we had a quick conversation – I learned they were from Barcelona and knew about Canet de Mar. Alice tells me I grin every time I hear Spanish being spoken. It’s true.

Goa Gajah headed toward the lower sanctuary, look how lush and well kept it is
Goa Gajah headed toward the lower sanctuary, look how lush and well kept it is
Goa Gajah headed toward the lower sanctuary, look how lush and well kept it is
Goa Gajah headed toward the lower sanctuary, look how lush and well kept it is

This waterfall and pool was being cleaned I think and so an older gentleman was telling us politely to leave, but to follow him around. We went the other way, not quite sure what he was on about. Looking back on it I wonder if he was going to give us a spontaneous tour? We’ll never know.

In the lower sanctuary we were shooed away from this pool as an older gentleman was cleaning it, wish I knew what he was actually saying
In the lower sanctuary we were shooed away from this pool as an older gentleman was cleaning it, wish I knew what he was actually saying

Check out the size of this boulder and Ms. 11 standing next to it.

More of the lower sacred pool at Goa Gajah before we got shooed away
More of the lower sacred pool at Goa Gajah before we got shooed away

In Bali most public spaces like this are kept in perfect condition.

Lilypads at Goa Gajah
Lilypads at Goa Gajah

No eating here, I think this sign says. I’m pretty hungry at this point but oblige. “When in Rome” is one of our funniest, and most cliche sayings now because it applies to us in so many ways having been to so many places in the past two years.

Don't do anything in this area, at Goa Gajah
Don’t do anything in this area, at Goa Gajah
Another temple at Goa Gajah
Another temple at Goa Gajah
Looking back towards the entrance to the sacred garden and the exit for Goa Gajah
Looking back towards the entrance to the sacred garden and the exit for Goa Gajah

Wow what a day. Nothing resets your mind like seeing a bit of history and religion of a place. The Elephant Cave feels like the Balinese version of the Sistine Chapel or Uffizi. So glad we went!

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Nathaniel Flick

American born, Kiwi made. Bass player, black coffee, dark beer. Travelled Europe and the UK/Scotland from 2016-2018.