In the center of Bali, high above the overrated beaches and noisy bars, lies the village of Kintamani. Do not assume it to be a secret spot - it is visited by everyone both on organized tours and independently. Few visitors stay, however. If you avoid the tourist traps, you have a chance to observe some beautiful nature spots and, if you are lucky (or particularly good at planning), exuberant Balinese ceremonies. A good example is climbing Mt. Abang instead of Mt. Batur, and so on. The villages on the lakeshore and up on the caldera rim are lovely, and since tourists usually skip them in favor of the popular sights, they are welcoming and authentic.
Probably the most popular hike in Bali is the night climb to the summit of Mt. Batur, a dark arid cone of an active volcano overlooking Lake Batur. It is easy technically, but practically, it is expensive and a bit annoying. The local guide association declares that hiring a guide is compulsory for this ascent, while it is an easy one. A much better option is Mt. Abang across the lake. The lava fields surrounding Mt. Batur (somewhat macabre and rather impressive if you have never seen such aftermath of a powerful volcanic eruption) are free to walk around.
An urban legend claims Gustave Eiffel hated his most famous creation yet used to dine habitually in the restaurant on top of it. When asked why he replied: "Because this is the only spot in Paris from which it is not visible." This effect adds futility to the popular Mt. Batur ascent - after all, this perfect cone of a volcano is definitely the highlight of the area, and you will not see it from its summit. A great alternative is Mt. Abang - a protrusion on the eastern side of the great caldera rim. It is almost as tall as the volcano, and the view of Mt. Batur looming over the lake (if the weather is perfectly still, even reflecting in its waters) is exceptional, especially at sunset, since the volcano is almost directly west of it. To the east, there is a panorama of Bali split by the giant hulk of Mt. Agung and, again depending on the weather, diminishing silhouette of Lombok in the distance. A tolerable fee is charged at the beginning of the trail. The hike itself is easy, two to three hours long. Otherwise, the eastern shore is mainly forested and unpopulated. Expect one fish-farming village and the open graveyard of Trunyan.
Another option for great views is the western part of the caldera rim. Peppered with villages and topped with a highway (well, what passes for a highway in Bali), it is very easy to explore. The northwest part is the best for traditional hamlets where men stage cockfights, brightly dressed women carry baskets of offerings to little temples, and in general, life has not changed much in the last century. This is also where one may see that famous panorama, the succession of three triangular peaks in perspective, Batur, Abang and Agung. Arriving at sunrise is highly advertised, but in fact, sunsets here look better. The number of designated viewpoints, usually equipped with silly "instagrammable" hearts, stars and swings, seems to grow by the year. Most charge a small fee for the vista exactly identical to the one from the road 5 meters away. The southwest is where a number of local hotels are clustered, all of them with perfect views from the balconies in their rooms.
The high ground of Central Bali supports cultures that would not grow in the hot equatorial climate down below. First of all, coffee. The area around Kintamani is full of coffee plantations, some of which conduct tours, and a few even offer homestays. Most produce kopi luwak, coffee that has been ingested and excreted by a palm civet, and if you pay a visit, you can see the animals and taste the world-famous brew. Tamarillo, passion fruit and, surprisingly, strawberry are also grown in the vicinity. Strawberry farms often have "pick it and eat it" packages on offer. The ubiquitous background of Mt. Batur makes for a good shot if you come across farmers at work.
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