If you’ve visited Bali before, you might have taken a day trip to Kintamani to take in the stunning views across Lake Batur towards the mountains. And the experience will have stopped there. But beyond the lake and the steep mountains is a side of Bali so far off the tourism trail that few have had the chance to visit — unless they have joined the exclusive and award-winning Muntigunung Trek. Seduced by the promise of breath-taking vistas and heart-warming encounters in the once-forgotten villages of Muntigunung, we eagerly signed up and set our alarm clock for the pre-dawn start.
After driving northwards for two hours in the company of Pica, our principle guide, we stopped on the crest of the caldera to marvel at the sun rising behind the mountains beyond the lake — an early Instagram-worthy moment. “That’s where you will be trekking”, he pointed. The drive itself was part of the experience; we drove past amazing rice terraces and rural vistas, then dropped down into the caldera weaving across lava fields from Gunung Batur’s 1968 eruption and along the lake to Songan.
Ready for jaw-dropping vistas?
Time to lace up your boots, lavish on the sunscreen, have selfie-stick at the ready, select a sturdy bamboo walking stick, and then take to the trail with Pica and the local guides as they lead their way up the steep mountainside. The views are spectacular — at one stage the trail follows the top of a ridge and the expanse of ocean shimmers towards the horizon on one side while, down a vertiginous drop far below, Lake Batur sparkles towards Kintamani perched on the far rim of the caldera.
It is unimaginable to think that this mountain trail was once the only route the women and children of the Munti villages could take to secure water for their families – a perilous five-hour round trip every day. It was also the start of their journey to go begging with their children in Ubud and on Bali’s main beach resort streets — then their only source of income.
Making a difference, step by step
But that’s one of the joys of completing the trek; with every step, you’re making a positive contribution to the livelihood and wellbeing of the island’s poorest, most neglected communities. For the trek is just one of the extraordinary initiatives that have transformed their lives, thanks to the passion and persistence of a Swiss ex-banker, Daniel Elber, whose encounters with Ubud’s beggars sparked the idea to find a way to help them. Learning about Future for Children and witnessing the diverse social enterprises during the trek is one of the feel-good high points.
More heart-stopping, spine-tingling views
A welcome break at the vantage point peak gave more breath-taking photo ops, and a chance to catch our breath, enjoy a cup of Bali coffee and feast on colourful tropical fruit.
The it’s off again for the two-hour descent (and 700-metre drop in altitude) across the dusty, arid terrain. This area has a blistering eight-month dry season, inhospitable to crop-growing or even subsistence farming. The dust can be several cm thick; note to self — next time bring baby wipes. Yet again the vistas are jaw-dropping as the trail hugs the mountainside along the island’s deepest gorge, the sacred Gunung Agung looming in the distance.
Meet friendly villagers and help make a difference
While walking, we learnt about the area, culture, and challenges from our guide. On the way we visited a few hamlets in the Munti area and met some of the villagers who proudly showed us their skills in basket-weaving, hammock-making, and cashews and rosella production — all empowering employment-and-income-generating projects supported by Daniel’s not-for-profit that, like the trek itself, supports their communities and have transformed their lives.
We also got to taste their high quality hand-crafted products — flavoured cashew nuts, rosella tea, salt and sweets, dried rosella and mango, and the most delicious palm sugar. Here’s where you can deepen your support for their enterprise by buying their very reasonably priced products. We came away with as many goodies as we could carry — and we had thought to brought a few million rupiah, we would have bought one of their amazing hammocks on the spot.
The last stop on this inspiring 12km trek was Poinciana Resort on Bali’s north coast, where we tucked into a well-deserved lunch at the breezy beachfront bale, thankful to have taken a walk on the wild side, and in in the process helped to make a difference.
We urge anyone with an adventurous spirit and a social conscience to go on this exhilarating and uplifting trek—it’s a unique experienced shared by few, and well worth the pre-dawn start from your villa.
Pick-up time: Approx 5am start from villa
Drop-off time: 6pm estimated return to villa
Highlights: Sunrise over Lake Batur, breath-taking mountain and caldera vistas during the trek, visits to basket-weaving, hammock-making and cashew/rosella production social enterprises, a late lunch on the ocean’s edge at Poinciana resort
What to bring: Sunscreen and hat, baby wipes, camera, swimmers (if you feel like a dip in the sea at the end of the trip), spending money for purchasing items during visits to the social enterprises. No need to bring drinking water as it is provided, but bring a small rucksack to carry your ration
What to wear: Comfortable clothing for warm weather and hiking boots or sports shoes; the terrain isn’t suitable for flip flops.
Important note: You need a good level of fitness, as the path is steep and at times slippery because of the layer of dust
Reservations: Our guests can reserve this authentic experience with VIP perks at no additional cost. To book, just mention Muntigunung at some point during your reservation and the Elite Havens concierge team will arrange for you. Alternatively, you can book the trek directly here. They only take up to two small exclusive groups a day — whether a couple or a family of 10, and never combine different groups… so don’t leave it til the last minute!