Tanah Lot temple in Bali, Indonesia, is protected by a holy snake.

Tanah Lot Temple: See the Spectacular Sunset, Pet the Holy Snake

Tanah Lot Temple: See the Spectacular Sunset, Pet the Holy Snake

Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
Nov. 10 2014 2:06 PM

Tanah Lot Temple: Come for the Spectacular Sunset, Stay for the Holy Snake

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At high tide, Tanah Lot, a rock formation with a temple (pura) on top, looks like a ship made of stone. One of seven ocean temples along the southwest coast of Bali, Pura Tanah Lot was built around the 16th century to honor the spirits of the sea. According to Balinese mythology, a Brahmin priest named Niratha established the temple and protected it from evil by taking off his sashes and throwing them into the sea. The sashes, says the myth, transformed into sea snakes. To this day they are regarded as the slithering security guards of Tanah Lot.

The temple is only accessible at low tide, when the water recedes enough to reveal a land bridge. Non-Hindu visitors are not permitted to enter Pura Tanah Lot, but can get close enough to admire its pavilions and pagodas. For a small fee, anyone is welcome to see and even touch the “holy snake,” a black-and-silver striped sea snake that hangs out in a cave by the temple. Though Balinese sea snakes are venomous, handlers promise that the holy snake is too docile to harm you.


Sunset is spectacular at Tanah Lot, though visiting at dusk does require you to pass through a gauntlet of souvenir vendors. Once you’ve made it beyond the “I love Bali” T-shirts, you’ll be rewarded with the sight of Tanah Lot beginning to glow as the sky shifts slowly from pink to black.

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Ella Morton is a writer working on The Atlas Obscura, a book about global wonders, curiosities, and esoterica adapted from Atlas Obscura. Follow her on Twitter.