Hidden in the steep cliffs and mysterious pine forests of Kintamani, Indonesia, far away from prying eyes, is the infamous Trunyan cemetery, a place that has earned the nickname ‘Skull Island Bali’.
This little island is part of an obscure village community on the far end of Lake Batur (in northeast Bali) where the locals have buried their dead above ground for centuries. The cemetery is always open to visitors, but you have to go by boat.
A visit to Trunyan island is one of the most bizarre, unusual, and authentic experiences you can have in Bali, and the only place comparable is perhaps Tana Toraja Indonesia.
This travel guide will explain how to get to Trunyan on your own, and everything else you need to know before you go! You can also book an online tour to Trunyan Cemetery if you want to simplify things even further.
History & Rituals Of Trunyan Village
Desa Trunyan village and the mountains of Kintamani were inhabited by the Bali Aga (aboriginal people) for centuries before the Hindu migration from Java to Bali.
Trunyanese villagers live on the east shore of Lake Batur, not too far from the active Mount Batur volcano, making them one of the most isolated communities in Bali, Indonesia.
Unlike most Balinese, who cremate their dead, the Trunyanese came up with the unusual practice of burying their dead above ground on Trunyan island, which is still being done today.
The bodies are washed, dressed, and protected with a small bamboo cage that keeps monkeys and other animals away until the corpse decomposes naturally in the elements.
After the body dissolves, the skull is taken and placed on a rock platform nearby to make room for new bodies.
The name Trunyan (also spelled ‘Tarunyan’) may have originally come from an ancient banyan tree, Teru Menyan, that sits at the cemetery.
It’s a giant tree, and the locals credit its fragrance with somehow neutralizing the smell of the rotting bodies at Desa Trunyan cemetery.
Trunyan Cemetery – Skull Island Bali
We visited Skull Island Bali on a sunny, breezy afternoon in July, and it couldn’t have been a nicer day.
Maybe that’s partly why I didn’t find the place scary at all, just bizarre and interesting (but I still don’t think I’d want to spend a night there).
When you first step onto Trunyan island, you’re greeted by a gate with two human skulls sitting on it. It felt a little bit like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean.
There’s a big banyan tree with roots and branches pointing in all directions, and then a rock platform covered with dozens of skulls and femur bones.
On the left, there’s a group of small bamboo frames where the fresh corpses are laid at Trunyan cemetery, along with some of their favorite possessions.
When we were there, a young woman’s body had just been put there in the last few months after she passed away from cancer. Bottles of mineral water were put near her as gifts.
They told us she was a teacher from Desa Trunyan village in Kintamani, and with a peek inside you could tell she was already far gone — her skin was rotting, but her hair and eyes were still there.
Strangely, we never noticed any bad smell in Trunyan cemetery even though we were just one or two meters away from rotting bodies.
The locals say it’s because the banyan tree neutralizes the smell, but I don’t know if that’s really the reason. We didn’t notice any scent coming from the tree, but we definitely didn’t notice any smell from the bodies either!
In any case, it’s a peaceful place and the location of the island is perfect for a small private cemetery.
While I snapped some pictures, the boat man told Intan creepy local stories about Desa Trunyan village. He said a western tourist visiting Kintamani took one of the skulls in a box as a keepsake, but returned it after it haunted him and talked at night.
In another story, a group of Indonesian tourists from Banten (Jakarta) stole bones and their car plunged off a cliff while driving up the winding roads out of Kintamani. Regardless of what you believe, stealing bones is just a plain bad idea!
All in all, Trunyan cemetery was highly interesting to us. It’s one of the strangest and most unique experiences we’ve had in Bali.
How To Get There
Getting to Trunyan Bali involves driving to the Kedisan dock at Lake Batur (map below), and then taking a boat across the lake.
The first step is getting to Lake Batur, which is in the Kintamani area, on the northeast side of Bali. It’s about 1 or 2 hours drive from touristy places like Ubud, Sanur, Canggu and Kuta in south Bali.
The best way to get there is to rent a scooter or hire a private car and driver (both of these can be booked online). You can also book an online tour to Trunyan Cemetery to simplify the whole process.
Boat Ride To Trunyan Island
From the docks at Lake Batur, you’ll need to take a boat to get to Trunyan island.
Trunyan is surrounded by steep cliffs, so it’s virtually impossible to reach otherwise, hence the nickname ‘Skull Island Bali’. I’ve heard you may be able to get there on foot (with a very steep hike), but haven’t had a chance to pioneer this yet.
Sadly this means the locals can charge extortionate prices for the boat ride from Kedisan, even though it only takes about 15 to 30 minutes (more on that later).
- Desa Trunyan Village Entry Fee: 10k IDR (~$1)
- Kedisan Docks Parking: 2k IDR
- Boat To Trunyan Island Bali: 650k IDR ($45)
Boat Fee Mafia
The main cost to visit Trunyan island (aka ‘Skull Island Bali’) is the expensive boat ride from Kedisan, which is a ripoff. It costs 650k Rupiah ($45 USD) return.
To put that in perspective, most Indonesians make less than that for an entire week. You can rent a car and driver in Bali for 10 hours for a lower price than that, and the boat ride only takes 15 minutes.
Kintamani is one of the poorest areas of Bali so it has lots of beggars and scams like this. The hiking mafia that controls Mount Batur is another example.
In this case, there’s no good way to get around it, because the cemetery is almost impossible to reach except by boat. The cliff walls around it are too steep for driving or hiking.
My wife is a local Balinese, and we still weren’t able to haggle the price any lower. They have a monopoly on the transport.
The only consolation is that the price is per boat, not per person. Try to find other tourists to share a boat with you and lower the cost per person.
In spite of the steep entrance fee, we still felt like the Trunyan cemetery was worthwhile to see one of the most obscure and unusual places in Bali.
Skull Island Bali Tour
If you want to skip the hassle involved in arranging a trip to Trunyan, GetYourGuide has prearranged day trips to Skull Island Bali, complete with hotel transfer, boat tickets, entrance fees, and private tour guide.
This tour also includes a stop at Pura Kehen Temple (the ‘fire temple’ of Bangli) and the Bayung Gede ‘placenta graveyard’ near Kintamani. Overall, it’s a great way to experience some of the most bizarre and unusual ancient customs of Bali, Indonesia.
We’ve used GetYourGuide for lots of day tours and activities around the world, and they’re great! Highly recommended.
Book Now: Balinese Mystic & Rituals Tour
Bali Private Driver & Motorbike Rental
If you want to explore Bali in the comfort and safety of a private car with an English speaking driver, my top recommendation would be GetYourGuide.
Their price is 650k Rupiah ($45 USD) for a full day of driving and sightseeing in Bali (up to 10 hours) for 1-5 passengers. That's the total price for the whole car + driver + petrol! It's a great deal. They also offer affordable hotel transfers from the airport.
If you'd rather travel by motorbike, they have that too. Their scooter rentals start at 140k Rupiah (~$9) and include a helmet, rain coat, and free delivery in the south Bali area.
We've used GetYourGuide for lots of tours and activities around the world, and they're great! Highly recommended.
Book Now: Bali Private Driver / Scooter Rental
Where To Stay In Kintamani
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