Desa Trunyan Bali Cemetery: Skull Island & Village In Kintamani
Desa Trunyan Bali is an obscure village in Kintamani (northeast Bali), where the locals have buried their dead above ground for centuries.
Nicknamed ‘Skull Island’, the infamous Trunyan cemetery is hidden in the steep cliffs and woods on the far end of Lake Batur, away from prying eyes.
A visit to Trunyan island is one of the most bizarre, unusual, and authentic experiences you can have in Bali, Indonesia. The cemetery is always open to visitors, but you have to go by boat.This travel guide will explain how to get there, and everything you need to know before you go!
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.
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 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 it with neutralizing the smell of the rotting bodies at Desa Trunyan cemetery.
Trunyan Bali Cemetery
We visited Trunyan 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 Trunyan village, 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 a few feet 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 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 a just 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, and then taking a boat across the lake.
The first step is getting to Lake Batur, which is in Kintamani village, 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.
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. I’ve heard you may be able to get there on foot (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: 650k IDR ($45)
Boat Fee Mafia
The main cost to visit Trunyan island is the expensive boat ride from Kedisan, which is a big ripoff. It costs 650k IDR ($45 USD) return.
To put that in perspective, most Indonesians make less than that for an entire week, and the boat ride only takes 15 minutes anyway.
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 cost, we still felt like Trunyan Bali was worthwhile to see one of the most obscure and unusual places in Bali.
Bali Private Driver & Motorbike Rental
If you want to explore Bali in the comfort and safety of a private car with a driver, my top recommendation would be Klook.
Their price is 450k IDR ($30 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 steal.
If you'd rather travel by motorbike, they have that too. Their scooter rentals start at 85k IDR (~$6) and include a helmet, rain coat, and pickup in the south Bali area.
We've used Klook for lots of tours and activities around the world, and they're great! Highly recommended.
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