The Mandala Suci Wenara Wana, or the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary as it is called by its Engligh name, is one of the top tourist attractions in Ubud, Bali.
This protected land is tucked away towards the interior of Bali, about an hour north of Denpasar’s International Airport; and far removed from the high intensity electronic music of Kuta Beach. Visitors to Ubud are far more likely to hear Hindu chants coming from one of the area’s many temples than a dance beat, and that really sets the mood for what visitors will experience when entering the Monkey Forest. Much more than a tourist attraction, this small patch of protected trees, temples and creatures, truly embodies the spirit of the island.
If arriving by van, visitors are shuttled into the sanctuary’s newly expended (2018) parking lot, which seems to take up nearly as much land area as the forest itself, ironically.
Visitors that get to the Monkey Forest on foot will walk past an eclectic array of shops, restaurants, and temples on the roads that lead there. This is an enjoyable walk that can be very low intensity, depending on the heat during the time of year of your visit. Shop after shop will present an amazing display of the talents of Indonesian craftsmen and artisans. Fashion and home décor dominate the street shops whether they are formal stores with elegant displays, or pushcarts along the side of the street. Prices are very affordable and are always negotiable. Shop owners here in Ubud will help you ship their products to anywhere in the world.
The restaurants in this section of town are also very diverse and offer many different options of cuisine. Just a few blocks from the forest entrance, one can find Indian, French and many other Southeast Asian places.
It is also in this section of town that some rogue monkeys have left the forest, where they are adored and well cared for, and have adapted to a life of climbing rooftops, power lines, and having to steal food to survive. Shopkeepers and restauranteurs keep a long handled broom nearby to chase off any offenders. Just a few blocks outside of the forest, they seem much more like a pest than a sacred animal. Walking a few more meters away from the sanctuary and the sight of a rogue monkey is practically nonexistent.
Making Your Entrance
The brand new entrance gate features a newly opened (2018) kiosk, public restrooms, and plenty of shaded seating areas. An entry ticket costs 50,000 IDR (about 3.50 USD or 175PHP).
Everything about the design of this new main entrance is beautiful, from the wooden elevated walkways, to the massive statues, and the architecture of the building itself.
The Park Sanctuary
While it is true that the beautifully maintained forest habitat is regularly filled with tourists, it has other roles as well. The spiritual component of man’s relationship with these creatures is a philosophy of the Hindu belief known as Tri Hita Karana. It translates to “3 ways to reach spiritual and Physical well-being”.
Furthermore, the sanctuary is also a place that researchers can observe the monkeys’ group behavior and interaction with their environment. According to the Ubud Monkey Forest’s website. ‘This has lead to the development of more educational components for future guests. The education’s focus is on the monkeys and the environment.’ It is always reassuring to hear that an organization is straightforward and clear on their goals.
The weather in the forest is very is mild, even on a hot sunny day. A large concentration of tall and towering tropical trees create a tall canopy above and the throughout the forest; nearly all of the sanctuary lies in cool shade.
On the forest floor, there are many rare and endangered plant species native to the region, growing in the Monkey Forest as part of the organization’s conservation efforts.
The Monkeys Themselves
The Balinese long-tailed monkey, Macaca Fascicularis is most commonly referred to as the Macaque in English. (Muh-Kack)
These omnivorous (they eat both meat and plants) creatures of the forest are active during the daytime and are fed a steady diet of sweet potato, bananas and a mixture of locally available fruits and vegetables by the forest staff. All the residents of this sanctuary have their health monitored in cooperation with the Primate Research Center of Udayana University.
Preparing for your Visit
This is a wonderful and magical piece of forest in Bali and an absolute must visit when in Ubud. Everything about the Monkey Forest truly represents Balinese life and culture.
…but there are a few things to know before you go, to ensure you enjoy your visit.
The Monkey Forest has a full list of rules posted on their website, but the MOST important rule to follow goes as follows:
No Plastic Bags or Bottles! The (monkey) residents of the forest know that plastic typically means food, and the sound of plastic attracts their curiosity like none other! A macaque can hear a plastic bottle inside your backpack and will climb on your back and try and open your bag to try and go for it. These incredible creatures can also hear a plastic bag tucked away in your purse and will also go for it, often very aggressively.
Unfortunately, the park is filled with tourists that ignore this simple rule and are often the ones that the park staff “monkey handlers” are coming to the aid of.
In one instance during this visit, a woman was drinking out of a plastic water bottle and a juvenile monkey approached her and attempted to take it right out of her hands. Following the rules from that point forward (perhaps inadvertently) she lets go of the bottle to avoid a fight with the monkey, who empties the bottle of water, begins peeling off and eating the plastic label from the bottle. It was unclear what ever happened to that poor monkey.
In a separate instance during the same visit, a tourist had a traditional Sarong that she purchased, wrapped in a plastic bag, inside of her purse. Even though her movements were not enough for her to notice the noise of the plastic bag, it was enough for one particularly curious young monkey, who reached in and took it out of her bag! Surprisingly, the monkey took the Sarong out of the bag and left the plastic behind. The athletic little creature then took to the trees and was chased down by a forest staff member, using a slingshot to get the monkey to drop the Sarong. While this may seem like a happy ending, the monkey was just giving into his curiosities and was subsequently threatened and potentially injured in the process of retrieving the tourists’ belongings…. that were not allowed in the park to begin with. There is currently no screening process to help visitors follow the rules, nor are there lockers available for visitors to safely store their belongings while visiting the forest. The staff can certainly take more preventative measures, and paid lockers could be a useful, money generating solution.
The vast majority of visitors to the park had no issues and seemed to enjoy themselves very much; many of them interacting with the monkeys thru the aid of their handlers, and getting their photos taken.
Visitors only need about an hour to see the entire sanctuary, but people often choose to stick around much longer to keep out of the heat. There are no food or drinks for sale inside, for obvious reasons, so plan to eat before or after your visit here.
Perhaps the last element of the park that becomes clear as you stroll through the grounds is man’s spiritual connection with nature and these creatures. There is a temple within the sanctuary that keeps a regular schedule, and even a small graveyard, which has not been upkept. Dates on the stones are not legible. This place, albeit small, has many beautiful areas to explore, photograph and observe.
Overall the Monkey Forest in Ubud is a “can’t miss” destination, but please be mindful of the rules and be prepared! Enjoy Ubud!