Bali considers banning mountain climbing following spate of bad tourist behavior

Bali’s governor has announced a ban on tourist activities on its mountains with “immediate effect,” in a bid to preserve its sacred peaks following a rise in violations by misbehaving tourists.

“These mountains are sacred and revered. If their sanctity is damaged, it is the same as degrading the sacredness of Bali,” Wayan Koster told reporters at a news conference on May 31, emphasizing that popular activities like mountain climbing and hiking were no longer allowed for both foreign and domestic tourists as well as locals.

“This ban is in effect forever and is not only for foreign tourists but also domestic tourists and local residents… (with the exception of) religious ceremonies or the handling of natural disasters,” he said.

The governor had initially floated the idea back in February.

He did not elaborate or discuss potential punishments for those who violated the new rules but groups of foreigners have been deported and banned from returning to Indonesia for six months by authorities.

Dubbed the “island of the Gods,” Bali is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, regularly ranking high on global travel polls.

But this popularity has come at a price. Foreigners have been regularly found misbehaving and testing the patience of locals.

In March, Wayan Koster announced a crackdown on “digital nomads” found to be working illegally on the island as guides and hairdressers and said tourists would no longer be allowed to rent motorbikes, following several accidents and influencers performing reckless stunts.

The new rules will apply to Bali’s 22 mountains, which have now been closed indefinitely for climbers.

In 2021, local police confirmed that a pornographic video was filmed on Mount Batur, an active volcano popular among climbers and considered one of Bali’s most sacred spots.

This year on Mount Agung, Bali’s highest peak, which is also considered a sacred religious site – a Russian tourist courted controversy for a semi-nude photo he took on top of the mountain and then shared on social media.

Despite making a public apology and participating in an “offering ceremony to the Gods,” he was deported from Bali on April 12 and barred from entering Indonesia for at least six months.

Mountains and volcanoes are popular among many visitors who flock to Bali to enjoy its beaches, jungles and rice paddy fields. Hiking and sunrise jeep tours around volcanic slopes are also particularly popular among tourists and have provided a source of income for locals working as drivers and guides.

Despite being praised for stamping out disrespectful behavior, the latest ban drew anger from local Balinese communities – those who worked on site as guides and drivers and ran inns and other businesses near famous mountains catering to travelers.

“We understand that authorities are going after those who misbehave badly and we support that. But Wayan Koster has to also look out for us Balinese who worked in tourism and a strict ban will only scare tourists away – which is terrible,” said a guide named Che, who is based in Seminyak and offers trekking tours to various volcanoes and waterfalls.

“Bali is only starting to bounce back from the pandemic, now is not a good time to be choosing which tourists we want. Police patrols and fines could be implemented instead,” he said.

“Many people come to Bali to see our mountains,” a staff employee said. “The government should not ban tourists.”

In order for the proposed ban to take effect, it would need approval from local parliament to be enacted as an official law.

The ban was still premature and is still “in discussion” according to Indonesian government officials in Jakarta. “The issue of banning people from climbing mountains is still being discussed with several regional unit heads in the Bali regional government,” tourism minister Sandiaga Uno told a news conference on Monday. “When it’s finalized, it will be (announced) by the governor of Bali.”

Speaking at the same conference, Bali tourism chief Tjokorda Bagus Pemayun defended the ban and said that local mountain guides would be made “contract workers” if the ban became official. “We will convert to contract workers,” he said. “We will not stop their ventures and are providing solutions.”

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