Photography in the Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali

A lovely, intimate image of a baby monkey with its mother in the Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali.

Mother and child, is there a greater bond? This image shows two monkeys, mother and child, in a tender moment in the Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali.

Where Is The Monkey Forest?

The Monkey Forest is located in a village on the edge of Ubud, a lovely town located amongst rice paddies and rainforest on the island’s central foothills. Known as a center for traditional arts and crafts Ubud also offers great, affordable restaurants and a large range of accommodation options.

The Monkey Forest, also known as the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, is a heavily forested and hilly reserve. Expect to see loads of monkeys clearly visible as you make your way along the well constructed pathways. There’s a Hindu temple and other sites offering interesting opportunities for architectural photography, particularly those of a documentary style.

Tourists Are Bitten Daily In The Monkey Forest

At days end the monkeys become particularly bold and active. This is when the monkey’s take control of their domain and my advice is to take extra care at those times of day.  In fact, after the rangers and other staff have left, you probably shouldn't be in the Monkey Forest.

A local told me that there are two groups, or tribes, of monkeys in the forest and fights between them often break out late in the day. You can see the scares of such battles on surviving monkeys during your day time visits. Occasionally monkeys are killed when one group invades the territory of the other. I was told that these raids are all about territory, power and mating opportunities. That might go some way to explaining our own tainted psychological evolution.

A monkey with a large piece of fruit in the Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali.

The Monkey Forest Is A Nature Reserve, It Is Not A Zoo

Enjoy the tranquility and beauty of the Monkey Forest and embrace the photo opportunities you’ll likely discover in this lovely rainforest reserve. Just be aware that, while they are somewhat accustomed to humans (even humans with cameras), the monkeys are wild animals and, as you've entered their domain, you need to ensure you don't push too close to them or their young.

Feeding The Balinese Long-Tailed Monkeys

My understanding is that the Balinese long-tailed monkey probably won’t approach you directly or aggressively unless you are carrying food or have moved too close to them or they're young.

For the most part you'll be able to observe their interactions and antics quite safely from the path. What's more you'll often find them gathered on the path, basking in the sunshine or eager to greet you, from what they consider to be a safe distance, in the hope of a quick and easy feed.

The monkeys are well cared for. Bananas are on sale as you enter the reserve and the monkeys are feed sweet potato three times a day by reserve staff. However, if you have food and they ask for it, you probably do not want to deign the monkeys of some of it, as that may result in an aggressive response.

Photographers Beware

Be careful of your bags, particularly those containing even the smallest amount of food, as they can very easily and very quickly be stolen by one or more monkeys. The last thing you'd want to see would be your new DSLR or Mirrorless camera kit disappearing into the canopy.

Tourists Are Bitten Daily In The Monkey Forest

Also be aware that, while cute, monkeys are very strong and very, very quick. While you're concentrating on recording a special moment through your camera's viewfinder you may not see a monkey coming at you, side on. But you will, most definitely, feel the result of such an attack.

I must admit I was surprised by the report I linked to in the above paragraph. I came upon the information, not from talking to local folk, but after some online research. I suspect, in most cases, attacks result from tourists behaving in an inappropriate or naive manner. Bali is, after all, infamous for motorcycle accidents involving tourists. Remember monkeys are wild animals and we need to respect them in their own domain.

A monkey climbs up a carved wall, featuring scenes of traditional village life, in the Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali.

The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary

After all I've written I want to say that, for the most part, my time visiting the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary was a wonderful experience. Most of the research I've undertaken for this post was done after the fact. If I'd known what I know now I may not have visited at day's end, as I was the only person in the rainforest at that time.

I certainly felt a growing sense of activity and aggression amongst elements of the monkey population as I emerged from the Monkey Forest at day's end. I remember thinking that I had been in their domain at the time of day that belonged to them.

On my next return to Bali I'II revisit the Monkey Forest but, this time around, I'II visit during official open hours and, perhaps, tag along with one of the local rangers. It makes sense to visit at a time of day when the Monkeys have become accustomed to groups of people wandering about in their world. And that's exactly what I would advise you to do.

Travel is not without risk and photography places us, on occasions, in risking situations. It's simply a matter of understanding the risks and doing what needs to be done to minimize those risks so that you can experience wonder and record your experiences in a relatively safe manner. In most cases it's not unlike driving a car. 

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru