Bali’s hidden canyon lies in Sukawati. To find the entrance, we drove down a small street with faded shopfronts. On corners, fat syringes of golden diesel perched in wooden huts. A woman, dressed in yellow lace, balanced a tower of fruit on her head to offer to a nearby Hindu shrine, which was nestled between shops selling sim cards and cans of Pocari Sweat.
We clawed our way onto the rocks that were deceptively smooth, like the skin of black eels. The choking rapids cajoled our limbs to join them as they bulldozed their way down the canyon.
Our two guides, Wayan and Made, had expertly navigated us through so far. They knew the crannies to trust with our weight. They knew which torrents to fight and which to surrender to. They could foresee the rock below our feet, despite the murky depths of the water.
The cliffs of striated rock, shaded like exposed muscle, curved to great heights around us. Thick vines dangled like dreadlocks from toppling trees. As the pale glow of sunlight fizzed brighter, spots of bleach illuminated the brown water we found ourselves in.
Layers of khaki stubble clung to the lower levels and made each step and handhold treacherous, yet we felt the giddiness of adventure stall any fear.
While our group recollected itself, we gazed ahead. The river launched itself with force between the narrow rocks. The surface of the water was puckered with the strong undercurrents that shot downstream.
Wayan’s head snapped backwards. My sister had jumped into a deluge so strong it lifted her body up as an offering.
She was in danger of being swept away. The froth coated her and it seemed feverish. We all stopped as he gesticulated desperately. He pointed to the far side, encouraging her to escape the flow and find refuge on a narrow shelf.
With the water submerging her, it was difficult to know if she had seen him. She was fully fighting now, legs kicking strongly and arms raised only to be slapped down.
He waded in, buffeted by the weight of the onslaught. Grasping her arm decisively, he pulled her out of the jet stream. We made space as she climbed onto the jagged ledge of rock we had been spectating from.
We continued through the hidden gorge, feeling with every subsequent step the power of the water. It toyed with us, spinning and pummelling our bodies as we moved forwards.
The rock faces dropped away, revealing a still lake. Turning the corner, we had entered a technicolour scene with the leafy vegetation giving us relief from the dull palette of grey and brown.
The path, forged by the water, twisted on further. The rocks grew steadily in size, until they were monstrous. Leaving the water, we climbed a steep rock face and squelched our baked toes into the reddish soil beyond.
When we emerged from the canyon, the bleak sunlight stung our eyes. It felt as though we’d spent the last two hours in a cave, shielded by the cold stone.
We hotfooted it along the path that skirted the paddy field, each row meticulously straight and growing fresh shoots. Our guides retrieved fallen frangipani heads and tucked them behind our ears.
The canyon tour is becoming more well-known to travellers so locals believe it will not retain its ‘hidden’ name forever.
Name: Beji Guwang hidden canyon tour
Address: GPS -8. 609844, 115. 289898, Sukawati 80582, Indonesia
Website: Bali hidden canyon tour / TripAdvisor
Cost: IDR 15,000 ($1.50) for entry each, then IDR 100,000 ($10) for one guide. Guides are compulsory and visitors are not allowed to explore on their own for safety reasons. Larger groups should expect to have a couple of guides to assist them. Tips not included.
Duration: 2 – 2.5 hours
Facilities: Toilets, showers and lockers at the entrance. Refreshment stall near the end.
What to bring: There are lockers so bring a towel and spare clothes to change into afterwards. You will get wet so bring a waterproof pouch for phones/cameras if necessary. The guides will carry some items, such as water and flip flops, in their dry bag. Walking barefoot in the canyon is advisable.
Top tip: Call ahead to check that the canyon is open. After heavy rainfall, the water levels become dangerously high and the canyon is closed to visitors. Some places were deeper than 5ft when we visited so tell the guides if you are a weak swimmer.
Age and fitness level: This activity is for adults only. The route requires good balance and strength, so a general level of fitness is required. For those with knee injuries like me, bring a knee support as it is slippery.
Extra information: Avoid the mini zoo attraction at the end as it does not promote the welfare of the animals. Birds of prey, boa constrictors, flying foxes and lizards are used as ‘props’ for photographs, and the owners encourage tourists to handle the animals. Rather than visiting or giving donations to continue this practice, walk on and buy refreshments from the hut to support the local economy instead.