With its varied landscape of hills and mountains, rugged coastlines and sandy beaches, lush rice terraces and barren volcanic hillsides all providing a picturesque backdrop to its colourful, deeply spiritual and unique culture, it’s no wonder Bali has become known as the Island of the Gods.
Whether you’re back-packing through Asia, on a family holiday with the kids or out to soak up some luxury, Bali has something for everyone. From lounging on the beach, world-class surfing, cultural, historical and archaeological attractions, you can find it all on Bali.
If you want to be where all the action is, the Kuta/Legian/Seminyak area has the highest concentration of low to mid-range accommodations as well as the biggest selection of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. The beaches here are popular for surfing, which makes it less than ideal for anything else. If you want to swim, windsurf or just lie on the beach, or are looking for relaxation rather than parties, then you might want to consider Sanur on the east coast.
If you’re looking for something more upmarket you may end up at Nusa Dua - where several big hotel chains and the most well-known golf course are located – or perhaps Jimbaran bay with its high-end resorts.
If you have the time, you may want to venture further afield, taking in the scenery in and around the mountain arts colony of Ubud, dive the wreck of the USS Liberty in Tulamben or experience sunrise from the top of one of Bali’s highest volcanoes.
BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN BALI
Ubud – Located in the southern hills of Bali and surrounded by lush rice terraces, Ubud is one of the island’s most talked about spots. Ubud is home to the island’s thriving arts scene as well as being recognized as a centre for rest and relaxation. There’s plenty of reasonably priced guesthouses and hotels as well as several well-appointed spa resorts. This is the place to see a kecak or other traditional dance, browse the art market for local handicrafts, or just chill out.
Renowned as the cultural centre of Bali, the warm and welcoming atmosphere of this town makes it easy to immerse yourself in Balinese life, whilst the surrounding countryside affords great opportunities for exploring on foot. And if you don’t have time to join one of the professionally run cooking classes, make sure you at least enjoy some great food at one of the many world-class restaurants.
Jatiluwih – Some of the most stunning rice terraces can be found near this village on the slopes surrounding Mt Batukaru.
Tanah Lot – Built on a small rock in the sea, this Hindu temple is one of the seven sea temples around the Balinese coast. At the base of the island, poisonous sea snakes are believed to guard the temple from evil spirits and intruders. For the best views visit at sunset!
The Water Palace of Tirtagangga – Covering over 1.2 hectares, these water gardens are a unique mix of Balinese and Chinese architectural styles. Natural springs feed the numerous pools that make up this complex, rich with sculptures, fountains and even a 500 year old banyan tree. The water of Tirtagangga has always been regarded as holy and is regularly used for religious temple ceremonies.
Mount Agung – At 3,142 metres above sea level, this active volcano is Bali’s highest and most sacred mountain. Sunrise from the crater rim is a sight not to be missed, and on a clear day you can even see Mount Rinjani over on Lombok! It’s also home to the Mother Temple of Besakih – nominated as a World Heritage Site this is Bali’s largest, holiest and most important temple. Organised treks can be booked [locally/through most tour operators] and require a reasonable level of fitness.
Monkey Forest Sanctuary – Centrally located in Ubud, this nature reserve and temple complex is home to over 300 Balinese long-tailed macaques. Wander the paths of this sacred rain forest to discover Hindu temples, tranquil ponds and of course monkeys. Make sure to watch your belongings and not to wear shiny things like earrings and sunglasses as the monkeys will grab them!
Uluwatu – Cliff-top temple and beachside caves. Protect your belongings when there are monkeys around as their curiosity can sometimes lead to theft!
BEST THINGS TO DO IN BALI
Discover secret beaches
Bali’s coastline boasts some spectacular beaches and for those willing to venture away from the hustle and bustle of Kuta and Seminyak you’re in for a treat! Head east to Bloo Lagoon for excellent snorkelling and sandy white beaches or maybe try the secluded Balangan Beach down in the south. If its black sand beaches that take your fancy then Balian Beach, on the west coast, is worth a visit. Alternatively if you’d prefer to see how Bali beaches were 50 years ago, low-key Pandawa Kutuh Beach is a true gem!
Learn to surf
Hailed by many as a surfing mecca, there’s no better place to learn to surf than in the waters around Bali. With several surf schools to choose from (mainly on Kuta beach), professional instructors will soon have you experiencing the thrill of surfing the waves.
Swim with dolphins
Bali Dolphins offer unique dolphin encounters in their floating sea-pen off the coast near Sanur. You’ll get to experience the thrill of close-up contact with these incredibly friendly marine mammals as well as learn more about them and their delicate aquatic environment. Group sizes are kept small so it’s best to book well in advance for this once-in-a-life-time experience!
Get wet at a waterpark
Whether you’re looking for a fun-filled activity for all the family or just somewhere to cool down from the midday sun, a trip to Waterbom Bali has been a favourite Bali attraction for many years. With world-class slides and rides this lush oasis is within easy reach of most Bali hotels, located in the middle of popular Kuta. You’ll be thrilled by rides like the Superbowl and Boomerang, travel through a tropical wilderness on the Jungle ride or if you prefer, take it easy on the Lazy River where you can drift through cascading waterfalls and catch your breath before the next adventurous ride.
Learn to cook Balinese cuisine
Discover the secrets of this extraordinary cuisine by taking part in a professionally organised cooking course. Available in Ubud, Sanur and Kuta, most classes will start with a tour of the local fish and vegetable markets where you’ll purchase your fresh ingredients. Then it’s back to the kitchen for a hands-on lesson in preparing and cooking some of Bali’s famous dishes – Gado-Gado, Sate Ayam, Nasi Kuning and Pesan be Pasih to name but a few.
Horse-ride along the beach
For something a little different, why not go horse-riding along Bali’s spectacular coastline. The well-established Bali Island Horse offers 1-2 hour guided rides from their seaside stables at Yeh Gangga, located just west of one of Bali’s most sacred temples – Tanah Lot. You can expect to ride through some amazing scenery, passing through traditional Balinese villages where you’ll see rice farming, fishing and sea salt harvesting.
You’ll get a glimpse of a cliff-top temple, pause at a waterfall and best of all, after riding along the seemingly endless sparkling black mineral beach you’ll get the opportunity to swim with the horses in the crystal blue ocean.
Swing from the tree tops
For a great day out with the kids and for anyone with a head for heights, the Bali Treetop Adventure Park offers an exhilarating experience for all the family. Follow the various circuits over suspended bridges, spider nets, Tarzan jumps, Flying-Fox, Flying Swings, and many more fun challenges. Your Patrol Guides will explain how the circuits works, how to use the safety equipment, and provide all necessary safety instructions. The park is located at the Bedugul Botanical Gardens in the central highlands, so why not take the opportunity to visit the gardens as well as the surrounding crater lakes and magnificent rice terraces!
No visit to Bali would be complete without a little pampering at one of the island’s many spas. Most hotels and resorts will either have an in-house spa - offering a range of treatments - or some form of massage service. Alternatively, you could visit somewhere like Body Works (Seminyak) – whose range of all-body treatments, massages, facials etc. has set the standard for day spas in Bali.
If it’s purely a traditional massage you’re after then the highly recommended Yari Menari (Seminyak) is awesome! You need to book both in advance.
Dive a WWII shipwreck
The USAT Liberty shipwreck in Tulamben Bay is Bali’s most famous shipwreck and one of the world’s safest and most accessible wreck-dives. Torpedoed by the Japanese in 1942 the Liberty sits on a black-sand shelf that slopes from about 6-30m. Apart from the impressive wreck, divers can expect to see a variety of large angelfish, batfish, sweetlips and parrotfish along brilliant nudibranchs and flatworms and if you’re lucky the illusive Mola-Mola (Sunfish)!
BEST PLACES TO EAT & DRINK IN BALI
With so many cafes, restaurants and bars to choose from there’s sure to be something to satisfy all tastes and budgets.
Jimbaran Bay – For fresh seafood, cooked and served beachside under the stars - this is a don’t-miss evening out!
Jalan Oberoi – This well know street in Seminyak is home to an abundance of great dining venues. You’ll be spoilt for choice with the likes of: Ultimo – excellent Italian food served in a garden setting; Mykonos – authentic Greek cuisine and cosy Mediterranean décor; Rumours – great variety of western dishes at affordable prices; Tratorria – popular home-style Italian eatery and pizzeria;……and many more!
Pasar Malam Kereneng (Denpasar) – Not only a haven for late-night bargain hunters, this night market is the home of street food. For only a few Rupiah you can dine on a feast of satays, soto ayam and other authentic dishes all served with a friendly smile.
Potato Head Beach Club (Seminyak) – Über-hip bar-restaurant complex on Petitenget beach, offering an array of exceptional dining and drinking experiences.
Ary's Warung (Ubud) – Offering contemporary Balinese/Asian cuisine in the heart of Ubud.
Baku Dapa (Seminyak) – For a real taste of Indonesia this great value warung serves Manado style food and is something of a legend in the area.
Ku dé Ta (Seminyak) – Super-stylish beachside bar and restaurant with customised cocktails and global cuisine served in a designer atmosphere. And as the sun sets international DJ’s will play you into the night and beyond.
EVO (Kerobokan) – This casual, energetic Italian-styled Taverna serves an eclectic menu of Italian and Mediterranean styled dishes. Simple high quality ingredients in pure Italian style!
Warung Kolega (Kerobokan) – For some of the best Nasi Campur around, this simple road-side restaurant serves up delicious Javanese cuisine at very affordable prices. Only open for lunch it’s definitely worth a visit. This place is so popular, that sometimes you have to wait for a table!
The nightlife scene in Bali usually starts quite late, so don’t be surprised if the bars and clubs seem quiet before midnight. Backpackers and surfers tend to congregate in and around Kuta’s watering holes, whilst expats and those seeking more ‘chic’ tend to head to Seminyak for their nights-out. And even though the legendary Double Six club has now closed its doors for the last time, there are plenty of trendy bars and discos to keep you going until dawn!
Deja’ Vu (Seminyak) – Serving excellent cocktails, this beach-front venue plays some of the best sounds to Bali’s trendiest crowd.
Hu’u (Seminyak) – Gorgeous cosmopolitan style bar that includes a 14m pool and expensive wooden lounge deck to pamper its international clientele. Try one of their legendary Lychee Martinis while resident DJs bring up rare grooves and jazz breaks from pre-dinner cocktails to late night clubbing.
61 Legian (Kuta) – This entertainment complex, in the heart of Kuta, is home to a number of popular bars and clubs; some open until 5am! Start your evening at the Blarney Stone Irish pub and then dance the night away at Club Cyclone or the rooftop Sky Garden Lounge.
M-Bar-Go (Kuta) – This fancy hip-hop club, catering to a younger clientele, is one of Kuta’s hot-spots.
Laughing Budda Bar (Ubud) – One of the more popular hang-outs in town, this bar is a terrific place to enjoy great live music in an informal atmosphere.
Jalan Dhyana Pura (Seminyak) – Known amongst locals as "Drink Street" you’ll find a great variety of bars and pubs to suit all tastes. Here’s a selection of just a few: A-Bar - one of Bali's most popular cocktail bars with the thirty-something crowd; JP's Warung Club - an intimate venue offering live acoustic music seven nights a week; The Bottle Shop - for those anglophiles and Aussies who miss the local pub; Liquid - trendy two-storey luminescent bar with upstairs terrace; Mixwell - popular gay bar with drag shows and go-go dancers; Oxygen - minimalist décor with a kick-ass sound system and freaky projections.