Bali emerged as one of the most popular travel destinations of the world in recent times. A small Indonesian island amidst the enormous beryl Indian Ocean, with its span of 5780 square kilometres of rugged volcanic landscape is the home to two active volcanoes, capacious stretch of beautiful beaches, rain forest, lush-fertile rice terraces, Mangrove pockets and approximately 20,000 Hindu temples. The most amazing part of being in Bali is that all the different townships here have different types of landscapes yet have a very deep-rooted, intrinsic cultural identity.
- Local Language – Balinese & Indonesian. Most of the Balinese locals speak good English around the tourist hubs.
- Local Currency – Indonesian Rupiah. Cards are accepted in almost all hotels, bars and restaurants but transportation, local shopping, guides or tourist service providers generally accept only cash. You can simply withdraw cash with your international ATM/ travel card or use one of the many foreign exchange providers to exchange your currencies. Best is to take US or Australian Dollars for you’d get much competitive rate of exchange over there.
- Best time to Visit – Dry Season. Balinese weather being close to the equator is tropical and warm all year long. Dry season stays from mid April to September, but remember – it may still rain anytime. High tourist season is from June-end till August when its more crowded. Post September Bali becomes too rainy when a lot of tourist services and seaside activities are stopped.
To experience the best of Bali, it’s better to plan your stay in at least 2 different areas. That way you can enjoy different kinds of picturesque landscapes and activities. In the North-East, around Amed you’d see coarse volcanic rocks and black-sand beaches where you can snorkel in a much colourful and coral-full shallow shoreline; while in South Bali, in Nusa Dua and Sanur you can see a span of fine-blond, much happening beaches filled with various water sports activities. In Ubud you can simply relax amidst calm and lush tropical rain forest with beautiful rice terraces and breathtaking waterfalls of all sizes; while in a much crowded Kuta and Legian you can party alongside the sea and experience a much young and touristy flavour of Bali. If passionate about trekking, you can summit Gunung Batur, one of the two active volcanoes and witness natural steams coming out of the crater as well enjoy an amazing view of Batur lake and valley from the top. Or if you are traveling to see Balinese culture, art and temples then you have the entire island adorned with spectacular wood and stone carvings located almost everywhere. There are 20,000 Hindu temples in Bali, reflecting traditional Balinese art and architecture and you can closely see traditional ceremonies and amazing Balinese dance there, as well get a good chance to interact with much amiable and welcoming bunch of locals.
When you are sure of what are your primary point of interests as you travel, you can select your places easily. However, if you are like us (see ‘more of it’, or probably ‘all of it’ kind) as hungry as ever to see more and more, it is much tougher to cover all the places in a few days’ time. We wanted to cover most of the many stunning temples, forests, waterfalls, rice-fields and do Volcano trekking, water sports and Nusa Penida island tour – and honestly we did all but within a very short span of time and in a much hurly-burly way.
But there’s one thing that both my partner – Snehangshu and me have agreed upon as we returned from Bali and that is “we are going to travel back”. Yes, Bali is the kind of place where I am sure you would love to travel back again and again. For us, even if it is not for all the places that we missed this time or even if not for repeating the visits to few of the favourite locations, it is definitely for the people of Bali. Honestly, all of the Balinese locals that we have met and interacted with are so friendly and so so much helpful, that we felt right at home. In Bali, people are extremely fond of music, art, football (yes, we watched the first match of FIFA worldcup 2018 with our new Balinese friends), movies and miraculously Bollywood! Almost everybody are fans of Shah-rukh Khan and knows almost all famous Bollywood songs! Our little trips to here and there were driven by amazing Aditya from Balitoursbutler.com and I would highly recommend him for any kind of tour guidance in Bali. You can check his Facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/balitoursbutler/ for further details. Our stay in the splendid Villa – River Sakti in Ubud was enhanced because of Budi, Dharma, Jay and all the other staffs who were so kind and helpful. Cherry on the top… there is a magical Balinese massage and wellness center right next door to River Sakti Ubud Villa which was a piece of treat after a tiring day trip. Last but not the least, can’t stop praising the incredible Budy Arta, who is still finishing his higher education by day and working as a trek guide to Mt. Batur volcano by night, an amazing person and a great trekker. We are still so overwhelmed by our newly extended family in Bali that we can’t wait to go back!
Top Things to Do:
A lot of tourists visit Bali and stay there for months, because days are literally never enough. But if you have a short vacation time, make sure its not shorter than 6 days at least! Believe me, there is so much to see there! I am able to list only a few things here-under, but Bali is much much more than what you think it is! It is an island with many faces!
Stay in Ubud
Ubud township of Bali is right in the middle of the island and is a bit elevated from the shoreline. This is where you don’t see the ocean waves right next door, but you literally feel rain forest all around you. Most of the tourists travel to Bali for experiencing a drawn-out seaside time, but believe me – touring Bali without being in Ubud is equal to not visiting Bali at all!
Ubud is the cultural capital and has Bali’s most famous landscapes, temples and art centers. The famous Balinese rain forest, Rice terraces, waterfalls, rivers, numerous Hindu temples that preserve Balinese dance and art with intensive care, the sacred Monkey Forest or the natural reserve of the Balinese Long-tailed Monkeys and also two of the most ancient holy shrines – Gunung Kawi and Goa Gajah are in Ubud and within nearby vicinity. Since Ubud is in the center of Bali, it is easy to drive away to any directions from here. It is the most serene and calm location that has similar amount of nature and culture to take in. Ubud village raises a community who are highly trained and efficient over generations in rock and wood curving and they produce beautiful crafts for traditional Balinese architectures. All over Ubud, you would find intricate stone curved entrances in almost all of the local houses – small or big.
As a centre for art and dance, few of the Hindu temples in Ubud, organise traditional Balinese dance programs like Barong Dance or the dance of the king of good spirits, Kecak Dance or the dance of the monkeys while chanting the events from epic Ramayana and the famous Fire Dance. Ubud can give an innate experience that one can get to understand more of the island’s culture, people and tradition. Apart from that, nature is at it’s best in Ubud. A handsome part of the Indonesian rain forest falls in Ubud that fosters rich flora and fauna. A lot of fun sports activities, like ATV Quad bike rides and white water rafting (in Ayung river) take place in Ubud. Almost all of the resorts and hotels in Ubud have extraordinary forest-view from the rooms during the daytime and at night you can feel an overwhelming darkness mixed with calmness across your hotel’s balcony with occasional glints of the fireflies, the soothing sound from a nearby waterfall and continuous chorus of the jungle crickets. It is the most relaxing thing to experience on a vacation.
If you choose to stay a little away from the main tourist hub in Ubud, remember that all the adjacent and remote roads here meet in Ubud Center – a lovely town center, with little shops and restaurants, full of traditional Balinese handicrafts, art markets, musical stores and the grand Ubud Palace. This is the place to be in after dark to enjoy live music, delicious food and drinks. However, Ubud doesn’t have much of a nightlife and almost everything closes after 8 pm. Eat the Balinese stir fried rice Nasi Goreng, the delicious Gado Gado salad and try the local beer Bintang 🙂 – one of our personal favourites! For breakfast do not forget to try the colourful Acai Bowls, those are normally served in a coconut shell filled with thick mashed fruits, oatmeal and decorated with seasonal fruits. While in Ubud, you can try a cup or two of amazing flavoured Herbal Teas and also Kopi Luwak (or the Civet Coffee) processed from the poops of half-digested coffee beans eaten by the local Civet cats. It sounds gross, but the final edible coffee powders are cleaned and processed several times and is said to be completely safe for drinking. You can find Kopi Luwak in a number of agro-tourism centers in and near Ubud and also the local restaurants serve them.
Trek up Mount Batur
Bali has many volcanic formations with two very active volcanoes – Gunung Agung which is also the highest point on Bali and the most active volcano that is having regular minor eruption since 2017 and the concentric Gunung Batur which is a 5633 feet high volcanic mountain that falls under the Kintamani highland region of Bali with a beautiful caldera lake called “Batur Lake”.
Mt. Batur had a vicious eruption back in 1968 which created a dark lava field just below the mountain that is visible from the top. Batur did not have any major eruptions since 2000 but being a coexistent volcano right beside Mt. Agung, from time to time it relieves flares of steam and hot smokes from it’s crater. It is said that the inner caldera is hidden under the Batur lake. We haven’t seen an active volcano ever before, so this trekking was a pretty exciting achievement for us. The Mt. Batur sunrise trekking starts from 3 AM at night and it takes approximately 3 hours to reach the top just before sunrise. It is a tough, steep and slippery trek for those who are not a regular trekker. The trekking is not recommended without a local guide, and not at all recommended for asthma or heart patients. Since it starts at 3 AM, be prepared to walk through pitch black darkness. If you are not prepped up for the night trek, your guide will give you little torch-lights to see your way up but I suggest, please be prepared for this summit well before and carry your own head mounted torchlight because holding a hand-torch practically restricts the use of your one hand while balancing yourself up. Carry a light raincoat as it may rain any time and a light jacket because the top of the volcano is sometimes windy and cold. And shoes! My god, don’t plan to summit this volcano without a good pair of trekking shoes. It is much much harder to get up the slopes without proper shoes. Its also recommended to carry a bottle of water and a box of first aid essentials as there are literally no chance to get first aids anywhere along the way and if you hurt yourself after going up, remember that you have to come all the way down the slippery, stony, slanted way to access any medical attendance.
All these information are not for scaring you away or for changing your mind from doing the summit, but to ensure your safety, because I know, if you are an adventure lover, whatever the world say… you would not care about it and do what your heart desires! Be it a difficult trek, whatsoever… the sweats, the breathlessness, occasional cuts and scratches and all the efforts of walking up are nothing in compare to the feeling of achievement, and you would feel that when you are on the top! Because you’d then see the most amazing sunrise ever, a light cool breeze welcoming you to look at the breathtaking view of Batur Lake, valley and right across, the peaks of Mt. Abang – another dormant volcanic highland and the great Mt. Agung just behind it.
If you are not a trekker, but still want to enjoy this beautiful view… reach Kintamani village, right up to the Batur view point and enjoy an astounding sunrise with a pretty view of the volcano and the lake right across. There are many restaurants for breakfast over here. Even during the later part of the day if the weather is good, the view of the highlands from here is breathtaking.
Choose your kind of beach
Remember I wrote before about staying in at least 2 different locations in Bali? Well, an extended beach-side holiday is also equally a must do in here, and for that choosing the right kind of beach for your type of holiday is very important! Bali being an island has numerous beaches, a few of them are still unexplored and not easily accessible by tourists, while a few are very famous and happening! Few of the ‘perfect getaway’ kind of beaches are managed by private resorts and are accessible to only the guests, while the public beaches are more crowded, filled with shacks, bars and eateries as well various fun filled water sports activities. For staying on a beach-side resort you have to choose from the different vibes that these different areas offer.
Nusa Dua – A much beloved beach area with fine sandy beaches, a large part of which are managed by classy private beach-front resorts. Being secluded from the crowded local beach, this is more popular among honeymooners. The Nusa Dua public beach has various water sports activities stored such as half day/hourly diving and snorkeling trips, parasailing, jet skiing, boating, sea-walking etc and are always crowded. Nusa Dua is located in South-eastern part of Bali.
Sanur – This area has two faces. One being a busy-crowded harbor from where various boat-transportation services are provided to the neighboring islands of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida and another being posh, golden, privately managed beaches with mild waves, good for couples and families. If you are not a guest of these resorts, you can still access few of these beaches but against hourly charges to relax on the recliners or to swim. We have stayed near Sanur harbor because we wanted to take the early morning boat-ride to Nusa Penida, but on the next day we did a mind-blowing two-wheeler ride to escape the hustle-bustle of the harbor and found a lovely private beach managed by Prama Sanur Resorts where we spent an amazing time. Sanur is located in the east, about 30 minutes north of Nusa Dua.
Kuta – On the western part of Bali just 15 minutes from Denpasar International Airport, Kuta have the most visited, most crowded and most young-at-heart beaches. Loads of resorts, hotels, apartments have emerged around this area and also is the hub of Bali’s most happening party scenes with loads of good bars, restaurants, nightclubs and shopping streets. Though heavy traffic is a regular problem of this area, it is a great place to hangout. Also, having perfect large waves, Kuta is a surfer’s paradise and hosts lot many surfing activities and training sessions.
Legian – Just 5 minutes north of Kuta, Legian beach area is the extension of Kuta’s vibrant characteristics and is probably the second most populous area in Bali. White sandy beaches make Legian a perfect destination for sun-bathers. There are also some famous resorts with really cool nightclubs here, which are considered as the couples’ paradise.
Seminyak – Just 5 minutes north of Legian, Seminyak beach area is a bit more classy and family friendly extension of the other two in the south. With some really cool fashion stores and shopping points Seminyak also hosts a good number of world-class restaurants and bars. It has some very luxurious beach resorts as well hotels within budget, Balinese spa and wellness centers and have almost all tourist services available in nearby vicinity. This is again one of the most popular area in Bali as it is family and kids friendly as well within walkable limits of the most happening Kuta.
Amed – Situated in the north-eastern part of the island, Amed is far away from all the hyper-crowded locations. Being the closest beach area from Mt. Agung volcano, Amed have beaches with a combination of black-sand and volcanic pebbles which unfolds a very different kind of beauty. This area also has very rich and colourful corals which is a “must visit” for all passionate divers. The beaches here offer beautiful diving and snorkeling spots as well a quick boat ride away from here, there are two shipwreck sites which are considered as the diver’s paradise. There are many beachfront luxury resorts here for a much calm and quiet stay.
A few other nameable beaches of Bali are Canggu – yet another famous area near Seminyak that has black-sand beaches and is famous for surfing; Jimbaran – in south-western Bali which is a secluded retreat most popular among celebrities and also a home to a few famous luxury resorts; Uluwatu – a much un-congested beach area with clear blue water at low tide and high waves at high tide – perfect for surfing. There are at least 50 other beaches in Bali to choose from, those are either crowded or unvisited and each and every one of them have their very own distinct characteristics.
Visit the Balinese Temples
Unlike the other neighbouring Indonesian islands, that are predominantly influenced by Islam and Christianity, majority of the Balinese locals strongly believe in Agama Hindu Dharma. Balinese Hinduism is influenced by Indian Hinduism, old school Buddhist beliefs from neighbouring Java and Sumatra and partially Chinese culture. A small island with 20,000 temples sounded astonishing, and we tried to figure out how it was really possible? Our driver Adi told us that Bali actually has over 10,000 public temples, historic and new. Apart from that each and every family houses in Bali have their own temples inside the housing compound, each and every businesses, hotels, resorts, institutions, public squares and even the mountains have their very own small or big place of worship. So all together the count easily becomes 20k.
Balinese locals have a very distinct tradition of celebrating each and every festivals and ceremonies with grandeur. They worship along with their family and offer small palm-leaf baskets called “Canang Sari” full of flowers, sweets, essence sticks and sometimes different varieties of favourite foods to the god. They have a very different style of worship. They honour the victory of good over evil, they pray for forgiveness over earthly sins, they celebrate temple anniversaries, death anniversaries and send respect to their ancestors, they worship wisdom, good spirits and their calendar year is full of various unique ceremonies.
For entering the Balinese temples you have to cover your legs, below the knees. Most of the Balinese temples have “Sarong” counters at their entrances, where they lend you traditional Sarongs – a large fabric, to be wrapped around your waist before you enter. This is an option for those whose attires already cover their knees, but they can still take one, for it is so much fun to be dressed like a local!
Among the many, I would only list down a very few important temples those are worth a visit. Few of the oldest temples with preserved archaeological remains have entry tickets and the caretakers of the temple compounds may ask you to donate some Rupiah during the visit. Few of the temples have recently become famous Instagram locations 🙂 and these are crowded and commercialized in such an extent that we felt it was better to visit the other smaller temples which were equally beautiful and less cluttered. Keeping historic value in mind, Pura Besakih or the Mother Temple is the oldest and largest of them all, situated in East Bali on the mountainous region close to Mt. Agung. This is a temple complex that has total 23 small temples dedicated to different Hindu gods. Gunung Kawi is the another oldest historical rock cut memorial temple located in Gianyar township, near Ubud. We felt that this temple was one of the most beautiful archaeological site in Bali with a magnificent scenic beauty all around, accompanied by Pakerisan river that flows gorgeously alongside towards a lush green valley which has beautiful rice terraces and rich tropical jungle. Gunung Kawi temple was built to honour the ancient ruler King Udayana around 11th Century.
Goa Gajah or the rock cut elephant cave is located in Ubud and is another 11th Century temple. The intricate rock cut entrance of the cave is a must see here. This complex has both Hindu and Buddhist temples and is one of the most sacred locations of Bali. Pura Tanah Lot is another must visit and the most iconic location in Bali situated along the shoreline of the west cost, 30 minutes drive from Seminyak. Tanah Lot means “Land on Sea” and is one of the 7 ‘sea temples’ of Bali. This temple is literally amidst the sea which becomes totally island like during high tide. Mythology says, this temple is guarded by sea snakes.
A little away from Tanah Lot, there is Pura Batu Bolong that is another holy temple situated on the edge of a rock with an arch-like hole. We witnessed the “Poidalan” temple anniversary ceremony on the day we visited here. This is the day when thousands of Balinese locals gather here with their families and give their cultural offerings to God. During the ceremonial time you cannot enter the temple but you are allowed to roam around the complex and the spectacular sea shore right below the temple which is more popular for watching the sunset. Pura Tirta Hulundanu is another beautiful temple with a magnificent location. This temple is situated right on the edge of the Batur lake with a splendid view of the neighbouring Kintamani highlands and Batur Volcano.
Last but not the least, never miss to visit at least one of the unique “water temples” of Bali. These water temples were constructed for devotees to perform a bath of purification in the pond like structures those are generally filled with fresh waters from nearby holy springs. Tirta Empul is one of the most famous water temples in Bali.
Do a Boat ride to Nusa Penida
Within a 30 minutes speed boat ride from Sanur, on the east cost of Bali, you must visit the neighbouring smaller sister islands of Nusa Lemongan, Nusa Ceningan and a relatively larger Nusa Penida. You can either plan for a day trip from Bali mainland to one of these islands, or plan for at least a night stay and visit Lembongan on the first day and Nusa Penida on the next day. If you have more time, even better! These islands are much smaller in size but there are so much to see! Most of the tourists do day trips, but we thought it would have been far better if we could have stayed overnight (we would do that next time). The day we were visiting the Nusa Penida island, there was a huge crowd waiting for us in Sanur harbour and the ocean had a high tide too, so our boat ride was delayed by hours and we had to scratch out a lot many places from the list that we have planned to visit on that day.
These islands are beautiful with mostly virgin, soft white sandy beaches, lush jungle, beautiful blue ocean surrounding the rugged rocky shoreline and the most amazing coral and sea-life. Snorkeling, scuba diving and free-diving are the most popular water sports activities here, and you should not miss them at all.
Nusa Penida island is full of scenic cliffs, beaches and waterfalls. You can hire a two wheeler or a car over here to visit the many magnificent locations and to experience most of it, you should be having at least 2 days time. The precious diving points like Manta bay (where you can actually swim with Manta Rays), Gamat bay, “The wall” snorkeling point, Toyapakeh and the Crystal Bay are full of spectacular corals and colourful marine life. Snorkeling and diving are must here. There are scuba and free-diving training schools here who provide training sessions for over 2 to 3 days to amateur divers. Snorkeling is for everyone and if you cannot swim, your guide can lend you a life jacket. But remember, this part of the Indian ocean has pretty large waves and especially during high tide, it is recommended to wear a life jacket even if you know swimming.
Apart from that, Nusa Penida has a bunch of beautiful locations, very popular and very instagramable! The most amazing being the Kelingking Beach with an astounding landscape along the shore, where from the top of the cliff you can get a splendid natural drone-like view of the ocean and a fine looking white-sand beach below, with beautiful blue water splashing along the shore. You can hike down to this crystal clear beach, but it is a 40 minutes (to-n-fro) steep trek. Good shoes are a must here to get a full grip of the narrow, soil-rock-bamboo staircase.
Another amazing location is the Angel’s Billabong, a very unique natural tidal pool formed over the edge of a rough cliff. During high tide the large waves splash over this rock that form a tidal pool. Its a beautiful pool where you can swim during low tide, and see the magical rock formation under the crystal clear water. You can also visit the Broken beach. This is another picturesque location of Nusa Penida, with an extension of a wall like rock that bifurcates the ocean from the island, but with an arch-like cavern in between. This hole on the rock’s wall allows the ocean water to flow inside creating a spectacular natural pool with still blue water. However, you cannot really swim over here as there is no way to reach down due to a rough rocky formation.
‘A note to the travellers’
Even though there are many magnificent crystal clear beaches in Bali and it’s neighbouring islands, this particular coastline also suffers a huge level of plastic pollution. It is visible in few of the beaches where you would find heaps of plastic bags, bottles and thermocol food boxes returned by the sea. If you do a boat ride, you may sometimes find plastics floating in the water. We have noticed tiny plastic particles mixed in the ocean water around the Gamat Bay area. These micro-plastics are in many cases consumed by the marine life, which may influence extinction of many precious sea creatures and corals. There are tourist fun activities provided by the local guides in Bali like underwater ocean-walks, underwater scooter rides, where tourists are given fish food in small plastic wraps to attract fishes. These plastics are generally collected back by the guides, but a lot of people throw them away in the water and these plastics join the other large number of wastes to form a serious problem for the ocean’s life cycle.
We travellers can stop this by saying no to plastic consumption and by not throwing non-biodegradable wastes in the water.