The Indonesian island of Bali has in recent years begun to feature prominently on the tourist radar. The reason for its current popularity can perhaps be attributed to the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ based on author Elizabeth Gilbert’s personal quest for spiritual fulfillment. While Bali, a land of golden sand beaches, amenable climes and many cultural attractions has always been favored by those in the know, the movie led to a huge surge in tourist arrivals in Bali. It’s hardly surprising for this ‘Island of the Gods’, as Bali is often described, has much to offer for every kind of tourist.
A land of diverse neighborhoods
It’s easy to think of Bali as just a beach haven with white sand beaches. In fact, the island is home to a mountain chain that stretches from east to west and divides the island. These mountains contain active volcanic peaks like Mount Batur and the tallest peak on the island Mount Agung. The northern slopes of the hills are steeper than the southern slopes and lead onto the coastal area. The southern slopes house fertile plains and slope down to the gorgeous beach fronts of Southern Bali like Kuta, Nusa Dua, Sanur, Seminyak, Canggu, Jimbaran, and others.
While Kuta beach is a favorite of backpackers and budget tourists, Nusa Dua is home to outposts of many of the global luxe hotel chains. Seminyak is the vivacious party capital of Bali and brims with restaurants, bars, and shopping establishments.
Many visitors to Bali choose to stay at its many beachside towns, but those who enjoy more peaceful environs head uphill to the upland town of Ubud. Ubud is the cultural heart of Bali and is set amongst verdant terraced rice paddy fields and lush rainforests. At the center of the Ubud town is the Ubud palace, which dates back to the 1800s and features ornate Balinese architecture and lush gardens. Art galleries, ceramic, sculpture and furniture studios abound in Ubad, and if you want to shop for traditional Balinese arts and crafts including wood carvings and soft furnishings, then Ubud is the place to do so.
An abundance of golden sands
Bali is home to many golden sand beaches. Tourists flock to well-known Bali hotspots such as Jimbaran, Sanur, Canggu, and Seminyak. All these beach fronts offer various water sporting activities and host many cafes and restaurants. Jimbaran and Sanur are in fact known for their excellent seafood restaurants. Kuta beach is popular with surfers and is always heaving with activity.
If you want a more serene place to ride the waves you could drive out to Balangan Beach, which is in the vicinity of Kuta Beach but the sands here are pristine, and there are great wave swells too. For a completely different experience, you could drive to Lovina Beach on the northwestern coast of Bali. Lovina beach has black, volcanic sand and is a favorite spot for embarking on a dolphin spotting tour. These early morning boat tours usually depart before sunrise to enable tourists to view the dolphins frolicking amongst the waves as the sun rises.
Stunning temples to visit
The people on the island of Bali follow Hinduism, and small shrines and offerings are visible in every nook and cranny of the island. However, Bali is also home to many stunning temples like the Uluwatu Temple. This temple stands atop a steep cliff that rises to a height of 70 meters above sea level. The Uluwatu temple offers stunning vistas of the sea and is a favored sunset viewing spot as is the Tanah Lot Temple located on the western shore of Bali.
The Tanah Lot Temple is a sea temple that stands atop a craggy rock formation, and during high tide, the temple is entirely surrounded by water. During low tide, it is possible to walk across and visit the temple. While visiting the Balinese sacred temples, tourists are advised to be mindful of local culture and dress appropriately. At some temples, you can hire sarongs and shawls to cover exposed limbs before you enter the temple.
Active pursuits abound on Bali
While Kuta Beach is known for its rolling surf perfect for riding the waves, one of the best places to dive and snorkel on the island is at Padang Bai on the east coast of Bali. The area offers seven dive sites and the chance to see amazing sea creatures like octopuses, seahorses, sharks, turtles, and coral gardens. Another relatively unknown spot for diving and snorkeling is Amed a collection of fishing villages also located in East Bali where the visibility underwater is spectacular
You can, in fact, dive all over Bali, but if you want to try wreck diving, you need to go to Tulamben, a small fishing village on the northeast coast of Bali. Located here is the wreck of the USAT Liberty, which sank during the Second World War. In addition to diving and water sports, Bali offers other adventure sports such as white water rafting down the Ayung River, touring the active volcano crater on Mount Batur, trekking to its many waterfalls and cycling expeditions along the lush rice paddy fields.
Chill out at a Spa
If the objective of your Bali holiday is to relax and reboot, then you are in luck. Spas and wellness retreats are available all over the island of Bali, and they offer a smorgasbord of holistic treatments
The Yoga Barn in Ubud is one of the most famous yoga retreats on the island, and it has five studios offering classes to meet all levels and abilities. Bali also has a few natural hot spring retreats such as Toya Devasya in Kintamani in the island’s northeast region, the Tabanan Hot springs in Central Bali and the Air Panas hot springs near Lovina Beach.
The Kids will be all Right
A Bali vacation with kids in tow, need not be too taxing, as there is enough on the island to keep kids of all ages busy. Most of the five-star hotels on the island have kids clubs on site and offer a whole range of recreational activities to keep the young ones entertained all day.
Additionally, Bali has several kid-friendly attractions such as the Bali Bird Park in Batubulan and the Bali marine and safari park (the Bali zoo) in Gianyar Residency. Another fun attraction that never fails to enthrall kids is the Ubud Monkey Forest, a temple complex and a nature reserve that hosts three temples and more than five hundred primates. Visitors can buy bananas to feed the monkeys and also take ‘selfies’ with them, but the animals are known to be quite boisterous and are notorious for grabbing food and other personal belongings of visitors. Theme parks like the Treetop Adventure Park and Waterbom a water park with a variety of pools and slides are some of the other family-friendly attractions on the island.
Shop till you drop
To say that Bali is a shopper’s paradise is an understatement. The Balinese are creative and artistic folk. Ubud is one of the best locales to shop on the island, and it hosts many art galleries and various arts and crafts markets. Mas, a village located outside Ubud is home to master woodcarvers while the village of Celuk accessible via a half hour drive from Ubud is the abode of very talented silversmiths, and it hosts many studios where you can visit and shop for beautiful silver jewelry. Bali’s beachside towns like Seminyak and Canggu have many chic boutiques where you can buy stylish, locally produced apparel.
Winning and Dining
The vibe on the island of Bali is distinctly international, and the island is peppered with an abundance of chic eateries, cafes, and bars which offer both Asian and Western cuisines. A highly recommended indigenous Balinese dish is Babi Guling, which features pig that has been spit-roasted over coals. Many local restaurants in Bali feature it on their menu, though the best ones are in Ubud.