The most popular tourist island in the archipelago. There’s a good reason for this, the infrastructure is excellent, locals are friendly, there is plenty to do and the island has a superb range of accommodation to suit any budget.
Bali is often referred to as the Island of the Gods. That’s because the majority of Balinese are Hindus, and their religion is part of their everyday lives. You see altars and temples everywhere, and the Balinese still enjoy wearing their traditional dress.
Bali is rich in culture and history that is still very prominent now with old temples that are still in used, festivals and practices. There are plenty of activities on offer. Surfing is excellent, white water rafting can get the pulse going, cycling or hiking through the interior is quite beautiful. There is plenty of opportunity for sightseeing, and as many Balinese are artisans, genuine artworks and carvings are readily available. There are certain towns which specialise in particular arts. For instance, Celuk is known for its silverware and jewellery, Ubud and Batuan are renowned for paintings, Mas for wood carvings and Batubulan for stone carvings.
Getting there and around
There is no shortage of airlines servicing Bali from anywhere that is within flying distance. Plenty of cruise ships also visit Benoa Harbour. You can reach Bali overland from Java, and there are heaps of boats and ferries from Lombok and ferries sail out to many islands from the port of Padang Bai.
Getting around the island is easy. Most of the hotels will include an airport pickup or drop off to get your business. Many people book drivers for individual tours (I’ve been using the same driver for about 20 years). Hiring a car is easy, but, be warned, driving in Indonesia is not like in the west as the driving can be chaotic. Particularly the buses which will overtake on blind corners. Cabs are plentiful, but some will try to con you by not switching on their meters. Bluebird Taxis are reliable, but there are some Bluebird copycats around, so be warned. Grab, the Asian answer to Uber, is pretty good. I’ve not had a problem with them, and have used them in several places throughout Indonesia.
You can divide Bali into several popular regions:
Kuta/Legian is party central. This area is booming with hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and traffic. It has become more sophisticated over the years, but Kuta/Legian is where you stay if you want to party, shop, or simply lie around a pool or on the beach.
Seminyak/Canggu is further north along the strip. Seminyak is starting to attract biggerof crowds, but accommodation here is more upmarket than Kuta. Canggu is popular with those who like to rent private villas, which are becoming the trend in Bali.
Denpasar – the largest city on Bali. Most tourists avoid Denpasar, but there are some interesting shops there with local prices, so bargains can be had.
Nusa Dua is south east of Kuta where many of Bali’s best resorts are located. There are some superb resorts which boast some fabulous facilities. Nusa Dua is for those who love luxury and who are happy to spend most of their time at a resort.
Jimbaran – has some good hotels, but is most famous for its seafood restaurants where you can sit on the beach to watch the sun set whilst enjoying fabulous seafood and watch planes take off and land at the nearby airport.
Sanur is about a 30-minute drive from Kuta on the eastern side of the main city Denpasar. It has many good hotels, restaurants and bars but is a lot quieter than Kuta/Legian. Sanur really appeals to families as it has a number of beaches that are less crowded than those near Kuta (and I think the beaches are better in Sanur).
Ubud is a mountain village that is really the cultural centre of Bali. It is very hilly and either shrouded in forest, or surrounded by rice paddies and really beautiful. Many people flock to Ubud for the arts and crafts and to stay in hotels that are stunningly located. Being in the mountains, Ubud is both a little cooler and less humid than the coast.
Candi Dasa – a nice beach resort on the east coast a couple of hours from Kuta. Reasonably quiet, and some good snorkelling available. Just north is Amed, which is quieter still, but even better for snorkelling.
Bedegul – this is inland town that is tucked between mountains and located right next to a large lake with a picturesque temple on its shore. There have a good market here. Bedegul is more of a day trip, but there is accommodation here for people who want true peace and quiet.
Lovina – on Bali’s northern shore and famous for its long black sand beach, thanks to all of the volcanic activity. Best known for doing from dolphin watching.
What to do?
Are you kidding? This is Bali – there’s heaps to do! Here are some suggestions:
Visit Tanah Lot Temple
Located in Tabanan, about 30 kms from Denpasar, Tanah Lot is one of the most striking temples in Bali. It’s built upon a small island that is surrounded by water at high tide, yet completely accessible during low tide. It is a stunning location, and it is best to visit in late afternoon so that you can watch the sun set behind the temple.
Ubud is located amongst rice paddies and steep ravines in the central foothills of the Gianyar regency, and is far more traditionally Balinese than Kuta. Ubud is renowned for its art and culture and although the township itself is quite busy, most people opt to stay in hotels and resorts that are scattered in idyllic locations outside of the township. Near the centre of town is the Puri Saren Agung a large, but serene, palace located at the intersection of Monkey Forest and Raya Ubud roads. Diagonally across the road are the fascinating Ubud Markets.
Avoid the Monkey Forest
Bear with me, we will get to `What to Do’. The Ubud Monkey Forest is home to over 700 grey long-tailed macaques. Given that hundreds, and probably thousands, of tourists visit the Monkey Forest these little buggers are very aggressive, expert thieves. Do yourself a favour and stay away. Instead head to Uluwatu Temple, which is in a much more scenic location perched upon a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean many kilometres from Monkey Forest. They also have monkeys at Uluwatu, but these are friendlier, and the location utterly spectacular.
Cruise with Bali Hai
Bali Hai Cruises is Indonesia’s leading Marine Tourism Company operating exciting day cruises to Lembongan Island from Benoa Harbour. The vessels are modern and comfortable, the whole experience is great for families. The boat is equipped with snorkelling gear, there are banana boat rides, and other activities. Lunch is included, and it is a terrific day out.
Enjoy the Bali Safari Marine Park
This is an unexpected surprise! It is a fair way from Kuta, but there are regular shuttle bus services from the main tourist areas to the Bali Safari Marine Park. This is a well-organised zoo in which the animals live in open range pens. Visitors tour the park inside comfortable, secure vehicles which are ideal for taking photos from. There are plenty of chances to interact with animals, a good aquarium, plus a water park and live shows. You can even stay in the Mara River Safari Lodge, where you get to see animals milling outside of your window.
Have a massage
Bali may indeed be the Land of the Gods, but is also the Land of the Massage. Honestly, you can get a massage just about anywhere in Bali. Services range from a simple massage of a beach to the full treatment in an upmarket spa. Bali massages are really worth the effort. Each masseuse knows what they are doing, and you feel really wonderful afterwards.
Get out to Mt Kintamani
Mt Batur, also known as the Kintamani Volcano, is a great day trip. It is definitely active, as you can normally see the steam rising from it. Mount Batur surrounds the 13-sq-km Batur caldera lake, and it is quite a breathtaking scene. There treks and climbs, for the more adventurous, or it is possible to visit the lakeside villages where there are, unsurprisingly, hot springs. The less adventurous can enjoy a meal in a caldera-side restaurant and amuse themselves by taking photos.
View the rice terraces
Close to Ubud are some extraordinarily beautiful rice terraces. These are carved into steep hillsides and consist of small paddies, each with built-up mud walls surrounding a flat planting area. Flooding the planting area is the key to successfully growing rice. A system of channels are also built to guide the water into the gardens, and narrow paths connect the terraces. Whilst you will find rice farms just about everywhere in Bali, the ones near Ubud are the most spectacular because of the way they dominate the vista by clinging to precipitous slopes. They are at the best when the rice is just about ready to harvest, a job that is still done by hand.
Taste a Massimo gelato
Massimo Italian Restaurant has been operating in Sanur since 1996. The restaurant is fabulous, but at the front of the restaurant is Massimo’s Gelato. There’s always a crowd outside choosing from Massimo’s range of flavours. Freshly made, the gelato’s a fabulous at any time of day or night. Get in line and make that difficult decision about which ones to choose.
Choose jewellery at Angel to Angel
This is dedicated to my late daughter. Whenever she went to Bali, which was often, she would always make a trip to the town of Celuk to visit her favourite jewellery shop in the world: Angel to Angel. The outside of the building is decorated with whimsical frogs, inside you will discover some of the most beautiful local handmade jewellery. Bali is an island full of artisans, and those skills are certainly on display here. It is well worth the visit and you probably won’t leave empty-handed.
For more information on Bali – https://www.bali.com/