Bali is magical for many reasons, and for the compact slice of Indonesia it represents, it sure has a big reputation. The scent of frangipani flowers mingles with incense from temple offerings, beautiful beaches stretch long into the distance, lush green rice terraces stack up into the hills, and buzzing towns thrive on the chaos of traffic, colourful markets and stampedes of tourists. But away from the touristic hotspots and busier beaches, you can still discover many hidden gems of natural beauty. Lush rainforest interiors, tumbling waterfalls, rolling mountains, natural hot springs, lakes and active volcanoes intertwine across the diverse Balinese landscape. At its edges, secluded strips of sun-drenched sand can still be found. Some offer pounding surf, while others remain calm and clear, with a world of marine life, coral reefs and shipwrecks beneath the water’s surface.
Bali is a world of two extremes though, and depending where you go, you’ll be thrown head-first into the commotion. Streetside stalls and bustling markets pop up in droves, motorbikes and cars vie for space on the roads, and beaches littered with bodies are the norm. In Kuta, holiday-makers flit constantly from shore to street and back in search of both downtime and entertainment – Kuta is renowned for its heaving nightlife and mass tourism. Denpasar offers a much more authentic view of the island bustle, Seminyak perfectly combines western convenience and island luxury, and Ubud brings peace and greenery inland. For the ultimate escape, head to the northern shores for quieter beaches, villages and towns. Dotted all across the island you’ll also discover fascinating cultural and historical elements: majestic clifftop temples, monasteries and monuments well-worth discovering. From relaxing massages under thatched beach huts to disco DJs, Bali holidays stay with you forever.
Things to do
Bali is everything you want it to be. Haggle for bargains in the colourful markets, sample the cuisine in roadside stalls and sophisticated restaurants, or indulge in pampering spa treatments at your resort. If you’ve got the children in tow, head to a colourful and dazzling traditional Balinese dance show after a long day of water slides and rides at Waterbom Bali. Or, for a glimpse of authentic Balinese culture and art, don’t miss beautiful Ubud, nestled amongst the lush green rice paddies. There are also some lovely little craft villages nearby. Another absolute must is a trip to at least one of the gorgeous and important temples dotted across the island. Besakih Temple (Mother Temple) and Tanah Lot are two of the most popular, but there are many more to admire. The Banjar Buddhist Monastery and Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) are worth a spot on your highlights list too.
Is it the beauty of Bali that draws you? Relaxing beach holidays are easy here. But apart from relaxing on the golden shores and soaking up the island sun between swims, the beaches provide ample opportunity for adventure. Dive and snorkel with schools of tropical fish, hit the waves on a surf board, or take an ATV tour along the sweeping shores. Away from the sand, join a trek to the crater rim of Mt Batur – the island’s most active volcano – for once-in-a-lifetime views into the crater and back out across the rolling hills and Lake Batur. For the less adventurous, a leisurely wander through the rice paddies and remote villages is just as impressive, as is a dip in the hot springs. Children will love feeding the monkeys peanuts at Ubud's Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, and the adventure circuits at Bali Treetop Adventure Park.
Food & restaurants
Bali is brimming with diversity when it comes to eating out, from cheap street vendors selling fresh and tasty dishes to five-star resort restaurants dishing up exclusive multi-course fare. As a popular tourist destination, the options certainly aren’t limited to Balinese flavours. In fact, it can sometimes be hard to find authentic local dishes on the menu – but there is a wide range of typical Indonesian and Chinese fare, as well as many western options. Some Balinese highlights to try include babi guling, crispy skin pieces of grilled suckling pig, and bebek betutu, duck with herbs and spices baked in banana leaves. Wherever you go, you’re bound to find plenty of fresh seafood, as well as Indonesian staples such as rice, tempeh, coconut, fresh vegetables, spices and aromatic herbs.
Beyond the street hawkers and five-star delicacies awaits a wide range of dining options in between. Families will find a wide range of mid-level restaurants offering children’s menus, couples will love the breezy beach hut cafes perched by the sea, and even the fussiest of eaters can always resort to one of the western fast-food outlets. Tourist hotspots such as Kuta, Legian, Sanur, Candidasa and Lovina are packed with dining options, and many resorts and hotels have great on-site restaurants, especially the leading chains. Seminyak is also extremely popular for its dining scene, where a wide range of classy restaurants recreate everything from Italian to Spanish, Mexican to Thai. The adventurous eaters can also always find a quick bite in one of the many markets.
The sheer breadth of accommodation options in Bali is outstanding. Families, couples and large groups of travellers will all find something to suit their needs and budgets, from basic hotels in central locations to secluded villas that ooze luxury and romance. Once thing is for sure: it’s bound to be cheaper than it would be back home. So make the most of your chance for superior value and indulge in a sophisticated stay. Hide out in a luxury thatched abode with its own private pool in Seminyak, relax in a spacious villa amid lush jungle in Ubud, or settle down in a boutique resort with a private golf green near Nusa Dua beach. For those who’d like a little something extra, Ubud is also home to many eco-conscious alternatives and wellness retreats.
If it’s not the star-rating that matters most, there are stacks of other great places to stay across Bali. As the island’s bustling tourism centre – and close to the airport – both Kuta and Legian are full of hotels and bustling resorts to choose from. Many of them boast family friendly facilities and fantastic locations near the beach and downtown action. If you’d prefer to avoid the main bustle altogether, steer clear of the south side of the island and flee for the northern shores. While there are generally less options here, you’ll enjoy the surrounds of your hillside cottage, beachfront resort or thatched-roof villa even more with all that peace and quiet.
Bali is well known for the bustle and bargains of its markets, but it’s also home to some great shopping centres and one-off shopfronts touting quality buys. Even those who intend to simply browse will no doubt end up with new purchases swinging off their wrists at some point. Balinese markets are teeming with fashion and accessories, wood and stone carvings, fine art and handicrafts, handmade jewellery and antique furniture. From intricately designed masks to leather shoes and breezy fashions made from locally dyed fabrics, the range is evocatively colourful. Even non-shoppers will enjoy wandering through the market stalls just for the buzzing atmosphere – and if you love art, don’t miss the Kuta Art Market. The one thing to always keep in mind is to barter.
Once you’ve exhausted the local street vendors, move on to Bali’s other shopping havens for more fix-priced finds. In Kuta, browse for new clothes and shoes at Matahari, or discover the wide range of items on offer at Carrefour, Galleria and Centro. If you’re looking for a classier selection of fashions, head to Kuta Square or indulge in the high-end designer labels at Bali Collection in chic Nusa Dua. Local tailors can also make sure you get a perfect fit and shape, whether it’s a suit, jacket or dress you’d like tailor-made while on holiday. Long-lasting souvenirs in the form of beautiful gold and silver jewellery can be found in the independent smiths lining the street of Celuk Village, near Denpasar. Otherwise, drop into one of the many home ware stores dotted around the main tourist areas.
Many visitors to Bali are keen to get off the beaten track, especially where beaches are concerned. Pretty and petite Bias Tugal Beach is a secluded spot surrounded by lush jungle, and a great spot for diving without the tourist crowds. Go to Padang Bai and ask a local for the best way to get there. Menjangan Island in West Bali is also fabulous for its underwater paradise away from the crowded tourist areas. For inland beauty, head to Git Git waterfalls at Singaraja or take the ultimate challenge and scale Mt Agung, the tallest mountain and an active volcano – it’s a more challenging trek than Mt Batur. Otherwise, make the most of the many beautiful retreats, yoga classes and alternative treatments around the island, many which call Ubud home.
Bali is also in a fabulous spot to explore the nearby highlights of Indonesia. The Gili Islands are a popular getaway, renowned for their incredible clear waters. While Gili Trawangan has a reputation as the party island, the others offer plenty of peace and quiet in the gorgeous surrounds. Komodo Island is also within easy reach, home to the rare Komodo dragon, and beautiful Lombok sits just across the strait. Java is also right next door, the heart of the country, where you’ll find bustling Jakarta, as well as an incredible array of cultural highlights in Yogyakarta and Solo. Wherever you go, you’re guaranteed to be wowed by the beautiful beaches and fascinating glimpses into Indonesian life.