There’s a reason why so many people who’ve been to Bali don’t want to leave. It has been called, “the morning of the world” and to be honest, it does it justice. I was blown away by its cultural richness, festivals, green fields, traditional dances, the many temples, food and of course the friendliness of its people. However, there’s also the other side of the island (very few areas) which some travellers tend to focus on.
Like in any other touristic place, there are some things and areas you’re going to want to avoid staying at, such as the Southern tip of the island and beaches like Kuta and Seminyak which are a bit tacky, noisy and chaotic. After all, Indo is still a developing country and to grasp its beauty you should go with an open mind. I like to focus on the beauty and this is exactly what this Bali travel guide offers, packed with lots of tips and amazing places to visit – most of them off the beaten track.
1. Go trekking in the jungle and cool down at a waterfall
I’d recommend Tegenungan Waterfall near Ubud and Munduk Waterfall and trek in North Bali for a proper jungle trekking and adventure.
2. Experience a Balinese dance
The best place to experience this is in Ubud at the Lotus Pond in the Puri Saraswati Temple performed by the Cenik Wayah Gamelan Dance Group. Chances are they will perform different dances in one presentation. It can also be a great opportunity for you to learn more about the Gamelan which is Bali’s traditional music, made up of mostly percussive instruments.
3. Dip into some hot springs
The sacred hot springs ‘Air Panas’ of Banjar are set in the midst of the jungle. With two public pools of sulfuric water from a volcano in which you can swim and relax away for as long as you want.
4. Forget about Kuta and Seminyak
If you really want to explore great beaches and see fewer tourists, go instead to Dream Beach or Padang Padang. Cleaner and less crowded. However, if you have a bit more budget, and want to pamper yourself for a few days you should know that Seminyak has some of the best luxury spa-resorts on the island, and the food and service are super high-end. I can recommend The Seminyak Hotel & Spa, which was an experience I’ll never forget.
5. Walk along the rice paddies
There are so many around Bali but the best and most visited ones are located in Jatiluwih and Tegallalang. Just be careful, bring trekking boots with you and stick to the paths, otherwise, you can damage the fields and could get told off, just like me, oops!
6. Pay a visit to the twin lakes of Danau Tamblingan and Danau Buyan in Northen Bali
Chances are you will pass by these lakes on your way to Ulun Danu Temple. The view from the top of the mountain is epic. Bear in mind, the North of the island is rather far from the Denpasar area, around 4 hours by car. I highly recommend the effort, otherwise, you will only see a Westernised side of Bali.
7. Check out the Balinese art of Batik and traditional weaving
It’s a great opportunity to see how traditional clothes on the island are actually made and decorated with the techniques of painting over fabrics, called Batik. I could not stop thinking about the patience, artistry and effort required to create these beautiful garments.
8. Ubud, its vibe and energy make you want to stay there
You can never get bored in Ubud despite what some people say. It has a very different energy compared to the South, perhaps it has got something to do with the fact that is has become this renowned centre for mindfulness and yoga practice. There’s, of course, many yoga centres, spas, cafes with amazing vegan and vegetarian options. But also art galleries and museums, such as Agung Rai Museum, which is incredibly beautiful, and also has a lodge area so you could even stay there if you wanted to. You can also visit the jungle, the Monkey Forest (which I don’t particularly like but since you’re there…), the Pura Saraswati Temple (shown below), see some wood carving and even go rafting. Possibilities are endless, really.
Also, if you’d like to stay in Ubud (I did, and loved it) I’d highly recommend staying at TejaPrana hotel, you can have your own private infinity pool overlooking the jungle canopy. Plus, the structure it’s completely sustainable, made out of bamboo, epic!
9. Take a trip to the Gili Islands
Probably, some of the best advice this Bali travel guide has to offer is a short trip to the Gili islands which are only an hour away from Bali by boat. It is the perfect get-away from the chaos and party atmosphere found in Southern Bali if what you’re looking is some peace and quiet.
Best island for that is Gili Air, super quiet, nice beaches, also there are NO cars nor motorbikes, just carts pulled by horses like in the Middle Ages. It does feel like travelling back in time.
10. Do some scuba diving and snorkelling
Heading off from the south is great if you’re also looking for a more chilled and quiet atmosphere combined with a bit of diving or snorkelling. The best spots are in Menjangan in the North of Bali or even Gili Air in the Gili Islands, where there’s a spot called Turtle’s Paradise, you can imagine the rest. There are dozens of scuba diving academies you can choose from but I highly recommend AUS Diving Academy Gili Air, super friendly and professional.
11. Go dolphin watching in the North of Bali
Chances are you will get lucky and see them if you go with a guided tour at Lovina Beach.
12. Visit the 9 directional temples and learn about its importance to the people of Bali
Balinese temples are on everybody’s list when heading to Bali. However, if you have the chance, try to visit the most important ones that protect the island from evil spirits. Located in very particular locations, such as cliffs, caves, sides of mountains. Remember there are nine of these, and also you need to wear a sarong to enter any temple, as a sign of respect to the gods, see below for more info.
13. Try the amazing local food and tropical fruits Bali has to offer
There are so many great dishes in Bali. You can tell it has a bit of influence from China and India but still, they have kept their unique identity and flavours. Best thing I tried was Cap Cay, Vegetarian Sate and Nasi Goreng. My favourite fruits have got to be rambutan, mangosteen, durian (although it stinks) and dragon fruit.
Bali Travel Guide top tips :
- Best time to travel in my opinion is end of Feb-March and April, which is technically the rainy season. However, the rain usually stops in February and it’s a bit cooler than in high season (Jun-July-Aug). Also, a major plus is that the island won’t be as packed, and the accommodations and attractions are cheaper.
- Expect to bargain. And I mean a lot! Never pay what sellers ask for on the first approach.
- Buy a sarong (beach wrap). regardless of gender, you’re going to need one when visiting most Hindu temples in Bali. In any market, you will find beautiful designs.
- Always carry change, it’s good karma to leave a small donation at temples and other places.
- Be careful with the monkeys (in the Monkey Forest) and never feed them. They are wild and unpredictable. I’ve seen how they steal sunglasses, caps, baby shoes or in fact anything that’s within their reach.
- Transportation in Bali in inexpensive but traffic is hectic. I highly recommend hiring a private driver and arranging the price/rate per hour beforehand rather than picking up taxis or even renting scooters and cars. Top drivers, I encountered on the island: Putu (+62 813 37193721) and Made Happy (+62 8133 7385274) honest guys, knowledgeable, speak great English and charge sensible prices.
- Distances in Bali, especially North to South can be quite long (Around 4 hours) Therefore, I suggest you explore areas according to where on the island you’re staying. Leave Kintamani, Mount Batur, Lovina Beach etc, for when you’re actually staying in the north.
- Be sure to check out the calendar of festivities and religious ceremonies in Bali. There are important celebrations going on every month of the year which can be quite incredible to experience if you happen to be there at the right time.