The magic island – that’s what I call Bali, Indonesia. Bali is an incredible mix of Balinese culture and history, unique tradition, stunning sceneries, delicious cuisine, thrilling activities, and tranquil nature. The island has so much to offer and anyone from anywhere in the world could find something so special that they can’t wait to return before their departure.
As I was flipping through my photo albums, I am truly inspired by the range of activities and things that visitors can do. I have in-depth articles about Bali’s sacred places, natural wonders, traditional dances, Instagram spots, cafes, and more – but still, I appreciate your input about my following top picks of amazing things to see, do and eat in Bali. Let me know if you want me to feature other topics in the comment section and your experience with my following picks!
De-stress in a beachfront resort or wellness retreat
Transportation is usually my first thing to worry about for a trip to a location, and accommodation is my second thing. In Bali though, I knew that I had nothing to worry about because it has such an exciting diversity that my only headache is picking one.
Bali has been one of the best destinations in the world of resorts and spas before many other Southeast Asian cities came to play. Many of my friends went to Bali and stayed in different kinds of resorts with nothing but wonderful reviews. There are countless resorts around the island (many of them are international hotel chains), and it’s almost impossible to stay in all of them; They all have their own unique selling point to all sorts of customers – these days, I would say a private beach, infinity pools, and a luxurious bathroom are common. I already feel de-stressed when I saw a picture with a private outdoor hot tub in the hotel suite overlooking beautiful paddy fields in the Ubud forest!
Each traveler has their own preference and style, and Bali offers from the most luxurious to something that’s more affordable – but all in all, the accommodations are in good value, and the service and quality never disappoint. I stayed in resorts and hotels on different levels, and to be honest, your priority should always be the location and your budget. In general, more of the exclusive resorts are located on the coast of Uluwatu and Nusa Dua. I stayed in a few before, for example, the InterContinental Hotel with a private beach on Jimbaran, Renaissance Bali in the middle of Uluwatu, and Bulgari Resort Bali at the waterfront of Uluwatu.
InterContinental Bali Resort is one of the many hotels along the stretch of Jimbaran with a private beach where hotel guests can have a dip in the water any time of the day during their stay. It is a great place for families as the resort has facilities that everyone can enjoy – the beautiful tropical garden is a secluded enclave that features outdoor pools, bars, and restaurants. Talk a walk through the trails under the palm trees and discover handicrafts and souvenirs at the mini night markets in the evening. Enjoy a spa treatment at the spa center, or sign up for an excursion or many activities that the hotel recreational team has planned. The exclusive beach has everything you need for a relaxing day by the ocean; But if you are looking for something more active, join the Beach Volleyball, Beach Soccer, or cycling activities that are complementary to hotel guests.
My experience staying at the resort was superb because it was my birthday celebration – sipping cocktails by the private beach in the club, watching a traditional dance performance during dinner in the restaurant, walking by the pool and courtyard at night, searching for local souvenirs in the mini night market in the resort, enjoying spa treatments in the spa center… it was amazing.
Renaissance Bali Uluwatu Resort is not close to either the beach or waterfront cliff in Uluwatu but it has an absolutely breathtaking view from the lobby to make up for it.
Each suite has a huge bathroom and bathtub, a balcony overlooking the ocean and the island, and easy access to the infinity pool that I absolutely love chilling in. I still, remembered that I gasped the moment I walked into the lobby because the view was amazing.
Stay in a villa
If you are staying in Bali for a week or an even longer time, (which I think you should), my suggestion is to stay a few days in the south of the island like in Uluwatu and Nusa Dua, then migrate to the north, like in Denpasar, Canggu, Kuta, Ubud and beyond. Areas like Canggu and Kuta are popular tourist areas, and you will find many amazing hostels, villas, and homestays that are absolutely incredible for budget travelers. The only thing I would complain about is the traffic, but hey, it gets better off-peak hours and it’s not that bad if you are getting around on a Grab scooter. It might take much time to deal with long-distance travel to explore different parts of the island if you only stay in one location.
Why I am listing villas as a separate note from resorts and hotels because Bali is probably the best place on earth to stay in a private villa! There are so many on the island and they are very accessible. Usually, these villas have one to a few bedrooms, a common area, and, most importantly, a private pool, at a very friendly price that is almost impossible to resist.
Note that some villas are actually in a complex, providing the same housekeeping services as a hotel – breakfast, turn-down service, daily cleaning, as well we in-room massages if you fancy some pampering during your stay. Breakfast is also served in-room with the style and time of your liking. They are not a buffet, but hey, you need some space in your stomach to sample different cafes and I will talk about them in the following.
Pamper yourself in a spa or do yoga
It is an unofficial note, but it is always in my belief that Bali is the cradle, if not the birthplace of modern-day spas! Oh yes, I did look up “spa” on Wikipedia: The therapeutic treatment dates back to ancient Egypt and the name “spa” actually originated in Belgium. Bali, though, in my mind the frontier of modern relaxing massages and healing therapies, before massages and spas spread all over southeast Asia in the 80s and 90s, now they are found basically everywhere.
My wild claim aside, Bali is famed for these world-class treatments and the soothing experience is really relaxing. Forget the 3-dollar foot rub on the side of the street. Pamper yourself at a spa or book an appointment in your private villa. There is a wide range of treatments and you might be pleasantly surprised that how these treatments could leave the stress of your hectic daily life behind.
For those who come to Bali for both spiritual and physical healing, there are a number of yoga centers and retreats, many of them are in Canggu and Ubud, where you could sign up for a yoga class and share the moment with your fellow classmates, whether they are just on their vacation, or staying on the island for a longer time. Check out my map for some inspiration.
Go cafe hopping and feast yourself on healthy food
Bali has a vibrant cafe scene like you wouldn’t believe. They are colorful, flavourful, and full of fun – it is not just about having a cup of coffee, but savoring delicious bakeries and dishes and hops to your heart’s content! Canggu is definitely the epicenter of cafes that has a wide range of delicacies and opportunities for IG moments. Some of these cafes are open until 4 to 5 pm in the afternoon, and some are open until 10 pm. So whether you are looking for a good cup of coffee made with local beans, a brunch or all-day breakfast with a group of friends, or a lunch or dinner with some live music and booze, there’s always a place nearby for you to explore.
Rest your legs between your sightseeing, or simply have an off-day chilling in the cafes with other digital nomads. Another thing that excites me is each of these cafes has its own signature and unique character that are not repetitive and boring at all. Check out their dishes and ingredients on the menus – many of them use healthy ingredients, and there will be no problem with vegetarians, vegans, or diners with all kinds of dietary needs to go around, too!
Go on a shopping spree and take a class in Ubud
Taking things further, why not take a class and learn how to cook? Many tourists, still, constantly refer to Julia Robert’s “Eat. Pray. Love.” when they are talking about Bali (and then we have “Ticket to Paradise” with George Clooney, but due to the outbreak, the movie was actually shot in Australia). To experience some of the scenes on the island, you have to visit Ubud. The area has probably become a wanderlust’s quest for fulfillment.
Hop on a bike, and explore Ubud – just like Julia Roberts did. There are shops and markets alongside the main street in Ubud, leading up to the Ubud Palace, many of them are local handicrafts: home décor, soaps, homemade jam, fragrance (aromatherapy stuff), fashion, and books.
If time is allowed, take a cooking class in the culinary academy where you could learn and actually make an Indonesian lunch for two in two hours.
Paon Bali Cooking Class
Ketut’s Bali Cooking Class
Periuk Bali Cooking Class
Many of the cooking classes include a guided tour of a local food market, and it’s a good way to get in touch with the locals and learn a bit about their eating culture. I also took a cooking class in Yogyakarta and wrote about it, I had a pleasant one-on-one time with our cooking teacher and a nice meal at the terrace afterward!
For those who aren’t planning on getting their hands “dirty”, enjoying a dinner at the Lotus Café by the Ubud Water Palace is what I would recommend before catching the Barong Dance Performance. Try to make a reservation though as sometimes the restaurant could be full.
Post amazing photos at Bali’s Instagram spots
In short, there are a few Instagram pictures that are posted by KOIs and influencers – jungle swings, infinity pools, waterfalls, rice terraces, and Gate of Heaven Lempuyang Temple. If you want to recreate some of these Instagram moments for yourself, sign up on an Instagram small tour or private tour – the tour guides are now very “experienced” in taking all sorts of Instagram-worthy photos and video clips to enrich your IG stories. They know which location to shoot, explore different angles, and know how to take reflection photos really quickly.
Gate of Heaven Lempuyang Temple is a sacred place in East Bali, and it is now a popular Instagram Spot that visitors flock here to take pictures of!
While you can’t see it from the photos, taking photos at the Gate of Heaven Lempuyang is very systematic. The local helpers are getting really well at taking reflection pictures. The temple opens as early as 6 am in the morning, and visitors will be given a number to wait for their turn, the wait is usually between an hour to up to three hours at times. There’s no exact time limit for a number to take photos, but it is controlled by the helper and each individual probably has a minute or two. When it’s your turn, get up to the gate and the helper will keep clicking and yell “pose! pose! pose!”, so you have a dozen of photos when you pose and you can choose your best shot in there (very America’s Next Top Model). I said: “individual” because a number is given to a “group”, meaning a big tour group of 30 people also gets one number. If that happens, the group takes big group photos, then they take individual photos, and then they regroup and take some more photos. In that case, a number can take up to an hour. Take the time and think about (also practice) the pose you want in your shot while waiting and bring it to the gate. I probably had only 30 seconds at the gate for myself but don’t worry, the helper is photo-taking ninjas and magic happened, I had many amazing shots at the gate with Mount Agung in the background. Remember, it is a sacred place and there are certain poses and outfits that aren’t allowed, they have a sign at the entrance that illustrate that.
Feast your eyes on traditional dances
Religion is part of the Balinese culture and they express this culture through different forms of performance. The Barong dance is a performance based on classic Balinese mythology.
It is a story about Barong, the king of spirits and a lion-like creature (represents the good), who triumphs over the demon queen Rangda (represents the bad). The Barong Dance is so endearing to the local culture because it ties to their ancient beliefs that once held sway over the island before Hinduism spread; To me, I also love the traditional Balinese music that featured the Legong orchestra amplified with large bamboo flutes, the sound of that was quite mesmerizing. The dance is one of the most fabulous traditional dances in the world. There are several places for Barong Dance performances but I really love the one at the Ubud Palace, the dance performance in the form of a historic setting is just incredible.
Barong Dance is a very popular dance performance. Yet there are numerous Balinese Traditional Dance performances, including the Kecak Fire Dance, Trunajaya Dance, Legong Dance, Pendet Dance, Baris Dance, Panji Semirang Dance, Puspanjali Dance, Balinese Topeng Dance, and Panyembrama Dance.
Visit the sacred places around the island
As I mentioned before, the Balinese are religious. Temple is a great part of their lives and I learned a lot about the Balinese Hindu culture as I explored these sacred sites one by one. If you really only have time for one of these places I would probably recommend the Tanah Lot Temple. ‘Tanah Lot’ (in Balinese means ‘land in the sea’) is a unique rock formation on the shore of the island; and Tanah Lot Temple, along with the Uluwatu Temple, is one of the seven magnificent sea temples in Bali and probably the tourist’s favorite. Featured heavily in Bali mythologies, the photogenic temple looks mesmerizing at every angle. As I was sitting on a cliff overlooking the temple from afar, listening to the soothing waves crashing on the rocks every few seconds, I was as if got taken to another spiritual place. Check out more of the most important spiritual and sacred sites to explore in Central and South Bali for a complete picture of where to visit, from the “water temple”, to the “Elephant Cave” and more.
Hop on a scooter and explore the rice terraces
It is not exactly a very big island but Bali is still big. The island doesn’t have highways, especially in Canggu and Ubud, the narrow and complicated surface streets have had a hard time carrying the increased traffic over the years. Stay off the main road and take a moment to enjoy the tranquil and idyllic side of Bali. If you have a driver’s license, hop on a scooter and get around some of the offbeat paths on the island and admire the beautiful view of the rice terraces!
If you are staying in a hotel or a villa complex, the host usually hooks you up easily and it definitely takes some time of getting used to if you have never driven a scooter before. Always wear a helmet for safety and if it is too much for you, you can always hop on a bike instead.
Some of the most beautiful and must-see locations include:
- Tirta Gangga
There are a couple of things to do to make your experience more immersive. Hop on a Jungle swing, join a trekking tour to walk down the terrace, and even interact with local farmers.
Try local food, and maybe have a sip of coffee
It was a tasty experience to dive into all sorts of Indonesian cuisine during my travel in the country: Nasi Goreng, Mie Goreng, Gado-Gado, Otak-Otak, Bakso, Pisang Bakar Coksuke, Rujak, and more local dishes! I didn’t compile a “Yummylicious” post for Bali (at least not yet), but I did one for Yogyakarta in Java (Indonesia Food Guide: Best Places in Yogyakarta for the Authentic Javanese Cuisine), while most of the delicious dishes mentioned above could also be found in many local restaurants and delis in Bali. Walk along the busy streets in Kuta Beach and you may find numerous restaurants from “upscale classy” to “street style”. You may know my motto by now: looking for food, always follow your nose… and the crowd.
Do you know that kopi luwak (or civet coffee) is the most expensive coffee in the world? This ”poop” coffee is so special mainly because of its production process.
Here is the story: The fruit of a tropical flowery evergreen plan, Coffea, contains caffeine that is defense against animals except for the palm civet cat. The Palm civets (a.k.a. luwaks), eat the ripest coffee cherries and digest the pulp of cherries. During this process, a unique fermentation occurs, which is responsible for the coffee’s special flavor. After the seeds are defecated by the civet cats, the feces are collected from farmers and hence washed, dried, sorted, and roasted to turn them into luxurious coffee. They are priced to be the most expensive coffee in the world.
However, such coffee production has its own controversies with the animal rights supporters, and coffee lovers. With the production turned to a industrialized process, the civets were inhumanly caught in captive and they are forced-fed coffee cherries to enhance production. There are studies claiming that the “poop” coffee isn’t in such high quality that worth its high prices.
Furthermore, if you truly want to buy kopi luwak, it is most likely that you won’t get the real thing because some reports shows that 80% of the so-called kopi luwak in the market are actually fake, they are regular coffee beans passing off as a premium product. In fact, certified ethical coffee is hard to find.
While some of the tour guides usually offer you a stop at the many coffee farms around the island, it is up to you to decide whether to purchase this coffee at the farm.
The coffee farm usually takes you on a short introduction tour about the production of this coffee and then a free coffee taster with different kinds of coffee with a view of the paddy fields. Today, most of these farms have a swing for visitors to take photos on it.
Bali Pulina Agro Tourism, is in the central part of Bali, at Pujung Kelod Village, Tegallalang, where we learned a lot about traditional coffee production. It’s important to mention that natural kopi luwak coffee is produced without harm to the animals. Civet cats roam freely on the coffee plantation and coffee is collected on the ground, delivering unique and authentic flavored coffee beans to customers. If you want to get kopi luwak, be mindful and check the creditability of the coffee plantation during your visit.
Bali Paulina Coffee Plantations
Admire sunrise at the summit of Mt. Batur, sunset by the cliff of Uluwatu
The landscape in Bali is diversified – rugged cliffs in the south, sandy beaches and coral reefs in the middle part, and tropical forests and volcanic mountains up in the highlands in the north of Bali.
These are my two favorite spots on the island and please let me know if you differ. Mount Batur is a caldera in Kintamani located in a highland in the northeastern part of Bali. It is an active Volcano, yet many active travelers may find climbing the mountain an amazing experience. The Mount Batur Sunrise Trekking tour kicks off as early as 3:30 am to 4 am and reaches the summit (1,700m) in time at 6 am for the glorious sunrise. The hike is relatively easy and it takes only about 2 hours each way. For those who don’t climb and want to stay in bed, join the Volcano Jeep tours and explore the lunar-like landscape of black lava fields in a 4×4 adventure jeep.
To have a good panoramic view of the caldera, there are many restaurants lining up along roads like the Jl. Raya Penelokan in the Southside of Lake Batur. Both Lookout Resto & Bar and Lakeview Restaurant are great – they have an outdoor terrace with an unobstructed view of the entire area.
Lakeview Hotel & Restaurant
Address: JL. Raya Penelokan, Kintamani, Sukawana, Kintamani, Denpasar, Bali 80652, Indonesia
Phone: +62 366 52525
The Lookout Resto & Bar
Address: Kedisan, Kintamani, Bangli Regency, Bali 80652, Indonesia
The romantic sunset at Uluwatu was one of the most memorable sunsets that I saw and would always be the first to come to mind when we were talking about sunsets. It was located at the southern tip of the island and the silhouette of the temples on the cliff did accentuate the beauty of my photos. Leave ample time in the afternoon because it might take more time to get there than you think, and you want to get there earlier to secure a good seat for the Kecak and Fire Dance performance. The show starts at 6:30 pm and it usually goes from twilight to darkness. Many of my friends saw it and they all say they would recommend it.
Kecak and Fire Dance
Cuddle an elephant, befriend a monkey, observe the dolphins
Bali is filled with Monkeys. There are two popular places to see monkeys, Uluwatu and Ubud.
Another lesser-known place to see the Monkeys is the Alas Kedaton monkey forest, which takes about 30 minutes to get there by car from Canggu.
Yet, no monkeys in every part of the island behave the same way. While the monkey babies in the sacred Monkey Forest would “politely” pry a banana out of their hands, monkeys in Uluwatu commit robberies.
I will probably share more about these locations in future articles because monkeys are not the only animal encounter you get in Bali.
Apart from the primate encounter, I visited the Elephant Safari Park and it’s a sanctuary of such wonderful creatures. There I met, greeted, and treated the elephants up close and personal. I really appreciated my quality time with the elephants – each of them has its own quirks and personality traits and it was almost therapeutic to leave my stress and trouble behind.
Have you heard of Lovina Beach? It’s the best place to catch sightings of dolphins in Bali. The boat trip usually starts pretty early in the morning so bring a jacket. It was rewarding to find a school of dolphins happily jumping by! Hang around by the beach as there are many local operators who would approach you for an outing.
Elephant Safari Park and Lodge
Dolphin Watching at Lovina Beach
Surf, scuba dive, snorkel and sunbathe at the many beaches
Being one of the most popular tropical travel destinations, there’s no way not to have a dip in the ocean. To make it more fun, try any of the exciting activities that Bali has to offer in between your chilling sunbathing.
There are numerous beaches in Bali that are almost impossible to visit. Most of the “commercial” beaches are along Kuta and Canggu – they are convenient to get to, and there are bars and restaurants within walking distance. These beaches are suitable for family visitors, or travelers who are simply living nearby. The surrounding of the “famous” Hard Rock Hotel by Kuta Beach is a busy area. This is also where beginners of surfing would go.
On a relaxing day, dress comfortably and have a stroll along the beach, have a drink, and enjoy the sunset. The downside of these beaches is usually a bit crowded.
If you are looking for some peace and quiet, go to Nusa Dua Beach. You may consider staying in a resort in that area because several parts of Nusa Dua Beach were private to those premises. There are many beachfront seafood restaurants at Jimbaran and Kedonganan Beach like the Blue Marlin Café, Melasti Kedonganan Café, New Moon Café, Jimbaran Bay Seafood Club, and much more. Enjoy some prawns and grilled fish at a table by the ocean, and after that, you could go straight to the night stroll by the moonlit water.
Most of the “secret beaches” in Bali are located on the south or east side of the island, and some of them are considered a surfer’s paradise because of the waves. Check out the map below for the locations of these beaches. In Uluwatu, it is a bit of a hike walking down the cliff to get to some of these beaches, but you will be rewarded with a gorgeous view and a more secluded environment. Check the map for some of the offbeat “secret beaches.
Bali Learn to Surf
For advanced surfers who are looking for a challenge, head to Padang Padang Beach near Uluwatu. It is a classic surfing spot famous for not only its top waves but also its beautiful landscape.
Padang Padang Surf Camp
More, go snorkeling, go scuba diving, or even go rafting in the forest… if you managed to have energy left at the end of the day.