Bali is a jewel of an island whose facets sparkle with natural beauty, a spectacular coastline, cultural charms, spiritual splendours and the warmest of welcomes. Whether you want to relax on the beach, surf the world-class waves, visit ancient temples, trek through the rainforest or see the glistening green rice terraces, Bali combines enriching experiences with total relaxation.
Although Bali is a relatively small island, there is so much to see and do here amid such natural beauty. The beaches are legendary, the surfing is exceptional, the volcanic mountains impressive, the temples breathtaking and the lush emerald green rice terraces, spectacular. Located between Java and Lombok, this small isle of over 10,000 temples is known locally as the Island of the Gods.
Ringed by sandy beaches and rugged coastline, Bali’s central area is a gorgeous green oasis of traditional villages, lazy rivers, stepped rice terraces, ancient temples and gushing waterfalls, all set against a backdrop of magnificent volcanic mountains and crater lakes. The active volcano, Mount Agung is the island’s highest and most scared mountain and home to Bali’s largest temple, Pura Besakih. But if you want to climb an active volcano, we’d recommend Mount Batur in the central-eastern region of the island, as a less challenging and more popular choice.
Unlike the rest of Indonesia, the religion here is Hindu as opposed to Islam and modern-day Bali is a beguiling mix of spirits, demons and ritual dances, alongside designer shopping, celebrity mixologists and bohemian culture. The south coast, particularly the Bukit Peninsula, is where to head for laidback beach life and the chance to surf, with a variety of beaches to suit most tastes. Of the three main resorts on the peninsula itself, Uluwatu is the premier surfing beach. The town sits 70-metres above the crashing waves and Uluwatu Temple is a wonderful spot to watch a sunset performance of traditional Balinese dance. North of here brings you to Jimbaran Bay, famous for its golden sands and beachside dining, while on the eastern side of the peninsula is Nusa Dua, a luxury gated resort, with a great golf course and beaches suitable for swimming.
Further up the southeast coast, just 10-kilometres from the capital, Densapar, lies the family-friendly resort of Sanur, with its 5-kilometere boardwalk, beachfront cafes and watersport activities. Protected by a string of offshore reefs, which create warm and shallow lagoons for swimming, the coastline here is also great for snorkelling. We’d recommend Sanur for families with younger children and older couples, but for those looking for a sophisticated, stylish and upscale beach resort, head over to the southwest to Seminyak. Full of hip hotels, cool cafes, great beach clubs and some excellent restaurants and bars, while the water is more suited to surfing than swimming, there is a wonderful selection of designer shops, spas and nightlife to keep you busy. But if the surf is calling, a 20-minute drive further up the coast brings you to Canggu, where the café culture, yoga studios, great surfing and organic eateries, have led to its nickname of ‘Ubud by the Sea.’
Ubud itself, is the island’s cultural capital, recently popularised by its starring role in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, as the place its author finally found a sense of peace and contentment. Here you can discover Bali’s traditional artisan crafts of batik printing, jewellery-making and wood-carving, practice some yoga, visit a spa and enjoy healthy food and drink. The town is an hour’s drive inland from the southern beaches, located amid stunning countryside of lush green rice fields and is only a 20-minute drive from one of Bali’s top attractions, Tegalaland Rice Terraces. We’d also recommend a visit to the UNESCO-recognised rice terraces of Jatiluwih.
The northern half of Bali is quieter and cooler than the south, with black volcanic sand beaches. It is a great place for cycling and trekking, where Dutch colonial hill towns, ancient temples and rice terraces snake across the hillsides. One such hill town is Munduk, where village life appears little changed over the years. Set high up in the mountains, Munduk makes a great base for exploring the mountain and volcanic scenery, the waterfalls and plantations of the area. For those interested in snorkelling and diving, head further north to the northwest coast and the West Bali National Park. Just 5-kilometres off the coast, tiny Menjangan Island is ringed by stunning coral reef, where you can explore the underwater world, as well as The Liberty, an old ship wreck on the floor of the seabed.
A cultural highlight of any visit to Bali is exploring the ancient Hindu temples and seeing a traditional ritual Kecak dance performed. Bali is ringed by seven important sea temples said to protect the island from evil sea spirits and one of the most spectacular of these is Tanah Lot Temple on the west coast, located on top of a rocky outcrop and only accessible at high tide. Another of our favourite temples is Ulun Danu Temple, built on protruding rock over Lake Beratan, which often makes it appear to be floating on the water.