The ultimate guide to the island with spectacular views of beautiful rice terraces, atmospheric temples and spellbinding rituals
Bali, one of 17,500 islands in the Indonesian archipelago, has been called many things – paradise on earth, gateway to heaven and Island of the Gods.
Despite the onslaught of tourists, the island has retained much of its beauty and held on to its ancient traditions. The island is big enough to offer a myriad of experiences to suit different expectations. Sun-seekers and surfers would do well to stay at beach towns dotted across the island.
Culture buffs should immediately leave the airport and head as far north as they can. Those seeking spa and yoga experiences should gravitate towards one of the many wellness resorts on the island. And party animals are not left out, as some of the world-famous bars and restaurants can be found on the island.
In this article, we help you to navigate the lay of the land and pick a spot to enjoy your vacation.
WHERE TO GO
Coming out from the airport, the first beach you will come across is Kuta. The place is busy and popular among backpackers and surfers. By day, most people will be lazing on the beach, parasailing, going on banana boat rides and swimming.
At dusk, crowds will gather along the beach to watch the legendary sunset and later into the night, loud music will blare from the bars and restaurants along the strip. Further up the beach is Legian and Seminyak, which are almost like extensions of Kuta, although some may say Seminyak is less crowded and more upscale. Ku De Ta (www.kudeta.com), a bar and restaurant with great sunset views, is almost an institution in Seminyak. After Seminyak is the equally touristy Canggu beach area, popular among surfers. While party animals love the atmosphere, just as many hate Kuta and its surroundings for being a poor representative of what life in Bali is all about.
If you head to Sanur on the opposite side of the island from Kuta, you will find quieter beaches with a more laidback atmosphere. As it’s located on the eastern side of the island, you are more likely to see a spectacular sunrise rather than sunset. At Sanur, you can visit the well-known Le Mayeur museum, walk on the ocean floor at Bali Seawalker or visit a shark and turtle sanctuary, among other things.
The iconic Pura Tanah Lot is located about 20 kilometres north of Kuta. Built upon a dramatic rock formation about 300 metres offshore and accessible during low-tide, the temple is a hive of activity during the Odalan festival which is celebrated every 210 days.
Most tourists skip Denpasar, Bali’s busy capital, but if you are in town do visit the Bali Museum to get to know more about the island’s history.
If you head south from Kuta, you will come across Jimbaran, another beach famous for watching sunset. Travelling further south, you will arrive at Uluwatu temple, perched on a rugged cliff overlooking the sea. The temple is the setting for the daily spellbinding kecak dance performance which starts around sunset. Uluwatu is also popular among surfers for its big waves.
Within south Kuta, on the eastern end of the island is Nusa Dua, known for its white sandy beaches with crystal clear waters. Many of the five-star resorts are located here, including a golf course and convention centres.
About 20 kilometres north of Denpasar is Ubud, a destination on its own. It used to be a sleepy town for artists and craftsmen but has since evolved to become the cultural hub of Bali with a vibrant art and music scene. Unlike Kuta, evening entertainment in town revolves around the traditional dance performances. It’s easy to spend the entire week exploring the town and outlying areas by bicycle or motorbike. Attractions includes the ornate Ubud Palace, the Agung Rai Museum of Art, Neka Art Museum and the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary.
Outside Ubud are the breathtaking rice terraces at Tegalalang and Gunung Kawi Sebatu. The Tukad Cepung waterfall, an hour north-east of Ubud is worth a visit, too. Go during the mid-day to catch the rays of sunlight illuminating the caves.
Things get even more interesting as you travel further up north and leave the tourist crowds behind. There are two big mountains on the island, Mounts Batur and Agung. Mount Agung is the higher of the two with an interesting temple called Pura Besakih, the largest and holiest, located at the foot of the mountain. However, Mount Batur is easier for trekking, requiring just two hours to reach the summit. Visitors would have to start at 4am to reach the summit by 6am to watch the sunrise.
If you like natural forests and waterfalls, you can explore the area around Munduk. The spectacular waterfalls around the area include Munduk, Melanting, Banyumala, Cinta, Gitgit, Banyu Wana Amertha and Sekumpul.
At the northern end of the island is the port town of Singaraja, known for its Dutch colonial-era warehouses on the waterfront. Attractions include Gedong Kirtya Library which houses ancient palm-leaf manuscripts, Museum Buleleng which displays stone coffins and ceremonial masks, the royal palace Puri Agung and Pura Jagatnatha temple.
Penida is a smaller island located off the southern coast of Bali. This hidden gem is beautiful and largely undeveloped for now, so it’s worth a visit before things change.
WHEN TO GO
The weather in Bali is hot and humid throughout the year. If you can take the heat, June to August is the best time to visit for clear blue skies and dry weather but is also the busiest period. October to February is rainy season. If you visit Ubud and other places on a higher altitude, the air is slightly cooler especially in the evening. Some folks time their visits to coincide with some big local festivals like the Nyepi, when the entire town shuts down and no electricity is allowed. On a smaller scale, there are festivals happening almost every other day.
WHERE TO STAY
Bali is geared towards tourism and there are many hotels located across the island ranging from budget to luxury accommodation. For wellness getaways, you should check out Maya Ubud (www.mayaresorts.com), Spa Village Tembok (www.spavillageresort.com) or Fivelements (fivelements.org).
GETTING THERE & AROUND
Most major and budget airlines such as Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia and Malindo Air fly to Ngurah Rai Airport in Denpasar, south of the island. Taxis will get you from one part of the island to another. Within the town area, you can rent a motorbike or a bicycle to explore the surroundings at a more relaxed pace.
When you visit a shop early in the morning and if you are the very first customer of the day, do buy something even if it is something very cheap. Locals believe that it is bad luck if the first customer of the day leaves the shop without making a purchase. Do bring along a sarong wrap with a sash as they would come in handy when you visit a temple.
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