Indonesia was ideal for an adult “summer vacation” on a trip around the world. Pristine beaches, great diving and breathtaking landscapes were small pieces of what each island had to offer. The country boasts 17,000 islands, 6,000 of which are inhabited and throughout our 3 months of travel there, we stopped in Bali numerous times. Bali is Indonesia’s most famous island and a convenient central hub for onward travel. Between our impromptu 5-day motorbike trip and numerous stops traveling in and out of Bali we were able to visit nearly all of the islands’ major attractions. Bali has something for everyone and on any budget- surfing, diving, hiking or relaxing, a booming food scene, tranquil yoga and meditation retreats, it’s no wonder Bali is such a sought after international destination. If you’re looking for hotels, whether that’s budget or high end, use Air BnB and Agoda. We found excellent deals for last minute bookings and reviews were spot on. We’ve listed all the stops we made on Bali, our recommendations and thoughts on each!
The North Kuta area is the most popular and touristy part of Bali. Located on the southern coast close to Denpasar Airport, it’s made of up of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak. Kuta is to the Australians, what Magaloof is to the English and Cancun is to the Americans- a cheap, boozy, uninspiring holiday resort destination. Honestly, we hope that we never have to set foot in Kuta again. This area is full of terribly done Western restaurants, giant malls and an average beach- there is nothing authentic or local about it. If you have to stay in Kuta, we would recommend Seminyak. Although its the priciest, its the best of the three. Expect better restaurants (with western prices) and giant resorts with private beaches. If you’re looking to travel to Bali on a budget, skip this area altogether. If you’re in transit, take a look at Sanur or Uluwatu for 1-2 nights, it’s nearly the same travel time from Denpasar Airport as Kuta, but more enjoyable.
If you’re you’re in Seminyak, stop by Cafe Organic for a mouth watering acai bowl and spend the day at one of Potato Head’s infamous day parties.
On the southern tip of Bali you’ll find Uluwatu, made up of rocky coastline, some sandy beaches, and great surf. This is spot for cliff side villas, boutique hotels, a range of air bnb’s and budget accomodation slightly more inland. The easiest way to explore is by motorbike, ride along winding roads to find hilltop viewpoints and secluded beaches. Everything is a little too far to walk, so without a motorbike or car it may be difficult to explore but this area is certainly worth a visit. The standard over priced taxi rides are available all over the area but make sure to haggle the price down because it’s the most expensive place to hail a ride on the whole island.
Make sure to check out Blue Point Beach to watch the surfers and catch the sunset at Single Fin Bar. Padang Padang Beach is the famous “Eat Pray Love” beach that is definitely worth visiting, bring a few dollars for the entrance fee and enjoy coconuts and cold beers that are being sold from local vendors. Our favourite restaurants were Land’s End cafe, Bukit Cafe and for fine dining, don’t miss The Warung at Alila Villas.
Sanur is a port town east of Denpasar, this is the port for boats headed to Nusa Lembongan. It’s easy to reach from the airport with plenty of budget accomodation near the beach. Not only is it much cheaper than Kuta or Uluwatu, you’ll be able to interact with locals, wander through street markets and enjoy a plate of babi guling, a Balinese specialty of roast pig. There isn’t a whole lot to see here but if you’re in tranist for a few days, this is a good town to relax before your next destination.
They have certainly capitalized on the “Eat, Pray, Love” notoriety, but it’s not hard to see why. Although very touristy, Ubud is beautiful. About 2 hours north of Denpasar surrounded by rice paddies, is a little piece of food and yoga heaven, and Ubud, without a doubt, has the best food on Bali. There are local warung’s scattered throughout town but if you’re looking for a cleanse, a detox, or something more upscale, this is the place. Vegan and vegetarian cafes, juice bars, and Indonesia’s only Michelin Star restaurant are just a few of what’s on offer. Take a day trip into the rice paddies, practice yoga at the infamous Yoga Barn, wander through monkey forest and get a Balinese massage. We would recommend staying a few kilometers outside of the main town where it can get a bit loud and crowded. There’s plenty of budget, mid-range and luxury accommodation. We rented a gorgeous villa in the rice paddies for $25/night.
Our favorite restaurants were Kafe, Clear Cafe, Melting Wok, Sari Organic, Kismet Restaurant & Lounge and Moksa Restaurant. This was the town that cemented my love for vegan and raw dishes with its health food scene that rivals San Francisco. Ubud has no shortage of temples to visit and rice paddies to explore, so we definitely recommend getting on a motorbike for a day and taking a drive through the incredibly scenic surrounding area. If you want to get outdoors for a hike, Ubud is the jumping off point for the Mt. Batur volcano. There are tour companies all over town offering sunrise hikes for $30/pp.
An hours drive up the west coast from Seminyak is Balian Beach. Balian Beach is much quieter than it’s southern counterparts but has a lot to offer. It attracts surfers and yogi’s alike, it’s family friendly and perfect for budget or mid range travelers. Pondok Pitaya is a great mid-range option, they have yoga courses and daily classes, a beach front pool and full bar and restaurant. Flashpackers should check out Balian Paradise Hotel and budget travelers have several homestay options. Motorbikes are available to rent for 50,000RPI/day to explore the black sand beaches of the west, rice paddies and traditional Balinese homes. The only set back here is unpredicatble weather, it rains significantly more than other parts of the island.
After spending a few days with friends in Balian Beach we decided to rent motorbikes and tour the island for five days (something we highly recommend). The island is small enough to see by bike and with 5-7 days you can ride for 3-4 hours a day and experience more of what Bali has to offer. This is how we found Lovina Beach. Lovina Beach is a quaint beach town in the north, famous for the dolphins and sunsets. This is a great place for budget travelers who want to escape the hoards of tourists down south. Boat drivers at the port can arrange a half day trip to see the dolphins, and you’ll be back in time to watch sunset with the locals before heading to the reggae bar for good food and live music.
Heading east along the northern coast from Lovina Beach is Tulamben. If you dive, make sure to put this on the list. The famous USS Liberty Wreck is located off the shores of Tulamben and that’s exactly what this town is about. We did two wreck dives for $25USD each, cheaper than any other dives in SE Asia. Dream Bali Divers offers beautiful guest rooms at a discount when divings and their dive guides were very experienced. They are one of the few shops to do a sunrise wreck dive, and with the number of divers heading out in the mid-morning to see the USS Liberty, we would recommend diving as early as possible. Tulamben is a sleepy town with little to do apart from dive so if your looking to do the wreck dives with more to do outside of the water, consider staying in Ahmed, just a few miles up the coast. They will likely charge more for the diving and transport but there’s more to do in town.
Upon leaving Indonesia and experiencing more of what the country had to offer we still feel like Bali is slightly overrated compared to the other islands. No doubt it’s an incredible place to vacation, but that depends entirely on what you’re looking to get out of your experience. Nick and I love to get off the beaten path, interact with locals and see more natural beauty. Bali was just much more developed than we anticipated. If your looking to travel to Indonesia, put Bali on the list but make sure to explore some of the other islands because each is unique and offers wildly different experiences. It’s a shame most travellers don’t take the opportunity to see more of what this incredible country has to offer.
We will be posting about the rest of our travels through Indonesia in future posts.