Many beautiful resorts offer fine lodgings. Most of the starred hotels are located near the beach. Otherwise, they usually have their own private spots at certain beaches. You can find them easily at popular spots like Kuta or Sanur.
If you’re in a serene highland like Ubud, forget starred hotels. You’re there to embrace the atmosphere. Just pick one of the small lodgings lining up the streets. And even the smallest one’s ready to make you feel welcome.
During the 2007 Ubud Readers and Writers Festival, a man in a wheelchair checked in at a small inn on Monkey Forest. He had some difficulties in navigating through the stairs to his bungalow. He then left for the Festival. When he returned at night, the owner had already paved an ascending lane to his bungalow. That’s a typical Balinese hospitality.
Bali’s white beaches are favourite for family holidays. There are a variety of water sports available, such as banana boats, parasailing or jet skiing, swimming or plain sunbathing. Cruises to the surrounding islands can be taken from here as well as submarine dives to watch the tropical underwater life from within safe compartments.
Most well known among Bali’s beaches is Kuta beach, the best spot to watch dramatic sunsets. Further back along this stretch are an array of hotels, – from five stars to simple home stay – restaurants and shops and cafes, while in the evenings the area throbs to the beat of disco music.
Or for a quieter evening enjoy the beach at Jimbaran, a popular spot to eat fresh barbecued seafood in the evenings, while watching from a distance the lights of planes landing and taking off from Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport. Located here are some of Bali’s best hotels like the Four Seasons and the Bali Intercontinental hotel. Jimbaran is also renowned for the Barong trance dance.
Further west of Kuta are Legian and Seminyak. On the other side of the peninsula is the more sedate Sanur Beach, which is also dotted with hotels and restaurants, or visit Nusa Dua, where more private beaches front super deluxe hotels.
Surfing and Diving in Bali
A good start for surfers is Kuta beach. But the best waves in Bali are at Uluwatu, at the southern tip of Bali, which is the site for international competitions. Here are the long, and perfectly formed hollow-barreled reef-breaks at 3 unique lefts, while at Nusa Dua and Sanur 3 complementary rights can be found. The time to surf is during April through September when winds are predominantly east-southeast.
Surfers also love the waves at Nusa Lembongan near Nusa Penida, sister islands due south east of Bali facing the Indian Ocean. These islands are a 45 minutes boat trip from Nusa Dua or from Sanur. Here the waves are known as Playground Surf Break, Shipwreck Surf Break, Ceningan Reef Surf Break to Lacerating Surf Break.
For thrilling dives Bali offers excellent underwater challenges, with a range of options to suit beginners, while others should only be attempted by advanced divers.
At Nusa Penida, there are strong currents as this strait separates Bali from Lombok. At Nusa Penida’s south western coast are the Manta Point and the Malibu point where divers can swim with Travally, big rays and even sharks. At Blue Corner find Moia Moia fish.
At Bali‘s most eastern end is Padang Bay and Cemeluk, better known as Amed Beach for great dives, where you can find cardinal fish, black snappers and damsel fish.
While along Bali’s north-western coast in the Bali Barat National Park, the best dive spots are at Menjangan with its reef flat, anchor wreck, eel garden and caves to explore. Nearby and still in the Bali Barat Park is Pemutaran island.
Bali offers first class adrenaline pumping white water rafting down the spectacular Ayung River by Ubud. Here you can also go bungy-jumping from a cliff down to almost touch the river.
If you enjoy cycling, Ubud and its surrounding is a wonderful town to bike around, as found by Elizabeth Gilbert, written in her bestselling novel “Eat, Pray, Love”. There are also good cycling paths at Uluwatu in the south.
Mountain climbers may want to climb up Gunung Agung. Begin your ascent from behind the temple or through the village of Sebudi. However, make sure to ask permission first from the temple authorities, as Balinese religion prescribes that no one may stand higher than the sacred temple especially when ceremonies are being held. The tough climb takes 6 to 8 hours.
You are recommended to start out early in the morning, and be led by an experienced guide.
Bali Barat National Park
For serious trekking, head for the Bali Barat National Park at the western part of the island. This is a large park covering 76,312 hectares in the districts of Jembrana and Buleleng. Entrance at the Jembrana side is at Melaya off the Denpasar-Gilimanuk highway. The Park offers pristine tropical nature, and is the last home of the most endangered Bali starling with only some one hundred remaining. These are very pretty white birds, with black wing tips and a brilliant blue streak around their eyes. Here is also the endangered wild Javan buffalo or banteng, with only 30 to 40 left living deep in the forest. Other animals are the rusa deer, the mouse deer, leopards, civets, macaques and a number of species of monkeys.
Visitors to Bali Barat must first obtain a permit available free of charge at Cekik, at Labuhan Lalang or at the Forestry Ministry office at Renon, Denpasar. Although shelters are available, trekkers must bring their own bedding, mosquito protection, food, water and utensils. There are simple hotels at Labuhan Lalang or at Gilimanuk and Negara.
Benoa Mangrove Tour
Another interesting eco-tour is a trip through the Mangrove forests via elevated wooden boardwalks. The forests are located near Benoa Harbour at Suwung Kau, some 21 km. south of Denpasar.
The Mangrove Information Center, opened in 2003, is dedicated to the study and preservation of the region’s coastal mangroves. Covering an area of about 200 hectares there are nursery plots occupying 7,700 square-meters, wooden boardwalk trails for observation and exploration huts for resting and meditation and floating decks.
Mangroves play a central role in the ocean’s life cycle and food chain since they serve as key breeding areas for an entire range of sea creatures that are fundamental to the Ocean’s food chain. And in case of a tsunami, mangroves serve as life-saving buffers. These mangrove forests are best visited in the early morning or in the afternoon, the best times to watch the many species of birds that make the mangroves their habitat.
In Bali, dance and dramas are an inseparable part of daily temple devotion and celebrations, and many are held sacred. Each village has a different date of festivities, and a visitor may therefore, accidentally watch dance performances that are not staged for tourists.
However, Bali villages do offer cultural performances catering to tourists. The Barong dance is staged mornings in the village of Batubulan. This is the eternal story of the fight between good and evil.
The Kecak dance is staged most dramatically in the open air by Pura Tanah Lot with as backdrop, the sun slowly lowering in the sea over the horizon beyond this beautiful temple. The Kecak dance tells the story of Ramayana wherein prince Rama’s wife, Sita, is abducted by the ogre Rahwana. In the forest Rama sees a golden deer and he chases it, but not before drawing a circle around Sita, warning her not to step out of it to stay safe. Rahwana lures Sita out of the circle and she is abducted.
To save her, prince Rama is helped by the white monkey god Hanoman. For its rhythm and music the kecak dance relies entirely on the human chorus of a hundred men representing Hanoman’s monkey army sitting around in a circle forming the dance arena. As the sun goes down and darkness sets in, the arena is dramatically lit by flickering bamboo torches.
The village of Peliatan is famed for its graceful Legong Keraton – the palace court dance – and superb flowing gamelan orchestral music.
Other fascinating dances are the Baris – the dance of the warriors, and the Mask Dance – this is a one man performance expressing different dramatic characters and human emotions.
Bali is an island that produces great artists and artisans, where creativity exudes from every village. Painters, woodcarvers and dancers are experts, with artistic traditions handed down from generation to generation.
Your best buy in Bali, therefore, will be paintings. For best paintings visit at leisure the galleries at Ubud, and admire artists at work, before you decide which painting you like best. Most Balinese paintings go best with a Bali carved wooden frame. For fine woodcarvings, go to the village of Mas, where are the master woodcarvers. If you are looking for gold or silver jewelry, head to the village of Celuk.
But if you are thinking of bringing home souvenirs for friends and relatives, your best bet is the souvenir market at Sukawati, where you may be overwhelmed by choice.
For casual and chic summer wear the place to browse is Kuta, which has a large variety of boutiques and shops, selling everything from bright T-shirts, surf- wear, flip-flops to creative trinkets.
If you wish to buy dried food stuffs, Bali coffee is most aromatic. You may also want to buy aromatherapy essential oils to sprinkle your bath with.
Spa and Wellness
Bali today has become the leader of Spas in South East Asia. Almost all de-luxe hotels offer unique top class Spa facilities where guests enjoy luxurious treatment and pampering, for which Indonesia is so justly famous.
Here you will be spoilt with aromatherapy massages, herbal wraps and scrubs with essential oils, foot reflexology, detoxification, from highly respected traditional treatments once only enjoyed by princesses in the ancient courts, to modern technology methods.
Two spa resorts in Bali offer thalassotherapy, based on the restorative powers of the sea rich in miner and oligo elements that are massaged in and absorbed into the bloodstream to restore the balance in the body. A number of spas are set amidst breathtaking views of green hillsides and winding rivers or jut out to sea where the lapping of the waves of the Indian Ocean provides peace and rest.
Each spa has its own unique feature. Most incorporate salon treatment for facials, cream bath, manicures and pedicures, everything to make you feel refreshed and come out feeling completely different person. A weekend at Bagus Jati provides the opportunity to enjoy delicious, healthy food, lots of activities and pampering in a tropical forest. Here the Indonesian herbal treatment or “Jamu” restores the body, mind and spirit, cleansing the body from all toxins. Regular Yoga exercises complete the course.
There are many modes of transport to help you get around in Bali. A variety of excellent half day, full day and overnight tour packages are available from your hotel desk or any of the numerous travel agents and tour operators which abound in Bali. Or you can find a car and driver who will also act as your guide.
Whilst walking about, you will be barraged with constant questions of “Transport, transport?”. Competition is tight and many drivers know several languages. Tell the driver your desired route and negotiate a fee.
An important virtue to have while on the road in Bali is patience! Although the road system in the heavily populated areas is quite reasonable (condition wise) in comparison to other developing countries, it can be heavily congested at peak periods. Ceremonial processions often take up the entire road so if you’re caught behind a procession, enjoy the colorful experience.
With increasing number of direct flights from many parts of the world, getting to Bali is easy. Flights from Jakarta to Bali take about 1.5 hours, from Singapore and Perth (Australia) around 2.5 and 3 hours, from Hong Kong about 4.5 hours, and from Sydney/Melbourne about 5.5 to 6 hours on many national and international carriers.
Just make sure that you look for “Denpasar (DPS)” instead of “Bali” in airline time tables. Denpasar is the capital of Bali. While the name of its international airport is Ngurah Rai.
Another means to reach the island is by ferry from Banyuwangi, located at the most eastern tip of East Java. It takes 30 to 45 minutes crossing from Banyuwangi to Ketapang on Bali. From Bali, you can also continue further by ferry to the island of Lombok, in West Nusa Tenggara. Take the ferry at Padang Bay with transit at Lembar seaport for a total of 4 hours journey.
Bali has many travel agents to assist you with your holiday plans.
Remember to “hoot” your horn when going around curves on mountainous roads as it is very common to drive in the middle of the road here. There are a lot of one way roads in Bali. If you miss your turn off you may have to drive quite a distance before being able to turn back. Be alert!
We highly recommend you fill up at any of the numerous government owned petrol stations. In more remote areas at stalls by the side of the road sell bottles of clear liquid. The quality may not be as good as at the petrol station and could cause damage to the rental car.