BALI - Things to do, Places to see

Whether you are looking to enjoy the culture, the food, the beach life, the mountain’s peace, the arts or the spirituality, Bali has plenty to offer. From North to South, here is a list of places to see and things to do to keep you and the family enriched and entertained.

NORTH BALI

LOVINA is a volcanic sand beach town located on the North of the island and offers an alternative, calm and relaxed break away from the bustle of the South. Accommodation here varies between 4* hotels to lodges and the activities on offer are diving, fishing, snorkelling and dolphin watching. A short drive away, you can find the Gigit Waterfalls, the Banjar Hotsprings, the old dutch port of Singaraja and the Brahma Vihara Arama (the Buddist Monastery). Taxis are very rare on these parts of the island and roads are not designed with tourists in mind so, should you wish to move away from the hotel, further than walking allows, we suggest you arrange for a car and driver to take you around. A bicycle is a good option if you wish to stay local.

VOLCANO AGUNG, located on the Northeast of the island,  is the highest point and it is considered the most sacred place in Balinese culture, as it is believed to be a replica of Mount Meru, the central axis of the Universe. It is an active volcano with the last eruption recorded in 1963-1964 and can be climbed via 2 routes, reportedly taking 5 hours each way. Guides and proper planning are recommended as adverse weather, scarce resources and the possibility of getting lost means it needs not to be taken lightly.

Perched on its side, is the most important and holiest Balinese Hindu temple PURA BESAKIH, which is actually a cluster of 23 temples, with the biggest and most important being PUNA PENATARAN AGUNG. During the ’63 eruption, which killed 1700 people, the lava narrowly missed the temple, leading the Balinese to see this as a miraculous escape and a sign of the gods’ power. You will need to pay an entry fee and must wear a sarong and modest clothing and beware of locals offering tours at extortionate prices. Should you opt for a guide, barter for the price before starting the tour and keep in mind they will expect a tip at the end.

PURA ULUN DANU BERATAN is the second most important temple in Balinese culture dedicated to Dewi Danu, goddess of Lakes and Rivers. Together with Pura Besakih, the 2 temples represent the balance of 2 opposites, with the first representing the feminine and the latter representing the masculine. It is located approximately 50KM north of Denpasar, on the main road that connects Denpasar to Singaraja.

Not far from here you will find the BALI TREE TOP ADVENTURE PARK with 7 circuits, over 72 challenges and 12 flying fox. Children, as young as 4, can take part in the smallest circuit, as long as they have reached 95cm in height. If you fancy a bite to eat immersed in the mountain and lake scenery this area has to offer, pop over to WARUNG REKREASI BEDUGUL, which offers a varied menu as well as fresh juices from the garden. Furthermore, it has a children playground, an orchid farm, a coffee plantation and a bamboo forest. 

The BALI STRAWBERRY FARM AND RESTAURANT is a hidden strawberry farm in the heart of Bali. Here you can pick your own strawberries and enjoy various strawberries derived foods in the onsite restaurant.

CENTRAL BALI

The centre of the island between Denpasar and the North of the Island is a volcanic area with fertile soil, abundant vegetation, rice fields and beautiful untouched scenery. Small villages frame the only connecting road and some of them have become known for the specialised artisans they host. The most renowned are: Celuk for Silversmiths, Mas for Woodcarving, Batubulan for Stone Carving and Tenganan for Batic and Ikat designs (traditional cloths).

UBUD is the spiritual and artistic centre of Bali and the surrounding area is home to stunning scenery. GUNUNG KAWI is an 11th century temple located 15 minutes north east of Ubud. It features temples carved in rock and is in the process of becoming a World Heritage Site.

Another temple, which deserves a visit, is PURA TAMAN SARASWATI located in the heart of Ubud, which is in honour of the goddess of knowledge, literature and art. The rice paddies surrounding Ubud make a pretty spectacular view, with the most renowned being TEGALLALANG.

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A fun trip to the MONKEY FOREST, which is home to the long tailed Macaques, is recommended. They are quite cheeky and not at all shy, so remove any shiny jewellery, hat and sunglasses and hold on to your belongings, they are know to come down and help themselves to anything they like the look of!

The BLANCO RENAISSANCE MUSEUM is a good stop for art lovers. Located in the heart of Ubud, it is the house of the late Don Antonio Blanco and holds painting, illustrated poetry and artworks containing his favourite subject: nude Balinese women.

The PURI LUKISAN MUSEUM showcases some of the best of Balinese art, it is surrounded by a beautiful tropical garden and lotus flowers ponds . The NEKA ART MUSEUM showcases both historical and contemporary art and the most renowned in this area, the AGUNG RAI MUSEUM of ART (ARMA), is also the main centre of visual and performing arts. If you would like to immerse yourself in Balinese arts, this is the spot to visit.

For a slightly different experience, check out the SETIA DARMA HOUSE OF MASKS AND PUPPETS in Mas, south of Ubud, where you can admire over 6000 pieces of this wonderful Balinese traditional art.

Finally, don’t miss out on the traditional dance shows such as the Kecak and Trance Dance. They are held on various venues and times and are an interesting insight into Balinese culture and entertainment.

Activities such as white water rafting and trekking can keep you occupied for hours, whilst for a calming energising day you should opt for one of the many yoga classes on offer, followed by some pampering at a local Spa. Life really could not be more pleasant!

EAST BALI

CANDIDASA is a seaside town on the East of the island and is a more laid back and calm side compared to the bustle of the south. It is located on the side of a fresh water lagoon, which is covered in lotus, and is a great spot for snorkelling and diving. On the doorstep of Candidasa you can find the GOA LAWAH TEMPLE, which was built around a cave opening, home to hordes of bats.

LEMPUYANG TEMPLE is one of Bali’s most remote temples and a visit here will entail a certain amount of physical endurance due to the 1700 steps that lead to its peak. One the most beautiful mountain scenery on the island will be the reward for all who can make the trek.

AMED BEACH is possibly the most visited destination in East Bali due to the diving sites. Here, you can also admire the traditional methods of salt farming, still practiced by the locals. Not far from here, one can visit the TAMAN UJUNG WATER PALACE a water garden and historic structures set against the backdrop of Mount Agung.

About a 15 minutes drive from Candidasa, lies one of the oldest Balinese villages, TENGANAN. This village is very well preserved and is the source of the ancient textile called Geringsing, which value is believed to be mystical.  Another unique attraction is the Perang Pandan battle, which is held around the temple’s anniversary around the month of June/July. It involves boys coming of age fighting whilst using woven thorny pandans as swords.

TULAMBEN is the home of the USS Liberty Shipwreck, which was sunk by a Japanese submarine torpedo in 1942. It is located 30 metres from the coastline and is home to endless soft corals, tropical marine life and reef fish.

WEST BALI

West Bali is still very much unspoilt and only really visited by nature lovers, divers, surfers and travellers heading to Java. The BALI BARAK NATIONAL PARK is the biggest tourist attraction on this side of the island. Covering over 19,000 ha. and housing a variety of forests, beaches, marine protected areas, extensive flora, birds and animals, it is a nature lover’s paradise. A guided trek is compulsory as not all areas are open to the public, so check and barter prices before setting off. If you happen to drive through this area, you might want to make a little detour to go and see the BUFFALO RACES in Perankak. 

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An extensive view of the ocean can be admired from RAMBUT SIWI TEMPLE further south. This is a stop often made by locals to get the gods' blessing and protection during the journey. Continuing South on the coast you come to Medewi, a long left hand point break working at its best during July/August, and Balian, a gentle left more suited for longboards. Due to it's position on the river mouth, the line up here gets heavily polluted after rain and sharks patrol the area searching for debris to flow into ocean, so stay clear of the water unless you fancy a close encounter!

The next interesting tourist destination is found a fair way down the coast. The PURA TANAH LOT TEMPLE is the most visited site in Bali and as such the worst kept secret. Due to the high number of tourists, the area is surrounded by stalls and an entry fee must be paid, even though tourists are not allow to enter the actual temple as it is strictly a place of worship. The settings are pretty impressive though and make for a great photo opportunity, just try to visit off season or get there very early to avoid hundreds of people photobombing!

If you are a golf lover, why not enjoying your sightseeing whilst playing a game? The NIRWANA BALI GOLF CLUB runs through rice paddies, along the indian ocean and past Tanah Lot Temple. Designed by Greg Norman and featuring a variety of challenging holes, it is a course deserving of some attention. 

SOUTH BALI

Located north of Seminyak on the West coast, is the little coastal town of Canggu. It is starting to be developed and is home to ex-pats and beginning to be reached by tourists, but still presents a calmer side of Bali soon lost by driving 20 minutes South. Surf and Yoga dominate the scene however, there are plenty other things to keep you occupied.

ECHO BEACH HOUSE, overlooking the surf and offering the best BBQ on the island it is the place to be if you find yourself in the area. For a more entertaining and active day, why not become a day member at the CANGGU CLUB. Its expansive grounds hold an array of sports facilities, kids club, waterpark, trampoline centre, ten pin bowling, a Spa, bar and restaurant and activities to keep adults and children entertained for hours! If you are a horse lover, the BALI EQUESTRIAN CENTRE in Canggu offers lessons and activities for all levels and is well respected in the equestrian industry. 

Further south we arrive to the well known tourist destination of Seminyak. A highly sophisticated area which claims the highest concentration of upmarket bars, restaurants, clubs, boutiques and Spas as well as numerous top end hotels and resorts. Home to a beautiful white sand beach and endless villas, it is heavily populated and therefore can be a nightmare to travel through. Standards are very much Western here and most restaurants and spas will require bookings. Clubs and bars are also starting to enforce a dress code, so call the site in advance to check requirements and avoid disappointment. 

For a weird but fun activity, why not visit  TOTEM ROOM ESCAPE, a reality room escape game in which your group must solve puzzles in order to escape in the given time. For the fitness fanatic, why not join SUPERHUMAN FITNESS and get fit while you play. With a quirky selection of activities not only you will keep fit but you will also have a blast doing so! If you fancy a little pampering, head to BODY WORKS, our favourite Spa. Their couples massages, blow dries, waxing services and the fact they have retained their status as a top spa for the last 18+ years, tells you they know their business. They get really booked up so call in advance and make a booking to avoid disappointment!  

Another fun place to visit with silly photo opportunities is the  DREAM MUSEUM ZONE in Legian. It features 3D life size murals to take pictures with. A huge hit with the kids!

KUTA is the epicentre of the tourist area of Bali and the first area to be developed back in the 60's. Accommodation here varies from hostels to 5* hotels, shopping centres, traditional shops, heavy traffic, clubs, bars, restaurants, Spas, entertainment, you name it and you can find it here. Top that with an endless white sandy beach and pretty consistent surf and you come up with the winning tourist spot formula. The downside is that there isn't much of the "original Bali" left, it is overly built up, busy, polluted, dirty, noisy and covered in cheap souvenir shops and cafes serving bad food in pretty horrible settings. Still a backpackers haven due to the fact you can walk around the area and find everything at your doorsteps, it has his charms but is not for everyone. I personally prefer to dip in and out of this area whenever I fancy as there are places worth travelling in for.

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WATERBOM BALI has to be the no. 1 attraction for families. A massive waterpark with numerous slides, pools and activities, it makes for a great day out. Being the biggest and most central waterpark in Bali, it gets incredibly busy and queues can be bothersome but if you can overcome this, you can also have a lot of fun and will keep the kids happy and entertained for a whole day.

For the more adventurous, why not take a surf lesson on Kuta beach? You will find locals with board rentals stations whom can take you out for a little instruction. It is great fun, but beware, you might get hooked!

If you fancy a decent meal, a spot of shopping or a little entertainment, head to the BEACHWALK Shopping Centre, where you can find a myriad of shops, cafes, restaurants, a cinema and even an arcade to keep you entertained. For souvenir shopping, walk around the little street and markets, you can fill suitcases if you so wish! Just remember to barter politely: As a rule of thumb, start at 20% of the asking price and go up to what you are comfortable paying, but be respectful and fair and if you are not happy with the price, walk away, if you are not called back, you know they were not willing to go any lower!

SANUR is a fishing village on the Southeast of the island with a beautiful white sandy beach and a calm and relaxed atmosphere. It is home to some lovely shops, restaurants, Spas and bars, has considerably less noise and traffic than the west and it has an understated charm which is captivating. A sailing trip in the traditional colourful Jukungs makes for a great start to the day, or perhaps you fancy the more physical activities of kayaking, kite surfing, swimming, or do nothing at all but lay on the beautiful soft sand reading a book.

Sanur beach is also the departure point of the transit boats to Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan, two gems lying not too far offshore with beautiful scenary, trekking and diving. 

A fantastic place to sit, drink and enjoy a bite to eat is the THE FIRE STATION,  an authentic gastropub offering head spinning cocktails as well as some impossibly delicious dishes. The black pudding is made locally, the pork belly melts in your mouth so quickly you wonder if it ever was there and the burgers are... well go and give it a try, it really is worth a journey!

For an active day on the water, head to Tanjung Benoa, an old fishing village come watersports playground. It is lined with family friendly hotels, restaurants and pretty much any watersport you can think of including the recently added flyboarding.

If you fancy a decent surf, head to Serangan. You might be lucky to catch a break all year round first thing in the morning before the trade winds come up but November through to April is when you will get the most out of this swell magnet reef break. Also known as Turtle Island, you can go and visit the TURTLE CONSERVATION AND EDUCATION CENTRE where you can adopt a baby turtle and release them into the ocean. The kids will love this one!

For a little culture and spirituality, you can visit another influential Bali Temple, PURA DALENG NING LAN TAMAN BEJI and within a short distance the CAOW ENG BIO CHINESE TEMPLE, the oldest Chinese temple on the island. Should you wish to learn a little more about Balinese cuisine, BUMBU BALI offers the most renowned cooking classes. Starting with sourcing ingredients from the local markets and discovering the taste and flavours of the island through cooking. This lesson is a must for food lovers and adventurous cooks!

THE BUKIT

Starting from the bottleneck at the very south of the island, you can discover the famous Jimbaran Bay with it’s beautiful white sand beach, renowned seafood restaurants and the famous SUNDARA Beach Club offering spoils for the whole family. From the beautiful infinity pool overlooking the sea to the kids club and delicious menus for both food and cocktails, it is a place worth a visit.

SAMASTA LIFESTYLE VILLAGE is a new mall that open up at the end of 2016 offering a variety of shops, restaurants, a nail bar, a Spa and even has HOUSE of TRAP, the adventure game in which a group is locked in a room and they need to find clues and solve puzzles in order to escape.

SUP RENTAL offers lessons and equipment hire for those willing to try Stand Up Paddle. They also offer sunset boat trips, surf transfer trips and fishing tours.

The lifeguards on Jimbaran Beach offer surf lessons and board rentals. A few local guys and cafes offer these, but I personally like to support the lifeguards as their job is voluntary, very much needed and as we rely so heavily on them when we are in trouble, I feel it is only fair to support them when we can! On top of this, they are great guys, fun, kind, professional and good with adults and children alike.

Within a 5 minutes drive from the beach, one can visit the JENGGALA showroom, gallery and café, a very well known ceramic producer. Here you can admire art pieces by various artists, browse the collections, shop and have a healthy drink or meal. Children (and adults alike) can try their hand in one of the “Paint a Pot” and “Pottery” classes on offer.

The GARUDA WISNU KENCANA cultural park, known as the GWK, is located off the main road travelling south from Jimbaran to Uluwatu. It is known for the on going construction of the giant statue of Vishnu riding on a Garuda (an eagle like creature) which, upon completion, will measure 145 metre and will be one of the tallest statues in the world. Because of its elevation, the views of the island are pretty incredible! The completed parts of the statue currently lay in different areas of the park and have all become attractions in their own right. Plaza Wisnu, where the upper body is located, hosts the traditional Barong Dance on a regular basis and other parts of the park are home to many events as well as an amphitheatre, an exhibition hall, restaurants, an art market, and many activities.

Travelling further south along the coast, you will come across many beautiful beaches, the majority of which are renown for their world class surf breaks. From Balangan, Dreamlands, Bingin, Impossibles and Padang Padang to Uluwatu and Nyang Nyang, you can spend hours enjoying watching experienced surfers challenging themselves. (This area of Bali is the most exposed to the swells and the breaks formation and wave sizes are often beyond the capabilities of beginners. Unless you are an experienced surfer, I would urge you to pick a calmer and safer break to enjoy yourself in!) In August, Padang Padang is host to the Rip Curl Cup, where Pro surfers effortlessly display what surfing at this level is all about. Sitting in one of the bars up on the cliffs and watching the action take place, is a pretty enjoyable affair.

ULUWATU TEMPLE is one of the 6 temples believed to be the spiritual pillars of the island. Perched on top of a cliff with amazing views over the Indian Ocean and located at the back of a small forest inhabited by hordes of grey long tailed macaques, it is an excellent attraction to visit late afternoon whilst having the opportunity to also enjoy the beautiful sunsets and the Kecak Dance, which is performed everyday on the adjacent cliff.

Best time to travel: Bali has a tropical climate and is therefore hot all year round with daytime temperatures averaging 30ºC. April through to September is the dry season, however, it is not uncommon for rain to fall during this time. Inland and at higher altitudes is much cooler and temperatures can drop drastically in the evening, so pack accordingly should you wish to venture away from the coast. This is the busiest tourist time for the island, prices are higher and the best accommodation does get booked up, so think ahead!

The rainy season runs from October to March, although it is not predictable and just like rain in the dry season, it is possible to have a very dry wet season. Christmas and New Years are peak times in Bali and prices and accommodation availability reflect this.

Surfing is good and consistent all year round but the wet season's months bring the best swells. Lower temperatures, lower prices, fewer tourist and less hectic streets make this a great time to travel for those who don't mind the rain.

Good to know: Popular beaches can get crowded and local vendors selling all sorts of products and offering various services can become bothersome. Avoid eye contact and should you still be approached, a simple "Tidak Terima Kasih" (No, thank you) should suffice. Should you wish to purchase something, remember to barter for it, it is a big part of the island's culture and if done well, can also be a little fun.

Although Indonesia is muslim country, Bali is mostly Hindu and their beliefs and traditions are proudly displayed. Be mindful of offerings, you will see them being placed in various places on a daily basis, and try not to step on them, they are meant to give pleasure to the gods and provide good karma to those who prepare them.

I will be writing about my favourite spots in another blog, so check in once in a while and read on!

For further travel advice, please visit the Foreign Office site here

We hope you enjoy this beautiful island and, should you take some time to visit any of the above attractions, please let us know, it would give us enormous pleasure to hear of your adventures!