Say ‘Bali’ to most people and they’ll immediately picture a sun-drenched beach with bamboo huts and hammocks lining the palm-fringed coastline, chilled locals supping on fresh coconuts as they meander by. While there is absolutely no doubt that if you want it, you can while away weeks or months living this postcard-perfect lifestyle, there is also so much more to be discovered on Bali if you’re feeling adventurous…
Places To Stay and Visit in Bali:
Kuta (South Coast)
Kuta (not to be confused with Kuta in Lombok) is Bali’s original tourist hotspot and still to this day attracts hoards of tourists from all over the world. It’s the first stop in Bali for many due to its close proximity to the airport. Many travellers come to seek out Kuta’s notorious party scene (don’t say we didn’t warn you!). During the day, bars, spas and discount stalls selling knock-off goods and t-shirts with tacky slogans will greet you as you step onto the busy streets of Kuta… At night, you’ll find yourself surrounded by drunk holiday-makers and litter-strewn beaches. But what the beaches and tourists of Kuta lack, the Balinese locals certainly make up for in their kind and friendly welcomes… Kuta Beach is also one the best places on the island if you’re wanting to lern how to surf! (More on that later!)
Places To Stay in Kuta:
As Kuta’s popularity continues to grow so does the number of hostels sprouting up each year. With so many to choose from, start by deciding whether you would rather be in amongst the hustle and bustle or opt for a quieter place just a few minutes out of town. Dorm rooms start from as little as 70,000 IDR ($5 USD) but if you fancy some privacy or just want a night of sleep undisturbed by snoring or drunken roommates returning in the early hours, many offer private rooms for not much more.
Nau Here: Just a ten-minute walk from the main streets of Kuta, Nau Here is a bright and modern hostel offering dorms and private rooms to backpackers. From fresh towels, to free shampoo and shower gel in the showers, Nau Here provides everything you need for a smooth stay in Kuta. Read a full review of Nau Here on our Best Hotels page.
Things to do in Kuta:
Surfs Up! The long waves that crash on to Kuta beach are perfect for surfing, so it’s no surprise that pretty much every other shop sells surfboards or is a surf school. The beach can be pretty overbearing with beginner surfers but it’s a cheap place to learn, and you’ll receive the best type of teaching from locals, who know the waves and Kuta Beach like the back of their hand.
Escape the crowds: If you’re after a quiet sunbathe then Kuta beach is definitely not for you. Instead, head to Pandawa Beach or ‘Secret Beach’ as the locals originally dubbed it (sadly it’s not so secret these days!). Concealed behind impressive limestone cliffs, it’s crystal clear waters and white sandy beach are perfect for those looking to spend a peaceful day sunbathing or enjoying the exotic view. Rent a kayak to explore the ocean further or relax with a fresh coconut from the local vendors.
Cool off: Whilst it might not score too highly on the cultural ratings, Waterbom is a highly rated water park and a must visit if you’re a fan of waterslides and rides. A great way to cool off from the often stifling Bali heat, you’re guaranteed a day packed full of fun and thrills. And if getting soaked on their 22 rides isn’t your thing, they have a relaxing swim up bar which is the perfect spot for some people watching.
Turn your life Upside Down: This kooky activity will provide you with some Instagram-worthy photos as Upside Down World compromises of seven rooms where, as you guessed it, everything is upside down. The furniture and décor have been purposefully designed to be the wrong way up so that you when you take a photo you look as though you have superhuman powers and can defy gravity! (Worth a visit for the Instagrams!)
Trips, Diving, Surf, Yoga, Festivals & More in Bali:
Food and Drink in Kuta:
- Wonderful Warungs: After spending no less than half an hour on Indonesian soil you’ll have probably already walked passed 20 Warungs. Typically family owned, a Warung is a traditional small restaurant that serves up authentic Indonesian food and are normally really cheap. When staying in Kuta be sure to check out Warung Hati, a favourite amongst returning tourists. They serve up a mean Mei Goreng (Indonesian style noodles) and can tailor each and every dish to their customer’s spice tolerance!
- Budget Breaker: After a night out on Kuta’s tiles, treat yourself to an amazing breakfast at Crumb & Coaster. A lovely café serving vegetarian and vegan-friendly dishes as well as the finest coffee in town, your day is set to be a good one after a breakfast treat here. Their thick shakes and all day breakfasts will leave you planning your next visit!
- Party time: We couldn’t write a guide to Kuta without giving the party–scene a mention. Sky Garden is probably the most famous bar in Kuta, if not the whole of Bali. It has played host to many top DJs and often puts on big events, but don’t go there if you’re looking for a tasteful night out! Expect cheesy music and cheap drinks but with free entry and a great location, it’s just one of those places you have go at least once, right?
Sanur (South Coast)
Sanur is Kuta’s next door neighbour and a much sleepier place to stay… (often nicknamed ‘Snore’ or ‘Sanbore’ in contrast to Kuta’s pumping nightlife!) Sanur a good selection of warungs (family-owned restaurants), a long beach (although not great for swimming) and a night market for cheap, tasty street foods. Make sure you try Babli Guling, a celebration dish of roast pig, rice & sambal. (A very good warung is opposite MacDonalds at the entry to Sanur beach road.)
Seminyak (South Coast)
Just a little further north up the coast from Kuta, Seminyak is a lively place, with trendy bars, restaurants and resorts. It’s considered to be more stylish than Kuta and is a big hit with flashpackers and wealthier tourists as it’s home to the island’s luxury hotels and upmarket five-star beach resorts. There are also some fancy restaurants and boutique fashion stores lining Seminyak’s streets that are a stark contrast to Kuta’s backpacker grunge. Seminyak is a favourite amongst expats In Bali who have opened businesses here and spend their days looking cool in the cafés and beaches.
Padangbai is a small chilled out seaside town with some lively backpackers’ places and a small but pleasant beach (the only downside is that the sand is pretty course). It also has the advantage of being the main port for boats heading to other islands in Indonesia.
A good place to stay in Padangbai is Topi Inn, situated at the furthest end of the beachfront road. A typically colourful bar and restaurant area downstairs, upstairs there is a selection of private rooms and ‘dorm’ beds- comfortable mattresses under mozzie-nets on the covered upper terrace, which are a great budget option. The boys working behind the bar are great fun – order an Arak cocktail (the local spirit) and challenge them to a game of chess or Connect 4. Staff can also arrange boat tickets on to other islands for just about the cheapest price going.
Also, why not try out one of the cultural classes or courses on offer – learn to batik, create silver jewellery, dance to traditional music or play the drums like a local. (Topi Inn can help arrange most cultural classes).
Amed and Tulemban (East coast)
Head for the east coast for laid-back lifestyle, diving and black sand beaches. Amed and Tulemban, along the north of the island, are quiet old fishing villages, catering to travellers and holidaymakers alike. There are plenty of cheap digs and cheap eats, plus a few slightly larger hotels that appeal to an older and more family-orientated crowd. Check out the beachside warungs for fresh fish cooked Bali style over coconut shells.
One of the most popular places to stay in Amed is Geri Giria Shanti – (you almost certainly will need to book in advance!). An absolute haven of a guest house, run by the beautiful and oh-so-helpful Lise, Geri Giria offers beautiful bungalows with free breakfast, and free tea and coffee all day. Lise and her partner David also run Adventure Divers on the same site, if you’re feeling adventurous. Bungalows with private bathrooms start at 20 Euros a night for a double bed, but they’re happy to add an extra mattress if you ask to make the room a triple.
Three Brothers (Bobby’s Villas) offers beach front bungalows and includes great service from the staff, plus a beautiful pool overlooking the beach. Drink a cold beer in the pool while the sun sets over the ocean and locals play guitar on the beach! Double rooms are around $18 USD a night depending on the time of year, the family bungalows (sleeps up to four people) is approx. $30 USD.
Amed is popular for its diving. Many dive companies work in the area and all will take you to the superb U.S.A.T Liberty Wreck as well as many other local dive sites. Local underwater life includes turtles, reef sharks and fantastic hard & soft corals as well as healthy Anemones. Snorkelers also have plenty of areas to visit, including the liberty at low tide. Check out these dive trips with AquaMarine Diving that take you to the shipwreck and other awesome dive sites across the island.
Note: The famous Liberty Wreck is a US cargo ship sunk during the Second World War. Set your alarms and go for an early morning dive (most dive shops will be happy to arrange a 6.30am dive) to avoid the crowds and see the huge family of bump head fish that swim through the remains.
Diving in Bali
If you’ve never dived before, Bali is a great place to get your first diver’s qualification, your PADI Open Water Diver Certificate. There are many shallow dive sites that have colourful corals and calm waters teeming with underwater life, perfect for beginners.
It’s no surprise that with prices in Bali often being higher for food and accommodation than elsewhere in SE Asia, the PADI Open Water Diver Course is also more expensive. The cheapest we’ve found on the island is the course with AquaMarine Diving, Bali at $495 USD. You will need a buddy to do the course with though as there’s a minimum of two people per course, or you can make friends when you arrive and do the course together! If you’re a qualified diver already, AquaMarine Diving also have a variety of fun dives on offer as well as dive safaris!
Ubud, away from the coast and up in the mountains, is a beautiful and artistic town, with a thriving tourism industry and stunning landscapes. (A must-see for fans of the novel, Eat, Pray, Love.) The centre is very congested with taxis touting for business and nose to tail tour buses, but don’t let that put you off as you can walk ten minutes away from the central area and be in the countryside amongst beautiful rice terraced landscapes. You can also rent a motorbike or bicycle and enjoy the countryside surrounding the town centre – it takes only minutes to get away from the tourist attractions and get lost amongst rice paddies and rolling hillsides!
Food in Ubud:
There are plenty of cheap eats alongside the touristy restaurants, Choose from the many warungs (restaurants) on Jl’s (jalan) Goutama and Karna near the palace. Warung Né is tasty and the slightly more expensive Warung Bernadette offers Javanese meals. Be sure to try the rendang!
Read our Article: Eating Your Way Through Ubud: A Self Guided Food Walking Tour
Accommodation in Ubud:
There are plenty of home-stays and cheap guesthouses just off Monkey Forest Road, as well as more expensive hotels. Ubud Terrace is a decent middle-budget option, for $20 USD a night you get a family room (sleeps up to four people if you ask for an extra mattress) free breakfast and they have a pool set in beautiful leafy grounds.
Things to do in Ubud:
Campuhan Ridge Walk: Heading west from the palace and turning off at Hotel Ibah will take you to the Campuhan Ridge Walk. An easy walk for all fitness levels with great views of the valleys, farmers and countryside which after a few kilometres turns into a village. Carry on further and be rewarded with rice fields and a mountain backdrop. Postcard perfect and without the masses of tours at the well-known rice terraces. Bring sunscreen & mosquito repellent and head out early before the sun gets fierce.
Monkey Forest in Ubud: Get up and close with hundreds of monkeys and a few picturesque temples at Monkey Forest in Ubud. Be warned though, as these furry little critters will steal anything including hats and sunglasses! Lock up your bags as they can apparently open the zips! Leave your bag at the gate if you have any food with you. A good way to spend an hour and if you’re lucky you may see a religious ceremony at one of the temples. Price – 20,000 IR.
Museums in Ubud: Ubud is also home to several museums, with important and historical Balinese artworks. All are around 50,000 IR entry.
Treat Yourself: And if you want to indulge a little in this beautiful place, there are plenty of good-but-cheap spas offering massages, reflexology and various body scrub treatments.
Nusa Lembongan (Small Island Southeast of Bali)
Nusa Lembongan is the second largest of the smaller, quieter islands just off the south-east coast of Bali. (The others are Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan). The 8km square Nusa Lembongan is a beautiful, quiet island, with serene beaches as well as the famous ‘Manta Point’ dive site and great surf breaks on the north of the island. For surfers who are bored of the crowds at Kuta head to Nusa Lembongan for the breaks ominously named ‘Shipwreck’, ‘Lacerations’ and ‘Playground’ (not for beginners.)
Snorkelling is a popular activity in Nusa Lembongan. Boats can be chartered for the day (bargain hard) to go to two, or three celebrated spots. A cheaper option is to head to Mangrove point and wade into the water from outside Bobo’s Warung. Swim a few hundred metres to the reef where the fish are abundant and friendly. Bobo’s will also rent snorkelling equipment, sell drinks and lunch.
Diving can be completed at Mangrove point, and also several sites on Nusa Penida (see below). Manta Rays and Mola Molas can be seen at certain times of the year, but conditions can be very challenging.
If you’re looking for a laid-back place to stay, Secret Garden Villas is a series of cute bungalows hidden amongst the trees. It has its own pool and yoga centre on site, as well as being home to Big Fish Diving.
All in all, Nusa Lembongan is a great place to get away from the traffic and business of Southern Bali!
Getting to Nusa Lembongan:
There are many options to travel the 60-minute journey from Bali to Nusa Lembongan for all budgets. We have travelled with a company called Perama for 190’000 IND return and found them to run on time, have friendly staff and lifejackets on board. They also run connections to the Gili Islands and Lombok. Always make sure the boats provide lifejackets. Safety is often not the priority in Indonesia.
Nusa Penida (Island Southeast of Bali)
Nusa Penida is the largest of the three islands which lie off Bali’s south-east coast and is the least known and least visited of all three islands. There is less infrastructure here and a much more natural vibe as the island is home to a bird sanctuary, seaweed farming and just a few places to stay. The wild and rugged beauty of Nusa Penida offers plenty for the adventurous traveller with trekking, mountain, birdwatching, biking, snorkelling and diving. There is a virgin rainforest in the centre of the island, which is called the Tembeling Forest, home to many wildlife and bird species. The north and the north-west coast is home to many deserted white sandy beaches while the south coast has spectacular white limestone cliffs – a stark contrast to Southern Bali’s crowded shores! You can rent a motorbike for around 60’000 IR/day to explore the island (200 square km) but be careful as the roads can get very bumpy, especially in the rainy season!
Bali’s Volcanoes – Gunung Agung and Gunung Batur
Gunung Agung is the highest and holiest volcano on Bali standing at 3,142 meters. If you’ve been thinking of travelling to Bali, you will have probably heard much about this volcano in the news lately as it last erupted on 27th November 2017 causing the evacuation of many people from the island and many flight delays.
Before the volcano began to bubble, backpackers were able to climb the volcano which took 5-7 hours up and down. (The Gunung Agung Trek began from Besakih Temple.)
Gunung Batur, standing at 1717 metres, located in the north-east of the island, is actually Bali’s most active volcano. It is a popular trek amongst backpackers and takes about 2-3 hours to summit by those with a relative degree of fitness.
Treks to Bali’s volcanoes can be arranged from most travel agencies taking in the must-see sunrise views and temple stops en route – due to the fact that both volcanoes are sacred in Balinese, Hindu culture. Be warned you will have to rise very early to get those sunrise views!
Food and Drink in Bali
You are spoilt for choice in most places on Bali when it comes to food. From local rice and satay dishes at markets to foods (cooked well) from all over the world, you should find something to suit all taste buds. As should be expected, Western-style dishes and established restaurants are more expensive than eating in markets or warungs (local restaurants). If you eat locally, you can usually ask for dishes like Nasi Goreng (a spicy fried rice) or Mei Goreng (fried noodles) to come at the price you want – tell them you want a 15’000IR (roughly $1.50) meal and they should be able to make it for you!
Getting around the Island
Although Bali is relatively small, transport can be hard without your own wheels, be it a car or a motorbike. There is a very limited public transport infrastructure, although Perama offers a service aimed at travellers to get to some of the more popular locations (minimum 2pax to travel, usually). If you don’t hire a car you can hire a driver on a daily rate and negotiate transport to a location and include some sightseeing en route. Prices are relatively expensive compared with other areas of Indonesia and Southeast Asia due to higher tourism on the island. If you do hire a car or motorbike, be very cautious and make sure your travel insurance covers you to drive as accidents and fatalities are around eight times higher than Europe, North America or Australia.
Festivals and Events in Bali
The Annual Bali Spirit Festival
The Bali Spirit Festival takes place every March/April in the cultural heart of Ubud, Bali, drawing thousands of Yogis, musicians and hippies from across Asia. The Festival is a collaboration of yoga, music, singing, dance, meditation and workshops dealing with healing and holistic therapies. The venue is stunning, surrounded by rice fields and palm trees and there’s a mix of local and internationally renowned musicians who play the festival every year. Definitely, check it out if you’re there!
Find Accommodation in Bali…
Getting to Bali
Getting to and from Bali can be cheap from almost anywhere in South East Asia and Australia as several budget carriers serve the only airport on Bali, Denpasar (DPS) Airport, which is in the town of Denpasar in the south of the island. At the airport, there are fixed rate taxis to just about anywhere on Bali you want to go. From other islands nearby in Indonesia, such as Lombok, you can arrange a boat to Bali (most landing in Amed or Padangbai).
If you’re interested in travelling to Bali with a group, booking a yoga retreat or learning to surf check out our trips here.
Where To Go Next?
The Gili Islands: When you’ve had enough of mainland Bali, hop on one of the fast boats from Padangbai or Amed and make the trip out to the Gili Islands, where ‘something for everyone’ couldn’t be more accurate. The fast boat takes around 2 hours, and you shouldn’t pay more than 250,000 IR (most places start the bargaining at 600,000 IR for a single trip. Please don’t be fooled, the agencies only pay 200,000 IR themselves, anything above this is commission!) There are three Gili Islands which you can check out our guides for here: Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno.
Lombok: Head over to Lombok, roughly 1½ by fast boat from Bali, the ticket price is the same. Agencies also offer ‘slow boat’ tickets for approximately 100,000 IR, but the journey to Lombok takes 4-5 hours from Padangbai and the total journey to the Gili Islands, about 8 hours, including an hour bus journey from the ferry terminal in Lombok to the fast boat that will take you the final part of the crossing. It’s definitely worth the additional cost (roughly $15) to go direct from Bali to Lombok / the Gili Islands. Read our guide to Lombok here.
TRANSPORT TIP: Ferry prices generally have a big mark up via agencies, barter hard.
Contributors to the Bali Guide: Laura Richards, Simon Rogers, Ben Turland, Georgia Wilkinson & John Reed. If you have anything to add to help people explore Bali, please do so in the comments below!