Nestled on the western part of the Indian Ocean is an Indonesian province that has withstood decades of tourism expansion yet still maintained its intrinsic character, lushness, and incomparable splendor. Bali gorgeous beaches, which lead inland to hillsides etched with verdant rice paddies; forests, which are lined with ancient temples; and centuries-old shrines, which speak of its enduring spirituality, comprise its most salient features. Yet Bali’s uniqueness and most invaluable treasures lie in its human resources–3 million, mostly-Hindu residents that punctuate their daily routines with prayers and rituals– and ever vibrant tradition, which turn the Indonesian crown jewel into a compelling, timeless tourist destination.
When to Visit
Set in a tropical country, Bali offers balmy climate to its tourists. However, you can expect heavy rains if you decide to visit the city during monsoon season, which lasts from October to March. To avoid the heavy rains that can dampen your mood to roam around Bali, better plan your trip for summer, which spans from April to October. Unlike other tropical summers, Bali summers are comparably cooler and more amiable. As one of the city’s high seasons, summer brings about markedly expensive hotel rooms and airfare. December to January, which can be plagued by occasional rain, is a good choice for Bali travelers as well. Since the months focus on the grand festivities of Christmas and New Year, expect high room rates and jam-packed restaurants at dinnertime.
Festivities and Events
Bali’s diverse culture offers fun festivities and events to its locals and tourists. Create fun memories by synchronizing your Bali trip with any of the city’s biggest celebrations:
Celebrated every March, the Galungan is considered as the most important celebration in Bali. It commemorates the triumph of virtue (Dharma) over evil (Adharma). The symbol of the Galungan is the penjor, a bamboo pole adorned with fruit, leaves, flowers and cakes. Placed on home entrances, the conglomerate of penjors creates a colorful sight for festival attendees.
2) Ngembak Geni Day
Ngembak Geni Day follows Neypi Day or the Balinese New Year. While the latter sounds fun, this day is actually a day of silence, observed in order drive the evil spirits away from the island. Ngembak Geni Day, the day after the New Year, is a happier event since this is when the city comes to life – after a day of solemnity and quietness.
Kuningan, which is celebrated every April, is a significant celebration for Balinese Hindus. During this event, offerings are made and services are attended by devotees. Make sure to visit Tirta Empul at Tampaksiring to witness the people’s ritual bathing and purification rites.
4) Bali Arts Festival
Immerse your senses in Bali’s beautiful art by attending the Bali Arts Festival, celebrated annually from June to July. Held in Denpasar, the festivity demonstrates traditional music and dances, as well as performances by foreign artists. It is also a treat for shoppers with its colorful night markets.
5) Sanur Kite Festival
Marvel at the beauty of competing kites at Bali’s famed Sanur Kite Festival, held annually during July or August. This 3-day event showcases thousands of kite runners from the country – and other parts of the globe. Daily competitions are action-packed, surely to get you out of your seat!
Bali is made up of three main roads and hundreds of smaller roads. Because of its small size, a minimum of 3 hours is good enough for one to travel the entire length of the city. Here are the transportation choices that can help you get around Bali:
1) Car Rental
If you have an international driving license, you can go ahead and rent a car from Avis or Hertz (or other companies). Rental rates range starts at USD 148 (updated 2020). Another option is to rent a car and a driver, especially if you are not familiar with Bali’s nooks and crannies. Apart from the car rental, you need to pay anywhere from USD 35 to USD 45 to cover the driver’s fees, food and accommodations.
2) Motorcycle Rental
If car rentals are too much for you, then you try renting a motorcycle. This is considered the cheapest and most efficient way to get around Bali, since daily rentals cost just about USD 10 a day (updated 2020). Make sure to wear a helmet at all times since Motorcycle-related accidents are common in Bali.
3) Metered Taxi
If you do not know how to drive, then the most convenient way for you to navigate through Bali is by taking a taxi. Fare for the first 1.2 miles is a mere USD .50, and another USD 0.50 for ever half a mile thereof. Full-day excursions are offered too for as cheap as USD 46.
If you want to catch the sights of Bali’s main towns, a bus run by Perama Tours is a good choice. The route only covers Bali’s main cities, as well as nearby Senggigi and Mataram. These buses do not cover Bali’s small villages.
For short stops around town, go take a Bemo, a common name for Brown and Blue vans roaming the city. You can see the destination of the Bemo on its front window. Fare ranges from USD 0.50 to USD 1.
Things to Do in Bali
Many would think that Bali is a paradise lost. It isn’t; it’s just transformed. If you want to figure out what to do when you get to Bali, remember that the island has evolved from a quaint, laid-back town into one of the world’s most idyllic destinations. It now presents its visitors as many enthralling experiences as the varying hues of green they can find in its terraced rice paddies.
1) Bike around Ubud
Bike the streets of Ubud and witness how it is brimming with culture. Biking is a great way to roam the town, its surrounding villages, and rice paddies. Make the Monkey Forest your starting point. Then at midday, head out to Goa Gajah, one of Bali’s holiest, most unique places. End your day with a ride to Petulu, a village where a massive nocturnal heron migration can be seen.
2) Ride the Waves in Kuta Beach
The scene of a typical island paradise is ubiquitous in Kuta: throngs of women lazing around in bikinis, “let’s morning the night” clubs, expat bars, hip travel cognoscenti, and intoxicated Australian surfers. Depending on the type of experience you want to derive from the trip, Kuta is one place you will never forget. You get to learn brilliant surf lessons. And since the beach has more sand than corals, you are assured of a safe surfing experience– no screaming for gauze! After a long day spent learning your way around a barrel, quench your thirst with fresh fruit drinks and a sunset at KuDeTa.
3) Kecak Dance in Ulu Watu
A German artist once taught the Balinese a peculiar performance called the Kecak, a dance that doesn’t involve instruments, just vocal chords, say 100 of them. With a bonfire as a backdrop, the Balinese performers chant and dance and act out the Ramayana. While this 20th century German impetus may seem a little inauthentic, you just couldn’t care less about the details, as their chant makes time stand still. You can hardly notice the sun slowly setting behind the cliffs of Ulu Watu. That’s how mesmerizing it is.
4) Snorkel around Menjangan Island
Like any island destination, Bali’s very essence is best fulfilled with the exploration of its marine treasures. Menjangan Island’s remote location and absence of crowds augment to the priceless experience it promises. Pay a boatman to take you out to Menjangan’s reefs for the day, and prepare to be blown away with their beauty. Snorkeling, truly, cannot get any better than this.
5) Go Buffalo Racing in Negara
Water buffaloes serve a variety of purposes throughout Asia. People use them as agricultural tractors, beasts of burden, milk producers, sources of food, and why not, racing machines! Every Sunday in Western Bali, these beasts are lined up and made to drag jockeyed chariots around an oval course. If you come from the west or are someone who has never seen a water buffalo before, this is your chance to make the most out of such a unique experience!
From temples to sacred springs to beaches, here are Bali’s top attractions according to your fellow tourists – ones that should be included in your itinerary:
1) Tirta Empul
Home to the sacred springs, Tirta Empul is a favorite attraction among locals and foreign tourists for its beautiful spring water and exciting nearby attractions. For an admission fee of USD 3.09, you can already enjoy a dip in the spring and visit the olden temple (updated 2020). Established in 960 BC, around the time of the Warmadewa Dynasty, the temple houses the shrines of Hindu gods Shiva, Brahma, and Krishna.
Address: Jalan Raya Penelokan
2) Garuda Vishnu Kencara Cultural Park
Although the park is still unfinished, it is deemed as one of the most-visited sites in all of Bali. Its main feature is an incomplete 180-feet statue of Vishnu, which, if completed, is said to stand taller than the Statue of Liberty. Apart from this sculpture by Nyoman Nuarta, the cultural park also showcases the city’s famed Kecak and Barong dancers, all for a mere entrance fee of USD 7.72 (updated 2020).
Address: Jalan Raya Uluwatu
3) Pura Kehen
Bali boasts numerous temples, but the most beautiful of all of them remains to be Pura Kehen. Located at the middle of the forest, Pura Kehen or “Temple of the Hearth” features three beautiful copper stelae, each bearing unique inscriptions in old Balinese language. With its 43 altars and several beautifully-carved statues, Pura Kehen is one of the finest places of worship in all of Bali. Cellular phones are not allowed inside the premises. Admission costs a mere USD 0.62 (updated 2020).
Address: Jalan Swirijaya
4) Pura Besakih
As Bali’s largest temple, the Pura Besakih, also known as the “Mother Temple,” plays home to 28 to 35 structures (depending on how you see them). Rising more than 3,000 feet above sea level, the city’s holiest temple prompts every visitor to go up several steps to reach it. The best time to visit Pura Besakih is early morning, so that you can revel in the beautiful sunrise view. Make sure to wear a sash and sarong, and pay the admission fee of USD 1.00 before you get started on the uphill climb.
Address: Pura Beseech
5) Pura Tanah Lot
The Tanah Lot is one of the most significant sea temples in Bali, associated with the priest Nirartha of the 16th century. Located in Beraban Village, the Pura Tanah Lot is one of the religious structures that create a chain along the sea. For the best views, visit Tanah Lot during the afternoon in order to enjoy the breathtaking view of the Balinese sunset. Admission costs USD 3.71 (updated 2020).
6) Museum Puri Lukisan
Founded in 1956, the museum serves as the repository of Bali’s finest artworks. An initiative between the Prince of Ubud and Rudolf Bonnet, the museum now plays home to the beautiful masterpieces of Pita Maha, among many other artists. Admission fee is USD 3.09 (updated 2020).
Address: Jalan Raya Ubud
Where to Eat
1) Waroeng Tugu
Nestled in the beautiful Tugu Hotel is Waroeng Tugu, one of the best restaurants to offer sumptuous Balinese cuisine. The over-all experience is exciting, as you get to witness how the chefs cook your food as they do it right in front of you. With its authentic pots and rustic furniture on display, Waroeng Tugu creates a lovely vibe for all its diners. Entrees range from USD 40 to USD 50.
Address: Jalan Pantai Batu Bolong
2) Firefly Suppers
Open only from May to October, this hit restaurant in the Bedugul area is a famous haunt amongst tourists who are looking for exotic yet organic cuisine. Run by Ben and Blair Ripple, Firefly Suppers serves delicious organic and fresh food at so-so prices, with a 6-course meal costing USD 50 per person. The ambience is truly romantic, as you get to eat in a banana leaf-roofed barn lit with hundreds of torches (hence the name ‘Firefly Suppers.’)
Enjoy international food at its finest at Dava, a seemingly-floating restaurant that will surely take your worries (and hungriness) away. Its varied cuisine makes use of freshly-caught seafood straight from the Indian Ocean. For the best indulgence, try its five flavors of the sea starter, which comprises of lobster, salmon, Morton Bay bug tail tempura, and many other spices. Courses range from USD 25 to USD 250.
Address: Jalan Karang Mas Sejahtera
4) Naughty Nuri’s Warung and Grill
For affordable barbecue and Indonesian food, do not forget to visit Naughty Nuri’s Warung and Grill. Run by the husband and wife tandem of New Yorker Brian and Indonesian Isnuri, the restaurant takes pride in its local fare and delectable barbecued pork spareribs. Don’t leave without sampling any of its martinis, which Anthony Bourdain claims to be the best beverages outside New York. Prices are very reasonable, ranging from USD 2 to USD 5.
Address: Jalan Raya Sanggingan
5) Batan’s Waru
Another cheap place that can fulfill all of your gastronomic gustos is Batan’s Waru, a quaint eatery famous for its delectable Indonesian and European offerings. Must-tries include urap pakis (wild fern tips with spices) and lemper ayam (chicken dumplings in banana leaf). Batan Waru’s menu delights are very fulfilling and affordable, with entrees starting at USD 1.50.
Address: Jalan Dewi Sita
Where to Stay
Bali boasts luxurious hotels and penthouses, with prices catering to budget-conscious travelers, even to super-rich tourists. Whatever your budget might be, make sure to choose any of the following – the city’s best accommodations (according to price range).
When it comes to luxury and opulence, nothing beats the majestic Amandari resort in Kedawatan. Resembling a charming Balinese town, Amandari offers spacious cottages (USD 675) and beautiful villas (USD 3,600). With its gorgeous infinity pool, indoor Jacuzzi and nearby golf course, Amandari is the perfect resort for tourists who would like to be pampered like Balinese royalty.
2) Desa Seni
Seni is the popular recommendation for most tourists because of its manageable price range (USD 150 to USD 360). Also known as the Artist’s Village, Desa Seni is a definite sight for sore eyes with its historic folk art and priceless antiques. The villas are just as artistic as the reception area with its ox bell table lamps and brightly-colored headboards. Desa Seni’s strongest suit is its beautiful pool which provides views of the rice fields and vegetable gardens that surround the quiet resort.
Address: Around Town
3) Puri Lumbung Cottages
If you are working on a tight budget, you can still live the high life by staying at the lovely Puri Lumbung Cottages. It offers a total of 17 cottages, although more bungalows are being built to cater to the demands of tourists from all over the world. Apart from helping you save money, your stay in Puri Lumbung will definitely help the locals in the areas as they are currently supported by Nyoman Bagiarta, the owner of the resort. Room rates starts at USD 95 (updated 2020).
There definitely is no tropical island getaway fantasy too lofty that Bali cannot fulfill. And while the gorgeous beaches gravitate tourists from all over the world to this tiny Indonesian Island, its beautiful culture and tradition make sure they stay and keep coming back. There’s this belief that God dwells in the Himalayas; well, looking at Bali, you would think that He may just vacation there.