My bumper guide to Bali – where to stay and what to do?
From lush tropical jungles to endless white sandy beaches with huge crashing waves, Bali has been described as paradise many a time and after just days on the island it was easy to see why so many expats have made it their home. From snorkelling with sea turtles to visiting temples and perusing the markets, there is no end of amazing sights to explore – it’s just finding the time to cram them all into your trip. Planning a holiday in Bali is no simple task – despite being a small island in Indonesia there is an incredible range of things to do and see – but lucky for you, I’ve done the hard work so you don’t have to! Whether you’re a beach bum, a culture craver, a surfer-type, an adventure seeker, a spa dweller or a nature lover, the perfect trip is waiting for you in Bali. I went to meet a friend I met in Australia for a week of partying and catching up before I headed back to Australia, but that one week turned into nearly a month of fun and exploring this amazing island. So if you’re struggling to plan your trip to Bali, this post will take a look at the best places to stay to get the most from your holiday.First of all it’s important to think about what you want from the visit – do you want to go all Julia Roberts and find your centre, focus on a health-filled yogi experience, or do you want to party all night and bake on the beaches all day? Do you want to explore monkey-filled jungles or take on the famous Bali surf? For just one island, Bali has a lot to offer and it’s easy to get carried away in exploring more “popular” parts and miss out on a slight different or more unique experience. Plan your trip well and you could have an experience that takes your breath away and stays with you for life. I know that my trip to the island is one that I will remember forever, the best trip ever with one of my best friends doing what we do best – living the craziest, wildest, cheekiest life we can.
Where to stay?
The beauty of Bali being an island is that everything is fairly close together and it is an easy place to travel around if you fancy a more well-rounded trip. With so many different areas to explore it would almost be a shame to stay in just one place during your stay. Even after spending a month on the island, there was still so much left to see so it’s important to be selective and focus on the trip you really want rather than rushing your experience. After all, island life is all about enjoying the sights, sounds, tastes, and pleasures of life.
Stay to party
Seminyak and Kuta are the partying home of Bali, wild nights out, cage dancing, lethal cocktails and all kinds of crazy fun. For the best music to dance to try La Favela in Seminyak, for crazy drunken fun 18-30 style head for Kuta, and don’t forget the gay clubs in Seminyak if you really want to dance until the sun comes up. Check out my review of Grandma’s Hotels here. Or if you’re after a hostel, you can’t go wrong with M Boutique Hostel – one of the best I’ve stayed in across Asia. You may also check out these 18 Best Value Hotels To Party in Bali compiled by HotelsCombined for more ‘party and stay’ ideas in Bali.
Stay for surf
Kuta, Caangu and Uluwatu are the key places for surf depending on how experienced you are. Stay in Caangu for the full surfer lifestyle in this chilled out beachy town. There are surf camps, lessons and help available all over for beginners.
Stay for yoga/health
Where else other than Ubud, head to the leafy paradise to find your centre, channel Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love and to eat all kinds of delicious vegan, vegetarian, healthy goodness. You’ll rejuvenate your soul with yoga at The Yoga Barn and Ubud Yoga Centre and come out new woman. Check out brand new hostel – Ons Hostel, with a pool and free breakfast, plus huge, clean dorms and great owners – it’s a perfect place to stay in the shadow of the Monkey Forest.
Stay for island bliss
Head to Gili T and Gili Air if you find Bali too busy and crave peaceful island bliss. Tiny islands just off the coast of Bali, they’re amazing for a visit and well worth a few days. I stayed at Gili La Boheme Sister which was fantastic but I’d also recommend Gili Castle which was just around the corner and hugely popular – both are party hostels and good for meeting people but not the place to stay for a relaxing holiday.
Here’s my top 15 experiences you don’t want to miss in Bali:
One of the best places to witness a spectacular Bali sunset, this Balinese sea temple is bound to take your breath away. Perched on top of steep cliffs that tower 70m above the Indian Ocean, the temple features stunning Balinese architecture and is one of six key temples believed to be Bali’s spiritual pillars. It even overlooks the daily Kecak dance performances which gives visitors a perfect opportunity to experience traditional Balinese culture in a truly magnificent setting.
Slightly further along the western coast of the island, Tanah Lot offers the perfect combination of Balinese culture set against Indonesia’s wild landscape. Another sea temple, it feels completely exposed to the elements as huge waves crash on the shore and against the visitors who come to pay their respects at the temple. This temple is the perfect place to watch the sunset and to really understand why so many fall in love with Bali’s raw, natural beauty.
Of course it wouldn’t be a tropical holiday without a trip into the jungle and where better to get a taste than in Ubud? In complete contrast to the beaches of Bali, Ubud is full of lush jungle vines and at it’s heart is the incredible Monkey Forest. Like a scene from The Jungle Book, it captures your imagination as monkeys climb and leap from branch to branch. While the ancient temple brings the culture of years gone by to life in front of you.
Tegalalang Rice Terraces
One of the most iconic images of Bali – those incredible rice terraces that stretch on forever with their vibrant beauty. You may have seen the picture a thousand times, but trust us, nothing compares to having that sight in front of your eyes, to the intense humidity, and the sweet, earthy smell. Be sure to try and head there early before the hottest part of the day and you’ll beat the crowds. Don’t let the heat put you off walking around this incredible landscape, you’ll find more beauty awaiting on every corner.
Swimming with sea turtles
Surrounding Bali and neighbouring Gili T and Gili Air is the most incredible coral reef that is just teeming with life and waiting to be explored. Grab a snorkel and head down the beach or hire some diving gear and go further out for some of the most incredible sights. Swimming with sea turtles is a must while you’re on the islands, hire a boat on Gili T and head off for the day to all the best spots. Make sure to pack an underwater camera!
Island paradise on Gili T and Gili Air
Just a short boat ride away is Gili T and Gili Air – two island paradises that will provide a perfect escape from Bali for a few days. Much quieter and with none of the busy traffic that plagues Bali, they provide a perfect refuge to kick back and relax with your loved ones. Those spectacular pictures of Indonesian sunsets you’ve been setting as your screensaver at work? Head to the beaches and you’ll get a chance to witness them with your own eyes. Truly breathtaking.
It’s not a trip to a jungle paradise without waterfalls and luckily Bali has plenty to choose from but by far the most spectacular is Tegenungen. Just a short distance from Ubud, this one is worth arriving early for to avoid the crowds. Take your swimsuit and dive into the fresh waters, swim into the cave behind and stand underneath the powerful waters as they plunge off the side of the cliff. You can even climb up to the top of the waterfall for a small fee – it’s well worth it for stunning waterfall photos.
Get into full adventure mode by taking part in the sunrise trek to the summit of this active volcano for an incredible sunrise. Hike up in the cover of darkness to watch the first rays of light stretching across Bali. Towering 1,717m above sea level, climbing the third highest peak in Bali is the highlight of many traveller’s Bali experience. Nearby there are also hot springs to relax in after the climb.
Bali is renowned for it’s incredible waves and attracts countless surfers each year who just can’t get enough of the landscape and the lifestyle. Whether you’re just a beginner or have been surfing for years, there is a perfect beach for you. Kuta, and Canggu are popular areas for surf camps aimed at those just starting out but also have some pretty big waves to challenge the more experienced. Uluwatu is a haven for experienced surfers who dare to take on the crashing waves.
Seafood at sunset
Imagine a beautiful island beach wedding at sunset, live music and fresh seafood. Perfect right? Head to Jimbaran for the evening and you’ll experience the romance and luxury of Bali on a budget with great food and free entertainment as the sun slips below the horizon.
Nightlife and a foodie’s heaven
Bali is infamous for it’s nightlife and while the club scene may not be for everyone, there is a huge range of ways to entertain yourself of an evening. From foodie heaven, to raging clubs/bars in Seminyak and Kuta, to beach parties in Canggu or live music and cultural performances in Ubud – you’ll never be at a loss for evening entertainment.
Yoga in Ubud
It wouldn’t be Bali without a reference to Eat Pray Love, but Ubud truly is an amazing place to find your centre. Where better to try out some yoga classes than in a beautiful studio overlooking endless lush, green jungle before heading to one of the local restaurants for a fresh fruit smoothie?
Exploring the countryside on motorbike
By far the best way to see Bali and to experience the real way the Indonesians live outside of the towns. Witness the true beauty of the local people and countryside as you explore the island at your own pace, you never know what hidden delights will be waiting for you. Don’t forget to plan some Bali day trips while you’re there. There are lots of waterfalls to explore around the island.
Pamper at the spas
Asia is well-loved for it’s food, and for the amazing massages. It wouldn’t be a trip to Bali without indulging and the best thing about Bali is it caters for all budgets. Whether you’re a backpacker or a luxury traveller there is a spa for you, treat yourself after a long day of exploring the island.
What was your favourite Bali experience? Can you recommend any places to stay?