More of a state of mind than a place, the Indonesian island conjures instant thoughts of a tropical paradise with a soft spiritual soul and a healthy dose of mysticism thrown in for good measure.
Bali is a famously beautiful island located in the Pacific Coast Indonesian archipelago. For the Balinese religion is an integral part of life, which gives the whole island a very spiritual feel. The main religion is a form of Hindu Dharma, yet it is actually a blend of Hindu, Buddhism, and Javanese beliefs. Denpasar is the capital but most people head straight out to the beaches and the hinterlands. For many years it’s been a mecca for surfers, but more and more people are embracing its cultural qualities, divine spa facilities and excellent cuisine.
1. Ubud – one of the best and most popular places to visit in Bali
For a good start and a taste of the ‘real’ Bali, head to Ubud. Also a laid-back bohemian enclave, this hinterland town is spectacular in every way. Here everything is very traditional Balinese with beautiful Balinese style accommodation, spa facilities and sensational gardens.
The village is brimming with artists studios and excellent cooking schools (which are well worth attending) but its probably most famous for the Sacred Monkey Forest – a lush jungle where errant macaque monkeys wander freely. Also worth exploring are the surrounding villages and Ubud Palace for its opulent traditional architecture. Check out our blogger friend’s guide to some of the best private pool villas in Bali.
Beautiful Ubud captured on film…
2. Seminyak – one of the most stunning beaches in Bali
Located on the beautiful West Coast of Bali, this is a local area also popular with tourists. Although Seminyak, is more upmarket than its rival resorts with mostly luxury accommodation and fashionable high-end restaurants.
The atmosphere is much more sophisticated and laid-back than Kuta (the main resort on the island), and the beach in particular is much quieter during the day. It’s also known to be the high-end spa and boutique shopping capital of the island and like most other beach resorts in Bali, it’s home to some spectacular sunsets.
3. Uluwatu Temple and Tanah Lot Temple – one of the most beautiful places to visit in Bali
These are arguably two of the most beautiful temples in Bali and on an island which is home to over a hundred temples, that’s saying something!
We’ve chosen them mostly because of their geographical location – both are dramatically situated on steep cliffs which overlook the crashing sea below.
4. Legian – a stunning vacation spot in Bali
Located on the west coast, this is another beach resort which is much quieter than Kuta. It’s home to picture-perfect tropical beaches, excellent restaurants and great shopping.
The surfing is also very good here, but if you are really keen surfer then head to Uluwatu, Bignin, or Balangan (all about half an hour away) as these offer some of the best surf in the world.
5. Mt Batur, Kintamani – a stunning place to visit in Bali
It will take some stamina, but if you’re fit enough to climb the black sand and lava of Mount Batur you will be rewarded with some seriously spectacular views (particularly if you time your visit around sunrise).
Once there, do as everyone else does and strike a yoga pose at the precise time as the sun rises! Afterwards amble around Lake Bratan and pay a visit to the truly awe-inspiring Ulun Danu Temple. Alternatively, you can always just enjoy the volcano from a distance.
6. Jimbaran Bay and Nusa Dua – a wonderful location for a stay in Bali
The area of Jimbaran and Nusa Dua (just 15 minutes apart) are home to several world-class five-star beach resorts, and are otherwise known as the “Beverly Hills of Bali”. Although an experience still very affordable to the average traveller is the chance to dine at a multitude of seafront restaurants with the water literally lapping at your feet.
All are candlelit which makes for a beautiful spectacle. They are both fishing villages renowned for their excellent catches so expect the seafood to be very fresh and varied.
7. The Water Palace of Tirta Gangga – a former royal palace in eastern Bali
Tirta Gangga is both a village and palace located in the eastern part of the island. The palace is owned by Karangasem royalty and is easily one of the most attractive places to visit in Bali.
It’s known for its maze of pools and fountains surrounded by lush gardens and intriguing stone statues, a simply beautiful complex.
8. The Woodworking villages – a great attraction to visit in Bali
To the north of Ubud you’ll find the woodworking villages of Tegalalang and Jati. This is where generations of families are involved in the process from beginning to end.
The intricacies of the carvings are phenomenal and the villages of Mas, Peliatan, Petulu and Pujung (which lie to the east) are also are home to woodworkers.
The carvings range from the highly ceremonial to phallus-shaped bottle openers (for the tourists)! When you visit you’ll find that each village tends to specialise in a particular theme – animals, figures or more abstract concepts.
9. Gunung Kawi – a besutiful 11th-century temple
Located in Tampaksiring (North East of Ubud) this is one of Bali’s oldest ancient monuments – a beautifully preserved 11th century temple complex. To reach it, you will need to descend stone steps through the lushest green valley imaginable.
Once there, you’ll see ten large rock-cut shrines which were made to honour the 11th-century Balinese royalty. As with all temples in Bali, you must be appropriately dressed but sarongs are available for hire at the entrance.
10. Kuta – one of the most popular places to stay in Bali
This chaotic, noisy tourist resort will be the most controversial choice on the list, but colourful Kuta is popular for a reason. The beautiful (but crowded beach) is ideal for surfing and swimming and the rest of the resort is also a lot of fun.
Get a massage or your hair braided while you watch the passing circus of hawkers, surfers and bustling locals. Also visit Poppies Lane 1 and 2, where you can buy “genuine” Rolex watches, “real” Gucci bags, DVDs and surfer t-shirts with mostly the same design. Kuta is what it is… and washed down with a Bintang beer, you really cannot go wrong.
11. Besakih Temple – often known as Bali’s ‘mother temple’
Also known as the Mother Temple, Besakih is the biggest and holiest Hindu temple in all of Bali. It is located on beautiful mountain slopes and is home to roughly 70 religious festivals each and every year.
It is actually an assortment of around 20 different temples, and each one is dedicated to either a Hindu god or some other aspect of this sacred religion. Regardless of your religious beliefs, this is an activity you don’t want to miss because it is an extremely impressive facility.
12. Pura Ulun Danu Bratan – one of the most scenic places in Bali
Easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in Bali, this famous beauty spot is an important Hindu Shaivite Shiva temple. You’ll find this gorgeous and spiritual place located on the shores of Lake Bratan in the mountains near Bedugul.
It’s a special and highly photogenic spot surrounded by mountains and shrouded in mist and where the smooth reflective surface of the lake almost seems like the temple is floating. A Bali must-see!
13. Sacred Monkey Forest – a nature reserve with Hindu temples and over 600 monkeys
Located in Ubud, this is a natural forest where lots of monkeys roam the area, and you can also enjoy some amazing flora and fauna. Also scattered in the area are old temples, shaded paths for walking and relaxing, and a variety of very interesting sculptures and statues.
Indeed, there is a lot to see here, so whether you tour the forest alone or hang out with other travelers on a guided tour, you’ll thoroughly enjoy your time here. Although some of the structures are covered with moss because of their age, not a single bit of this forest is dull or boring. It is truly a sight you won’t want to miss while you’re in Bali.
14. Sidemen Village – a place to experience traditional and authentic village life
If you feel like getting away and relaxing at a non-tourist-like spot, this village is for you. Consisting mostly of rice paddies and palm plantations, not to mention quaint homes, the town is lush and green and a beautiful site to see regardless of the season.
Locals are good at weaving and making both palm toddy and palm wine, and you can enjoy long bike rides, long walks, and lots of opportunities for beautiful photography while you’re there. For an interesting place to visit that is away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist-ridden spots, Sidemen cannot be beaten.
15. Tirta Empul – a wonderful Hindu Balinese water temple
The Tirta Empul is a beautiful water temple that offers devout Hindus a place to enjoy spiritual cleansing and holy bathing rituals. The name itself is translated as Holy Spring, and the temple that was built around the spring has been there since the 960s.
Although the waters are for believers only, the temple is still a marvel to look at thanks to its architectural superiority and its ornate details that are scrumptious in design. There are also beautiful artifacts to look at and learning opportunities in case you’re interested in the Hindu religion, so it truly offers something for everyone.
16. Aling Aling Waterfall – a perfect place for a natural swim
This is definitely one of the most beautiful places to visit in Bali, regardless of what you went there for in the first place. At a full 114 feet, this breathtaking waterfall is surrounded by a jungle that is filled with all sorts of fauna and flora, and you can also go hiking and enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery you’ve ever experienced.
Although you can only swim with a qualified guide, they do allow you to dive into the waters and slide down the natural stone slide if you wish, making for a truly unforgettable experience.
17. Lovina – a beautiful place to spot dolphins in the wild
Lovina is a gorgeous beach with lots of dolphins that you can view in their natural habitat. Located in Northern Bali, it is a great family activity that is low-key and the perfect activity for people who just want to get away from it all.
Spotting dolphins is fun and continuous, and if you go on a boat tour, you can get up close and personal with these beautiful creatures. Even the scenery surrounding the water is extraordinary, so if you have a few hours to kill and just want to relax and enjoy something unique, this is the place to be.
18. Taman Festival Bali – a wonderful traditional Bali experience
If you’re looking for an activity that is quirky and even a little bit eerie, this is the place for you. It is an abandoned amusement park that consists of lots of interesting sites to see.
Although it’s been closed since 1997, people still visit it when they’re in Bali whenever they want to see what the park’s “glory days” were all about. While the facility isn’t for everyone, it does contain a lot of very interesting buildings and some odd and unique views and surroundings. If quirky is what you’re looking for when you travel, this place is for you.
19. Nusa Lembongan – a quiet and untouristy Bali vacation spot
Nusa Lembongan is a small rural island near Bali that is gorgeous because it isn’t as “touristy” as many other locations here. The crowds are smaller and the beach and water both seem cleaner than many other areas.
You can swim, sunbathe, or participate in tons of water sports, and you also get mangrove forests and a quaint traditional village nearby. If you love to be on the water but you’re looking for one with very little commercialization so far, you won’t regret visiting Nusa Lembongan.
20. Goa Gajah – a unique and interesting attraction in Bali
If you’re looking for an incredible tourist spot that is both beautiful and interesting to learn about, this is for you. It is a cave with some amazing rock art that you can sit and meditate by or simply take photographs of for your collection.
It dates back to the ninth century and consists of water pools, statues, and even a few souvenir stalls that allow you to purchase mementoes to take home with you. The rock art is truly amazing, thanks in part to how detailed it is, and this is one experience that will make your trip to Bali even more unforgettable.
All words by Gordon and Paula from The Contented Traveller. They have been travelling ever since they met 10 years ago. They aid and abet one another in their ventures. Their site arose from their love of travel and unusual adventures, but also, and most importantly their ability to embrace serendipity.
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Ever since he was knee-high to a grasshopper Michael has always been a sucker for an adventure. As a kid he was lucky enough to live for many years in a handful of exotic far flung locations including Hong Kong, Pakistan, Kenya and Tanzania and since then he’s developed a taste for seeking out new cultures. So much in fact he now travels the world as a trading digital nomad, exploring sizzling street markets in Bangkok to random back alleys in Sri Lanka and everything in between! He also has a special fondness for Cohibas, street food, playing carrom, and fine wine and knows his clarets from his chiantis. He counts Cuba, Amsterdam, Laos, Cambodia and Italy as his favourite destinations.