Bali may have its fair share of tourists seeking nothing more than seven days of sun, sand and sex in the southern party triad of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, but this only forms a small part of what’s on offer. In reality, Bali is a lush Indonesian island teeming with cultural experiences, delicious food and exhilarating adventures.
For those after a little slice of Balinese culture, food and adventure, consider the following, less visited possibilities:
1. Southern Bali: Bukit Peninsula
Good for: surf, seafood and spirituality
Bali may be known for beaches and cornrows now, but it was the surfers who first discovered this beautiful Indonesian island. Go south from Kuta to Bukit Peninsula - Bukit to its friends - and you'll see what lured them here. Head to Ulu Watu beach for the kinds of waves eager surfers dream of, or to Nusa Dua for some killer breaks around the reef. Note however that Neptune’s fierce in this part of town. Only experienced surfers should attempt to brave the waters around the Bukit Peninsula. For more places to surf in Indonesia, whatever your level, check out our tips.
Explore Bali’s spiritual side with a visit to Pura Luhur Ulu Watu on the island’s south east. Perched high on a cliff top, the temple has arresting views across the ocean that will leave you gobsmacked. (Just don’t venture into Ulu Watu with any loose items dangling from you. The temple is awash with pick-pocketing monkeys, and before you know what’s happened they’ll have scarpered with your best sunglasses.)
A trip to the Bukit Peninsula isn’t complete without visiting the Jimbaran fish markets. Early morning is the best time, as the market’s in full throttle for the day’s sales. Finish the evening in Jimbaran, watching the sun set at one of the picturesque seafood warungs. There are three strips to choose from, with the southern section (near the Four Seasons) generally agreed to be the best. Watch out for high tide lapping at any belongings left on the ground.
2. Central Bali
Good for: food, unique coffee and natural wonders
Bali’s famous for the delicacy of babi guling – suckling pig – and no place does it quite like Ibu Oka in the centre of Ubud. For a communal experience, join other diners on the warung right opposite Ubud’s palace. If you’d prefer to sit, ask the staff to walk you a little further up the road to the ‘secret’ warung. The prices are the same, but it’s a little quieter, a little plusher and a little more tucked away. Nothing bonds people like a shared plate of succulently cooked pig skin. Delish!
Metered cabs are rare in Ubud but there are plenty of drivers around vying for your business (of mixed quality - if you find a driver you like, get his number!). However, more adventurous souls might like to jump on the back of a scooter and zoom up and down the mountainside. Better yet, from around 60,000RPK you can hire your own scooter. Once you get the feel of the ebb and flow of traffic, you’ll be free to explore the beautiful scenery of Bali’s mountains all by yourself. Scooter 16km north to the Elephant Safari Park at Desa Taro and marvel at the gentle beauty of rescued Sumatran elephants. Don’t be fooled by imitations. The only legitimate conservation park is the one booked through Bali Adventure Tours.
From Ubud, hire a driver and head north to Kintamani to see the awe inspiring sight of Gunung Batur, Bali’s second highest volcano. Its last eruption was in 1994, and traces of the black lava can still be seen. Worth it for the crater lake alone, it’s interesting to see the bustling of villages so close to a potentially murderous natural wonder. Make sure you check up on volcanic conditions before you go. Coffee lovers should stop en route to Kintamani at Tampaksiring to try kopi luwuk. Famous for passing the coffee bean through the digestive system of a cat, this coffee retails for a whopping $US50 a cup elsewhere – here, you’ll get it at a steal for around $US4.
3. North, East and everywhere else
Good for: waterfalls, kitesurfing and beach paradise
Cross through the mountain ridges at Danau Bratan, stopping for some sweet strawberries from one of the many roadside vendors. Head north towards Lovina Beach, stopping to check out the Gitgit Waterfalls. At Lovina, enjoy the chilled out atmosphere among the black sand and seafood warungs – just as fresh but much cheaper than Jimbaran – and revel in the lack of the tourist throng. If you can afford the time, make a little side trip to Air Panas Banjar, three natural hot springs open daily from 8am-6pm. Admission a steal at 5000RPK.
On the east coast of Bali, Sanur is much more laid back than beachside towns like Seminyak and Kuta but it’s worth a visit – particularly for those after the oceanic thrills of the former without the drunken revelry of the latter. Sanur is one of the best places in Bali to try out kitesurfing. Strap yourself in and go away with the breeze!
If you can spare the time, there are few greater experiences than hopping a boat in Candi Dasa and heading east to the Gili Islands for beach paradise. Sure, we're not in Bali any more, but it's so close that you could be. Rapidly gaining in popularity, it won’t be long before the Gilis are overrun with tourists seeking a blissful beach getaway with little to no responsibility, so get in quick. Just northwest of Lombok, the Gilis are a 90-minute boat ride from the east coast of Bali. Each island (Trewangan, Meno and Air) caters to a different kind of traveller, but all three share the same untouched beauty. There are no cars allowed on the islands, so get used to cycling or walking.
This article was first published in December 2011 and was republished in July 2013.