The mere mention of Bali evokes thoughts of a paradise. It's more than a place; it's a mood, an aspiration, a tropical state of mind.
Island of the Gods
The rich and diverse culture of Bali plays out at all levels of life, from the exquisite flower-petal offerings placed everywhere, to the processions of joyfully garbed locals shutting down major roads as they march to one of the myriad temple ceremonies, to the otherworldly traditional music and dance performed island-wide. Almost everything has spiritual meaning. The middle of Bali is dominated by the dramatic volcanoes of the central mountains and hillside temples such as Pura Luhur Batukau (one of the island's estimated 10,000 temples), while the tallest peak, Gunung Agung, is the island's spiritual centre.
One Island, Many Destinations
On Bali you can lose yourself in the chaos of Kuta or sybaritic pleasures of Seminyak and Kerobokan, surf wild beaches in the south or just hang out on Nusa Lembongan. You can go family-friendly in Sanur or savour a lavish getaway on the Bukit Peninsula. Ubud is the heart of Bali, a place where the culture of the island is most accessible, and it shares the island's most beautiful rice fields and ancient monuments with east and west Bali. North and west Bali are thinly populated but have the kind of diving and surfing that make any journey worthwhile.
Yes, Bali has beaches, surfing, diving and resorts great and small, but it's the essence of Bali – and the Balinese – that makes it so much more than just a fun-in-the-sun retreat. It is possible to take the cliché of the smiling Balinese too far, but in reality, the inhabitants of this small island are indeed a generous, genuinely warm people. There's also a fun, sly sense of humour. Upon seeing a bald tourist, many locals exclaim 'bung ujan', which means today's rain is cancelled – it's their way of saying that the hairless head is like a clear sky.
At the end of the day (which is the start of the day for some visitors), Bali's rich culture and many amazing sights are what takes Bali's sheer delight to another level. Because Bali is fun, no matter what you want or who you are. Seminyak has shops and designers, Kerobokan has luxe beachside resorts and superb eating, Kuta and Legian have the nightlife, and Canggu wraps it all into one irresistible package. Plunge deep into Bali's spirit while renewing your own in Ubud or catching the perfect wave in Bingin. You name it, it's here.
Tips & Travel trends to help you pick the perfect time to visit this destination.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Bali.
WaterfallBanyu Wana Amertha Waterfalls
Newly developed as a tourist attraction in early 2018, the falls here are among the best on Bali. It’s about a 20-minute walk from the car park; a 500m trail, which is paved only with concrete stones and logs, winds through a village and coffee plantation. You'll eventually arrive at a large sign, where the path diverges to four separate cascades. Touches like colourful shrubs, bamboo huts and bridges make them especially Insta-worthy. Get here before the crowds catch on.
MuseumMuseum Negeri Propinsi Bali
Think of this as the British Museum or the Smithsonian of Balinese culture. It's all here, but unlike those world-class institutions, you have to work at sorting it out – the museum could use a dose of curatorial energy. Most displays are labelled in English. The museum comprises several buildings and pavilions, including many examples of Balinese architecture, housing prehistoric pieces, traditional artefacts, Barong (mythical lion-dog creatures), ceremonial objects and rich displays of textiles. Ignore the 'guides'.
GalleryAgung Rai Museum of Art
If you only visit one museum in Ubud, make it this one. Founder Agung Rai built his fortune selling Balinese artwork to foreigners in the 1970s, and during his time as a dealer he also built one of Indonesia's most impressive private collections of art. This cultural compound opened in 1996 and displays his collection in two purpose-built gallery buildings – highlights include the wonderful 19th-century Portrait of a Javanese Nobleman and his Wife by Javanese artist Raden Saleh (1807–80).
Sitting 18km southeast of Singaraja, some six or seven separate waterfalls – all fed by upland streams – pour up to 80m over cliffs in a verdant bamboo-forested valley. From the car park, it's a hilly 45-minute, 1km walk through the tiny Sekumpul village, where trees of clove, cacao, jackfruit, mangosteen and more lead the way to steep stairs. Trails wind through the valley from one cascade to the other and its easy to while the day away in their splendor.
Hindu TemplePura Besakih
Perched nearly 1000m up the side of Gunung Agung, this is Bali's most important Hindu temple. The site encompasses 23 separate but related temples, with the largest and most important being Pura Penataran Agung, built on six levels terraced up the slope. It has an imposing candi bentar (split gateway); note that tourists are not allowed inside. The Pura Besakih complex hosts frequent ceremonies, but the recent eruptions of the volcano have kept both worshipper and visitor numbers down.
Hindu TemplePura Luhur Ulu Watu
This important temple is perched precipitously on the southwestern tip of the peninsula, atop sheer cliffs that drop straight into the ceaseless surf. Enter through an unusual arched gateway flanked by statues of Ganesha. Inside, the walls of coral bricks are covered with intricate carvings of Bali’s mythological menagerie (note that there's also an earth-bound menagerie of thieving monkeys). A popular Kecak dance is held in the temple grounds at sunset (arrive by 5pm).
One of Bali's oldest and most important monuments, this river-valley complex consists of 10 huge candi (shrines) cut out of rock faces. Each is believed to be a memorial to a member of 11th-century Balinese royalty. Legends relate that the whole group was carved out of the rock in one hard-working night by the mighty fingernails of Kebo Iwa. You'll need to be fit to explore here, as access to the valley and shrines is via a steep 250-step staircase.
ParkUbud Monkey Forest
This cool and dense swath of jungle officially houses three holy temples. The sanctuary is inhabited by a band of over 600 grey-haired and greedy long-tailed Balinese macaques who are nothing like the innocent-looking, doe-eyed monkeys on the brochures – they can bite, so be careful around them. Note that the temples are only open to worshippers.
GalleryNeka Art Museum
Offering an excellent introduction to Balinese art, the top-notch collection is displayed in a series of pavilions and halls. Don't miss the multiroom Balinese Painting Hall, which showcases wayang (puppet) style as well as the European-influenced Ubud and Batuan styles introduced in the 1920s and '30s. Also notable is the Lempad Pavilion, with works by the master I Gusti Nyoman Lempad (1862–1978), and the East-West Art Annexe, where works by Affandi (1907–90) and Widayat (1919–2002) impress. Good bookstore, too.
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in Bali.