The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all but essential travel within 4 kilometres of the Mount Agung crater in East Bali due to ongoing volcanic activity .
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.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Bali.
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. The entrance to Banyu Wana Amertha is on a small road 3km north of Lake Buyan. It's easy enough to get to by motorbike if you're already in the area, but if coming from elsewhere on Bali, hiring a private driver to get you there is best. Bayu Sunrise can pick you up from anywhere on the island and will accompany you on the trails down to the falls; Bayu is related to many locals in the the village, so you'll be in good hands (700,000Rp for a car of up to six passengers from Ubud or Lovina).
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). Exhibits include classical Kamasan paintings and Batuan-style work from the 1930s and '40s and among the artists represented are I Gusti Nyoman Lempad (1862–1978), Ida Bagus Made (1915–1999), Anak Agung Gede Sobrat (1912–1992) and I Gusti Made Deblog (1906–1986). Stand-out works to seek out in the modern art gallery are Green Rice Paddies (1987) by Nasjah Djamin (1924–1999) and Wild Orchids (1988) by Widaya (1923–2002). In the traditional art gallery, look for The Dance Drama Arja (1945) by I Ketut Kasta (b 1945), Cremation Cememony (1994) by I Ketut Sepi (b 1941) and the extraordinarily detailed Wali 'Ekadesa Rudra' (2015) by I Wayan Mardiana (b 1970). The traditional art gallery is also home to a collection of works by expat artist Walter Spies (1895–1942), who played a significant role in the development of the Ubud painting school. It’s fun to visit ARMA when local children practise Balinese dancing and during gamelan practice. There are also regular dance performances and myriad cultural courses offered here. Enter the museum grounds from Kafe Arma on Jl Raya Pengosekan or around the corner at the ARMA Resort entrance. Your ticket includes a drink at the cafe.
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. Given its remote location, hiring a driver to get you to Sekumpul is ideal. Bayu Sunrise goes the extra mile by providing transport from anywhere on Bali, in addition to accompanying you through the village and hiking to the falls. From the car park, take a left and walk up the road. From here, it's 10 minutes to the official waterfall entrance. Beware of stalls marked 'Registration Station' in the area – they are not officially affiliated with the falls and have been known to trick tourists into paying up. When you see the 'Sekumpul Waterfall' sign, take another left and continue along the brick road past village residences and small shops – at the end of this path you'll find the official hut where you'll pay the admission fee. From here, continue down the trail to a steep hill where the stairs begin. You'll eventually make your way down to a stream (prepare to get your feet wet as you cross it); and the falls are shortly ahead.
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. The precise origins of the temple complex are not totally clear, but it almost certainly dates from prehistoric times. The stone bases of Pura Penataran Agung and several other temples resemble megalithic stepped pyramids and date back at least 2000 years. It was certainly used as a Hindu place of worship from 1284, when the first Javanese conquerors settled in Bali. By the 15th century Besakih had become a state temple of the Gelgel dynasty. When you reach the site there are two parking areas: Parkir Bawa and Parking Atas. The former is the main parking area and the first you'll encounter coming from the south; all tourists must park here. There is a ticket office close by. Sarongs and sashes are available next to the office, and must be worn; rental is included in your ticket. Many visitors bring their own.
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). Only Hindu worshippers can enter the small inner temple that is built on to the jutting tip of land. However, the views of the endless swells of the Indian Ocean from the cliffs are almost spiritual. At sunset, walk around the clifftop to the left (south) of the temple to lose some of the crowd. Ulu Watu is one of several important temples to the spirits of the sea along the south coast of Bali. In the 11th century the Javanese priest Empu Kuturan first established a temple here. The complex was added to by Nirartha, another Javanese priest who is known for the seafront temples at Tanah Lot, Rambut Siwi and Pura Sakenan. Nirartha retreated to Ulu Watu for his final days when he attained moksa (freedom from earthly desires).
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. The museum is the creation of Suteja Neka, a private collector and dealer in Balinese art, and his collection is huge. As well as works by Balinese and Indonesian artists, there are plenty of works by foreign artists who have called the island home, including Arie Smit, Johan Rudolf Bonnet, Theo Meier, Louise Garrett Koke, Donald Friend and Tay Moh-Leong. There's also a gift shop where quality local handicrafts can be purchased.
Don't miss one of the top temples on Bali, a serene place of enveloping calm. The huge royal water temple of Pura Taman Ayun, surrounded by a wide, elegant moat, was the main temple of the Mengwi kingdom, which survived until 1891, when it was conquered by the neighbouring kingdoms of Tabanan and Badung. The temple was built in 1634 and extensively renovated in 1937. It's a spacious place to wander around, away from crowds. The first courtyard is a large, open, grassy expanse and the inner courtyard has a multitude of meru (multitiered shrines). Lotus-blossoms fill the pools; the temple is part of the subak (complex rice-field irrigation system) sites recognised by Unesco in 2012. The market area immediately east of the temple has many good warungs for a simple lunch.
Built when the Dewa Agung dynasty moved here in 1710, this palace compound was laid out as a large square, believed to be in the form of a mandala, with courtyards, gardens, pavilions and moats. Most of the original palace and grounds were destroyed by the 1908 Dutch attacks; all that remain are the carved Pemedal Agung, the gateway on the south side of the square, the Kertha Gosa and the Bale Kambang. The ticket office is on the opposite side of JI Untung Surapati, next to the Puputan Monument.
A popular morning stop on a Bukit peninsula amble, this fish market is smelly, lively and frenetic – watch where you step. Brightly painted boats bob along the shore while huge cases of everything from small sardines to fearsome langoustines are hawked. The action is fast and furious. Buy your seafood here and have one of the warungs cook it up or, for an even better price, buy direct from the boats between 6am and 7am. There's also a street vendor selling delicious sugar-cane juice for 10,000Rp.