One of Indonesia’s most popular island destinations, Bali is beloved by travellers seeking an affordable tropical getaway. The island is known for its beautiful beaches, majestic mountain scapes, spectacular rice fields and magical temples. Add into the mix gorgeous green landscapes, stunning waterfalls and a warm tropical year round climate and you’ve got an idyllic holiday location. Bali is also steeped in rich culture and religious traditions, so the island appeals to tourists seeking adventure, culture and natural beauty.
As a first time visitor to Indonesia, I was excited to have the opportunity to spend five days in Bali and experience what this well known tourist island had to offer. At the time I was living in Western Australia and because of its close proximity to Indonesia, Bali has become a hugely popular destination for West Aussies. After a short three and a half hour flight from Perth, we landed in Bali to rain and super high humidity, which I wasn’t quite prepared for.
Our base for the week was Seminyak, a sophisticated upscale beach resort located at the southern end of Bali. The area is known for its luxurious hotels, villas, spas and high end shopping. Seminyak, as well as Kuta, are two of the most popular areas for holidaymakers looking for an island base. Both areas have vastly different vibes. Kuta is a busier, budget friendlier, buzzing area with an abundance of eateries and bars for the budget conscious. Seminyak on the other hand is quieter and much more charming in my opinion. It’s home to designer boutiques, upscale restaurants, uber-cool beach bars and chic cafes.
The island has two distinct seasons, wet and dry. The best weather is from April to early November. However the climate is warm all year round, so when you visit shouldn’t be of much concern. We chose to visit in low season, despite the chance of rain and high humidity, because the island is generally quieter and you stand a much better chance of getting a good deal on accommodation. We eventually arrived at our base for the week, the Daluman Villas in Seminyak, and took the opportunity to relax a little because we had a lot of exploring ahead of us. While a lot of people visit Bali for rest and relaxation, to chill on the beach and knock back a few beers, we wanted to see as much of the island as we could. We’d already booked a local driver, which would make getting out to explore a whole lot easier.
If you’re planning a trip to Bali and want to experience what the island has to offer, here’s 5 fun and fabulous things to do in Bali.
Visit a sacred temple or two
Bali is known as the Land of the Gods, and the island is home to an insane amount of sacred temples; somewhere in the region of 10,000, believe it or not. Of course, there’s no chance you’re going to be able to explore them all. But don’t miss the opportunity to at least experience a handful during your stay on the island. Not only are they stunning, but visiting a sacred temple is a great way to get some insight into the local way of life.
With so many temples it might seem difficult to choose which ones to see. All of them are stunning in their own way. One of the most popular temples is Pura Tirta Empul, which is located near the town of Tampaksiring. Built around a sacred spring, locals and tourists alike visit to clean their bodies and spirits by bathing in the natural spring water. As with all sacred temples on the island, you’ll need a sarong to visit. But these are usually handed out as part of the entry price upon admission.
One of my favourite temples, Pura Luhur Uluwatau is perched atop a 70 metre high limestone cliff overlooking the beautiful Indian Ocean. It’s well worth a visit for its incredible sea views alone. One of the best times to visit this cliff-top temple is at sunset. Although it’s during this time of the day where it can get crowded and feel a bit touristy. Also, bear in mind that the temple is inhabited by a large number of monkeys. So it’s advisable to take off your glasses, earrings and hats, and to keep a tight grip on personal belongings.
Another temple I would highly recommend visiting is Pura Tanah Lot. Due to its location sitting atop a rock off-shore, Tanah Lot is one of the most photographed temples on the island. Said to have been built by fishermen in the 15th century, this ocean temple is best visited in the late afternoon. It’s also another good spot to watch the sun set into the ocean.
Other must-see temples include Pura Ulun Danu Bratan and Pura Taman Saraswati. The latter, in the centre of Ubud, was built by the royal family in the 19th century in dedication to the Hindu Goddness of Knowledge.
Enjoy the sun, sea and sand
Bali enjoys a warm all year round climate. So with such an affable climate, you’re pretty much guaranteed decent beach weather throughout the year. With its tropical climate and reputation as an island paradise, I was expecting pristine white sandy beaches. But the reality was quite different. At least in the tourist hotspots like Kuta and Seminyak, because pristine and white they are not. But that’s not to say a trip to Bali should’t incorporate some beach time. It would be rude not to. You just might have to travel a bit further to find the nicest beaches. Although be warned; it’s still a struggle to find a beach that I’d describe as idyllic.
If you head to the south end of the island it’s here where you’re most likely to find the nicest beaches Bali has to offer. Dreamland Beach on the Bukit peninsula is something of a Balinese beach icon. Located about 30 to 45 minutes south of Kuta, it’s easily one of the island’s prettiest beaches. Bingin Beach in Uluwatu is a popular spot for surfing and only 30 minutes from Denpasar Airport. Padang Padang Beach, also in Uluwatu, is another beach worth checking out. It’s another favourite with surfers, paddle boarders and sunbathers. It’s often packed, but there are quieter pockets on the beach.
When it comes to Bali’s beaches, my best advice is to not have high expectations. While the likes of Seminyak and Kuta are best avoided for serious beach time and sunbathing, they are still great locations for catching a Balinese sunset. Of the two, Seminyak Beach is much cleaner than Kuta, and usually less crowded.
Marvel at the island’s majestic waterfalls
I’ve always loved waterfalls and Bali is home to some of the most breathtakingly beautiful waterfalls you’re ever likely to see. Most of the island’s waterfalls are found in the highlands or mountains, including my favourite Sekumpul, one of the lesser known tourist spots on the island. We hired a local tour guide for the day and got to experience this incredible waterfall first hand. To this day it remains the highlight of my entire Bali trip.
Sekumpul (which means “group” in Indonesian) is actually a group of seven waterfalls scattered around the area. The tallest, which we headed to, is over 50 metres high. Whilst I have no hesitation in recommending a trip to this beautiful oasis, be warned that Sekumpul is one of the least accessible waterfalls, so getting to it can be a bit tricky. We wanted to see the falls close up and our journey included a short but thrilling motorbike ride, walking over a lot of slippery steps and trekking across a river. But it was totally worth it. Especially as it meant I had the opportunity to go for a swim underneath the waterfall. A first for me and a truly magical experience.
If you’d rather stick to more accessible waterfalls, tourist favourite Gitgit Waterfall is probably the easiest waterfall to get to. You’ll find the waterfall in the North of the island, approximately a two hour drive from Ubud. Once there, it’s a short 15 minute hike to reach the waterfall.
Unlike Gitgit, Kanto Lampo Waterfall is one of the island’s lesser known waterfalls. But it is just as beautiful, and only a 30 minute drive from Ubud or an hour from Seminyak and Kuta. The best time to visit is during the dry season, from April to September. At other times of the year it may become less accessible. Like most waterfalls on the island, it’s best to visit early in the day if possible, if you want to avoid the tourist crowds.
Like Kanto Lampo, Bhuana Sari Waterfall is another of Bali’s hidden gems. About a two and a half hour drive from Denpasar, it’s a little off the beaten track in the North of the island and therefore unknown to many tourists.
As nice as it is to explore lesser-known gems, waterfall chasing in Bali should include a trip to Tegenungan Waterfall near Ubud village. And not just because it’s one of the few waterfalls in Bali that aren’t situated in the highlands or mountains. Despite being somewhat isolated, the waterfall is one of the most popular amongst tourists and can get extremely busy throughout the day. Once you’ve navigated the markets it’s just a short walk down to the base of the falls. There are two platforms to view the waterfall from, which are connected by a bamboo bridge.
Entrance fees to visit the island’s waterfalls vary, so it’s always best to do a little bit of research before you travel.
Visit the world famous rice fields
Bali is world famous for its beautiful emerald green rice terraces. It’s home to some of the most breathtakingly beautiful rice fields in the whole of Indonesia. In fact, the island’s lush green rice paddy fields are as quintessential to Bali as its rainforests and beaches. So it’s no surprise that the rice fields are a popular tourist attraction. They also offer an interesting insight into the local way of life and Balinese culture.
One of the most popular is Tegalalang Rice Terraces, a valley of level upon level of rice paddies located north of Ubud. Just 20-30 minutes from Ubud by car, the best time to visit Tegalalang is in the early morning. As with all popular tourist attractions the rice terraces can get very busy during the later part of the day. You can get that must-have photo for the gram from the viewpoint at the top, or if you prefer to get closer, for a small fee you can walk into the rice terraces. Despite feeling somewhat commercialised, it’s still a pretty spot, surrounded by towering coconut trees.
Larger than Tegalalang but equally as impressive to the eye, the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces tends to attract less crowds. This is mainly because of its rural location in the middle of Bali near Ganung. Visit on a clear day and expect to be bowled over by an expanse of luscious green fields – a picturesque sea of green if you will – set against a stunning mountain backdrop. At more than 600 hectares, Jatiluwih is the largest of all rice fields in Bali and located around a 90 minute drive from Ubud or 2 hours from Kuta.
A lot of the rice terraces in Bali can be viewed for free, however that’s not the case for Jatiluwih. So don’t forget to pack some rupiah if you’re planning to visit as you will be required to pay a small fee. If you have time, take a walk into the rice fields, stroll along lush green grass and witness first hand the local way of life. With different tracks depending on your hiking capabilities, a walk through the paddy fields is another one of those unforgettable Bali experiences.
While there are plenty of other rice terraces in Bali, these two – along with Sidemen Valley Rice Fields – are known to be the most beautiful.
Visit the Monkey Forest in Ubud
When talking about unforgettable Bali experiences, Ubud’s Monkey Forest always gets a mention. Now, we didn’t actually visit the sacred Monkey Forest. Confession time: I’ve been a little scared of monkeys since a trip to a safari park as a child. However, I wanted to give it a mention because it is a popular tourist attraction and well worth including on your Bali itinerary. Unless of course you’re a little scared of monkeys, like me.
The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary – although most people just know it as the Monkey Forest – is a nature reserve and Hindu Temple in Ubud in the village of Padangtegal, which is just south of the main Ubud tourist area. Home to lots and lots of Balinese Macaque monkeys, before the pandemic put the entire world’s travel plans on hold, over 10,000 tourists would visit the forest every month.
The Monkey Forest is open daily and you’ll have to pay a fee of 50000 IDR to enter. My best advice would be to familiarise yourself with the rules before you go. Whilst you are allowed to feed the monkeys – you can even buy bananas to give to them – I would strongly advise against it. In fact, I wouldn’t take any food with you whatsoever. Not even a packet of sweets in your pocket. That way you’re far less likely to have to deal with harassment from hungry monkeys. By all accounts their sense of smell for food is akin to sharks smelling blood.
Other quintessential Bali things to do
Kopi luwak, also known as civet coffee, is one of the world’s most expensive coffees. It comes from plantations in Bali, and is made from the droppings of the Indonesian palm civet cat. So why not grab the opportunity to give it a try. We visited the Bali Pulina Coffee Plantation, which is not far from Ubud’s famous rice terraces. You’ll get to taste a variety of coffees and teas whilst enjoying the most incredible views. Now, I have been known to have rather expensive tastes, but I wasn’t keen on the taste of the civet coffee at all. I much preferred the vanilla coffee, lemon tea and chocolate coffee we also got to taste.
If coffee tasting isn’t your thing, head to the Ubud market for a bit of shopping. The market is in the centre of Ubud, opposite the Royal Ubud Palace, and is open every day. Give yourself a good hour to explore the market because amongst the usual tourist tat you’ll find some beautiful handcrafted items. And don’t be afraid to negotiate if you see something you like.
After a busy day of sightseeing and exploring, end the day with a sunset dinner at the beach. It’s a quintessential Bali thing to do. We enjoyed a sunset dinner at Jimbaran Bay Beach. The beach front is lined with restaurants serving a variety of fresh seafood. So all you need to do is walk along the beach and decide which restaurant takes your fancy.
The island of Bali is a tropical getaway offering an abundance of attractions and adventures, whether you’re vacationing on your own, with friends or as a family. It was my first ever trip to Southeast Asia and I had a lot of fun exploring this bucket list destination.