Bali is a relatively small island in Indonesia with a population of ~4M people and it can be easily driven from North to South in about 70 miles by car. The province of Bali includes 3 smaller, neighboring islands including Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan which are also wonderful destinations to visit while in Bali.
Bali is located between the islands of Java and Lombok and is the ONLY predominantly Hindu island in all of Indonesia. To put it in perspective, Indonesia consists of over 17,500 islands of which only 2% of the population is Hindu. Most of the Indonesian population practices Muslim. So, when you visit Bali and realize that over 85% of the island is Hindu, you can’t help but notice the profound influence on the people and the culture. Balinese people are some of the happiest, most cheerful, kind and friendly islanders we have ever met. And the service we received in the hotels and restaurants was always top notch.
In Bali, tourism-related businesses make up the vast majority of the economy and the Balinese people knowingly rely on tourism and gratuities to survive. That said, you can always expect the Balinese to go out of their way for you and to provide you with a terrific, 5-star experience while on the island.
Bali is also well known for its refined artistic culture, including traditional dance, wooden sculptures, painting, metalworking and Indonesian-style music. Generally speaking, the culture of arts is more prevalent in Bali than in any other tropical island we’ve visited in the world.
Upon arrival at the Denpasar airport in south Bali, we were immediately relieved to have arrived safely despite all the concern and media frenzy regarding the eruption of Mount Agung. We were glad to make it to Bali since many flights were cancelled the month before. Once on the ground, we learned from the locals that the volcanic activity was causing an incredibly wet rainy season, with rainstorms almost every day. Case in point, it rained almost every day during our 18 days in Bali. So, for future travelers, be warned that November through February is rainy season in Bali. Pretty much ANY other month should be excellent for weather. The driest months tend to be July through September and that is considered high season.
For our 1st week in Bali, we decided to stay near the beaches of Seminyak because the area offers gorgeous hotels, prime beaches, tons of restaurants and bar as well as a large area of shops and tourist services. Seminyak really does offer something for everyone.
We stayed at The Double Six hotel which is a luxury hotel, in a great location with excellent upscale restaurants, a beach across the street and plenty of nightlife nearby. We were surprised to see how deserted the hotel was but learned that the news stories about Mt. Agung Volcano caused a huge decrease in tourism this year. That said, hotels which would usually be at 100% capacity were running at only 20-30% capacity.
The Double Six is a brand-new, highly-contemporary hotel with all the latest and greatest in technology and amenities. Not to mention, the all-inclusive breakfast is definitely noteworthy. There are 2 excellent restaurants on site which are very popular and renowned in Seminyak. The pool is nothing super special but we liked having the choice between a pool day and a beach day. Plus, all the rooms seem to have ocean views which is a plus. We recommend The Double Six for couples and adults looking for a fun-filled vacation. This is NOT a place for families with small children.
Due to the timing of our trip, we were limited on activities/tours we could do because of the excessive rain. Some of the most popular tours are 8 to 12 hour beach and island adventures. Nusa Lembongan Island has become a “mini Bali” with organized day trips, excursions and even hotels on the island. It is well known for snorkeling, sea walks and scuba diving tours, as well as less-crowded, little-known beaches.
We decided to take a chance on the rain and take a fast boat to Nusa Penida which is the newest island, recently opened to tourism. And let us just warn you that Nusa Penida has NO tourist infrastructure. There are NO hotels, NO restaurants and NO bars on the island. It’s really a place that is all about diving and exploring the beauty of mother nature including Broken Beach, Angel’s Billabong, Kelingking Beach and Crystal Bay. See the photo gallery below or the “Instagram-worthy” shots of these gorgeous untouched sights. All of these spots are exquisite, especially on a sunny day. But unfortunately, we scheduled our tour during 2 straight days of torrential downpours and thunderstorms. So, we didn’t exactly have an enjoyable day on Nusa Penida. Even the 75 minute boat ride to get there was treacherous with 6 foot swells and thunder strikes.
If you are looking for an amazing dive opportunity or the chance to get some frameable photos, Nusa Penida may be the perfect day trip for you. No doubt this island will grow and become a real tourist mecca within the next 10-15 years.
When in South Bali, you don’t want to miss the chance to visit Uluwatu for at least 1 day. It takes about 90 minutes to drive South to Uluwatu from Seminyak and it features breathtaking sea side villages on a cliff’s edge.
We hired a driver (600K IDR for 8 hours) to take us to a brand-new beach club called One Eighty Beach Club at The Edge Hotel, a pristine, luxurious, 5-star experience. The highlight is an unforgettable, glass-bottom infinity pool suspended 500ft above the sea! Our day at One Eighty was one of our favorites while in Bali and if you’re the type who likes beautiful views, first class service, comfortable day beds and a pampered experience, you will love it as well.
For a more traditional rustic beach experience, try Bingin Beach but be prepared for the large number of stairs and lack of shops and restaurants. You will want to bring your own provisions here.
But aside from the beaches and cliffside resorts of Uluwatu, you’ll want to spend an evening watching the sunset at Uluwatu Temple and catching a show of the traditional Balinese Kecak fire dancing. Both are highly unique to the region and will provide for a great day, especially if the weather is sunny and clear! Just beware of the monkeys at the temple. Don’t wear hats and sunglasses and definitely don’t bring any food with you or you are bound to have it stolen away by a hungry monkey!
Obviously, Bali is best known as a beach and surf destination for Australians and world travelers alike. So of course, everyone wants to know what the best beaches are to visit, right? Well, we didn’t realize that December in Bali is rainy season and it rains almost every single day. It’s not that tropical Hawaii rain either that only lasts for 30 minutes and clears up. We had several days when it literally never stopped raining. That being said, we didn’t spend much time at the beach and when we did, we found the beaches to be very dirty with a lot of trash washing up on shore. We’ve been told that during the summer months, the beaches are much better kept and cleaned by the locals. So, if you’re a beach lover, don’t travel to Bali from November through February as you will likely experience a fair amount of rain.
Since we spent 19 days in Bali, we did learn a lot about the most desirable beaches to visit and we want to mention a few of them here. Bali beaches range from palm-fringed white sand coasts on the south such as Kuta, Nusa Dua and Sanur, to the cliff-guarded shores of Uluwatu, Padang Padang, Dreamland and Bingin Beach.
The most popular beach destination in the south of Bali is Kuta! It’s a party centric area with good surfing, beach clubs and nightlife. The south of Bali is really best known for amazing beach towns but there are a few in the east such as Padang Bai, Amed Beach and Blue Lagoon as well.
Another great area to relax and lounge in the sun is Canggu. Canggu Beach is a village and up-and-coming resort area between Seminyak and Tanah Lot. The coastline of Canggu has many black-sand beaches, almost all with surf breaks that draw surfers from around the world. Some of these beaches include Berawa, Batu Bolong, Batu Mejan aka ‘Echo Beach’, Pererenan, Seseh and Mengening. Also, the photos of The Lawn Beach and La Brisa look epic as well. For details on all the beaches in Bali, CLICK HERE!
As far as night life, there are many restaurants, bars and clubs to accommodate most anyone’s preferences. Two of the most prominent and impressive day clubs which also turn into evening lounges are Potato Head and Ku De Ta. Don’t let the names fool you – these 2 places draw quite the crowd and rightfully so. The ambiance is casual chic, the cocktails are exquisite, the food is very good and the people watching cannot be beat. If you are interested in a bit of socializing and beach club fun while in Seminyak, you must try one or both of these places.
As far as shopping goes, many streets are lined with fashion boutiques, nail and hair salons, massage and spa services, etc. We don’t recommend the hair salons if you can avoid them but the massage spas offer excellent services for unbelievably low prices.
There are countless clothing boutiques in the area as well selling everything from t-shirts and souvenirs to bathing suits and high fashion dresses. I personally loved the clothing selection but found that the brand name items were just as pricey as in the USA. The only place you can truly bargain for deals is at the “markets” where vendors are set up in stalls and there are no prices on the merchandise. The clothing boutiques tend to be priced similarly to the boutiques in north America.
Broken Beach in Nusa Penida, an island 1 hour off the Southern Coast of Bali. As you can see, it's best visited on a SUNNY day.
Video from the Infinity pool at One Eighty Resort in Uluwatu, Bali. The Edge hotel is a premier luxury resort with a gorgeous beach club and ocean views from the cliff side.
After 1 week in the beach area of Seminyak, we were excited to escape to the jungles of Ubud! Since it was Christmas time and my parents were joining us for the holidays, we splurged on a 5-star boutique resort called the Ubud Village Resort & Spa. The property is beautiful and all the accommodations are gorgeous villas with a rustic, jungle feel. It’s the perfect resort for peace and relaxation as there are only a total of 30 villas on the property. That being said, you are in the jungle, so if you’re sensitive to animal noises like geckos, birds and frogs, you may want to think twice. If you do decide to stay at Ubud Village Resort & Spa, you will find the service impeccable. We found the people of Bali to be so friendly, accommodating and helpful, They will do everything in their power to make your experience unforgettable.
After 7 nights in the jungle, we decided to move to their sister property called Ubud Village Hotel which is located in the heart of Ubud, walking distance to all the shops, restaurants and the Monkey Forest. This gave Mike and I the opportunity to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the community leading up to New Year’s Eve. The hotel is not nearly as classy but the location is excellent and the service was excellent as well.
Discover The Waterfalls
Waterfall trekking is a huge pastime in Bali. The jungle is so green and lush that there are countless waterfalls, some easy to access and very touristy, others super secluded and hard to find. There are a number of tours you can do to find the best waterfalls in the area; however, since we experienced such heavy rain while in Bali, we only tackled a few. Here are our recommendations:
We had so much fun white water rafting on the Ayung River. We went with Red Paddle and our guide Frank was the best. It’s a pretty easy ride and great for non-experienced paddlers but it was exhilarating, peaceful and beautiful all at the same time.
As a tip, there are usually rafting tours in the morning and in the afternoon. The afternoon tours are much less busy with less boats in the water, making it a more pleasant experience. When booking any tour, make sure to ask for discounted rates in off season.
Rice Terrace Trekking is also a popular tourist pastime in Bali. It’s definitely interesting to learn how rice is grown and cultivated. In Bali, you will find some of the most gorgeous rice terraces in the world, definitely photo worthy! The most popular is Tegalalang Rice Terrace Trek or just view the terraces from afar. There is some great local market shopping near Tegalalang and many small cafes in the area as well. If you choose to trek the terraces, bring some cash with you as you will be asked by local farmers for ‘donations’ throughout the day (for walking all over their land). Wear the proper shoes and clothes based on the weather and bring water to drink. It’s hot and can be a pretty good workout. If you’re located in North Bali, check out Jatiluwih Rice Terraces as those look even more beautiful but were a far driver for us while based in Ubud.
One thing that I really enjoyed doing while in Bali was searching for the best Swing Rides! That’s right, there are huge, scary and thrilling swing rides all over the area of Ubud. They aren’t free and some are actually quite expensive around $25USD per person. But I had such a blast swinging at Uma Pakel and enjoying the Luwak Coffee Plantation right next door.
Visit The Temples
Our favorite, top 5 most beautiful temples for photos would be:
Experience The Wildlife
Since Ubud Bali is a town in the jungle, it is a memorable experience to visit the Kemenuh Butterfly Park (100K IDR Per Person). You learn all about the life cycle of butterflies, you can enjoy a walk amongst several different species and you can even wear one in your hair if you like!
By far, the coolest experience was the Ubud Monkey Forest where there are thousands of monkeys roaming around looking for food. You pay 50,000 IDR for entry and another 50,000 IDR for a bushel of bananas to feed them. But beware, if you are carrying ANY food, within minutes, the monkeys will find you, climb you and wrestle you for the food! We saw monkeys steal food right out of a shopping bag, out of a back pack and even out of someone’s pocket! We even saw a monkey steal the hat right off a man’s head. Bottom line: the monkeys are known to be naughty. So, make sure to follow the rules so you don’t get hurt. But otherwise, if you respect the monkeys, you are bound to have a great time.
Overall, we were not very impressed with the food in Bali. The only meal that was consistently good at all the resorts was Breakfast. Otherwise, Balinese food is quite bland and centers around crispy duck, roasted chicken, and suckling pig as the main specialties. Luckily, there is a wide variety of cuisines in Bali including Italian, Indonesian, Mexican, Steakhouses and International. But of course, Balinese style food is most prevalent and most affordable too.
Here are a selection of long-standing, good restaurants that we recommend in Bali. None are super expensive but would be considered mid-range pricing:
Ubud Bali is known for its amazing and thrilling swing rides. This one was a huge highlight at Uma Pakel!
White Water Rafting in Ubud Bali is a great experience with gorgeous views. It's pretty easy for a first-timer or for families with kids. We booked our tour through Red Paddle Adventures.
Rice Terraces are a huge part of Balinese agriculture and thus, you can find them all over the country. Here is a quick video of a rice terrace near Ubud after the rain.