Few destinations match the beauty and bounty of Bali’s beach-to-jungle oasis. After more than two years of closed borders due to the pandemic, a crushing blow for the tourism dependent locale, the island is now embracing a big bounce back.
Bali, known as “the island of the gods,” is shaped by the powerful forces of imposing volcanoes, treacherous seas, and deep jungles. With a population of about 4 million residents, more than 80% of whom are Hindu, the island is distinct from the rest of the Indonesian archipelago, whose 270 million citizens are almost 90% Muslim. Culturally, that’s reflected in the daily rhythms of life on the island, the omnipresent abundance of temples, and the unmistakable characteristics of Balinese architecture.
The traditional way of life on Bali is summed up with the phrase “Tri Hita Karana,” or the three causes of well-being, representing that happiness and fulfillment are derived when humanity is in balance with nature and god. That kind of spiritual experience is what a trip to Bali offers first-time visitors, and is a key part of what makes the destination such a haven for those who continue returning time after time.
Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, is one of only five such properties in the world. The Ubud resort is almost imposing in its grand beauty and scale. The hotel is built scaling down towards the valley floor from a hilltop lobby, and offers a mix of expansive suites and private villas. With its elaborate Balinese architecture and décor, serene surroundings, and dedicated butler service, the property is evocative of a luxury temple sanctuary purpose-built for the supreme relaxation and indulgence of its guests.
With just 23 spacious luxury tents, the Capella Ubud offers a swanky and activity-filled safari camp experience. The property takes a “time travel” approach to its offerings, with 1800s era, expedition-style furnishings. Each villa, all of which have private plunge pools, are themed for an explorer-adjacent activity, such as the photographer or naturalist tent. The resort’s spaces further the theme, with a postcard-worthy pool known as “the cistern,” a gym called “the armory,” and a lounge known as “the officer’s tent,” that’s home to afternoon tea and cocktail hours.
The Four Seasons Bali at Jimbaran Bay’s Sundara Beach Club boasts Bali’s longest infinity pool, spanning 57 meters across a pristine swath of private beach. The all-villa resort has 147 across a colorful, flower-and-tree dotted landscape. Oceanfront villas with personal plunge pools allow guests to luxuriate amid the sounds of the crashing waves, ensconced in personal abodes evocative of traditional Balinese homes. The new Healing Village Spa comprises a full compound and offers a unique mix of services; try the Celestial Light Ritual, a two-hour treatment in a special chromotherapy room.
Excursions to different parts of the island generally require a several hour drive in each direction, so prioritize a few top choices. The Ubud Monkey Forest is home to hundreds of Balinese long-tailed macaques, which are well fed and cared for, with the freedom to run around the large grounds. Consider a cooking class and market tour, with a provider such as Ubad Ubud Bali, with classes held in the traditional home of its instructor.
Elsewhere in Ubud, the Campuhan Ridge Walk offers an up-close glimpse of tiered rice paddies, while rafting down the Ayung river offers immersion into the jungles with a splash of wet thrills. A Mt. Batur sunrise hike provides Bali’s best view, and should be booked with a local provider rather than attempted alone.
There are hundreds of temples on the island: Tirta Empul is a national cultural heritage site and offers a famed water purification ceremony, while at the southern tip of the island, Uluwatu Temple offers cliff-side views and daily fire dances. Pura Tanah Lot, near Canggu, is known for its passage that can only be traversed during low tide. Pura Besakih, in the northeast, is a massive complex of temples, as is Pura Penataran Agung Lempuyang, farther east, and known for its Gates of Heaven viewpoint.
EAT & DRINK
Sampling the flavors of Balinese and Indonesian cuisine is one of the joys of visiting the island, and from street food to fine dining, there’s something for everyone. For the former, make a visit to the Sayan Night Market, and for the latter, try Nusantara, Locavore or Hujan Locale. Moksa is a vegan restaurant and cafe which has become a haven for expats.
Bali’s best craft cocktail bar is 40 Thieves, located above a noodle shop and offering live music at night, while the team’s new venue, Cloak and Dagger, showcases an experimental drinks selection. The chef’s table at Sokasi, at the Four Seasons Sayan, is an incredible interactive feast showcasing traditional Balinese festival fare, and the omakase tasting menu at the Capella Ubud’s Api Jiwa restaurant offers a thrilling combination of local ingredients refashioned with modern techniques.
The new clifftop Ambar at Mandapa offers crafty cocktails, such as coconut-aged Negronis, with garden seating and jungle views. Sunset chasing, cocktail in hand, is a tried and true pursuit along Bali’s west coast: try the Rock Bar at Ayana Resort, the island’s most well known perch for such ventures, or the rooftop Sunset Park at Desa Potato Head. Make it an all-day outing at the latter by visiting the Potato Head Beach Club during the afternoon.
The writer was hosted by the Four Seasons Bali, Capella Ubud, and Mandapa Ritz-Carlton Reserve.