How to plan a trip to Bali, Indonesia

The tropical Indonesian island of Bali has enticed travellers for over a century with its coralline seas, sacred volcanoes, mist-shrouded lakes and vibrant living heritage. A favoured holiday destination for antipodeans, Bali’s irresistible beaches beckon backpackers, surfers and families alike. The south-coast areas of Seminyak, Kuta and Canggu, close to the airport, are where most visitors flock to, but it’s even better when you roam a little further.


Best for: culture
Straddling a series of river valleys at the base of Bali’s central highlands, Ubud was once a cluster of villages with an eclectic art colony that drew writers, painters and filmmakers from distant lands. Today, its museums house sprawling collections by the island’s most revered artists and dozens of small galleries exhibit contemporary works, such as Purga Artspace, attached to the endearing library cafe, Littletalks Ubud. Listen out for the exuberant polyphony of gamelan (traditional ensemble music) emanating nightly from the temples. Ubud also hosts a celebration of contemporary artists, Ubud Open Studios, and Southeast Asia’s largest annual literary event, Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.

Be sure to visit one of Bali’s best independent bookstores, Ganesha Bookshop, and one of the nation’s leading traditional textile conservationists, Threads of Life. Delve further into Ubud’s cultural past and present and see a host of archaeological treasures on a walking tour led by Ubud Story Walks. After a culture-packed day, refresh in a secluded bungalow and the natural stone pool at Rumah Semanggi. For a culturally immersive stay, Gayatri and Honeymoon Guesthouse both preserve Bali’s ornate architectural style, while an edifying introduction to Indonesia’s diverse regional cuisines can be found at Warung Pulau Kelapa, Nusantara and Hujan Locale.


Best for: nature
The crisp air of Bedugul, a horticultural district in the undulating hills of central Bali, is a welcome reprieve from the dense humidity of the south. Overlooking Lake Beratan — said to have been Bali’s largest lake until an earthquake split it into three — lies Indonesia’s biggest botanical garden, Kebun Raya Bali. Established in the late 1950s, it contains 2,400 species from across the archipelago, including a giant ficus thought to be over 100 years old whose towering, Tolkienesque roots have tangled into awe-inspiring arches. A stroll east past ancient cycads is one of the island’s most picturesque picnic spots: a grassy slope fringed by the saffron blooms of flame trees before the duck-egg blue lake beyond.

Visitors can wake to this view at Kebun Raya Bali’s onsite Guesthouse Etnobotani or take a 20-minute drive along the northeastern shore of neighbouring Lake Buyan to Giriwood, a boutique hotel with villas enveloped by the Wanagiri forest. Around one mile north is the trailhead to Banyu Wana Amertha, an ensemble of four exquisite waterfalls. When it’s time to refuel, the bebek timbungan — tender, aromatic duck cooked in bamboo — at Secret Garden Village is a delicious option.


Best for: adventure
Against the backdrop of majestic Mount Agung, Bali’s tallest and most sacred volcano, Amed on the island’s northeast coast is as enchanting below the water as it is above. A string of seven fishing villages fanning out from black sand shores, its usually calm seas and fertile volcanic soils have created a haven for weird and wondrous creatures. From otherworldly nudibranchs (soft-bodied marine molluscs) to mind-boggling mimic octopuses, the critters lurking in Amed’s silty depths have secured its reputation as a global hotspot for macro diving — a style of diving named after the kind of lens photographers use to capture such colourful marine life. Meanwhile, just over nine miles northwest in the shallow waters of Tulamben lies the coral-draped skeleton of the USAT Liberty, one of the most accessible wreck dive sites in the world.

If you prefer snorkelling over scuba diving, keep an eye out for hawksbill sea turtles gracefully gliding over the reefs fringing the coast. One of the healthiest reefs is just over 300ft west of The Kampung, two collections of charming wooden seafront bungalows and a spacious villa for up to ten guests. You can order in hearty Indonesian meals from Warung Agung (try the fragrant pepes ikan — fish steamed in a banana leaf) or sample the superb Spanish omelette from Zaitun.


Best for: relaxation
One of the island’s oldest tourism areas, Sanur’s gentle charm and relatively minimal traffic make it popular among visitors seeking Bali’s more serene side. In contrast to the southwest’s barrelling swells, Sanur’s southeast coast is an almost constantly calm tidal lagoon protected by distant reefs. At sunrise and sunset when the wind is low, the lagoon glows like a vast mirror, glassy and luminescent, reflecting the celestial hues of the changing sky. On clear dusks and dawns, the silvery silhouette of Mount Agung soars above the horizon.

A paved path — the first beachfront walk in Bali — stretches across the sand from Sanur Beach to Mertasari Beach around four miles south. Recently doubled to designate pedestrian and cycle lanes, it’s lined with clothing stalls, cafes, seafood restaurants and resorts, such as the boutique Tandjung Sari. Established in the early 1960s, the luxury heritage hotel has an open-air restaurant that serves refined Indonesian dishes and international favourites beneath the curving limbs of towering trees adorned with lanterns. Families looking for a relaxing getaway will enjoy the miniature water park at Prama Sanur Beach Bali and appreciate the creative comfort food at Soul on the Beach and Shotgun Social.

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