I visited Bali many years ago, and although the beaches are popular, I remember the interior most of all: sinuous rice paddies clinging to the green hills, and offerings on a leaf presented to me as a sign of friendship where I shopped and stayed. I remember the gorges, lush with tropical palms and vines; the graceful way the locals moved; the former temple where I slept and ate breakfast overlooking a lotus pond.
After a long time of political and health setbacks, international travelers have returned to beautiful Bali. Quarantines are no longer mandatory upon arrival, visas are not required to enter Indonesia, and more flights to the province are continuously being added.
For travelers wishing to connect with the Balinese culture, traditions and spiritual history, and the abounding beauty of the island’s interior, here are tips from Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, a sanctuary set in the heart of the lush jungle in Ubud. (And I add my own experiences.)
Visit the Ubud Art Market: Ubud is Bali’s cultural and spiritual heart, where the lush jungle meets the Ayung River. Located opposite the Puri Saren Royal Ubud Palace, the Ubud Art Market is opening in December 2022 after relocating and undergoing extensive renovations. Locally known as Pasar Seni Ubud, the market offers silk scarves, handmade woven bags, baskets, hats, and many other authentic handcrafted items.
Bali’s interior villages are filled with the arts, including paintings, masks, Balinese dances, and the ringing sound of the gamelon. Try to attend at least one of the dances; most villages feature a special one, including the famed “monkey dance.”
Cycle through Ubud’s rice fields: For a magnificent view of the rice fields and learn about the traditional irrigation system, travelers can take advantage of cycling through the Ceking Rice Terrace, with its sloping green patterns.
Taste local foods. Immerse yourself in the flavors of the Indonesian archipelago with local dishes including Tuna Gohu (ceviche), Sop Buntut (oxtail soup), Nasi Campur (Indonesian rice bowls), Babi Guling (Balinese suckling pig), and Beef Konro (slow roasted beef), making a connection with the community and Balinese people.
Hike to Mount Batur at sunrise: One of Bali’s sacred volcanoes, Mount Batur is 5,600 feet above sea level and accessible by a three-hour hike. With stunning panoramic views, Mount Batur offers a chance to watch the sunrise and connect with nature.
For glorious scenery without the elevation, Arjuna Gorge is Bali’s most amazing gorge walk and river tracing tour. In this 3.5 hour return tour, you will trace the clean rivers that run through the gorge, and feel the spiritual vibe of the lush jungle.
Experience cultural festivals, including open-air cremations. Annual events include Oct 22, Saraswati; Oct 26, Pagerwesi; Jan 4, 2023 Galungan. As for open-air cremations, you will come across them as you travel the roads; many are multi-phased celebrations of life, with parades, music, games and refreshments.
Trek to the highest temple: The Lempuyang Temple is both a physical and spiritual journey, onsidered one of the oldest and most sacred in Bali, offering a glimpse into the customs of the local Balinese community. Travelers can enjoy views of Mount Agung as they trek 1,700 steps to reach the temple.
Temples abound in the interior. To enter you’ll wear a checkered sarong around your waist, to become part of the island’s Hindu spirituality, whatever your beliefs.
(For tips and memories of wonderful destinations around the world, check out my award-winning travel podcast, Places I Remember with Lea Lane. Follow on Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen. Or on my website.)