From the lush ricefields to the idyllic beaches offering unparallelled diving and surfing, Bali has long drawn travellers seeking spiritual and physical rejuvenation. We break down everything you need to know about a trip to Bali in our Bali travel guide here.
Rich with ancient monuments, from Hindu temples to woodcraft, statues and puppets that tell stories from centuries upon centuries ago, Bali appeals equally to those with a curiosity for Balinese culture from food, to trades, to dance as much as it does to those who just want to surf, eat fresh, spicy food and shop on a shoestring budget.
Within Bali, travelling from North to South, East and West is often merely a taxi, bus or scooter trip of a few hours. The Balinese are beloved for their hospitality and warmth, and spas abound from Seminyak through to Sanur and Ubud. Kuta and the Bukit Peninsula offer surf beaches worthy of sunrise adventures and there’s food and book festivals in Ubud that attract an international audience annually.
Getting to Bali
The flight to Bali is approximately six and a half hours with direct flights from the major cities on a daily basis. Most airlines offer direct flights so there’s competitive deals year round.
Things to do in Bali
Bali has many faces and attracts a diverse collection of international travellers. Some seek the beaches and surfing hotspots, others are after family friendly shopping and entertainment, and others want to immerse themselves in the spiritual and cultural traditions that have attracted so many expats to the island.
Uluwatu Temple, high above the ocean on a clifftop, is a Hindu sea temple south of Kuta.
If you can rouse yourself for an early start, the hike up volcanic Mount Batur to the summit will reward you with sunrise views over the villages and lakes below.
Dating back to the 9th century, visit Goa Gajah for the stone carvings of Hindu Gods. Also known as Elephant Cave, this destination is near Ubud and can easily be reached by scooter or taxi (or walking if you’re so inclined). It was built as a sanctuary for meditation, and the menacing faces carved into the surrounding entrance to the cave are intended to ward off evil spirits.
Of all the divine natural idylls in Bali, Gitgit Waterfall is one of the most lovely and memorable. Take the walking trail via a bridge walkway to discover natural pools and the waterfall. Approximately 40 minutes from Denpasar or less than 10 minutes from Singaraja Town in the north of Bali.
Retreats and relaxation
Whether you prefer a retreat that includes all accommodation, activities and food or whether you prefer to organise accommodation and explore the town for spas and wellness activities, Bali caters to either and all proclivities.
Pampering is a must-do in Bali, with massage, hair, pedicures, waxing and facials all a fraction of the price of those same luxe treatments anywhere else. Bali Spas are world renowned for their quality and attention to detail, as well as the inclusion of traditional beauty rituals into treatments.
Prana Spa in Seminyak looks much like an Indian Palace, adorned with rich carpets and high celings. Facials and massage are their most popular treatments.
Maria Curau in Canggu offers vegan-friendly nail treatments. Their non-toxic, environmentally friendly mindset appeals to the local expat and tourist clientele.
Como Shambhala Estate
In the highlands of Ubud, Como Shambhala Estate is great for couples. Treatments take place overlooking the Petanu River and lush jungle surrounds.
Como Shambhala Estate has three sites in Bali, offering five star rooms, suites and villas in addition to an Ayurvedic spa. You could easily spend an entire day experiencing spa treatments, while also doing reformer Pilates, yoga or taking guided surfing trips (Canggu) or temple walks (Ubud).
Whether it’s homewares, artwork, furnishings or antiques and jewellery, Bali’s traditional artisans sell their wares alongside designer brands and bargain tourist bric-a-brac.
Art markets in Bali offer a world of handicrafts, homewares and more in a sprawling arrangement of kiosks. Try Kumbasari Art Market in Denpasar, Ubud Art Market, Sukawati Art Market (Gianyar, near Ubud) and Kuta Art Market near Kuta Beach.
Simply walking the main streets, you’ll come across shops selling everything from sandals and belts to swimwear, lingerie, yoga clothes, traditional teas, herbs and tonics, and more. Dotted between shops are juice bars, cafes and beauty salons so as your shopping spirit flags, a fresh cucumber juice and a pedicure might revive you. The main streets of Kuta, Seminyak, Legian, Ubud and Canggu all offer a great shopping experience.
Surfing, volcano walks, waterfall tours: if you want to get outdoors and explore the beauty of Bali, there’s options galore. You can pre-book tours with the assistance of a travel agent or via your accommodation usually but you’re just as likely to find a great tour or bargain experience through any of the kiosks dotted in the streets of Kuta, Seminyak, Ubud, Legian and Canggu.
In Ubud, you could opt to go white water rafting, take a private tour of the Hot Spring Waterfalls or climb Mount Batur volcano. Bali Sun Tours offers quad bike adventure routs through bamboo forests and rice paddies of rural Bali. A full day private tour to the Gate of Heaven Water Palance in Taman Ujung (Lombok) sees you spend the day in eastern Bali. Bali Natural Tours runs snorkelling half-day tours (with complimentary hotel pickup/drop off) inclusive of all snorkelling gear. In Northern Bali, go canyoning at Kerenkali Canyon. All safety equipment and instructions are provided by an an expert in adventure activities. If you’re less keen on adventuring and more interested in wildlife and learning about conservation efforts, a visit to Bali Zoo in Sukawati might include a dinner or breakfast experience with orangutans and elephants.
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Best Places to Go in Bali
The most popular tourist destinations in Bali are still the most recommended for their range of accommodation choices, dining spots, easily accessible roads and walking trails, and natural scenery. Each has its own personality and attracts a distinctive tribe.
Seminyak appeals to families, those seeking a combination of boutique shopping, nightlife and Western food and accommodation. With easy access to the beach and also to shopping centres, this is a great place for families and couples.
Ubud attracts a very creative crowd, with its annual writers festival and celebration of yoga and spirituality. It has been especially popular since Julia Roberts had her spiritual awakening there in movie Eat, Pray, Love (2010).
Canggu has long been the most popular expat destination with schools and a much more Western population residing here. Like Ubud, it attracts the yoga and spirituality crowd, while also having boutique shopping and enviable surf beaches.
Nusa Dua is an upmarket resort town more removed from central Bali. It is ideal for those who want to escape the crowds and really opt for a luxury escape.
Kuta is relatively cheaper than Ubud, Canggu and Seminyak in regards to accommodation, dining and shopping. It has developed a reputation as a party destination for a younger crowd, though it remains popular amongst Australian family travellers. It can serve as a starting point or a central return point for day trips regardless.
Sanur is relaxed and comfortable and much less busy than Kuta. While the accommodation tends to be more mid-range as opposed to luxury resorts (as in Seminyak and Nusa Dua), it is also more affordable and certainly modern with shopping, eating and cultural highlights.
Best time to visit Bali
Typically, it is is tropical, warm and humid most of the year with two distinct seasons: Dry (April – September) and Rainy (October – March).
During April, May and June the air is less humid relative to the rest of the year. It’s quite dry with little rainfall. Following peak season, it is also relatively dry and less busy in September.
These are the ideal months for water sports such as diving, surfing and snorkelling and also for sightseeing – temples, tours, volcanoes and waterfalls.
The most popular and busy times for international travellers is during July and August, and also during the Christmas and Easter holidays. Room prices and rentals are generally 30 – 50% cheaper outside of these peak times, and it’s easier to find a seat in restaurants, cheaper tours or shopping bargains since many businesses are offering promotions to lure customers outside of peak season.
Traffic in Bali is hectic year round with very little in the way of road rules, but it can be especially busy and congested during peak periods. Travelling in the suggested months of April, May, June and September definitely avoids the worst of the road overload.
In Bali’s central mountain area, close to the volcanoes, the temperatures are much cooler with higher rainfall than in the coastal destinations.
Tours and deals
Year round, there are tours to Bali and Lombok via well reputed travel experts, Intrepid Group. Whether it’s a cycle tour, or a hiking and adventure or cruise, there’s options that explore various parts of Bali and cater to solo, group or family travellers.
Helloworld enables you to search via area and area of interest (hiking, cruises, food, wildlife) for a tour that meets your travel goals.
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Choosing Where to Stay in Bali
Whether it’s a backpacker hostel or a 5 star luxury resort, Bali is rich with choices. Bali is eminently more affordable than Australia when it comes to hotels and resorts though, so a luxury hotel is often still budget friendly. If you opt to go outside of the peak tourist times, it will prove even more affordable.
Private villas are more expensive, but a great option for a family or group and some provide their own staff or private swimming pools.
Beyond the standard accommodation, you may opt for private rentals or homestays. These are less reliable than hotels and resorts though as often there is little evidence of their popularity or previous guest experiences and ratings.
Como Canggu, Ubud
Como does nothing by half and their iconic Ubud luxury resort has long had visitors in thrall to their design, facilities, friendly and responsive staff and the sense of being part of Ubud, but also safely apart from the heat, noise and traffic of the central township. Como Canggu is ideal for couples, singles seeking a luxe getaway and groups seeking a treat for themselves. Dining, yoga and Pilates, spa services and business facilities are all available.
Read our guide to the best luxury escapes in Bali for more places to stay.
Ayodya Resort Nusa Dua
This gorgeous beachfront haven in Nusa Dua has a fitness centre, large outdoor pool, on-site dining and bar. Known for its friendliness and five-star facilities, it’s a great choice in Nusa Dua.
The Anvaya Beach Resort, Kuta
Located centrally in Kuta, The Anvaya is a family-friendly beach front resort with activities, dining, pools and yoga classes. For couples and those who want to keep the kids entertained, this is a must.
Amadea Resort & Villas Seminyak
An easy walk to the cafes and shops of Seminyak’s central area, Amadea offers restaurants, bars, spa services and free wifi. Both couple and family friendly, the chic design of these villas and the accommodation generally reflect the upmarket feel of Seminyak as a destination.
Y Resort, Ubud
Far from the noise and bustle of the Monkey Forest in central Ubud, Y Resort is located in a quieter region which is still an easy walk, scooter, bus or taxi to the central area of Ubud and will take no longer than 2 minutes by scooter. With spa services, a pool, friendly staff and morning breakfast and all-day meal options, this is a great stay for singles, couples, families and groups.
Hotel Tjampuhan, Ubud
For scenic vistas over Ubud, it’s hard to beat Hotel Tjampuhan. The pool looks directly into the lush jungle forestry of Ubud and waking up to birds and singing staff is a joy. On site dining, spa and bus into Ubud central are all offered here.
Como Umu Canggu
This luxurious option close to Echo Beach in Canggu, Como Umu Canggu offers Pilates, yoga, spa, dining and a sense of being distant from the noise and busyness of Canggu. Secure and guarded from the main road, guests who want to be pampered will seek this venue out. For surfers, it’s less than a minute to the beach and at sunset, the views can’t be beat.
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Best Balinese Food Experiences
The tropical climate in Bali definitely lends itself to fresh, colourful dishes rich with spices and herbs. Nasi Goreng, fried rice served with vegetables and a choice of chicken, shrimp or pork is a staple dish on many dining menus.
With so many affordable dining venues, it’s safest to eat in rather than go for the street stalls. We’ve collated a list of the top 10 cafes and restaurants in Bali to help narrow it down for you.
Typically, Balinese food is considered to have a physical and spiritual impact on the body and therefore meals are rich in a variety of flavours from sweet to sour, spicy to umami. If you are inclined towards ginger, chilli and coconut, your appetite will be well satiated. Palm sugar, tamarind, lemongrass and coriander seeds are also used lavishly.
Try nasi campur, the steamed rice and mixed vegetables and herbs. There are a variety of takes on this dish around the island and from one warung to another.
Vegans and vegetarians are very well catered to with tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils and chickpeas starring in many dishes. Balinese believe that cows are sacred so it is rare to find beef dishes. Read our pick of the best vegan and vegetarian cafes and restaurants in Bali.
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Festivals in Bali
There’s no shortage of choices when it comes to festivals and major events in Bali.
Bali Arts Festival
From June to July, Denpasar hosts the Bali Arts Festival. The opening parade is not to be missed. Celebrating traditional Balinese dance and performance, all 8 regencies of Bali are represented in the festival and throughout June, exhibits and live performances are scheduled at open stages, auditoriums, pavilions and in the streets of Denpasar.
Bali Kite Festival
Just north of Sanur in Padanggalak, the Bali Kite Festival hosts hundreds of competing kite troupes with their traditional kites – some with wingspans of 11 metres. This festival takes place between July and August when it is most windy and ideal for kite flying.
Mid-March (the date is different each year), Nyepi is a day of silence respected by all Balinese and visitors. Nyepi itself offers little for travellers, with shops and venues closed and all travel banned. Nyepi Eve though, hosts a parade of giants (papier-mache monsters symbolising negative spirits or ‘bhutakala’) in the streets. In the three days prior, pilgrims from village temples all over Bali begin long walks, accompanied by banners, parasols and effigies, towards the coast where purification ceremonies are to be held.
The celebration of good triumphing over evil (dharma over adharma), Galungan sees unique bamboo poles adorned wiith coconut leaf decorations line the streets island-wide. It is celebrated twice a year, according to the Balinese 210 day calendar system. In 2019, it is celebrated at the end of May and from December 25 – 27.
Ceremonies are held in temples, with many households bringing offerings of fruits to be shared after prayers.
Nusa Dua art and sport
A week of art exhibitions, performances and sporting competitions are held in Nusa Dua annually, including food stalls and live music performances. Dates vary from October through to November.
Bali Spirit Festival
Bali Spirit Festival draws well-known yoga instructors and wellness practitioners from around the world to daily workshops, classes and exhibitions. There’s organic food stalls and yoga for everyone from kids to men-only, advanced through to the curious beginner. World music is celebrated and a global audience delights in this festival annually. Held in Ubud in March.
Ubud Writers and Readers Festival
Ubud Writers and Readers Festival attracts major literary stars from around the globe. Held in October, the festival sees major book launches, signings and workshops over 5 days with early tickets available from July.
Ultra Beach Bali
Ultra Beach Bali in Seminyak has hosted the international creme of electronic dance music (EDM) since it’s 2015 inception. The main beachfront sees music pumping with knockout viual effects as dancers gather to witness major artists such as Skrillex, Afrojack, Martin Garrix and more.