Visiting the island of Gods, a true little paradise

Welcome to my travel guide to Bali, one of my favorite places on the planet. As cliche as Bal might sound, it truly is and remains one of the most fun, friendly and beautiful places on earth. This little island caters for every budget and has so much to do, you’ll find yourself wanting to stay longer. Actually Bali was the first place ever where I just wanted to stay and live there.

The people are so friendly, the food so delicious, the culture just mesmerizing. Every day there’s a ceremony or festival somewhere with locals dressed their wonderful outfits being transported in trucks. There’s something great to see around every corner in Bali. Touring around on a motorbike has never been better. 

>> Find my full Indonesia photo collection here at my portfolio.

Bali is many things, therefor your trip is what you make of it. You’re starting off good by doing some research, which is key to make sure your destinations meet your expectations. Beware that pollution, especially on certain beaches, is a huge problem. Depending on where you go, the beach can be quiet and pristine, while at other places it’s full of people. If quiet is what you want, avoid the popular places, in particular the south.

Travel guide to Bali
Statue in front of my homestay, decorated with fresh flowers each morning

The first step in planning your trip to Bali is figuring out the different areas of the island that you’ll want to go. There are several towns in Bali, each with their own unique vibe and identity. This makes for a lot to see, explore and discover. Understanding the areas will help you decide where you want to spend most of your time on the island. 

View on Mt Agung, Bali, Indonesia
View on Mt Agung from Mahagiri Resort

Travel Guide to Bali: POPULAR AREAS

Kuta

This town in the south is the party place. Unless that is what you come for, this is the place to avoid. It’s packed with tourists, tourist shops, and cheap souvenirs. You’ll find a lot of young Australians here who are here to have a ‘wild’ time, mildly said.

I have a friend who once went to Bali. He came back absolutely hating it. When I asked what he did, he never left Kuta… 

Beach at Legian, next to Kuta, at Sunday morning with locals on the beach actually in the water!
Beach at Legian, next to Kuta, at Sunday morning with locals on the beach actually in the water!

Seminyak

A nicer and classier version of Kuta, although this place been booming over the years and some argue it’s slowly becoming the new Kuta. Canggu now is what Seminyak was years ago. If you like the busy holiday scene, this could be your place. But for most people visiting this place for a day or two will be enough. There many nice shops and it’s good to wander around.

Travel Guide Bali - People at a ceremony
People singing together at a ceremony

Uluwatu

With stunning cliffside views and beautiful beaches you can imagine this is a popular place to visit. Nevetheless, if you visit Bali, you should still plan at least 1 daytrip here or stay nearby for a few days. 

Ulu Watu seen from one of the restaurants at the top of the cliff
Ulu Watu seen from one of the restaurants at the top of the cliff

Uluwatu is famous for its temple with badass monkeys stealing your stuff and for the nearby cliffside town with its ‘cave’ and legendary surf.

Nearby Padang Padang Beach and Dreamland are other nice beach options nearby. Single Fin is a cool beach club to check out, especially at sunset.

Surfers at Ulu Watu
Surfers at Ulu Watu

Uluwatu Temple

Uluwatu Temple is a beautiful temple that overlooks the ocean with a great sunset view. Be careful of the monkeys though, they’ll steal hats and sunglasses right off your face and even stuff out of your pockets. One had its hand in my pocket while another grabbed an earring from a women. Little bastards.

Be sure to arrive around 4:00 pm or 4:30 pm the latest, so you have time to get tickets to the fire dance show,

Ulu Watu temple
Ulu Watu temple

Kecak Fire Dance show

The Kecak Fire Dance show is a nice culture experience. It’s starts at sunset and attracts many people for a good reason. The location is great, having that sunset view in the back. The dance is brilliant and if you’re only going to see one dance, this would be a good choice if you don’t mind the large crowd. Buy your ticket early.

Balinese dance at Ulu Watu
Balinese dance at Ulu Watu

Ubud

A bit more inland you’ll find the cultural heart of the island with beautiful temples, rice terraces, countless yoga options and a zen-like atmosphere. This is the real Bali in many regards, attracting many people for healing and those good vibes. Ubud town and the whole area around it is the most picturesque part of the island, of the planet perhap. It’s a true photographers paradise. You just can’t stop taking photos here of all beautiful statues, temples and artifacts.

Old Plymouth car belonging to one of the previous kings of Bali
Old Plymouth car belonging to one of the previous kings of Bali

Ubud is actually quite small. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants to keep you busy. Don’t expect any parties or nightlife here, Ubud likes to stay nice and quiet and authentic, without even a Burger King or anything in sight. 

If you’re on a short trip, a day or two would be enough. If you have time, this is a place where you could spend weeks just hanging out and exploring every little bit of it. 

Statue at Bali for some festival
Statue at Bali for some festival

Canggu

Last but not least is Canggu, the current hippest town in Bali, north of Seminyka. This place has been booming for the past few years, but it has kept its spirit. There are many beaches, surf spots, restaurants, or cafes. 

Echo Beach: A black sand beach (formed from the volcanic ash, this surf beach means intense waves. It isn’t an ideal place to swim. It’s also a bit rocky but it’s a beautiful spot to catch sunset, like at the iconic La Brisa.

Pantai Batu Bolong Beach: Right off of the iconic Old Man’s Bar where everyone goes to party on Wednesday’s and Friday’s. Close by is The Lawn, a classier spot to chill and enjoy the pool. The Lawn is right on the beach and is great for catching the sunset. At 1 am when The Lawn and Old Man’s close a party on the beach starts, called Sand Bar. 

East Bali and North Bali

Even more quiet and even cheaper are the east and north of Bali. I haven’t been to the north, so I can’t speak for that, although everyone is very positive. I have been to the east, it’s a lot dryer there and much less developed. It’s not on my favorites-list, to be honest.

Temple detail with Mt Agung in the back, shot at Pura Lempuyang Luhur temple in Bali, Indonesia.
Temple detail with Mt Agung in the back, shot at Pura Lempuyang Luhur temple in Bali, Indonesia.

Nusa Islands: Lembongan, Ceningan & Penida

The 3 small islands southeast of Bali are often overlooked, but great destinations as well that are rapidly getting developed to attract many of Bali’s visitors. The sooner you visit these adventurous and beautiful islands, the better. They are likely to change very quickly. 

You can book a trip to here from anywhere at Bali, which will include transport to the ferry terminal. The ferry takes about 45 minutes and you can even just do a day trip if you’re short on time or prefer to stay at Bali itself.

Blue Lagoon at night
Blue Lagoon at night

Nusa Lembongan

This pretty island was known widely within Indonesia for its seaweed farming before it became a popular destination for surfers and its beautiful coastline. Among the top things to do are chill at the relaxing Dream Beach, watch the water spash high in the air at Devils Tear (best sunset spot as well!) or book a snorkeling trip to Manta Point to snorkel with Manta Rays! Shipwreck Point is the best surfspot, for the experienced only though.

Devil's Tear at Nusa Lembongan
Devil’s Tear at Nusa Lembongan, Bali, is known for its huge splashes of water when waves hit the rocks. Thanks to that and being west on the island, this is one of the best spots on the island to watch the sun set behind the horizon where you can see the the main island of Bali.

Nusa Ceningan

Nusa Ceningan is the smallest island of the three, directly between the other two. The easiest way to get over to Nusa Ceningan Island from Nusa Lembongan is to drive over the yellow bridge that conveniently connects these two islands.

The Blue Lagoon on Nusa Ceningan is a beautiful cove with the most electric blue colored water you’ve ever seen. It is also a cliff-jumping haven for those adventurous, thrill-seekers out there. 

Aerial shot of Blue Lagoon at Nusa Ceningan, Bali. This location honors its name and has some of the most beautiful blue colored water you've ever seen. It's not a safe place to swim unfortunately
Aerial shot of Blue Lagoon at Nusa Ceningan, Bali. This location honors its name and has some of the most beautiful blue colored water you’ve ever seen. It’s not a safe place to swim unfortunately, but daredevils can jump off the cliff, make their way to the beach and walk back. Not for the feint hearted.

The Mahana Point Cliff Jump on the Nusa Islands attracts thrill-seekers from around the world. A 10-meter diving platform hangs over the rocky cliffs at Mahana Point and it’s one of the best things to do in Nusa Ceningan. Watch the crazy jumpers while having a drink and chill at the next to it aftwards.

Secret Beach is a hidden gem surrounded by cliffs. It’s a great place to enjoy swimming and relaxing on the beach. 

Blue Lagoon at Nusa Ceningan, Bali
Blue Lagoon at Nusa Ceningan, Bali

Nusa Penida

Nusa Penida Island is the most popular out of the 3, offering some incredible locations with jaw-dropping rock formations. Still quite undeveloped (especially compared to the other 2 islands), some of the roads are (still) in very bad condition. They’re working hard on it.

Petra Bay, Bali, Indonesia
Petra Bay

Keling King Beach is without a doubt the most popular tourist attraction on the Nusa Islands and it’s easy to see why once you experience it for yourself! It’s quite a hike down to the beach though, but worse is going up! 

Kelingking beach, Nusa Penida, Bali, Indonesia
Kelingking beach shot with my drone

Angel’s Billabong is a natural infinity pool is framed by rock cliffs and sits out over the ocean, overlooking Manta Point Beach.

Broken Beach has a natural rock bridge stretches over turquoise waters that flow in and out of the archway, hence the name Broken Beach.

Broken Beach at Nusa Penida, Bali
Broken Beach at Nusa Penida, Bali

Atuh Beach has a fantastic beach where you easily spend half a day. The rock formation in front of it is just insane to look at, so cool. There are rocks in the water, but it’s still great for a swim.

There’s so many other cool places like the Rumah Pohon Tree House, Peguyangan Waterfall, Pura Goa Giri Putri Cave, Crystal Bay, Diamond Beach and Tembeling beach and forest. I didn’t even get to see all, reserve at least 3 days to see most of it. You’ll spend a lot of your time driving between the locations, it’s quite far apart. 

Atuh beach, Bali, Indonesia.
Atuh beach, Bali, Indonesia.
Atuh beach, Bali, Indonesia.
Atuh beach, Bali, Indonesia.

Travel Guide to Bali: MY FAVORITE DESTINATIONS

Uluwatu temple: Beautiful temple located in the south, famous for the thieving monkeys. Probably the most popular sunset location at Bali.

Sunset at Ulu Watu temple
Sunset at Ulu Watu temple

Uluwatu beach: From the restaurant at the top of the cliff you can enjoy the surfers. Or walk down towards the beach through a kind of cave. There’s a lovely ‘hidden’ beach on the left side that you can reach through a small opening in the rocks.

Surfer walking to Ulu Watu beach
Surfer walking to Ulu Watu beach

Ubud: My favorite town on this planet, I could live there, it’s absolutely gorgeous here and there’s so much to see.

Rice terraces outside of Ubud, Bali
Rice terraces outside of Ubud, Bali
Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
My room! At Agung Cottages

Ubud Monkey Forest: A beautiful little park with monkeys roaming free. They’re mean little bastards though and you should watch out for rabies. They’re good for taking nice photos, but I have heard locals treat them badly, some advise to avoid this place for that reason. 

Monkey at Ubud Monkey Sanctuary
Monkey at Ubud Monkey Sanctuary
Monkey at Ubud Monkey Sanctuary
Monkey at Ubud Monkey Sanctuary

Ubud area: Around Ubud there are so many temples, rice terraces and wonderful views to be found. It’s my favorite area to drive around on my motorbike and enjoy the scenery. 

Ubud region, Bali
Ubud region, Bali

Ubud Pura Taman Saraswati: This is a very popular temple right in the middle of Ubud behind the Starbucks. They have dance performances here sometimes as well, run by women.

Pura Taman Saraswati temple before sunrise

Tegalalang rice terraces: One of the most popular rice terraces in Bali, less than 30 minutes away. You’ll find many shops and many people here. If you want to experience it well, meaning nice and quiet, come at sunrise, it’s 100x better. 

Tegalalang rice terraces
Tegalalang rice terraces

Jatiluwi rice terraces: These Unesco rice terraces are the most beautiful, it’s large region with many tracks and trails for hiking. I’d say forget about Tegalalang and spend half a day here. You’ll have to pay a fee, but it’s worth it. 

Jatiluwih ricefields in central, Bali
Jatiluwih ricefields in central, Bali
Jatiluwih ricefields in central, Bali
Jatiluwih ricefields in central, Bali

Sidemen area: Driving east for about an hour from Ubud you’ll reach the Sidemen area with many beautiful rice terraces where you can wonder through them.

Sidemen, Bali
Sidemen, Bali

Pura Besakih: Mother temple of Bali, this is a location not to be missed. Built on the slopes of Mt Agung, you’ll find a small city of temples with great views. This is the most important temple to the Balinese.

Pura Besakih, 'mother temple' of Bali
Pura Besakih, ‘mother temple’ of Bali
View from one of the temples at Pura Besakih
View from one of the temples at Pura Besakih

Gunung Kawi Sebatu: Not be mistaken for the popular Gunung Kawi! A great place as well, but loaded with tourists. This smaller temple north of Tegalalang is one of my favorite, because it’s so beautiful and quiet. It’s where you can find people washing themselves as well. 

Travel Guide to Bali - Gunung Kawi Sebatu temple
Gunung Kawi Sebatu temple
Travel Guide to Bali - Gunung Kawi Sebatu temple
Gunung Kawi Sebatu temple

Tanah Lot: One of the most popular and crowded locations, but it is beautiful. You have a temple built on the rock and one in the water, which is only accessible in low tide.

Travel Guide to Bali - Temple on the arch at Tanah Lot
Temple on the arch at Tanah Lot
Travel Guide to Bali - Temple on the arch at Tanah Lot
Temple on the arch at Tanah Lot

Waterfalls: I doubt any other place has more waterfalls to offer. There’s some really amazing ones here. If you love waterfalls, you’ll have a blast. I bet you won’t be able to visit them all.

Travel Guide to Bali - Banyumala waterfall near Munduk
Banyumala waterfall near Munduk

Elephant Cave: Just outside of Ubud this popular location is great for a visit. It’s a very nice place to walk around, but visit early, because busloads of people get dropped off here.

Travel Guide to Bali - Elephant Cave near Ubud
Elephant Cave near Ubud

Pura Lempuyang Luhur: If you’re on instagram, you will seen this location in the east of Bali. It’s become a very popular photography location with a great view on Mt Agung.

Travel Guide to Bali - Pura Lempuyang Luhur temple
Pura Lempuyang Luhur temple

Ulun Danu Beratan temple, the ‘temple on the lake’: Another great location that receives busloads of tourists, but it’s a gorgeous place you should visit.

Travel Guide to Bali - Ulun Danu Beratan temple
Ulun Danu Beratan temple

Travel Guide to Bali: Balinese dances

If you’re visiting the ‘Island of the Gods’, attending a dance -performance should not be missed. Dance is a huge part of Balinese culture. Known as tarian Bali in Indonesian, Balinese dance is unique, dynamic and very expressive. There are various types of Balinese dance, most of which are closely related to Hinduism. 

Travel Guide to Bali - Balinese dance seen at Ubud
Travel Guide to Bali - Balinese dance seen at Ubud

Balinese dance usually tells a dramatic story. Most types of Balinese dance are based on the Hindu epic Ramayana. Central to many stories depicted in Balinese dance is the battle between good and evil. This is usually waged between the demon queen Rangda and the king of spirits Barong. 

Travel Guide to Bali - Balinese dance seen at Ubud
Travel Guide to Bali - Balinese dance seen at Ubud

Travel Guide to Bali: When to visit Bali

Bali has a great climate and any time is good to visit, really. Even in the rainy season (October – April) there’s plenty of sun. If you’re on a budget, you might want to travel outside of the holiday season (July-August and around Christmas). It’s always a great time to visit Bali 😉 

One you might want to be aware of though, from December to March is garbage season. A lot of thrash washes up the beaches. Each morning sunrise, locals and volunteers clean up the beaches. So it’s not really a problem or a reason to avoid Bali. You should just be aware.

Travel Guide to Bali - Woman in rain

Travel Guide to Bali: How to get around

Scooters: Scooters are the most popular way to get around Bali. Make sure you have your international drivers license with you, to avoid getting a fine. And drive carefully, a lot of incidents do happen. They even have a name for your new scars, the Bali tattoo. 

Wear your helmet 😉 There are plenty of places to rent a scooter, prices are roughly $4-5 a day or $50-60 a month. Please be aware that if you drive without an official international drivers license and you end up in an accident, your insurance won’t cover you. 

Not Uber, but GoJek: Ubers are illegal in Bali and you’ll see signs everywhere mentioning it. The app does work and you will be able to get an Uber, but the driver will urge to pick you up and drop you off somewhere quiet. They don’t want anyone, in particular taxi drivers, to see them. There have been plenty of cases where taxi drivers would attack the driver or his car. GoJek is the best alternative. 

Motorbike taxis: You’ll find plenty of these guys everywhere offering a ride, but they are known to rip off tourists badly. So unless you’re sure of paying a good price and feeling comfortable with the driver, it’s probably best to avoid these guys.

Renting a car: To rent a car yourself isn’t very common in Bali, but it is possible. 

Hiring a driver: You can also rent a driver with a car or van to take you around. This is the best option if you don’t want to ride a motorbike. The drivers know their way around and all the good spots to visit, but be aware that they are very likely to take you to all the busy popular spots. So make it very clear if you want to avoid these. 

Typically hiring a driver for a full day of 8 hours will cost you roughly $40 for the car. Not bad it you can share that.

Travel Guide to Bali - beach in south Bali

Travel Guide to Bali: Bali visa

Most citizens will receive a visa on arrival, which lets you stay 30 days without extension. If you wish to extend, you’ll need to visit the little office before immigrations to receive a ‘paid visa on arrival’, which you may extend once for another 30 days. 

Be aware that afterwards you still to go to Immigration. I didn’t know, so I just walked right to the back where everyone was going, took my flight to Ambon and there went to Immigration (later that week) to see if I could get my visa extended already. Turned out I didn’t have a stamp and was in the country illegally. I had to fly back to Jakarta to get a stamp..

Unless you have a sponsor it’s very hard to get any other visa. Staying any longer, will usually require you exit the country and spend a few days in either Singapore or Kuala Lumpar. It’s best not to return the same day, some people have been denied entry. 

You can do the visa extension yourself in Bali, but you may also opt for help from an agent. An extension requires 3 visits to Immigration, so it’s a bit of a hassle. Using an agent will mean you only have to go once, but of course the agent will cost you money. 

Travel Guide to Bali - Bali flowers at Botanic Garden

Travel Guide to Bali: Keeping it cheap

  • eat like a local
  • bargain, never pay first price.
  • head north or east
  • use GoJek
  • drink cheap during happy hours or get it from a local store
  • use free shuttle services from your accommodation
  • Bring a filtered water bottle or refill as much as you can
Travel Guide to Bali - Two old men at a ceremony

Basic words

  • Selamat Pagi: Good morning
  • Selamat Siang: Good afternoon
  • Selamat sore: Good evening
  • Selamat malam: Good night
  • Apa kabar?: How are you? – Kabar baik: I’m good
  • Terima kasih: Thank you
  • Sama Sama: You are welcome
  • Yes/No: Ia/ Tidak
Travel Guide to Bali - Smiling man at a ceremony

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