Bali is a gorgeous and culturally rich island, featuring everything from seaside resorts and surf-tastic coves to mountainside temples and dense jungles. Use this guide to explore all that the island has to offer.
Ubud has received an influx of tourists in recent years due to the popularity of the book and movie adaptation, “Eat, Pray, Love,” but that hasn’t stopped the energetic beat of Bali’s cultural heart. Nestled in the mountains, the town center thrives with daily markets featuring locally-made crafts, while the terraced rice paddies and rainforest just outside present ample opportunities to escape the bustle in favor of more tranquil exploration.
Though once a serene and rustic fishing village, Kuta has transformed rapidly into Bali’s most famous beach destination. Surfers and beach enthusiasts flock to its sandy shore, towels in hand, to catch some rays and take a break from the chaotic traffic of its town center. Though Kuta’s party scene has been compared to that of Las Vegas, its intense waves and friendly Balinese population keep people returning to this tropical paradise.
Bali’s capital city and cultural hub, Denpasar offers a wide array of historical and traditional temples, monuments, and museums. Coming from the Balinese words for north (“den”) and market (“pasar”), the city lives up to its name, featuring ample shops and marketplaces where you can find local artwork and handicrafts. If you’d prefer to soak up the sun, head to the white-sand beaches nearby and either ride the waves or stretch out and sunbathe.
With its glorious white beaches, host of high-end hotels, and scenic golf course, Nusa Dua is a tourist’s paradise — an enclave of luxury and relaxation. This peninsula in southern Bali juts out into the Indian Ocean, seeming to reach for the beauty of the turquoise waters. If you don’t consider yourself much of a beachgoer, head to the Pasifika Museum instead, an underrated and seldom-attended museum featuring art from Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.
From its black-sand beaches to its rich rice fields, Canggu has become a popular location for expatriate population. Surfers from around the world migrate to the region for its choppy waters, while other residents take advantage of the burgeoning town center, which offers plenty of surf camps, shops, restaurants, and watering holes. Just north of the village, the Hindu temple of Tanah Lot sits atop a rocky outcrop, positioned offshore against the horizon for the perfect sunset photo op.
Though once a quiet, undisturbed fishing village, Jimbaran has transformed into a world-class tourist hub, offering multiple five-star hotels situated right on its serene white-sand beaches. Enjoy the cool waters and explore the town’s trendy shops by day, then make your way to the coast as night falls, where you can enjoy a breathtaking sunset.
Candi Dasa offers a tranquil alternative to the lavish tourist hubs of Kuta and Jimbaran. This seaside oasis sits on the edge of a freshwater lagoon and features narrow stretches of black sand that often disappear at high tide. As with most Balinese beach villages, the traffic in the center of town grows hectic at times, but if you make your way to the water’s edge, you’re sure to find a serene patch of sunlight to lounge in.
Singaraja is the largest city in northern Bali, and once served as the colonial administrative capital of the island. With a name meaning “lion king” in Balinese, this charming city will help you forget your worries for the rest of your days. Singaraja features surviving Dutch colonial buildings, tree-lined boulevards, and two university campuses bustling with curious students. Very different from the beach resorts around the rest of the island, this lively city offers much to explore.
Many flock to Bali for it’s sandy beaches and wild surf, but Kintamani sits high above the island’s luxurious beach resorts — at 1,500 meters (4,921 feet), to be exact. This mountain village resides well above sea level, on the rim of the massive Mount Batur caldera, and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys and volcanoes. The misty alpine climate is slightly cool, cloudy, and drizzly, so be sure to pack extra layers and a rain jacket! Across the lake, you’ll find the village of Trunyan, with an entrance marked by a line of human skulls. Don’t be alarmed — per local custom, Trunyan locals don’t bury their dead; instead they leave their bodies to weather away.
Though once named Karangasem, the city changed to Amlapura following the eruption of Mount Agung in 1963. This multicultural district capital features Chinese shophouses, ornate mosques, and royal palaces. For those interested in architecture and history, this is a perfect location to mosey along the one-way streets and glimpse into the splendor of the city’s past. Note: Though it’s now, officially known as Amlapura, most of the street signs in town still say Karangasem, so don’t let that throw you off!
Nestled in the northern reaches of Bali’s Gianyar region, Tampaksiring attracts visitors eager to experience the holy water temple of Tirta Empul and the ancient temple of Gunung Kawi. These historic destinations inject the market town with a refreshing spiritual ambiance as Balinese Hindus bathe in the holy waters and meditate along the stone buildings.
Located on the western side of Bali’s southern peninsula, Pecatu offers a hilled, cliffside alternative to the flatter beaches of Nusa Dua. Here, limestone cliffs interrupt long stretches of sand, creating isolated coves popular among surfers (and even nudists) because of the seclusion. Get your fill at the local bars and cafés, or, if you want to enjoy the scenery, take a hike around the area’s surrounding cliffs.
A combination of the words “ulu” (land’s end) and “watu” (rock), Uluwatu is similar to nearby Pecatu with its limestone cliffs and gorgeous seaside views. And, with its powerful breaking waves, it’s also the fourth most popular surfing destination in the world. Only professional surfers are equipped to ride this dangerous wave, but if you fit the bill and you’re planning to tackle the choppy waters, make sure to save time to explore the Pura Luhur Uluwatu Temple, one of Bali’s spiritual pillars, perched atop a nearby cliff, 70 meters above the water. As the day nears its end, make your way to Single Fin, a popular restaurant that overlooks the cliff and offers a staircase down toward the beachy caves. There are few spots more perfect for a picturesque Balinese sunset.
Header Photo by Kate Parrish