The tropical island of Bali has long been the leading light in Indonesia’s flourishing tourist industry. It is well and truly on the mainstream tourist map yet still manages to maintain its unique charm as the mystical ‘Island of the Gods’. Set apart from the rest of Indonesia as South East Asia’s only Hindu society, Bali has a feisty independence and colourful heritage that showcases the region’s most exuberant religious festivities and art.
Its major asset is its compact size, measuring no more than 120kms at its widest point offering easy access to abundant and diverse attractions. We have listed here the most popular sights and activities in Bali, most of which can be enjoyed as relaxing day trip excursions.
Kuta, Legian and Seminyak
The sprawling south coast beach conurbation of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak is the most popular base for Bali’s three million annual visitors and remains at the forefront of Asia’s surfing scene.
Vibrant Kuta offers bohemian beach life and stunning ocean sunset vistas along with literally hundreds of bars, restaurants and late night clubs. Slightly further north is upscale Seminyak, home to some of South East Asia’s hippest bars and fine dining restaurants.
The cultural and artistic heartland of Bali lies in the lush rice terraces of Ubud, a once sleepy village now famed for its expressionist schools of art, entertaining Balinese dance dramas and traditional craft workshops. Ubud is home to countless art galleries, historic temples and the island’s most stylish boutiques.
Each evening visitors can enjoy mesmerizing gamelan orchestras and absorbing dance performances and the village is noted for its exuberant arts and literature festivals. Visitors to Ubud can partake in a variety of workshops in yoga, meditation, cookery, art and dance and is renowned for a myriad of upscale class spa resorts.
Situated just beyond the city limits of Bali’s capital Denpasar is the elegant beach resort of Sanur, the most rewarding place to enjoy water sports and romantic beachfront dining. It boasts pristine sandy beaches stretching for miles fringed by attractive boutique beach resorts and inviting seafood restaurants.
Its shallow offshore reef provides for safe swimming in calm waters and excellent snorkeling opportunities. Sanur is the most convenient departure point for trips to the offshore island of Nusa Lembongan and makes a perfect base for exploring the east coast and the rural heartland of central Bali.
Surfing in Bali
Bali is still the surfing mecca of South East Asia and boasts a wide variety of surf breaks for every level. Bustling Kuta beach is the main attraction and features dozens of professional surf schools and a vibrant surf culture. It is especially great for beginner surfers.
Other popular spots include Sanur beach and Nusa Lembongan as well as secluded Medewi on the west coast.
In the extreme south the surf breaks at Uluwatu, Padang Padang and Dreamland are legendary and only suitable for the fearless and experienced surfer.
Scuba diving in Bali
Pristine coral reefs surround much of the Bali coastline and ensure a fabulous underwater experience for scuba divers. Isolated Menjangan Island in the north, Amed and Tulamben on the east coast are the most rewarding for experienced divers. Offshore Nusa Lembongan boasts popular dive sites at Jungutbatu and Mushroom Bay. The busy resort of Sanur is fast becoming a mecca for snorkeling and scuba diving enthusiasts and a great place to learn.
Temples in Bali
Bali has an estimated 20,000 Hindu temples and numerous fine examples of exuberant religious architecture. Undoubtedly the most popular and visually dramatic is the temple of Tanah Lot, precariously sited on a craggy rock above the crashing surf of the Indian Ocean. It attracts huge crowds of visitors, especially at sunset and fully deserves its acclaim as one of Bali’s most spectacular sights.
Uluwatu temple in the extreme south of the island is another major attraction, located at the top of a sheer cliff face and one of Bali’s most sacred shrines. The silent temple of Batukau in Tabanan regency, is an awe inspiring sight located in the shadow of a towering volcano of the same name.
Rural Bali highlights
Despite ever increasing numbers of visitors, it is still easy enough to catch a glimpse of rural Balinese life. The sacred volcanoes of Batur and Agung will reward the intrepid visitor with spectacular views across to the islands of Java and Lombok.
Check out Jonathan Copeland’s photography website for some awe-inspiring pics of Bali including its gorgeous scenery, fascinating rituals and enchanting people. There are also photos of other countries and the possibility of buying prints, calendars, greeting cards, magnets, mugs, and T-shirts showing the images.
The shores of lakes Batur and Bratan are dotted with picturesque traditional craft villages little changed in centuries. Much of the western portion of the island is dominated by mangrove swamps of the Bali Barat National Park, home to rich birdlife including the endangered Bali Starling. Combine this with a visit to the nearby town of Negara, famed for its colourful bull races.