Places in Bali that aren’t in the travel guides

I’m interviewing a guest today! Before I introduce her, my pre-amble … you might remember that since I live in Perth, Western Australia, flying to Bali is actually quicker than even flying to Adelaide, the next closest capital city in Australia. This means that a huge number of Perth people visit Bali every year – I know plenty of people who have been to Bali upwards of twenty times. I’ve been only once, and while there was plenty to enjoy about that visit it also made me write a post questioning whether experienced travellers should travel to Bali.

But I’m always open to new information and I do come across people now and again who make me think I need to return there one day. My newest house-sitter, for example, spent some time in Bali recently for an arts-related university trip and spent nearly all her time away from the tourist zones, and adored it. This gives me hope! When Luci contacted me to try to persuade me of the same thing, I thought it was worth a few questions.

So, Luci, what is it about Bali? Why are there so many tourists? 

Luci: Bali is currently one the world’s most popular holiday destinations. Each year an average of 5 million tourists flock to the island for its beaches, bars and tropical climate. Considering the sheer number of visitors, and the fact that Bali’s permanent population is only just over 4 million, it is easy to see why the prospect of a trip there may not be the most enticing for travellers who are more interested in immersing themselves in local cultures and exploring hidden gems than going to crowded tourist traps or bar hopping round a party town. 

Is it possible to get away from the tourists?

Yes! Despite Bali’s rising popularity, there is still a lesser known side to the island that is well worth seeking out, for those who are willing to put in the effort.

At a little under 6000 square kilometres, Bali is not a big island. You can easily drive from north to south in a day, including stops (this would be quicker too if it weren’t for the traffic in the south and the mountain roads in the centre); despite this most of the tourism in the island is contained to its southern-most parts. 

Head north and there are places like Ulun Danu Beratan Temple
Head north and there are places like Ulun Danu Beratan Temple

If you are desperate to avoid the crowds at all costs, you will want to head north as soon as you get out of the airport. If, on the other hand, you don’t mind dealing with a few people, then a couple days in Nusa Dua, Sanur or Uluwatu can be a pleasant way to start your Balinese adventure. These are all nice resort areas that are relatively close to the airport, and have some great beaches (especially Uluwatu, which has some of the island’s most spectacular coastline) and can be a good break if you have had a long flight to get here. Avoid Kuta and Legian like the plague (Seminyak and Canggu are more laidback, but still very busy).

Agreed – I stayed in Seminyak when I was there, and it was pleasant enough, but very busy and so many Australians that it felt like I hadn’t left home! So, what can I find in the north of Bali? (This sounds like more my style!)

As you head north, you will find that the urban sprawl that most of the south has now become begins to melt away and opens up into beautiful green rice fields and eventually the dramatic landscape of the central highlands. If you keep going through the mountains you will hit the north coast. There are one or two more developed areas up here, like Singaraja and Lovina, but on the whole, you will find sleepy fishing villages and a much quieter pace of life. These are the parts of the island that you will want to spend most of your time in if you are hoping to experience Bali’s more ‘off the beaten track’ side.

Everyone raves about Ubud, but I didn’t love what I saw of it – it seemed kind of crowded. Did I get the wrong impression?

Ubud is the most famous town in the centre of Bali, and while unfortunately in recent years it has become more commercialised, it is still worth a quick visit. It is known as the cultural heart of the island and for good reason, as there are plenty of temples, art galleries and a beautiful royal palace to be experienced. It also makes a good base for exploring some of the surrounding countryside, such as the rice terraces of Tegallalang, and various religious sites. As an alternative to visiting some of the more famous temples like Tanah Lot or Uluwatu I would suggest a visit to Gunang Kawi. At over a thousand years old, this is possibly the oldest religious site on the island – it is also incredibly beautiful, with rice fields, a river and a view of Mount Agung. Don’t get me wrong, this can be crowded, but, if you pick your time right (usually early in the morning) you may find you have the entire site to yourself.

Rice fields in Bali
Rice fields in Bali

If Ubud is too busy for you, then, you could base yourself in either Munduk or Sideman. These are both traditional villages which are still relatively untouched by tourism. Sideman is close to Mount Agung, Bali’s highest peak, and makes a great base from which to climb it. It is also surrounded by rice fields and beautiful natural vistas. Munduk, is a small village in the northern highlands, which at first appears to be rather unimpressive. If consists of a single main street with just a few shops and guesthouses. However, hidden behind the buildings on one side of the street are some fantastic sunset views and, on the other, some equally fantastic sunrise views. Accommodation here is not expensive, meaning that some of the best views in Bali can be had for a bargain price. The village is surrounded by mountain trails, which are great for trekking or biking, waterfalls and more traditional villages. It is also about a 20 minute from the mountain lakes of Tamblingan and Buyan and only an hour so from the UNESCO recognised rice terraces of Jatiluwih – all of which have some breathtaking scenery.

What about the islands off Bali – sometimes people recommend these to me but I don’t know which ones are touristy and which aren’t?

Getting off the mainland entirely and explore some of Bali’s offshore islands is a great idea. Let me tell you about some of my favourites.

Nusa Menjangan is located just off the north-west coast of Bali. It is uninhabited, and whilst you cannot stay on the island, it is well worth the effort to get there just to experience some undisturbed Balinese nature. It is also known as Deer island as it is home to a population of Muntjac deer, that can frequently be seen on the beaches. This is also a popular destination for snorkelers and divers as the island is surrounded by some of Bali’s best coral reefs. Menjangan is part of the West Bali National Park and therefore will hopefully remain a protected wildlife reserve for a long time.

Sunset at Lembongan Island off Bali
Sunset at Lembongan Island off Bali

Nusas Lembongan, Ceningan and Penida make up a group of three islands that lie close together (in fact the first two are actually linked by a bridge) off the south-east coast of Bali. Lembongan is now a fairly popular destination in its own right, but it still has a more laidback feel than the mainland. Ceningan is the smallest of the three (it can easily be explored in an afternoon) but it also has some incredible natural features and a few fun experiences for adrenaline junkies, such as ziplines and cliff jumping. If you really want remoteness though, you will want to head for Nusa Penida. This by far the largest of the islands (a day there will give you a good idea of the place but you will really need to spend a couple of nights there to see all the sights) and also the furthest out. This is a great place to go for trekking, biking and diving and decent accommodation can be found for super cheap prices.

Any other reasons you think I need to give Bali another chance?

Of course the one thing you will find in Bali that you cannot get anywhere else in the world is Balinese culture; this is distinct, vibrant and infuses every aspect of life on the island. Wherever you go, touristy, or otherwise, you will find yourself surrounded by temples, stepping over colourful offerings, stopping to admire ceremonial processions and breathing in a heady scent of spices and incense.

In short, whilst Bali is becoming ever more developed, it still has plenty to offer travellers who are looking for something a little different from the usual crowds.

Thanks so much to Luci from Bali Villas for enlightening me … I am slowly coming around to the idea of visiting Bali again for a “real” Bali experience! A little more about Bali Villas from Luci:

With extensive experience in servicing Australian clients, Bali Villas know exactly what families are looking for in terms of location, style and pricing. Each of their family friendly villas situated on the beautiful island of Bali have been hand-picked by their ‘family expert’ – someone with children who knows exactly what families are looking for. 

Contact Bali Villas on [email protected] for a short consultation, and they will be able to find you the perfect villa. Bali Villas aim to take the stress out of planning your holiday, so you can concentrate on creating lasting memories with your family.

Comments

  1. Never been to Bali probably because all I hear about is the fact that it’s full of Australians and drunken youngsters during school holidays.
    Nice to know that there are beautiful places to be discovered in other corners of Bali 🙂

  2. Gorgeous photos! It’s too good. I Very impressed by your extensive guide Thanks For share with us.

  3. This is amazing I am in bali more than once but didn’t explore these places. Thanks mate i am gonna visit in the next trip. Thanks for your great info, really appreciate.

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