Bali Destinations Indonesia

Bali Guide – An Island Overview

17. January 2016

Bali Guide - Uluwatu Monkey Temple// Includes affiliate links

I fell in love with the paradise that is Bali over six years ago. Even though much have changed on the island since then, it’s still one of my favorite places in the world. You just need to know where to look and what to stay away from. After a total of 8 trips to Indonesia I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks I would’ve liked to have known right from the start. So I thought I’d share them, and write a quick overview of the areas I know best.

First off some facts & tips:

  • As of June 2015, 30 more countries were added to the free entry list, Norway included. Which means we no longer need to pay the 35USD Indonesian visa fee. Yay!
  • Be sure to keep your luggage tags within reach, as you’ll have to hand them in when exiting the airport.
  • Your passport must be valid at least six months from the day you plan on leaving Indonesia.
  • For cheap accommodation, I always use Agoda.com when traveling in Southeast Asia. Some of the more remote hotels and homestays in Indonesia are only listed on Agoda.
  • The currency is Indonesian Rupiah – 14.000 Rp is around 1 USD / 9 NOK
  • Visit in March/April(avoid Easter)/May when it’s still green from the rainy season and the crowds are smaller so you’ll get everything for cheap.
  • If you have made your hotel or driver booking some time in advance, I would confirm it a couple of days before you arrive. Stuff often get lost on the island, bookings in particular.
  • Bring or buy a couple of sarongs straight away, you’ll need them. Whether it’s covering up for a temple visit, using it as a beach cover-up or as a seat cover. Some places just aren’t that clean.
  • You’ll probably experience a case of Bali Belly, so bring Imodium. Consider yourself warned!
  • And remember to be patient, everything happens on Bali time!

Bali area guide

Tourist area nr. 1, Kuta Beach BaliSeminyak, Legian & Kuta(pictured above)
Kuta is the main tourist drag in Bali. Laying side by side along the same stretch of sand Southwest on the island, Kuta furthest to the south and Seminyak to the north. Seminyak, being the more upscale choice of the three, is spilling with high-end boutiques, restaurants, spas and luxury accommodation. Do some people watching at Potato Head Beach Club, enjoy lunch at Sea Circus, get a gold facial, sip some sunset cocktails at Ku De Ta and get your Mexican fix at Motel Mexicola. You’ll find some of the island’s nicest villas in Seminyak, like this crazy cool one! But be aware of the location of the villa or hotel you book. Anything on the east side of Sunset Road isn’t worth it in my eyes. It’s such a hassle to get around fro there.

If raging nights out clubbing wearing Bintang singlets is more your scene, then you can head to Kuta. You really shouldn’t but if you’re going to anyway, please be aware of the super cheap drinks. A 15k drink is too good to be true even in Bali, it’s usually made with arak. Check out Eikon, one of the clubs in the area where it actually can be fun. Keep yourself and your stuff safe as pocket thieves and people up no good hang out on this side of town.

If neither of the two tickles your fancy, Legian might be your best bet. Cheaper than Seminyak, but a little calmer than what Kuta has become. My old time favorite restaurant in the area is The Balcony on Jl. Benesari, famous for all the pro surfers who visit. Favorite store is the large Surfer Girl on Legian Street and oh in Seminyak Tropicana and Wanderlust. I come to this area for the good food and shopping at the beginning of my trip, before heading somewhere a bit more remote. Don’t get stuck here, especially if you want a relaxing beach holiday, Bali has so much more to offer!

Batu Bolong Beach BaliCanggu
On the west coast, a short drive north from Seminyak, you’ll find the laid back beach village of Canggu. If you are a surfer, creative person or just like to let’s say observe the long-haired, scruffy, tanned surfers, chances are you’re going to love it here. The place where I saw more cows than people on my first visit, have developed at a rapid speed into a trendy area favored by expats. Enjoy breakfast at hotspots like Betelnut or Crate Cafe, Nasi Goreng at one of the local warungs, afternoon drinks at Old Man’s and a seaside BBQ dinner at Echo Beach.

Don’t forget to check out Deus ex Machina Temple of Enthusiasm on Tuesdays for tacos and free tattoos and on Sundays for a pumping Sunday Session with live music. To get in touch with the local creative scene, visit the market taking place at Old Man’s on the last Saturday of every month. Accommodation ranges from basic homestays with no internet presence to high-end luxury villas. I would definitely stay in a villa in Canggu if I were you, as there are some many stunning and affordable options to choose from. Like this one, just a couple of minutes from the beach. Or if you can’t fill an entire villa this gorgeously furnished apartment might be just what you need!

Be sure to claim your $35 Airbnb credit here!!

Tegalalang Rice Terrace in Ubud Bali - A must see or skip?Ubud
One hour Northeast of Canggu you’ll find Ubud, a town often referred to as the heart of Bali. Not only a paradise for yogis, vegetarians and vegans, Ubud is also the island’s cultural and spiritual center. Thanks to the movie Eat, Pray, Love, Ubud has become a lot more touristy in recent years. But don’t let that stop you from visiting, as most tourists seem to keep to central Ubud and Monkey Forest Road. Speaking of the Monkey Forest, the monkeys can be aggressive, so be careful and leave everything except your camera outside.

Stay at one of the many homestays to get the most out of your visit, and enjoy mouthwatering meals at restaurants like Melting Wok Warung, Locavore and Watercress Cafe. Take a stroll through the lush rice fields on the Campuhan Ridge Walk, join one of the many bicycle tours or visit some of the beautiful temples and waterfalls the region has to offer. Ubud is the perfect base from which to explore what I would call the “real” Bali.



Bukit Peninsula:

Bali Guide - Balangan BeachBalangan 
Balangan is a beautiful beach northwest on the Bukit favored by surfers. The break that was saved from a major development in the early 90s, is a left-hand reef break best suited for intermediate to expert surfers. The atmosphere of the beach and village itself is relaxed and welcoming. You can stay with the locals down in the warungs on the beach (about 50-100k a night) or you can stay on top of the cliff in nicer hotels. Nowadays you’ll find something for every wallet and preference, Flowerbud Bungalow (pictured below) and Brothers Bungalows being my personal favorites. Enjoy some Mie Goreng and a Bintang at the beach, accompanied by some reggae tunes and probably one of the most beautiful sunsets you’ll ever see.

A guide Bali travel guide - Explore the best hotels, restaurants and areas of BaliDreamland
Dreamland was once one of Bali’s most beautiful beaches, but sadly because of the Pecatu Graha Indah “New Kuta” development, it’s now more of a touristy nightmare. You’ll have to pay an entrance fee both to park and to enter the beach. Before the local warungs were replaced by the humongous condotel, you only had to pay to park a car and all the money went to the local community. Still good for surfing though, especially for intermediate surfers on days when the other breaks further south gets too big.

Bingin Beach Bali viewBingin
Another beautiful sandy beach just south of Dreamland. The beach is not easy to access as you have to get down a steep set of stairs, but the ocean views alone make the sweaty decent worthwhile. Splurge on breathtaking accommodation like Sal Secret Spot and BoHo Bingin Beach Boutique Hotel on top of the Cliff. For cheaper but also beautiful options check out Bingin Bienvenue Guest House or Mama Tom Toms on the cliffside. Bingin truly is my favorite spot in Bali when it comes to stunning places to stay, a bohemian paradise. Enjoy dragon bowls at The Cashew Tree, some fresh juice and smoothies at Kelly’s Warung and some yummy pizza at pizzeria Italia. If in need of some more sophistication check out El Kabron Spanish Restaurant & Cliff Club for delicious food, some people watching and a sick sunset.

Beautiful PadangPadang Beach on the Bukit Peninsula BaliPadang Padang
Just north of Uluwatu, you’ll find Padang Padang, yet another beautiful white sandy beach with quite a few steep steps. I usually end up here when staying in Uluwatu as it’s only a short drive away and mostly no stones/reef in the water. Perfect for a morning swim before the crowds take over. Be aware of the monkeys, they are sometimes very interested in sunglasses and other shiny things. If you’d rather get your tan on away from the sand, rent a poolside sun lounger at Blue Haven on top of the Cliff overlooking the beach. While in the area you have to try the organic restaurant Buddha Soul, for breakfast, lunch or even dinner. The chicken pasta with lemon sauce is one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

View from the cliff at Uluwatu on the Bukit Peninsula BaliUluwatu 
Located at the Southwestern tip of the Bukit is one of my favorite places in the world, Uluwatu. Main attractions in the area are Pura Uluwatu or the “monkey temple”, one of the most scenic temples in all of Bali where you can see traditional Kecak dance at sunset. And of course the world famous surf break “Ulu’s”, a left-hander best suited for experienced surfers. You can reach Suluban beach through the cave on low tide, it’s a really cool place worth a visit. The big party at Single Fin on Sundays attracts a huge crowd from all over the island. Arrive early, preferably before sunset, or reserve a table if you want a place to sit. A great place to stay is Mamo Hotel or even cheaper is Vicy Homestay a little further down the road, just a minute walk from the cliff. Many of the cheaper accommodation options are not online, so if you’re on a tight budget and visiting in the low season you might want to chance it and ask around.

At the beach in Nusa Dua, Bali guideNusa Dua
May have the nicest white sandy beaches in all of Bali, but in my opinion, it can get a bit boring for young travelers. The beaches are lined with large all-inclusive resorts, which is great for honeymooners, older couples or families with small children. For around 250$ a night you can stay in the cheapest room at the world famous resort The Mulia Nusa Dua Suites.
 

Bali Guide - An Island Overview

 

I hope you can put this Bali guide to good use! Be sure to pin or bookmark it, as I’ll keep updating it when I explore more places on the island.

Some of the links above are affiliate links and I will earn a small percentage of the sale if you purchase through them, at no extra cost to you. This helps me cover the costs of running my site – so thank you in advance ! I only ever link to products and services I use and love myself!

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14 Comments

  • Reply Christina Ritza 10. June 2016 at 13:16

    So many great ideas in here. Thanks for putting it together. 🙂

    Traveling to Bali for the first time in October for my honeymoon – looking for a good combination of adventure, romance and relaxation. We have 18 days in the area – thinking 3 in Seminyak , 5 on Gili T, 5 in Ubud, 3 on Nusa Lembongan and 3 in Jimbaran. Thoughts on our itinerary or any must dos that we shouldn’t miss out on?

    Also – having never driven a moped before — are they safe enough on the island?

    • Reply Charlotte 11. June 2016 at 01:10

      First of all congratulations on getting married!! And thank you for your comment 🙂

      I would definitely make time for a visit to the west coast of the Bukit Peninsula! The view from Uluwatu cliffs is a MUST see! And all the little surfing villages like Padang Padang, Bingin and Balangan is where you’ll have the kind of relaxing beach holiday I think people picture when thinking of Bali. Maybe you could do a day trip down when you’re in Jimbaran, as it’s not too much happening there other than seafood dinners at the beach. The beach in Seminyak is crazy busy with tourists and hawkers so I tend to stay away and hang by a pool whenever I’m there.

      If you’re spending 5 days in Ubud you’ll have plenty of time to go on some excursions. I would recommend joining a bicycle tour with Jegeg Bali Cycling you get to see the backstreets of Ubud and then have lunch inside their family compound. This is still one of the highlights of all my time in Bali, even though I usually don’t like organized tours. Maybe also hire a driver and see the Jatiluwih Rice Fields, which is one of the most picturesque and serene places on the island.

      I myself isn’t a big fan of Gili T, it’s always crowded and quite loud. Nusa Lembongan is the gem in my eyes. But most people I’ve talked to either love it or hate it, so maybe you’ll love it 😉

      The traffic in Bali is crazy, but for the most part it’s not moving too fast. I’ve seen a couple of moped accidents, but I’ve never had any trouble myself. I feel totally safe driving in Ubud, Nusa Lembongan and on the smaller streets of Seminyak and the Bukit. You should be fine as it’s easy to get the hang of it, just stay away from the major roads. Be sure to drive over the yellow bridge from Lembongan to Nusa Ceningan, it’s so stunning!

      Hope this helps! Feel free to ask if you have any more questions!

  • Reply miimjon 12. June 2016 at 12:15

    Hey Charlotte. Thank you so much for this guide. Really helping me out for my bali trip early july. Planning for two weeks. At first wanted to cover Kuta / Seminyak but after reading this I have decided I might not go there.

    So far I have planned to spend the following in order of travel:

    4 days in uluwatu
    3 days in ubud (planning for the cycling expedition you mentioned)
    4 days in Padangbai for diving.
    5 days in hand which I plan to explore Gili and Lombok depending where I like most.
    Should I stay in Kuta for a day or sth? Anything special that I can’t experience in others I am planning to visit?

    travelling solo on a mid-budget accommodations.

    P.S: just followed you on instagram. Lovely posts!

    Take care
    miimjon

    • Reply Charlotte 15. June 2016 at 12:55

      Thank you for your comment! Happy to hear that you found my guide useful!

      I would stay away from Kuta (nothing worth mentioning happens there) and only stop by Legian/Seminyak if you want a good choice of restaurants and shops! That’s not where you’ll find the Bali most people dream about. Also accommodation in Seminyak is quite expensive. If you are thinking of staying in that area I would go just a bit further north to Canggu. There you’ll find everything from budget homestays to luxury villas. Also a lot of fun and happening restaurant and bars where you can meet other travelers. The vibe is much more relaxed and easy going than in Seminyak. It’s my favorite place in all of Bali!

      I think it’s great that you’ve included Uluwatu in your itinerary, from there you can drive your motorbike to the beautiful beaches of Padang Padang, Balangan and Bingin.

      The Gilis are stunning, but very small so they can get a bit boring. The south coast of Lombok (Kuta area), not Senggigi, is where you should spend your time in my eyes, it’s so incredibly beautiful. You can drive around by yourself discovering deserted beaches all day and then meet other travelers in town at night. I love the feeling of just driving not knowing where you’ll end up, that’s how I’ve found some of my favorite spots. The south coast isn’t crowded like Gili T and Gili Air. But of course if your planning on partying non stop, then Gili T is your best bet 😉

      If you end up going to Lombok I would join one of the waterfall hiking tours! Also a good tip would be to arrange a driver from your accommodation to pick you up at the harbor, as the drivers there will probably quote you a ridiculous price!

      Feel free to ask if you have any further questions! Have a great trip 🙂

  • Reply Kim 4. August 2016 at 00:19

    That looks so absolutely gorgeous!

  • Reply Kim 25. August 2016 at 09:33

    Hi Charlotte I am heading out to Bali in October for a wedding. We have a week in Sanur beach for the wedding and then we are struggling which bits to go to from there for the second week. I have ubud, uluwatu, canggu, nusa lembongan and the Gilis on my list. Ideally we would like beaches, trekking, swimming and relaxing in the day ideally with beachfront accomodation and then a choice of good places in the evening to eat and drink. We would like to finish off the holiday with a few nights of luxury. I would appreciate any help you can give me.

    • Reply Charlotte 26. August 2016 at 14:26

      Hi Kim! This is so hard, as there are so many places I love and want everyone to experience! But if you only have one week I wouldn’t go all the way to the Gilis. Even though the boat ride is only two hours long, it usually ends up taking at least half a day one way. I would spend a couple of nights on Lembongan, where there are so many hotels to choose from right on the beach. Then go back to Bali and stay on the Bukit for a couple of nights, maybe on gorgeous Bingin beach. From there you can easily drive a scooter down to Uluwatu, Padang Padang and Balangan. Then I would spend the last days in Canggu. From there you could maybe do a day trip to Ubud and go on a hike? That’s what I would do. But if you are after some real luxury, maybe ending the trip in Seminyak would be best for you guys. There you are spoilt for choice with high end hotels/villas, restaurants and happening bars. I don’t know if this were much help, so let me know if you have more questions! 🙂

  • Reply Sherry 21. November 2016 at 17:01

    Gorgeous photos and great guide. I’m pinning for future travels! 🙂

  • Reply Sarra 15. February 2017 at 00:30

    Hi Charlotte
    I am absolutely loving your little guides. Myself and my two best friends are heading to Bali for 11 days in April – low season yay! It’s not as much time as would have hoped due to conflicting schedules at work but I have been researching for weeks and would love your opinion! We will definitely be spending time in Ubud, Canggu, but are stuck for where else to go. We were thinking Jimbaran (we need to have one seafood dinner!), Uluwatu or Seminyak, or possibly two of those places? We also definitely want to go to the Gili Islands for a few days and POSSIBLY Lombok if time/expenses permit it. What are your opinions? And in which direction should we work our way around the island? Also in terms of scooters/motorbikes do we have to have a license for those? Thank you!

    • Reply Charlotte 18. February 2017 at 14:15

      Thank you Sarra! You’re gonna have so much fun 🙂

      My best tip is to keep your hotel changes to a minimum, or else you will spend all your time going from one place to the next. Everything takes a long time here on the island. I would stay in Canggu, Ubud and Uluwatu(or Padang Padang/Bingin). From Canggu you can easily get a taxi to Seminyak if you want to do some shopping and fine dining. And the same from Uluwatu for your Jimbaran dinner. It’s a much more young and fun atmosphere down on the Bukit than in Jimbaran.

      Even though I like Lombok much more than the Gilis, I think you have too little time to do both this time. Just going from the Gilis to Kuta, Lombok took me five hours last time. So much waiting.

      I don’t think there is one better order or direction to go, just don’t save the Gilis for last. Sometimes the boats get canceled due to bad weather, so you don’t want to miss your flight because of it. Remember to ask your hotel to pick you up at the airport, so you don’t have to haggle for prices when you land.

      You are supposed to get a license when you get here, but I don’t think anyone actually does. No one has ever asked me to see my license from home either. I haven’t had any problems so far!

      • Reply Sarra 19. February 2017 at 21:56

        Thank you for your reply! Since my last message I’ve definitely decided that it’s better we just stay in Canggu, Ubud and Uluwatu and just travel to other towns from there. Based on your guides, we’ve also decided to go to Nusa Lembongan instead of Lombok, as we believe it will give us a little more time and less time travelling! But we wouldn’t have known about the island if it wasn’t for your sweet guides – it looks so serene and stunning! & thank you for the information about scooters- I was definitely worried they’d be checking licenses all the time.

  • Reply Megan 21. March 2017 at 09:48

    Thanks for creating this! I found it super useful because I was looking at the beaches in Nusa Dua but would hate to be stuck with honeymooners!

    • Reply Charlotte 21. March 2017 at 16:19

      Thanks Megan, so happy to hear that! Nusa Dua do have some beautiful beaches, so my advice would be to take a day trip there while staying in Uluwatu 😉

  • Reply Leanne 30. March 2017 at 22:00

    Hi Charlotte
    This was such an awesome read. My first experience to Bali was July 2016 and sadly we only stayed one week. The group we were with were only interested in the tourist activities (excluding a visit to Ubud!) and I felt myself missing out on the essence of Bali. So I’ve gone out on a limb, as a solo female traveler this time, to really explore Bali properly. I’ll be doing 3 weeks in peak season mid Dec 2017 – Jan, unfortunately, as it was the best I could do regarding work. I don’t know if I have enough time but I would love to go 360 around the island and I don’t hear much mention of the northern regions. I really don’t know how to go about structuring my 3 week itinerary but would love to see as much as possible without over doing it. I’m an adventurer at heart and doing the volcano hikes and waterfall searches are high up on the list. I love yoga and good food and serene places but I also have a budget so don’t care too much for fancy accommodation. Christmas and New Year locations and activities are also concerns of mine, yikes what have I done! Help!

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