Lush, laid-back and gloriously scenic, Bali combines its legendary white sands and big surf with a rich tapestry of volcanic peaks, vivid green paddy fields and temples. The island’s vibrant Hindu culture is a defining aspect of its character with traditional music and dance, elaborate ceremonies, and gamelan concerts everywhere you go. Away from the coast, the volcanic interior is blanketed in dense forests that sweep down to colonial hill towns and meandering rice terraces that snake around the hillsides. Here you’ll get an authentic insight into Balinese life and the island’s people.
What I love most about Bali is its diversity. You get all the sun, surf and sand you want, beautiful hotels and spas, active volcanoes and tranquil paddy fields as well as an incredibly vibrant local culture.
Indonesia Asia specialist Chris
Things to see and do on your holiday to Bali
Climb Mount Batur volcano to watch the sunrise
One of Bali’s most sacred mountains, Mount Batur is an active volcano dramatically set inside two concentric calderas. At its summit are three smouldering peaks, which rise above a beautiful blue caldera lake.
Although it’s a relatively easy climb during the day, the mountain is best tackled before dawn so that you arrive at the summit to see the sun rise over the surrounding mountains.
On your descent, you can bathe in hot or cold springs near the lake shore before enjoying lunch overlooking Lake Batur and the sacred mountain.
See the Jatiluwih rice terraces, Pura Batukaru Temple and Lake Bratan
Leaving the busy south coast behind, you’ll soon discover the sleepy charm and traditional lifestyle of Bali’s lush interior.
In remote Jatiluwih, a swathe of glistening rice terraces coils around the hillsides overlooked by brooding mountains. Nearby, on the forested slopes of Gunung Batukaru is Pura Batukaru, one of Bali’s most beautiful temple complexes with a series of small pagodas and tiered shrines.
Ascending further into the hills you approach Lake Bratan, where the 17th century Pura Ulun Danu Bratan Temple, with its tiered spire of roofs, sits on a small island near the edge of the lake.
See a kecak dance
Based on the Hindu epic poem Ramayana, Bali’s kecak dance is a spellbinding combination of synchronised chanting and clicking performed by a large troupe of men. The dancers are surrounded by the troupe and accompanied by syncopated, undulating rhythms that reflect the changing mood of the story.
Two of the best places to see a performance are the Chedi Club at Tanah Gajah, where the show is followed by a traditional Balinese dinner overlooking the rice paddies, and Uluwatu Cliff Temple, where the dance begins after sunset and plays out against a backdrop of ocean rollers.
Scuba dive the Liberty wreck near Amed or at Menjangan Island
Bali’s majestic underwater world offers diving for both novice and experienced divers. The island’s most well-known dive site is the USAT Liberty wreck, which lies just 80 feet (25m) from the shore at Tulamben in the northeast. It’s extremely popular by day, but come for a night dive and you’ll see shoals of humphead parrot fish, massive groupers and moray eels hunting smaller prey.
Menjangan Island in the Bali Barat National Park is another excellent dive location with steep drop offs, caves, slopes and lagoons that shelter turtles, groupers, barracudas and sharks as well as bright triggerfish, lionfish and fusiliers.
Surf in Seminyak
Bali has long been renowned for its surfing and is home to some of Southeast Asia’s best breaks such as the Pandang Padang pipeline. But it’s also an excellent place to learn to surf, and the gentle waves and sandy shores around Seminyak are a great place to start.
The water is warm, the atmosphere is chilled out and the lessons are great fun yet very professional. The surf schools cater to all abilities and promise to have novices standing within an hour so you can legitimately claim to have surfed in Bali.
Surrounded by tropical rainforest, rice terraces and farms, Munduk is an old Dutch colonial hill station that makes a wonderful mountain retreat. Its jungle landscape and cool climate means it is ideal for trekking or cycling with numerous routes to waterfalls, traditional villages, coffee plantations, and sacred lakes.
The whole area has a languid charm and life here ticks by in a very traditional way. You can walk and cycle along mist-clad hills, swim in natural pools, learn about coffee production and canoe to ancient lakeside temples.
Take a sailing trip to Nusa Lembongan
A tiny island fringed by white sand beaches, Nusa Lembongan is an escape from the busy south coast. Its sleepy atmosphere, clear waters and coral gardens make it an ideal place to sit back and relax or snorkel and dive.
The island can be visited on a day trip from Benoa, where you board a catamaran for the one and a half hour journey. Once you’ve retreated to your hotel – we suggest either the Nusa Bay Lembongan or the Batu Karang Nusa Lembongan Resort – you can use the pool, kayak, snorkel or join a tour of a local seaweed farm.
Festivals, events and seasonal reasons to visit
- Held over five days in late March or early April, Bali Spirit is a celebration of world music, spirituality and wellbeing with yoga, meditation and healing workshops, concerts and live entertainment.
- Nyepi, Balinese New Year, is celebrated on the lunar new year, usually in March. It begins with an evening of parades where grotesque effigies are carried through the streets to ward off evil spirits. At dawn the following day, the whole island shuts down for a day of silence and introspection, which is followed by a day of temple ceremonies and celebrations.
- Galungan celebrates the victory of Dharma over Adharma, or good over evil, and is a chance for ancestral spirits to visit the Earth. The festival takes place over ten days with intricately decorated penjor (bamboo poles), laden with harvest fare outside every house. It’s a very photogenic time to visit with towns elaborately decorated and streams of people in traditional dress carrying carefully arranged offerings to the temples.
- Kuningan is the last and most important day of Galungan when the ancestors return to the heavens. It’s a day of prayer across the island with sacred dance performances and rituals performed at Sakenan Temple on Serangan Island. Dates for Galungan and Kuningan are dictated by the 210-day wuku lunar calendar and change each year.