Bali Travel Guide
Updated: Aug 18, 2020
It’s the combination of surfing, spirituality and beaches that has flocks of yogis, bohemian nomads and Eat Pray Lovers traveling to the Indonesian island of Bali. Tourism tripled in the past decade because of social media influencers, which resulted in over 6 million+ visitors traveling to Bali this past year. New hotels, yoga retreats, and commercial strips line the beaches from Uluwatu in the south to Ubud in the center. Despite the congestion, you can still discover the jungle forests, peaceful rice terraces, black-sanded beaches and spiritual temples on the “Island of the Gods” - you just have to know where to look!
I decided I'd celebrate another trip around the sun, my 35th birthday, in a country where my Oma (grandmother) was born, in the hopes I would be awakened or rather renewed in Ubud, Bali's ancient healing center (Ubud means “medicine”).
How long to Go:
My trip consisted of 13 days. I think a well-rounded trip would include at least a week in the spiritual hub of Ubud (with a day trip to the island of Nusa Penida), two to three nights to relax in Uluwatu, ending in the boho-chic beach town of Canggu for another two to three nights. Many people told me to make Canggu or Seminyak as my home base, but I’m so happy I stayed in the heart of Bali for an extended period of time rather than the busier beach towns. Don’t get me wrong, Canggu and Seminyak has a lot to offer for those looking for bars, beach clubs and trendy restaurants.
When to Go:
It’s recommended to avoid August, as it’s one of the busier times. Bali’s tropical climate varies by wet season (October to April) and dry (May to September), with temps in the 80s. You can also look into experiencing Nyepi, the Balinese New Year (the day when all lights are shut off and activity silenced) apparently it can be life-changing.
Getting There and Around:
Cathay Pacific flies to Denpasar from the West Coast via Singapore and Hong Kong, and Emirates has routes from the East Coast through Dubai. Once there, taxis/private drivers are plentiful, and hiring one for a day will barely cost you $50. A motorbike is the fastest way to navigate through Bali’s two-lane roads; you’ll see kiosks in every town renting scooters for less than $20 a day, but it’s wildly dangerous if you don’t have experience riding a motorbike.
Tipping is not culturally customary, but recommended.
Don’t drink the water.
The island has around 1,200 spas. Traditional Balinese massage is, of course, a must!
Vegan restaurants are everywhere.
1000+ temples are found in Bali.
Don’t do these things at a temple:
Have the soles of your feet pointing at the altar
Point at things, especially statues
Be improperly attired (you must wear a long sarong and cover your shoulders
Be loud or irreverent
Stand higher than the priest
Have an uncovered wound
Be visibly pregnant
Balinese people will usually possess one of the 4 first names: Wayan, Made, Nyoman, or Ketut. Translated, these mean ‘first born,’ ‘second born,’ ‘third born,’ and ‘fourth born.’
Although Indonesia is primarily a Muslim country, the main religion in Bali is actually Hindu. Christian and Muslim religions do exist, but Hinduism covers around 84% of the population.
1 Indonesian Rupiah equals 0.000072 United States Dollar.
Religion in Bali is primarily Hindu (90%), but Muslim is practiced in the rest of Indonesia.
Bali’s spiritual heart is set in the tropical forest, an hour from the airport. As crowded as Ubud can get, you’re only minutes from authentic villages and peaceful temples and rice fields. One of our favorite visits was to Tirta Empul, a temple where locals and tourists participate in a ritualistic cleansing. You can rent a sarong for less than $1 at the temple.
We started our trip in a two bedroom private villa overlooking the jungle at Kamandalu Ubud Hotel. (Located 20 minutes from the center of town). We enjoyed massages, morning yoga and Instagram worthy floating breakfasts.
Following Kamandalu, we stayed at the hidden sanctuary Zen Hideaway #2. It was a magical escape with waterfall and rice field views from your very own open air treehouse inspired sanctuary. Zen Hideaway built from reconstructed teak-wood from Sumbawa Island—a neighboring island to Bali. The home is rustic and open to the elements.
Our final stay was at Villa Santun, where we stayed in an executive suite with a large pool and rice paddie views. The boutique hotel was one of our favorite locations - small, intimate, fantastic hospitality, free wi-fi, complimentary shuttles and fantastic authentic cuisine.
Ubud has countless choices for hotels and guest houses. The OG of the luxury options is the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan - we didn’t stay at this resort, but we visited the property for sunset cocktails. The nearby Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve is also worth the splurge. And of course any Aman property is worth at least a visit for dinner or drinks.
We had dinner at Amandari, a luxury resort overlooking the emerald wilderness of the Ayung Valley. For a thorough wellness immersion, COMO Shambhala Estate is one of the earth's most exquisite locations, with truly immersive Ayurvedic and cleanse-focused regimens, acres of mossy forest paths, and its own holy water spring. The new Bill Bensley–designed Capella Ubud is a fanciful imagining of a 19th-century explorer’s camp with themed tents like “The Professor” and “The Naturalist” decorated in colorful Ikats and other prints surrounding a large “cistern” pool. And Bambu Indah, John and Cynthia Hardy’s 12-room fantasia by the river, may persuade you to move in for good with its antique Javanese wooden houses and swooping bamboo buildings, not to mention the meditation pod that hangs out over the river.
Milk and Madu - one of my favorites. Pizza and all day breakfast, amazing Acai bowls, great elixirs and juices. Expect relaxed service. Sister restaurant is Watercress.
Brunch / Lunch at Sari Organik overlooks rice fields - a trek to reach the restaurant, but extremely private and worth the adventure.
Surya Terrace Restaurant - overlooking the Tagalalang Rice Field
Sami Warung Bar
Locovore (very popular, you would need to book in advance)
Hujan (Indonesian food, spicy, not top on my list)
Ubud things to do:
Sacred Monkey Sanctuary - home to 700+ monkeys.
Campuhan Ridge Walk - beautiful for a sunrise or sunset hike.
Floating Breakfast at your hotel for an Instagram worthy photo.
Tirta Empul Temple - 50 Rupiah
Tegalalang Rice Field - 10 Rupiah
Tegenungon Waterfall - 20 Rupiah. Popular, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Packed with tourists.
Traditional Art Market - loads of shopping for your souvenirs.
Stores: Free Love Free People - trendy clothing, Blood + Bone, 69 Slam, Coco Market , Ester Indoneisian Art
Yoga Barn - one of the most popular yoga retreats/centers in Bali.
Royal Balinese Cultural Dance.
Banyumala, Nung Nung, & Sekumpul Waterfalls - an hour or two travel time to hike these waterfalls, we didn’t make it, but comes highly recommended from Bali influencers I’ve reached out to.
*Day-Trip Nusa Penida = email@example.com (Diamond Beach, Kelingking, Atuh Thousand Island, Treehouse, Crystal Bay). A full day trek of some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Located at the southern tip of Bali, golden-sand beaches line the coast and huge breaks at Padang Padang draws loads of surfers from around the world.
We stayed at the Alila Hotels - an eco-conscious resort built into the cliffs of Uluwatu. We stayed in a three-bedroom villa overlooking the Indian Ocean. I started my birthday defying gravity in a private aerial yoga class conducted in the Cliff Edge Cabana. If you stay at Alila you gain free access to the Omnia Day Club.
Other suggested hotels - is Six Senses, which recently opened atop an oceanside cliff. There is also Ayana Resort.
I spent my 35th birthday at this beautifully rustic restaurant, Suarga Padang Padang - beautiful ocean views, “Suarga Padang Padang is built upon the three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social, and economical.”
Uluwatu things to do:
Sunset at Uluwatu Temple. Arrive in time to watch the Kecak Dance, which is one of the most unique types of Balinese dance, it is not accompanied by any musical instrument - instead it is accompanied by a choir of around 70 men.
Sundays Beach Club for casual sunsets and dinner
Twenty-five minutes (on a good day) up the coast from the bustle of Seminyak, Canggu is a low-key bohemian beach town, a Venice Beach on the Arabian Sea. The left break here is beginner friendly and there are several surf schools right on the beach. Mornings start with a vegan-friendly breakfast or acai bowl followed by a surfing or yoga session and you’ve got yourself a typical Canggu day.
We stayed at an airbnb that I honestly wouldn’t recommend, but there are loads of affordable rentals that you can search based on your budget and taste.
Suggested hotels - The Slow, a hip, tropical style boutique hotel. There’s also a modern new COMO Uma Canggu, with an excellent surfing school and a nice beach club. Lasly, Hotel Tugu Bali.
Kynd / Give Cafes
Deus Ex Machina, the brash Australian biker-themed coffee brand and one of the first arrivals five years ago when Canggu was little more than rice field, still draws a crowd.
Canggu things to do:
Hope my tips and pics inspire you to take your own trip to the "Island of the Gods. "
Until then . . . Selamat Tinngal (goodbye in Balinese).