Book your individual trip, stress-free with local travel experts
Book your individual trip, stress-free with local travel experts
Fringed by dramatic coast, glorious sandy beaches and world-class surf, Bali is the jewel of the Indonesian archipelago. Extending less than 153km at its widest point, this volcanic island is popular with everyone from backpackers and high-end travellers to divers and sun-worshippers. As Southeast Asia’s only predominately Hindu society, religious observance still permeates every aspect of life here. Beyond the stunning resorts, amazing restaurants and relaxing spas of Southern Bali and Ubud, Bali's original charm still flourishes amongst its terraced rice paddies, evocative temples and vibrant festivals.
Make a beeline for the coast between Seminyak and Canggu. Loaded with fine beach bars, ideal for a sundowner or two, this is the Bali with its hair let down. Peek into the uber-luxe Potato Head in Seminyak and it's unlikely you'll leave for several hours.
The jaw-dropping seascape from Pura Luhur Uluwatu should get some of your attention, though. As should the impossibly green rice terraces around Sidemen and Tirtagangga. Wow. To get away from it all, head along the narrow and winding Amed coastal road to Ujung. This glorious, high-level track offers some of the most dramatic scenery in Indonesia. Its hills sweep up for hundreds of metres from the coast. Plus, no other tourists.
Bali has plenty of things for children to do as well. Aside from the beach and other water-based activities in the southern resorts, Bali’s Waterbom Park is fun for all ages. In Ubud there’s Swing Heaven with jungle swings and beds enjoying stunning views of the Ayung river. Surfing, mountain-biking, whitewater rafting and horseriding will tire out teens, whilst the Bird and Reptile parks in Batubulan and the Bali Safari and Marine Park in Gianyar are ideal for budding David Attenboroughs.
Click for more Bali travel tips.
It’s not possible to see everything that Bali has to offer in a single trip – and we don’t suggest you try. But from seeing the sunrise from the top of ancient volcanoes to snorkelling along the dramatic easternmost coastline, Bali's best things to do are varied and venturous. Save space for visiting Hindu temples, admiring Balinese art and at least one spa treatment.
On a clear day, no scenery in Bali can match that of the Batur area. With its volcanic peaks and silver-turquoise crater lake, the scale and spectacle of this landscape remain unrivalled. The best way to see it is from the top of Bali’s most climbed mountain, the 1717m-high Gunung Batur (Mount Batur).
Wisps of sulphurous smoke still drift from smaller cones on the slopes of this ancient volcano, which last erupted in 2000. Given the scenery, it’s no surprise that this is one of Bali’s most popular tourist destinations. Most only visit on a day trip but stay overnight in either lakeside Toya Bungkah or Kedisan and hike to the summit to experience the magic of the scenery at sunrise. A guide is essential for sunrise treks. Use the Association of Mount Batur Trekking Guides, which has offices in Toya Bungkah and Pura Jati.
Religious ceremonies and festivals remain central to Balinese life and every one of Bali’s thousands of Hindu temples holds at least one annual festival to entertain the gods with processions and offerings. Spend more than a few days on the island and you are likely to spot locals heading to one. Visitors are welcome too but must follow certain etiquette: dress modestly; wear a sarong and a ceremonial sash; and treat shrines with due deference.
Events to look out for include: Nyepi (March or April), a major purification ritual that frightens away evil spirits with drums, gongs, cymbals, firecrackers and huge papier-mâché monsters (ogoh-ogoh); and Galungan, an annual ten-day festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil when the ancestral souls are thought to visit earth. The latter includes elaborate preparations such as penyor (bamboo poles hung with offerings) that arch over the road.
The peaceful bays, clear waters and undulating topography of the Amed Coast stretch for some 15km stretch from Culik to Aas in the far east of Bali. A little off the beaten track, divers and snorkellers are being enticed by the region’s impressive offshore reefs, wreck dives, submerged canyons, manta rays and oceanic sunfish.
Facilities are mushrooming along the coast with accommodation now available in every village bay. Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is now a popular pastime here and progressive beach outlets rent them. You'll also find plenty of yoga classes this way, too. Divers should aim for Jemeluk, which has dive centres and a travellers’ vibe, and is a good choice if you don’t have your own transport. Banyuning, meanwhile, is better for snorkelling.
Semarapura in southeast Bali became a centre of the arts towards the end of the seventeenth century, when Bali’s Majapahit rulers relocated here from their court at Gelgel. The small town remains a hotbed of artistic creativity
Inside the Taman Gili palace gardens, the historic Kerta Gosa (Hall of Justice) has nine levels of paintings. The pictures of gruesome punishments on its ceiling are one of only two examples of wayang-style paintings still in situ in Bali.
Nearby is the exceptional Nyoman Gunarsa Museum, which houses Bali’s best collection of historic Kamasan art. Highlights include several 10m-long ider ider (ceremonial banners depicting mythological tales). The art here is supplemented by elaborate antique doors, carved gamelan ornaments and examples of wayang kulit puppets that echo the origins of the classical style. There are several paintings by the museum founder, Nyoman Gunarsa, one of Bali’s foremost modern artists.
Bali’s volcanic reef-fringed coastline has made the island one of the world’s great surfing centres, with a reputation for producing consistent tubes and waves. There are also plenty of gentler beach breaks, which are ideal for beginners. If you want to surf, go from April to October when the southeast trade winds blow offshore, fanning the waves off Bali’s southwest coast.
The best-known and most challenging of the southwestern breaks are around Uluwatu on the Bukit Peninsula – at Balangan, Dreamland, Bingin, Padang Padang and Suluban. Small, surfer-oriented resorts have grown up around each one. Novice and less confident surfers should start with the breaks around Kuta, Canggu and Medewi.
And relax! Jamu (herbal medicines) and massages using oils and pastes made from locally-grown plants have long played an important role in traditional Indonesian health care. Dozens of spas across Bali now offer traditional beauty treatments, particularly around Seminyak, Petitenget and Ubud.
Indonesia's best-known traditional treatment is the Javanese exfoliation rub, mandi lulur, in which you’re painted and then massaged with a turmeric-based paste. Such is its apparent power to beautify, Javanese brides are said to have a treatment each day for the forty days before their wedding ceremonies.
Another popular body wrap is the Balinese boreh, a warming blend of cloves, pepper and cardamom, that is said to improve circulation and invigorate muscles. Most scrub treatments include a gentle Balinese-style massage and a moisturizing “milk bath”.
Marooned on a craggy, wave-lashed rock just off the southwest coast, Pura Tanah Lot is one of the island’s holiest temples for the Balinese and one of its busiest tourist sites too.
Fringed by white surf and black sand, its multitiered shrines are an unofficial symbol of Bali, appearing on countless souvenirs. Said to have been founded by the Hindu priest Nirartha, who sailed to Bali from Java during the sixteenth century, Pura Tanah Lot now draws Instagrammers and influencers in equal measure.
Only devotees are allowed to climb the stairway carved from the rock face and enter the compounds – everyone else is confined to the grey beach beneath the rock (which gets submerged at high tide). For the best photos, climb up to the mainland clifftop. Follow the path northwest for a panoramic view of the Bukit plateau on Bali’s southernmost tip.
Inland Ubud and its surrounding area form Bali’s cultural heartland, home to a huge number of temples, museums and art galleries. The town hosts Balinese dance shows nightly and has a wealth of craft studios that provide absorbing shopping, too.
As well as traditional ceremonies and daily rituals, many come to Ubud for its surrounding terraced rice paddies. These emerald terraces and coconut groves, framed by distant volcanoes, are best seen on two feet or two wheels.
Hiking and biking in the countryside surrounding Ubud gives you a real sense of how Bali once was before tourism went big time here. At the confluence of the Wos Barat and the Wos Timor rivers, the two-hour Campuhan Ridge Walk is doable by bike and offers arresting views and an endless carpet of alangalang grass swaying in the breeze.
West Bali National Park is a stunning natural gem located on the island of Bali, Indonesia. The park boasts a diverse range of ecosystems, including dense forests, savannahs, and pristine beaches.
Visitors can experience Bali's unique flora and fauna, including the endangered Bali Starling bird and the elusive Javanese leopard. The park offers a variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking, bird watching, snorkeling, and diving.
Visitors can also explore the park's cultural heritage, with ancient temples and traditional villages nearby. With its natural beauty and abundant wildlife, West Bali National Park is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts looking to experience the best of Bali's wilderness.
Ubud Monkey Forest is a popular destination in Bali that offers a unique and exciting experience for visitors. The forest is home to over 700 long-tailed macaques that are known for their playful behaviour and curious nature. Visitors can watch these monkeys swinging from tree to tree, interacting with each other and even approaching visitors for food.
Apart from the monkey sightings, the forest is also a serene oasis of tropical plants, ancient temples, and calming streams, making it an ideal spot for nature lovers and photographers.
The overall standard of accommodation on Bali is very high. Even basic lodgings are generally enticing. Where to stay is usually determined by your budget but the island has plenty of cheap options from losmen (a term that literally means homestay but commonly describes any inexpensive accommodation) to hostels in key backpacker hangouts like Kuta.
Nearly all other accommodation falls into the hotel category, most of which offer air conditioning and a swimming pool. Bali does boutique hotels very well: small, intimate places, often with gorgeous rural views and tasteful Balinese furnishings. Suites on the island's super-luxury hotels tend to have private plunge pools and living areas.
Bali's villas are luxurious private holiday homes with pools and kitchens; they’re especially good for families. They can be rented by the day or week and often include the services of a housekeeper and cook. Be aware, though, that a growing number of villas operate without government licences, which means they could get closed down at any time. Check a villa’s licence online.
You’re spoilt for choice for accommodation in South Bali. Most in Kuta is of the cheap and cheerful variety: hostels, losmen, and somewhat dated mid-range places. The accommodation in Legian, Seminyak and Kerobokan is more expensive and chicer. Canggu has more villas for rent than hotels or guesthouses, but there are some highly characterful places.
Check the best accommodation in the south of Bali.
Ubud has an incredible choice of accommodation. Most family homestays are in traditional compounds and have real Balinese charm. Mid-range hotels often have pools and a dash of artistic style, while upscale options are wonderfully luxurious, many with rice paddy or river views. For a stunning river valley location, the Ayung River hotels, 6km or so west of Ubud, are perfect.
Check the best accommodation aroung Ubud.
The main tourist hubs in East Bali are along the coasts. Candidasa is a low-key resort with good facilities and handy transport connections. Nearby, funky little Padang Bai is a port for boats to the Gili Islands and Lombok, and also makes a decent base in its own right. The biggest-hitting dive centres, though, are on the east coast, at Amed, which has lots of accommodation and plenty of reefs close to shore.
Check the best accommodation in the east of Bali.
If you want to climb Gunung Batur, you can base yourself in Toya Bungkah, or Buahan and Songan, south of Kedisan. Hotels in this highland region do not have as high standards as those in more mainstream tourist areas. Many owners were subsistence farmers a generation ago. The cooler, cloud-capped hills of Danau Brata attracts some visitors (it goes down to 10˚C at night, so don't expect fans or air-conditioning), but most people visiting North Bali stay in Munduk as the accommodation is generally high.
Check the best accommodation in the north of Bali.
Bambu Indah, Ubud. Probably Bali’s most unique place to stay, and the antithesis of the corporate five-star hotel. This is perhaps the most environmentally conscious hotel in Indonesia, built entirely from natural materials, while the 30m pool is river-fed and chlorine-free, and there are organic vegetable patches rather than manicured gardens. Guests get to revel in the epic views over the Ayung valley and stay in traditional Javanese teak houses, or startling mod-meets-trad bamboo creations. There’s fine food, attentive service and a wonderful chillout zone by the riverbank below.
Menjangan Dynasty, West Bali. Introducing glamping (glamourous-camping) to Bali – and we're glad they did – fabulous one- and two-bedroom luxury tents are situated on 16ha on a protected bay that is ideal for swimming and sunsets. Its Pasir Putih Beach Club – diving and watersports, spa, beachside pool and restaurant – are also open to non-guests.
Griya Valud, East Bali. Away from the main "hotel street" and across from eye-popping rice fields, two cottages and four attached rooms are a haven away from home. Excellent personal service provided by Made, the caretaker, and the best food anywhere in Bali.
Balinese cuisine is spicy, sweet and incredibly varied with rich curries, fragrant soups, delicious noodle dishes, steamed vegetables and Chinese-style stir-fries all competing for your tummy’s attention. The more local you go, the more authentic the meal.
In the main tourist regions, most restaurants tend to serve more generic Indonesian food and a multitude of Western and Asian dishes. For really genuine Balinese food, head to night markets and warung (simple local cafés).
Mozaic, Ubud This multi-award-winning restaurant showcases the talents of French-American chef Chris Salans. The French- and Asian-inspired dishes change regularly but include favourites such as Kintamani — suckling pork with Javanese pomelo purée or splash out on a 6-course grand menu. Reservations essential.
Warung Makan Pak, Ubud Some of the most economical food around Ubud is served at this low-key establishment: try the tasty house speciality, nasi campur ayam.
One Eyed Jack, Canggu Established by an ex-Nobu chef, One Eyed Jack features stupendous Japanese fusion cooking. Choose from the small plates menu, with highlights including crispy soft-shell crab sliders, black cod tacos, kelp salad and yakitori bites. There’s a good choice of sake too.
Sardine, Kerobokan Gorgeous imaginative cuisine in a bamboo bale-style structure beside a ricefield. Fish and seafood dominate the menu, with the dishes changing daily depending on the catch – miso-grilled mahi-mahi, Jimbaran-style fish and organic salads are typical.
Café Wayan, Ubud An Ubud visit is not complete without at least one stop at the iconic Café Wayan which has served scrumptious food for over 30 years. The menus contain everything you're hungry for, from traditional cuisine to sandwiches and cocktails. Sunday evenings there's a mouth-watering Balinese buffet.
Sage, Nyuhkuning Located on a corner plot, this vegan-vegetarian place has an outstanding selection of healthy dishes including “Go Jolly Green salad” (with kale, spinach and tempeh), great jackfruit tacos and wonderful juices. The attractive premises are light and airy and staff are sweet.
There’s no shortage of international and domestic flights to Bali’s only airport, Ngurah Rai International Airport – officially referred to as Denpasar (DPS) – 3km south of Kuta.
There are no nonstop flights from the UK or Ireland to Bali. Singapore Airlines and Emirates offer some of the fastest London–Denpasar flights; all require a brief transfer but can get you to Bali in as little as 17 hours.
There’s a big choice of flights to Bali from North America, although none are direct. Flights from the west coast go via Taipei, Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur, with connections to Bali in around 24 hours. From the east coast, airlines go via Tokyo (14 hours) or Bangkok (20 hours).
Scores of flights head to Bali from Australia with Quantas, Virgin Australia and Malindo Air, and low-cost carriers such as Jetstar and Garuda. Air New Zealand has (seasonal, May to October) direct flights to Bali from Auckland (9 hours).
From South Africa to Bali you’ll need to change in Singapore with Singapore Airlines, or Dubai with Emirates. Usually takes 18-22 hours
Huge public inter-island ferries connect Bali with nearby islands, including Lombok and Java. They run frequently and regularly, day and night. However, they aren't particularly concerned with safety standards.
Many private small, expensive fast boats connect the Balinese mainland with the Gili Islands, Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida and Bangsal in Lombok. There are also smaller, slower boat services to Nusa Lembongan from Bali and from mainland Lombok to all three Gili Islands. A regular ferry runs from Padang Bai on Bali to Nusa Penida.
Find out more about how to get to Indonesia.
For a comprehensive trip around Bali, you will need around three weeks to do the island justice. From volcanic foothills and cultural hubs to idyllic tropical beaches and bustling cities, there's plenty to keep you occupied.
Set aside some time for sunbathing and surfing too but try and be flexible with any plans you make. There are plenty of places that will tempt you to extend your stay – we're looking at you, Nusa Lembongan.
The highlights of any itinerary will include the magnificent Pura Uluwatu temple on Bukit Peninsula, a chance to choose your own party in Kuta, Legian or Seminyak, plus the surf beaches of Canggu.
Photographers can't miss Pura Tanah Lot, a temple perched on a spectacular rocky crag, whilst Bali’s artistic hub, laidback Ubud, is known to steal hearts. Give yourself at least three days here.
No Bali trip would be complete without some hiking. We'd aim for a sunrise trek up volcanic Gunung Batur – followed by a dip in the hot springs at Danau Batur lake. Alternatively (or additionally), head to the dramatic, 3031m-high Gunung Agung volcano, home to many important religious sites, most notably Besakih, the Mother Temple.
Looking for inspiration for your trip? Talk to our Indonesian travel experts.
Bali is small enough to traverse in a few hours by road. However, a lack of street names and traffic congestion – particularly in Southern Bali and Ubud – can make things confusing for self-drivers.
With no railways, public transport on Bali is mainly buses and bemos (minibuses on set, long-distance routes). Although inexpensive, neither offers much comfort. Very few travellers bother with it. Bemos don’t have fixed timetables and generally leave every hour or so (or when full). You can pick up both buses and bemos from bus terminals in bigger towns or flag them down on the road.
Bali has tourist shuttle buses that operate between major destinations. These are more expensive than buses and bemos but more convenient.
The taxi trade in Bali is notorious, and its workings are very complicated. Essentially there are three kinds of taxi: local drivers who almost never use a meter; taxis like Blue Bird which always use a meter; and ride-hailing-app taxis that you order on your smartphone (and pay for in cash). In some areas, like Kuta or Denpasar, all three kinds operate. In Ubud, the local taxi cartel blocks all metered outgoing services. In other regions, it’s a grey area.
Cheap, app-based taxi services in Bali include Gojek (motorcycle), GoCar (car), GoRide (car) and Grab (car).
Cars and motorbikes are available to rent across Bali. You can also rent cars or motorbikes with a driver.
Located eight degrees south of the equator, Bali has consistent year-round temperatures, averaging 27°C in Bali’s coastal areas and the hills around Ubud and 22°C in the central volcanoes around Kintamani.
The best time to visit is April and May as it avoids both the monsoon season (October to March) and peak tourist seasons (mid-June to mid-September; plus the Christmas–New Year period). The other peak season to be aware of is Idul Fitry (Eid al-Fitri, usually May–June). Prices rocket and rooms can be fully booked for weeks in advance.
Bali's monsoon season brings rain, wind and intense humidity. It is both unrewarding and dangerous to go mountain climbing during this period.
You should also be prepared to get rained on in Ubud at any time of year. Not that the prospect of a daily rainstorm outside of the monsoon season should put you off: you’re far more likely to get an hour-long downpour than days of drizzle. The rain is more refreshing than off-putting.
Find out more about the best time to visit Indonesia.
Plan your trip to Bali with the Rough Guide to Bali and Lombok.