This is not a daunting task as all the major points of
interest on this 90 kilometres long by 150 kilometres
wide island are accessible within just a few hour’s
journey from Kuta, Nusa Dua, Sanur, Denpasar or Ubud.
Most people along the tourist routes speak at least some
English and you can get by quite adequately without any
knowledge of Indonesian, though a few words or phrases
will both delight and surprise your hosts. If you spoke
a smattering of Balinese, it would flabbergast them even
For a quick introduction to the island, join one of the
many guided-tour groups offered as pre-and post-convention
extensions by Bali’s professional destination management
specialists. Two, three, even five-day tours can take
in all the highlights. If pressed for time, even a one-day
foray into Bali’s hinterlands can put the visitor
in touch with the real Bali.
Tours to the south emphasize the shoreline, beach life
and shopping; trips to the centre the classic historic
monuments and temples; trips to the north vault the volcanic
mountain range to the serene coast of northern Bali; while
trips to the east and west cover the more isolated and
natural parts of the island.
For students of history, the Bali Museum in Denpasar houses
a collection of historic and cultural objects dating back
to the Neolithic and Megalithic periods. Tours are also
offered to archaeological remains and ancient spiritual
sites such as the mysterious 11th century Goa Gajah
(Elephant Cave) in Gianyar, the nearby 25-metre-long carvings
of Yeh Pulu, the sacred Bronze Age Moon of Pejeng and
the 11th century rock-hewn tombs of Gunung Kawi.
Never ending Festivals & Performances
Besides the myriad destinations available around the island,
there’s another reason that warrants an escape from
the tourist centres for those keen on discovering traditional
Bali: the nearly ceaseless celebrations. A whole series
of religious rites and festivals guide the Balinese from
birth to death and into the after world.
These ceremonies can be easily seen by simply driving
down Bali’s inland roads, parking your car and observing
the local celebrations from a respectful distance. Visitors
are generally welcome if properly attired in temple scarf
With 1000 dance troupes on the island, dance is at the
very centre of Balinese life and will probably be the
most impressive spectacle visitors will see and remember.
With such musical names as Cupak, Kebyar, Janger,
there are over 200 kinds of dances, each a composite of
not just a dance but also drama, music, spoken poetry,
opera and song. Visitors won’t have any trouble
finding live performances or rehearsals.
Further a Field
The natural flora of the island is another inimitable
attraction of Bali. Many plants that we lovingly cultivate
as pot plants in the West - poinsettias, dracaena, coleus
and begonias - grow in riotous profusion along Bali’s
roadsides. Twelve varieties of coconut palm and thirteen
species of bamboo exist on Bali.
For the avid botanist, the sprawling high altitude Eka
Karya Raya Botanical Gardens is dedicated to the study
of the mountain flora of eastern Indonesia. Located in
the Bedugul area, visiting this beautifully landscaped,
cool, green and inviting botanical gardens is much like
strolling through an expansive private country estate.
Bali is also home to 32 species of mammals and 300 species
of birds. Join one of the many bird walks offered in the
fertile backcountry lanes of Ubud. The best place to experience
the wild side of Bali is the famous Bali Barat National
Park in West Bali which contains habitats ranging from
rainforests to coral-fringed islands.
A two-hour 11-kilometre rafting trip down the spectacular
Ayung River gorge, through one of Bali’s last original
tropical forests, is a nature lover’s delight. The
Ayung is Bali’s longest river and it flows year
round. Though thrilling enough to be scary, the well-supervised
experience is definitely far from life-threatening.
Bali is a safe and friendly destination for families.
Kids have room to run around and let loose as most hotels
have ample free space and frequently offer a children’s
activities centre or kid’s club. Gardens, a swimming
pool, a coconut grove and the beach are always nearby.
No trip to Bali is complete without a visit to its high
mountain climes. The cool, 1450-meter high village of
Penelokan, 56 kilometres north of the capital, perches
on the rim of a gigantic caldera that looks out over the
sacred blackened smoking volcano of Mount Batur.
The views here are magnificent. Not only can you see all
the surrounding mountains but also mount Agung to the
east and sometimes even to the sea and beyond to mount
Rinjani on the neighbouring island of Lombok. With its
high, fresh climate, the area offers invigorating walks,
highland rainforests and sweeping panoramas.
It’s a three kilometre corkscrew descent down to
the crescent-shaped Lake Batur below. Along its shores
huddle eight villages inhabited by the Bali Aga, Bali’s
original settlers. A journey along the northwest shore
is through a strange moonlike landscape over rivers of
black lava and volcanic ash and rubble.
Guides of the area will offer their services to lead you
to the top of the smouldering volcano, rising 688 meters
above the lake. Though strenuous, Batur is the easiest
volcano on Bali to climb. From the top climbers can see
the sun climbing slowly and lighting the whole lake.
Bedugul: Bali’s Market Garden
The small friendly lakeside resort of Bedugul in the middle
of the central highlands is just an hour’s drive
north of Bali’s capital of Denpasar. Located along
the main road to Singaraja on Bali’s north coast,
surrounded by scenic terraced vegetable gardens, the area
has unsurpassed views, cool temperatures and wonderful
markets selling delicious citrus, passion fruit and other
Over 1200 metres above sea level, Bedugul has been a popular
weekend retreat since Dutch times, a welcome change from
the tropical humidity of the south. Placid Lake Bratan
fills the ancient crater of the long inactive Mount Catur
that towers above the lake. The layers of mist, reflections
of the mountain, the fleecy clouds and peaceful Ulun Danu
Temple lying in the lake’s shallow waters, lend
a mystical quality to the environs.
Hikes along the exquisitely cultivated lakeshore lead
up through steep, jungle-covered hills and pine forests.
From Catur’s summit, there are stupendous views
of Mount Batur to the east and the mountains of the national
park to the west.
From the pier in front of Hotel Bedugul boats of every
size and description - from small perahu (traditional
Outriggers) to powerboats - stand ready to take you on
tours of the lake. Another attraction of these central
highlands is hidden Lake Tamblingan, one of Bali’s
least known large bodies of water. At 1500 metres altitude,
framed by dramatic peaks, the miniscule lake is also one
of Bali’s highest. An important archaeological site,
remnants have been found here of a people who lived on
the lake’s shore 1000 years ago.
The Historic North
Two main roads cross Bali’s central mountain range
leading to north Bali, an untouristed region of mountain
hikes, rustic farming villages, high waterfalls, steaming
hot springs, glistening black sand beaches, untouched
marine and forest reserves, traditional craftsmen and
dancers and temples decorated with baroque figures carved
from volcanic rock.
The region stretches from the foothills of Bali’s
central volcanoes to a secluded coastal plain against
which the calm warm waters of the Java Sea lazily lap.
Geographically isolated from the densely populated south,
the north has developed distinct cultural differences
in architecture, music and art. North Bali is the birthplace
of the famous Kebeyar style of gamelan and dance,
a genre now popular all over Bali.
Until the international airport opened at Tuban in 1962,
northern Bali had much greater contact with the outside
world than the south. Singaraja, the main city, has a
cosmopolitan air with many ethnic and religious minorities
living in harmony. A number of imposing European-style
residences still stand, reminders of Singaraja’s
grandeur as the Dutch colonial administrative centre of
Bali and all of Nusatenggara.
To the east - at Sangsit, Jagaraga, Bungkulan and Kubutambahan
- are found extravagant specimens of the north’s
flamboyant temple architecture, differing considerably
from the stiff classical lines carved of grey sandstone
on the temples of southern Bali. The soft pink paras
quarried here allow northern sculptors more exuberant
adornment and artistic license.
The quiet, shady, hassle-free coastal resort of Yeh Sanih,
17 kilometres east of Singaraja, offers an idyllic beach
and an enclosed natural swimming pool of clear, fresh
water welling up from underground springs. A sleepy paved
road, lined with old gnarled trees, follows the coast
eastward past sandy coves sheltering fishing jukung. A
short hike inland from Tejakula, 32 kilometres east of
Singaraja, is Les - the highest waterfall on Bali.
With uninterrupted views of the island’s highest
peak the whole way, the road eventually leads around Bali’s
dramatic northeast corner and then heads south to Amlapura,
capital of the eastern Karangasem Regency and once the
seat of the one of the richest kingdoms of Bali. This
is one of the few stretches of road on the island where
rural life has been largely unaffected by tourism.
|| frolicking in
their feeding grounds at Lovina (north Bali) or Candidasa
Lovina: Northern Retreat
The north is perhaps best known for the Lovina Beach area,
a whole line of villages along a palm-fringed shore that
starts about six kilometres west of Singaraja. Diving
and swimming can be enjoyed in crystal clear water off
the unbroken eight-kilometres-long string of black sand
beaches while breathtaking sunsets involve simply walking
out on a café’s or restaurant’s veranda.
The docile sea and shallow lagoons make this coast ideal
for families. Beginners and young snorkelers can safely
explore the specialized marine communities of plants and
animals in the inter-tidal zone. Pre-dawn dolphin-watching
is another popular activity when, for a few miraculous
moments, your motorized outrigger may be surrounded by
leaping, flipping, blowing dolphins.
Inland there are outstanding walks into the high country
for waterfalls and rolling vineyards. In Banjar, surrounded
by jungle and luxurious gardens, are hot sulphur pools
- the perfect setting for a day’s loafing and soaking.
Rounding the corner of a road beyond the hot springs,
the gleaming orange tile roof of the storybook monastery,
Brahma Vihara Asrama, suddenly appears. The only Buddhist
ashram on Bali, inside are Sukothai-style gold leaf Buddha
images, a brightly painted stupa and exuberant woodcarvings
- a dazzling mix of Balinese Hindu and Buddhist architectural
Escape to Bali’s
Lovina also makes an excellent jumping off point for the
lakes and mountains of the island’s central mountain
range. Where else to enjoy Bali-made wine but in the far
reaches of northern Bali surrounded by verdant wine country?
Kilometre upon kilometre of vineyards stretch along the
fertile coastal plain from Pulaki all the way to Singaraja.
Using the pergolas system popular in Spain and
Sicily, overhead trellises are held aloft by small trees
joined at the top by a wooden frame and wire mesh.
Occupying the island’s western end, the West Bali
National Park’s complex of habitats, including high
forests and magnificent coral-fringed islands, is the
untamed and unvisited side of Bali. The park’s primordial
beauty is the perfect complement to Bali’s sun and
sea, rice terrace and temple tourism.
In the waters off the northwest horn of Bali are the marine
reserves that have made this region a recreational paradise.
One of the island’s premier dive sites is the sensational
drop offs and coral reefs of Menjangan Island, teeming
with a giddy variety of fish.
Mother Temple of Bali
With mighty Mount Agung dominating the landscape, the
scenery of Bali’s eastern regency of Karangasem
is some of the most spectacular on the island. Far removed
from the bustle of the south, this is an area where a
number of archaic dance and musical forms are still regularly
performed and where the high Balinese language is still
in common use. It is Bali’s most traditional and
least visited district.
The main attraction of the area is Bali’s oldest,
largest and most impressive and austere temple complex
which sits one-third of the way up the slopes of Mount
Agung in East Karangasem. Besakih is the essence of the
island’s estimated 20,000 religious shrines, a symbol
of religious unity; it is the supreme “mother temple”
Looming up behind the complex, Mount Agung is considered
the “Navel of the World,” the geographical
and mystical centre of the universe.
As Olympus was to the ancient Greeks, so sacred is this
massive 3000-meter high volcano that the Balinese always
sleep with their heads towards the mountain. As many as
seventy rituals are held annually inside Besakih’s
Points East: Weaving Villages &
In the foothills of Mount Agung, heading east to Amlapura
on a little used country road, the traveller comes to
Selat, Iseh and Rendang. As well as affording magnificent
views, these mountain villages incorporate a sturdy, distinctive
volcanic-stone architecture found nowhere else on the
island. Sideman is renowned all over Bali for its endek
(Balinese ikat) weaving and silk songket fabrics
interwoven with designs of gold and silver thread.
Approaching from the south along the coast beyond Klungkung,
the traffic thins and the pace slows as the main road
finally meets Bali’s east coast. Undulating irrigated
rice fields give way to the sun’s blazing heat on
this arid stretch of road which passes fishing villages,
beachside salt processing factories, the old harbour of
Kusamba and the holy bat cave of Goa Lawah. Deep
inside, it is said, a mythical serpent lives, the caretaker
of the earth’s equilibrium.
A right hand turn takes the traveller to the small, charmingly
scruffy port of Padangbai, known for its plentiful restaurants
serving freshly caught seafood, as well as the ferry transit
point for the neighbouring island of Lombok. The surrounding
area offers varied hiking, beaches for sunbathing, hidden
coves and at least three excellent dive spots just 15
minutes away by native jukung.
Northwest of Amlapura is the fabled open-air water palace
of Tirtagangga, a former raja’s retreat and one
of the prettiest pool complexes on Bali. With its fountains,
bizarre statues, pleasant cool weather, quiet star-filled
nights and the constant sound of splashing water, it’s
a sublime experience to swim laps in big flower-strewn
spine-tingling reservoirs filled by freshwater mountain
Only a few kilometres inland from the tourist beach resort
of Candidasa is the walled village of Tenganan. Inhabited
by the aboriginal Bali Aga people, Tenganan has long been
a stronghold of unusual indigenous traditions and customs
that have been jealously guarded for centuries. Removed
from the Javano-Balinese regions of Bali, its pre-Hindu
architecture is simple yet very powerful.
Tenganan is the only locale in all of Indonesia that still
produces double-ikat woven textiles (kamben gringsing).
Strong, insect and heat resistant ata baskets, as well
as lontar palm leaf books upon which intricate scenes
from the Hindu epics have been superbly etched, are also
on sale here at very reasonable prices.
For marine life enthusiasts, snorkelling and diving off
the coast in and around the seductive seaside resort of
Candidasa, as well as in the vicinity of Amed north of
the regency capital Amlapura are outstanding. One of the
premier dive spots on the whole island of Bali is off
Tulamben in the northern corner of the regency.
Nusa Lembongan - Bali’s Offshore
Bali’s premier offshore recreational destination
is a small low dry island inhabited by amiable seaweed
farmers, 25 kilometres from Bali’s eastern coast.
Ringed by palms and sugary sand beaches, Nusa Lembongan
offers excellent beachcombing, sunbathing, diving and
snorkelling in its immaculate shallow bays, channels and
Immensely popular with families, couples and small groups
of friends, there is a wide variety of safe and well-organized
day and evening Bali-based cruises on vessels ranging
from high-speed ocean rafts to stately sailing ships.
Nusa Lembongan is definitely not a beach chair war kind
of place. Cruise operators share the same small bay that
is framed by high promontories with a row of rainbow-coloured
jukung at one end. Though the day can be spent
crammed with sporting and touring activities, most just
choose to sleep, relax, drift off with a book or perfect
their tan on a pristine arcing beach under the shade of