Our best things to do in Bali will take you straight to the ‘must see’ cultural treasures and famous landscapes found all around the magical island of Bali
Bali is a province in the republic of Indonesia. It consists of the island itself, and some of the lesser known neighboring islands, like Nusa Ceningan, Nusa Lembogan and Nusa Penida. But most travelers refer to the big island when they talk about Bali. And more specifically, they tend to google “Bali things to do” like yourself. In the article below, I’ve tried to explain some of its areas in a way that makes sense. I have also listed some of the more interesting things to do in Bali. Of course this depends on who I am with and what my fellow travelers would like to do as well, but do have a look please. After reading the article, you should have an idea of which area on Bali is perfect for you.
Keep in mind that while Indonesia is the biggest Muslim country in the world, the island of Bali adheres to Hinduism. This means two things: First off, you will see some magnificent Hindu temples all over the island. And secondly, you will find the population on the island to be much more tolerant than the rest of the country. So while the other islands of Indonesia are just as beautiful, its people tend to be a little more concerned about “outside influences”.
You may want to pump your party-brakes a little when you happen to be close to a religious community or a temple on the island, but that’s a given. We are all guests after all, and respecting customs and traditions gets you brownie points with the locals.
Try to consider this: unlike the Maldives, Seychelles or Bahamas, Bali is a “real” place with over 4 million Indonesians and a few thousands expats. And while there are plenty of luxurious resorts and pristine beaches, you are going to come across regular locals every day as well.
Things to do in Bali, Kuta
Having worked for a surf company for several years, my first few trips to Bali were all about getting to a surf spot and Kuta has many of those. So naturally, you can’t mention Kuta without surfing, as there are many schools and shops around Kuta. Beginners can find a beginners class in a heartbeat, while the more advanced surfers usually have a clear idea which spot they want to explore. Alternatively, you can hire a Jukung boat who will take you to the best spots of the day.
I’ve done this once and it is an amazing way to catch waves. Instead of traveling over land, you simply climb aboard. Put on your rash vest and sunscreen while the captain takes you to the first of many spots you will visit that day. If you are a beginner and rather take your first few rides at a more secluded spot, look into Rip Curl’s School of Surf in Sanur. They are a household name in watersports on the island, plus they also have a Jukung available for rent. Note: These local boats are popular as well with small diving crews. They can traverse very shallow waters and will take you to some of the more scenic diving spots around Bali.
Kuta is also the essence of nightlife in Bali, so if you have come for a typical surf- and party holiday, Kuta is definitely and area to look into. I am not going to list the different clubs and their merits, as opinions differ amongst the different kind of tourists. If you are curious though, try googling names like Deejay Club, Boshe VVIP or Pyramid for late after-hour partying. There are Australians in droves, as Bali is one of the closest destinations of their continent. It’s cheap and nearby, which is why it is such a popular destination for young “Ozzies”.
Kuta is close to Legian, where a lot of other clubs and venues are to be found, so make sure to also look into Sky Garden, Engine Room and Eikon for that area as well. It’s all very close together, so don’t think too much of the distances involved.
Pro Tip: Keep an eye out for ladies night, because these are the nights when venues are packed.
Things to do in Bali Seminyak
Seminyak is an area close to Kuta, that you will come across when you move up North, along the water line. First, you are bound to come across Legian which I mentioned earlier, and eventually you will see the area change. More open spaces, more green and less resorts – this is Seminyak. Generally considered to be more posh, with a wide variety of resorts and private villas you can rent. To cater to the more affluent travelers, there are three world-class golf courts in the area. The Nirwana Bali Golf club, stands out with its Greg Norman design (Greg Norman is a golf legend from Australia).
Seminyak doesn’t so much have nightclubs but a variety of beach clubs that are incredible. Potato head is one them and really has to be experienced as words don’t do it justice. Personally I think the vibe there is a little too much of “I’m trying to look my very best while I pretend to chill”. But for those who are into that kind of thing – make sure you check out Potato Head. It’s one of the most interesting beach clubs I have ever been to.
Other contenders are Ku De Ta, which briefly expanded into Bangkok not too long ago with a high-end nightclub in Sathorn. Their daytime lounging experience is usually followed up by some legendary partying so have a look at their calendar if you are in the area. Woo Bar is another high-end destination that you should check out on your rental scooter.
For a more down-to-earth experience in Seminyak, I like to cruise around and buy some food from local stands. Before you leave the island, a massage is a great way to unwind. And while the budget shops are just as good as the more premium-priced ones, the high-end shops usually have a more elegant surrounding. A personal room instead of a curtain, soft music and great service. If you are already staying in a resort, a villa or hotel, talk to the reception about your options. Most massage shops on the island do outcalls to the many private villas in Seminyak. For a more involved relaxing experience, there is always a yoga studio nearby where you can show up for a single session. Life in Seminyak is easy…
Culture vultures can visit Petitenget Temple, which is surrounded by 5-star resorts in Seminyak. This temple is a little less spectacular than some of the more scenic temples on the island. But Petitenget Temple holds an ace up its sleeve for travelers who understand photography. The Temple Gate has some dramatic design features that really stand out from the right angle. At sunset, the gate allows for some great photography with your loved one:
Hindu worshippers still make it out to the temple on a daily basis to offer food wrapped in banana leaves and burn some incense. I like the style of these temple buildings you can see all over Bali and they make for some great pictures, especially at sunset. Definitely one of the more romantic things to do in Bali. And call me sexist, but most women love to pose – especially at ancient temple structures – at sunset – on a famous tropical island.
Now this may seem counterintuitive, but travelers looking for things to do in Bali for seniors, should look into Seminyak as well. I came across a retired couple there who rented a luxurious villa including a driver, maid, a cook and 24/7 security for two weeks. They embraced the shopping and the high level of service in every venue they visited. I liked the local vibe and the absence of the crazy party crowd in Seminyak. This area doesn’t come cheap, but you will get a very exclusive experience in return. Expect to see a lot of honeymooners in this area, for that very same reason.
So far, this article has focused mainly on a very small piece of the island, namely the South. Bali is exceptional in the sense that most of its tourist industry is on the Southern part of the island. But for travelers wanting to see more, the rest of the island can be interesting too.
Central Bali is like a different world, with high mountain ranges and a significantly cooler climate than the rest of the island. There is more rain and a lot of humidity. From all the travelers who make it out here, most of them are eager to take a break from the beach- and party cocoon.
Trekking is a popular activity on this part of the island, and most of the sights consist of temples, archeological sites. There are waterfalls too though, and two scenic crater lakes at approx. 4000 ft above sea level. While the central part of the island is spectacular in a rainforest kind of way, this may not be what you expected when you booked your trip to Bali. Therefor, it is best to reserve this part of the island for a two-day road trip somewhere halfway through your holiday. You’ll break the monotony of beach- and resort life, and getting away from the tourist area for some time can be a blessing too.
When people mention Western Bali, the very western tip is usually meant. It is the least inhabited part of the island, with the area being dominated by the West Bali National Park, a protected habitat. The Southern beaches are famous for surfing, while the northern section is renowned for snorkeling and diving.
Menjagan may not be for diving snobs, as there is no unique marine life that makes this location stand out. For casual divers and families wanting to share a snorkeling experience however, it’s great. Expect to see all kinds of fish and the occasional small predator.
Pro tip: Do not book a trip at least two or three days after a rain storm, as the water will be filled with garbage that unfortunately washes out to sea. And negotiate with your boat captain as his first quote is going to be too expensive.
This area still breathes the vibe of its colonial past, especially in Singaraja. Its streets are much wider than on the rest of the island, and the architecture is different and less packed. In the old harbor district, white plastered warehouses are silent witnesses of the spice trade. In the Southern part of town you can find little alleys to explore.
You would be wise to hire a car to venture into Northern Bali, as the drive from Southern Bali up to Singaraja can take up to three hours. Then again, a motorcycle can be just as much fun and with a few rest stops and an overnight stay the trip can be just as convenient as by car.
You can engage in activities you cannot find elsewhere on the island like, canyoning or dolphin spotting. And with the more laid-back lifestyle outside of Souther Bali comes a whole range of yoga and wellness resorts. These venues have made Northern Bali a part of their selling point: Total relaxation, and “getting away from it all”.
In conclusion – Bali is awesome
Whether you are looking to spend some quality time with a loved one on an island, or you are determined to improve your surfing, Bali provides. The waves are second to none, and there is a vibrant nightlife. But at the same time, you can choose to isolate yourself completely from the rest of the island in your own little cocoon of luxury. Outside of the regular season, private villas are very affordable. Maybe this is why there is a fast-growing community of Digital Nomads on the island?
More and more highly-educated westerners are coming to Bali every year. They work from home, selling SEO services, graphic design or animations to their online customers. As a consequence, Bali prices are slowly creeping upwards, so make sure you get out there before it’s too late!
More Indonesia: Check out other amazing things you can do in Indonesia
Sacha Albarda is an copywriter/online media expert living in South-east Asia for the better part of a decade. Asked what he likes best about living there, he usually answers that it’s “the tightly organized anarchy”.