The eastern coast of Bali counts as a pleasant break from the rampant party scene in Kuta: most of the tourist trails in East Bali are pleasantly spared from huge crowds, with the possible exception of the "Mother Temple" Pura Besakih on the slopes of Gunung Agung.
The rest of the East is catching up, though - new resorts are sprouting up like mushrooms in Candidasa, and a new coast-hugging road (Jalan Prof. Dr. Ida Bagus Mantra, Google Maps) shortens the trip from South Bali considerably, leading from Sanur to Kusamba and Klungkung.
Tourists will find a variety of activities and destinations at the end of their two-hour road trip from the south: rainforests, ricefields, mountains and upland plains, volcanic-sand beaches, rich diving spots, and ornate temples, all within a few hours' drive from one another.
Getting Your Bearings on East Bali
Politically, most of Bali's eastern part falls under the Karangasem Regency. The Regency was formerly one of the most important kingdoms on the island, centered around the royal city of Amlapura. The smallest regency in Bali, Klungkung, lies on the southern coast, bordering Karangasem to the west.
The geography is remarkable for its mountainous terrain: the holy Mount (Gunung) Agung dominates the skyline, and a number of mountains stand guard over the eastern coast.
Candidasa is the main jump-off point for tourists to East Bali - the new highway allows visitors to arrive here from Denpasar in less than two hours, or half the previous time. The city leverages its great views of Mount Agung, great beaches and direct access to the sea to become East Bali's tourist central.
From Candidasa, it's easy to venture out to East Bali's other settlements, which in turn serve as stepping-stones to East Bali's other attractions. These towns are all located along East Bali's south-facing coast:
- Kusamba: a coastal village in East Bali that is mostly notable for its boats that shuttle tourists between East Bali and the islands of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida.
- Klungkung: the capital of the eponymous regency. As a former royal capital, Klungkung is graced with a number of worthy tourist destinations, including the Kertha Gosa courthouse in the ruins of the old royal palace (Taman Gili). Visitors heading to Pura Besakih can start their trip at Klungkung.
- Padangbai: a small town that serves as the main seaport bridging Bali and the island of Lombok, which is about a five-hour ferry ride away. Ferries to the Gili Islands also depart from here. Padangbai also has a number of interesting beaches, including one pristine white sand beach. A number of diving operators serve tourists wishing to dive into the waters off Padangbai.
- Amlapura: the capital of Karangasem regency is notable for the Puri Agung Karangasem, the former royal palace, and the Tirta Gangga water palace. Amlapura stands on the road that proceeds to East Bali's northern coast and Amed.
From Amlapura, a long road heads due north to Amed, a village that now lends its name to a long coastal stretch on the northern face of East Bali that covers the other villages of Cucik, Jemeluk, Bunutan, Lipah, Selang, Banyuning, and Aas along this 9-mile stretch. New to tourism, Amed is mainly known for its excellent dive spots, as is the nearby village of Tulamben, that has a popular World War II wreck off its shores.
Transportation to East Bali
Before the Jalan Prof. Dr. Ida Bagus Mantra road opened in 2007, East Bali could only be reached from Denpasar via a circuitous four-hour drive through Gianyar to Klungkung. Today, Kusamba in Klungkung Regency can be easily reached within an hour from Sanur through the new road.
The old Gianyar-Klungkung route is still the shortest way between East Bali and Ubud - the central Bali town is only 45 minutes away on this road. For tourists, Perama Shuttle's bus service represents the most convenient way in: their buses depart from their office in Jl. Legian, Kuta (Google Maps) heading to Padangbai, Candidasa, Amed, and Tulamben.
Candidasa and Padangbai have plenty of motorcycle rental shops; you can rent a motorbike for yourself so you can explore the area on your own terms.
- For other transportation options on the island, read our article on Transportation in Bali.
Tourist Attractions in East Bali
The attractions in Klungkung and Karangasem attract a more cultural and nature-friendly lot: if partying is more your style, you're better off staying in South Bali.
As Karangasem and Klungkung used to be the seats of powerful Balinese royals, both regencies have a fair complement of temples and royal structures along the coast. Higher up on the slopes of Gunung Agung, you'll find the most important Balinese temple of all, Pura Besakih. From Pura Besakih (ceremonies permitting) you can hike further up the mountain, or you can find other hiking trails elsewhere in East Bali.
- For more places to check out, read our article on Places to See in East Bali.
Divers in Bali come east to sample the area's many diving spots, particularly those on the northern coast off Tulamben and Amed. More information here: Scuba Diving Around East Bali.
Hotels and Resorts in East Bali
Candidasa is the best place for accommodations in East Bali, as the rest of the area is pretty easy to reach from here: even the diving spots in Tulamben are only 50 minutes away.
Candidasa has a good selection of resorts for all budgets. For accommodations on the northern coast of the region, a number of resorts in Amed and Tulamben cater to visitors, mainly the diving type.
Shopping in East Bali
What you get out of a shopping spree in East Bali depends totally on your budget. A number of towns in this area of Bali are famous for their finely-wrought artisan crafts, from Kamasan and its traditional Balinese paintings to Celuk and its fine work in gold and silver. Klungkung is renowned for having some of Bali's best-stocked antique stores.
If you're not that loaded, the main street on Candidasa is lined with art shops hawking handicrafts and carved gewgaws. A traditional market in Klungkung also sells the usual range of inexpensive tourist tchotchkes.