Sun, romance, adventure – mentioning Bali to anyone who has visited Indonesia's star island will produce glassed-over eyes and a dreamy sigh.
Other than baking to a crispy brown on near-perfect beaches, there are many unforgettable places and things to do in Bali. While Indonesia boasts approximately 18,000 islands, Bali is by far the most popular – and for good reason. Despite being a prominent destination on Southeast Asia's tourism map, magic still permeates the fresh air around the island.
Backpacker on a shoestring budget or honeymooner, there are enough things to do in Bali to keep everyone happy!
Bali has been luring surfers, both beginner and pro, since the 1930s. The small island's position in the Indian Ocean provides excellent surfing conditions even throughout the rainy off-season.
The usual place for first-timers to paddle out is on Kuta Beach, where dozens of surf schools and independent instructors have set up shop; boards can be rented for as low as $5 a day. Lifeguards and the lack of a dangerous reef make surfing on Kuta Beach a more forgiving place to learn this addictive sport.
Once you've cut a few waves on Kuta, move on to the more challenging breaks at Medewi Beach or the suitably-named Dreamland – both only short rides from Kuta.
- Read more about surfing in Bali.
While Indonesia is the world's most populous Islamic country, Bali is predominantly Hindu. Hindu temples and sacred sites are dotted around around the island.
Pura Besakih is the most sacred Hindu temple site in Indonesia; worshipers travel from all over the world to wander the massive collection of temples. Slung along the slopes of Gunung Agung – an active volcano – the temple makes for an unforgettable day trip in East Bali.
- Read more about exploring Pura Besakih.
Goa Gajah, also known as Elephant Cave, is located just outside of Ubud in Central Bali. An ancient, mysterious site, Goa Gajah is a cave with a menacing mouth as the entrance. Goa Gajah is thought to have served as a refuge for priests.
- Read more about visiting Goa Gajah.
Indonesia claims at least 120 active volcanoes; the region is perpetually in geological turmoil. Fortunately, the volcanoes in Bali usually cooperate enough to allow for excellent trekking opportunities. Some of the volcanoes in Bali can be trekked independently, although local guides are never hard to find.
Gunung Agung, home of Pura Besakih, is a challenging trek for adventurous travelers in need of some caldera time. An eruption in 1963 devastated Bali, but somehow missed Pura Besakih perched on the slopes.
Read more about trekking volcanoes in Indonesia.
Ubud in Central Bali is considered to be Bali's cultural hub; the small town is filled with spas, spiritual retreats, and opportunities to enjoy traditional music and dance. Escaping busy Kuta and spending some time in Ubud is a highlight for many visitors to Bali.
A monkey sanctuary on the edge of town provides lots of entertaining interaction with macaque monkeys. Perusing handmade goods, enjoying delightful Indonesian food, and absorbing the healthy, natural vibe are mandatory in Ubud.
Ubud's location serves as a great hub for visiting Hindu temples and for exploring other things to do in Bali. Nearby Elephant Cave, Pura Besakih, and Kintamani can be easily reached from Ubud.
- Read about interesting things to do in Ubud.
5. Try Scuba Diving
Life below the water in Bali is just as beautiful and interesting as on the surface. Bali has more than its fair share of excellent reefs to keep both advanced and newbie divers enthralled. Dive schools around the island offer PADI courses for considerably lower cost than in other parts of the world.
Lavina in North Bali is perhaps one of the most interesting places to dive. The Liberty, a World War II wreck, lies just off shore. The doomed ship was torpedoed in 1942, but managed to limp back to shore. The eruption of Gunung Agung in 1963 undid repair efforts by sinking the ship. Today, the Liberty is a haven for marine life.
Lembongan Island and Nusa Penida serve Bali's premier dive sites for advanced divers.
Just one hour north of Ubud, the Kintamani region of Bali is a verdant landscape of rising volcanoes and crater lakes. Mount Batur and its crystalline volcanic lake make postcard-worthy subjects for photographs. Pura Pencak Penulisan – dating back to the 11th century – is Bali's highest Hindu temple; climbing the 333 steps is rewarded with unrestricted views of the island.
A smattering of tiny fishing villages in Kintamani provide opportunities to explore, shop, and wander fruit markets. Choose from one of the spa retreats that tap into the underground hot springs as the perfect end to a day of wandering between sites.
Read more about visiting Kintamani in Bali.
Kuta in South Bali is where most travelers head to once stepping off the plane in Denpasar; many never leave. Although crowded and rambunctious, Kuta is certainly the place to party, sunbathe, and meet other hedonistic-minded travelers wanting to dance the night away.
Although surfing is always a temptation, days are usually spent on Kuta's wide beach recovering from last night's party. Rampant development has ensured that plenty of world-class restaurants and spas contribute to a speedy, albeit short-lived, recovery!
When your body has had enough, make a quick exit to Tuban, Legian, Seminyak, or one of Kuta's other more peaceful neighbors.
- Read about protecting yourself from Indonesia's harsh sun.