Luxury Travel Guide To Bali
In the tourism boom of the 1970s travellers arriving in Bali called it 'the last paradise' and even today, it is easy to see why the world became so enamoured with this marvellous island. With its natural beauty, superb food and a proud culture that was more than capable of resisting commercialisation, Bali is often at the top of many people's travel wish-lists.
If you're planning to visit this magical island, then whatever your tastes and interests, you'll be spoilt for choice for things to see and do. Simply exploring Bali yourself can make for an unforgettable experience, but for some inspiration, our luxury travel guide to Bali is the perfect place to start.
Balinese beaches are considered some of the finest in the world, with crystalline oceans teeming with fish and white, powdery sand; The largest have a ready supply of amenities on offer, from sun-loungers to massages, and even today, there are scores of hidden coves granting privacy to those who are willing to seek them out.
The nightlife, shopping and dining scene of the island has soared to new heights in recent years, making Bali a hedonist paradise in many respects: With neon-illuminated nightclubs, relaxed bars and no shortage of great dining options it's nigh irresistible. However, the rich culture of Bali prevents this compelling dimension of the island from being too overwhelming, and even those who come solely to party will soon find themselves drawn to Balinese temples, galleries and tours in no time at all. Despite its relatively small size, Bali is jam-packed with things to experience, and is certain to secure a fond place in your memories.
For the Gourmand:
Although it is emulated across the globe, you really ought to go to Bali to experience the nation's cuisine at its finest. With a few core characteristics including slow-cooked meat, crunchy vegetables and powerful spices, Balinese cuisine is a bold sensory delight. Whether you're feeling adventurous or would prefer to enjoy something more familiar, there is no shortage of great dining options to be tried in Bali.
Amid the rise in fusion and haute cuisine establishments on the island, there is still no shortage of traditional Balinese restaurants where you can get your fill of Bali's star dishes. Made's Warung in Seminyak is highly popular among expats and locals due to its classic Indonesian dish selection, served in a down-to-earth social space. Their nasi goreng is a great introduction to Balinese cuisine, and will appeal to the entire family.
If you're in the mood for something more opulent, Raja's Balinese Restaurant is the perfect option- their bebek betutu (slow-roasted duck) and pisang goreng (Bali's specialty deep fried bananas) are superb. Those looking to celebrate a special occasion needn't look any further than Sarong, the crucible of traditional Balinese fine dining. The elegant dining area is spacious with large windows allowing patrons to admire the courtyard garden whilst dining. The menu is moderate in length, with plenty of well-loved classics: The holy basil infused fish and dal makhani are exceptional. Book in advance as they're invariably in high demand.
Bali has recently experienced a contemporary culinary boom and it's by no means a bad thing, bringing countless cuisines and reinvented classics to the island's dining repertoire. Starfish Bloo, a chic establishment at the equally fashionable W Hotel, is a pan-Asian fusion delight- the Chef's Menu is a playfully inventive and features treats such as spring rolls stuffed with babi guling, Bali's beloved suckling pig.
La Lucciola serves unfussed, exceptional Italian fare in a charming venue with an open façade looking out upon a palm studded lawn (restless children often end up running about on it as their parents relax indoors). Mama San evokes the atmosphere of 1920s Shanghai, with vintage, stylised décor and traditional Chinese dishes enhanced by innovative contemporary twists.
For the Reveller:
As the sun goes down, Bali continues to hum with energy and its vibrant nightclubs begin to fill with like-minded people looking for an evening of music, drinks and excitement. The Sky Garden is arguably the most well-known due to its scale - with 3 floors containing a myriad of dance floors, bars and restaurants, you're bound to find a space which appeals to you in this entertainment super-complex.
For something more relaxed, Jenja is a smaller club with beautiful décor, a top-of-the-line sound system and a roster of world-class DJs. The facilities are excellent, with plenty of lounges and an expansive bar area where you can grab an affordable cocktail. For those craving something unique, Mirror is the perfect option- with its stunning stained-glass windows and gothic sculptures, this venue seems more cathedral than club, but the world-class DJs, bar and laser shows make its purpose unmistakable.
Whilst Bali's nightclubs are certainly worth taking up an evening or two, their intense energy can leave visitors in need of a break. In these situations, Bali's rooftop and beachside bars offer a more mellow atmosphere, accompanied by drinks, quieter music and comfort-inducing facilities.
At the beachside Bamboo Bar, local bands and sports games (shown on the bar's many flat-screens) draw in friendly crowds looking for an evening of social drinking and conversation. Because it's a restaurant by day, the food and drink menus are outstanding with no shortage of international fare and exclusive cocktails.
Blu (sic) is a stunning rooftop lounge with a sister bar and restaurant of the same name downstairs. With stunning panoramic views, a soothing blue colour scheme, comfy seating and teardrop shaped booths, it's the perfect place to watch the sun go down with a drink in hand. Blu only stays open until 11pm which is unusual for Balinese nightlife, but it's ideal for a relaxed evening or even as a prelude before a more hectic venue.
For the Animal Aficionado:
Whether you're an animal lover yourself, or are looking to treat someone else to a fantastic experience, there's no shortage of opportunities to interact with Bali's stunning fauna during your stay.
Elephant encounters are greatly popular thanks to the species' scale, intelligence and beauty, but it's important to be discerning when picking experiences concerning them- low welfare standards are rife in this high-demand industry. The Elephant Safari Park in Taro is a good compromise, with interesting activities (such as educational talks, museum tours, feeding sessions and photo opportunities) which keep elephants' best interests in mind whilst giving visitors a chance to meet these amazing animals.
Bali boasts plenty of diving and snorkelling sites including the WW2-era wrecks of a Japanese patrol boat and the USAT Liberty, but the dazzling scores of marine life are the stars- clown fish, cuttlefish, barracudas, manta rays and sea turtles are all great potential finds.
For those looking to get a glimpse of Bali's macaques, the Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest is a must. Owned by the villagers of Padangtegal, it is an important spiritual, social and financial asset which treats its hundreds of furry residents with utmost respect and care. There are three temples to visit, walking paths and opportunities to feed the macaques bananas. Bringing in your own food is also a bad idea, as it's often unsuitable for the monkeys' health and you'll most likely end up being swarmed by crowds of impatient macaques.
For the Culture Vulture:
Although people flock to Bali for a variety of reasons, no traveller can escape the magnetic pull of Bali's prevalent cultural pride. From beachside temples to local markets drawing in tourists with delicious aromas, you're bound to leave the island with a deeper appreciation of its Indonesian and uniquely Balinese customs.
Visiting Bali's famous temples is a great way to start, as they reveal a great deal about Balinese spirituality, architecture and history: Standouts include Tanah Lot (a pilgrimage temple supposedly guarded by sea snakes), Besakih (the iconic 'Mother Temple of Bali') and Ulawata (a striking temple perched on the edge of a cliff).
To learn about Bali's precious metal industry, travel to the village of Celuk, and take part in a traditional silversmith workshop at Prapen jewellers. For those who would like to experience authentic Balinese culinary culture, the Eat Your Way Through Bali tour is ideal. Join Mully, one of Bali's most experienced and beloved tour guides on an exciting trip around Bali's night markets, roadside warungs and local restaurants.
If you'd prefer to discover the rhythm of everyday life away from Bali's bustling resorts consider booking the Rice Paddy & Village Eco Walk offered by the ethical tour group Bali Eco. Embark on a 3 to 4 hour hike through rural Bali and immerse yourself in its culture: Visit the tomb of Bali's 11th century Queen Mahendradatta, participate in a priestess' holy water ceremony, talk to farmers and visit a local family.
For the Wellness Worshipper:
For decades, Bali has attracted scores of wellness-seekers hoping for a bit of Bali's mellow way of life to rub off on them. Today, one can find scores of spas, beauty parlours, yoga retreats and instructional classes giving visitors the chance to rest, rejuvenate and even pamper themselves.
Yoga is one of the most popular activities for those visiting Bali to try out, thanks to its soothing nature and health benefits. At Sukhavati, daily classes are offered in their open air canopied facilities under the aim of encouraging patrons to adopt the practice as part of their daily routine. Another great option is the Radiantly Alive yoga retreat in Ubud, which offers a range of yoga classes including Vinyasa Flow, Bhakti Flow and Tibetan Heart. Highly affordable and in an unbeatably peaceful venue, this is the perfect place to attempt some introspection.
Bali's spas are known worldwide for their exceptional service, opulent venues and attention to detail all of which accumulate with superb spa experiences for their patrons. At the Jiwa Spa, holistic treatments are tailored to suit your individual needs and restore balance: The Volcanic Awakening ritual and Balinese Lulur body scrub are especially pleasant. Enjoy Ayurvedic treatments at Prana Spa, a decadent venue with extensive facilities. There are also manicures, milk baths and Balinese facials on offer, so you're bound to find something which you'll love.
A trip the acclaimed Jari Menari is a must, as the all-male massage team offers superb massages for excellent value, whilst the Glo spa is an expat favourite for nail treatments, spray tans and eyelash extensions - perfect if you're planning a big night out.
For the Beach Devotee:
Beaches are practically synonymous with Bali, and as such, the beach culture of the island thrives. Whether you'd prefer to spend your time on one of the more developed beaches enjoying their first-class facilities, or are willing to hunt for a concealed coastal gem, Balinese beaches can occupy your entire holiday schedule with ease.
Despite often coming under criticism from those who recall Bali in its less developed state, it cannot be said that the island's developed beaches are unappealing or even deficient in natural beauty. Come at off-peak periods such as the early morning or evening, and Bali's more popular beaches are a joy, boasting great amenities, clear oceans and pristine sand.
Canngu Beach is a surfer's dream, and the clear waters are ideal for plenty of other exciting sports. Nusa Dua Beach boasts calm, family-friendly waters and vendors stroll the beach selling coconuts, juice and novelty kites. Kuta Beach buzzes with activity day and night, thanks to its diverse range of clubs, bars and sports facilities to enjoy.
Despite the immense popularity of Bali's beaches, there are still plenty which retain the island's 'unspoilt paradise' vision. Keep in mind that this is largely due to their isolation, so be prepared to dedicate an hour's driving or more to get there - it's well worth it.
Tucked away behind the headlands near Padang Bai, Blue Lagoon Beach is a quiet, concealed cove that's ideal for snorkelers, as the coral is in excellent condition. Nyang Nyang is an immaculate stretch of beach that's wonderfully quiet as the hike required to access it deters the bulk of tourists. Be sure to bring refreshments as there are no restaurants, warungs or vendors.
Finally, Pantai Kelating is a stunning grey volcanic sand beach that's best visited at low tide. With lots of miniature bays, you're sure to find a spot to relax, and photographs of this unusual beach are sure to become striking mementos of your holiday.