As tends to happen with most world-famous destinations, there’s a lot of divided opinion when it comes to Bali travel. Some say that the famed island destination is overrated – crowded and full of tourist traps to be avoided. Others count Bali amongst the must-visit destinations of the world.
So which is truth? It all comes down to how you experience this lovely little paradise. Here’s our list of the Best of Bali, in the form of the top 10 things to see and do that will make you fall in love with this beautiful island.
Bali Must-Do #1. Explore the Temples of Bali
Bali is known as the “island of a thousand temples.” You probably won’t have time to see them all, but no trip to Bali is complete without visiting a few. Check out our Bali travel tips for proper temple-visiting etiquette and get to exploring!
Here are a few of the most noteworthy temples:Besakih Temple (Mother Temple)Away from the busy throngs and crowds of south and central Bali, there lies the beautiful and yet-off-the-beaten-path region of eastern Bali. East Bali is a paradise for nature lovers with abundant rainforests, rice terraces, mountains, active volcanoes, and spectacular diving spots, but a huge reason for coming here is to visit the Besakih Temple.
This collection of temples is considered one of the most important temples in Bali and is thought to be over 1000 years old. You can find them in the village of Besakih, close to Mount Agung. When Mount Agung erupted in 1963, killing 1700 people, the lava flows missed the temple by just a few meters – an event that’s still seen as a miracle and a sign from the gods.
Pura Tanah Lot (Tanah Lot Temple)
Tanah Lot is quite possibly the most famous of Bali’s temples and without a doubt, one of the most photographed of the island’s many temples. Perched on a rock just off the coast of the island, the view of the temple is spectacular, especially at sunset.
Tanah Lot means “Land in the Middle of the Sea,” which it is at high tide. Try to get to the lovely place during low tide for the experience of walking across the water to the temple.
Pura Luhur (Uluwatu) Temple
Absolutely striking, Pura Luhur is a Balinese Sea Temple at Uluwatu, Bali. As one of Bali’s ‘directional temples,’ it sits atop a large, rugged limestone cliff in all its dramatic grandeur, guarding Bali from evil spirits from the southwest.
Built in the 11th century, Pura Luhur is one of the most spectacular temples in Bali, as well as the most accessible for most Bali travelers. It’s located in the Bukit Peninsula of South Bali, which is a short 30-minute cab ride from the touristy area of Kuta Beach.
Climb to the top – 70 meters above the Indian Ocean – for absolutely striking views all around.
Bali Must-See #2. Watch Dolphins Play off the Coast of North Bali
Head to the town of Lovina on Bali’s beautiful northern coast to find yourself in a totally different Bali: quiet black sand beaches and a slow, traditional pace of life. This little town is one of the best spots in the world to see dolphins playing in nature.
There are several dolphin sighting boat trips that take off around dawn to seek out schools of dolphins gleefully jumping through the beautiful seas off Bali’s northern coast.
Bali Must-See #3. Catch a Performance of Wayang Kulit
Wayang Kulit, or the ancient shadow plays, of Bali is a show not to be missed. Designated a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, this shadow puppet theater is absolutely enchanting, full of ancient sounds from unique instruments not found anywhere else.
Accompanying dance interpretations include spiritual and dramatic storytelling elements that you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Nothing in the world looks or sounds quite like a performance of Wayang Kulit – get thee to one of these shows.
Fun fact: It’s clear the Balinese are masters in art, theater, and handicrafts…yet there is no word for ‘art’ in Balinese!
Bali Must-Do #4. Soak in the Healing Waters of Tirta Empul
A Balinese temple in its own class, Tirta Empul is famous for the sacred spring that feeds the temple, providing holy water for priests and bathing for Balinese people who believe that a dip in its healing waters can bring good fortune and health.
Legend has it that the god Indra created the spring Tampaksiring as an antidote to a poisonous spring created by an evil demon king. In reality, Tirta Empul was built around 962 AD at a site where there happened to be a large water spring.
We prefer the former story 🙂
Bali Must-Do #5. Explore the Beaches of Bali
From the party hardy beaches of Kuta to the the private beaches of Nusa Dua to the quiet black sand beaches of Lovina, there is a lot of beach hopping to be done in Bali.
Given the volcanic nature of Bali, black sand is the norm here but you can still find plenty of beaches in the south with fine, white sand. It can be a challenge, however, finding a beach that has the right balance of lots of beauty, a lack of crowds, and calm, swimmable waters.
In general, beaches that are pretty, safe for swimming and relatively quiet are located around Jimbaran Bay and Nusa Dua in the south. Virtually all of the north coast beaches are safe for swimming and quiet.
For a great guide to beaches in Bali, check out this article by Traveling Myself.
Bali Must-Do #6. Climb Atop a Volcanic Mountain
Had your fill of soaking up the sun and ready for some action? Take a trek up to the top of one of Bali’s volcanic mountains. At the northeastern regions of Bali, hikers can trek to the top of Mount Batur where they’ll be rewarded with views into the crater and the crystal clear waters of Lake Batur.
For hardcore trekkers, East Bali also offers the chance to climb the majestic Mount Agung. The trek takes around 8 to 10 hours, typically starting around 1 in the morning and reaching the top in time to catch a stunning sunrise with spectacular view of Bali all-around.
When adventuring, make sure your travel insurance is current!
Bali Must-Do #7. Indulge in a Spa Treatment
With a huge variety of spa treatments available amidst stunning scenery, Bali is absolute paradise for spa lovers. Relax at one of the countless spa retreats and pamper yourself with the Balinese lulur body scrub, which is traditionally performed before weddings.
If you’ve just returned from an arduous mountain trek, perhaps you’ll want to try Balinese massage, an oil massage involving long, soothing, Swedish-style strokes. You can follow up the massage with a decadent body scrub and even yogurt body mask. Go ahead and splurge – the whole treatment will only cost you around 150,000 IDR ($15 USD) at a local spa.
Bali Must-See #8. Experience a Local Balinese Funeral Ceremony
Going to a funeral may not be on the top of your list of things to do on vacation, but if you’re lucky enough to be invited to witness one a Balinese cremation ceremony – GO!
It is one of the most spectacular events you’ll ever witness. This ceremony, known as Ngaben, has its origins in Hinduism but differs considerably from the practices in India. The idea behind the cremation is that the body must be burned to set the soul free from worldly ties and to start a new life in the afterlife.
The whole village will take part in the elaborate funeral processions when the body of the deceased is carried to the cremation place, a beautifully colorful temple-like structure called Wadah, and the body is shaken and turned along the way to make sure the soul doesn’t find its way back home.
Bali Must-See #9. The Rich Green Rice Paddies of Bali
Away from the coast, Bali’s landscape gives way to lush verdant rice paddies that are a must-see while in Bali. In some areas, the paddies transform into dramatic sculpted terraces with intricate designs that can be stared at for hours.
The most beautiful rice paddies can be found in East Bali around Tirta Gangga as well as on the center of the island around Ubud. As for rice paddies that must not be missed – plan a trip to the Jatiluih Rice Terraces. They are absolutely stunning, vividly green, and cover every surface in rich, luscious green.
The best part? There are hardly any tourists here – you’ll get a glimpse of rural Bali in all its natural, serene glory.
Bali Must-Do #10. Try a Cup of Kopi Luwak
Most commonly known as the “most expensive coffee in the world,” Kopi Luwak hails from Indonesia – if you’re in Bali, this is a great place to give it a try.
What makes this coffee so special? Well, the coffee beans are eaten, partly digested and then excreted by the Common palm civet. The internal digestion – only the soft outer part of the coffee bean is digested – apparently adds a unique flavor to the beans, removing the bitter flavor and giving the coffee a deep, flavorful taste that is unparalleled in any other coffee.
This is a definite must-try…if you can get over its unique making process.
To get a glimpse of how the world-famous Kopi Luwak is made – and see the stars in this coffee-making process (i.e. the civet cats themselves) – take a trip to Bali Pulina to tour the expansive coffee plantation there and have a mind-blowing coffee experience. It’s just 7-kilometers from Ubud…
Bali Must-Do #11. Enjoy Art, Culture, Health and Wellness in Ubud
Speaking of Ubud…this lush, green town at the heart of Bali is a must-visit. The central part of Bali is also the cultural heart and you’ll have the opportunity to experience plenty of traditional Bali culture here with dance shows, concerts and kecak fire shows every night of the week.
Ubud is also a famed arts and crafts hub with countless artists’ workshops, galleries, and stores where you can pick up exquisite Balinese art and handicrafts.
Another huge reason to go to Ubud is for its reputation as a center of health, wellness and spirituality. The town is home to several top-notch yoga and meditation retreats with world-class yoga instructors and health nuts will be ecstatic at the wide range of health and wellness foods readily available in these parts.
Check out the local fresh market selling a huge variety of local fruits, vegetables and even edible flowers!
Bali Must-Do #12. Explore Bali Underwater
There’s a lot to see in Bali and much of it is underwater. Bali has some of the best dive spots in all of Indonesia – explore the well-protected Marine National Park in northwest Bali to swim with colorful fish in crystal clear waters or head to northeast Bali to the popular dive spots around Tulamben. Check out wreck diving in Amed in northeast Bali of if you have a few days, check out diving in the Gili Islands for a chance to swim with sea turtles, reef sharks, and sting rays!