I have a long list of places that I want to visit, many of which are beach locations, but the one at the top of that list is Bali. Ever since I was young, I have always loved the sun, sand, and ocean. I couldn’t wait for Memorial Day to arrive because that meant the beaches would open. I have been to some pretty amazing places like O’ahu, Maui, Bora Bora, Roatan, Mauritius, and Tahiti so I can’t complain but Bali has always intrigued me.
Bali, located between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, is the westernmost of the Lesser Sundra Islands of Indonesia. Indonesia itself is made up of more than 17,000 islands and has 200 distinct cultures. There is no denying that Bali is one of the most Instagrammed (is this really a word?) travel destinations. Just type Bali in Google and you will see hundreds of pictures and YouTube videos. No wonder TripAdvisor named it as one of the top destinations in 2017. But don’t go there just to make your friends jealous which they will be, go there for the beauty and experiences.
When people first hear Bali, they usually think postcard-perfect beaches of which there are plenty. The beaches in the south tend to have white sand and those in the north have black sand. The black sand comes from the volcanos that created the island. Mount Agung (known as the mother mountain) and Mount Batar are two active volcanos on the island. The island is surrounded by coral reefs which provide great snorkelling and diving opportunities. However, Bali has more going for it then just beaches and natural beauty. It can be a relatively affordable vacation spot, the people are warm and helpful, and the food is just something that you need to try.
For the 200,000 or so Americans coming to the island each year, the biggest cost is the airfare. What time of year that you go will have a major impact on the cost of the flights. A Google Flights query for April 2020 showed a round trip from Dallas to Denpasar (Bali) to be about $1,200. Playing around a little with different airlines, departure dates, and layover lengths, I was able to knock a few hundred dollars off even that price. There is also no lack of affordable boutique hotels and lavish resorts. For the same April 2020 time period, I found everything from a $20 per night treehouse (which looked super cool) to five-star resorts costing $500 per night. But you should expect to pay between $100 to $150 per night for some affordable but really nice accommodations.
I have not had the opportunity to travel around Southeast Asia much but when I have, I have found everyone to be very friendly. The Balinese are no exception. Their infectious energy adds to the charm of the island. They are helpful, welcoming, and aware of how important tourism is to the wellbeing and growth of the island (about 80 percent of the economy is based on tourism). However, many people in the tourist areas are from other parts of Indonesia. I highly suggest that you travel a little off the beaten path and experience the local Bali culture.
Many of the foods that you find in Bali are variations of dishes offered elsewhere in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, but the heavy reliance on locally grown herbs and spices makes the food in Bali unique. Food is generally inexpensive but there are plenty of high-end offerings too. Meals from a street vendor or a cheaper restaurant will cost between $2 – 5 per person and a three-course meal for two at an average restaurant will be about $25. Those are pretty good prices. Some local foods you should try at Bali are Sambal Matah (chili-based condiment); Tum (minced meat dish wrapped in banana leaf); Urab (vegetable salad with coconut dressing); Nasi Tepeng (breakfast dish with a mushy grain, spices, and herbs); Nasi Jinggo (rice and vegetable side dish that goes great with chicken, eggs or noodles); Bubur Mengguh (porridge topped with a mixture of spices shredded chicken, roasted peanuts, and celery); Lawar (chopped meat with green vegetables and grated coconut); Betutu (slow-cooked chicken or duck dish); and Babi Guling (roasted pork). No trip would be complete without the Balinese version of Satay. For those less adventurous or just want a taste from home (no shame, I’ve been there), you can easily find cuisines from all around the world.
Whether you love sea and sand, mountains, or forested interior, Bali has it all. It should be no surprise that a few of the top things to do in Bali are to visit its wonderful beaches. A few of those beaches in no certain order are Crystal Bay, Jimbaran, Kuta, Legian, Mushroom Bay, Nusa Dua, Padangbai, Padang Padang, Pasir Putih, and Sanur.
For those wanting to experience the island’s culture try Tanah Lot Temple, a Hindu temple that sits atop a large and scenic rock formation surrounded by the ocean. During low tide, you can walk to the temple but be prepared for the crowds. Another option is Uluwatu Temple that sits about 230 feet/70 meters above the sea. The temple has unique architecture and a large monkey population. This is also a great place to see a spectacular sunset. A third option is lun Danu Temple which lies at the edge of Baratan Lake in Bedugul. The temple is dedicated to the goddess of the lake and probably one of the quietest and serene places on the entire island. I’d also suggest Pura Lempuyang Temple and Tirta Gangga as places other to visit. The former for its architecture and the latter for its interesting water gardens and displays. While at Pura Lempuyang be sure to get your picture taken at Bali’s Gateway to Heaven. It is one of those classic pictures that will awe anyone that sees it. And no tour of Bali would be complete without visiting the three UNESCO World Heritage sites: Pakerisan Valley, Jatiluwih Rice Terraces, and Taman Ayun Temple.
If you are looking for scenic beauty, try Sidemen, located among the jade green rice paddies and a cool valley. This area is far less traveled then Ubud. While there you can go hiking and walk to secluded waterfalls and stunning vantage points for picture taking. But Ubud is a place not to miss.
Be sure to come back later and look at some of my other blog posts about Bali. In future posts, I will dive a little deeper into things to do while in Bali and where to stay. I may even talk a little more out of the local food.