My 28 Favorite Things to do in Bali (Updated in 2019)
My 28 Favorite Things to do in Bali - Understand
Bali is called 'the island of gods' for a reason - the unique combination of volcanoes, tropical climate, and beaches, combined with the hospitality of the world's most friendly people - this is a vacation paradise. However, Bali has come a long way and is now a victim of its success.
Bali is a bit like a European capital in summer - lots of visitors and so much to see and do. You will need to do your research and have figured out what you want to enjoy the island. You can stay ultra-cheap and explore the island on your own or go upscale luxury and just stay inside the resort save for the occasional day tour.
Most of the hotels and action in Bali are spread around the areas of Kuta, Seminyak, and Canggu. In this order, the areas get more interesting. However, there are many hotels south of the airport and on the eastern shore as well.
Bali is one of the planet's hottest creations. It's very humid and very hot at the same time during December - April. July and August have much lower humidity and the sea can be of much cooler temperatures. Bali beaches aren't that great (they usually have gray or dark sand) but the west coast beaches offer great surfing.
My 28 Favorite Things to do in Bali - Get Around
As always on the Indonesian archipelago, people are addicted to their cars and motorcycles.
Don't expect anyone to walk more than 500 feet at any time - and neither should you! Save your energy for the beaches.
Uber used to be great on the island. Now that it has been sold to Grab and this is your only app alternative. I find Grab not as convenient to use and the drivers to be less friendly but it is cheap. Taxis are plentiful but so are the taxi scams.
My 28 Favorite Things to do in Bali - Safety
Crime and violence are at a minimal level in Bali. Yes, you may be bothered by the occasional tourist tout but to get mugged, you need to push it. Traffic is an issue with the super-annoying motorcycles in every alley and walkway. Another major health issue is the every growing band of stray dogs that often rule the road. Stay away from them and bring an umbrella to have a weapon of defense. Don't get bit - many have rabbies.
My 28 Favorite Things to do in Bali - Sights
The distances on Bali seem short on a map but driving still takes more time than you would expect. Roads have been improved and Jalan Sunset Road has become something of a real highway by now but the next intersection can still cost you 30 minutes - so plan accordingly.
Gunung Batur and Gunung Agung volcanoes and Pura Besakih Temple
This is a great day tour from Kuta or Seminyak, to see the volcanoes that tower over the island. It's easy to hire a driver for this trip. I remember the temple to be surprisingly chilly even in the late morning hours.
On your way back, you will most likely go through the Kopi Luwak Farm. By now everyone must have heard of Kopi Luwak that is 'fermented' in a Paradoxurus Hermaphroditus' bowel. That coffee isn't that great if you ask me; still, it could be worse...
Ubud is a shadow of its former self - the tourist circuit is full of touts, racing motorbikes, and overpriced food. I'd skip it these days. But if you must...
Ubud has been made famous by 'Eat, Pray' Love' and still 'suffers' from the repercussions of the worldwide fame it received.
Expect to advertise for Yoga at every footstep. The main town is a large circle of ramshackle restaurants and coffee shop vying for tourists walking by one the tiny sidewalks with trucks and motorcycles roaring through at Top Gear
The town is generally a sad tourist trap with a few notable exceptions of decent food and espresso. To 'enjoy' Ubud head outside town quickly and join the aggressive traffic on a motorcycle instead of walking on the treacherous sidewalks.
You guessed it Grab and GoJek are prohibited from operating in Ubud and taxi fares beat San Francisco fares handily.
Puri Saren Ubud (Ubud Palace)
Many people choose to stop by Ubud Palace, which I liked a lot a few years ago (though I was so sick I remember most of it as a hot blur). It's so small you will be done after less than 45 minutes.
If you want my advice, DO NOT go to the Monkey Forest. It's crowded and full of hyper-aggressive monkeys. There are several natural walks around the area but I can't seem to find them anymore.
Tegallalang Rice Terraces
The rice terraces have gotten famous with the Eat Pray Love movie. It gets crowded but it's still worth venturing out for a hike and taking a few pictures.
Seniman Coffee Studio
After all this 'work,' stop by Seniman Coffee Studio in Ubud to get some of Bali's best coffee and great food.
Pura Taman Ayun
This is a great temple to admire the Balinese religious architecture - it gets a smaller share of visitors and is right on your way to Ubud.
Tanah Lot Sunset Terrace
Tanah Lot is a fantastic place to watch a sunset (as are other nearby beaches). Visit this Indonesian restaurant on a clear day, and combined with the gentle warm breeze, you will see why Bali is so popular.
Surf the waves of the Indian Ocean
Bali has some of the world's most predictable surf - it keeps rolling in almost every day. The waves are fast and powerful though, much more than the (moderate) wave height suggests. The good news is that many beaches have no rocks or coral and when you wipe out you only hit the water and the sand (or your board).
Surfboards can be rented almost anywhere you see waves for $3/hour or less.
Further south is the uber-hipster area of Uluwatu. The southern edge of Bali is dominated by huge limestone cliffs that provide access to small, but very scenic beaches.
This beautiful beach just off a 1,000 feet drop at the very south of Bali looks especially stunning on a clear day when you approach the crystal clear water on a winding road. Bring some reef shoes as the beach is rocky (there is a small sandy area).
There is something magic to this temple at sunset despite the crowds. You will be reminded of the Great Wall of China and Santorini at the same time. There is a long cliff walk that is part of the temple. The biggest annoyance is the aggressive monkeys roaming the temple area. Stay in a crowd of people (there are usually plenty) and hide food and jewelry items.
Despite its name, this is a much a fast-casual eatery as it is a place to come for great espresso. Their dishes are simple yet beautifully presented and rather tasty. This is a great place to stop before/ after the Uluwatu Temple.
It is highly recommended to arrive with your transport in the area as the locals are at war with 'Online Taxis' and local taxis charge about 5-8x (not a typo) of Grab and GoJek. The local 'taxi mafia' is convinced that if your are rich enough (or dumb enough) to come to Southern Bali without your own car you should pay up for it or take up the stray dogs on your own. My children and I were literally pulled out of car at night and left tour own devices as we had the audacity to ignore a hand-made 'no Grab' sign. A local ride back to the airport will cost about $60 instead of the $8-10 that it would cost with Grab.
Karma Kandara Hotel
Down at the southern tip of Bali sits Karma Kandara Hotel. It's an architectural marvel, to begin with, and is one of the few places that has its elevator to their private beach (though the surf can be rough).
It's just beautiful though and if you have a day to spare it's a great itinerary. There is a fee for using the private beach of IDR 350,000 per person, which includes an IDR 150,000 food & beverage credit. Children under 6 years old get in free (though it is not a great beach for children).
My 28 Favorite Things to do in Bali - Eat & Drink
Since transportation can be such an issue on the island, I have grouped my recommendations by city.
KU DE TA
KU DE TA is the granddaddy of 'cool' Seminyak. It has a fantastic sunset view and is just a beautiful bar. The DJs are top-notch and it's moderately cheap (though it has gotten more expensive since my last visit).
Potato Head Beach Club
Just a few minutes away is Potato Head Beach Club, which is a full-blown beach club that sees many families. If you plan to meet expats from Singapore and Hong Kong, then you should head for Potato Head Beach Club right away.
It's still a wonderful way to have fun at/near the beach on a hot day. The minimum spends for using one of the beach beds is IDR 500,000, which won't be too much for a family.
WOOBAR @ W Retreat & Spa Bali
I swear the Potato Head Beach Club and the W must have hired the same architect - that's how similar it looks.
The W, of course, is grander and bigger and while I'm not a fan of W hotels, this one is pretty cool! It likely also sells the most expensive drink you can buy on the island.
Revolver makes Bali's best coffee. Many of the coffee shops throughout the island use their coffee beans. There is some good food to be had as well and the WiFi works too (sometimes, that is).
Cafe Marzano cooks up delicious thin pizzas with their top-notch pizza oven and it has a great outdoors vibe.
Warung @ Souvlaki.gr
I did not see that coming, with the restaurant named this way, but the place churns out great Greek food in a cozy outdoor setting. Don't miss!
Ultimo is just such a well-run machine. It has a huge dining hall (extended several times) and serves half the island with food every night. But to my surprise, the quality is still great, with yummy Italian cuisine and steaks dished out by the hundreds at very fair prices.
Canggu is Bali's hippest area - everyone seems to be tall, tanned and tattooed from head to toe. Also, scooters are the way to get around here - you will be looked at in a car.
Milk & Madu Cafe
Milk & Madu is one of the protagonists of healthy and stylish food options before the tanning starts. It's too much style before quality for me but it's still a great place for breakfast.
Hungry Bird Coffee
Hungry Bird Coffee is another breakfast option if you are running out of menu options at Milk & Madu.
Nook has one of the best restaurant views ever. It's in the middle of a rice field and just looks fantastic. The food is just OK but it's also really cheap and the WiFi is fast. Don't mind the food - just take in the views!
Pison has a lovely location and serves very good coffee over two floors. It's a great place to get work done during a hot afternoon (it's indoors and cool).
Kuta has a bad reputation for mass tourism and tourist touts galore. It's well-deserved but it also provides the breeding ground for hole-in-the-wall places that are cheap and great at the same time - you just need to find them!
Grain Espresso looks like any other tourist trap along the strip but has the great food and coffee. It's expensive but worth it. The WiFi is fast too.
This place may look touristy but it churns out great coffee and good avocado toast. The new WiFi is fast too but keep in mind that it is outdoors only.
You can also get bottled IPA beers but the $8 prices are a bit of discouragement.
Capil Beach Bar & Grill
Capil is the definition of enjoying a low-key sunset beer at the beach. Fantastic sunset views, chill bean bags, cold beer and live music (at a modest loudness) - how much better can life get?
My 28 Favorite Things to do in Bali - Where to Stay
The number of hotels in Bali is mind-boggling. It also has the full range, from super cheap to super expensive. I recommend going either ultra-cheap and using it as a base for exploration or go super luxurious and plan most days inside the resort.
During this trip, I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Bali Raya Kuta and the InterContinental Bali Resort.