20 Best Things to do in Bali Beyond Kuta
After spending two months living in Bali as a digital nomad, I’ve complied a list of best things to do in Bali beyond Kuta: from hiking on rice paddies to visiting amazing temples.
Best Things to Do in Bali
Bali may have its fair share of tourists seeking sun, sand and sea in the southern party triad of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, but this only forms a small part of the whole island. In reality, there is SO much more to Bali than beaches and bars. The lush island is teeming with giant volcanic mountains, stunning rice terraces, traditional villages, and ancient temples.
Beyond the tourist hubs, the Bali we all dream of — where sarong-clad ladies saunter with swaying hips towards ancient temples under hanging banyan trees, bearing elegant offerings — still exists. So does the Bali where farmers in palm-leaf topees labor in green rice fields alongside calmly snorting water buffalo and hurrying lines of little ducks.
The best thing is that you don’t have to go far to find the ‘real Bali’ — just head out of your resort and go explore. You’ll soon find yourself awestruck by views of smoking volcanoes, thrilled by the glamor of clashing gongs, and dazzled by the lush rice fields that seem to run for miles. The unique culture of Bali is resilient, persistent and very much alive, not only in its small villages, but also in the towns and cities.
Looking to get beneath the surface of Bali? here are some of the best things to do in Bali, beyond the tourist trail:
1. See the Beautiful Rice Terraces of Jatiluwih
Located in the Tabanan region of Central Bali, the Jatiluwih is a picturesque, hilly area covered with sprawling rice terraces. UNESCO awarded it World Heritage status, for the unique Subak irrigation system developed in Bali in the 9th century. But because of its location, it isn’t a popular spot with tourists, so you can easily enjoy the whole place to yourself. Unlike Tegalagang, there aren’t paved walking trails here, and you’ll be walking on private owned farmlands if you do decide to hike around the terraces.
2. See Locals Pray at the Lakeside Ulun Danu Bratan Temple
Many people would agree that this lakeside temple complex in northern Bali is the absolute most beautiful temple on the island. Built in 1633, the Ulun Danu Bratan temple is dedicated to the lake and river goddess, Dewi Danu. At 1,200m above sea level, has a beautiful setting right on the shore of Lake Bratan, also known as the Lake of Holy Mountain, backdropped by looming mountains. During our visit, there were plenty of ceremonies taking place at the temple as well as legong dance put up for tourists at the main entrance.
3. Catch Views of Mount Batur at Kintamani
Bali is an island with plenty of mountains running across it — one of them is Mount Batur, an active volcano that recently erupted in 2000. The mountain has a large caldera which contains a caldera lake. It’s easy to do a day trip and drive up to the mountain town of Kintamani, where the air is cool and temperature is pleasant, for a glimpse of Mount Batur up close. The intrepid ones can also go on an overnight trek that will bring you even closer to the action.
4. Watch Traditional Kecak Dance at Uluwatu Temple during Sunset
Uluwatu Temple sits right on the edge of a coastal cliff in the Bukit peninsula and it’s one of the most stunning and holy spots in Bali. The temple itself is mostly out of bounds to tourists, but it offers some spectacular views of the rugged cliffs and coastline beneath. The walking trail here follows along the cliff’s edge and you can easily spend hours strolling and drinking in the views along the way. Every evening, a traditional kecak dance is put up here for tourists, backdropped by the dramatic sunset. Tickets of the Ulutwatu kecak dance are 100,000 Rupiah (US$8), not including entrance fee to the temple.
5. Go Surfing at the Famous Padang Padang Bay
Some call Padang Padang the best beach in Bali (though I wouldn’t agree) and surfers from all around the world come to Bali just to get a taste of its swells. You’ll probably find it familiar if you’ve watched the movie ‘Eat Pray Love’ — it appeared in the scene when Julia Roberts met Javier Bardem. Rent a board for US$5/hour or hire a surfing instructor for $15/hour.
6. Find Secret Beaches in Nusa Dua
In my personal opinion, the southernmost tip of Bali has the best beaches on the island. Nusa Dua is found at the very bottom of the Bukit Peninsula, and the beaches here are mostly covered in pearly white sand and the waters are spearmint blue, clean and calm — while most beaches on the island are black-sand beaches with huge waves. As the area doesn’t have fertile soil suitable for agriculture, it was left untouched for years. Today, it’s home to a slew of large gated resorts that each have a private patch of beach. It’s far from the madness of Kuta and still relatively unexplored.
7. Feast on Seafood at Jimbaran Beach
Located just a 10-minute drive from the airport, Jimbaran beach was once a tiny fishing village with a daily market. Today its fish market is still buzzing with life, but it’s the three stretches of seafood restaurants on the beach that really draw the crowds. While popular with tourists, Jimbaran is still not as crowded and busy as Kuta or Seminyak. Feast on freshly-caught-from-the-sea fish under the candle light, with sand between your feet and the seabreeze in your hair. Be prepared for quite a pricey meal — grab a beer if you’re on a budget.
8. Chill in the Cool Hipster Cafes in Canggu
Of all the enclaves in Bali, Canggu is probably our favourite area on the island. The surfer’s town has got a cool and laid-back flair, that’s hip but still down to earth and unpretentious. People are here for the lifestyle, and not to sightsee or be on holiday. While beaches here are pretty much like Kuta Beach, it’s the awesome cafes and grungy hangouts here that keep drawing us back. Some of our favourite spots are Warung Dandelion (atmospheric candlelit place with bunnies hopping around), Moana fish eatery, and Old Man’s, one of the most popular drinking holes in town.
9. Catch Sunset at the Seaside Tanah Lot Temple
One of the most photographed temples in Bali is the seaside Tanah Lot temple, located above Canggu on the west coast. Translated to mean “Land in the Sea”, Tanah Lot sits on a large offshore rock which has been shaped continuously over the years by the ocean tide. At the base of the rocky island, venomous sea snakes are believed to guard the temple from evil spirits and intruders. Everyday throngs of crowd gather here to see the temple at sunset, when it’s at its best.
10. See the Famous Ogoh Ogoh Statues in Mengwi
Ogoh-ogoh are statues built for Nyepi day (Balinese New Year) and they usually take the form of demonic mythological beings.They can be huge, visually realistic and, some of them, scary and intimidating. On Nyepi eve, they are paraded around town on bamboo pads and then burned, to represent the purification of the environment from evil spirits. If you’re not visiting during Nyepi, the best place to see these Ogoh-ogoh figures is the Ogoh-ogoh Museum in Mengwi, next to Museum Yadnya.
11. Wander through the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud
Mingle with cheeky little macaques (also known as Balinese long-tailed monkey) at this nature reserve and temple complex. It’s heavily forested and hilly, and makes for a great place to stroll and escape from the traffic of Ubud. There are also three Hindu temples here, all apparently built around 1350. The Sacred Monkey Forest is viewed by locals as an important spiritual, economic, and conservation center for the area. A lot of tourists are scared to walk here as some monkeys can be aggressive, but just stay calm and you’ll be fine.
12. Hike the Campuhan Ridge or Rice Fields Walk in Ubud
It comes as a surprise to many (including us!), that there are actually lots of greenery and nature still left to explore in Ubud. Of all the trails you can do within Ubud centre, the rice fields walk and Campuhan Ridge walk are our favourite ones. The rice fields walk is easily accessible from Jalan Kajeng right next to the Ubud Palace, and it brings you into the heart of the rice fields although you’ll still be jostling for space with scooters on the paved trail. The Campuhan Ridge Walk starts from the magnificent Pura Gunung Lebah, and it’s more of a jungle walk along the narrow spine between the eastern and western branches of Ubud’s Wos Rivers.
13. Get Lost in the Ubud Art Market
The Ubud Traditional Art Market, locally referred to as ‘Pasar Seni Ubud’, is one of the best spots in Bali to buy some local artwork, sarong or souvenirs. The labyrinth of stalls is found in the heart of Ubud, right opposite the Ubud Palace, and the pedestrianised area is actually great for those looking to stroll around without jostling with traffic. Here you’ll find all types of batik cloth, handwoven bags, hats, wooden carvings, kites and other hand-crafted goods that come from the nearby artisan villages. The Ubud market also serves as a setting for the Hollywood movie ‘Eat Pray Love’.
14. Check out an evening Barong dance at the Ubud Palace
The 16th century Ubud Palace, officially Puri Saren Agung, is the official residence of the royal family of Ubud.Today it’s opened to the public for visits and it plays host to the traditional Legong and Barong dance every evening. The dance performance at Ubud Palace is one of the best in Bali, so if you’re keen in catching one, this is the place to go. The Legong dance involves ladies dressed in sparkling golden outfits and moving elegantly to the gamelan music, while the barong dance is an entertaining lion dance that can be very interesting especially for the young ones.
15. Soak in the Tirta Empul Holy Springs
Balinese come from near and far to soak in the Indiana Jones–like pools at Tirta Empul for ritual purification. Each spring is said to have a particular power e.g. karma, and anyone can take a dip as long as you’re covered up (bring a sarong if you want to soak in the water). Founded in 962 A.D., the ancient water palace is dedicated to Vishnu, another Hindu god name for the supreme consciousness Narayana.
16. Climb 300 Steps to the Ancient Gunung Kawi Temple
Near Tirta Empul is a unique 11th-century rock-cut temple and funerary complex tucked amidst rice terraces and a flowing river. This is one of Bali’s oldest and largest ancient monuments. It’s made up of 10 rock-cut candi (shrines) that are carved into some 7-metre-high cliff faces. These funeral monuments are thought to be dedicated to King Anak Wungsu of the Udayana dynasty and his favourite queens.
17. Walk Around the Tegalagang Rice Terraces
In contrast to Jatiluwih rice terraces mentioned above, the ones in Tegalagang are smaller and much less impressive, but are more accessible for those staying in Ubud and not interested in traveling too far out. Tegalagang is only a 30-minute drive from Ubud and there are well-trodden trails and even paved routes that weave in and out of the rice terraces. The Tegalagang rice terraces are carved into a narrow valley, so it’s very compact and easy to explore within a few hours. Be warned though, it can get very crowded with tourists so get there early.
18. Drive the Northern Bali Loop to Lovina Beach
In the two months we spent in Bali, we drove all over the island on several routes — and our favourite was definitely the loop around Northern Bali. It’s a scenic drive, with the road flanked by extensive rice terraces. It takes an entire day to do the circuit up to Lovina Beach, stopping along the way to check out the Gitgit Waterfalls. We also recommend taking a little side trip to Air Panas Banjar, three natural hot springs that have different mineral content. (Admission is 5000 Rupiah). At Lovina, go dolphin watching, enjoy seafood for a fraction of the price at Jimbaran, and revel in the lack of the tourist throng.
19. Go Wreck Diving in Tulamben
The best dive site in Bali is the USAT Liberty wreck dive off the shore of Tulamben in the northeastern edge of the island. The USAT Liberty was a United States Army cargo ship torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942 and beached on Bali. In 1963 the tremors associated with the eruption of Mount Agung caused the vessel to slip off the beach, and she now lies on a sand slope in 25 to 100 feet of water, providing one of the most popular dive sites off Bali. Alberto did a dive there during his PADI Advanced Open Water course with Bali Scuba and said it’s one of the best dives he’s ever done!
20. Take a Side Trip to the Gili Islands
For those with time to spare, the Gili islands are a blissful beach getaway with little to no responsibility. Sadly, they’ve long been discovered by backpackers and are now overrun with tourists but you can still have certain corners of the islands to yourself if you look hard enough. They are a three-hour boat ride from Sanur or 90-minute trip from Tulamben, although duration can depend on sea conditions and the company you use. We recommend Bluewater Express, one of the most expensive but also fastest and most reliable fast boat companies.
Each island caters to a different kind of traveler: Trawangan is the biggest of them all and caters more to party backpackers, Air is the quietest and least developed, while Meno is mid-way between the two. We chose to stay on Meno but made short trips to the other two. There are no cars allowed on the islands, so get used to cycling or walking.
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What have I missed? Anything else you’ve tried in Bali that I forgot to include in the list?
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