We spent a good amount of time traveling in Bali before we moved there. We simply fell in love with Bali. Eric spent a lot of time talking about how much we “f*cking loved Bali.”
After living in Bali, Indonesia, though, we saw more about how the sausage is made. The seedy underbelly. We realized we knew more about how to visit Bali than the typical Bali holidays brochure will show. I wanted to start at the most basic: Is Bali worth visiting? What is Bali like? Is Bali a good place to vacation?
In this post, we share some of our top Bali travel tips. This includes some information about Bali accommodations and the best places to go in Bali, including some recommended Bali beaches. But, importantly, we want to do more than share tips on the best places to see in Bali. We want to help travelers to decide whether to visit Bali at all. These are some of the dirty secrets about Bali tourism.
What is Bali? What Does the Word “Bali” Mean?
I actually wrote the initial draft of this post a long time ago. Then, I published it. We left Bali. We returned to Bali. Since that time I continue to be asked questions about this “Is Bali Worth The Trip” post? I thought it was time to update this travel blog post. After all of this time, though, we still need to start with identifying what Bali means.
You say the word Bali and it connotes images of a tropical paradise, no matter how you slice it. Verdant, green hills with terraced rice paddies, rustic villages with chickens crossing the road, gorgeous, white sand beaches lined with palm trees. It’s a place to “go bamboo.”
I mean, Bali is a tropical island, how bad could it be? There is just something about the word, but, honestly, I am not sure why.
I know why I called Ubud home for the better part of two years. It is, generally, an easy place to live. It is not too expensive, there are a wide variety of western conveniences, we could motorbike around easily, and it can be pretty beautiful.
I fell in love with our Bali villa and our view. Once you spend a good amount of time someplace, though, you learn more than the typical tourist. You start to answer the question: Is Bali a good place to visit?
What to Expect From a Bali Beach?
I think people dream about a beachfront hotel in Bali on one of the best beaches in Bali. I don’t know, though, why people flock to Bali as a tourist destination, particularly as a Bali beach destination. I often wonder is Bali worth the trip at all if what a traveler is looking for is a beach experience. I’ll explain why.
Those images of a tropical paradise that are reactionary when one hears the word Bali might be how the island once was. Perhaps it still is a tropical paradise, in certain pockets of Bali, ones that are often hard to find.
But there are certain things about the island, and how it has changed over the years, that entirely irk me. And, after hearing from a few fellow travel bloggers about how they were utterly disappointed with the island as a Bali beach destination, I spent some time considering why that is.
I understand I am the Goldilocks of the beaches, but I only had one enjoyable swim in the water in Bali. Many of the beaches are nice to look at, with palm trees, cliffs, and Balinese temples overlooking the water. In my opinion, though, there are much nicer beaches elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
Bali Places to Visit – The Beaches
So, what are the best beaches to visit in Bali? Avoid Kuta and anything near Denpensar. Even Seminyak and Legian are overcrowded, particularly at sunset, but they have their moments. Avoid most of these beaches during the Bali rainy season (see below for an explanation).
Some of the nicer beaches to visit in Bali include Canggu, some of the beaches in the Bukit, and some of the more desolate beaches in the north and west. Canggu is like the Ubud of the beach, a hippy Bali beach destination with yoga and vegetarian food.
To this day it is not overrun with development. That said, it is getting that way as the urban beach sprawl from Seminyak creeps north. Check out this guide to Canggu to make the most of your time there.
The Bukit is the nubbin at the bottom of Bali. Nusa Dua is on the east side and has some of the nicest beaches for swimming and for families. It is, however, a little isolated from the “real” Bali. The west side of the Bukit is also nice and offers great Bali beach views. But, the beaches can be rocky and difficult to get to.
Is Sanur worth visiting? Sanur is a more accessible beach, but you have to try swimming at the exact right time of the day, high tide. Otherwise, the beach is shallow and rocky, like many of the beaches in Bali.
I wonder whether Bali is worth the trip as a beach destination when I never really found a beach that I love on the island? The southern beaches, like Kuta, Seminyak, and even Canggu contain large waves, more appropriate for surfers, not for swimming. Those waves can knock you straight off your feet, and knock the wind right out of you.
The beaches themselves continue to suffer from severe trash problems throughout the year. It’s worst in the rainy season when the rain washes the trash from the rest of the island into the ocean, and the tidal flow keeps it on the shore.
Amed in the north is nicer, but even there the beaches suffer low tide, rocky beaches, and from similar trash issues, despite its remote location.
The Bali Wet Season and the Bali Beaches
One more thing before leaving the topic of the Bali beaches: when is the best season to visit Bali? Avoid the Bali rainy season. The rainy season starts, like clockwork, in early November and continues through March. The Bali wet season is problematic for travelers for a few reasons.
When traveling to Ubud, and other areas in the center of the island, the wet season can be miserable. It can rain, hard, for days on end. There is massive flooding. Mold is a problem, even after a few days. Even our passports grew mold on them. It’s just yuck.
There is one more reason why the wet season is not the best time to travel to Bali. The beaches. Bali does not have a waste management solution.
Recycling continues to be rare. Much of the trash is burned. Plastic is a big problem. During the rainy season, the rain drives all of the plastic and garbage from the center of the island out into the water. The currents then bring all of that plastic back up onto the beach. Daily.
Bali beachfront hotels try to clean it and contain it, but it is hard. This problem is the biggest challenge for travelers to Bali during the rainy season, particularly in the southwestern beaches, like Kuta, Seminyak, and Canngu.
The picture above is one I took during the rainy season in Kuta. Piles like this existed every few meters as far as the eye could see.
Read more about the Bali Rainy Season
Bali Sightseeing and Tourism Run Amok
This is where I start to get a little more critical of the most popular Bali tourist places. Remember, we lived in Bali for 18 months so we saw a lot more than the average Bali tourist. I promise that after this I will get to our advice on Bali must see attractions. But, this is the controversial part.
Heading into towns like Ubud, Legian, Sanur, or god forbid, Kuta (the arm pit of Bali), it is hard to see what is so amazing about the island. Circle K convenience stores rule, along with tourist-focused restaurants, tour operators, signs for elephant rides, and trips to the local safari. Everyone is trying to sell something.
The touts are unbelievable. You cannot walk 5 feet in most of the most popular places to visit in Bali without hearing a call for “taxi” or “transport.”
In Sanur, walking down the street is a full-contact sport, as you avoid the broken sidewalks, motorbikes, and touts. One of the benefits of renting a motorbike in Ubud is to avoid these catcalls while walking the main roads.
Just walking while carrying my helmet seemed to keep them at a distance. When I ignored a seller once in Legian, he reached out and grabbed me by the arm. Eric was not thrilled.
Even at the old international airport (which was easily one of the shoddiest international airports in the region, until the new terminal opened around 2013), touts tried calling me into a restaurant, souvenir shop, and massage parlor. I have never been to an airport and been beckoned into a restaurant.
It is not merely the touts that annoy. The numbers of tourists (and expats in Bali) exploded in such a way that there is a drain on resources and infrastructure. Issues like water supply, cleanliness, and waste removal, are not managed.
Roads are too narrow to handle the numerous giant tour buses that make their way around the island each day. The authenticity of the island and some of the top Bali destinations has long gone.
Why Bali is Definitely Worth a Visit
If the Bali beaches are not the best, and the most popular Bali tourist attractions are overrun, then what makes Bali a destination worth visiting. What Bali offers, that is different in my opinion from so many other tropical beach destinations, is Balinese Hinduism. Daily offerings, ceremonies, incense, holy water, traditional dress. The experience of visiting a Bali temple is unlike anything else in Southeast Asia.
The best temples in Bali, though, must be visited with respect to the locals, of course. Even without thinking about temples to visit in Bali, you can experience Balinese Hinduism everywhere.
Both women and men continue to dress in their classic temple clothing on a regular basis, not just for the tourists. Wherever you stay, chances are there will be shrines, daily offerings, ceremonies, and men playing music on the gamelan.
Although I am hesitant to tell people the best temples to visit in Bali because I am afraid they will lose their magic, my favorite is Tampak Siring, about 45 minutes north of Ubud. One of the worst temples to visit is Purah Tanah Lot, even though it is one of the most popular temples in Bali. Tourists destroyed the location years ago.
So, when asked what is Bali really like, I don’t focus on the Bali beaches. Instead, what I remember most about living in Bali were the people we met and learning about a culture and a tradition so different from my own. Is Bali nice? We still have fond memories of many of the people we met there and continue to keep in touch with them.
Check out other Fun Honeymoon Ideas here
Or, check out 50+ Top Things To Do in Bali
What To Do In Bali – Bali Attractions
There are ways to travel to Bali to get the most out of the visit, even if you only have two weeks in Bali. Some of the most popular Bali points of interest have nothing to do with the Bali beaches. There are some beautiful waterfalls to visit in Bali, particularly if you want to load up your Instagram to make your friends jealous.
But, when looking at a company like Viator, to see their top Bali attractions, it can be overwhelming. There are over 2000 things to do in Bali Indonesia listed on Viator, which we recommend using to plan your holiday and confirm your activities before arriving in Bali. Which of these best things to do in Bali would I actually recommend?
Booking Bali Activities
For some high-flying Bali adventures, there are helicopter tours over the Bali temples or hot air balloon rides over Ubud. I’ve never done either of these in Bali, but they sound pretty cool ways to see the island. Or, fly high on the now famous, and Instagram friendly, Bali swing.
For something a little more down to earth, embrace your inner Instagrammer and go on a tour to see the Bali waterfalls. For nature lovers, visit the Kintamani volcano or hike Mount Batur at sunrise. Take advantage of the surfing beaches and take a Bali surf lesson.
For food lovers (like us) try a Bali Food Safari in Seminyak or a Balinese Food Heritage Tour in Ubud. Or, just get a massage. One of the things I miss most about living in Bali was our weekly massage and body treatments!
*This post contains compensated links. Find more info in my DISCLAIMER.
The Best Places to Stay in Bali
I feel like most of this Bali travel guide has focused on the negative aspects of Bali, to avoid a Bali disappointment. Some of the best places to visit in Bali are really the hotels. There are some incredible hotel experiences in Bali, many of which offer great value for what they offer. It’s one “upside” to the recent development.
Most of the best places to stay in Bali are beach or beach-area resorts. They are the type of places where you can rest and relax for a week, for sipping tropical drinks poolside.
Maybe you can book one or two excursions out. There are also some nicer hotels in Ubud as well. Here are our recommendations for where to stay in Bali, organized by beach area or town. Outside of these main areas, it’s more likely you will find local, cheaper hotels, or family-owned homestays.
Recommended Places to Stay in Bali
Nusa Dua is the best area to stay in Bali for nice beaches. It’s great for families and for couples. It’s a little distant from the “real” Bali, as it is in a large gated resort community.
Westin Resort Nusa Dua: Directly on the beach, with a beachfront pool and nice rooms with super-big beds. | Book now from $130
Courtyard Seminyak Nusa Dua: Family-friendly hotel in Nusa Dua with a beach resort, but not located on the beach. Read our review | Book now from $115
Uluwatu temple is on a cliff overlooking the water on the west side of the Bukit. There are several resorts that are not on the beach, but in the hills that are lovely retreats. They often can arrange day trips, or offer free shuttles to get down to the beach.
Renaissance Bali Uluwatu: One of the newest Bali resorts, having opened in 2018. They offer a free shuttle down to their own beach club | Book now from $115
Anantara Uluwatu Bali: On a cliff top but closer to the water than Ren Bali, from a reputable Thai hotel company | Book now from $300
Seminyak and Legian
Seminyak and Legian can get quite busy but are better than Kuta. Here it’s important to choose a hotel with a nice pool area to get away from the beach crowds. Seminyak also has some of the best dining options in the area.
Check out this post for things you need to know before visiting Seminyak.
The Stones Hotel Legian: Very fun hotel just across from the beach: Read our review | Book now from $115
Courtyard by Marriott Seminyak: Also a fun option, with a great pool, just a few minutes walk to the beach: Read our review | Book now from $100
W Hotel Bali: A little more pricey, and more hip, but right on the beach, and with the best Sunday brunch in Bali: Read our Sunday brunch review | Book now from $320
The Seminyak Beach Resort: Less expensive than the W Hotel, but also right on the beach | Book now from $225
It’s hard for me to recommend places to stay in Ubud because we lived there and only did a few hotel stays (many of which I would not recommend). But, there are some newer hotels just on the outskirts of town that are nice.
The Viceroy Bali – One of the most luxurious private hotels in Ubud: Read our review | Book now from $450
Alaya Resort Ubud: Centrally located hotel with private pool: Book now from $150
Maya Ubud Resort and Spa: Lovely infinity pool overlooking the jungle: Book now from $180
Stahla, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel: Just outside of town, a relatively new Marriott property: Book now from $90
FAQs – How to Plan Your Bali Holidays
After all of the time we spent in the Bali area, these are some of the most commonly asked questions we receive about how to experience the best of Bali. Or, how to avoid the worst of Bali.
Like any tourist destination, you have to be on your guard. Watch for pickpockets in the most popular Bai tourist spots. There have been terrorist attacks in the past, but that does not make Bali any less safe than other destinations. There are a few things to watch for, especially when visiting the Bali top attractions. Be careful in Kuta, particularly for pickpockets. But, at some of the most popular clubs watch for people spiking drinks or selling “fake” alcohol. If renting a motorbike during your stay in Bali, watch carrying bags across your chest. In the past, people will yank at the bag and pull you off the bike. These are the most unusual issues that tourists should be aware of.
Bali is not as cheap as it used to be. Of course, the best areas in Bali are going to be pricier than the off-the-beaten-path Bali destinations. It is possible to still find homestays for as little as $25-40 a night. This is getting rarer. It is possible to still find a meal for a few dollars, but it is more likely a meal will cost between $5-10 a person. Being a Muslim country, beer is not as cheap as in other Southeast Asian countries.
Bali is a Hindu island in the middle of Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. You can fly to Bali from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur in less than three hours. Bangkok is a little father.
Yes, most definitely. Warm and humid, palm trees, and not far from the equator!
As discussed above, avoid the rainy season, from late October until March. July and August have better weather, but it might not be the best time to go to Bali because it is Australian winter so it is Bali high season. The best month to visit Bali is probably one of the months in the shoulder season, including May, June, and September. Is Bali a nice place to visit? It can be, just avoid the rain
Have you been to Bali? Love it or Hate it? Is Bali still worth visiting?
PIN IT! Is Bali Worth Visiting?
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new Food and Drink Destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.
38 thoughts on “How to Visit Bali: Is Bali Worth Visiting? What is Bali Like?”
I totally agree with your assessment Amber. People who have not been to Bali think it is a tropical island destination. Many Brits make the long flight to experience it. However, I too was disappointed in most of the island, particularly the most touristy areas – Kuta and Nusa Dua. The beaches are disappointing – rocky and dirty, and impossible to swim. Nusa Dua is like any other tourist strip in the world, nothing special at all. What I did enjoy about Bali were the beautiful hotels with lovely tropical gardens and pool areas (and spas). We liked the Meridien in particular as it was further away from the tourist hub, driving through gorgeous Balinese paddy fields to get to it and walking distance to a temple. We went there several times whilst living in Jakarta as it was a short hop on the plane and very relaxing. So I would say, if Bali is close to where you live (ie within a short flight), absolutely go and experience it, but choose carefully where you stay or you too will be disappointed. Don’t go there expecting beautiful tropical beaches. Expect beautiful spas and hotels and relaxation but stay away from the tourist centers if you want to experience the real Bali.
Well said Sue. I just saw a blogger post about the perfect 7 day Bali itinerary, which started in Kuta! She was paid to put together the itinerary, and I was shocked. There are nicer points when you get away from those kinds of areas, but I like that you agree about the beaches. Too bad, right?
I’ve just come back from Bali and cannot agree more! I do realise this is a bit old post but now I only regret I didn’t do any research before I’d chosen to go to Bali.
It was always my dream destination so I was extremely disappointed from what I saw. We stayed in Sanur – annoying touts, pollution (not just plastic, but noise pollution is a big issue in Bali as well) and I’m not talking about the beaches. December is not the best month to go there, but still, I didn’t see anything what would look like a paradise.
Luckily, I currently live in Singapore, so the flight took less then three hours and the resort we stayed in was indeed wonderful.
But I cannot imagine I would make the long flight from Europe including one stop at least as I’m from a small European country and after 20 hours I would see this instead of the tropical paradise I thought it would be.
Yes, December is not the best month. It is the rainy season. There are nice beaches in Bali, it’s just not where most of the tourists go. And, I do still love Bali for the culture.
I love Bali for the things you mentioned. Vibrance and calmness…Nice photos, Amber!!!
Julie & Alesah
Gourmet Getaways xx
Yeah, it certainly has that, if you know where to look!
I’ve almost gone to Bali several times but always change my mind for another destination nearby. I don’t really know a lot of people who have liked it and the beaches look very unimpressive. I would like to see Ubud someday though.
I think Ubud is a great place if you are looking for yoga, meditation, healthy food, massages, etc. There are a ton of offerings. But, for beaches, I would look elsewhere.
Well, Amber, I couldn’t agree with you more. Padang Padang, Sanur and Jimbaran beaches were nice, but they certainly didn’t wow me. I’m wondering though if I should’ve headed up north to explore the beaches there instead.
Helen, we traveled up to Amed while living there, and it was nicer than the south, but still not worth the effort. And, as much as it was not Bali, I feel the same about the Gili Islands. I have heard of really nice beaches elsewhere in Indonesia, but I just don’t think Bali’s “sell” is the beaches!
Take a brief moment to think of all the billions of dollars that pour into Bali each year as a result of their tourism business, and also the millions collected as tax and service charges. Now ask yourself why are children in certain areas of Bali malnourished? Why are the roads, schools and hospitals so under funded? Why is the refuse system so antiquated and over-stretched to the point of being a major health hazard? Bali should be an island of plenty for all, including the Balinese. OK, so some money goes to the Indonesian Archipelago as a whole, but where does the real money go?
From Cradle to Grave, the Balinese are robbed blind.
Due to the lack of role models in government and an effective police force that serves the community, not their pockets, the Balinese have many problems. Their teachers often rob them (by taking food from them and demanding they buy their school books from them at inflated prices). Their neighbours steal from them (during hard times, chickens and worse are routinely stolen for cigarette, etc. money). Their employers steal from them (by not paying them their fair / legal share of the service charge they collect from tourists in their name). Their government steals from them (by grabbing private and public land, and selling it for individual ministers personal gain, and by pocketing taxes, etc.). The police steal from them (big time – the police are probably the biggest crooks in Indonesia).
It is not just theft, but abuse the Balinese have to suffer.
They are virtually ignored in matters of health, they are certainly not taught effective health education. Men abuse women, wholesale, in and out of marriage, e.g. low class youths will insult or even stone girls they want to sleep with but are refused, or sometimes rape them). If you are a Balinese girl and date a foreigner, locals will openly call you a prostitute in the street. And if you are a western woman dating a Balinese man, you too will be declared a prostitute. Many men routinely cheat on their wives with other women, including true prostitutes. Neighbours inflict abuse and even violence against each other as calling the police is not an option. Neighboring islanders simply arrive in Bali, cut down trees on other people’s land, build houses and then claim the land as their own. Greedy property developers with the help of corrupt building officials and the mafia police of Bali build where they should not, and destroy Bali’s precious heritage.
It is amazing how the Balinese still manage to smile.
But take a close look. Watch many of the Balinese faces when they are not aware you are there or watching. You will see the strain, stress and unhappiness show itself. The Balinese are naturally gracious people, but it is surprising they are able to be under such circumstances. And you will only make their lot worse if you support, consciously or inadvertently, the fuglies in Bali. If you support those that steal from and / or oppress the Balinese, you are guilty of their demise yourself. Plain and simple.
If you visit Bali, you owe the Balinese.
The Balinese, like you, want a better life for themselves and their children. That means having a proper education in a well funded school to help them leave the tourism poverty trap. That means a public health service that serves the people, not the politician’s pockets and which simply adds to the Balinese people’s problems. Is there any doubt, if you stay at a fugly hotel or allow the nasty corrupt Balinese police to get your money (don’t forget, that means money you pay to a hotel, restaurant or driver – if the police take it from them, as they do, they are taking from you) and not do something about it. You are a part of the problem yourself.
Amber, I am vacationing in Bali right now and can’t agree with you more. We flew into Bangkok, stayed for a few days and then headed over to Bali. We have visited beach towns like Phuket and Ko Samui in Thailand and can safely say that no beach in Bali compares to those places. Its not just the beaches, everywhere you go there are overpriced items to buy. Eating out is quite expensive and does not really justify the kind of prices you are paying for it. I just hope that billions of dollars being poured into the country by tourists is somehow making the daily lives of the Balinese people better and providing them better opportunities for themselves and their kids. Thanks much for the article.
Thanks for your thoughts. There are times when I look back at some of our photos from Bali and really do miss it. I think there is something really beautiful still there. It’s just harder to find than it once was. Try Canggu for a more chill beach scene, or Uluwatu for beautiful views!
Don’t go to Bali guys, I’m Indonesian and I recommend you to visit Wakatobi Island! Worth the visit! I can assure 🙂
Great tip. Thanks!
As I see in your writing Amber that many of the tourist community in Bali tends to be Europeans, Chinese & Australians. My partner and I are from North America. The first time I visited Bali was June of 2016. Originally I was staying in Melbourne Australia and decided I wanted to get an island feel as it was fall in Aus and only a 6hr flight away. Too enticing to give up! So, I vacationed there with a couple Australian friends. First time I visited I stayed in Seminyak. Towards the end of my trip I visted Ubud. In the end my boyfriend and I realized Ubud is much more our speed and loved how quiet and cheerful the area of Ubud was. So this year I intend to return in March of 2017. So to say if Bali is worth the trip I totally believe it is. Coming from someone who chooses to fly a very cramped 23hrs believes that Bali is worth it. I grew up in Philadelphia. I’m a city girl at heart but enjoy the peace and quiet. To be someone who is used to NYC the bustle of Seminyak streets did not put me off. Also, being someone who has experienced the carribean in the Bahamas I have experienced very intense touts. But since I speak fluent French it seems to keep them off my tracks as they don’t understand me 😉 The first time I came to Bali I truly felt off the grid. The beauty of such a funky place are the the honesty and joy in such real, beautiful kind Balinese people. Waking up in the early mornings in a private pool villa of my own to the scent of burning incense warm sunshine heating up my yoga mat, I can’t help but say Bali gives one the experience of hardship, beauty in small things, and realization of simplistic kindness. I think I can say as an American I was pleasantly surprised by Indonesia. It was so far from what I expected but exactly what I feel is needed to experience in life. We forget growing up in certain countries how everything is so attainable in Bali you really get to surround yourself in culture. There is NO way you can’t. As far as the beaches go, yes I was a little disappointed but I got to experience a beach called Suluban so if you are still there, or ever returning I would request to check it out! its very hidden and in a beach town about 45 minutes outside Seminyak with light traffic. It’s certainly a day trip. You have to descend a scary 200 steps to get down to the beach. It is a surf beach, and the waves can be strong. Coming in the morning is the best because some times the tide comes in towards the evening but it really is a beautiful beach to explore. You weave through all these rock formations and its almost cave-like. It’s not overly crowded and the sand is pretty smooth. There are rocks you can sit on once you reach the clear green water. Suluban is certainly worth seeing. This year when I go I am going to stay in Gili Air. I hope the oceans are a little more tropical standard! Well, Thank you for your info! I hope you enjoy mine 😀
I am glad you enjoyed your trip. I do think the experience of being a tourist is different from living there, which is where my view point came from. Enjoy your return trip!
In Bali at the minute. From the UK. Have been before. I have travelled the world and although I have enjoyed Bali before, we haven’t this time. It’s true there are better beaches, more beautiful beache’s elsewhere in the world- Mexico, Thailand, USA……it’s getting so expensive now- a beer costs the same in a restaurant as it does at a bar, the beach and the shop- how/why??? Cannot be so!! Not good for a tourist anymore; so many other options elsewhere, that cost less and are nearer to where we live without the huge flight. Infact, I truly believe this is how the Balinease want it- they don’t want the tourism here, they want the Island left untouched for their own, but let’s be honest that isn’t really reality. They need the money!
Thanks for your thoughts. We haven’t been back in two years, but may be there soon. It will be interested to see how it changed.
What a load of rubbish. Don’t you realise that Bali and its beaches weren’t formed for tourism but for natural beauty. There are obviously places in Bali you haven’t been too that are off the beaten track that are untouched by tourism and are stunning. Ubud is fine as a small town but nothing special. I have hired a jeep and driven round the island without touching the popular resorts. The people and the food are amazing and deserve tourists
Thanks for your honest thoughts. The thing is that most tourists don’t explore beyond the big tourist destinations and major beaches, and for them, they need to know what it’s like.
For all the nay-sayers, I would like to suggest they hire a driver who will pick them up at the Denpasar airport and drive across the island to the north side skipping the southern beach towns and tourist scenes entirely. The drive is about 4 hours but the reward is great. Try Permuteran where one can snorkle in crustal clear water just feet from the white sand beach. There are several lovely resorts there where one can happily stay and which can arrange a driver ahead of time. There is an island national marine park about 1/2 hour’s boat ride away called Menginan. The waters are protected and snorkeling/scuba is unsurpassed. Eat at the local warungs for less than the same food costs at the local “supermarkets.” Add to this, the fact that someone else does the cooking for you and you have a dream vacation. Oh, the last few days of your vacation should definitely be spent getting to know Ubud. It is touristy but its culture is enticing and colorful. Don’t expect perfection and you won’t be disappointed, it’s a real treat.
Agreed that you need to get off the beaten path to explore Bali! Thanks for your thoughts.
I’m glad I found your blog post about the beaches, Amber. I’m from the U.S. and I go out of my way to to do a lot of research before traveling, but as you know, books and resort websites only post the most lovely pictures. I get this perfect image of what it will be like and if I go and the beaches are dirty, I would have been crushed.
I’m actually planning a trip to Bali in July 2018 for my 50th birthday. I’ll be traveling solo (my first solo international trip). I’m a beach girl and my bucket list choice was Maldives. 2nd Choice was Thailand. However, July is Monsoon season for both destinations. So sadly, those were out.
I should also say that I’m not just “roughing it” in a foreign beach destination, but most of my vacation will be a sailing trip via G Adventures, which semi-caters to solo travelers, offering same sex roommates, etc. They have a 6-day sailing trip of Bali and Lombok, which I ultimately decided to do. I am NOT a diver, as huge fish scare the crap out of me. But I can snorkel and enjoy sailing (what little I have done of it).
Since it is only 6 days, and I’ll be sailing from Nusa Penida to the Gilis, I thought it would be nice to extend my trip and stay at either Sanur or Jimbaran for two days prior to the sailing trip – and relax on the beach. But now I’m wondering if I should bother as it seems like they are dirty, with low tides, lack of sun, etc. I like how one commentor mentioned staying at a resort for the pool, grounds, etc. And I LOVE a sweet boutique resort, with privacy – – somewhere I can just totally chill out with a book, sit in a nice garden, relax, and try to forget that I’ll be 50 in a couple of days. I don’t mind paying for it – its a once in a lifetime trip. Not really a fan of yoga, meditation, or massage. Kinda wondering if the trip to Ubud is worth it. This will be my first trip to Asia though, and I am interested in the local lifestyle and respect it. Wondering if a taxi trip to Ubud is a must for that reason – or even if I’ll have time since I’ll only be staying inland for a couple of days and see relaxation.
To make a long story short (too late!), wondering what your thoughts are for a single gal seeking relaxation, a beautiful resort, and the best beach I can get – – semi close to the sailing port in Serangan Village, and if I should bother with a trip to Ubud. Thanks so much.
First regarding monsoons in Thailand. There are two rainy seasons for the beaches, one of the east of the country and one on the west. When it is wet on one side, it’s dry on the other. As for Sanur versus Jimbaran, Sanur is more developed. You are more likely to find a small hotel, with a pool, and then you can walk to the beach, but it is pretty shallow. Jimbaran and Uluwatu are areas set up in the hills, where you can find a quiet place with a pool with a gorgeous view of the water, but beach access might be harder. Sanur is better to be able to walk around on your own. Jimbaran is more remote, so it is more often going to a resort or hotel and just chilling with a book. As for Ubud, it’s possible to do a day trip, it is closer to Sanur than Jimbaran, but you will spend an hour in the car each way. If you need a driver, let me know. Enjoy your 50th!
My bf works with some Indonesians in London and they themselves told him not to go to Bali because it’s not that beautiful. We’re supposed to visit Bali this January but after learning about what his coworkers told him and reading this blog, Bali trip will be put aside for a while. Philippines and Thailand have the best beaches in south east Asia so there we will go.
I still think Bali is worth it if you are interested in culture and history. It really is one of the few areas of Southeast Asia that continues to respect its history, religion, and culture in a way that is beautiful, and not just on display for the tourists. I can’t speak on the Philippines. There are nice beaches in Thailand, but it also depends on where you go and what season it is. They also have their own beach problems, with trash, marine stingers, or unswimmable water. You just need to do your research on the specific beach you are heading to in order to make sure if fits what you like.
Hi Amber, great information as I’m going to Bali with my boyfriend for a week of relaxation in February, while on our way to New Zealand and Australia. I reckon we’ll choose to stay in Sanur and do day trips to Bukit peninsula, Seminyak, Ubud and Lovina, as the western beaches don’t seem great at that time of year. You mentioned in your answer to Deanna that she should let you know if she needs a driver. Can you recommend a good driver? Best regards//Petra from Sweden.
If you can send me an email, I can introduce you to our driver. But, he is based in Ubud. It is probably best for you to hire someone in Sanur.
Hi Amber, I have been researching for weeks regarding my upcoming trip to Bali and feeling so overwhelmed. Ideally I would like a beautiful villa with a private pool which is also close to a beach and amenities??! Could you also connect me with your driver?
Thanks for the useful insights. Am wondering if you know of any good companies to sail off the northern coast of Bali for a day trip or two days.
THANK YOU 🙂
I am sorry, I can’t help you with travel in the north. Sorry. Enjoy your trip.
Can you connect me with your driver? Going to Bali for first time soon. Thanks for the reality check on the beaches- always good to know what to expect.
Just saw this. Horrifying.
Nice summary of Bali, Amber. I totally agree. Having visited Bali in 2003, 2013, & 2018, I have been appalled at the tourism growth in Bali. I now consider it unsustainable. I was planning on moving to Ubud after my current stint in Danang, but have taken Bali off my long stay list because of how crassly commercialized it has become. It seems to have lost its magic. Ubud is now one long road packed with diesel belching tour busses crammed with Chinese tourists and touts trying to sell tours, souvenirs, motorcycle rides, etc.
The people are lovely, but even then many of them are not Balinese, but from Java or other places in Indonesia. Would I still recommend a vacation in Bali? Sure! But not a long stay! Regards, Travel Writer Roy Stevenson
I first visited bali in 78 and continued to visit every year till 1986 sometimes twice a year staying as long as I could. When I visited uluwatu you used to park at bottom near the temple and walk in for 30mins to get to ulu there was only one hut there and two by the early 80’s.Wayans hut used to make the best cheese and tomato jaffles all my Balinese friends lived in pecatu and we used to surf together when they weren’t carrying boards in as this was their income then I had plenty of times I was invited to the temples and borrowed the robes to attend the temple for whatever event was on as special guest it was a real experience for me.canngu was only a rice field then and we used to surf it with only a couple of people and the beaches from legion to kuta uncrowded those were the days too many stories to list now but glad I experienced the bali of old and the memories and friends I made .just a few thoughts cheers great info
I just found your website, and this is definitely one of the most well-rounded articles I’ve read about Bali! I found out about it earlier in 2018 (which is ending very, very soon) and was immediately enchanted. I’m still relatively young, so I was considering adding it to my bucket list or going with my parents. Do you think Bali, as it currently is, is worth a visit from America? For how long?
Great question! I do still think Bali is worth it for travelers to SE Asia who add on to their itinerary. It’s harder to say coming from the US. I believe both Emirates and Qatar fly to Bali direct from the Middle East, meaning it is possible to make it there from the East Coast (likely NY) with only one stop. That helps. It is the far side of the world from the US and a long way to travel, so I would recommend going there if you have two weeks off, meaning about 10 days on the ground. Don’t try to do too much, or visit too many places in Bali. Pick one or two spots and enjoy yourself. Goood luck!