With so many places to pick from, it’s hard to decide which one is the best spa in Bali
Most people who visit Indonesia go to Bali at the end of their trip. I can’t blame them. It’s the perfect place to relax, soak in the sun, enjoy some gorgeous beaches, get close to the local traditions and pamper oneself. Bali is famous for its gorgeous resorts – they are some of the best places to stay in Bali; for its many healthy food options (there’s an abundance of great restaurants in Ubud), for its yoga retreats and last, but absolutely not least, for its spa.
Having one (or more) spa treatments is definitely one of the things to do in Bali. As a girl, I am all for the beauty treatments – waxing, facials, hair care, manicure for my poor bitten nails, pedicure. But I definitely appreciate other wellness treatments, such as Balinese massages and hot stone massages. Nowadays their easy peasy to book, various sites allow you to select the location of the various Bali spa, the treatments, and even show a number of regular discounts.
However, with so many to pick from, it’s hard to decide which spa you should go for. But worry not! I have selected what I think are the top Bali spa, scattered around the island, some of them located in some of the best places to stay in Bali, others just independent and all of them offering the most amazing treatments.
Ubud is probably the loveliest city in Bali, one that definitely deserves a visit. It has retained much of its character despite the presence of many expats, and all around it there’s some amazing rice fields, part of the cultural landscape of Bali that also is a UNESCO heritage. Ubud has an incredible range of good hotels and resorts; upscale restaurants for any taste; and, quite obviously, some of the best spa in Bali.
Royal Kirana Spa
Royal Kirana Spa is located in Ubud, right next to the Royal Pita Maha, which is one of the best places to stay in Bali. One of the reasons I think it’s one of the best spa in Bali is its location: right against the Ayung River Valley, far from the main road (and the terrible traffic that somehow put me off in Bali), overlooking the gorgeous terrace fields Bali is famous for.
Once insise, the place is simply stunning: the cobblestoned footpaths go through a beautiful, lush garden. The treatment villas all have a private pool and a jacuzzi, showers and relaxation nook. The best treatment here is the Royal Retreat, which includes a massage, facials, use of the facilities in the village, and a meal. No doubt one of the ultimate Bali spa.
Maya Ubud actually has not one, but two spa complexes. It is located in the highlands of Ubud, and the spa by the riverside (hence the name) really is one of the best spa in Bali. Upon arriving, guests have to walk along wooden riverside boardwalks to get to the treatment area. All the while, and throughout the treatment, they can hear the sound of Petanu River below.
Among the best treatments in this Bali spa there’s the two-hour River Breeze package which includes a massave, a body mask and a body lotion. Other packages include baths in copper tubs. There’s also packages for couples and honeymooners.
The spa is located in the fabulous Maya, one of the best places to stay in Bali.
Padma Resort is one of the best places to stay in Bali. The spa is a fabulous, sophisticated place where anybody ends up experiencing what the therapists call “inner bliss.” Treatments go from those that follow the traditional Asian style to the newest ones. The products used are simply fabulous, and the treatment rooms incredibly stylish. It definitely is one of the best spa in Bali.
The Sanctoo Spa
The Sanctoo Resort is one of the best places to stay in Bali, also thanks to the incredible Sanctoo Spa, which has a fantastic series of wellness and beauty programs, that rejuvenate the body and mind. The aim at Sanctoo is to rejoice people with nature, to bring them back to what the therapists call “nature of soul” – which is characterized by love, peace, happyness, humbleness and purity.
This is done using the healing power of human hands and the body energy. Massages and facial treatments are done using high quality products for optimum results. It’s easy to see why it’s one of the best spa in Bali.
Visesa Balinese Healing Spa
Located in Desa Visesa Ubud Resort, which is by far one of the best places to stay in Bali, this is the ultimate Bali spa, a place to get blissfully pampered and to have a fabulous, holistic healing experience. The spa uses the principles of Bali Usada in its treatments, which consists in the use of ayurvedic medicinal plants, herbs and spices. Its signature treatments are the Balinese healing. The Cave treatment is also unique to the spa.
Taksu Spa is a beautiful, stand alone spa – not connected to any of the beautiful resorts in Bali. It’s one of the most popular Bali spa, and one of the reasons is that it is very affordable. But it’s not just that. The environment is tropical, quiet, soothing – a place to relax and feel completely peaceful. The treatments are fabulous. And to top this off, there’s some incredible dining options, which include raw vegan, sushi, baked goods. In other words, it is heavenly.
Jaens Spa Shanti
Another stand alone spa, and one of the best spa in Bali. Just like the Taksu, it’s affortable and very popular. It is located at a 10 minutes drive from the center of Ubud. Here, therapists use a blend of ancient remedies and modern spa rituals to help guests feel healthier and improve their overall wellbeing. The products used are a blend of natural ingredients, oils, herbs and spices that are simply fabulous.
Frangipani flowers are used in the best spa in Bali
The best spa in Bali – Seminyak
Seminyak is the most famous beach area of Bali, packed with some of the best places to stay in Bali, incredible restaurants, great shopping opportunities and, quite obviously, the ultimate Bali spa.
If Seminyak is somewhat hectic, Prana allows to escape from it all. What makes this one of the best spa in Bali, aside from (quite obviously) the great treatments available, is the design, with architectural designs that are clearly influenced by India and the Middle East.
Prana trademark treatment is the Shirodhara, which means “head flow” and is a typical Ayurvedic treatment. It begins with a massage to the head, scalp, neck and shoulder which is then followed by pouring medicinal oils. The treatment is particularly recommended for those suffering with headaches or insomnia – I don’t, but I can definitely do with some relaxation. I surely want to try this Bali spa.
The Spa at Peppers Seminyak
Meli is one of the best spa in Bali, so popular that it’s actually not that easy to get an appointment. Meli is a qualified Theta Healer and Reiki Master, and she’s famous for working magics to heal body, mind and spirit’s wounds. I can’t quite explain how she does it – but it is worth trying. Needless to say, the spa offers also other more “traditional” treatments.
The Espace is a stand alone, affordable and popular Bali spa. There’s two locations – one in Seminyak and one in Canggu. In both places, the environment is cozy and warm, the atmosphere elegant, and the treatments fantastic. Body massages have a relaxing, rejuvenating effect and they are done using natural products. The overall effect is a fantastic reduction of stress – I know I need that one! Quite likely one of the best spa in Bali.
Qi Shiseido Spa
Qi Shiseido Spa is owned and managed by Japanese beauty care company Shiseido (just that is enough to make me want to go). It is located in Seminyak Suites, one of the best places to stay in Bali. Qi Shiseido Spa core concept is “Omotenashi,” which means “devotion to clients;” and “Tsubo,” which refers to the meridian pressure points. Qi is meant to be the vital energy that runs through the body, and which gives beauty and balance to the mind, skin and body.
The spa is incredibly stylish, with beautiful treatment rooms. Treatments at this spa include massages, skin care and the ever so needed hair care (I am a hair freak, I know that whenever I go to the beach in Sardinia my hair gets dry and brittle so I assume it’d be the same in Bali). All treatments have the purpose of restoring energy, by inducing a deep state of relaxation. They are combined with Shiseido skincare. Guests leave feeling energized, relaxed and overall more beautiful. Easy to see why it is one of the best spa in Bali.
The best spa in Bali overlook the gorgeous rice terraces
The best spa in Bali – Kuta
Kuta isn’t exactly a place I’d recommend visiting. It’s so chaotic, so crowded, that when I visited I ended up thinking that Bali has lost its magic. Yet, I have to grant it to it: Kuta has some of the best resorts in Bali, and some of the best spa in Bali that aren’t necessarily linked to a hotel.
Taman Air Spa
Taman Air Spa is located in Kuta, not far from Denpasar, and it is one of the most popular, stand alone day spa in Bali. In the chaos of Kuta, this spa is a real sanctuary where to get away from it all, get fully pampered and leave rejuvenated and relaxed both in the body and in the soul. For sure, one of the best spa in Bal.
Bali Orchid Spa
This is a stand alone, popular spa, also thanks to its unbeatable prices. It works according to the traditional local belief that body, mind and spirit ought to work in harmony and that health and well being lead to happiness. The treatments at Bali Orchid Spa aim at healing, releasing tension and in freeing the body of toxins and improving blood circulation. The staff uses natural and herbal medicines – ginger tea, lemon, etc – as they stimulate, soothe and rivitalize the body. The setting is gorgeous. Definitely one of the best spa in Bali.
Located in the beautiful Bintang Bali Resort – one of the best places to stay in Bali, when in Kuta – the main feature of this spa is the stunning sea view. It is set in a quiet, peaceful environment where to have fabulous treatments that aim at providing wellbeing and improving beauty. It is known as one of the best spa in Bali.
Jimbaran is home to some of the best beaches in Bali. With it come some incredible resorts, and some of the most incredible Bali spa.
Butter & Scrub Spa
Bali Paragon Hotel is where to stay in Bali when in Jimbaran. If the hotel is lovely, the spa is in and of itself a good enough reason to go there. It quite simply is one of the best spa in Bali. It is the perfect place for guests to pamper themselves with the aim of having a healthier skin with beauty treatments and feel overall relaxed and rejuvenated thanks to the other treatments. One of the signature treatments is a massage that is supposed to relieve the effects of jet lag. I am a sucker for jet lag, it hits me every time despite many years of traveling, and I’d probably head for that treatment right away!
The signature treatment at this spa uses frangipani flowers, which are supposed to instantly relive stress and bring an overall feeling of peace and relaxation. The treatment starts with a foot bath in orange blossom fragrance, which is then followed by a massage using frangipani body scrub and body mask. I love frangipani, so this is enough to make me say this is one of the best spa in Bali.
Sanur is seaside town in the southeast coast of Bali, famous for its many beautiful beaches, with the typical sight of traditional boats; its great choice of places to stay and restaurants. And quite importantly, there’s also a good selection of Bali spa.
Mandara Spa at Maison Aurelia
Maison Aurelia is one of the best places to stay in Bali. The spa includes 3 treatment rooms, plus a single room and a double room with bath and shower. The treaments are a great mixture of Asian inspiration and elegant and luxurious British skincare brands. Simply wonderful and one of the nicest Bali spa.
Known to be one of the best spa in Bali, Jamu Wellness is one of the most established spa, it has a great reputation and it’s actually quite affordable. It offers fabulous, holistic natural spa treatments all aimed at keeping the body healthy and revitilized, and free from diseases. Among the treatments available, there’s acupuncture, hormone balancing, nutrition support.
Other Fabulous Bali Spa
Visala Spa, Legian
Visala Spa has 3 venues, all in the Legian area and all beautiful, modern, clean and very affordable. The Visala at the Magani Hotel, for example, has four massage treatment rooms and male and female sauna. The treatment menu has a lot of options – it’s one of the best spa in Bali.
Royal Balinese Spa, Nusa Dua
The Royal Balinese is a stand alone Bali spa that offers a wide variety of treatments using a fabulous blend of ingredients. Among the best treatments to have at the Royal Balinese, there’s the Balinese massage, the ancient balinese treatment, and facials. All aim at pampering and revitalizing, and promoting a healthy body and soul. I love facials – I had one in the Maldives and after the treatment I felt at least 5 years younger, so I’d definitely go for that.
The Edge is one of the best places to stay in Bali, and its spa is fabulous. It faces a stunning sea cliff, literally defying gravity. Needless to say, the views from there are incredible. Just this would be enough to make it the best spa in Bali. Yet, to add to it there’s the liquid floors, the wall-less rooms, the in-villa baths, the private steam coves – all with views of the Indian Ocean.
The name Bulgari is enough to get my interest. Not only is this one of the best places to stay in Bali, but its spa experience is out of this world. The spa is set on a cliff top, with fabulous, luxury treatments such as massages, hot stone massages, facials and more. These are provided by using techniques such as Balinese, Asian and European. There’s also private spa pavilions and a plunge pool. It’s expensive, but worth it – it surely is one of the best spa in Bali.
Soori Bali is one of the best places to stay in Bali. The spa is simply wonderful. Picture softly lit interiors, dark sandstone and tiles and a series of treatments that mix Asian and western style therapies. To top this off, Soori uses its special line of “natural active” spa products. The spa villas all have their own entrance, with a special herbal steam shower and bathtub and even an individually controlled sound system. Quite simply one of the best spa in Bali.
Have you ever been to Bali? Did you get any spa treatments and if so, what do you think is the best spa in Bali?
There are many things to do in Bali, for any budget and any taste. It’s just a matter of knowing where to start.
Indonesia has been the first country I have ever traveled to in Asia. I was excited about visiting, because everyone spoke marvels about it, and my travel plans were such that I would also visit Bali, a bucket list destination according to many. I didn’t know much about Indonesia at all, and even less about Bali, actually. All I knew was that one of the things to do in Bali is surfing, since a bunch of my friends who surf and travel the world in search of the best waves kept raving about it.
It took me about a minute after I arriving in Indonesia and getting out of the airport to know that if anything, I would be in for a huge cultural shock, which would be a positive and a negative one at the same time. I fell in love with the people: so kind, so warm, so friendly. And I truly enjoyed some of the places I have visited, such as Komodo and Rinca islands, for they are beautifully wild. I didn’t feel the same about some others such as Mount Bromo – I felt mass tourism has had a negative impact on them and that they were somewhat exploited.
Of all the places I have visited, Bali isn’t among those I fell in love with, to the point that I wonder if Bali has lost its magic. I just don’t get what the huge hype about it is. Yet, I must admit that having a try at some of the recommended things to do in Bali was fun.
Without having the presumption of being a Bali expert, and despite having spent a limited time exploring the island, I still think I can point out what to do Bali to make the most of it, and suggest the unmissable ones among the things to do in Bali that I have tried.
17 Absolutely Unmissable Things To Do In Bali
Confronting the monkeys in Monkey Forest, Ubud
It’s no secret that I love monkeys. I get giggly and excited any time I see them or even just hear them as they play, jumping from tree branch to tree branch in the jungle. That is why, if I had to give recommendations for what to do in Bali, the first thing that would come to my mind would be to do a guided tour of the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, in Ubud. There are actually three temples in Monkey Forest, but the main attraction to me is by far the macaque monkeys.
One of my favorite things to do in Bali: watching the monkeys – photo courtesy of Seth Carnill
Far from being friendly, these monkeys are hungry and quite naughty. They steal anything from visitors – from bottles of water to sunglasses. In fact, they tried to steal mine right from my face and I had to trick them to get them back. Yet, I thought that seeing these little evils playing around, picking fleas off each other and blatantly posing for picture was by far among the things to do in Bali.
These are some of the best tours in Bali to see the monkeys:
The Pura Luhur Ulu Watu is only one of the various temples located on the South coast of Bali. While visiting the temple is a must do in Bali, what I loved the most about it is the fact that it offers some breathtaking views of the coast and the ocean, as well as of the cliffs that drop directly into the sea. I arrived just before sunset, and I think that is the best time to visit. I spent a good hour in awe of the show of the fishing boats sailing the ocean and passing through the light beams that the sun threw on the sea. Having seen the amazing sunset from Ulu Watu, I have little doubt as to why visiting this temple is one of the things to do in Bali.
Ulu Watu is one of the best places to visit in Bali
Ulu Watu is also home to a colony of naughty monkeys who never fail to entertain visitors with their tricks, which include stealing whatever they find amusing and entertaining, especially shiny objects. Although some find the naughty monkeys quite annoying, to me it was a welcome bonus. As I said before, seeing the monkey is what to do in Bali for some good fun.
I like experiencing local culture wherever I go – whether this means walking around the streets and meeting the locals, learning about the traditional activities or even seeing traditional rituals and shows. Lots of people who visit Bali agree that seeing the Kecak show is what to do in Bali. Also known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant, this is a performance where a group of 150 men, who wear a checked cloth around their waists, percussively chant “cak” and move their hands and arms. The show depicts a battle from the Ramayana Hindu poem.
It may be geared to tourists, but I think that seeing the Kecak dance is one of the best things to do in Bali – photo courtesy of Rom
Many people who visit Bali agree that one of the highlights of their journey is seeing – or better, experiencing – a Kecak show. The performance I saw took place in the beautiful setting of Ulu Watu open air theatre, at sunset time. It was amazing: the theatre small and intimate, and the show a lot fun, as the performers regularly involved members of the public. Sure, it was on the touristy side. But why would I care, since it was so much fun? So, if you ask me, I would definitely argue that experiencing a Kecak show in Ulu Watu is one of the things to do in Bali.
People who visit Bali always point out how delicious the food is there. I am not what people would call “a foodie”. In fact, while I do enjoy good food, I am actually quite picky. However, I must say that trying the local specialties (ok, not all local specialties: I will never be caught trying grasshoppers or intestines) and enjoying a nice meal are some of my favorite activities while I travel. And eating is what to do in Bali to learn more about its culture.
Looking for things to do in Bali? Just eat!
Bali is packed with amazing restaurants. Whether I had a taste for western food (any western food), Asian, Indonesian or Balinese cuisine, I found some very good (and more than affordable) restaurants. There’s even lots of vegan restaurants in Ubud. I must thus say that, despite not having a huge interest in food, I came to the conclusion that one of the things to do in Bali is hitting the fantastic restaurant scene and having a delicious meal.
Among the things to do in Bali there’s hitting one of the many beautiful beaches. I have also said that one enjoying the restaurant scene is what to do in Bali. Putting together one of Bali beaches with the many good restaurants is a guarantee of entertainment. There are many restaurants on the beach – buildings ruining what once surely was a beautiful, secluded and wild place. That is the result of mass tourism and uncontrolled development. All these restaurants place their tables on the sand and customers can get their feet sandy when they walk to their table.
Having dinner by the ocean is one of the best things to do in Bali – photo courtesy of hl_1001 (flickr)
One thing people should be aware of is that having dinner on the beach in Bali is less than an exclusive experience. Since it is one of the things to do in Bali, pretty much everybody does it – and what in another country with a more protected coast line could be an incredibly romantic date, in Bali feels more like a crowded beach party.
Yet, I admit that I enjoyed the experience. Between the good food and the huge waves that broke loudly on the shore, I must say I ended up having a really good time. Hence, I do recommend having dinner by the ocean as one of the top things to do in Bali.
Learning how to cook a proper Balinese meal
Not only I am not a foodie, but I am also a clumsy cook. The kind of clumsy that regularly forgets a pot on the stove, goes about some business in the house and then realizes that food has been cooking for way longer than the required time. Yet, actually learning how to prepare some Balinese food from scratch is what to do in Bali to appreciate its culture more. I should thus receive a round of applause for actually enrolling in a Balinese food cooking class, as this was truly an act of bravery from me.
Taking a cooking class with a local: one of the things to do in Bali – photo courtesy of Juan Jerez
I took a cooking class, thanks to which I was able to get in touch with a local family who was glad to meet me, show me a bit of their daily life and traditions and teach me how to prepare a Balinese meal. I must say it was actually a great experience. The first chore was going to the market (going to the market is one of the things to do in Bali, so this was exciting for me!) and shop for fresh produce, and then we prepared a meal which we all ate. I am still here to tell the story, so I guess it didn’t go so bad. I can definitely confirm that enrolling in a cooking class is what to do in Bali.
Those interested in taking a cooking class in Bali should check out Cookly, a website that offers a large selection of cooking classes for travellers, making it easy to book them online. There’s also a Balinese cooking class at an organic farm.
Seeing the rice terraces
Apparently, seeing the rice terraces is one of the ultimate things to do in Bali. As I have said before, I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I found out I would visit Bali. I didn’t have a clear vision of it in my mind, though from what I had heard, I figured it would be a tropical island with lush vegetation and a quiet pace of life. I also pictured green rice patties where a few farmers could be seen working the land.
For the most part, Bali happened to be completely different from what I thought it would be (lots of traffic, really crowded and overall too commercial for my taste). But one thing that didn’t disappoint me was finding that there actually are rice patties and terraces all over the island, and there is a good reason why visiting is one of the things to do in Bali and why they are among the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The gorgeous rice fields are on the list of places to visit in Bali – photo courtesy of Juan Jerez
It is not hard to find rice patties in Bali. They are all over! Some of them are currently no more than a beautiful (large) garden in a lovely restaurant. Others are still properly used and farmed, and those are the best to see as they are just surrounded by green hills. Without the shadow of a doubt, I think that a tour of the rice terraces is one of the top things to do in Bali. You can even ask a local to take you there – find out how here.
These are some of the best rice terraces tours of Bali:
Among the things to do in Bali there is visiting the famous site of Goa Gajah, known as the Elephant Cave and located in the surroundings of Bedulu (about 20 minutes drive from Ubud). According to legend, this sanctuary was created by the nails of a giant called Kebo Iwa. It likely dates to the 11th century. It is carved in a rock wall and it is accessed through the huge mouth of a demon. In the inside of the cave, it is possible to spot some of the phallic symbols of Hindu god Shiva and of his feminine counterpart, as well as a statue of Ganesha, the god with the elephant head.
Visiting the Elephant Cave surely is what to do in Bali – photo courtesy of Klaus Stiefel (flickr)
Visiting Goa Gajah is what to do in Bali, especially if in search of some quiet time and nature as there is a beautiful forest right behind it.
Here’s some tours that also go to the elephant cave:
I love sports. Even more so, I enjoy adventures sports. And if adventure sports get to be anywhere near water, then I am in for the fun. Bali is among the best places in the world to surf, given the consistently good quality of the waves. In general, trying water sports is what to do in Bali. Having an adrenaline rush by practicing some water sports (hint: they can be booked online!) is one of the things to do in Bali.
Here’s some of the best water sports tours in Bali:
One of the things to do in Bali? Paragliding! – photo courtesy of Ikhlasul Amal (flickr)
Seeing the sunset in Kuta Beach
I did not like Kuta Beach, to be honest. I found it too commercial, too crowded, too congested and too dirty for my taste. Yet, I admit that walking down the beach in Kuta at sunset time was a real treat. The light was truly gorgeous, so beautiful that it made me forget about all the other things that I wasn’t enjoying there. I could not resist posing for some incredible sunset pictures. There is no denying that seeing the sunset in Kuta Beach is one of the things to do in Bali.
Unmissable things to do in Bali: seeing the gorgeous sunset in Kuta Beach – photo courtesy of Seth Carnill
Visiting the nearby islands
One of the things to do in Bali is to get away from the chaos of the island by going to the nearby quieter ones. There’s many islands that can be explored from Bali. Gili may be the most famous one, but Nusa Lembongan, Penida and Ceningan are also worth visiting and they are a lovely getaway from the busy streets of Kuta and Seminyak. They just look like what Bali used to look 20 years ago.
Most locals and even tourists in Bali ride scooters. Traffic is insane and the pollution gets worst by the minute. I am all in favor of protecting the environment, not to mention that I actually love biking. Taking a bike tour, going to the most rural parts of the island and getting close to the rice patties is what to do in Bali to get away from traffic and noise.
Among the things to do in Bali, there supposedly are some fantastic hikes. The trek to the Gunung Agung volcano, the highest peak of Bali at over 3100 meters, is a challenging yet amazing one which offers spectacular views.
Hiking Gunung Batur volcano is what to do in Bali for fantastic sights. However, the attraction is terribly mismanaged. Large numbers of visitors (perhaps more than the attraction can take), harassing vendors and (unreliable) guides may make the trip less than worthy.
I am not what Sophie Kinsella would call “a shopaholic”. Given the choice, I would rather use all my money to fund my travels. Having said this, I do like browsing through local markets for curious finds, local crafts and souvenirs and bargains. Not to mention, through traveling I have developed some great haggling skills and I really enjoy practicing just to make sure I don’t forget how to do it. One of the things to do in Bali is shopping.
Best things to do in Bali? Shop till you drop! – photo courtesy of Michael Sauers (flickr)
From high street shops to shopping malls, from the big famous brand stores found in Denpasar and Kuta to the lovely small boutiques of Ubud and the local markets, there is something for everyone in Bali. There is little doubt that shopping is what to do in Bali.
Partying at a fantastic club
I said many times before that of all the things to do in Bali, visiting Kuta Beach is the one I enjoyed the least. Yet, there is one thing that Kuta Beach is really good for: partying! The number of clubs to go to in Kuta is enormous. The best ones are all by the beach, like the exclusive Potato Head Beach Club, which has access to a pool and is perfect to enjoy a wonderful sunset while dancing away and sipping a delicious cocktail. Partying at a beach club is definitely one of the things to do in Bali.
Best things to do in Bali? Party!! – photo courtesy of Dean Wallis (flickr)
Getting a massage
Bali was the last stop of a very demanding press trip across Indonesia, for me. I arrived completely exhausted and in need of some pampering. The good news is that both Ubud and Kuta Beach are packed with places where it is possible to walk in and get a massage, a foot rub, or a head rub for a real steal. Getting a relaxing massage is definitely what to do in Bali.
Unmissable things to do in Bali: getting a massage – photo courtesy of Matthew Kenrick (flickr)
Relaxing in a fabulous resort
The number of beautiful hotels and resorts available in Bali is just incredible, and staying in one of them is what to do in Bali. The best ones are well hidden gems, far away from the traffic and the noise that plague the island. My choice was Ubud Dedari Villas, a gorgeous boutique resort in Bedulu, at about 20 minutes drive from Ubud and really close to the Elephant Cave, one of the places to visit in Bali. I knew from the minute I walked in that I was in for a real treat. The personnel immediately welcomed me and showed me to my beautiful room. In order to get there I had to walk through a lush garden where other villas were also located, right next to the infinity pool.
One of the best things to do in Bali: relaxing in a fantastic resort
All of the villas have their own veranda and a stunning view over the forest and the hills. My room was plush: a huge bed, a beautiful balcony with sun beds where I enjoyed a delicious breakfast every morning, and an enormous bathroom with a lovely shower and a jacuzzi too – because relaxing in a jacuzzi is what to do in Bali.
Ubud Dedari Villas is very quiet, something that should never be taken for granted in Bali – the only noise that can be heard is that of the creek that runs below and of cicadas living in the trees. There was a free shuttle service that took me to Ubud any time I needed, so if I wanted to go out I knew I would not have to haggle to get a taxi (by the way, haggling is one of the things to do in Bali).
Taking in a gorgeous view – one of the things to do in Bali
Staying in a fabulous resort is one of the top things to do in Bali, and Ubud Dedari Villas is definitely one a great one.
I am really bad at keeping secrets, so before the word gets out and someone else says it for me and there is a huge misunderstanding, I suppose it is better that I actually say what I have been holding down for a while, since the day I got back from my trip to Indonesia. The truth is that I really didn’t enjoy Bali. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think I spent nearly long enough there in order to develop a proper, informed opinion on it.
I went to Bali as part of a very large press trip to Indonesia where I did not get to establish the itinerary (or else, I would have never picked to stay in Kuta Beach) let alone the food I ate, and I stayed along a little longer after the trip was over, to explore on my own. To be fair, I have seen a thing or two that were quite nice and I have actually enjoyed. And had I researched a bit more, I would have found good alternatives to the most touristy attractions in Bali. But that was definitely not enough to make me fall in love with Bali and make me want to go back. It was more like a good and welcomed distraction from all the things I did not like.
It would be fair to assume that I arrived Bali having in mind the images of tropical paradise as portrayed in Eat, Pray, Love. That very popular movie (and book) has fed a lot of people with beautiful sights of empty tropical beaches, interesting traditions, and an overall peaceful place.
Eat Pray Love picture-perfect Bali – photo courtesy of Anna and Michal (flickr)
Or so I have been told, because I haven’t watched the movie and I haven’t read the book, and so I had no Eat, Pray, Love – induced expectations to meet. In fact, I have never really had Bali in my bucket list, so I did not have in my mind the fantasy of a location I would have to look for to quench my thirst for something beautiful and take that exact same perfect photo. All I had were recollections of some friends who had been – some coming back very enthusiastic (but they are into surfing), other a bit less so. I had not even seen their pictures. If anything, what I have learned in Bali is that it is actually fairly easy to take the perfect photo even in what may be the most imperfect place (more of this later).
Capturing the perfect shot in Monkey Forest
The whole problem is that I am all about first impressions, with people and even with places. I either love something or someone at first sight, or I don’t. There is either an immediate spark, or there isn’t. There is either a special chemistry, or none at all. And if there isn’t that famous chemistry, the only thing I can hope for is a honest friendship. It is not even a matter of how beautiful a place is. It is a question of vibes. And it hasn’t happened often (although it has, to be fair) that I went somewhere for a second time and finally, magically liked it and enjoyed it. And Bali really didn’t spark in front of my eyes. It’s like I went on a date with a man and he put up his worst attire for the occasion, stick his fingers up his nose, burped loudly and talked on the phone during dinner – that is how Bali was to me.
Relaxing at the pool – the only way to escape the heat in Bali
I may even try to justify the fact that I didn’t like Bali by saying that the extreme heat killed whatever little energy I had in me at the end of a very demanding and at times truly exhausting trip. I may say that the persistent stomach bug that caused me a lot of discomfort did not exactly put me in a good mood to let myself be infused with the magic of Bali. But really, that is not the case. I have still managed to enjoy Cartagena, in Colombia, or Leon, in Nicaragua, despite the suffocating heat. I have been sick all over the world (now, that is something to be quite proud of!) and it has hardly put me off a place (unless there were other reasons involved, obviously). What happened in Bali is that the first impression I got of it is that of an extremely congested, incredibly polluted, very dirty, truly commercial and way too crowded place for me to be able to enjoy it. I am not even sure it is fair to talk about “impressions” because, I’d dare to say, Bali is congested, polluted, and crowded. I really couldn’t wait to get out of Bali. So much so that the Eat, Pray, Love fantasy to me was more like a “Fast, Wish for the best and Get Out ASAP”.
Bali Is Too Congested And Polluted For My Taste
The impression I got in Bali is that nobody likes the idea of walking or biking. I like walking, and I tried to do that. But the minute I stepped out of the hotel, I was invested by a stream of cars and motorbikes, none of them taking notice of me, unless it was to honk loudly so that I would move out of their way. Each and every person in Bali – locals as well as tourists – moves around by car or, even better, by scooter or motorbike. All I saw were scooters and motorbikes: entire local families jump on one, keeping the Indonesian tradition alive (they take bonding really literally) and making the most of the gasoline. It was quite common to see 4 persons riding the same tiny motorbike, none of them wearing a helmet and a small child literally tied to the chest with a rope, to hold him tight while zipping through traffic. I stared at them, curiously and, at the same time, terrified of what may happen if a stray dog crossed the street all of a sudden and they had to break. Those drivers do have skills, because (as anybody who holds a motorbike license would say) keeping a balance when carrying that much weight is no easy task. I guess they were just as curious to see my stare, as they often smiled back at me as they passed (but never stopped, God forbid!).
As rural as it gets – photo courtesy of Josh (flickr)
My first taste of Bali’s extreme traffic was the night I landed in Denpasar, its main city. I hopped on the bus, hopeful for a short ride to the restaurant in Jimbaran, right by the beach. I told myself it couldn’t take that long – it looked quite close on the map. I soon realized that I could have not been more mistaken. It took the bus I was on a good hour to get out of the airport terminal (a total of, perhaps, no more than 500 meters). Scooters zipped through the buses and the cars, left and right, in those narrow streets, careless of pedestrians and other vehicles coming from other directions, causing the bus driver to hit the breaks all the time (forget about being car sick!) and to press that horn at regular intervals. Too bad I did not have my iPod to listen to some music, so that loud horn noise was as close to music as it got for me. Not pleasant, especially for someone who is very sensitive to noise.
As I got off the bus, I tried to cross the street. Nobody (cars, motorbikes and buses alike) would ever stop to allow me and other pedestrians to cross. Scooters would rather drive around me than stop. I was pretty certain that they would have hit me had I not run, screaming in terror, to get to safety. No distraction was allowed, unless I wanted to risk my life. I have later on tried lots of tricks to demand drivers to stop – including putting my arm out, rigidly – with little or no success. The only thing that worked when I wanted to cross the street was finding a policeman or even a hotel employee that, whistle and torch in hand, would stop the traffic so that I and other tourists could cross the street.
Safety first – photo courtesy of Simon_sees (flickr)
I found it really hard to get away from traffic in Bali. If Denpasar and the nearby Kuta – which didn’t take me long to realize that is not another city, or a resort: it pretty much is just a huge neighborhood of Denpasar, and there isn’t any city interruption, let alone traffic break – are the most congested places on the island, I didn’t exactly have a joyride when I tried getting to other parts of Bali. In order to get from Kuta to the theoretically more rural Ubud I had to fiercely haggle a taxi which would have gladly ripped me off (although I had a very clear idea of the price I would have to pay). I was told it would take about 1 hour, I expected the ride to last about 90 minutes, and it eventually took 2 hours. I guess by then I was used to the different perspective on timings that Indonesians have compared to Europeans.
As if the traffic was not a problem in and of itself, I was exhausted by the pollution that plagues the most crowded destinations in Bali. I spotted several locals and the occasional tourist wearing a mask to block the exhaust smoke and the bad smell coming from the piles of garbage being burnt, but I have doubts that it helped much. I was surely disappointed at this. Again, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Bali, but sure enough, coming from a city, I would never pick to go on holidays to a place that is seriously polluted and where traffic is a huge issue – it just isn’t my idea of a relaxing time.
I found Ubud a bit better in terms of traffic and even more so Bedulu, a smaller city right next to it where traffic seems to slow down at least at night, and there are a few and very welcomed oasis of peace where I could enjoy some much needed silence.
Not exactly a secluded beach – photo courtesy of Aaron Toth (flickr)
The Bali I Saw Is Dirty, Crowded And Commercial
Bali isn’t nearly as rural and pristine as I imagined it would be. I had to check a few facts when I got there, because I could not really understand what I was seeing unless I put it in perspective. So, what I have discovered, is that it is a rather small island (a little over 5600 square km) inhabited by a whopping 4.5 million people. That isn’t a small number for such a small place. Just to give you an idea, I come from Sardinia, which is 5 times as big in size and has a quarter of the population. Not exactly crowded!
I then added to the already large population of Bali the huge intake of tourists that visit the island all year long and I got a better understanding of how crowded it was. Most of the time I just felt that there were people everywhere and it was hard for me to get away from them, and from an urban area altogether (because these people do have to live somewhere, so houses and apartment buildings have to be built).
A gorgeous sunset in Kuta Beach – it doesn’t show what’s behind the scenes
For each postcard picture of Bali that circulates on the web, showing a tropical beach, a perfect sunset and a beautiful rice field portraying a lost paradise, there should be one that shows what is going on behind the scenes, and what the rest of the landscape really looks like. Admittedly, I could not resist the temptation of making Kuta Beach look way better than it really is, to get all my friends back home a bit jealous in front of the magic I was experiencing. But that was just a perfectly concocted show, where I waited for the perfect time to take a shot. I took a few pictures at sunset and the light was lovely and looking at the waves breaking on the shore was quite an impressive show.
But as I looked back, right behind me, all the magic was gone and I could once again see Kuta Beach for what it really is: not a lovely, white, sandy and secluded beach, but one where the sand is dark, there is garbage all over and right behind it there is mall after mall, shop after shop, chain restaurant after chain restaurant.
Try and find a quiet spot there – photo courtesy of Surf 30 (flickr)
And, just to make it even less appealing to me, there were the crowds. Not just the crowds there are on a Sunday in any popular Sardinian beach. I am talking about so many people that I thought I would never find a spot to sit and relax, and just stare at the ocean. I am talking about crowds that exasperate the desperate conditions in which the island verses. I am talking hordes of drunk tourists that find it ok to casually forget plastic bottles and bags on the beach, as if it wasn’t dirty enough already and Bali wasn’t struggling with its garbage. So much garbage there was, that when I saw rats roaming among the piles of trash I was actually not that surprised but just a bit disgusted.
This isn’t exactly my idea of pristine – photo courtesy of Jon Rawlinson (flickr)
So many people there were on that beach, that I just wondered how they could surf without risking hitting others in the water.
It was not a pretty view, at least not to me. And between all the garbage, the dark dirty sand, all those people everywhere and the vendors who tried to push flowers, trinkets and what not on me, I just thought I’d better leave and go back to the hotel and find tranquility in the privacy of my room.
I am not sure where the image of a lost tropical paradise comes from, because the more I saw Kuta, the more I thought it looked like the Benidorm of Indonesia.
Had I been a shopaholic I would have seen the benefit of visiting a huge mall-city. Bali surely is a shopping paradise and one could spend days browsing through the shops and the market stalls in search of a good deal, which inevitably implies the ability to haggle fiercely with the vendors in order to avoid being ripped off (the same goes for taxi rides, by the way). Too bad I can’t be bothered with shopping!
I may have noticed all of this because I am a spoiled girl from Sardinia, used to beaches that despite getting crowded in the summer months, never get dirty and most definitely never get commercial (it is actually forbidden to build anything even just close to the beach, that is how much we value our territory). I do understand that being from Sardinia is at times a limit, as I can’t help compare whatever place I visit to my beloved homeland. Perhaps someone who isn’t as spoiled as I am is able to enjoy the beaches in Bali.
To be fair, I found Ubud to be better than the rest of the Bali I saw. It has a bit more of a genuine feel and a bit more of character. But I can see that the impact of mass tourism and commercialization is seeping deeper and deeper here too, with more“high street” and chain shops opening to replace the smaller boutiques and the local businesses. I saw taxi drivers becoming more aggressive – they would not take a “thanks, I do not need a ride”. But at least, it was not as loud, not as “right in my face” and not as tacky as Kuta. Here’s a guide to Ubud with plenty of things to do.
Is Bali Really That Bad?
I don’t like being completely negative. And I would lie if I didn’t point out that Bali actually does have its charms and that there are a few cool things to do in Bali. I saw some really beautiful sunsets and sunrises – so gorgeous they were, the light so beautiful, that for a while I forgot about all the other things I did not like about Bali. I thought that seeing the traditional boats as they navigated the ocean, at sunset, from the view point of Ulu Watu temple, was a mesmerizing view.
The rice fields took me to a world that I hardly knew existed, with their bright green color.
The gorgeous rice fields in Bali – photo courtesy of Juan Jerez
I was captured by the traditional dances such as the Kacak – yes, it is mostly a show for tourists but it was fun to watch and experience, it was engaging and I really laughed hard at the jokes. I enjoyed spots such as the Elephant Cave. And I had a blast in Monkey Forest, where monkeys always put up a good show and I had to fight with a naughty one who thought it would be ok to steal my sunglasses (I got them back, I won!).
I found a few good restaurants in Bali – from the most traditional Balinese and Indonesian cuisine, to other international cuisine, I could have a different meal every day (that is, as soon as the trip was over and I could actually make my own orders!).
I saw some gorgeous resorts and hotels in Bali where I managed to relax and unwind for a real steal.
Bali has some fantastic resorts
And, when I looked around, asked and haggled, the prices were really convenient and it was a real budget destination where it was easy to splurge without breaking the bank.
All in all, my impression is that tourism has had an overly negative impact on Bali and I am afraid that this once beautiful island has lost much of its character and its uniqueness for the sake of mass tourism. While I understand that tourism can give the local economy a huge boost (again, I shall point out I am from Sardinia and tourism is the biggest revenue here), I appreciate the need to protect the environment, the authenticity of a place, its culture and traditions.
I would have liked to see a more traditional, more slower pace, more cultural Bali – where people, locals and visitors alike, can still appreciate the little things in life. I would have liked to have more interaction with the locals, one that involved more than begging them not to hit me with their scooters while I tried to cross the street. I am sure there is a better Bali – I just did not get to see it, and that is a shame because it should be everywhere and not just in the hidden spots.
I really hope that the Balinese people can take the protection of their culture, traditions and environment a bit more seriously and invest in them, even as a way to attract a more responsible kind of tourism, one that has less impact on what could otherwise be a really nice place. Till the day this happens, I will prefer to stay away from it. And perhaps travel to Raja Ampat, where apparently my friend Margherita found plenty magic.
Have you been to Bali? What were your impressions on it?
HELLO, NICE TO MEET YOU!
Hi, my name is Claudia. One day I packed my life and started traveling… except I packed too much. Follow me as I fill my life with dreams, drop the weight and inspire you to live your dreams. View and download my media kit here (updated July 2019). Learn more about me here…