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.
Read more about Komodo and Rinca islands on my post “How to find heaven on earth.”
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.
Read my post “Has Bali lost its magic?”
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.
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:
- Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
- Ubud Monkey Forest and Rice Terraces
- Best of Ubud: waterfall, rice terraces and monkey forest
- Bali sunset: Uluwatu and Kecak show
- Tegalalang rice terraces, monkey forest and watersports
Visiting the temple of Ulu Watu
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 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.
These are some of the best tours of Ulu Watu:
- Bali sunset: Uluwatu and Kecak show
- Uluwatu, Tanah Loh and Jimbaran tour
- Bali full day private white sand beaches and sunset tour
Experiencing a Kecak show
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.
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.
Tickets to the show are available online:
Eating some delicious food
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.
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.
These are some of the best food tours of Bali:
Having dinner by the ocean
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.
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.
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. Find out more about cooking classes in Bali here on Cookly. 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.
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.
These are some of the best rice terraces tours of Bali:
- Ubud rice terraces, temple and volcano
- Best of central Bali: waterfall, elephant cave and rice fields
- Scenic Ubud and Kintamani volcano
- Best of Bali customized tour
- Bali countryside cycling tour
- Electric bike tour of the rice terraces
- Bali all inclusive: Ubud rice terraces, temples and volcano
- Best of Ubud: waterfall, rice terraces and monkey forest
Visiting the Elephant Cave
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 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:
Having an adrenaline rush with some water sports
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:
- Tegalalang rice terraces, monkey forest and watersports
- Ayung river rafting
- Ayung river rafting with lunch
- 2 hour surfing lesson
- Tulamben Bay beginners’ dive
- Full day snorkeling trip to Nusa Penida
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.
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.
These are some of the best biking tours of Bali:
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.
Here’s some of the best guides hikes in Bali:
- Sekumpul waterfall trek
- Mount Batur sunrise hike
- Jungle sunrise trek
- 2-day sunset and sunrise trek at Mount Batur
- Mount Rinjani 3-day trek
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.
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.
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.
To discover more about the best spa in Bali check my post “The 23 Best Spa In Bali.”
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.
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).
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.
These are some of the best hotels in Ubud:
- Komaneka at Tanggayuda Ubud has gorgeous rooms and fabulous service. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Komaneka at Monkey Forest Ubud has the ultimate location in Ubud. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Purana Boutique Resort has the some of the best service on the island and serves a scrumptious breakfast. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Ubud Dedari Villas, a lovely boutique hotel with fabulous views and comfortable rooms. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Sri Ratih Cottages, in Ubud, has a fantastic pool to relax in. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Gajah Biru Bungalows, a set of beautiful cottages around a lush garden. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Have you been to Bali? What were your favorite things to do in Bali?
Read more about Indonesia on my post “Fantastic things to do in Indonesia.”