Planning a first trip to Bali can be quite overwhelming. There are so many hotels and villas and things to do ! After many trips to the Island of the Gods I’ve put together this overview of Bali to help you plan your first, or even subsequent visit and make life a little easier.
Like many people we avoided Bali for years, thinking it was over-run by feral bogans as per the relentless reporting in the Australian press. Thankfully back in 2011 retired Sydney friends convinced us to stay with them at their second home in Canggu and they gave us a fabulous bespoke overview of Bali. We were immediately hooked and have since returned many times.
Yes there is a pocket around Kuta that isn’t really our cup of tea but to be honest it’s still not that bad compared to some places. It doesn’t have the in-your-face sex industry of Thailand, nor the ‘war on drugs’ genocide of the Philippines. Unlike the rest of Islamic Indonesia Bali is Hindu so there is something quite magical about the temples and offerings and the Balinese culture. The people are gentle, happy souls, there are stunning landscapes and vistas, heaps to do and the BEST RESTAURANTS IN THE WORLD ! Big Call I know but seriously there are some incredible bars, restaurants and accommodation offerings that cater to everyone and everything. It’s a 5.5 hour flight from Brisbane and only 3.5 from Perth, and it (can be) cheap !
If I write everything I love about Bali and all my favourite places its going to end up being a VERY long post so this story will serve as an initial overview of Bali with more content to come over the coming weeks. I may even be able to convince a few friends to contribute some of their expert knowledge 😉
Future topics will include :
- drinking and dining
- neighbouring islands
What area to stay in Bali
If its your first visit I would try to stay at a couple of different locations for a few nights each but don’t venture too far. It all might look close on a map but the traffic and roads can make it slow going. The most popular places are :
- Seminyak – affectionately known as ‘The Yak’. This is largely an upscale beachside area where all the high-end shops and cafes are located along with some truly incredible bars and restaurants. The playground for the local expats I always try to spend at least 3 or 4 days in Seminyak every trip.
- Best for – Shopping, cocktails, sunsets and amazing bars and restaurants
- Canggu – just north of Seminyak this is where you will find all the Bondi/Byron type hipsters and iconic spots such as Echo Beach and the Canggu Club. Its grown significantly in recent years but it still retains a laid back carefree vibe and one of our favourite parts of Bali.
- Best for – Surfers, yoga, organic cafes, sunsets, people watching, scooter crashes
- Kuta/Legian – as previously mentioned home to the bogans, backpackers and more budget conscious travelers. It can be crowded and there are a lot of touters so we tend to avoid it although there are some good value accommodation, shopping and casual eating options that seem to make a lot of people happy.
- Best for – cheap beer, Bintang singlets, drink spiking, beach touters, hair braiding, sunsets & nightclubs
- Nusa Dua – often where many first timers end up as this is home to all the large chain hotels and resorts which are set in compounds among beautiful gardens. The beach here is quite nice but really, you could be anywhere. Dining and shopping options are mostly limited to your hotel.
- Best for – families who want kids clubs, tour groups, people who dont really like Asia
- Jimbaran – around the corner and very similar to Nusa Dua only probably more expensive. Lots of Honeymooners and very overpriced beachfront seafood restaurants.
- Best for – Honeymooners or people with buckets of money who can afford to stay holed up at the Four Seasons the entire trip
- Sanur – a laid back beachside village that is popular with families and older people with a protected reef and a nice flat boardwalk along the beach. Some great Warungs ( local cafe’s) and bars on the sand. It’s also where the fastboats leave for Nusa Lembongan so we often stop a night of two before heading over there.
- Best for – families and older people who like safe walking surfaces, watersports lovers, good cheap beachfront food, people transiting to/from Nusa Lembongan
- Bukit Peninsula the southern most region of Bali that is essentially a big rock with little or no water. Some amazing surf beaches and beach clubs as well as some famous cliff top resorts and bars. Again worth a few days if you’ve got the time but you will need a car or driver as it’s not really a village but more a series of bays and beaches with the famous Uluwatu temple at the very end.
- Best for – amazing clifftop vistas, white sandy surf beaches, incredible wedding venues
- Ahmed/Candidasa – situated in the north/north-east and an area we are yet to get to. Black volcanic beaches which I’m not a big fan of ( they are super hot!) but apparently some good snorkeling and much quieter than the southern parts of Bali.
- Best for – getting away from the crowds, snorkeling
- Ubud – the once famous artist colony in the hills an hour from Seminyak/Kuta, Ubud is now also home to a thriving restaurant and gallery scene with a number of very upscale resorts and Villas including the incredible Four Seasons and Viceroy. Lots to see and do so always worth a few days.
- Best for – art, nature, food, outdoor sports such as biking ,rafting & hiking, animals, hippie pants
Accommodation choices in Bali
There are 4 main styles of accommodation in Bali :
- Large hotels and resorts – all the big names and many less known ones as well
- Small boutique hotels – often quite private and some don’t cater for children
- Villas – some in largish complexes and others are stand alone
- Budget accom – backpackers and flashpackers and some home stays as well