Known as the Island of the Gods, Bali has seduced travellers with its gorgeous beaches, ancient temples and serenity for centuries...
The beautiful island of Bali is on nearly every traveller's wish list. With return flights starting from as little as £300, it’s far easier and more affordable than most people think to visit the Island of the Gods. Here are seven reasons to book that last minute flight right now...
As you’d expect of a tropical island paradise, there is no shortage of spectacular beaches in Bali. Some are alluring stretches of soft white sands. Others are dazzling strips of silver or black, a reminder of the island’s volcanic nature. Surfers flock to the beaches of Bukit peninsula, pitting their skills against the technical reef breaks at Uluwatu. Snorkelers head to Pemuteran in the north west. The long empty black sands of Lovina in the north get a little chaotic in the morning as tourists return from sunrise dolphin tours, but is otherwise deserted.
For the perfect introduction to Bali’s beaches and their many moods, head to Canggu, an upcoming coastal village, between Seminyak and Tanah Lot. Backed by rice fields, it boats five distinct beaches, each with its own particular character. Berawa is a gentle surf beach, perfect for swimming and wading. Nelayan is largely undeveloped, with local fishing boats dragged up on the shore. Batu Bolong is the busiest, with lots of cheap and good warungs (local restaurants), a temple at the south end and countless bars to enjoy enjoy the sunset. Finally, you’ll come to Echo Beach and Pererenan, where the waves are wild and surfers come to tame the legendary reef breaks.
Situated in the centre of Bali and surrounded by rice terraces, Ubud has always been the spiritual heart of Bali. Its otherwoldly serenity has lured artists and those looking for spiritual peace for centuries. Today, it is a little busier - you’ll have no problems finding a wellness spa, a herbal cafe or a vegetarian restaurant - but if you follow a path into the rice fields on the outskirts of town, you’ll soon be in a world that seems largely untouched by time.
That timelessness is most apparent in the spectacular rice terraces here. Built on the principle of subak, a traditional Balinese co-operative irrigation system, the terraces are both practical, beautiful and an integral part of the landscape. The terraces at Tegallalang are the most famous – three gorgeously stepped paddies, shaded in a multitude of greens. The terraces around the villages of Pejeng and Campuhan are beautiful too, and less visited.
Whether you eat in a world-class restaurant in one of Bali’s five-star resorts, or chow down, sitting on a plastic chair beside one of the island’s ubiquitous street hawkers, you’re in for a real treat eating in Bali. Simple but tasty, using only the freshest ingredients, it is the pinnacle of Indonesian cuisine, but with its own special twists.
Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice) and sate lembat (Bali’s take on the classic grilled meat on a stick) are popular staples. Bebek betutu (slow cooked duck) is a special ceremonial dish you need to order 24 hours in advance and babi guling (suckling pig) is a rare pork treat in Muslim Indonesia. Can’t decide? Head to the street food stalls at Gianyar Night Market and sample a little bit of everything.
Bali is also one of the best places in South East Asia to enjoy vegetarian and vegan food, with Ubud and Canggu a great place to start. There is a strong raw food scene too, each dish a riot of tropical colours, arranged and presented like works of art, and bursting with flavour and goodness. In Ubud, try the Seeds of Life Cafe and Alchemy – their raw Bounty Bar is a real treat. In Canggu, Banana Leaf and the Spicy Coconut are the pick of a very strong selection.
In Bali, wellness is natural part of daily life. Each morning starts with quiet contemplation, a delicate gift to the Gods placed at tiny shrines in family compounds, on street corners in larger temples. And not just in the serene valleys or beaches, but on the dusty streets on Kuta and Denpassar as well. Just being in Bali, you can’t help but be touched by the serenity and spirituality of the local people.
The island has always led the way in offering visitors ways to improve their physical and mental well-being; from meditation schools to yoga studios, all set in the most peaceful and serene locations on the planet. Spa treatments are also offered right across the island, from the 5-star resorts of Nusa Dua or COMO Shambhala Estate to smaller private practices in the hills around Ubud. Applying influences of Ayurveda and Chinese acupressure philosophy, Balinese massage is known the world over for its soothing and relaxing qualities.
Take the time to pamper yourself. Enjoying a relaxing Balinese massage, overlooking rice fields or in the shadow of a volcano, is an experience you will never forget.
There are over 20,000 temples in Bali, most set in picture-postcard locations on the island. The ancient Hindu shrine of Tanah Lot sits on a rocky outcrop, surrounded by crashing waves. Uluwatu sits atop a cliff on the Bukit Peninsula, a popular spot with Instagrammers at sunset and the venue for the spectacular Kecak dance, a goosebump-inducing clamour of fire and chanting.
Others, like Gunung Kawi, sit deep in the midst of verdant rice terraces, carved into the cliffs beside the sacred Pakerisan River. Or on the side of mountains, like Lempuyang Temple, Bali’s oldest and most highly regarded temple. Some, like Goa Gajah, the Elephant Cave, incorporating an intricately carved face around its entrance, have been providing sanctuary since the 9th Century.
The one thing that they all have in common is that they are all living, breathing centres of worship. Each day people leave Canang sari, small parcels of food and flowers, that they give in thanks for peace in their world. Remember to dress modestly and ask permission to enter some of the smaller ones.
Bali isn’t just about indulging yourself. You can challenge yourself too, with plenty of exciting activities that will get the blood pumping and take you to hidden corners of the island you may not have otherwise seen.
White water rafting and canyoning has become increasingly popular and is a beautiful introduction to the island’s wilder side. Ayung River has II-III rapids, the Melangit River boasts more than 30 falls and the Telaga Waja River will see you sliding along waterfalls, past rice terraces, winding gorges and tropical rainforest. The downhill mountain bike tour from Mount Batur to Ubud is breathtaking too, a freewheeling blast through coffee and vanilla plantations, rice fields and traditional Balinese villages
Hikers are spoilt for choice. There are trails around Tamblingan and Buyan lakes, as well as a four hour hike through ancient rainforests, starting at Mount Lesung. A more adventurous option is climbing Mount Batur, where your reward is an unparalleled view across a vast lake and Kinamani.
Or maybe you’d like to watch the sun rise from the top of an active volcano. Climbing Gunung Agung is definitely one for the wish list. Not only is the view across the crater at dawn unforgettable, your journey begins in the most magical way as you wind your way through the ancient Pasar Agung Temple to the trailhead just behind.
Art and culture have always been important in Bali, an essential element in both daily and spiritual life. Each year the island hosts a series of festivals and events to celebrate this integral part of the island’s soul.
The Bali Spirit Festival, held every March, celebrates the island’s focus on well-being with a week of yoga, meditation, healing workshops and vegan cooking. The Gianyar Art & Cultural Festival in April celebrates traditional art, music and costumes. The Ubud Writers Festival features both local and international authors and the Bali Kite Festival, held on the beach at Sanur in August, is a riot of colour and fierce competitiveness.
With over 20,000 temples and countless religious festivals, chances are you’ll stumble upon a celebration of Bali’s religious and artistic heritage somewhere along the way. Many temples and resorts host regular gamelan performances or traditional dances like the Kecak Fire dance at Uluwatu. And if you’re in Denpassar for in March, you may even get caught up in the annual Omed Omedan kissing festival. Just pucker up and go with the flow.
With return airfares starting from as little as £300, Bali is more affordable than you think, especially if you book last minute...
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