You know how when there’s a destination you love and keep returning to — or, you know, just laid over in the airport once — people always seem to be asking you to give advice to to their random friend, cousin or dentist about it? And so you throw together an email of your favorite spots, and save it to send out anytime someone hits you up for tips? I’m going to be honest, this post is basically a gussied-up version of that email.
Bali is an insanely popular travel destination, so it’s no surprise that I’m asked about recommendations for it often. That said, let me make it clear from the jump — I have barely gone off the beaten path in Bali, and wouldn’t dream of declaring myself a local expert (though I’d love to be!). This is not even attempting to be comprehensive, or eye-opening. These are just places and things I happened to end up at and be drawn to.
So throw on a sarong and some bangles and consider this a Basic Bitch Bali starter pack, if you will.
Here’s the scoop on me and Bali. I’ve logged four and a half weeks there over the course of three different trips, and have spent time in Canggu, Seminyak, Legian, Kuta, Uluwatu, Ubud, Nusa Dua, and Sanur.
At the end of this post, I’ll share my thoughts on where to stay and how to break up a trip. But first, a few of my favorite Bali things…
Uluwatu’s Ocean Views
Spoiler alert: I’m tragically obsessed with Uluwatu. I went spontaneously and so did all of three minutes of research before my arrival, but I ended up stumbling on a lot of gems. Uluwatu Temple is an obligatory stop, as is Suluban Cave and any of the big surf beaches. Mostly, just cruise around, enjoy the wide-open spaces and the endless cliff-top ocean vistas, and soak up the relaxed surfer vibes.
For food and drinks, head to Single Fin on a Wednesday or Sunday for a laid-back scene, and grab gorgeous smoothie bowls and other healthy fare at Bukit Café. Other spots worth a mention are Beetroot Cafe, Cashew Tree, Coco and Poke, or Nalu Bowl.
Canggu wouldn’t be Canggu without its seemingly endless array of Instagram-filtered, carefully curated hipster cafes. I adored the food — and yoga and massages — at Chillhouse, which doubles as a co-working space, so don’t be afraid to post up there with a laptop (it’s also my choice for where to stay in Canggu.) On that note, while I didn’t get to try it, Dojo Bali co-working space and cafe is high on my list for my next trip.
Betelnut gets a lot of buzz when it comes to Canggu cafes and is, in my opinion, more than worth the hype. I was also a big fan of Nalu Bowl, which has a bunch of locations. In The Raw and Avocado Café are also worth a mention. Basically, prepare to bathe in various versions of blended acai and pitaya.
Bali is famous for pampering and as a girl who can get down with some spa action, I was in heaven for it. In Thailand we are spoiled by dirt cheap, great-quality-but-zero-atmosphere massage spots, so I was really looking for a bit of sparkle when I went to Seminyak in search of an indulgent day of manicures and pedicures.
I found it at Spring Spa, which felt straight out of tropical Los Angeles. I’ll be back — and since Seminyak seems to be bursting with spas that blend Southeast Asian prices with slick Bali design and high quality services, this is a category I can’t wait to explore further.
Tabanan’s Tanah Lot Sunsets
Literally, this is the most photographed temple in Bali. And I have to admit, at first I was super underwhelmed with it. It was so touristy we essentially had to walk through a mall to get there, it was super crowded, and I was disappointed (but understanding) when I realized only Balinese people can actually enter the temple itself.
Then sunset happened. Total mic drop.
Okay, it’s worth an evening’s adventure.
South Bali’s Restaurant Scene
I’ve actually explored tragically little of Bali’s crazy array of restaurant. (My first two trips I stayed half the time in all-inclusives, and my latest trip, I stayed at a hotel and then went to a retreat that both included a lot of meals.)
But what I’ve seen of the scene? Hold me!
I’m very into the fact that South Bali has true international dining options — Motel Mexicola in Seminyak, for example, serves up delicious Mexican food with a backdrop straight out of a major metropolis. I think I started dreaming of becoming a Bali expat the second I walked through the door (Koh Tao’s lack of reliable Mexican food cut me real deep, over the years.)
Also great? Milk and Madu — they have incredible lava stone pizza, not to mention a bitchin’ brunch menu, fresh healthy options, and a gorgeous garden in which to enjoy it.
And let’s face it — you can’t go to Canggu without having at least a drink at La Laguna. This gypsy-inspired beach club on the border of Berawa and Batu Belig is like something out of a fairy tale.
I can’t wait to come back for their infamous Sunday Market someday!
Finally, while I’m not really a Kuta kinda girl, the breakfast buffet at Feast in Kuta still stands out as one of my favorite hotel breakfast events ever — it’s definitely on my list of places to return to, to see if it’s as good as I’ve hyped it up to be in my memory.
Ubud’s Back-To-Nature Adventures
So, Ubud Monkey Forest and the rice terraces in Ubud are just kind of two of those places you like, have to go to. I mean, I know there are people who are super proud of themselves for going to Paris and not going to the Eiffel Tower but I am not about that life.
With the Monkey Forest, it’s worth getting there first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds, and with the rice terraces, it’s definitely worth doing a bit of research to figure out where you want to go (as you can imagine, there are a few!) Bring small change to both — you’ll be hit up to buy monkey food (and you’ll probably need it if you want that iconic shot of them on your shoulder) and pay lots and lots of random admission charges to cross bridges and whatnot at the terraces (just pay up and don’t let it ruin the experience.)
I really enjoyed both places but they weren’t what really made Ubud for me. Actually, on my last visit I found downtown Ubud pretty overwhelming — so many tour groups and buses crammed into one little space didn’t really give off that zen atmosphere people flock to Ubud to find.
Luckily, I do know where to find that zen — The Alaya, right in central Ubud, is a total peaceful escape and one of my favorite hotels ever. And it just so happens to be right around the corner from Yoga Barn, one of the practice’s true meccas, and Zen Spa, a cute, affordable little place to spend an afternoon surrounded by frangipanis.
Finally, if you’re looking for a little action, check out the area’s white water rafting opportunities. I went rafting on the Ayung River, which is just about twenty minutes outside Ubud and super chill. While it wasn’t terribly adventurous, it was stunning, and I loved floating through such a beautiful slice of the jungle.
Next time I’d like to try a trip to the Telaga Waja, which is a bit further away but is meant to have a little bit wilder rapids.
Canngu and Seminyak Nightlife
I’ll start by admitting I’ve never been out in Kuta, which is definitely one of Bali’s nightlife hubs, as far as I understand.
I have, however, logged a fair number of after-dark hours in Canggu, where I stuck to a fairly reliable routine of drinks and dancing at Old Man’s, followed by after-hours drinks at Sandbar, which is less a sandbar and more a slippery, wet, cliff bar perched precariously on some ocean-edge rocks. Basically a super safe place people for drunk people to congregate in the wee hours! Deus and Pretty Poison are also a lot of fun.
Canggu nightlife reminds me of a slightly hipper and buzzier version of Koh Tao nightlife of old, before things tamed down significantly — you could definitely spend the night barefoot at those two locations and I don’t think anyone would bat an eye.
Seminyak nightlife is a bit more polished and urban, providing a nice contrast. The venues are a little more sophisticated and everyone is still a little more dressed up, but it’s still not the big trashy megaclubs of Kuta. I love La Favela for a late night dance party, but during the day head to Potato Head or Finn’s for a Vegas-like day club with a tropical twist.
So, Where To Stay?
The short version: Canggu and Uluwatu are my favorites, Seminyak and Ubud are runners up.
The long version: Canggu is the hipster spot in Bali, home to beautiful yogis, enterprising digital nomads, and sexy surfers, so it will come as no surprise that I love being there and creeping on/aspiring to be all those types of people. It’s like the Brooklyn of Bali. Seminyak is buzzier and a bit more developed and polished, but still hip — think Lower Manhattan. Legian and Kuta are meh — I had a great time when I stayed in Kuta thanks to a plush hotel booked on points, but I wouldn’t rush back. It’s the Midtown of Bali, full of fast food restaurants and tourists, in this case of the Australian variety.
Nusa Dua is fine if you want to post up in an international chain hotel or a gargantuan resort, but don’t expect to fall in love with the magic of Bali over there. Sanur I’ve never stayed overnight in but I’ve been to several times to catch boats to and from other islands and one time to jetski. It’s pretty family-oriented and bland and I wouldn’t purposely go back.
Uluwatu, I absolutely adore. It’s like a vacation from a vacation — dramatic cliffs, big waves, dreamy views, a little more rural but still with that “it” factor.
Ubud has its moments but it’s been a bit loved to death — on my last trip I was overwhelmed by the number of tourists and unimpressed with the market and the congested downtown area. I think the magic here is in getting out a bit, where you have some room to explore and breath.
In my dream life, I’d have a villa in Canggu and a weekend bungalow in Uluwatu, and occasionally escape to Ubud for a yoga class amid the rice terraces. Ideally, I’d split a trip among those three spots (perhaps swapping Canggu for Seminyak if that’s more your scene.)
I’ve had a few friends who are beach snobs go to Bali and leave unimpressed — it’s true that much of the coastline here is rocky and has darker sand, or is like a million stairs away from you (in the case of the Bukit Peninsula). If you are looking for pristine white sand beaches and crystal blue waters with easy access I’d head over to Gili Trawangan, Nusa Penida or Nusa Lembongan, which are a short boat ride away and I’ve spent extensive time on.
And… Where to Next?
Okay, fellow Bali lovers! I shared my favorites, I can’t wait to hear yours. I know I’ve only scratched the surface of what this gorgeous island has to offer. You all never cease to amaze me with your travel advice, so go ahead and wow me — I’ll compile all comments into a guide for my next trip.
Love and Miss You, Bali…
I always loved the idea of Bali because it’s touristed but not too much (in the right places lol) so there’s western comforts if you wanted them, and it’s far away but has alovely convenient airport, and has beautiful nature but also all the comforts of living in an urban area. It seems to me it would kind of be the best of both worlds. I haven’t had a chance to read your other recent posts until just now, but I read them all! And I wanted to comment here because it’s the new post, but I also wanted to say your other post about Bali was beautiful! Whether you end up moving to Bali one day or not you can always appreciate the beauty of the island and also rest easy knowing you’re loving your mom up as much as possible <3
Thank you so much Ijana <3 You hit the nail on the head about Bali -- and everything else.
Loved that post – a lot of my faves are on it!
Next time you’re on Bali, go for a dive from Amed – we loved the Geri shanti bungalows and it’s shore diving. Especially if you are catching a ferry from Padang bai to the Gili’s or Lombok as Amed is en route.
Lovina up in the north is also beautiful and that beach is true volcanic black rock BUT you can take out a small boat and go chasing dolphins. It’s amazing. My brother loved Uluwatu, just kept staying. I do love a pretty white sand beach but I love more the whole Bali surf scene and the villa pool and beach club vibes. If you just want to chill and sunbathe, there are plenty of awesome options for that without worrying about the actual beaches. I LOVE Bali!
Ha, you’ll read about my aborted mission to Amed in an upcoming post 😉 I SO need to get there someday.
One of my favorite spots in Bali was Munduk, up in the mountains. It’s so different from anywhere else I’ve been there, and very quiet and uncrowded, with more traditional Balinese culture. A bit cooler too. Highly recommended!
Nice! That sounds lovely — adding to my list!
Next time you’re in Cannggu make sure to hit up La Brisa – it’s AMAZING. The Spring Spa in Canngu is also fantastic!
Love these recommendations! Keep ’em coming!
Thank you for this beautiful post! Love the photos!
You’re so welcome, girl!
Aww! I love your post Alex!
I absolutely adore Bali! I’ve been three times now, and I always stay a couple of weeks every time I go. I’ve experienced different parts of Bali but for me, Ubud is the place to be,’cos I’m one of those awkward people who actually doesn’t like tropical beaches!
I know. I’m crazy!
However, the last time I was there, we stayed in a lovely resort about 10 minutes from the Monkey Forest, and it was adorable.
We rented a house. In the middle of a rice paddy. And we loved it.
In fact, it was so out there, that we actually had a local man who would sleep outside the house at night to keep an eye on the monkeys as they would occasionally just leap over the wall and take off with your cup of tea if you weren’t careful!! 😀
Ha, that sounds magical! I can’t agree with you on beaches (clearly, I’m obsessed), but I DO love that you take nice long stretches to travel.
One of my favorite mornings in Bali was spent walking up the coast from Seminyak all the way to Tanah Lot. There are lots of smaller temples along the way and a few nice beaches. Make sure to go at low tide though or there are a few spots you won’t be able to pass. You won’t see many people until you arrive at the temple.
Whoa Kelly, that sounds amazing! I am ALL ABOUT crazy long walks on the beach. This is totally added to my to-do list!
Honestly, Bali and Indonesia were never crazy high on my bucket list until recently. My aunt went for a yoga retreat and had nothing but high remarks. Seeing your recent posts and photos, combined with everything my aunt had to say, are causing Bali to creep higher and higher up my list. Thanks for sharing, as always!
You’re so welcome! I have two more Bali posts to come… love these tropical vibes peeking into my day!
Everytime I see photos of Bali I’m thinking I could go there. When I read about how busy it gets I lose interest. I’m curious about the new “up-and-coming” island Sumba. Apparently, it’s similar to Bali without the crowds!
I for sure need to explore more of Indonesia! I’ve really only been to Bali, Lombok, the little surrounding islands, and the Sugi Islands (up near Singapore.)
Bali looks like a “yoga haven” now. Many years ago, my friend, from Southern California went to Bali and he wasn’t blown away either. (He’s not a snob, 🙂 but it just didn’t click with him).
I’ve had a few friends not really fall in love with Bali, and they were all the ones who did it super five star, fancy resort style! The people who seem to really love it are traveling more mid-range. I think you experience more of what makes Bali, Bali in that way.
Bali feels like a place you either love or hate. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over there, but I think I’ll be one of the ones to love it, as long as it’s a mellow experience. The monkeys sound adorable and the beaches look pristine and relaxing. Whether I get there or not, I love posts like this and want to say thank you for compiling such an awesome list!
Thanks Marni 🙂 It was fun to do a different kind of post!
Bali is in my bucket list! BUT, we’re already planning to go there by next year!!!!! Lovely photos though!
That’s amazing Kyra! Where in Bali are you headed?
Great post, I didn’t know much about Bali, so was just looking around. Loved reading it, and some beautiful pictures. keep sharing.
Thanks so much for reading. Hope to return to Bali soon!
Awesome post Alex!! Didn’t know Bali was this beautiful, definitely gonna add Bali to my travel bucket list.
It is a magical island — I can’t wait to get back.