The Indonesian island of Bali has long commanded a position in the upper echelons of popular tourist destinations. Fusing incomparable mystic wonder with world-beating luxury, it’s easy to see why.
A trip to the Island of the Gods should be one to remember, so to help with your planning, here are nine of the best things to do while you’re there.
Visit some temples
Bali’s documented history has been tied to Hinduism for over a thousand years. Its relative isolation, combined with Indonesian laws, fostered a unique form of the religion called Balinese Hinduism. The fruits of this vibrant religion are clear to see in the form of Bali’s mesmerizing temples.
At least one temple visit should feature in your Bali itinerary, but make time for a few if you can. You won’t regret it. Gunung Kawi is a stunning 11th-century temple and funerary complex featuring shrines carved into the imposing cliffs. Lempuyang Temple is another excellent option – one you’ve likely seen on Instagram thanks to its iconic Gateway to Heaven. The 1,000-year-old Tirta Empul offers visitors the chance to be cleansed in sacred water, while the even older Uluwatu is possibly the most spectacular religious site owing to its location on a 230-foot cliff.
Whether you’re a mountain goat or have never laced up your boots, add a hike to your Bali plans. The landscape is breathtaking and only fully appreciated with a little added effort on your legs’ part. From waterfall trails to early morning volcano treks, you’re unlikely to find another opportunity like it.
The most iconic hike on the island is the Mount Batur Sunrise climb. Did we mention Batur is an active volcano? You’ll need to head off around 3 am, so pack a headtorch and prepare to be stunned by Bali at its best. The peak is 5,650 feet above sea level, gifting views of Mount Agung across caldera lake and beyond. It’s an unforgettable experience. If you have waterfalls in mind, head to Sekumpul. It’s less popular than some other sites, so you might have the 262-foot cascade to yourself. It’s an easy hike, so swimming in the perfect water is the main draw.
Experience a festival or ceremony
Going hand in hand with Bali’s extensive array of temples, the island is home to many ceremonies and festivals you’re unlikely to ever come across again. Tourists need to make themselves aware of any crossovers they may have with these events, as some may impact travel, like Nyepi – a full day of silence when nothing opens, and visitors are expected to stay at home.
With that said, the ten days before Nyepi are full of celebration and ceremony. You might spot demonic statues paraded in the street or the post-celebration kissing festival. Galungan and Kuningan is another ten-day festival celebrating the triumph of good versus evil. It’s more than worth planning your trip to coincide with an event.
Visit a Beach Club
Hanging at the beach is great. Hanging at the beach in Bali is better. Hanging at a beach club in Bali is best. The Island of the Gods is home to a multitude of clubs where visitors can grab a lounger, take in the sun, and have cocktails delivered at the snap of a finger (don’t actually snap your fingers, heathen).
These beach clubs are part of the reason Bali is the popular tourist destination it is today. For locals, ex-pats, and glamorous travelers, they’re often the place to see and be seen. For others, they’re the perfect family beach trip – the kids are in a safe, enclosed area of the beach, and Mum and Dad are knee-deep in Pina Coladas; everybody wins.
Nowadays, they’ve expanded their services to include things like gyms, spas, and other amenities with monthly memberships, transforming them into social hubs for the areas. Some popular spots include Sundays, Potato Head, and Single Fin. Eat, drink, relax, or party the night away.
Retreat for the day…or a week
Bali has always been a mystical place, but ever since Julia Roberts waltzed through in Eat, Pray, Love, spirituality has become synonymous with the island.
Bali is unequaled if you have a penchant for meditation, a yearning for yoga, or you’re simply a massage maniac. Experiences are found across the length and breadth of the island, from silent retreats to meditation masterclasses; there’s nowhere better for some introspection. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, give it a go – you never know what you’ll learn.
Catch a wave
If you’ve been lying on the beach too long, get up and grab a board. Bali is one of the world’s best surf spots – perfect for beginners and seasoned pros alike. The sport arrived in Bali in the thirties when an American photographer visited and eventually set up a hotel in Kuta Beach. As with many destinations, surfers were decades ahead of the game.
The island’s southern coast is perfect for surfing, but various breaks can be found all over the island. While surfing is possible year-round in Bali, the dry season between May and September is the most popular, thanks to the legendary waves on the west coast. If you’re new, sign up for some lessons. You can rent a board and coach by the hour and get yourself standing on a wave in no time. Kuta is known for its reliable waves and long beach, making it perfect for beginners, so start your search there.
Meet some hairy locals
Some of the cutest inhabitants of Bali are the Balinese Longtailed Macaques. These hairy little monkeys are best seen in the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud. About 900 monkeys live in the sanctuary, leaping, swinging, and climbing through the lush greenery. To add to the surreal environment, the sanctuary is also home to three breathtaking temples.
Visitors can explore the park for a small fee, getting up close and personal with the monkeys. Be careful, though. The macaques have long lost their fear of humans and might grab at anything they think is food. Park rangers advise guests not to pull away from any monkey, as they may act aggressively. Regardless, it’s a stunning day out with a fantastic species.
Explore the rice terraces
As you travel across Bali, you’ll notice some odd patterns in the fields. The picturesque terraces are manufactured agricultural systems for growing the island’s most important crop – rice. While intended as solely practical, the structures are a sight to behold, and tourists now swarm to the prettiest of them.
Tegalalang is the most popular on the island, and for good reason. Its green and brown contours are ridiculously satisfying to the eye, and its valley-like structure makes it all the more dramatic. If you’re willing to fight the crowds, you’ll also find the iconic Bali swing nearby. It’s a Unesco site, so do try and learn a little about the terraces too. They’ve been farmed this way for a thousand years.
Get off the island
Maybe not the advice you’d expect in a “What to do in Bali” piece, but it’s a solid piece of advice. Bali has more than enough to sustain a multi-week trip, but with so many other islands in striking distance, it’d be a shame not to branch out a little.
The closest destination to Bali is the Gili Islands. Just off the coast of Lombok island, the idyllic trio is laced with crystal waters, hanging palms, and white sand. While the islands’ popularity is growing each season, the local government is doing what it can to cling to the laid-back and undeveloped lifestyle on the island. But that may dwindle – so get there soon.
For further adventures, take a boat tour to the island of Komodo – home of the eponymous dragon. It’s under heavy restrictions to help protect both the island itself and its endangered inhabitants, so treat it with respect. The only way to access Komodo is with an organized tour, and you can’t stay overnight.