A friend of mine has recently asked me a question: What is it like to travel to Bali? What are the places to visit in Bali? He was confused to see so many hipster places, active communities of expats and trendy restaurants on Instagram that don’t typically resemble South East Asia from his travels in this region. I have also talked about my experience in Bali with another friend of mine, and it seemed like we were on two completely different islands.
So, this question is actually more complex than it seems as Bali might mean so many different things to many people: it can be a honeymoon destination, a place to pamper yourself, a surf camp location or a digital nomad paradise. To better understand the uniqueness of Bali, I decided to break it up for you to different areas, so that you can decide which place is the best to visit your needs.
Places to visit in Bali
Everybody will find a little sth to do when in Bali. The key is to go to a region that can offer you the most of what you want to do. If for example, you imagine yourself doing yoga overlooking the rice fields, be sure to head to Ubud or Canggu. If you end up in Kuta, you might be slightly disappointed. The same situation if you want to dance the night away and you go for example to Nusa Dua instead of Kuta.
This leads to another question, that people ask me about Bali. “I heard that Bali is quite dirty and over-touristy, is that true?”. I hate generalizations, as it all depends on where you go. There are places in Bali that are pure unspoiled nature, places that are full of tourists and places destroyed by tourism.
So, let’s have a look at different locations around Bali
Go if: you like nature, you prefer small, boutique hotels or private villas than big resorts, you feel creative, you want to relax, do yoga, pamper yourself
Don't go if: you want to do any kind of water activities, you want to party
Ubud was definitely one of my favorite places in Bali. At the beginning, I booked 3 nights there, but I liked it so much that I decided to stay 2 more!
Ubud is a little town in the center of Bali that is known for handicrafts, cultural dances, monkeys and artists that live there. Maybe it sounds funny, but yes, I mentioned monkeys first because there are probably more monkeys there than artists. Or maybe it is just my perception as for the last 2 nights I stayed in Champung Sari Hotel just next to the monkey forest.
Anyway, what is great about Ubud is not only its surrounding nature: the green rice fields, the monkey forest, the waterfall, but also its proximity to many places. Ubud is an ideal point for setting off to explore the whole region.
And if you have watched “Eat, Pray, Love” and you want to experience Bali like it was presented in the movie, Ubud is your place. Advice: rent a private villa with swimming pool instead of hotel and indulge in luxury. You can totally afford it here!
My favorite restaurants in Ubud:
Go if: you don't mind to walk to get to the wild beaches, you like surfing & surfing culture in general
Don't go if: you prefer to swim rather than surf (the waves are big), you prefer to have a beach right in front of your hotel
Uluwatu has some of the most beautiful beaches in Bali. Some of them completely unspoiled by tourists, with white sand and clear water. The only minus (or plus – depending on whether you are a surfer or not) is that the tides are high and it is quite hard to swim. Also, there are monkeys there!
My favorite restaurants in Uluwatu:
Go if: you like to party, you are on a budget, you are a surfer
Don't go if: you are on honeymoon or a hideaway
Not to do any injustice, I have to mention that I have only been to Kuta for about an hour. I walked along the main street, which looked a bit cheesy to me, with many loud discos situated very close to the hotels. This might be great if your priority is to be able to find your room after the crazy night out, but if you go on family vacations you might get quite shocked by the amount of drunk Aussies around and by how dirty the beach is. The only plus that I saw, is that Kuta is great for surfing and there is a big offering of surfing schools.
My favorite restaurants in Kuta:
Sorry, no favorites here.
Go if: you are an Instagrammer, surfer or hipster
Don't go if: you are looking for a white sand beach, if you are looking for a peaceful retreat
Seminyak is a bit of a mix of expats’ and locals’ area. It features boutique shops, hipster cafes, and fancy hotels. It is a great, more classy alternative to Kuta. It also offers the biggest amount of fine dining restaurants out of all the other locations. Seminyak is a very dynamic place, with a lot of things to do during the day and after dusk.The beach is wide, sandy and less crowded than Kuta’s beach but well… if you have been to Uluwatu, Nusa Dua or even better Gili Islands it has no comparison.
My favorite restaurants in Seminyak:
Go if: you like beach, you like peace, you like cool places
Don't go if: you are a party animal
I read somewhere that Canggu is “Ubud but next to the beach”. It mixes the best of two words – peacefulness of rice fields with a chill out beach vibe. It is also a location of my favorite restaurant – La Laguna, which is a complete gypsy madness, haha!
I suggest you stay in a private villa next to rice fields and close to the beach. Perfect place for everybody! And you can learn surfing there too!
My favorite restaurants in Canggu:
Old’s man bar
Go if: you are craving for fresh seafood
Don't go if: you are vegan or vegetarian
Jimbaran is a fishing village near Kuta that it is known for its fresh food and sea-front restaurants. And when I say sea-front I mean literally in the fist line of the beach. I even had to move my table a bit further because I was getting flooded all the time.
I was in Jimbaran only for a late dinner, so I am not sure how it is during the daytime. However, you should definitely go to dine there.There is a beach restaurant serving fresh seafood every 10 meters. And by fresh I mean you choose a living animal that will be cooked. I am not vegetarian but this was definitely too much for me to take.
My favorite restaurants in Jimbaran:
No favorites, but there are sea-front restaurants every 10 meters.
Go if: you like luxury and just want to chill at the beach or swimming pool
Don't go if: you want some action
Nusa Dua is just a big confusion for me. On one hand, it was great – we stayed at the 5-star hotel with a swimming pool of my dreams and a beach club at the clean, golden sand beach. On the other hand, it was just so separated from Balinese reality and quite a boring place.
The first night when we arrived at the hotel, I have confused the hotel with a police station. How?
Imagine a double gate with 4 guards, 2 of which had a dog. Yes, really! I mean better safe than sorry but this was just too much. And I haven’t mentioned yet the “entrance” to the town with a camera incorporated to the asphalt (to check if there is no bomb under the car) nor the scanning security gate (similar to the airport one) before entering the lobby. Wow!
Just imagine my face when the security guy with a dog opened the car and started flashing a torch to check the inside of the car. Crazy!
But as I said, there were advantages of my stay in Nusa Dua. The beach was one of the nicest in the southern region of Bali and I was soaking in luxury at the affordable price.
My favorite restaurants in Nusa Dua:
Hope this post gave you a better overview of the Island of Gods.
Just last but not least, my advice on getting around is to rent a private driver. Sounds fancy, but it is really the best and the cheapest option to move around the island. For the whole day of driving around, I paid 600 000 idr (about 40 euros), which is way cheaper than taxi.