Most people visit Bali to enjoy the endless, sandy beaches and have some fun in the many bars and restaurants of South Bali. Or maybe rest and relax in Ubud with massages and some yoga or walks through the rice paddies. And that does make for a wonderful vacation. But there is a lot more to see and do on Bali, making it one of the few beach destinations that offers easy access to great historical sights or an escape into nature! Check out my recommendations for top tourist spots, attractions and things to do on Bali!
Things to See & Do: Besides the major, well known temples no Bali, each village on Bali has multiple temples, dedicated to different purposes and with a specific location in the village. That makes for a huge number of temples to see. I’ve selected a few that I found very impressive and recommend to visit! If you spend your whole vacation in developed South Bali, you’d never know how much nature there is to see the further you get away from town. To make it easy to explore with your own driver, I’ve grouped the historic and natural sights by area, into a “Western Loop”, an “Eastern Loop”, and “Around Ubud” – assuming that you are driving from South Bali or Ubud. Each will be plenty to see for a leisurely day trip!
On the “Eastern Loop”, you can start your trip with the temple Goa Gaja, the elephant cave. Arriving in the morning, you might be greated by mist rising in the early sun rays, providing a great atmosphere for your visit. After seeing the temple and enjoying a walk through the cool forest, you can continue on to Pura Bdreesakih, the largest temple complex on Bali. It’s located on the slopes of Moung Agun, the highest peak and volcano on the island! There are more than 20 temples throughout the area, giving you a lot to see! Continue on your drive towards Lake Batur. The road runs along the ridge of the mountain around the Southern end of the lake, giving you great views over the lake surrounded by mountain peaks! You can drive down to the lake front for lunch at the Kedisan Floating Restaurant. The food is basic, but service if friendly and the views are priceless. If you are not “templed out” yet, you can see Pura Ulun Danu Batur nearby. It’s one of the most important temples on Bali and consists of 9 temples, including 2 impressive, multi-tiered meru! Once you have completed your temple tour, enjoy the ride through the forests, rice fields and villages on your way back South!
The “Western Loop” takes you up to Lake Beratan. On the shores of the lake you will find what must be the most beautiful temple of Bali, Pura Ulun Danu Beratan. It’s multi-tiered meru even made it onto the Indonesian currency! Make sure to bring your camera – it’s a great spot to take photos to wow your facebook friends! From Lake Beratan, make your way to the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces. Make sure your driver knows the way or has a GPS – you will be taking small roads through the fields and forests, making for a nice ride! The rice fields are built into the mountain sides, making for an impressive sights. You can even tour them to get more information about them. There are also some restaurants in the area, making for a good lunch stop. After lunch, you continue on to Pura Luhur Batukaru. It’s one of the less visited, but not less impressive temples on Bali! You’ll see view other tourists here, giving you time, peace and quiet to appreciate the temple and the nice grounds around it! When you are done sightseeing (or contemplating life in general), you can make your trip back to your hotel after a day full of impressions from the temples in beautiful surroundings!
If you are staying in or visiting Ubud, you should make sure to spend time”Around Ubud“! Goa Gajah, mentioned above, is close to town and should be on your list. I’d also recommend to leave the busy town of Ubud for the much more serene and relaxing surroundings! Within a few minutes from the center of Ubud, you can find the Campuhan Ridge Trail. It leads through forest and fields, with great views and you can have a nice lunch at Karsa Kafe! Another, similar walk goes along the opposite side of the river you can see from the ridge, also just minutes from the center of Ubud! If you stay for the evening, you can add a Balinese Dance Performance to your itinerary for a little cultural enrichment!
If you have only one day to do sightseeing, I suggest to read my detailed reports and pick the sights you prefer. While you can combine Ubud with either of the loops, it’s difficult to combine the sights in the East and West into one trip, as most of the roads on Bali run South-North, not East-West, so you’d have to backtrack a lot!
I’d recommend to take either trip with a private driver. It will give you lots of flexibility when to go, how long to stay and where to eat! You’ll be able to go early (or late) and avoid some of the tourist groups. If there are at least 2 of you, it won’t be much more than an organized tour.
If you are solo and want to save some money, an organized tour can get you to the most popular sights as well. Unfortunately, they cram a lot into each trip and there is an inevitable stop at some overpriced souvenir or art shop! Visiting in a large group can also take away from the serenity of these temples! At least you’ll get to see a lot and even have a guide to explain the highlights!
Places to Eat & Drink: Wherever you go on Bali, you’ll never be far from places to eat or drink! So, my basic recommendation is to scout out the neighborhood of your hotel for places to go – there’ll always be a street with plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from! I like the “walk by and choose” approach to finding places: Check out the menus, chat with the staff or observe the crowd in the restaurant and you can find something you like. It does pay to sometimes get of the busiest roads and find some hidden gems!
One of those gems is Karsa Kafe, outside Ubud, with great views of the rice paddies and forest! It’s worth the hike for a great lunch! In Ubud, my favorite restaurants are Kebun Bistro for excellent food and service, Buonasera for authentic pizza and Kafe Bunute for some life music to go with your dinner!