Bali, the Pearl of Indonesia
Bali is an Indonesian island located at the east end of Java. The word “paradise” is used a lot in Bali, and not without reason. The combination of friendly, hospitable people, a magnificently visual culture infused with spirituality and (not least) spectacular beaches with great surfing and diving have made Bali Indonesia’s unparalleled number one tourist attraction.
The popularity is not without its flip sides once paradisical Kuta has degenerated into a congested warren of concrete, touts and scammers live on overcharging tourists, and the island’s visibility has even drawn the unwanted attention of terrorists in 2002 and 2005 but Bali has managed to retain its magic.
The tourism industry is primarily focused in the south, while significant in the other parts of the island as well. The main tourist locations are the town of Kuta (with its beach), and its outer suburbs of Legian and Seminyak (which were once independent townships), the east coast town of Sanur (once the only tourist hub), in the center of the island Ubud, to the south of the Ngurah Rai International Airport, Jimbaran, and the newer development of Nusa Dua and Pecatu.
Bali’s best-known attractions are its countless Hindu temples. There are an estimated 20,000 temples (pura) on the island. Even the smallest villages usually have at least three, but the nine directional temples (kayangan jagat) are the largest and most important. Uluwatu, at the southern tip of Bali, is easily accessed and hence the most popular, with Tanah Lot a close second. However, for the Balinese themselves, the “mother temple” of Besakih on the slopes of Mount Agung is the most important of all.
There are several hot springs to be discovered in Bali. One of them, along the northern coast of the island, near Lovina, is Air Panjar where stone mouth carvings allow hot water to pass between pools which are set among a lush garden. Bali is paradise for spa lovers and all sorts of treatments are widely available, but the Balinese lulur body scrub with herbs and spices ” traditionally performed before a wedding ceremony” is particularly popular. Balinese massage is usually done with oil and involves long, Swedish-style strokes. A day at any spas in Sanur, a small town on the east side of the island, is exactly what you would expect during your stay in Bali: full service treatment steeped in Balinese tradition. Take advantage of any opportunity to enjoy a spa during your stay, the cost here is at least half what you would pay in North America or Europe.
Warm waters, cheap living and reliable sets keeps Bali near the top of world surfing destinations. The southern coast, namely Kuta and the around Nusa Dua are the primary draws. Sandy beaches and a lack of dangerous rocks or coral makes the areas an attraction for beginners and more advanced surfers alike. You’ll find surf instructors lounging around the beach; a one hour lesson including board rental will cost you around $45.
Seminyak is the most upmarket of the west coast’s beaches, with high-end accommodation and mostly high-end restaurants and bars to serve its residents. The atmosphere is more rural and laid-back than Kuta, and the beach in particular is much quieter during the day. Here you must see the Petitenget Beach, a gorgeous expanse of black sand stretching in both directions as far as the eye can see. The sunsets here are famous.
Uluwatu is a small village on the west coast, south of Jimbaran, but for most visitors it refers only to the famous temple of the same name, several kilometers further south. Uluwatu Temple (Pura Uluwatu) is one of Bali’s six directional temples and Uluwatu’s only site of significance. More remarkable than the temple itself is its location, perched on a steep cliff 70 meters above the roaring ocean waves. There are more steep headlands on either side, and sunsets over Uluwatu are a sight to behold.
In central Bali, 33 km from Kuta, Ubud is above all famous as a center of arts and crafts. Half (if not more) of the town seems to consist of artists’ workshops and galleries, mostly retailing cheap reproductions for tourists, but there are some gems to be found. Museum Puri Lukisan (Museum of Fine Arts), the Monkey Forest (a forest full of ravenous monkeys), Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave – a cave, whose entrance is an ornately carved demon’s mouth), Gunung Kawi (Poet Mountain – the presumed burial complex of King Anak Wungsu and his many wives), and Tirta Empul (one of the holiest temples on Bali, built around hot springs) are the recommendations here.
Bali has a huge variety of cafes and restaurants, serving both Indonesian and international food. Try the smaller local restaurants rather than touristy ones, the food is better and cheaper.
Bali is always warm, humid and tropical. The April-October dry season and November-March rainy seasons are only relative, with plenty of rainfall around the year, but the Balinese winter is cloudier, more humid and with a higher chance of thunderstorms. A more important consideration is the tourist season, as Bali can get packed in July-August and again around Christmas and New Year’s. Australians also visit during school holidays in early April, late June and late September, while Indonesians visit during national holidays. Outside these peaks, Bali can be surprisingly quiet and good discounts on accommodation are often available.
With world-class surfing and diving, a large number of cultural, historical and archaeological attractions, and an enormous range of accommodations, this is one of the world’s most popular island destinations and one which consistently wins travel awards. Bali has something to offer to a very broad market of visitors from young back-packers right through to the super-rich, and though heavily traveled, it is still easy to find some peace and quiet if you like.