Bali, the famed Island of the Gods, with its varied landscape of hills and mountains, rugged coastlines and sandy beaches, lush rice terraces and barren volcanic hillsides all providing a picturesque backdrop to its colourful, deeply spiritual and unique culture, stakes a serious claim to be paradise on earth.
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 a very broad market of visitors from young back-packers right through to the super-rich.
South Bali (Kuta, Bukit Peninsula, Canggu, Denpasar, Jimbaran, Legian, Nusa Dua, Sanur, Seminyak, Tanah Lot); The most visited part of the island by far, with Kuta Beach and chic Seminyak.
Central Bali (Ubud, Bedugul, Tabanan) The cultural heart of Bali and the central mountain range.
West Bali (Negara, Gilimanuk, Medewi Beach, Pemuteran, West Bali National Park). Ferries to Java and the West Bali National Park.
North Bali (Lovina, Singaraja). Quiet black sand beaches and the old capital city.
East Bali (Amed, Besakih, Candidasa, Kintamani, Klungkung, Mount Agung, Padang Bai, Tirta Gangga). Laid back coastal villages, an active volcano and the mighty Mount Agung.
Southeastern Islands (Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida, Nusa Ceningan). Quiet offshore islands in the southeast, popular for diving activities.
Kuta & Legian
The once sleepy fishing village of Kuta was discovered in the 1960s due to the sweeping, sandy beach, which is renowned for its world class surf breaks. Years of unplanned development turned it into a jumble of closely-packed pubs, raucous nightclubs, tacky restaurants, souvenir shops, juice bars, money changers, beauty parlours, surf emporiums, second-hand bookstores and budget hotels. However, a shift in strategy, new guidelines and planning, means that a gentle renaissance is now taking place and Kuta is slowly maturing. Immediately north of Kuta lies the neighbourhood of Legian, which was initially developed as an upmarket alternative to Kuta. Today, however, these two beachside villages have merged together and the similarities, such as the cheap and cheerful eateries, pubs, souvenir shops and market stalls, make it hard to distinguish the boundaries.
Situated a few kilometres north of Kuta, Seminyak has long been the lure of bohemians and jetsetters. As tourism began to escalate during the 1980s and 90s, business opportunities coupled with an escapist lifestyle attracted entrepreneurs, fashion designers and globetrotters, many of whom built their dream houses beside the rice fields. Today, these same long-term residents are building luxury villas to fulfil other people's dreams. Originally Seminyak was promoted as the peaceful option to Kuta, but these days, this hip and happening area no longer fits that description. Seminyak now lays claim to the highest concentration of independent fine-dining restaurants on the Island, together with a wide choice of vibrant bars and nightclubs, lavish spas, elegant boutiques, prestigious hotels and private holiday villas. The sweeping beach is renowned for its sunset views. A playground of the rich, Seminyak's carefree sense of luxury draws a fashionable crowd of beautiful people.
Located a few kilometres north of Seminyak, Kerobokan is conveniently close to the international restaurants and shops, yet surrounded by rice fields and the traditions of village life. Development, however, is happening fast, and the area boasts some of the most luxurious private villas on the island. The riverside village of Umalas is located in the Kerobokan district; in this desirable location, traditional Balinese houses integrate with luxury villas. The busy main road leading to Kerobokan is lined with furniture retailers, workshops, and cluttered little antique stores.
Canggu is a sleepy fishing village, but the name has become the collective term for most of the neighbouring villages within this developing area, which is located in the beautiful agricultural belt between Seminyak and Tanah Lot. Only 20 minutes drive from Seminyak this is the peaceful alternative, and many foreigners have chosen to build villas here. The area is abundant in emerald rice fields and the stunning views are enhanced on clear days by the magical sight of the mountains. Canggu is also the location of the Canggu Club, offering leisure and sports facilities including a state-of-the art gym, a 25-metre swimming pool and a tennis & squash centre. The rugged Canggu Beach is a place that most surfers will know about, with reef swells larger than those found in Kuta.
The Tabanan regency, known as Bali's rice bowl, is the most agriculturally productive area in Bali and home to the 2276-metre Mt Batukaru, the island's second highest peak. This is also where you will find the famous sea temple of Tanah Lot. Perched upon a craggy wave-lashed rock at the edge of a glistening black shoreline, this temple at probably the most photographed sight in Bali, especially at sunset. The neighbouring Nirwana Bali Golf Course was designed by Greg Norman, and voted number 1 golf course in Asia.
Jimbaran lies on the western side of Bali's narrow isthmus, a sweeping bay that curves for five kilometres from the southern side of the airport to the bushy headland that is the home of the Four Seasons Resort and the start of the Bukit Peninsula. Interestingly, Jimbaran used to be no more than a sleepy fishing village flanking a spectacular, beach. The 1990s, however, heralded the arrival of a number of 5-star hotels, and now Jimbaran is on everybody's lips and upmarket development is happening fast. Fortunately, the beach remains unspoilt and tranquil, the pace is still unhurried, the atmosphere relaxed and the sand soft and golden. The area is famous for its fresh fish and the numerous beachside seafood cafes, which run the length of the bay and serve up the catch of the day
Nusa Dua, with its immaculate white sand beaches, was the location in the early 1990s of the most ambitious resort project in Indonesia's history. Today, it presents a ribbon-wrapped package, complemented by an air of gentility and order; a tourist enclave of wide paved lanes and manicured gardens, white sand beaches, restaurants, a shopping mall, a conference centre and one of Asia's top golf courses, the Bali Golf & Country Club, to support the five-star resorts. This well-planned infrastructure sheltered the rest of Bali from the damages of mass tourism and, as a result, the hotels are the most environmentally-friendly on the island. Nusa Dua's remoteness provides the option of lower-priced long-term rental properties, ideal for expat surf enthusiasts.
The Bukit Peninsula
The Bukit Peninsula is a 140-square-kilometre, lemon-shaped, limestone tableland that dangles like a pendant upon a chain at the southernmost extremity of the island. Bukit is the Indonesian word for hill and, until recently, this dry-land outcrop was home only to seaweed farmers, fisherman, cassava farmers and a few ardent surfers. The only other industry was the mining of blocks of building stone, from inland karst quarries. There was little infrastructure, no telephones lines, no electricity and almost no surface water. Roads were limited and many of the gorgeous beaches were inaccessible. The only tourist attraction was Pura Luhur, the 11th century temple at Uluwatu, balanced on the very edge of a narrow rocky cape. Since the Millennium, however, this up-and-coming region has reinvented itself to become the most up-market destination on the island. The recipient of a great deal of media attention, The Bukit now boasts some of Bali's most opulent destination villas, glamorous private estates, and internationally-branded boutique hotels, making it the area of choice for sophisticated and discerning travellers and residents. The growing social infrastructure is expected to yield shops, spas, clubs and world-class restaurants.
Sanur was Bali's original tourist enclave. This historical village on the southeast coast is characterised by shady lanes, vine-draped coral walls, sedate leafy compounds, majestic trees and a five-kilometre shoreline within a gentle reef-sheltered lagoon, where swimming is safe and numerous watersports facilities are on offer. The island's first simple guest rooms were constructed here in the 1940s, heralding the age of modern tourism. The ambience is mellow, restful and cosmopolitan. Foreign visitors rub shoulders with the locals, chic fashion shops are bordered by traditional markets, and a plethora of hidden temples can be found squeezed in between art galleries and restaurants. Night life is low-key at this family destination.
East Bali (Gianyar - Karang Asem)
East Bali encompasses the Regency of Karangasem, an exotic royal Balinese kingdom of forests and mighty mountains, emerald rice terraces, ancient temples, mystical water palaces and gorgeous beaches. This beautiful, undeveloped area is set well away from the hustle and bustle of mainstream tourism, presenting steep headlands, sheltered coves and some of the best coral reefs and dive sites on the island. It is also where you will find Bali's mystical sacred landmark, Mt Agung. At just over 3000 metres high, Mt Agung is Bali's tallest and most revered volcano, its resplendent summit dominating much of the island.
Ubud, together with its surrounding villages, is Bali's cultural hub; home to the island's most accomplished painters, dancers, musicians, wood carvers, stone sculptors and silversmiths. Ever since the German painter, Walter Spies, settled here in the 1930s, the town has been a haven for both local and foreign artists and writers, and is now a magnet for people involved in art, anthropology, music, dance, architecture, environmentalism, mysticism, and alternative healing. Ubud offers wonderful shopping, together with pampering spas and enchanting restaurants nestled in breathtakingly beautiful locations. The town is surrounded by terraced rice fields and dramatic river gorges. In fact, some of Bali's best-known and most expensive boutique hotels and private villas are located just outside the town on the Sayan Ridge overlooking the picturesque Ayung River valley.
North Bali (Singaraja)
North Bali lies in the rain shadow of the central range of volcanic mountains isolating it from the south and making it dryer and less humid. This district is famous for its artistic heritage and dance tradition. The style of the gold and silver work, together with the weaving, pottery and instrument making are all very distinctive and unique to the area. For hundreds of years this was the part of the island that was most open to foreign influence as Chinese and Muslim traders brought their products, religion and culture through the port of Singaraja. The incredible variety of the countryside, magnificent sunsets, local traditions and artistic culture, together with the slower pace of life, makes this historical area diverse, interesting and delightful, a real contrast to the other parts of the island and well worth a visit. Lovina is a long string of coastal villages on Bali's north coast, with a variety of tourist accommodation and facilities. There are some pretty, dark-sand beaches, swimming is safe and the area is good for the snorkelling, diving and dolphin watching.
West Bali (Jembrana)
This is the least populated and least visited region of Bali. It is dominated by the West Bali National Park and a huge area of protected reserve, much of which is completely uninhabited. Both the north and south coasts of this region offer quiet beaches but of a very different nature. Those in the north fringe calm seas which are excellent for diving and snorkelling. The southern beaches are wilder and include a number of renowned surfing spots. The town of Gilimanuk on the very westernmost tip of Bali is the departure point for ferries to Java.
Uninhabited Menjangan Island is a renowned diving and snorkelling destination. This is part of West Bali National Park and boats with a guide can be chartered at Labuan Lalang just to the west of Pemuteran on the north coast.
The south coast of this region is fringed by black sand beaches and fishing villages that attract few visitors. The most well known of those is Medewi Beach. This is a surf destination but also a great place to experience laid back life in a tiny Balinese fishing village. On the north coast at Pemuteran there is a more developed but still very relaxed beach scene which centres on diving, snorkelling and marine conservation.