There’s a reason why Bali is an ultra-popular tourist destination – it’s spectacular. And lucky for those of us who are based in China, Bali can be shockingly inexpensive to fly to. If you’re willing to brave the seven(ish)-hour flight to reach Indonesia’s most popular little island, you’ll no doubt be rewarded in spades.
Bali might be a relatively small island, but it is jam-packed with unique and amazing places to visit. From lush rice terraces to remote tropical islands to unreal turquoise beaches, Bali really does have something for everyone.
1. Nusa Lembongan
The view (of a volcono) from one of Lembongan's bungalows.
Nusa Lembongan is a rugged little island located off the southern coast of mainland Bali. It might only be 30 minutes away (by boat) from the chaos of touristy Kuta and Seminyak beaches, but it feels like it’s worlds away. Lembongan has long been a popular spot for backpackers and budget travelers, but in recent years the island has appeared on the radar of international travelers (including China).
Despite its growing popularity, Lembongan still a blissfully mellow place. This is the ideal spot in Bali to rent a cliffside bungalow (complete with amazing volcano and ocean views, see above), surf epic waves and snorkel with giant manta rays.
2. Nusa Penida
Nusa Penida is another naturally gorgeous Balinese island. It's located a mere 10-minute boat ride from Nusa Lembongan but for some reason shockingly few tourists go there. The island is fringed by pristine coral reefs and is best known for its excellent diving and snorkeling. But what a lot of people don’t know is that Nusa Penida has so much more to offer travelers. It might just be Bali's best kept secret.
Because Nusa Penida doesn’t see as many tourists as other areas on Bali, the only way to get around is by renting a scooter. The roads are crude and confusing, so you will get lost – but it’s all part of the adventure. There are unreal hidden beaches (see above), sheer cliffs dropping into the ocean, natural pools and secret waterfalls. The people who live on Nusa Penida are also incredibly friendly. And given the fact that the island is still largely off the tourist radar, Nusa Penida feels like the Bali that existed back in the ‘70s.
When most people think of Bali, they think of the movie (and book) Eat Pray Love. Well, the whole craze started, and lives on, in Ubud. Ubud might be one of the biggest tourist hubs on Bali, but there’s a good reason why. It has it all from ornate temples to emerald-green rice terraces to hip cafes. The Tegalalang Rice Terraces (pictured above) are incredible and are located a 10-minute drive from the city center. It’s best to visit in the early morning to avoid the crowds and the brutal midday heat.
Right down the street from the rice terraces there is a little place where you can sample the world-famous luwak coffee. There are also a number of creative teas and coffees to try – think white chocolate coffee and mangosteen tea. There is no end of things to do in and around downtown Ubud – go temple hopping, shop till you drop at the trendy boutiques and local markets, or just chill at one of the many cafes or health-conscious restaurants.
Located just up the coast from the debaucherous nightclubs of Kuta and the swanky resorts of Seminyak is a surfer town called Canggu. And Canggu is the new 'it' place in Bali. It sprawls along eight kilometers of wide swaths of black sand beaches. The huge waves make it popular with surfers. Because there are a handful of beaches scattered around the area, there are breaks to suit all levels.
Canggu is also chock full of trendy cafes and some of the best (and affordable) international restaurants in Bali. You can sample everything from authentic Lebanese to Vietnamese to Mexican here. Along with beaches, Canggu is also famous for its stunning green rice paddies and up-and-coming street art scene.
Uluwatu is home to some of Bali’s best waves and is therefore an ultra-popular spot for surfers. But it is well worth a visit even if you’re not interested in hanging ten. There are numerous postcard perfect beaches dotting the area: Suluban, Padang Padang and Pandawa are all insanely beautiful beaches. Suluban (pictured above) is probably the most famous of the bunch. It's not all that suitable for swimmers, but it is a great spot to chill with a Bintang (a popular Indonesian beer) and watch the surfers from one of the many cliffside bars.
Uluwatu is also home to one of Bali’s most famous temples: Uluwatu Temple. This 11th century pagoda is perched 70 meters above the ocean on a towering limestone cliff. It’s a remarkable spot, and as an added bonus there are tons of monkeys hanging around. But be careful because they will steal your stuff!
6. Gili Trawangan
Not technically Bali, but due to its proximity to the mainland, Gili T (as it’s commonly referred) deserves a mention. It’s possible to get here from mainland Bali in roughly two hours via the frequent fast boats departing from Padangbai. Gili T is actually one of three tiny islands that radiate off the northwestern coast of Lombok, Indonesia. Measuring only three kilometers, Gili Trawangan is the largest of the bunch. The island is popular among backpackers and is a well-known party spot, but if partying’s not your thing, fear not. The island attracts all types of travelers, and is a great spot to just relax for days – or even weeks.
The island is so small and flat, it’s possible to circumnavigate in just two hours. Around the island you’ll find turquoise swimming beaches (with unbelievably clear water) and offshore snorkeling (sea turtles are a common sight). There are no cars or scooters allowed on the island. Most get around using bicycles. It seems like the entire island bikes to the island’s famous sunset spot every evening to watch the sun sink behind Bali’s Mount Agung volcano (pictured above). If you’re headed to Gili T, don’t miss out on its unreal sunsets.
[Images via Travel-Lush.com]