Bali's natural attractions include miles of sandy beaches (many are well-known amongst surfers), picturesque rice terraces, towering active volcanoes over 3,000 meters (10,000 ft.) high, fast flowing rivers, deep ravines, pristine crater lakes, sacred caves, and lush tropical forests full of exotic wildlife.
The island's rich cultural heritage is visible everywhere - in over 20,000 temples and palaces, in many colorful festivals and ceremonies (including tooth filings and cremations), in drama, music, and dance.
You can experience Bali on many different excursions and guided tours by coach or private car, by boat or air plane. Most full day tours (about 8 to 10 hours) cost about 30 to 40 euro per person, half day tours 20 to 25 euro. These prices include a multi-lingual guide and transport in an air-conditioned private car, all entrance fees, but no meals. Which guide and driver you choose can make or break your day: be warned that those who offer very low prices tend to waste your time by showing you hardly any more than those shops which pay them a commission on your purchases.
The most important tours are:
Kintamani Volcano Tour
The first stop is often in the village of Batubulan to watch a performance of the Barong and Kris Dance. Afterwards you visit the villages of Celuk (silver jewellry) and Mas (wood carving) to see Balinese artisans at work. Ubud, Bali's cultural center, has grown to a busy town with numerous art galleries and shops. A scenic drive over small roads overlooking beautiful rice terraces brings you to the mountain village of Kintamani (about 5,000 feet above the sea) which offers spectacular views of Lake Batur and the volcano. You can cross the crater lake below the still active Mount Batur and visit the "Bali Aga" village of Trunyan. Return through traditional villages with stops in Tampaksiring to visit the temple of Tirta Empul, and to visit the Elephant Cave "Goa Gaja", a hermitage from the 11th. century used by both Buddhists and Hindus.
The "Mother Temple" and East Bali
Drive to Besakih through various villages visiting on the way a weaving factory, see the famous painted ceiling at the old "Palace of Justice" in Klungkung, and visit the school of painting in Kamasan. The "Mother Temple" in Besakih is Bali's most holy and Indonesia's biggest Hindu temple. It was build in the 11th. century in an altitude of 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) on the slopes of Mount Agung. You pass picturesque rice terraces on the way to the walled "Bali Aga" village of Tenganan, and continue to Candi Dasa on the East coast. On the way back it's recommended to stop at the famous Bat Cave "Goa Lawah" with thousands of bats hanging from the walls.
After a stop in Sangeh to visit its holy forest inhabited by wild monkeys, drive up into the mountains to Lake Bratan (1,200 meters above sea level) and the picturesque water temple Ulun Danu. Visit the busy flower, fruit and spice market in Candikuning where most of Bali's vegetables come from. Drive back through small country roads, villages and rice fields, with a stop in an artisan village specializing in gold threaded textiles (ikat) worn during important ceremonies.
Drive the scenic road via Pupuan through the mountains to Bali's North coast. You'll enjoy beautiful views of pictoresque rice terraces, and large plantations growing vanilla, chocolate, coffee, cloves, and even wine grapes. Near the village of Banjar is a popular hot spring where you can take a bath in the natural pond. After a lunch on the black beach in Lovina you pass the old capital of Singaraja on the way to Git Git, famous for its multi-tier water fall. Return over back roads to see the unspoiled Bali. This tour can be combined with the visit to Bedugul.
Monkey Forest & Tanah Lot
Visit of the royal Taman Ayun temple in Mengwi (built in 1624), the holy monkey forest near Sangeh, and famous Tanah Lot. This picturesque temple was built in the 16th. century on a huge rock 100 yards off Bali's West coast and is surrounded by the sea during high tides. Spectacular sight, however, spoiled by thousands of tourists visiting every day during sunset. To avoid these, enjoy the view from the lobby of the nearby Le Meridien Nirvana Resort.
Handicraft villages & Ubud
Visit the artisan villages of Batubulan (stone carving), Celuk (silver & gold jewelry), Mas (wood carving), and Pengosekan (painting). Stop at the "Art Market" in Sukawati to bargain for all kinds of handicrafts and textiles.
Already in the 1930s Ubud had been made famous around the world as Bali's cultural center by the German intellectual Walter Spies, the Dutch painter Rudolf Bonnet and other foreign artists who'd made it their home.
Today Ubud is a fast growing town with numerous art galleries and shops offering paintings, wood carvings, textiles, and all kinds of souvenirs. Don't miss the Museum Puri Lukisan in the center of Ubud, the Neka Museum in Campuhan, the Neka Gallery in Ubud, the Agung Rai Gallery in Peliatan, and the Agung Rai Museum in Pengosekan to see the difference between creative art and more commercial products. Problem is that when you see their "Permanent Collections" at many "Galleries" you've seen real art, and when you return to their show rooms you don't like any of the very commercial products any more.
The Seniwati Gallery - Art by Women, founded in 1991 by Mary Northmore (the very personable wife of famous painter Abdul Azis) to help Balinese women to be accepted as artists, is a place you should not miss whatever you do. The main purpose of this gallery is to expose the long understated brilliance of independent women artists resident in Bali, and to motivate, train, and encourage young Balinese girls with obvious creative gifts. Visit also the Blue Moon Studio and gallery, founded in 1994 with an emphasis on exhibiting contemporary artists.
The Lotus Café is perhaps the most popular meeting point in town and has become kind of an institution, and MURNIE'S as well as the Bridge Café offer tasty snacks and full meals in very pleasant surroundings and at reasonable prices. For other interesting restaurants please visit Restaurants in Ubud. The various dance and Wayang Kulit performances in Ubud and in nearby villages are worth spending the early evening there.
Balinese dance performances
Most performances are held in the evenings, however, you can also see some Barong Dance performances in the morning.
If you prefer to watch one of these Balinese dances performances in a hotel after a sumptuous dinner buffet, the Oberoi is recommended because of the beautiful beach front setting. More spectacular even are the Cave Nights at the Bali Cliff hotel: guests enjoy an excellent dinner buffet sitting in a large natural cave slightly above sea level and can watch a performance of the Kecak Dance on the beach below. At 40 euro and 21% per person not cheap but well worth it.
A contest between the opposing forces of chaos and destruction (Rangda) and order (Barong). Performances in Suwung and Kesiman (suburbs of Denpasar), and in Batubulan daily from 9:00 or 9:30 a.m.; in Banjar Abasan, Singapadu, daily from 9:30 a.m., and at Puri Saren in Ubud, Friday from 6:30 p.m.
Highly stylized, extremely difficult dance performed by young girls. Choreographed to the finest details, and no improvisation allowed. Performances at the Peliatan Stage, Friday from 6:30 p.m., at Pura Dalem, Puri Peliatan, Saturday from 6:30 p.m., at Pura Peliatan in Ubud, Sunday from 7:30 p.m., at Puri Saren, Ubud, Monday from 7:30 p.m., and in Banjar Tegal, Kuta, Saturday and Tuesday from 8:00 p.m.
A ritual dance created in the early 1930's for the movie "Island of the Demons" by the German painter and intellectual Walter Spiess who combined the chorus of the "Sanghyang" trance dance with a story from the "Ramayana" legend. Very impressive with its circular chorus of sometimes over 100 bare chested male singers. Performances are held at the Arts Center, Denpasar, daily from 6:30 p.m., also in Banjar Buni, Kuta, Sunday from 8 p.m., and in Banjar Tegal, Ubud, Sunday from 6:00 p.m.
Kecak & Fire dance
The Fire Dance is an exorcist dance against spirit possession. Girls in trance dance barefoot among glowing coals. Performances in Bona Kangin, Gianyar, Friday. Monday and Wednesday from 6:30 p.m. In Bonasari, Gianyar, Friday, Monday and Wednesday from 7:00 p.m., and in Batubulan, daily from 6:30 p.m.
Occasional performances in Banjar Buni, Kuta
If you are seriously interested in Balinese music and dance, you should contact the Yayasan Polos Seni (Foundation for Pure Art) in Peliatan near Ubud. They offer music and dance lessons at reasonable prices.
In the Indonesian shadow puppet play beautifully painted and gilded leather puppets are used although only the shadows are visible to the audience. The stories come from the spirit world and are full of symbolism and myth. A highly skilled puppeteer controls hundreds of puppets, speaks with a different voice for each character, and controls the musicians. Plays go on for several hours. Performances can be seen in Banjar Buni, Kuta, every Monday and Thursday from 8:00 p.m., and at Oka Kartini, Tebesaya, Peliatan, Ubud, on Saturdays from 8:00 p.m.
Balinese drama, temple festivals and other performances
See the "Bali Post" daily newspaper and the Friday edition of the English language "Jakarta Post" for details.
Sports and other activities
Swimming, snorkeling, banana boat rides, water ski, parasailing, etc. are arranged by most hotels and at the Beluga Marina in Tanjung Benoa. There are also small sail boats, catamarans, and boards for wind surfing for rent along Jimbaran Beach. The best surfing spots are near Ulu Watu (only for experts in top physical condition who are comfortable surfing over coral reefs on large, powerful waves that break in shallow water) and along Bali's West coast North of Canggu; the best time is during the dry season from June to September.
You can also buy a day-guest ticket (telephone before as prices vary from 25 to 90 euro per person and seem to depend on their occupancy!) and enjoy all sports facilities at Nusa Dua's Club Med until 17:00 in the afternoon. They offer kayaking, wind surfing, snorkeling, and many other sports activities such as water aerobics, archery, tennis, and ping pong tournaments, beach volleyball, bocci ball lessons, and a circus school for adults. The day-guest ticket includes a lunch buffet with a huge choice of Western, Indonesian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean dishes and unlimited wine, beer and soft drinks.
A large free-form swimming pool with a life band playing during the afternoon on the center island is the main attraction of the new Hard Rock Beach Club in Kuta. There is a pool-side restaurant for various snacks, a pool bar serving exotic drinks, and you can even rent your private pool-side "Cabana" if you wish to draw the curtains for some privacy. Pool use is 50,000 Rupiah per day for non-resident guests, and for the "Cabana" they charge 100,000 Rupiah per day.
A number of PADI certified companies offer diving tours (no spear fishing in Bali) with experienced guides and equipment from one day to several days. The best sites (some with ship wrecks) are along Bali's East cost near Amed and Tulamben and in the North-West around Menjangan Island near Gilimanuk (ferry to Java). About 40 to 90 euro, depending on the destination, per person for one-day tours; 350-400 euro plus extra costs or 450 euro including everything for four day courses including your PADI certificate.
A number of companies offer yachts and fishing boats with guides for charter. The catch includes Tuna, Wahoo, Mai-Mai, Mackerel, or Marlin - and Snapper, Cod and Coral Trout to be caught reef fishing should you so desire. From 40 euro per hour for a small boat, 500 euro per day for a modern 30-foot catamaran with satellite navigation, top-of-the range fish finder and sonar as well as Brownie diving equipment, and 660 euro per day for a state-of-the-art Black Watch game fishing vessel with experienced crew, full insurance, and all electronics and safety gear.
There are daily cruises to nearby Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan islands off the south-east coast of Bali. Guests spend the day either at one of the cruise companies' beach clubs - with restaurant, swimming pool, water sports equipment - or on a floating pontoon, and you can go snorkeling, scuba diving, take Banana Boat rides, or view the underwater world from a semi-submersible vessel. You can choose between modern, air-conditioned motor cruisers accommodating 100 and more guests and a number of smaller sailing boats. For the more adventurous there is now also a 12-meter inflatable Ocean Raft carrying up to 24 passengers. Departure is usually around 9.00 a.m., and you return in the afternoon. About 65 to 85 euro per person including lunch, children from 5 to 14 years 50%.
Some of the boats which leave in the morning for the regular Island Cruises offer also a Dinner Cruise starting around 18.00 hours. After cruising around the Benoa harbor, an international buffet dinner and some entertainment by folk singers and live bands you return around 20.30 to the pier. US$40 per person, children up to 14 years 50%.
There are a number of cruises from Bali through the Lesser Sunda Islands, to Sulawesi, and the Moluccas. You can choose from modern cruise liners, luxurious private yachts, and traditional Buginese schooners, and either join a scheduled cruise from 3 days to 12 or 15 days, or even charter your own yacht or schooner with 2 to 16 cabins, experienced crew, and a Western tour guide. Please look at the different cruises and yacht charter options available.
You can book a tour which brings you about 60 feet below the sea South of Nusa Dua. The small submarine can carry about 25 guests, and large port holes allow to view and photograph underwater reefs and corals, many marine creatures, a large variety of fish including sharks. Departure from the Beluga Marina in Tanjung Benoa and you return after about 90 minutes. 100 euro per person, 50% for children from 5 to 14 years.
The "Bali Handara Kosaido Country Club" near Bedugul in the mountains is probably Bali's most attractive golf course. There is also a 18-hole course at the "Bali Golf & Country Club" in Nusa Dua near the Bali Hilton, a 9-hole course at the Grand Bali Beach Hotel in Sanur, and the new "Nirwana Bali Golf Club" with a 18-hole course near Tanah Lot.
Tennis and squash
There are Clark Hatch Sports Clubs at the Sheraton Laguna and Nusa Indah Resort, Kartika Plaza Hotel, and Nikko Hotel each of which has several outdoor tennis courts, indoor squash courts, and complete fitness facilities. Playing partners as well as lessons are available. Most other 5-star hotels have at least some tennis courts which can also be booked by outside guests.
White Water rafting
Several companies offer exciting white water rafting tours (grade 2 to grade 4 rapids) on the Ayun river North-West of Ubud and - during certain times of the year - also on the Unda river North of Klungkung. You pass waterfalls and volcanic cliffs, deep sided gorges, tranquil rice terraces and remote villages. From morning to afternoon, lunch included, 56-85 euro per person including transfers from and to your hotel and lunch.
Other organized adventures
Lake and Sea Kayaking, Jungle Trekking, and Mountain Cycling, Paragliding, and even Paint Ball War Games.
Go Cart Racing
There are go cart race tracks in Tuban and in Legian. Open from 10.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m., 17 euro for 15 minutes.
There are now three companies in Kuta and another company offering the island's only waterfall jump near Gianyar. With the "Sling Shot" at the "Adrenalin Park" in Kuta you can get shot 52 meters into the air in just over one second, and they have an overhanging climbing wall, too. Another Sling Shot is located right next to the Hard Rock Resort.
Experience Bali on horse back, ride through padi fields and along deserted beaches. Tours can be organized through Jaran Jaran, Loji Gardens Hotel in Legian and Umalas Stables, Banjar Umalas, Kerobokan.
Visit the Bali Barat National Park in the West of the island, the Butterfly Park "Taman Kupu Kupu" in Wanasari, Tabanan, or the Botanical Gardens in Bedugul. Guided bird watching tours are offered starting from Ubud - in the village of Petulu a few miles north of Ubud you can also watch between 5:30 and 7:00 p.m. every day the arrival of thousands of white herons who are nesting here - and you can visit the bull races in Negara. If you stay near Lovina in the North, get up early one morning and hire a boat to watch hundreds of dolphins.
Balinese cooking classes
Discover the secrets of Balinese cuisine by joining one of the 1-Day Cooking Classes held by Heinz von Holzen, the author of the book "The Food Of Bali" and former food guru of the Grand Hyatt and Ritz Carlton hotels in Bali. You can visit Heinz in his beautiful Bumbu Bali restaurant in Tanjung Benoa next to Nusa Dua and enjoy their fabulous dishes at any time. If you wish to enroll in one of his popular classes, you better book in advance.
Balinese cooking classes are also held in Ubud at the BUMBU Restaurant, at Casa Luna, and at the nearby Sua Bali Culture and Information Centre. There are also 5-day classes and "2-Day Mini Schools" at the Serai Hotel near Candi Dasa.
Balinese music and dance classes
The Yayasan Polos Seni (Foundation for Pure Art) in Banjar Teges Kanginan, Peliatan, Ubud, offers Balinese music and dance classes for students who wish to become fully involved with the music & dance culture of Bali. Enrolling in one of these classes (one-to-one tuition and participation in group rehearsals and performances) means becoming a member of the family of students and teachers and an in-depth experience of the world of performers and performances in the Ubud area. There are also 2-week courses to learn playing the Gamelan at the Museum Seni Klasik in Klungkung which are open for all levels of experience. Beginners as well as "non-musicians" are welcome.
Free Raya Yoga Meditation classes and regular sessions in Ubud and Denpasar. There are also free lessons every Monday 19.00 at the Denpasar Meditation Shop. Information on daily meetings, classes, books, tapes and videos from Bali Osho Information Centre.
Not only for children
Take a stroll through Denpasar's bird market near the northern end of Jalan Veteran where you see not only a large variety of tropical birds but also tropical fish, cats and dogs, monkeys etc. You can visit the Taman Burung bird park with 1,000 different species of birds (and even a small Komodo dragon in the adjacent Reptile Park in Singapuda about 20 minutes north of Denpasar, the Waterboom Park with four slides and a flowing river in tropical surroundings in Tuban, or enjoy jungle treks on top of Sumatran elephants starting from the Elephant Safari Park in Taro, a village about 50 kilometers north of Denpasar. Camel rides on the beach are offered at Hotel Nikko Bali in Nusa Dua.
Hash House Harriers
There are three groups of Hash House Harriers holding regular runs on every Monday, Thursday and Saturday at 4.30 p.m. You can find up-to-date information at the Glory restaurant in Legian, Lips Country & Western Bar and Bali Bakery in Kuta, Alas Arum supermarket, Arri's Cafe and Koki's restaurant in Sanur, and at Naughty Nuri's bar in Ubud.
Rotarians, Lions, Scal Club members, etc. hold regular meetings in various parts of Bali. Schedules are published in the local newspapers.
You can go shopping for fine art and handicrafts such as antique and semi-antique furniture, all kinds of paintings, delicately crafted gold and silver jewelry, wood and stone carvings, masks, woven and dyed fabrics, etc. in many shops in the Kuta/Legian area, in Sanur, in various handicraft villages and the Sukawati market on the way to Ubud, and in the town of Ubud.
In most of the shops you can and should bargain for the best price. Be especially careful with the vendors near popular tourist attractions such as Tanah Lot or, for instance, the rip-off artists in the Bali Aga village Tenganan who are well-known to sell fake "antique" fabrics (even spray-painted instead of woven cloth) for very high prices.
The attractive tableware you see in many restaurants, hotels, and the better homes in Bali is made locally by Jenggala Keramik Bali. The New Zealand designer-potter Brent Hesselyn has been producing now for over 20 years hand-made high-quality ceramics which can be seen and ordered at Sari Bumi (inside Kafe Batu Jimbar), Jalan Danau Tamblingan No. 152, Sanur, and at their new factory in Jimbaran, Jalan Uluwatu II. This new complex includes in addition to a show room also an exhibition area for antique and new Indonesian art, a demonstration area where Jenggala's potters display their skills, and a branch of the popular "Kafe Batu Jimbar" serving light meals and a choice of coffees, teas and other beverages.
Beach wear, t-shirts, pants, and other clothing, shoes and leather goods, sea shells, trinkets, etc. are offered at low prices in numerous shops in Kuta and Legian as well as - much more expensive - in many hotels. Popular shopping centers are Kuta Square with many shops and a branch of the Matahari Department Store and Supermarket, and the Galeria Nusa Dua with over 80 specialty shops offering everything a tourist could be interested in.
Avoid the duty free shoppers' outlets by all means! Especially local products are ridiculously expensive here. As an example, one bottle of the Hatten Rose wine which is made in Sanur costs at DFS 11 euro which is more than in most local restaurants! Even worse - if you look for a beautiful French made blouse, a designer handbag, some jewellry or a dress watch for your partner to wear at a special occasion in Bali, you'll totally waste your time: all imported items, even clothing and accessories, bought at DFS will be delivered to you at the airport and not before you leave Bali.
There is a good choice of restaurants and night life, too. You can explore Indonesian and other Asian cuisines, enjoy Western food, and dance or talk under the stars until the early hours.
How much it costs
Accommodation in Bali is very reasonably priced compared to other top tourist destinations around the world. Rooms in basic 2-star hotels (perhaps 20 euro or so in Bali) can easily compare with Travelodge accommodation which can cost you e.g. in North California US$150 per night, and there they don't provide any service at all. At the high end, the Four Seasons Villa packages offered through Balivillas.com for instance would cost you somewhere else twice as much and more.
Hotel rates in Bali range from about 20 euro for a basic but clean, air-conditioned room with private bathroom and a small terrace to 600 or 800 euro per day for beautiful Balinese cottages with private plunge pool set in a walled tropical garden and offering stunning views and polished 5-star service around the clock.
Talking about villa rental, prices for fully staffed villas in the Caribbean are about two to three times higher than in Bali. In Europe, on the other hand, you pay about the same or slightly more than in Bali, but then this is kind of a self-service vacation as there is usually no staff included. The bottom line is that accommodation in Bali is still a great bargain, and in every category you get more than you pay for.
Transportation in Bali was always cheap by any standard. The metered radio taxis start with a flag fall of 2,500 Rupiah (plus 1,000 Rupiah per kilometer), and most trips cost Rupiah 5,000 to 20,000. Most reliable and polite are the drivers of the blue taxis, and you should avoid the white taxis as they often refuse to use their meter and over-charge foreigners.
If you brought an International Driver's License, you can rent motor bikes from Rupiah 15,000 to Rupiah 35,000 per day, and five to ten years old self-drive cars (Jimney or Toyota "Kijang") cost from 80,000 Rupiah to 250,000 Rupiah per day. Newer models are more expensive, and luxury cars such as a Volvo limousine or a new Toyota "Land Cruiser" will cost at least 150 to 200 euro and more per day. Premium gasoline is 4.500 Rupiah per liter.
Everywhere in tourist areas you'll be offered "transport, transport", and the rates are negotiable. However, the cars of many of these guys are quite old. Radio, tape and even the air-conditioning are often out of order. Although most drivers initially seem to be very friendly some are real con artists and waste hours of your precious vacation by bringing you to shops you never wished to visit because they want to earn a commission on your purchases.
We think, however, it's much more relaxing to have someone who knows his way around behind the wheel than to drive you through Bali's traffic. You can fully enjoy the sights, don't have to worry to get lost, and there's always somebody to watch the car and your belongings when you go for a meal or sightseeing. Therefore, Balivillas.com is providing a free air-conditioned car with a reliable English-speaking driver during your whole stay. Even gasoline is free.
Food and drink at Bali's better hotels cost about the same as in the same category of hotel anywhere else in the world. Breakfast is 8 to 30 euro, lunch and dinner 20 to 70 euro or more per person - and that does not include any wine which can be very expensive. On the other hand, restaurants outside the large hotels are often 60% to 80% cheaper, and at the open food stalls you can still get a tasty meal for a few thousand Rupiah.
If you've rented a private villa for your stay in Bali, your house staff will do the shopping at the local warung and supermarkets and prepare your meals according to your instructions. Your savings on food and beverage will be at least 40 to 80 euro per person per day compared to what you'd spend in a good hotel. This way you can enjoy delicious meals and all your favorite snacks and drinks - at unbelievably low prices.