Over the last few decades, Bali has risen to prominence as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Every year more than 4 million visitors arrive on Balinese shores, each looking to fulfill their own version of the tropical dream, whether it’s surfing, lounging by the pool or drinking cheap cocktails in Kuta.
But with so many people coming to this small island is it possible to explore Bali off the beaten track? The answer, fortunately, is yes.
Most of Bali’s tourism is still concentrated in the south of the island, around Kuta, Seminyak and neighbouring towns and villages. Which means that much of the island, whilst not exactly undiscovered territory, is still a great place to find adventure.
With that in mind we share six places where you get off the beaten track and explore a different side of Bali.
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This small highland village in the north of Bali is overlooked by most tourists – to their loss! The town is only an hour’s drive outside Singaraja, Bali’s second city. It is a simple and basic village, with just a few guesthouses and shops lining the main strip.
The town is a great base from which to explore many spectacular waterfalls, bike paths and hiking trails in the area. Explore nature as you wind you way through rice fields, forests and traditional villages. A visit to Munduk Falls and Banyumala Twin Falls is a must.
A unique fact about Munduk is that one side of the street is perfectly aligned for sunset and the other for sunrise. No matter where you stay you will have world class views over the surrounding countryside for a bargain price!
Ubud is the most famous town in Bali’s central highlands and is one of the best places to stay in Bali. Often described as the cultural heart of Bali, Ubud has become much busier in recent years. Despite this it still manages to maintain a laid back and spiritual atmosphere.
There are plenty of interesting sites around the town including a beautiful royal palace, temples and art galleries. The town is surrounded by dense forest and terraced rice fields and provides easy access to several action adventure activities including mountain climbing, cycling and whitewater rafting.
The variety of accommodation in Ubud is huge, ranging from hostels and eco campsites to high end 5 star resorts and gorgeous private villas.
Candidasa is located on Bali’s east coast and is made up of several small villages. The area is a good alternative for those looking to stay in a quieter location that still has supporting tourist infrastructure.
There are several nice hotels, restaurants and shops in town. Candidasa is only a short drive from the stunning white sand beach of Pasir Putih and the water temple at Tirta Gangga.
If you stay in Candidasa it is worth taking a trip up into the hills to Tenganan, an ancient village belonging to the Bali Mula. The Bali Mula are the indigenous Balinese and live in a few isolated villages in the mountains. They have managed to preserve their distinct culture and you can observe their traditional construction and craft methods at Tenganan.
Amed is further along the east coast from Candidasa, in the shadow of the mighty Mount Agung. Amed is another quiet fishing village with a reputation for incredible diving and snorkelling. Where else can you explore the wreck of a submerged ship then surface to views of an active volcano!
The Nusa Islands are just a 30 minute boat ride from the Balinese mainland. Life on the islands is said to be how it was on the mainland 30 years ago. There are three islands in the group, Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan.
Lembongan is the closest and most popular island. Ceningan is the smallest and possibly the most action packed and Nusa Penida is the largest and least developed. Lembongan and Ceningan are linked by a yellow bridge and are small enough that you could visit the main sites in a day. Activities include snorkelling in the mangroves, cliff jumping and surfing. There is even a zipline which will send you gliding across Ceningan’s sparkling Blue Lagoon. Lembongan’s Devil’s Tear is the perfect place to watch sunset.
Getting to Nusa Penida involves a boat ride. There are frequent boat departures from Lembongan or there are tours available from the mainland. The island is much bigger than its neighbours but infrastructure is basic. Motorbikes are the most common transport method for getting around although there are a few rental cars to be found. Be warned though that in some of the more remote places the ‘roads’ are little more than stone tracks.
The island has become a world famous dive and snorkelling location. More than 20 dive sites have been located, including Manta Point and Crystal Bay. It is even possible to swim with manta rays! It has also become something of an unofficial bird sanctuary. The interior is hilly and provides excellent opportunities to get off the beaten track with some mountain biking and trekking.
The natural landscape of all three islands is beautiful. Towering cliffs, white sand beaches (many of which you will have to yourself) and amazing views across to Bali. Boats leave for the islands from several locations in Bali, or, for a completely luxurious option, you could charter a helicopter!
Another fishing village with a world class reputation for diving and snorkelling, Pemuteran is on the north coast of Bali. Marine conservation has played an important role here and the village is home to the largest biorock project in the world. This provides a rare opportunity for snorkelling on a coral reef right off the beach.
A little further out at a depth of 15 – 30m, a Hindu ‘temple’ has been constructed to provide a unique (if somewhat spooky) opportunity for scuba divers.
Boat trips to spot dolphins depart every morning just before dawn and Bali’s national park is within easy driving distance. The beaches along the north coast are fine-grained black sand and Bali’s mountains provide a beautiful backdrop on this part of the island.
Bali’s only national park (Taman Nasional Bali) is in the north west of the island. The park covers an area of 190km which, when combined, with an additional 580km2 of protected land lying just to the east accounts for 10% of Bali’s total land area.
The park contains a wide variety of ecosystems, including beach, rainforest, mangroves, open savannah and montane forests. The area is home to 160 species of bird and several larger mammals including deer, wild boar and leopard cats.
There are several different trails through the park, ranging from fairly gentle 2 hours ‘strolls’, to much more intense day long hikes. A must do for all visitors to the park is a journey out to Menjangan, a beautiful uninhabited island lying just off the coast. Visitors are rewarded with a stunning Hindu temple to explore and some of the best diving / snorkelling in Bali.
Accommodation within the park boundaries is limited to a couple of high end resorts. However the park is close to the town of Gilimanuk and the popular resort area of Lovina, both of which have a choice of places to stay.
If you really want to get away from it all and experience Balinese nature in all its glory, why not forego a hotel altogether and opt for a tent instead! Bali has a range of campsites available ranging from boutique ‘glamping’ to cheap and cheerful ‘bring your own tent’ campgrounds.
At the high end, some of the ‘glamping’ options feel more like 5 star resorts than escapes back to nature. If you are looking for something a little more basic that still has a few creature comforts, you could try the Baliwoso Ecotourism Camp close to Kintamani. Another option is Bali Camping by Jatiluwih (a potential world heritage site). Both of these campgrounds are in beautiful locations, have close links to their neighbouring villages and offer a range of adventure activities.
If you are just after a basic campsite, with perhaps a few amenities, then there are a few dotted all around the island. The area around Mount Batur in particular has some great options as well panoramic views of the surrounding mountainous landscape and Lake Batur.
Bali is a beautiful destination and offers a huge array of things to do for families and singles alike. We highly recommend exploring Bali off the beaten track and exploring the lesser known villages for a rewarding Bali experience.
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