Bali has always been known to be a great destination for peace and picturesque scenery. But thanks to the movie adaptation of “Eat, Pray, Love”, Bali skyrocketed to the top of the list for wandering souls searching for the meaning of life. Fast forward to 2018 and tourism in Bali is at its peak, sought after for its idyllic locations, amazing food, and surprisingly good nightlife, in the right areas.
Before we go into the details, there are a few things you need to know about Bali. It’s not exactly a large place, but it’s very diverse. It’s a very diverse destination, and you get something different in each part.
Bali can be divided into these popular areas:
This is Bali’s most popular tourist destination. It’s known for fantastic beaches and surfing, and y0u’ll find a wide range of accommodations. Establishments like bars and restaurants and tour operators are within a few steps of each other. On top of water sports and high adrenaline adventures, Kuta is also known for its nightlife.
For a more upmarket vibe, head to Seminyak. It’s known for quiet sunsets with luxurious resorts, secluded villas and fancy stores. Some of Bali’s most popular and best-raved restaurants are also found here, most of which situated on the dining street Jalan Laksmana or Kayu Aya. There are also fun gay bars on Jalan Dhyana or Camplung Tanduk. Nightlife here exists but nothing too wild or hectic. The beach is great for surfing as well.
Between Kuta and Seminyak is Legian Beach, and so you get a mix of both areas. Beachfront hotels are quite affordable with a quiet vibe, but main streets are lined with lively bars for young travellers and partygoers. It enjoys a considerably more relaxed pace to let visitors enjoy the natural beauty of the environment.
Known for exlusivity, Nusa Dua is an enclave lined almost exclusively with international 5-star resorts. It follows that the beach is extremely well maintained with bright white sand and meticulously landscaped gardens. There’s also 24-hour police that patrols the area. Dining and bars are found within the hotels and they have a shopping center called the Bali Collective.
If you’re into water activities, this is the best spot to do it. It’s a haven for adrenaline junkies, but also boast of beautiful white sand beaches, Chinese temples and Balinese shrines.
This relaxing coastal atmosphere is very quiet and laidback. It boasts of beautiful sunrises lined with legendary Balinese hotels, Sanur being the first tourism resort area in Bali. The setting is more classic Bali with night markets, an abundance of restaurants, and local produce.
Contrary to the lively beaches in Bali, Ubud is found in Bali’s central highlands. It’s known for arts and crafts and deeply cultural experiences. There are many five-star retreats in the area flanked with views of rivers and rice terraces.
Another landmark for sunset views, Jimbaran Bay is known for its seafood dining options. Shopping and nightlife is lowkey and offers little budget accommodations. It still boasts of fantastic surfing and beautiful natural attractions. It’s known as the “Beverly Hills of Bali” and “Millionaire’s Row” and is the place to go if you want to holiday in style.
To the East of Bali is Canididasa, a quiet coastal town to escape the noise of Bali. Sandy beaches are few and short, but calm waves a blue panorama of ocean draws tourists to this area. Accommodations are also diverse, from foothill chalets to coastal hotels. Nightlife is lowkey but you’ll find grand temples, ancient Balinese villages, and worldclass dive sites of Amed and Talumben.
With the diversity of Bali, you’ll never run out of things to do. The challenge is getting an experience of everything Bali can offer in just 5 days. It’s quite possible to stay in one or two areas and spend all 5 days there. However, if you don’t have the luxury of being able to go back, we’ve put together an immersive itinerary so you can get a taste of what a full Bali experience can be.
Day 1: Get your bearings in Ubud
Day 2: Ubud cultural immersion
Day 3: Beach time in Kuta and Seminyak
Day 4: Coastal tour of the Bukit Peninsula
Day 5: Winding down your trip
Bali is a beautiful place, but there are certain challenges in going around. Before you get on your grand adventure, make sure you’re ready with the essentials.
To make the most out of your trip, always catch a morning flight. The Ngura Rai International Airport, also known as Denpasar International Airport, is located in Southern Bali. It’s a pretty modern-looking airport with eating areas and duty free shopping. It’s also the second-busiest airport in Indonesia, which means a lot of tourists flying in to have their own adventures in Bali.
Getting From The Airport
Most of the hotels in Bali have a 2PM check-in, so it’s best to hire a private car to pick you up. If you haven’t booked your car in advance, there are several operators located at the airport. As we’ve already mentioned, car hires are pretty cheap in Bali and are the best ways to move around.
Once you’ve chosen your car pick-up, it will take around an hour to reach the first stop in your itinerary: Ubud.
The cultural community of Ubud is surrounded by lush forests and breathtaking views. There are different accommodations to choose from, from little villas in the middle of rice fields to boutique hotels nestled in mountainsides. The options are endless and mostly affordable.
There are many trails around rice fields you can take for free. Look out for signs on JL Kajeng and JL Raya Ubud that will point to the right direction. Better yet, if you have a driver, he will likely know where to go. The Tegalalang Rice Terraces is one of the main attractions in all of Bali. It treats visitors to panoramic views of rice paddy slopes. Since it’s at an elevated area, the air is cool and quite breezy, and make for a leisurely stroll. There are also many cafes around the rice fields serving local dishes, which makes it a great place to have your first meal in Bali as well. There are also several stores that sell souvenirs and local crafts.
Once you’ve walked through the rice paddies, head back to Ubud and take a ride on the Ubud Swing at Zen Hideaway. It’s open from 12nn to 2pm and is considered as one of the best swings in Bali. It’s not exactly the safest thing you can do, but if you’re ready to hold on for dear life, you can soar above palm trees and more rice paddies on a wooden swing. It costs 300,000 IDR (USD 20) for the entrance to the property, and you’re given 30 minutes to play on the swing.
Once you have your shopping done, stash everything in the car and head to the Monkey Forest. It’s another popular tourist attraction in Ubud where visitors enjoy the presence of hundreds of monkey roaming freely around the area. They might look cute, but they’re known to steal from the tourists. Make sure you have everything very well hidden (or better yet, just leave anything valuable in the car). These monkeys are quite crafty and can get into your pockets without you noticing. The monkeys are pretty “friendly” in the sense that they’re not afraid to approach people. However, some of them are known to bite tourists when agitated.
After monkeying around, head to your hotel and check in. Another must-have experience in Bali is to get a massage in the many gorgeous spas around. Ubud is littered with spas in just about every corner, and, as with everything, services are cheap. After a long flight and lots of exploring, you deserve some rest and relaxation. Try the riverside Tjampuhan Spa or the Maya Ubud Spa.
There’s a lot of fun to be had in Ubud, but there’s a lot to learn about Balinese culture as well. As the cultural center, Ubud is the best place to not simply enjoy your surroundings, but really get to know the country you’re in.
Start your day with a serious pick-me-up and head to the Teba Sari spice and coffee plantation, about 15 minutes away from the Monkey Forest. Again, the best way to reach this place is via private car. You’ll be met with the aroma of spices and coffee as soon as you enter, and you’ll see many trees and plants where many asian spices come from. The draw of the plantation is the Kopi Luwak, one of the most expensive coffee in the world. It’s harvested from the excrement of the civet cat, which feeds on coffee berries and eventually expels fermented coffee beans through its digestive system. After looking around, you’ll be treated to a tasting table of different kinds of coffee and tea for you to enjoy. There are some interesting blends such as mangosteen tea, vanilla coffee, coconut coffee, and of course the Kopi Luwak. The visit to the spice garden and the tasting table are free. The pot of Kopi Luwak costs 100,000 IDR (USD 7).
Once you’ve gotten more than your fair share of caffeine fix, bring the buzz back to Ubud central and take a stroll around the Pura Taman Saraswati Temple. It boasts of a classic Balinese temple architecture, making it a popular stopover for many strolling through the town of Ubud. The entrance is free, but you’ll be required to wear a sarong and a sash. It’s located right behind Cafe Lotus, which serves local cuisine with views of the lotus ponds at the entrance of the temple.
Once you’re in a shopping mood, head straight to the Ubud Art Market. It’s commonly known as the Pasar Seni Ubud. Here you can find beautiful scarves, fabric, skirts, and sarongs that have becoming iconic symbols of the Balinese lifestyle. Many items on sale in the market are made by locals in neighboring villages. It also became quite popular as one of the settings of the movie, “Eat, Pray, Love”. Bargaining is essential to get the best value for your money.
When the sun starts to set, head over to the Ubud Royal Palace, just a stone’s throw away from the market. Also referred to as the Puri Saren Agung, this is the residence of the Ubud royal family. Most of the compound is open to the public and is regarded as the focal landmark of Ubud. The architecture is well-preserved and filled with beautifully landscaped gardens. Towards the evening, head back to the front of the palace and witness dramatic Balinese Legong Dance performances held throughout the evening.
The central highlands of Ubud are breathtaking, but it’s high to get your feet wet! Kuta and Seminyak are popular destinations for fun activities, shopping, nightlife, and of course, the beach. Leave your accommodations in Ubud and find a new one at Kuta or Seminyak. From here, it will be easy to explore other destinations in South Bali. Just like in Ubud, you’ll find a wide variety of accommodations with different styles, environments, and price range.
Say goodbye to Ubud and check-in at your accommodation at Kuta or Seminyak. The two beach towns are quite accessible from each other so there won’t be much difference in terms of convenience. Just keep in mind that there are more affordable hotels in Kuta.
Wherever you decide to stay, sign up for a morning surf class. Kuta and Seminyak are pretty popular for beginners. The waves are generally small and the bottom is sandy. Kuta can get pretty crowded because the town is filled with backpackers and casual travellers. Seminyak is slightly less crowded since the town is a little more upscale. Either way, renting a board will cost around 250,000 IDR (USD 25) for a day. There are lots of vendors on the beach and you can get some casual lessons from them as well.
Hopefully you didn’t wipe out too much and you’ll have the energy for good lunch and cocktails at Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak. It’s one of the must-visits when holidaying in Bali. It’s an open air restaurant with a swanky cocktail bar and infinity pool. Again, it can be very crowded but the vibes are good and energy high to fuel you for the rest of the day.
Explore Seminyak even further and check out the many swanky stores for a fun afternoon of shopping. You can find trendy swimwear in stores like 69slam (which actually has several locations around Bali) or Thaikila. There’s also an abundance of quirky handicrafts and house items from the likes of Rose Avenue, or Toko Emporium. After your stroll, you can also drop by the Nyaman Gallery. Most of the artwork are created by local Balinese and Indonesian artists.
At around mid-afternoon, freshen up a bit and get your Instagram game on. Depart for Pura Tanah Lot, a renowned temple dramatically perched on an offshore rock. It’s accessible via car drive or moped. Multi-tier shrines decorate this landmark and adds to the highly mystical energy of the place. Catch the sunset here for a jaw-dropping experience of changing lights and orange glow cast over one of Bali’s most important landmarks. The temple grounds are off limits, but the surrounding area is worth the trip.
After a relaxing sunset, it’s time to kick up the night at Kuta. There are a ton of bars and clubs for you to choose from. If you’re up for it, do a pub crawl or bar-hopping excursion in Kuta and try to hit as many bars as you can. Some of the more notable clubs and bars include Sky Garden Rooftop Lounge for promotional buffets and free-flow beers with laidback beats, Paddy’s Pub for an open air terrace and fun themed parties, VH Bali in Hypnotized Club for a glitzy clubbing experience, or Stark Craft Beer Garden for your fill of Stark Beer, the only beer brewed in Bali.
The Bukit Peninsula is a jagged coastline that includes Jimbaran, Uluwatu, and Nusa Dua.
After your morning coffee, head to one of Bali’s holiest temples, the Pura Luhur Uluwatu. It’s another iconic landmark that sits on a rock jutting out of the Indian Ocean. The temple is dedicated to the spirits of the sea and you will observe many aquatic references and carvings throughout the structure. The surrounding coastline is beautiful and decked with limestone cliffs.
At noon, head to the beaches of Nusa Dua for beachside grilling. One of the most popular lunchtime haunts is the Nusa Dua Beach Grill. It’s a secluded surf bar at a prime location, giving diners fantastic views paired with equally fantastic food. While you’re there, make sure to check out the many water sports on offer by the beach. Nusa Dua is best known for water activities like boat rides, sea walk, and even white water rafting.
Make sure you have a change of clothes for another spectacular sunset experience at Rock Bar in Jimbaran. Perched atop distinctive cliffs, the bar sits at about 14 meters above the Indian Ocean. Its dramatic location makes for an incredible and memorable night. It’s quite a fancy place, however, so smart casual attire is required. If you prefer more casual nights, head to the beach itself and take your pick from the many seafood restaurants lining the shore. You’ll be able to pick fresh catch and have the restaurants cook your dinner for you. On the beach, many performers also pass by for free entertainment under the night sky.
So you’ve seen a lot in Bali, and you have a few hours left before you have to say goodbye. How do you make the most out of your last days in the this amazing province?
Here’s a quick list of things you can do last minute that won’t make you miss your flight.
The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It sits on the edge of Baratan Lake in Bedugul. It’s a beautiful temple made more majestic by the waters surrounding it. Early in the morning when the sun shines on the temple, the reflections mirrors the structure. There are different shrines dedicated to different gods, and decorated with ornate and intricate carvings.
Complete the Eat, Pray, Love travel and find a yoga studio. They’re everywhere in Bali as the locals take relaxation and enlightenment very seriously. One of the most popular ones is Yoga Barn in Ubud. It has different studios and programs fit for different levels of ability.
Wake up early in the morning and head off to Amed. It’s a quieter corner of Bali and not littered with tourists everywhere. The visibility is excellent and the reefs are lively. This can be a great final image in your memories before you head back home.
Indonesia is one of the biggest producers of cocoa in the world, so it just makes sense to know more about this industry. Head to Pod Chocolate Factory, which also creates one of the best chocolates in all of Bali. The tour brings you around the facilities and teaches visitors about how cocoa is grown and harvested.
Photo by Tom Roeleveld
Another iconic Eat, Pray, Love reference is the Tirta Empul. It sits just outside of Ubud and has several pools and fountains. It’s said that the waters are sacred, and many Hindus from all over Bali come here to bathe. Everyone is welcome to swim in the pools and stroll around the compound.
It only takes a 40-minute drive from Kuta to feel like you’re in a completely different world. A totally peaceful paradise, Balangan Beach boasts of pristine sands and great surf breaks. You’ll have to walk down a steep set of steps down a craggy cliff and you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful and secluded beach.
What’s a great trip without a great meal? There are many superb restaurants in Bali, but one of the more legendary ones is Warung Blanjong. It is located in Sanur, which gives you an excuse to include this town in your itinerary. It serves a variety of local bites and traditional Balinese food.
However you decide to end your trip, Bali is a truly magical place to visit. There are so many places to visit that can’t be covered in 5 days, but I hope this itinerary gives you an idea of the best places to go.
Not everyone is a single traveler or couple without kids, so I thought I would mention this is another great post that can help you with options for kids in Bali.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.