There are few places in the world where ancient culture and urban buzz fuse as seamlessly as they do in Bali. The Indonesian province is made up of four isles, but the main island of Bali is the biggest, both in size and spirit, while the neighbouring specks of Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan are natural wonderlands in their own right. The tourist areas have shifted slightly over the past few years, with hidden gems now attracting attention. Whether you’re looking for a volcanic landscape, surf beaches or a diverse food scene – or all three – here are the best places to visit to get that Bali glow.
East Bali is one of the island’s best-kept secrets and it’s not hard to see why this valley in Karangasem is being billed as ‘the next Ubud’. As well as inexpensive guesthouses offering epic views of mountains and green fields, you’ll find polished resorts like Samanvaya Luxury Resort & Spa. Go here to sip cocktails in an infinity pool on the edge of rice terraces and stay in one of its 15 straw-roofed luxury villas built by local craftsmen. Explore the area on a scooter or bike, trek the rice terraces or visit local waterfalls and natural springs. Don’t leave without trying the mie goreng at Warung Ume Anyar – it comes with a side of breathtaking views.
When Bali gets busy, those in the know make their way to this tiny island in the south-east. Part of a trio of isles that include Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan, Nusa Lembongan is a compact escape with a roaring coastline. Surfers paddle straight out to Playgrounds break from hillside eco-luxe Batu Karang, a resort offering spectacular views from an elevated pool as well as a whisky, gin and wine bar. Book a snorkelling trip to Manta Point to swim with manta rays or dive at nearby Nusa Penida with the giant mola mola or sunfish. Sunset sessions are now an institution at beach club Ohana’s (and happy hour happens between 5pm-6.30pm).
SEE ALSO: The Ultimate Guide to All Things Bali
If you want to know what Canggu was like before the world discovered it, head to its leafy and still-rural beachside neighbour. But while it may be free of the traffic that plagues busier areas, the neighbourhood café scene in Pererenan is still thriving. Newcomers such as Med-fusion Shelter Bali and brunch chic Touché signal Pererenan’s current evolution from beachside village to up-and-coming area.
Accommodation is also intimate, such as Yucca Villas, which offers two luxury villas with curved white walls, natural textiles, pools and the feel of Tulum. Wave seekers will love the black-sand surf beach of Kedungu, a 20-minute drive away – it’s a reprieve from Canggu’s busy Batu Bolong and Echo Beach.
Spanning five kilometres along the south-east coast of Bali, the laidback Sanur is only a 30-minute drive from the airport and its calm waters and slow pace make it an easy destination for families. Hop from beach to beach while tackling the boardwalk along the coast, beginning with sunrise over Sindhu Beach, followed by smoothie bowls and coffee at Soul on the Beach, or spend the evening sipping Chrysanthemum Martinis on the sand from Genius Cafe at the south end of Sanur beach. At night, retire to Andaz Bali. Inspired by the modern Balinese village, each of its 127 rooms and suites and 22 villas highlight local craftsmanship.
Tranquil town Candidasa is a two-hour drive north-east of Kuta and offers a quiet retreat away from the crowds while delivering an action-packed itinerary. Make your home at Sea Breeze Candidasa, a hotel overlooking Lombok Strait with two infinity pools primed to soak in the view. Snorkelling and diving can be organised by the hotel at the private beach and a 15-minute drive will take you to the incredible gates of Sang Hyang Ambu Temple. Cycling is the most efficient way to get around – there’s no shortage of bike rentals in the area – a walk up Guungan Hill delivers panoramic views of where the greenery meets the ocean. Le-Zat Beach Restaurant is a crowd favourite for Balinese cuisine, with the fresh seafood a highlight. Try the Tom Yam Goong (spicy seafood soup) to see what the fuss is about.
Situated in north-east Bali’s highlands, Kinatamani is a district that skirts the base of Mount Batur – an active volcano that takes around four hours to hike, promising 360-degree views of the region to those who make the trek. After the journey, head to Toya Bungkah Hot Spring at the bottom of the mountain where the water temperature reaches a warm 40°C. The lakeside Ayu Kintamani Villa offers all the comforts of a traditional Balinese villa, each with its own private pool, while, glamping site Sunrise Hill Camp features a natural hot spring pool with mountain and lake views. No matter your stay, find all-day brunch favourites such as breaky burritos at Paperhills cafe – it comes with a side of mountain views.
Black sand beaches, monasteries and waterparks can all be found in the Lovina beach region in northern Bali, just 10 kilometres out of the port town Singaraja. Take the 20-minute walk to Gitgit waterfall early in the morning and you’ll most likely have the place all to yourself, then head to Busungbiu Rice Terrace in nearby Kekeran Village for rice paddy trekking. You may need a whole day to explore Krisna Funtastic Land with the family as you rotate between amusement rides, the lazy river and wave pool. If you’re searching for calm, Bali’s largest Buddhist monastery, Brahmavihira-Arama, has meditation rooms, libraries and gardens to explore. Check in to your choice of studios, suites, villas and penthouses at The Lovina which sits on 200 metres of beachfront then settle into the hotel's Sunset Bar for nasi goreng and a cocktail.