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.
Over the past four years, this pocket to the north-west of Seminyak has evolved from a sleepy locale for remote-working surfers and yoga enthusiasts to one of the world’s most happening destinations. Canggu and nearby Berawa have maintained some sense of normality during the pandemic thanks to their large expat communities and there’s plenty of new openings to get excited about.
Cool independent stays abound here. The Cali features seven luxury, self-contained, Palm Springs-inspired stays with pools and pops of pastel. You don’t have to go far for a decent meal, either. Hip cafés sit alongside sophisticated spots, such as Santanera, a new Latin American-inspired venue serving up refined fare including tiger prawn ceviche and dry-aged bass grouper.
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.
The epicentre of Bali’s dining and nightlife, Seminyak was one of the hardest hit during the pandemic. On the flipside, the beach is now pristine.
While some retail spots and restaurants remain shuttered, many established businesses are bouncing back, plus there are newcomers on the scene. Chef Will Meyrick’s Mama San is still dishing up tasty dumplings and Vietnamese pho and Aussie-owned Sisterfields serves hearty breakfasts and its spin-off Bossman does decadent burgers until 4am.
Mano Beach House, a laid-back beach club with killer cocktails and seafood, is one of the best spots to perch for a sundowner. Base yourself in a pool villa at the new Avani Seminyak Bali Resort, which opened its doors late last year on the centrally located Jalan Drupadi.
The Bukit peninsula has become a surfing mecca with one epic wave beach after another, from Padang Padang to Bingin and Balangan. But Uluwatu is the most popular, thanks to a challenging paddle-out through a rocky cave and its crashing waves. Expect beachside warungs (small eateries), look-out perches and sunset spots, as well as a mix of affordable homestays and ultra-luxe digs.
Wellness is also on the menu and design-led sanctuary The Asa Maia recently debuted its contemporary take on wellbeing, complete with suites in converted traditional Javanese homes, hot and cold pools and nourishing food. The infinity pool at clifftop Mana in Uluwatu Surf Villas is open to outside guests and its jungle and ocean views are best enjoyed with fish tacos and rosé.
With its museums, ancient temples and scenic rice terraces, Ubud is Bali’s cultural heart. Head here in October and you can check out the annual Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. At all times of the year, Neka Art Museum, which features more than 300 pieces displayed in traditional Balinese pavilions, is a must. So is the Blanco Museum in the elaborate mountaintop house of late painter Antonio Blanco.
Check into one of the new pool villas at Viceroy Bali, then make your way to Locavore (named one of the 50 Best Restaurants in Asia) for its tasting menu – try the soy fried duck egg yolk and pickled wild garlic.