Travel Guide: Bali

As magical destinations go, Bali is definitely up there. There are the awe-inspiring temples in the tens of thousands — literally — and near-daily ceremonies: vivid, multi-sensory, and loud, accompanied by chanting and clanging gamelan. Add to that endless beaches trimmed in aquamarine surf, pulsing with relentlessly curling waves topped with dancing surfers. There are miles and miles of verdant rice paddies, terraced so immaculately they’ve become iconic. And don’t forget canang sari, the prolific flower-laden offerings blessed and placed seemingly everywhere daily on the so-called “Island of Gods.”


“From its pristine beaches to lush landscapes, cultural treasures, and thrilling adventures, Bali will resonate with every traveler,” Giordano Faggioli, the general manager of Ayana Estate, told Travel + Leisure. “Guests can seek relaxation, exploration, spiritual rejuvenation, or adrenaline-pumping pursuits that harmoniously offer an unforgettable experience.”


Bali has an energy about it that acts as a siren song to woo-woo wellness practitioners, design buffs, and carousing Gen Z-ers in equal numbers, along with stoked surfers, spiritual pilgrims, yogis, beach lovers, plus plenty of celebrities and influencers to boot. And the most fulfilling and thrilling Bali holidays include a few locations, so don’t stress about picking just one vibe or scene — it’s best to combine a few, or two if you’re short on time.


“Guests can tailor their Bali experience based on personal preferences,” Faggioli said. “My suggestion is to scale the heights of Mount Batur to witness a captivating sunrise over the island’s volcanic terrain. Immerse in the local community and Balinese everyday life at Sukowati market.”

Enjoy island time and the locals who are overwhelmingly generous, sweet, and genuine. All factors considered, it’s nearly impossible not to leave Bali feeling far better — happier, healthier, and definitely more tan — than when you landed.



Best Hotels & Resorts

Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan

It’s obvious you’re somewhere special right upon arrival at this John Heah–designed resort. The standalone villas (each with a private pool) and suites have slept everyone from the Obamas to Julia Roberts. River rafting, cycling, and other adventurous cultural tours are on offer, but the resort environment — with its pools, flavorful food, and entertainment — is so alluring it’s tempting to just relax, too.


Capella Ubud

As resort concepts go, Capella Ubud, voted one of the best resorts in Indonesia in 2022 by T+L readers, is truly one-of-a-kind. Its 22 one-bedroom tented and batik-draped retreats, hand-painted Mads Lange restaurant, and even saltwater pool all float over the jungle floor — not one tree was cut as the whimsical Bill Bensley creations were constructed.


Katamama Suites at Desa Potato Head

An artisanal theme pervades this brick-clad Brutalist boutique hotel that manages to be a quiet respite in the heart of lively Seminyak. It all celebrates Indonesia’s rich traditions of craft through a midcentury-esque lens. Tear yourself away from the long turquoise pool to hit the beach, just a few minutes away, or some of the hundreds of shops and restaurants within walking distance.


Como Uma Canggu

This airy modern beachfront resort occupies prime real estate in Canggu, easy walking—or scooting—distance to all the town’s hot spots. Hopeful surfers should book lessons with the consummate professionals at Tropicsurf onsite, while the wellness-minded have their choice of Pilates, yoga, a Jungle Sports studio, and a comprehensive spa.


Uluwatu Surf Villas

If paradisiacal views are what you crave, Uluwatu Surf Villas has you covered. The legendary surfers’ resort perched above those famously large waves (there’s a set of private steps down) offers traditionally Balinese-designed thatched-roof cliff-front villas as well as a collection of newer architectural masterpieces, each one with its own unique tropical modern vibe.


Ayana Villas

Feel like you’re the only one in Bali with a stay at Ayana Villas, a resort made up of 78 private villas, each with its own plunge pools. Ocean views, flowering gardens, and utter romance abound at this chic resort, making it an ideal spot for honeymooners to come to bask in that new love glow.


Read More: T+L Readers’ 5 Favorite Resorts in Indonesia of 2023



Things to Do

Matteo Colombo/Getty Images

Ride a Bike Through Rice Fields

There’s no question about the iconic status of Tegallalang, the flawless and highly photogenic rice terraces curving around hillsides and irrigated by the subak system, which has UNESCO status. As good as that hot spot is, the more intimate way to experience the ubiquitous emerald paddies is by bicycle, which many Ubud hotels and tour companies offer led by local guides.


Try Surfing

Bali’s reputation as a surf destination is well earned, thanks to its rich assortment of not only professional-grade waves (see the aquamarine behemoths rolling in like corduroy in Keramas and Uluwatu, where Kelly Slater surfs) but also beginner-level breaks like Baby Padang at Padang Padang Beach and Batu Bolong in Canggu. There are fantastic surf camps and instructors across the island.


Visit Hindu Temples

Bali’s transcendent charm is rooted in its tens of thousands of Hindu temples, and there are many worth visiting for a dose of impressively ornate architecture and mystical ambiance. Some of the most iconic on the island are Pura Tirta Empul (pura means “temple”), where you can bathe and bless yourself in holy spring waters spouting from carved stone; Pura Besakih, the largest and holiest of them all; and Pura Luhur Uluwatu, the clifftop sea temple where each sunset draws tourists for flashy yet authentic kecak (fire) dances.


Take a Yoga Class at The Yoga Barn

Ubud is associated with all things spiritual, and high vibe, and its multitude of yoga studios and movement centers are evidence. Practitioners can find more than 100 classes per week at The Yoga Barn, an epicenter of yin, vinyasa, Hatha, and kundalini, plus meditation, sound healing, and ecstatic dance.





Best Shopping

Courtesy of GAYA Ceramic and Design

Gaya Ceramic

The founders of this celebrated ceramic design studio are an Italian expat couple, but their ultra-skilled team of some 100 craftsmen are overwhelmingly Balinese. It’s impossible to leave the showroom empty-handed, thanks to its proliferation of glamorous handmade dishes and decor.


Canaan x Rou

This petite shop packs a major punch with tightly curated and oftentimes collaborative goods made by Balinese artisans, think placemats, eye-catching brass cutlery, and a plant-dyed shibori clothing collection. Beautiful gifts — for yourself and also loved ones back home—include signature Canaan candles, artisanal fans from Yogyakarta, and Cisco & the Sun’s wabi sabi–inspired ceramics.


Magali Pascal

Ethereal, elegant, and earthy womenswear can be found at this Canggu boutique. The eponymous label began on Bali in 2005 and marries an effortless French sensibility with a cool-girl palette ideal for island holidays.


Drifter

You don’t need to be a pro in the waves to embark on a spree at this beloved surf shop. A reclaimed joglo house holds dozens of slick, technicolor surfboards — finely crafted by sought-after shapers — along with Drifter’s own brand of art-emblazoned tees, international bikini collections, original artwork, boho jewelry, ocean-themed books, and far more.



Best Restaurants

Courtesy of Zest

Kaum

With a name meaning “tribe” in Bahasa Indonesia, Kaum is a concept born of its culinary team’s deep exploration of Indonesia’s super diverse archipelago and its tribes’ cooking and catching methods (fishing and spear hunting to name a few adventures). A sampling of fiery sambals is a great way to start feasting on rich regional dishes made of specialty ingredients sourced as locally as possible.


Zest

It’s not too extreme an exaggeration to call Ubud a mecca for vegans, and this plant-, root- and shoot-slinging destination is like the high temple in the lush jungle. Zest, the chic, plant-powered restaurant appropriately hugs a living frangipani tree and offers up colorful, organic fare from jackfruit steaks to pizzas and cassava fettuccini alongside a lively community and creative, island-grown cocktails and tonics.


Hujan Locale

Casually elegant and tucked away like a well-kept secret amid Ubud’s busy streets, this eatery is a perfect blend of warung (a basic Indonesian cafe or small restaurant) and fine dining restaurant. Sit near one of many open windows for views of a classic Balinese neighborhood while sipping vibrant cocktails (think Carrot Mai Tais and Butterfly Pea Martinis).


Chef’s Table at Sokasi

Intimate dinners at Sokasi — the curvaceous bamboo pavilion perched above the rushing Ayung River at the Four Seasons in Sayan — are all about preserving the island’s time-intensive culinary heritage. Arrive early for a peek at the pig roasting over a coconut wood fire before tucking into rich, forgotten recipes featuring flavors like wild ginger and klengis (an extract from hand-making coconut oil).


Cuca Restaurant Bali

Tapas in Indonesia sounds random but dreamed up and prepared with quality produce and products sourced from the archipelago by chef Kevin Cherkas (whose CV includes several Michelin three-star restaurants), it’s flawless. The nine-course tasting menu at Cuca is a favorite at this vegetarian-friendly fine-dining spot. And though its ingredients evoke Indonesia, the plates are all over the map: sticky eggplant sushi, BBQ octopus, Turkish meatballs, moussaka, and crispy fried chicken.



Best Time to Visit

Daniel Gorostieta/Travel + Leisure



The best time to visit Bali is during both the summer holiday months and the local festive season.


The biggest holiday of the year is Nyepi, which happens in March and involves fantastical parades of men and boys hauling ogoh-ogoh (huge handmade demon dolls) the night before a 24-hour silent day, on which even the airport falls quiet, and planes don’t take off or land, and the use of electricity and vehicles is forbidden. For that period, tourists must stay on the grounds of their accommodations, but it’s a beautiful opportunity to experience Balinese culture as well as epic stargazing. Surfers will find the best waves on the west coast of Bali from May to October, at which point the winds shift and it improves on the eastern side.


“Being an equatorial getaway boasting a consistently delightful climate, this destination attracts globetrotters from across the world, regardless of whether it’s the dry or rainy season,” Faggioli shared. “Nevertheless, my ultimate preference rests with the period spanning from June to August. During these months, the sun graces the skies daily, and the weather is very nice.”


Bali doesn’t experience four seasons in the same way we do. Instead, there are just two: rainy and dry. When it rains, it really pours, but there can also be beautiful days during that humid period, from November to March. April to October tends to be far drier and equally hot, though nights can feel quite cool. Daytime temperatures hover in the high 70s and 80s Fahrenheit year-round.



How to Get There

Plane: Because Bali is an island, the practical to get there is by plane. Visitors will fly into its one international airport, Denpasar-Ngurah Rai International Airport, which services flights from all over the world.


Ferry: There are also plentiful ferries that travel from the mainland of Indonesia to Bali. See all the available ferry terminals and times here.


Cruise: One more option is to book a cruise that stops in Bali as one of its ports of call. Several cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises, make stops here.



Neighborhoods to Visit

Courtesy of Canaan at Potato Head

Seminyak

This is Bali’s most known beach neighborhood, and without a doubt, its busiest. There are literally countless places to shop, eat, and drink along its vibrant, crowded streets, not to mention hundreds of deluxe villas and many luxury hotels. Partying isn’t contained to after-dark hours — beach clubs like Potato Head and Ku De Ta are popular at all times of day and night.


Canggu

Think of Canggu as the newer Seminyak — super hip and, in recent years, where a burst of development has occurred, bringing this seaside beach town plenty of cool little boutiques. Plus, loads of eateries and bars are helmed by chefs from around the world, bringing not only international flavors but aesthetics.


Ubud

Ever since Elizabeth Gilbert’sEat Pray Love” threw Ubud (pronounced oo-bood) into the spotlight, it’s become almost every tourist’s definition of Bali. That’s ironic considering the island is known for its beaches, and this busy, sprawling town full of yoga studios, vegan cafes, shops, spas, and markets is a 30-minute motorbike ride from the nearest stretch of sand. Still, it’s probably the most popular stop in Bali, a great jumping-off point for temple visits, hikes (Mt. Batur is lovely at sunrise), visits with healers, coffee (kopi) tastings, and a serious dose of culture.


Uluwatu

If you surf, you’ve already heard of Uluwatu. Besides its epic waves, the southwesternmost tip of Bali is famed for Pura Uluwatu, the clifftop Hindu temple where monkeys cause mischief as sarong-clad visitors take in panoramic sunsets. Uluwatu and its neighboring surf towns of Padang Padang and Bingin are lower key than Canggu, with more dramatically beautiful beaches (most of which require a decent number of steps to access) and a laid-back but luscious restaurant and cafe scene.


Nusa Lembongan

This tiny island off the southeastern coast is technically part of Bali (along with the even teenier Nusa Ceningan and much larger but less developed Nusa Penida), but is about 20 years behind developmentally, which means it’s a bit closer to the storied Bali of yore. Still, there are already plenty of Instagrammable hotels and eateries here, so if you’re keen for some scuba diving, snorkeling, or more surf, it makes for a fun few-day spinoff (the fast boat from Sanur or Serangan takes about 30 minutes).



How to Get Around

Motorbike: Bali does not have a public transit system in the Western sense — there are some buses, but not reliable or advised. Instead, the ubiquitous motorbikes that flood every street (and sometimes sidewalk) are the primary mode of transportation. There are plentiful rental services to assist in finding the bike for you.

Taxi: If the idea of riding one stresses you out (and it should a bit, the experience is not for the timid), there are plentiful taxis for hire. Uber is not available in Bali, so go with a local service instead.


Private car: There are also abundant private cars with gracious Balinese drivers who will happily be on call to ferry you around the island, many of whom double as casual tour guides.


Rental cars: Almost every rental car service operates in Bali and is available from the airport. If you plan to see a lot of the area it is a good idea to rent your own car, or like the above, hire a private driver, to take you around.