To all of my Bali bound friends – this one’s for you
Having spent three glorious months bouncing around Indonesia at the end of last year, I have since been the recipient of many Bali related travel enquiries. In fact, that’s actually what inspired me to start a blog – to put all of my experiences, adventures and top tips in one place so that when friends ask ‘what should I do, where should I eat, where can I find a turtle’, I can point them all in one direction and hope it helps them to fall in love with Bali as much as we did.
Granted, expecting people to have three months off to explore each and every corner is a bit unrealistic, so I’ve put together a two week Bali bucket list compiling some of my favourite and most unmissable experiences. Enjoy!
Days 1 – 3: Canggu
Days 4 – 5: Ubud
Days 6 – 10: The Gili Islands
Days 11 – 13: Ulu Watu and beyond
Canggu (3 days)
As you drive from Denpasar airport along the coast you’ll pass through Kuta and Seminyak, and once you get to Canggu you’ll be glad you did. Canggu consists of an array of unique and beautiful restaurants, cafes, shops and bars flanked with beaches one side and rice paddies the other. The surrounding scenery is beautiful (particularly at sunset) and although Canggu can be busy, it has an amazingly relaxed atmosphere that will have you checked into holiday mode quicker than you can say nasi goreng. Everywhere you go you’ll spot beautiful yogis, surfers and those that live by a gluten-free-organic-extra-chia-seed-and-sprinkled-with-moon-dust kind of diet, but there’s nothing pretentious about this killer spot, everyone here is friendly so head to Old Man’s, grab a 2-4-1 frozen daiquiri special and watch the sun go down on the surf.
Where to stay?
Just outside the main town of Canggu and surrounded by lush rice paddies, we stayed at the dreamy Utama Villas. The stunning grounds feature uniquely designed villas with outdoor bathrooms, a shared kitchen area, a pool and a fair few feline friends. You’ll need to hire a scooter to nip around and it’s a bit more spenny than your average Bali digs but well worth it if you’re looking for somewhere to relax.
On the flipside, if your budget is a little lower check out The Farm Hostel.
Where to eat?
The food on offer in Canggu deserves a whole website in itself. Pretty much everywhere you go you’ll receive beautifully presented food suitable for every diet type under the sun.
A few of our favourites were: Grass Terrace for a dream dinner date spot; Betelnut for an all time brunch; Crate Cafe for a tasty brekky; Deus if you fancy a free tattoo with your taco on a Tuesday; Strawberry Fields for burger heaven; Pretty Poison for some action in a giant skate bowl; Old Man’s for 2-4-1 drinks at happy hour, delicious feeds, top views of the surf and the greatest vibes going. This was our absolute favourite spot, if you can, try head here for a Sunday sesh.
What to do?
The black sand beaches in Canggu aren’t exactly picturesque, but if you fancy a surf or watching the pros then head down to Echo beach or Batu Bolong beach. As a heads up (and speaking from experience) avoid stacking it in the almighty shore dump out the front of Old Man’s, it’s not the greatest look.
Yoga and shopping are also super popular in Canggu, with heaps of places to check out along the main strip and down the side alleys.
Ubud (2-3 days)
Ahhh Ubud. Ancient temples, hidden waterfalls, lush rice paddy terraces, gorgeous people and activities galore. The main intersection is brimming with restaurants, cafes, artsy shops and at times a few too many tourists… so the best way to discover the real charm of Ubud is by jumping on a bike and getting yourself well and truly lost.
Where to stay?
The Happy Mango Tree is ideal if you’re looking for something cheap and cheerful, you can also try its sister hostel In Da Lodge, which features a pool overlooking the terraces and a garden full of hammocks for that little slice of jungle luxury.
Air bnb offer some absolute gems around this area so it’s definitely worth seeing what’s out there. One for my own bucket list that definitely needs booking in advance is Hideout Bali, have a look and prepare to swoon.
Where to eat?
The main intersection is heaving with restaurant options and you can get a decent nasi goreng anywhere you go, but if you fancy somewhere off the beaten track definitely try The Black Pearl down the road from the Happy Mango Tree. Isolated by rice paddies and a top spot for brekky, lunch and dinner – we struggled to stay away.
What to do?
This place is an activity lovers PARADISE. Try and squeeze in as many of the below as possible.
Sacred Monkey Forest – The forest alone would be worth a visit with its humongous ancient trees, incredible temples, meandering rivers and stunning scenery. The monkeys everywhere are a massive bonus. Be prepared to get up close and personal with these cheeky bastards as they will leap on you, cling to your legs, crawl into your bags and steal your belongings. It’s a hilarious experience and you’ll definitely get the giggles but don’t be the guy that gets his phone jacked by a monkey, cos that ain’t funny (for you).
Canting Cooking Class – starting at 6am with a trip round the local food market, this half a day activity is perfect if you fancy learning how to make some of the dream dishes you’ve already sampled. In true Ubud style the open air kitchens are located in the middle of a rice paddy surrounded by jungles and mountains to really add to the experience. Come with an empty belly because you get to eat everything you make throughout the day, which despite best efforts you won’t be able to finish. Book your class through the Happy Mango Tree for a sneaky discount.
Tegenungan Waterfall – a 20 minute drive out of the centre of Ubud will bring you to this huge and (overly) popular waterfall set in the jungle. Try and get here first thing in the morning to have it all to yourself, or head there for sunset and crack open a bintang while sitting in the lazy river.
Temples – You’ll easily find temples and palaces dotted along the main intersection which are great for a wander, especially at night when they have traditional dance shows on. But, the most impressive and jaw dropping temples you will find are located a short drive away in an area called Tampaksiring, or Valley of the Kings. Believed to have magical powers, Pura Tirta Empul is one of Bali’s most important temples and features natural springs bubbling up into crystal clear pools of holy water. If you manage to avoid the crowds you can bathe in these pools and shower under the fountains for a pretty unique experience. Down the road from Pura Tirta Empul lies Gunung Kawi, one of Bali’s oldest and largest ancient monuments – and one of my favourite temples in Asia. As you descend the path into a valley of rice terraces, jungle and waterfalls you’ll come across the 10 awe-inspiring memorials (candi) cut out of the 8 metre high cliff face and feel as though you’ve jumped into a scene from Indiana Jones. Take the time to explore every corner of this amazing spot because there are hidden gems everywhere.
Befriend a local – Our best day in Ubud was all down to an incredible local that we befriended when looking for directions on the side of a road. He took us to a Luwak coffee plantation, waterfalls, temples, markets and more, and taught us more about Ubud and Balinese history than we could ever have learned by ourselves. If you’re looking for a similar experience then drop Ketut Susila a message on Facebook for an unforgettable day of adventures.
The Gilis (5 days)
Originally we planned to spend just 1 week in the Gilis and ended up staying for 5, proving how captivating these beautiful islands really are. Each island is completely different to the next, all with their own unique characters.
Firstly you’ve got your party animal Gili Trawangan (Gili T): chock-a-block with tourists, clubs, bars, hotels and more shacks selling mushroom shakes then you’ll know what to do with. Great if you want a wild night out and to meet a whole heap of fun people, but not ideal if you want to get away from it all.
Next is the quiet but charming Gili Meno: stunning white beaches and crystal clear blue waters heaving with turtles and tropical fish, it really is the postcard shot you’ve been waiting for and an absolute must if you want your own isolated paradise, but there isn’t too much on offer here by way of accommodation or restaurants.
In a perfect balance between the two and the place that we called home for 5 weeks is the glorious Gili Air: the beaches here are some of the best, the buzzy strip on the south end is more than enough to keep you busy and the vibe across the island is what dreams are made of. Head to the north if you fancy spending more time with the turtles than the tourists.
Where to stay?
Both Gili T and Gili Air are packed with traveller-ready thatched bungalows complete with outdoor bathrooms right on the waterfront and surrounded by palm trees and hammocks, so you can’t really go wrong. Check out Le Pirate on Gili T for something a little more swish and Pelangi Cottages on Gili Air for a prime north-side spot.
Where to eat and drink?
Mowie’s, Gili Air – with bean bags to lounge on, unbelievable dishes to feast on (try the katsu burger!) and the best sunset spot on the island, this place is unmissable. Gili Air Resort – set on an isolated slice of beach on the north side, this is a must if you fancy a fresh seafood BBQ under the stars. Legend Reggae Bar – home to the infamous Gili Air beach party on every Wednesday. Sama Sama, Gili T – if you fancy heading to Gili T for a night, this is a good place to start – their Friday nights are the best.
What to do?
The best thing about the Gilis is that you can do nearly nothing on a daily basis and you won’t feel the slightest bit guilty. Find a beautiful spot under a leafy palm, grab yourself a couple of bintangs and let the good times roll. If you’re feeling more active, you can try the following: Go snorkelling to discover beautiful coral and fish; get your PADI and explore the depths of the ocean (try Blue Marine dive centre on Gili Air); take a walk around the whole of Gili Meno, this should take you a couple of hours depending on how many baby turtle preservation pools distract you on the way; peruse the shops on Gili T.
Ulu Watu and beyond (2-3 days)
South of Denpasar are the much less travelled but much more beautiful spots of Bingin, Balangan, Padang Padang and Ulu Watu. If you’re looking for easily accessible white sand beaches, turquoise waters, great surf and an island life atmosphere then head down here and away from the main busy strips up North.
Where to stay?
There’s an abundance of traveler hostels all through these parts, but if you’re looking for something more paradise than practical, check out the Flowerbud Bungalows in Balangan or The Temple Lodge in Bingin.
Where to eat and drink?
A lot of the smaller beaches such as Padang Padang feature strings of rustic shacks selling ice cold bintangs and delicious but fairly basic meals. Also worth a look is the ever popular Kelly’s Warung in Bingin and an absolute must to finish off your trip is a Sunday sesh at the notorious Single Fin in Ulu Watu, make sure you get here well before sunset in order to nab a decent spot and brace yourself for an epic night.
What to do?
Grab a scooter and bounce from beach to beach until you find your favourite, then just like the Gilis, I would recommend sitting back, relaxing and soaking up all the deliciousness that Balinese paradise has to offer.