I have been a little reluctant to write about our Bali itinerary, because I know so many people that know the island much, much better than we do.
And also because most holidays in Bali need no itinerary. Rent a villa in Seminyak, do some shopping, head down the beach, get a few massages, flop around the pool and try out the latest restaurants. It is a great recipe for a heavenly holiday. The Balinese aesthetic and influx of investment is a heady combination that makes Bali ideal for relaxation, partying, eating and general fun – with very little effort required.
Because many Aussies (and others) do exactly this and have been doing so for so long – some folks get the wrong end of the stick and think that the entire island is a tourist ghetto of Bintang singlets, bad behaviour and/or not much to do. While there are certainly pockets of this – the assumption that ‘Bali is not for you’ couldn’t be more wrong. There is so much to see and enjoy in Bali for everyone, and many beautiful sights that are easily accessible but often overlooked by many travelers.
We spent 8 days exploring Bali – staying in three very different areas – Ubud, Legian and Sanur – and doing various side trips to other parts of the island which are quite accessible from anywhere you are staying.
Uluwatu's cliff-top temple and Kecak fire dance spectacle
The 'Temple in the Lake' at Bedugul
Planning a successful trip to Bali
1. Where to stay?
Bali is pretty small, and it is possible to do day trips around the island from pretty much anywhere you stay, so where you stay comes down to the vibe of the area and the sort of things you would like to do when your sightseeing is done for the day.
The most established and popular beach communities for tourists are located in the south of the island. Along the west coast the black sand beaches stretch northward from the airport through South Kuta (Tuban) to Kuta proper to Legian to Seminyak to Kerobokan. This stretch has the highest concentration of hotels in all budgets and shopping, which tends to get more expensive and boutique-y as you go northward. Likewise for eats and nightlife.
South of the airport on the bottom nub of the island, there are also a range of options – from the wide sweep of Jimbaran Bay, to the cliffs of Uluwatu and back around to Nusa Dua – all of these have a number of resorts.
For a completely different feel, Ubud and surrounding communities are the green heart of Bali – both physically and spiritually – with plenty of gorgeous temples, terraced rice paddies, handicrafts and yoga pavilions.
If you have five days or more, it is worthwhile splitting your time between Ubud (or surrounding areas) and a beach area if this appeals to you. We did two beach areas – Legian and Sanur – this was unnecessary and the hotel we stayed at in Legian wasn’t great.
2. How do we get around?
While it is possible to join tours of the island, in our experience it is better to hire a driver for the day. Most have comfortable, air-conditioned vehicles and it allows you great flexibility to pick and choose your destinations for the day, not to mention when you want to stop for lunch!
Helpfully, some higher-end accommodation, especially villas, come with airport pick-up and driver for your stay. If not you can arrange drivers pretty easily yourself. They will often find you before you find them – but it pays to ask around for the going rate and have some idea of what you would like to do for the day. We found our drivers pretty organically – one was a taxi driver who offered good advice and we got along with him instantly, so we asked if he was available the next day to take us around.
For best results take a little list with the things you would like to see – discuss with your driver to organise the most logical progression for your day’s visits and whether anything else can be included. If you don’t want to visit emporiums or stores – be sure to make this clear early in the day, as it will eat into your time.