For decades, one of the hottest vacation destinations in Asia has been the small island of Bali.
A province of Indonesia, Bali is an area known for its rich and diverse cultures, incorporating Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and other East Asian cultural elements into one homogeneous society. Bali has had its name since the 10th century, according to recovered archaeological finds. Despite this though, Bali has seen its share of upheaval. The Dutch colonized the island in the 1597 by force. When it was clear the Dutch were going to win, some 200 people in the Sanur region took their own lives rather than surrendering.
After World War II, Bali reclaimed its independence with the rest of Indonesia, with its place in Western culture as a tourist destination firmly entrenched. Bali today is somewhat like the Bali of old, where everyone is welcome. The only difference is the modern amenities and five-star resorts. Yet, just staying at the hotel is not one of the best things to do in Bali, because outside of it lies a window on a whole other world. Let’s take a peek inside of it, shall we?
A Bit About Bali
Apart from its history, there are several things to know about Bali. We've broken down the many important aspects to understand before visiting.
Where Is Bali?
If you are going to take advantage of all the things to do in Bali, you will need to know where it is. Bali is an island just off the main islands of Indonesia. It’s part of what is known as the Coral Triangle, or the waters in between Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and other island nations in the region. This area has the highest biodiversity of marine species on the planet. There are seven times more coral species in the waters off of Bali than there are in the entire Caribbean. About eight degrees south of the equator, Bali enjoys a tropical, temperate climate all year round.
Bali is a volcanic island, and there are a number of major peaks and rock formations, including islets made from pillow basalt, a volcanic rock. There are a number of active volcanoes still on the island. The highest peak, Mount Agung, is an active volcano as is Mount Batur, another popular peak. There are also a trio of small islands to the south east of the main island of Bali. In the east, the Lombok strait divides Bali from Lombok. What’s most interesting about that is this mars a clear division between the Indomalayan ecozone and Australasia fauna elsewhere. This is because the Lombok strait never became shallow enough for animals to cross. Bali faces growing risk from changing climate and human influence, including being one of the world’s worst plastic polluters.
What’s It Like In Bali?
One of the reason there are so many things to do in Bali is because the weather is almost always nice. Outside of the December to March rainy season, Bali typically enjoys a warm, temperate weather. There are plenty of resorts and tourist destinations on the island, but it still remains rich with the local cultures. There is also a rich concentration of animal life in the jungles and even near the cities. The worst predators here are reptiles, such as the king cobra, the reticulated python, and the water monitor.
There are not many natural waterways in Bali, save for a small river. Thus, the area has always faced water shortages. The locals developed an ingenious irrigation system, but the influx of tourists threatens the island. There have been increasing water shortages, especially near the cities that get the most tourist traffic. There is Kuta, a beach town, Ubud in the center of the island, Denpasar, Singaraja, the former colonial capital and the island’s second-oldest city. Whether you want to be deep in the jungle, up on the mountaintops, or in the cultural heart of an old, old city, Bali has it.
Who Lives In Bali?
Bali has a population of over four million, almost doubling in the past 40 years. The majority of people living in Bali practice the Hindu religion, even though they are minority in the rest of Indonesia. Of course, they live peacefully with members of other faiths, such as Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, and even some who practice Confucianism. Still, despite their religious differences, the people of Bali share a distinct and prolific culture. They have a rich history of painting, hand-crafting, music and dancing. There are a number of festivals every year where people gather in traditional costumes.
The culture of Bali used to be under the yoke of a caste system, though one historians believe was less rigid than those found in India. While that is a thing of the past, people are still very closely tied to their family’s ancestral homes. As Indonesia has grown more democratized, old traditions and laws are coming back into vogue. For example, local councils of villagers can punish someone with “kasepekang” which means the offender is shunned by their communities.
Is It a Good Vacation Spot?
Bali is a wonderful place to visit, full of gorgeous views and beautiful people full of stories and ready to share their homeland with us. We’re very fortunate for that, because there are many things to do in Bali that you just can do elsewhere in the world. As mentioned above, the coral reef system in the waters nearby is unparalleled anywhere else. The rich cultural tapestry woven by Balinese artists and the islands’ religions is fascinating, a global treasure.
Since it’s an island, there are plenty of beachfront activities, but it’s not all just sun, sand, and surf. There are mountains and jungles all over the island, so you can connect with nature. Or you can tour the ancient historical sites and temples in the area, to learn the rich history of this little island, and its journey from a loose collection of kingdoms to the province of Indonesia it is today. While there are many things to do in Bali, you can also elect to do nothing. You can pretty much just plop yourself down anywhere on the island and be surrounded by natural splendor. Bali is a jewel of the Indian Ocean, and it’s place that should definitely make your luxury bucket list.
Top Eight Things to Do In Bali
From beaches to temples to rural village farms, there are plenty of things to do in Bali when you visit. Below you will find our list of things you should check out if you make the trip. They aren’t really listed in any particular order, because what the best things to do in Bali are depends solely on your taste.
1. Visit the Temples
Because of the rich religious history on the island, one of the best things to do in Bali is tour the temples in the region. The majority of the Hindu temples in the region are meticulously kept and more expansive than you might think. The Pura Besakih, built in the 15th century along the side of Mount Agung, is a collection of 23 separate temples on six levels. Another popular temple is the Tirta Empul. It’s a water temple near the village of Tampaksiring. Pilgrims come from miles away to bathe in the sacred waters in a pool at the center of the temple. Though, in recent years, the water has been contaminated from outside influences.
There are a number of Hindu temples built overlooking the water, which make for very scenic visits. One of the favorites is Tanah Lot, a temple built in the 16th century near Denpasar, on a rock formation out over the water. It was restored in 1980 after erosion affected the structure of the building using artificial rocks to stabilize the building. Perhaps the most famous one, however, is the Uluwatu Temple, built on a cliff near South Kuta overlooking the ocean in the 11th century. It is a very holy temple, and its occupied by monkeys that locals believe are sacred. These mischievous little creatures are notorious for snatching visitors’ belongings.
2. Rice Terraces
Just outside of the central island city of Ubud lies the Tegallalng Rice Terraces and at the foot of Mount Batur are the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces. Either or both of these places deserve a visit on your trip to Bali. The views are amazing, with the terraced rice patties stacked on the sides, interspersed with natural foliage. Some are even UNESCO World Heritage sites, as they are not just fields where rice is grown but are surrounded by temples. While there, you will be among the locals working in the patties. They are generally amenable to chatting and taking photos, but know it’s customary to offer them a donation if you do.
What makes these places so special, however, is the Subak Irrigation System that has been used in the area since the 9th Century. There are local legends about who developed it, but ultimately this irrigation system has created its own ecosystem to support it. Using canals, tunnels, and weirs, water is guided through the temple and then out to the rice patties. Anywhere from 50 to 400 farmers are able to use one water source for their rice patties using these methods. You can also visit the Subak Museum in the Tabanan Regency area of the island.
3. Sacred Monkey Forest
The Balinese long-tailed monkey is a local species that, given the influx of tourists over the past two centuries, could have become endangered. However, the village of Padangtegal, itself a part of the city of Ubud, owns 12.5 hectares of forest that it has made a sacred sanctuary for the creatures. They have about 750 monkeys living in the forest and in the three temples inside the sanctuary. More than just a place for ecological conservation, the monkey sanctuary is a spiritual destination committed to the Hindu principle of living harmoniously with each other and nature.
The park is densely packed with more than 100 species of trees, and there are trails that take visitors to the various areas within. There are places for people, such as a canteen, a first aid center, both an open stage and a public hall, and numerous toilet facilities. The temples were not constructed for the park, but rather date back to around 1350. One temple features a cemetery nearby where the deceased are buried temporarily. Every five years they hold a mass cremation ceremony. The monkeys, who’ve also lived there longer than the sanctuary has been official, are also deeply woven into their spiritual identity.
4. Goa Gajah
While there are no shortage of temples to visit on a list of things to do in Bali, the temple known as Goa Gajah is unique. The name, which translates to “Elephant Cave,” was given either because the primary figure resembles an elephant or as a tribute to the statue of Ganesh inside the temple. The façade of this sanctuary, built between the 9th and 11th centuries, is an intricate carving in the rock. The doorway is the mouth of a menacing face, and other creepy little carvings peer out from the rest of the design. In person its likely breath-taking. It is believed that, like Western gargoyles, these faces were meant to ward off evil spirits.
Inside the temple, there can be found both Hindu and Buddhist iconography. Along with the statue of Ganesh, the interior of the temple features symbols of Shiva, the lingam and yoni. By the river, which feeds a bathing area, there are images of stupas and chattra from Buddhism. Reclaimed by nature, Dutch archaeologists rediscovered the door to the cave in 1923. However, it wasn’t until 1954 that the fountains and bathing pool were rediscovered. However, a Japanese poem from 1365 called Desawarnana mentions the site. Be aware though, because it is a holy place, visitors wearing shorts will be given a sarong to wrap around themselves before they can enter.
5. Ubud Art Market
Just opposite the Puri Saren Royal Palace in Ubud, sits the Pasar Seni Ubud or the Ubud Art Market. Each day, artisans from neighboring villages come to their stalls and tents to sell their wares since the days when a king walked around the palace. Today, however, it is a great place for tourists to go to get authentic local products and support the local economy. Like many open-air markets, haggling is a part of the experience. If you’re really looking for a deal, go early in the morning, but the prices are never that high.
Since this is the Ubud Art Market, obviously you can find local handmade art. Vendors sell paintings, statuary, and other tchotchkes, much of it very beautiful and reflective of the unique sensibility of Balinese artists. However, you can also find wearable art or even art in which to store the art you buy! Many vendors sell handwoven basketbags and stackable storage boxes. You can also find lovely scarves, jewelry, hats, and sarongs. It’s a great place where culture and commerce intersect just perfectly.
6. Kintamani and Mount Agung
There are brilliant peaks all along the island, so one of the things to do in Bali is climb them. The area known as Kintamani is the place to be for all those who want to make a mountain part of their vacation. There are three main villages, along with others around the lake mostly full of locals and not exactly catering to tourists. There are temples around the area, and Mount Batur is a part of UNESCO’s Global Geopark Network. Mount Batur is a volcano that has erupted a number of times, but the last activity was in 2000.
The highest peak on the island is Mount Agung, but unfortunately you’re not likely to get close to it anytime soon. In September of 2017, seismic activity warned those in the region that volcano was about to erupt. At first it just kicked out some steam and ash, but over the past year it has had magma eruptions. The last lava plume at the time of this writing happened in June 2018. There was another explosion on July 3rd, and the trouble is not yet over at this site. When it’s not active, this is a great area for hiking and mountain climbing. The Pura Besakih temple is located here, but so far has not been damaged. This marks the second time that the temple was spared after a destructive explosion, the first being in 1963.
7. Marine Parks
If you want a more ordered place to spend some of your vacation time, then perhaps instead of traipsing off into the jungle, go to one of Bali’s marine parks. In Gianyar, you can go to the Bali Safari and Marine Park. While you can find the Bali version of a safari on the island, this place is actually an open Zoo. You can ride on buses through areas with zebras, rhinos, and other imported fauna. There is also Ganesh Park with a large statue of the Hindu deity and an area where elephants bathe. Nearby, guests can visit the Bali Theatre which features performances of Balinese art. There is also a Hindu temple on the grounds. Other attractions feature a waterpark, restaurants, amusement rides, and even overnight accommodations.
The other large amusement park in Bali is Waterbom, which boasts itself as the number-one waterpark on the entire continent of Asia. Opened 23 years ago, the park spans nearly 4 hectares, but much of that space is a kind of natural preserve. They have animals in their natural habitat, gardens, and water systems throughout. However, the real attraction are the waterslides, built in partnership with WhiteWater, who supplies Six Flags and other parks. The park also features fine dining options, including a 48-hour leavened bread pizza.
8. Go to the Beach
Of all the things to do in Bali, don’t forget that most obvious one: go to the beach. The island boasts a number of beaches for tourists and those that offer a bit more privacy. Along these beaches, you will find the types of resorts you expect to find in a tropical paradise. The first one was the Bali Beach Hotel which opened in Sanur in 1963, built by then-President of Indonesia Sukrano. After the island opened its international airport in 1970, the tourism business exploded. The best beaches are found in the southern part of the island.
Today, the best beach area is the town of Kuta on the southernmost tip of the main island. Also called Sunset Beach, it is lined with luxury resorts and public beaches. Recently, they added a white sandstone fence, in the Balinese architecture style, along the beach to prevent sand from blowing into the cafes. However, since some local unrest (including two bombings in the mid-2000s) the Balinese government has limited tourism development in order to preserve both Balinese culture and the natural splendor of the area. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of things to do in Bali, both in the tourist spots and elsewhere on the island.
Bali is a paradise, and we should be thankful that the people who live there want to share it with us.
Bali is a wonderful place full of beauty, history, and natural wonder. It is important that people who travel there respect both the local customs and the island itself. Pollution is a huge problem in the area, so if you travel make sure that you properly dispose of all trash, especially plastic. This area is so magical, we all should want to preserve it for generations to come. If you get a chance to travel to this gorgeous island, make sure you make the most of that trip.
We hope you enjoyed this list and find it helpful as you plan your trip to Bali. Let us know in the comments what you think. Share your thoughts, reactions, and the things to do in Bali you want to do the most! Remember to share the article on social media so your friends can get in on the conversation.
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