It’s no secret that Bali has become a hotspot destination for honeymooners, adventure-seekers and every traveler in between. Travel bloggers and influencers rave about the Indonesian island on Instagram, and I was really curious to see if it would live up to the hype. But with all that content on Instagram, it can be difficult to decide where to go in Bali.
Guil and I spent two weeks on the island in June 2018, and we soon agreed it was one of our favorite stops on our 10-month trip. We even contemplated moving there. A girl can dream.
The truth is, Bali easily caters to every type of person—from the luxury traveler to the budget backpacker. It differs from other destinations in that it delivers a wide spectrum of experiences in a relatively compact area; in Bali you can start your day climbing a volcano and end it with a massage at your beachfront villa.
Because I’ve become so passionate about the experience I was fortunate enough to have in Bali, I’ve complied a thoughtful list of what I believe to be the top 10 bucket list places to visit in Bali, especially for first-time visitors.
Where to go in Bali
1. Nungnung Waterfall
The waterfalls on this island are some of the most impressive natural marvels I’ve ever seen. Bali is home to several waterfalls, many of which are easily accessed without much of a hike.
If there’s one I absolutely fell in love with it was the Nungnung Waterfall, a giant spout of water barreling off a cliff in the middle of a dense jungle.
Located about an hour and a half north of Ubud, Nungnung is a jaw-dropping force of nature that will most certainly leave you speechless. Prepare to get wet as the force of the falling water meets the ground below, while sun rays pour in from the top, coloring the mist in shades of yellow and orange. It is magic. This definitely makes it one of the top places to visit in Bali.
And it’s easy to get to! It’s a scooter ride away from Ubud (or alternatively, you can hire a driver for the day). Once there, a set of steps lead to the base of the falls, and it’s 100 percent worth the mild leg workout.
2. Nusa Penida
If there’s a place that impressed me more than the island of Bali itself it was Nusa Penida.
Penida is the largest of three islands known as the “Nusa islands,” all of which sit about 30 miles off the southern coast of Bali. All three are worth a visit. While Penida is the largest of the group, it’s the least developed and the least touristy—though it seems like it’s gotten a lot busier since I visited in 2018.
At that time, there was so little written about the island online that Guil and I almost didn’t stay there overnight. Fortunately we followed our traveler’s instinct and booked one of the few hotels we found online, hoping for the best.
Penida wasn’t actually our first choice; we had originally planned to visit the overly popular Gili islands but at the last minute decided to visit the Nusa islands instead. It was one of the best decisions we made on our trip.
If you have the time, do yourself a favor and spend a few nights on this incredible island that still feels remarkably untouched by tourism (though probably not for long, so head there soon). The roads were absolutely dreadful and there was only one ATM on the entire island, but the natural landscapes—jagged cliffs diving into the bluest water; the endless Indian Ocean, with the massive Mount Agung breaking the horizon in the distance; the dense jungle that fills the space between tiny villages and the water—are like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
Nusa Penida is also home to the now-Instagram-famous Kelingking Beach, which is definitely one of the most famous Bali tourist attractions. But its significance is really so much more than that. Trust me, just go.
3. Tegalalang Rice Terraces
No visit to Bali is complete without stopping by a rice terrace.
Another ultra-popular Bali tourist attraction, the Tegallalang Rice Terraces have become somewhat of a tourist trap. While exploring the terraces, there will be several points at which you’ll be forced to donate money if you want to go in any deeper. As such, you’ll find several Instagram-friendly props for photos like swings, nest-like baskets and “I Love Bali” signs throughout the terraces, all available for a small fee. Nevertheless this is one place in Bali that shouldn’t be skipped.
The terraces themselves are a spectacular backdrop for photos, with layer upon layer of green rice paddies stretching as far as the eye can see. Plus, it’s an easy 30 minutes away from Ubud by scooter and a beautiful way to spend a morning, making it one of the top places to go in Bali.
4. Spend a few days in Ubud
Ubud is the cultural and spiritual center of Bali. While the center of town may be hectic, the surrounding area is a mix of jungle, rice terraces, mountains and the tiny local villages sprinkled in between.
Ubud’s charismatic streets are lined with light-posts carrying Balinese offerings and give you a true sense of what Bali may have been like before the tourism boom. There’s a local temple on every block and a different religious ceremony every night.
Ubud is also very green, both in landscape and ideology. Aside from acting as a base to explore nearby waterfalls, Ubud is also a wellness center. There are countless spas, weekly yoga classes and tons of vegetarian cafes. Accommodation is also very affordable, including beautiful pool-side villas. It’s a must-visit area of Bali.
5. Tirta Empul Water Temple
Even if you’re not what one would call a “spiritual person,” I’d still highly recommend participating in the Tirta Empul Water Temple Balinese ceremony.
Tirta Empul is a Hindu Balinese temple famous for its sacred springs, where locals take part in ritual baths within a long communal spring that’s fed from several water spouts. Visitors are more than welcome to participate in the tradition, and the best way to do so is to hire a local guide once you arrive.
I hired one at the door, and the sweet man walked Guil and I through the ritual, first making sure we understood the history behind the temple and the purpose of the ceremony.
To begin, he gave us each a Balinese offering, tiny baskets filled with flowers and burning incense, and told us to meditate and think about the things we were about to ask for and give thanks to in the water. “It needs to come from the heart,” he gently reminded us.
Once inside, we stopped at each spout lining the wall of the pool, following a single-file line, cleansing our faces in each. The pool was full when I was there, so I waited in a long line of at least 50 schoolchildren—a field trip!—before reaching the spouts.
The ritual itself was really beautiful and touching, and you can easily fall into the vibe, even if you’ve never participated in anything like this before. It’s probably one of the less touristy Bali tourist attractions, where you’ll find more locals than outside visitors.
6. Climbing Mount Batur
The Mount Batur sunrise hike is another one of those unique Bali experiences that I don’t think you should miss! Yes, there will be hundreds of other tourists at the summit, and yes, you’ll lose a few hours of sleep.
But it’s a sunrise you’ll never forget, and the summit itself is huge, giving you plenty of space to find a quiet corner. I’ll never forget watching the sun creep over the Indian Ocean, with the towering peak of Mount Agung, another nearby volcano, slowly coming into view. It’s the type of experience that reminds me why I love traveling so much.
The hike is only about two hours long, though it starts around 4 a.m. (Tour vans pick you up from your hotel even earlier, around 2 a.m.) Guil and I booked a discounted tour through Voyagin for about $45 each. We trekked up in a group of five and pretty much had the trail to ourselves the whole way up.
7. Stay in a luxury villa
It’s easy to feel like you’re living in luxury in Bali, even on a fairly low budget.
Private villas with personalized swimming pools and spa-like bathrooms have become the norm for the island’s tourism sector—everything from infinity pools dropping into the ocean to outdoor showers and balconies overlooking the rice terraces is available. A pretty good breakfast is usually included, plus all the hotel staff I encountered were always kind and friendly.
There are options as low as $50 per night; all it takes is a bit of online research.
8. Snorkel With Manta Rays
This is a fairly popular excursion that allows people to snorkel with giant manta rays off the coast of Bali. You can scuba dive with them too, if you’re certified. Unfortunately the currents were too rough while I was there so I didn’t get the chance to swim with these enormous creatures—but I’ve only heard good things!
If you go, please let me know how it went.
9. Surf, do yoga or cafe-hop in Canggu
Canggu and Ubud are my top two recommendations when people ask me where to stay in Bali. While Ubud has its cultural and mystic appeal, there’s no place more laidback than Canggu.
Home to digital nomads, yoga instructors and surfers, Canggu might be the most Westernized, millennial-friendly place on this side of the world. Pick from a list of daily activities like surf lessons, yoga classes, cafe-hopping, shopping, spa days, pool days, beach days and Balinese massages.
There are endless restaurant options and they’re all pretty great, many of which lean vegetarian. Beach clubs and surf schools line the sand, and you can pretty much grab an açai bowl anywhere. Go, go, go and be prepared to live your best life.
10. Explore Uluwatu and its beautiful cliffs
We spent a day riding through Uluwatu looking for beaches for Guil to surf, stopping at cute restaurants along the way. Located on the southern tip of the island, this region is made up of huge cliffs dropping into the ocean and lots of surfable beaches.
We caught a beautiful sunset from Uluwatu Beach, which is also home to the famous Finns Beach Club—a fancy party spot that I was way underdressed for. There are plenty of casual outdoor bars around, though, and all deliver a pretty irresistible view of the ocean below. I’d definitely add it to my list of where to go in Bali.
And there you have it: My top 10 recommendations for places to visit in Bali, Indonesia. Did I miss something? Let me know below. x
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