Bali is Indonesia’s dream destination. Equal parts cultural wonderland and cool coastal hangout, the island is a magnet for backpackers and beachgoers looking for their own slice of paradise. Long a surfing hotspot, Balinese culture, and aesthetics have also attracted everybody from academics to yoga enthusiasts, eager to learn more about the unique facets of the Indonesian island.
There’s much to shout about when it comes to Bali, from dramatic volcanoes and surf spots to Instagram-worthy cafes and ancient Hindu temples.
What is Bali Known For?
The lush landscape of this tropical island is home to a number of different waterfalls, creating a paradise setting among jungles and cliffs. One of the most picturesque in Bali has to be Tukad Cepung, which involves climbing down 100 or so steps into a magical cave where water tumbles down.
A popular way to see Bali’s many cascades is by taking a trek to the waterfalls themselves. Waterfall trekking opportunities abound, but one popular excursion is to Sekumpul on the north of the island; this dramatic waterfall sits among verdant rice terraces.
Bali’s idyllic swings have become famous places for people to visit. These Instagram-friendly hotspots are found in impossibly beautiful locations on the Indonesian island, hanging over dramatic landscapes, making for the perfect photo opportunity.
Aloha Ubud Swing is one of the most popular; here, you can swing out with rice fields as a backdrop. There’s also the chance to swing over Lake Buyan, while Bali Swing features all manner of swings and roped nests for those looking for a bit more of an adventure.
Beach bars are part and parcel of a vacation to Bali. Often concentrated around the hip enclave of Seminyak, these beach bars are cool coastal hangouts for travelers looking for chilled-out spaces to spend a day by the sea.
Some of the most famous on the island include The Lawn, Woobar, and Potato Head, which is known for its various lounges, outdoor pools, and DJ sets. You can expect a high level of service at these places, as well as delicious, innovative cocktails and a fun-loving crowd.
This is Bali’s top Instagram spot — and somewhere that has quickly become an icon of the internet. It’s here, at the entrance to a golf resort, that travelers pose for snaps walking whimsically through the two towering pillars of the gate.
Despite being the entrance to a golf resort, seeing this giant version of unique Balinese architecture on a backdrop of mountains is stunning.
Elsewhere on the island, these traditional gates can be found at the entrance to Hindu temples and sacred sites, signifying the portal between the real world and the spiritual one. They’re also used in non-religious places, like the residences of nobles or kings.
Bali’s very own resident active volcano is not only the highest peak on the island (3,031 meters) but also a spiritual site. For Bali’s inhabitants, Mount Agung is a symbol of Mount Meru, the spiritual center of the world according to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
Though this cone-shaped peak last erupted in 2019, there are still a number of hiking trails that visitors can be taken on for trekking tours of this magnificent marvel. There’s an important temple located on the slopes of the volcano, Pasar Agung.
Another of Bali’s beautiful volcanic mountains, Mount Batur, is an active volcano that sits to the northwest of Mount Agung. Last erupting in 2000, the peak soars up above 1,717 meters above sea level and, like its neighbor, is a popular place for hiking. It’s also here that you’ll find Lake Batur. Located on its inner caldera, the lake is home to several small villages and is often the starting point for hikes to the summit of Batur itself.
Though Bali is part of the Muslim-majority country of Indonesia, the island itself is actually Hindu. Evidence of this can be found in many facets of the island’s culture, but most visibly in its visually arresting temples.
Sat balanced on a cliff overlooking the sea, Uluwatu Temple (or Pura Uluwatu) dates back to the 11th century. Another famous temple is Tirta Empul, a water temple with bathing pools full of spring water; worshippers travel here for ritual purification.
There’s also Besakih Great Temple, the most important Hindu site on the island. Tanah Lot, literally “Land in the Sea,” is another spiritually important site that also happens to be spectacular, jutting out from the sea on rugged rocks.
Being such a small island, it may be surprising that Bali has such a strong visual aesthetic — one that has influenced art and design around the world. Based on centuries-old traditions and with influences from the local culture and Hindu religious beliefs, you’ll find evidence of it in architecture and design across the island. Utilizing natural materials, a sense of minimalism, and a focus on harmony with the environment, these often modestly sized buildings are renowned for their beauty.
Yoga and Bali have become synonymous with travelers looking for a spiritual retreat, popularised at least in part by the book and film Eat, Pray, Love. The island has no shortage of yoga retreats and studios for classes offering everything from beginner classes to yogi-level sessions.
Yoga studios can be found in many of Bali’s towns, but the most popular place for wellness, meditation, and yoga is Ubud. This laid-back town is home to dozens of places where you can practice yoga and get away from it all.
Bali’s beaches are a big draw for travelers to this Indonesian island. There’s a long list of beautiful stretches of sand lapped by the sea here, from the cool crowds that kick back on Canggu Beach to the surfers of Kuta Beach.
Perasi Beach is often cited as one of Bali’s most beautiful beaches. This secluded spot sits between two dramatic peaks, between the village of Bugbug and Perasi. Or you could explore the powdery white sand and beautiful blue waters of Pandawa Beach, taking its name from the five heroes of the Mahabharata, a Hindu epic.
Tegallalang Rice Terraces
This famous Bali landscape is located in Ubud and is well known as one of the most iconic sights on the island. These bright green terraces step down into a wide valley and make use of a unique Balinese cooperative irrigation system called subak. This is said to have been passed down ever since the 8th century.
There are some beautiful viewpoints where you can get different vantage points of this scenery. One of the best is a roadside locale, complete with a cafe, where you can really see the dramatic patchwork of green rice paddies below.
Balinese New Year is a little different from New Year traditions elsewhere in the world. This lunar-based New Year celebration is called Nyepi. This day is a time of reflection that takes place between 6 a.m. and 6 a.m. the next day and is known as a day of silence.
Because of this, the public holiday involves complete silence, fasting, and meditation. Anything that may interfere with the period of self-reflection is restricted. That means that during Nyepi, there’s no work, no entertainment, and no traveling, but this also means lighting of fires and no TV, among other things.
Nyepi is strictly adhered to by local people. It sees Bali’s usually bustling streets fall completely silent. Tourists don’t have to adhere to the rules, but respect is advised; nobody is allowed on either the beaches or the streets. There are even traditional security men called pecalang, who patrol towns, making sure people are adhering to the guidelines.
Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
Also known as Ubud Monkey Forest, this swathe of green space is home to Balinese long-tailed macaques. Located in Ubud, this sanctuary plays host to approximately 1,260 macaques in total, who freely roam the forest space and the ruins and temples located here, too.
The sanctuary is also home to a number of tree species and is a pleasant place to wander, with well-marked pathways and streams, making for a fun, interesting way to see a slice of the island’s flora and fauna. This place is perfect for nature lovers, as it’s easy to get up close to the monkeys and watch them play around in their natural habitat.
This traditional dance is the result of Bali’s unique culture. The Hindu-majority population of the island has long been celebrating portions of the Hindu epic Ramayana in dramatic performances, but it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the Kecak dance itself was born.
The Kecak dance is a fusion of Balinese music, in the form of a chanting chorus to represent Hanuman’s monkey army, and dance combines to tell the story of the Ramayana. Performances of the Kecak dance can be seen in a variety of locations across the island, but one of the most famous places is Pura Uluwatu. Here the dance is performed at sunset with an ancient temple and the sea as scenery.
Ever since the 1960s and ‘70s, Bali has been synonymous with surfing — but surfing here has been going on longer than that. In fact, Kuta Beach has been a surfing hotspot since the 1930s. That means that the island has been drawing those who want to catch a wave for almost 100 years.
Bali regularly plays host to surfing competitions and is often cited as one of the best places to surf anywhere in the world. Uluwatu, on the southwestern tip of Bali, is the number one surf spot on the island.
Bottlenose dolphins are one of Bali’s much-loved local residents. Groups of these intelligent marine mammals regularly play in the waters around the island, particularly on the north coast. Visitors to Bali can head off on a boat for a chance to catch a glimpse of these wonderful creatures — sunrise is the best time of day to see dolphins in Bali, but many tours also head out at sunset.
Literally meaning “suckling pig,” this Balinese dish is one of the most famed foodstuffs on the island. It sees a young pig stuffed with herbs and spices and left to cook for many hours over an open fire. Once cooked, the pork is served sliced and topped with spicy sambal, with a side of rice, crackling, and soup. You’ll find this local dish served in warungs (local eateries) all over Bali.
Bali is lucky enough to be a coffee-growing island. There are ample opportunities to sample a cup of the island’s native beans, with a whole host of cafes from down-home and traditional to chic contemporary coffeehouses.
It’s also on the island of Bali that you’ll have the chance to kopi luwak, aka civet coffee. This involves the small mammal sifting through coffee cherries, only eating the best ones, and then excreting the seed within — the coffee bean, which ferments as it passes through the civet’s digestive system. These beans are then collected and processed.