Bali, the surfer’s dreamland and Aussie get-away of Indonesia, is an international destination that draws thousands of travelers every year. Each island in the chain that makes up this expansive country has a distinct culture and ethnic background and Bali is a fine example. The language, food, holidays, and traditions of the Balinese developed independently from the neighboring islands, which gives this little piece of paradise an undeniable appeal. Thousands of visitors flock here each year to get a taste.
Although Bali is one of the smallest “major” islands of Indonesia, it is the most visited, and tourism is still on the rise. It’s not hard to see why. The mind-blowing marine biodiversity (this island is in the region with the highest diversity in the world) makes Bali a diver’s dream, and the legendary Uluwatu draws professional surfers from all over the world. The highly sophisticated traditional arts (most notably dance and sculpture) attract many people as well. Mountain treks, ancient temples, white sand beaches, a thriving nightlife and exclusive resorts are only a few of the other draws of this unbelievable place.
The southern region of the island, including the capital of Denpasar, the historic town of Ubud, and the beachside strip-mall of Kuta, is the tourism center of the island and many people who visit stay in this area for most of their trip. The island is so small that you can reach any corner of it on a day trip. The northern portion of the island is dominated by a strip of volcanic mountains. Tucked away in the folds of the land are picturesque rice paddies and small villages that shouldn’t be missed, and it’s well worth a more in-depth exploration. A few islands off of the coast of Bali are easily reached by boat and can be a quiet retreat from the dense southern region as well, especially if you’re looking to get more up-close and personal with the amazing variety of wildlife. If you find yourself overwhelmed with the billboards, trash, and fast food joints of Kuta, here are some other options to travel abroad in Bali off the beaten path.
1) Stay in a “losmen” in the mountains.
A losmen is a small guesthouse that can be rented from local families for surprisingly great rates. They can range in price and quality significantly, but comfortable accommodation can be found with the right amount of effort. If you’re not feeling like big resorts and beach-side bungalows, look into the smaller towns on the eastern side of the island. You may have to walk around and check out a lot of different places to find one that’s right for you, but it’s worth it. If you’re lucky, you may even get to share a meal with the owners of the guesthouse. We made our way to Candikunung, a tiny town in the central mountains that’s known for its awesome markets.
2) Rent a scooter and get lost on the side roads.
Driving in Bali can be a little hectic and sometimes dangerous in the bigger towns, but on the slopes of the mountains you’ll be cruising along small back roads weaving through farming communities and rice paddies. The elevation gain means amazing lookouts and waterfalls are hiding down dirt roads ready to be discovered, and views of Mount Agung can be stunning if the skies are clear. Make sure you’re renting from a trustworthy dealership, so ask around first. Our scooter adventure took us around the town of Sideman, which has good accommodation for jumping around the eastern part of the island.
3) Trek Mount Agung for sunrise.
Mount Agung is the highest peak on Bali, and the hikes in the area are the most strenuous on the island. Guides are essentially required for exploring the summit area, as it’s supposedly very hard to navigate the trails without one. Most guided treks start the night before and get you to the peak just in time to watch the sunrise.
If you’re not a big hiker, make sure to get up to one of the temples at the trailheads. Pura Besakih and Pura Pasar Agung are both beautiful temples with great views.
4) Stay on Nusa Penida or Nusa Lembongan and explore on bicycle.
Nusa Lembongan is the most visited of the smaller islands around Bali, as the other two don’t have many amenities for travelers. There’s a great beach scene with a ton of great snorkeling. Scooters will get you anywhere on the island easily, but the hills are great for cycling. You can ride all around the island in a day and still hit most of the major beaches.
Nusa Penida is bigger and more rustic and there’s not much snorkeling or water sports on the island, but there’s plenty of awesome jungle and coastline to see. We took a little commuter boat from Lembongan with Balinese fishermen at sunrise and were the only guests at our hotel. If you really want to get away from the crowds, Nusa Penida is your spot.
5) Get around the mountain and see the northern coast.
Munduk, resting on the northern slopes of Mount Agung, is a dayhiker’s dreamland. The town itself is beautiful, but the access to waterfall hikes makes it a fantastic place to stay for a few days. Mount Agung seems to have been cut off suddenly at the water, making the northern coast more rugged than the south. Steep cliff sides and rocky shores are the norm, and it’s hard to come by a good sun tanning beach, but the vastly different scenery and fresh mountain air are a perfect retreat from the crowded beaches in the south.