Bali has always been synonymous with paradise – a magical confluence of nature's generosity and colorful cultural practices. Over the years, as the world treaded its picturesque paths, the island forming a more layered narrative. As I share my recent journey, I invite you into a heart-to-heart, less as a travel guide, but more as an explorer sharing notes with fellow wanderers.
The Bali of Today
Of all the places I've wandered, Bali struck me in unexpected ways. I've always approached destinations as a traveler, not just a tourist. I yearned to immerse myself in the true essence of a place – its culture, its people, its very heartbeat.
Before setting foot on the island, I had the same dreams of Bali that you have: of exploring lush landscapes, ancient temples, and that profound cultural richness everyone raves about. But also of smoothie bowls, flower baths and massage, and bamboo villas.
Yet, when I arrived, the reality was a blend of the anticipated and the unexpected. True, the rice paddies sparkled and the temples stood majestic. But there was a third dimension - a modern, globalized Bali that seemed to emerge as a separate entity. This new culture, almost a hybrid, claims authenticity, yet often stays surface-level, leading to a contrived 'manufactured' feel.
The Balinese themselves echo these sentiments. They're showing their dissatisfaction with the island's rapid commercialization, leading to reforms around temple and mountain visits, Airbnb renting, and public behavior norms. This is not meerly resistance to change, but a plea to respect the soul of Bali. Decades of non-native gentrification seemed to have draped a filmy curtain over the island's vibrant core, blurring the line between the authentic and the adopted.
But I promise that this isn't a lecture on respecting cultures. If you're here, reading this, I trust your heart. You seek to understand, to respect, and to connect genuinely. Yet, being forewarned means being forearmed. An informed traveler can wholeheartedly embrace the authentic while appreciating the modern, and experience the trip of their dreams.
A moment of pure connection - nature's reflection of us
The Dreamer's Bali
For the active and consious traveler, Bali is nothing short of a paradise. From the terraced rice fields of Ubud to the artistic enclaves of Seminyak, there’s something for everyone. The island's commitment to wellness is palpable: yoga retreats, detox centers, and world-class gyms are mushroomed across the island, making it a haven for those seeking physical and mental rejuvenation.
While Bali's yoga studios bring a world of opportunity for the practitioner, there's an undeniable blend of the authentic and the imported. Many instructors hail from foreign lands, attracted by Bali's serenity and spiritual essence. This can occasionally lend a cosmopolitan feel to an otherwise Balinese experience. Nonetheless, these studios and venues are nothing short of breathtaking. Imagine a morning saltuation with vistas of verdant jungles or serene rice fields, or joining a moonlit session that harmonizes your body and soul. For those seeking a buffet of yoga styles, Bali is unparalleled. For authentic and deeply-rooted practices, I personally recommend The Practice and Ashtanga Yoga Bali Research Center.
Savoring the finest cacao at the beautiful Yoga Barn
The Balinese massage is a sensory journey exhaulted around the world. Lying down, with the soft hum of a gamelan in the distance and the warm aromatic oils on my back, it felt as though time stopped, and I was in communion with centuries of Balinese hindu and Buddhist healing traditions. What makes it special is its holistic approach, combining techniques like acupressure, reflexology, and aromatherapy; the aim isn't just to relax but to restore. Massage therapists, with their intuitive hands, channel energy, helping release pent-up tensions and change the course of your chi.
While Bali's natural terrain is a workout in itself, for those who want their regular gym regimen, the island doesn’t disappoint. Modern fitness centers equipped with top-notch facilities are aplenty. But what makes them unique is the blend of international training standards with a touch of Balinese warmth. Get your lift on at COMO Uma, RAW gym Bali, and The Bar.
Eat & Drink
Bali’s cuisine is a mosaic of flavors, an ode to its fertile volcanic soil and rich cultural tapestry. Breakfast foods like nasi goreng or mie goreng (Indonesian fried rice or noodles), red rice porridge or bubur ayam (Indonesian congees), or a plate of fresh tropical fruits arenot restrictede to the morning and are served all day long. For your next meals dig into my favorite vegetarian delights like gado-gado (vegetables with peanut sauce) and lawar (chopped vegetables and coconut).
The nutty, savory, spicy, and sweet flavors of traditional dishes can be enjoyed at warungs ((family owned shops)) and cafes all over Bali, but there were a few stand-outs for me. The chefs at Nusantara, Kaum, and Tanaman in particular are giving these traditional dishes a contemporary spotlight, elevating Balinese cuisine on the global stage. These restauranteurs are pushing boundaries, creating tastebud magic, and are a testament to Bali’s standout culinary scene.
A gastronomic journey through Bali's flavors at Kaum and Nusantara.
Adventures in Nature
And, of course, the magic of Bali comes from the earth, the vocanic island produces lush forests, pristine beaches, and magical waterfalls. Here are some of Mother Nature's wonder I have visted and some keep on my bucket list.
Kanto Lampo Waterfall: A cascading marvel that feels both enchanting and secluded, offering an almost mystical experience.
Tibumana Waterfall: Hidden amidst lush greenery, it's a serene spot where nature's melody and the splash of pristine water harmonize perfectly.
Tegenungan Waterfall: Easily accessible, this waterfall offers powerful cascades surrounded by dense vegetation, making it a popular spot for both locals and tourists.
Embracing Bali's elemental beauty at the Kampo Lampo waterfall
Balian Beach: Known for its stunning black sand that contrasts dramatically with the blue waves, this is a haven for surfers and those looking for a less commercialized beach experience.
Nusa Dua Beach: A pristine location with sheltered white sands and clear blue waters, ideal for relaxation and water activities.
Padang Padang Beach: This picturesque bay gained international attention when it was featured in "Eat Pray Love."
What truly distinguishes these terraces, aside from their sheer beauty, is the ingenious 'subak' irrigation system, a UNESCO-recognized marvel. Rooted in the Balinese philosophy of Tri Hita Karana, which emphasizes balance between humanity, nature, and the divine, the subak isn't just about irrigation. It's a celebration of communal unity, ecological wisdom, and spiritual connection. As water courses through intricate canals, dictated by Water Temples and managed collectively by communities, every grain grown becomes a testament to Bali's unwavering commitment to harmony.
Tegallalang Ricefields: A very accessible and beautiful rice field in Ubud. Because of its popularity many tourist traps as well as resturants and cafes are located along the scenic edge of the rice field terrace.
Jatiluwih Ricefields: Large and beautiful rice paddies further north than Tegallalang with less tourism. There are marked routes for you to wander and enjoy the terraces.
Lending hands and sharing stories with Wayan, learning the Balinese way of subak
Beyond Ubud and Denpasar, Bali continues to enthrall with its natural offerings. While hiking the mountains and volcanos of Bali are closed to visitors (effective summer 2023), the nearby islands offer bounty of amzing natural places to visit. These are the top trips still on my bucket list:
Kelingking Beach: Often referred to as the "T-Rex beach" due to its unique cliff formation, it's one of Bali's most iconic and photographed locations.
Diamond Beach: Renowned as one of the most stunning beaches not only in Nusa Penida but also in all of Bali, it promises crystal-clear waters and breathtaking views.
Komodo Island: Known globally for the indigenous Komodo Dragons, this UNESCO World Heritage site offers dramatic landscapes, clear waters, and a rich marine life.
Kelimutu Volcano: Located near the town of Moni on Flores Island, Kelimutu is famous for its three crater lakes that change colors. The vibrant hues of these lakes against the backdrop of the sky at sunrise or sunset make for a mesmerizing sight.
Temples of Bali
Bali's temples are more than just places of worship; they're gateways into its ancient soul. I'm including in this list 3 temples I wish I had seen! At Obyek Wisata Goa Gajah, a 9th-century marvel, you're greeted by intricate carvings, including a mystic elephant figure.
Ulun Danu Beratan Temple is a feast for both the eyes and the spirit. Constructed in the 17th century, it stands as a tribute to the Hindu trinity and the lake goddess, Dewi Danu. The temple's reflection on the Bratan river, especially during high tide, is a photographer's dream.
Then there's the Besakih Great Temple, perched on Mount Agung's slopes. As Bali's most significant and holiest site, it resonates with spiritual energy, drawing both pilgrims and travelers alike.
Nature and faith in harmonious conversation
The Enlightened Traveler
For the heartful traveler, Bali's duality isn't a deterrent but a canvas for a richer experience. Knowing the landscape allows us to make choices - to seek out genuine interactions, to appreciate sacred spaces, and also to relish the modern luxuries. By being aware, we not only protect the sanctity of places like Bali but also ensure that our travels are more fulfilling.
So, what does it mean to visit Bali in 2023 or 2024? It means walking the line between the alluring modern wonders and the deep-rooted traditions. It's about experiencing Bali with an open heart, but also with respect and understanding. Visiting Bali is as much about immersing in its sights as it is about connecting with its souls. When you saunter through the rice terraces, don't rush. During one of our trips to the Tegallalang Ricefields, what began as a sightseeing endeavor turned into a heartwarming exchange. A casual chat with a local farmer led to an invitation to explore his farm. There, amidst the green paddies, we listened to tales of his ancestors, shared laughter with his family, and felt the pulse of Bali's agrarian heart. That day, we didn't just see rice fields; we lived a slice of Balinese life. Such spontaneous encounters can't be planned or booked like a hotel room. They come when you're open, eager to listen, and ready to connect. So, when a local offers you a piece of their world, be it a story or fresh fruit, embrace it. And a playful warning: perhaps skip the papaya unless you're keen on an authentic 'Bali belly' experience like Waseem!
I've curated a list of over 75 recommendations, ensuring that you can explore Bali with both reverence and excitement. From hidden gems to must-visit spots, this list aims to elevate your Balinese journey. Be sure to bookmark this Google Map because I continually add new discoveries. My ultimate aim is that you visit as informed, enlightened travelers, making the memories that will inspire you for a lifetime!
My map pins are also available for you to use as a Google List, which is more mobile friendly. I hope this helps your trip planning!
Traveling to Bali requires a touch of planning. The island experiences two main seasons: the wet and the dry. For sun-seekers, the dry months from April to September are ideal. I visited in January however and had many sunny clear days in addition to the rainy ones. For me visiting in the off-season is worth it for going to a place as popular as Bali.
Final Thoughts and An Invitation
My time in Bali was beautiful, nuanced, relaxing, and sometimes difficult. Every destination has its tales of change, of evolution, and of the tussles between preservation and progress. Bali’s story is no different, but it is more palpable, perhaps due to the rapid pace of its transformation.
To you, my fellow travelers, I pose a question: How do we, as conscious wanderers, navigate places that stand at such crossroads? How have you personally embraced the dual soul of Bali or any other destination? Your insights, your stories, enrich this narrative, and I warmly invite them.
Happy Travels! Lili Byrne
About the Wanderer Behind the Words: Hello, fellow explorer! I'm [Your Name], the heart and soul behind these tales of wanderlust. My mission isn't just to narrate travel stories but to inspire you to embark on journeys that go beyond the mapped roads, diving deep into the heartbeats of destinations. With each narrative, I aim to awaken the curious traveler within you, encouraging genuine connections, heartfelt encounters, and a respect for the tales each corner of the world holds. If you wish to accompany me on this voyage of discovery and be the first to hear about fresh tales, musings, and insights, I invite you to subscribe to my mailing list. Together, let's redefine travel, one story at a time.