This first rule of thumb when it comes to beating the crowds is to get away from the main strip and visit during low season, or at least, outside of school holidays if you can possible manage it.
The charm and energy of traveling to someplace exotic, like Bali, isn’t found in the brightly lit centres of Kuta and Seminyak. The real Bali is hidden behind the back door, in places off the beaten path that only the traveler who seeks can find.
The traveler willing to abandon familiarity, conveniences and the illusion of safety in numbers is rewarded with authentic experiences and profound perspectives. This traveler’s journey is only interrupted by other tourists.
But where are these back doors? It seems tourist guides either want to take you to the tourist hot spots, or in contrast, generously invite you to their village in the far away hills. What we’re really looking for, is a compromise, balanced somewhere between the must-see and the remote. One thing we don’t realise when we’re sipping a Bali latte in trendy Double Six is just how big the island really is. There’s a world of possibilities for getting lost (and found) in Bali.
Here are 10 great beaches, bars and restaurants in Bali set off the beaten track.
Padang Bai is a charming fishing village on Bali’s East Coast. The sheltered bay is the island’s main transfer jetty where you can hop on fast boats to Lombok and the Gilis. Even if you’re not crossing over to the islands, a day trip to this part of Bali shouldn’t be ruled out. The area’s white sand beaches are great for swimming and snorkelling. Look for the signs that point to Blue Lagoon Beach and Pantai Kecil. Scuba diving in Padang Bai is also highly rated. The elusive Cat Shark and Wobbegong sharks have been spotted here on more than one occasion.
There’s a great selection of bars and cafes in the village to stop off for lunch, and rustic seafood shacks right on the beach for dinner. If you’re planning to spend the night in Padang Bai before catching a boat in the morning, spend the night at a cozy homestay.
Amed is a rural fishing village in East Bali, nestled in a horseshoe bay near Mount Agung, where the days of the week don’t matter. Three hours away from Denpasar, tourist numbers drop off drastically. Good for you, not-so-good for the locals who are hungry for a slice of Bali’s tourist pie. Dive shops, tour operators, cafes and homestays line the 10km coastal strip. From sunrise and sunset fishing trips on traditional boats, to snorkelling in Jemeluk and diving the Japanese shipwreck and trekking in Mount Agung and Mount Batur — there are plenty of things to do here.
It only takes 40 minutes to get to the Gilis from Amed (compared to 1.5 hours from Padang Bai), and costs IDR250.000 for a one way trip. Or you can backtrack to Sanur on the boat, a fantastic way to see Bali from the sea.
Suluban Beach, also known as Blue Point, is close to Uluwatu Temple at the Bukit Peninsula. This is a popular spot for surfing, so beware of strong currents. The beach is connected to Uluwatu beach and there’s also a nearby Monkey Forest to explore in Ungasan.
After a day of exploration, tuck into a hearty meal at one of the restaurants perched along the shoreline that show off breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean. This is a great spot for young families to spend the day on the beach and explore the caves and shallow lagoons between rock cliffs.
This one is for the relic hunters. Tenganan Village was once the most secluded society in the Indonesia archipelago. Tourists started visiting this living cultural relic in the 70s, drawn to its ancient traditions, which can still be experienced today.
The Usaba Sambah fighting festival held in May is a ritual combat tradition in which young men spar against each other while the town’s unmarried young ladies watch over the fights. How chivalrous! In June, the Perang Padan tradition takes place; a ceremonious war dance only practiced here.
Karma Beach Club
Karma Beach Club in Karma Kandara Resort, Ungasan is a hip, hidden resort situated in Bali’s ‘Billionaire’s Row’. Voted as one of the ‘Worlds 50 Best Beach Bars by CNN Travel, the private beach bar hosts international DJs and musicians. Parties here are second to none, and a touch more sophisticated than what you find on the main strip.
Monthly events include Weekend Chillout Sessions and Spanish Day every Thursday from 12pm – 6pm. Visit the website to find out more about their entertainment and events calendar.
Karma Kandara Resort, Jl. Villa Kandara Banjar Wijaya Kusuma Ungasan Tuban Kuta Denpasar Bali, 80361. Tel: +62 361 8482200.
Balangan Beach is Kuta’s answer to the overcrowded Dreamland Beach. One of Bali’s lesser known beaches, the shore is accessed by a steep staircase and flanked by local warungs and cheap beach shacks on the eastern tip. It’s a popular surf beach so beware of rip tides – there are no lifeguards on duty.
A great spot to get away from the crowds in the day, and still be in reasonable driving distance to the main bar and restaurant scene.
Sakti Dining Room
Hankering for meatless fine dining? This restaurant has caused a sensation in the vegan community — and those on the famous Ubud cleanse program who desperately need something interesting to eat (or someone’s getting it), without letting their detox efforts go to waste.
Recommended on the menu: Zucchini Pappardelle Alfredo with truffle oil, olives and cherry tomatoes, and Strawberry Creem Freesh for dessert made with Balinese strawberries; an okay dessert overall but ask for the balsamic vinegar reduction on the side. Read Jonny Freesh’s full restaurant review.
Sakti Dining Room, Fivelements Bali, Puri Ahimsa Banjar Baturning, Mambal. Tel: +62 361 469 260 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations.
Seniman Coffee Studio
An artisan café in Ubud (finally!) with a twist. The café has an in house roaster and offers workshops and wholesale beans for sale, along with high speed Wi-Fi and a curated playlist of cool beats in the background. It’s the sort of hip café you’d expect to find in Ubud that didn’t exist until recently.
The modern coffee house specializes in Balinese coffee and single origin coffee beans from Indonesia and the rest of the world. If you’re serious about your coffee, then it could be worth the mission to Ubud, even if you’re staying around Seminyak.
Seniman Coffee Studio, Jalan Sriwedari (across Nomad Restaurant), Ubud. Open from 8am to 8pm daily.
Pura Tanah Lot
Bali’s most ancient temple perched precariously above a crumbling rock tower that’s had to be artificially reinforced over time to keep the structure from collapsing into the sea. The temple is accessible through a walkway that reveals itself during low tide. However, tourists are not allowed to enter. And unwed couples be warned; according to local legend, couples who visit the site before marriage are doomed to part.
Seafood restaurants on the beach
Jimbaran Bay doesn’t constitute a Bali secret, though the fresh seafood restaurants that line the beach are underrated, still seeming a little undiscovered. Tourists more readily flock in droves to Made’s Warung in Seminyak for overpriced mee goreng than dine on the day’s catch under the stars with their toes curled up in the warm sand.