Quietly keeping guard on the Northern coast of Bali is a collection of villages that cover the 12km stretch of coast between Singaraja and Banjar. Collectively they form Lovina, an almost-town, purpose built from scrappy, traditional fishing villages to cater for the ever increasing tourist visits to the North of the island. The black sand beaches, calm waters and lack of partygoers tend to attract families who wish to avoid the bustle of the busier Southern coast. Modern Lovina is a clunky, sporadic collection of hotels, home-stays and all-in-one resorts that never quite add up to the town that maps promise. Even so, it might just be perfect for those seeking a little bit of secluded sunshine. There’s plenty on offer around the North coast for those seeking a little adventure, but a vehicle is an imperative, so hire yourselves a driver or take to the roads solo. Driving is a little easier in the much less populated North, and the winding hills and picturesque coastline make it a pleasure for those who are not in too much of a hurry. So, saddle up and hit the road to reach these wonderful experiences around Lovina:
Lovina is perhaps most famous for the dolphins that dance along the coast at dawn each morning. Although they can sometimes be spotted throughout the day, dawn is your best chance and the time when almost every tour boat sets off from Lovina beach. The first hour will be spent getting used to the hard wooden seats and the torturous guessing game; seeing shapes in every dawn shadow and willing them into dolphins.
We cannot think of a better time to catch an old outrigger and skim your fingers along the surf, weaving wishes into the wake and squinting at waves that play tricks on weary eyes.
Don’t worry, eventually you will find them. The morning routine seems to sit well with the dolphins and they playfully begin to gather and peek above the water, favoring one or two lucky boats picked randomly from the flotilla. This can be where some patrons struggle, however. The flotilla is plentiful, and each captain feels they need to prove their worth. The fishing boats will congregate and gently putt-putt along until there is a sighting. At first sight of a school of dolphins, chaos erupts as engines blare and the swiftest vessels speed to meet them. The school, naturally, flees the area like a porpoise with a purpose, and the chase settles once more; rinse and repeat. This system can be infuriating and irksome, particularly for those who have been lumped with a slower boat or a less aggressive captain.
The tour begins to feel like a huge game of whack-a-mole, but the moles are always several steps ahead. The tour could probably be enhanced for everyone if the competition dropped a little, and the boat had time to sit quietly, with the engines off, allowing the dolphins to do their thing. Still, with few other options, the boats are great fun and cannot be beaten for pure value for money. At around $10 per head with a bit of bartering, where else in the world can you get so many dolphins for your dollar?
Brahmavihara Arama (Banjar Hills Buddhist temple)
The sense of zen that infuses you at Bali’s largest Buddhist temple is palpable. The only distractions from the self are the incense and the occasional chiming gong. Rise early for morning mediation, cross-legged with the cool morning breeze on your face, and slip yourself into the soothing arms of spirituality. Or don’t, its your call. You could just chill out and take a look around the gardens which are beautiful in bloom as they crawl over cracked statues and pagodas.
Advice for those aiming for a meditative experience would be to avoid the small but not insignificant crowds that can build in midday and early afternoons, as the various island tour buses begin to reach Banjar.
A small series of friendly stall owners work just below the temple and they are often chatty and insightful of the surroundings. A little further down the road is a lovely budget guesthouse with awesome views, a quaint, tidy set of villas and a small pool. The staff are charming and will cook for you upon request. Although the food is not going to reach any of our top 5 lists, it can be a lifesaver when there is little else in the secluded area.
Tours can be booked from the guesthouse to many of the attractions on this list, and more. But again, it’s highly recommend that you get your own transport to explore this beautiful piece of Indonesian countryside.
Banjar hills is a perfect place to sip a Bintang and watch the valley burn red as the sun reluctantly drops into the sea.
Head to the website at www.balibanjarhills.com to check out the accommodation, or contact them by phone or email: (+62) 852 3743 4930 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Air Panas Banjar (Banjar hot springs)
Banjar’s natural hot springs originate from the volcanic surroundings. The hot pools charge a tiny fee to enter and they can get pretty busy as the day goes on and more and more tourist buses arrive. Surrounded by jungle, the murky green waters are said to cleanse you of your ailments. Unless your main ailment is a raging hangover. The sulphuric bath, the 37 degree water and the overzealous warung traders won’t do you any favours, but if you stick it out for a bit and take a beating from the powerful massage waterfalls, you may soon have a clear head.
Be respectful when you visit and try to remain moderately well covered, or you can expect a lot of stares. Although they are well worth a visit, don’t expect a full day out. An hour or two slot amongst an exploration itinerary is plenty of time for the springs. Like many on this list, an early morning visit is preferable to not only beat the crowds and bathe in peace, but to beat the warungs. Once the stalls are set, you can expect a level of harassment that is often called the most extreme on the island.
There is nothing quite like a hot spring to set you up for the day and early bathing means just you, the rush of the waterfalls and the noise of the jungle waking up.
Sekumpul or Gitgit falls
Many tourists head to Gitgit falls and consequently they find a similar setup to the hot springs. The falls are beautiful but swathes of tourists have laid a path of pushy stall-holders, peddling refreshments and souvenirs loudly and aggressively. There will be crowds throughout the day and many tourists find the guides try to charge a high price for a poor service. Our advice? Take the extra effort to drive out to Sekumpul falls. Even more impressive, and lesser known, you will barely see another soul as you slink through the trees, conquer the climbs and wade through waist deep rivers.
Sekumpul feels like a real adventure, so as you may imagine there is a tiny bit of hard work involved. The walk can be a little treacherous, with steep steps and slippery stones, but a guide isn’t necessary. Just take your time, be careful and soak it up. Well, don’t soak it up, other people want to see it too.
The drive to reach Sekumpul falls takes around an hour and a half from Lovina, unless you find yourself trapped behind one of the many village festivals, in which case you won’t mind the wait. The route takes you through some beautiful parts of Bali, along open roads that are periodically dotted with increasingly delightful villages.
Although not as famous as the Gili’s or Bali’s South-East coast for its dive schools and popular reefs, Lovina does offer some unique dive spots and well regarded PADI schools. Why not treat your body and try a little ‘harmony diving’ with the Zen Dive Resort, which combines yoga, meditation, Ayurveda and diving. These activities seemingly compliment each other, as the resort boasts improvements in air consumption and buoyancy by putting the body into a meditative state.
Arrows Dive Centre offer PADI qualification courses and their dive masters are happy to work with any level of ability, even if all you want to do is a bit of a silly snorkel.
Lovina is home to Puri Jati, one of the best macro diving sites in the world. Although it may feel a little like sifting through mud when compared to the plentiful and beautiful reefs that can be found elsewhere, Puri Jati is famous for its varied range of rare marine life. Dive here and you may even stumble across the rare mimic octopus; a dream for a dive photographer. Alongside having some great spots of its own, Lovina is situated a steady hour and a half from two of the island’s most attractive dive sites: Menjangan Island to the West and the USAT Liberty to the East.
For a long-stay diving holiday, a chillax on the black sand beaches or simply as a gateway to the beautiful Northern countryside, you could do a lot worse than lovely little Lovina.