Surfing is only the beginning.
Bali’s reputation as a surfer’s paradise—Uluwatu, anyone?—is a major draw. Although there are peeling breaks aplenty, skills on a short board aren’t a prerequisite for playing in the water when you’re on the Indonesian island. Sure, there are many pools, from private plunges to the sweeping infinity-edge sort. Scuba diving (on the east coast and Nusa Lembongan, especially) is also a major draw. As are the off-the-beaten-path beaches where people can stroll out far on a shallow reef—so far, that they appear to be walking on water into giant waves cresting and crashing just beyond the shelf (Nyang Nyang).
Yet even without engaging its most iconic sport, surfing, there are many ways to get into that life-giving Bali water encircling the island. Here are six ways we love.
In peaceful, paradisiacal places like Jimbaran Bay and Amed, seaworthy boats are available to paddle around relatively calm bays, although it’s fun on waves, too. Kayaking is a scenic, sporty way to view the coastline and underwater life from a new perspective. Other boat-related options turn up the adrenaline by a few notches—think parasailing, wakeboarding, and wind surfing, which depend much more on the location and weather conditions and also take more skill. (Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay offers some of these activities complimentary and others with a fee.)
2. Paddle Boarding
Alila Villas Uluwatu is an idyllic place to prep for such action. Its new Surf Yoga classes are challenging sessions held atop 10- to 12-foot long boards floating in an infinity-edge pool overlooking one of the world’s most famous waves. Meant to ready extreme surfers for what lies below, the practice connects the mind and body through poses that emphasize focus, balance, endurance, and flexibility. Not only is it great prep to strengthen the arms, legs, back, and wrists, but the high-up pool perch from which participants are moving through warrior poses also is more gorgeous—and a little heart-thumping—than your wildest dreams.
3. White-Water Rafting
Those who remember the movie FernGully can accurately set the scene for white-water river rafting down the Ayung near Ubud. It’s an Eden, and lush doesn’t even begin to describe it. Emerald is the hue blanketing the journey from start to finish, towering high overhead in the form of spindly palms and other impressively tall trees, filling the twisting riverbanks with banana leaves, and reflecting onto the surface of the fresh water. A variety of operators run group rafting trips, and the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan offers a private outing, during which you can hop out of the raft in a life vest and float downstream, carried on your back by a surprisingly perky current as the bright blue sky and treetops stream past. Depending on the water level, there may or may not be much white water, but it’s hard to find a scene more idyllic.
4. Holy Water Ritual
Also nearby in Tampak Siring is Tirta Empul, the expansive holy water temple where locals and Hindu travelers come to engage in ritual purification. It’s been around since 962 and features fresh, energizingly cold water that bubbles up from a large natural spring. Don a sarong, sit and meditate, then enter the pools, where spouts all have different meanings. And don’t worry about the fish—and maybe even water snakes—swimming around your legs. They’re harmless.
5. Spa Treatments
If Bali should be known for anything, it should truly be its spas. You can spend anywhere from US$10 to hundreds of dollars being given an incredible variety of massages, baths, and indigenous rituals by smiling, zen-inducing Balinese therapists. Flower baths—in which you soak surrounded by hundreds of frangipani or roses—are a popular concept, available at the affordable Nur Spa Ubud and part of several treatments at the Four Seasons Sayan’s Sacred River Spa. There, the Batu Kali Riverstone Bathing Ritual plays off the local tradition of river bathing. Over the course of two hours, guests are massaged head to toe, soak in a warm bath, and are scrubbed with river stones from the nearby Ayung River, as well as treated on the shoulders and lower back with a warm, healing ginger paste.
Of course, TLC warned against it in their ’90s hit, but in Bali, chasing waterfalls is very much a must. There are dozens scattered around the interior of the island, with some more spectacular and touristy than others. Farther afield, almost on the northern coast, is a stunning collection of powerful falls worth the two-hour drive from Ubud. (Stop for a photo op at Ulun Danu temple on Lake Bratan on the way.) You’ll have to hire a local guide for a few bucks (he may be all of 16 years old, but will know the jungles like the back of his hand) to take you down, down, down, through verdant terraced rice paddies, bamboo forests, babbling creeks, and tall steps to the waterfalls, an awesome reward. Jump in and swim or simply look up and feel the force of the water and its magical misty spray falling over you. It doesn’t get much better.