Shimmering Sand, Open Sea: Bali's Beaches

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Shimmering Sand, Open Sea: Bali's Beaches
Bali’s beaches put the country on the map as a global destination; surfers came first with divers not far behind. Today cliffside villas and beachside huts offer easy access to all coasts and the country's tiny isles are a short boat ride away.
By Adam Skolnick, AFAR Contributor
Photo by Chris van Lennep/age fotostock
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    Surf to Live
    South Bali is the base of operations for most surfers. Kuta is overdeveloped, but the beach offers a perfect beginners' wave. Travel north to Canggu, where the rice fields collide with beach villas, and you’ll find a powerful, hollow wave that only advanced surfers would take on. The same goes for farther south on the edge of the Bukit Peninsula, an exquisite convergence of limestone cliffs and white sand. During peak season, lineups can be crowded, but if you ride north from Canggu and up the west coast, you may find a lonely swell all to yourself.
    Photo by Chris van Lennep/age fotostock
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    Life beneath the Surface
    Indonesia has a profusion of underwater riches, but Bali’s dive sites are too often overlooked. The top dive site on the island is Tulamben, where the USAT Liberty, a sunken American World War II cargo vessel, lies angled just offshore. It’s alive with all kinds of colorful sea life, from batfish and angelfish to scorpionfish and lionfish. For more diving visit Bali’s northwest corner, where you'll find Menjangan Island and its ten marvelous dive sites with eel, coral gardens, shipwrecks, and caves. If you’re interested in glimpsing giant manta rays and the rare Pacific sunfish, hop a speedboat in Sanur for a run to Nusa Penida—one of Bali’s two most popular offshore islands.
    Photo by Tim Rock/age fotostock
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    Remote Islands
    Looming off the southeast coast of Bali are a handful of offshore islands, two of which are worth visiting. Nusa Lembongan offers basic yet inviting bungalows on the sand with nothing to do but sip Bintang Beer, eat seafood, surf, and dive. (With the advent of a regular speedboat service, the tourist numbers are growing, and villa construction isn’t far behind.) The beach at Jungutbatu village has views of a looming Gunung Agung. There’s a more remote beach at Pantai Selegimpak, and there’s a sublime, wide swath of white sand called the Dream Beach where the barrels roll in on the southwestern shore. Nusa Penida is an arid and hilly island that is even less known, with its towering 1,000-foot cliffs plunging into the sea.
    Photo by Rey Madolora
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    The Bukit Peninsula
    On the Bukit Peninsula, an arid bulb of rock and sand connected to Bali by a thin isthmus, villas dot the limestone cliffs and visitors can see one of the island's most holy temples and taste fresh seafood. Begin the journey at Jimbaran, with the airport on one side and a stretch of inexpensive seafood grills on the other. From there, follow the road south over the limestone backbone and you’ll come to Bingin, the surf community’s soul center, with lodges and homes clinging to cliffs. Guest rooms at Balangan Beach open onto the sand, and Pura Luhur Uluwatu, the island’s second most sacred temple, crowns the cliffs at Bali’s southernmost tip. Its name is synonymous with a legendary surf break, which draws visitors from around the globe.
    Photo by Sean White/age fotostock
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    An East Coast Sunrise
    East Bali has it all—traditional villages, black- and white-sand beaches, and wonderful diving. Candidasa has the most guesthouses and restaurants to choose from, but coastal erosion has nibbled the beaches away. Head north to Pasir Putih, Dream Beach, where the sand is backed by swaying palms. Continue on and pass through Tihingan, where village craftsmen make gamelan gongs, and Kamasan, where Bali’s classic painting style was cultivated. Eventually you’ll reach Amed, a stretch of black-sand beaches and nine separate fishing villages stretching to the island’s easternmost point. The diving and snorkeling in the area are superb, especially in nearby Tulamben with its famed World War II wreck.
    Photo by Luca Invernizzi Tetto/age fotostock
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    Bali Barat National Park
    For all its natural beauty, there is just one national park on the island: Taman Nasional Bali Barat comprises 19,000 hectares on Bali’s northwestern peninsula and an additional 55,000 hectares further inland. The park is dense jungle and lush mangroves laced with tidal estuaries that are home to more than 300 bird species. Animal life ranges from barking deer to water buffalo to iguanas and pythons. If you care to dip into the sea, Bali’s healthiest reefs surround Pulau Menjangan, an island centerpiece to the 7,000 marine hectares that are protected from development, fishing, and poaching. If you crave wild nature, find your way here.
    Photo by Poelzer Wolfg/age fotostock
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    The Undiscovered West Coast
    Bali is no secret tourist destination, but with a set of wheels it’s easy to diverge from the well-trod path, especially on the west coast. Begin at Pura Tanah Lot, a spectacular Hindu temple built offshore. Veer north and eventually the highway meets a black-sand beach and a clutch of new surf villas near the Balian River mouth among dunes, rice fields, and a developing rural community. Continue north and you’ll find Pantai Medewi, on the remote Jembrana Coast. Surfers find their way here too, thanks to a long left hand break and relatively few visitors. Soon you’ll reach the port of Gilimanuk where those massive transport buses you’ve been dodging meet the ferries from Java; dodge them again and you’ll land in Bali Barat National Park.
    Photo by Gerth Roland/age fotostock
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    Clubbing Global Style
    Some visitors come to Bali for a blast of culture, to revel in the harmony of its interior temples, or to test their surfing skills against the island's thundering waves; others come for the nightlife. South Bali is where global club culture reigns: from the tourist ghetto of Kuta, where long running, multi-level dance clubs still reign, to the unmissable strip of throbbing clubs on the popular beach at Jalan 66. If you’re looking for something a bit more refined, check out the plush beach lounges in Seminyak, which tend to lure top DJs and throw all-night parties. Whichever scene appeals, the strategy is always more European than American—nap in the evening, dine at 11:00 p.m., and don’t hit the clubs until one in the morning.
    Photo by Ton Koene/age fotostock
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    The Gili Lifestyle
    The Gili Islands—a cluster of three car-free islands ringed with white sand beaches, part of neighboring Lombok—are simple to reach from Bali. Gili Meno is more suited for romantic couples; Gili Air, with its many beach clubs, is the family choice; and Gili T, with its growing luxury market and unstoppable nightlife, is easily the most active. All offer proximity to lovely reefs in deep waters patrolled by turtles, manta rays, and pygmy seahorses. Once on land, you’ll be traveling by horse cart or bicycle and will likely want to extend your trip immediately upon arrival.
    Photo by Thomas Haupt/age fotostock