The Best Things to Do in Bali

There’s no one perfect way to take a trip to Bali. On one visit you might decide to spend more time exploring ways to explore your inner self through yoga or taking a ritual bath at Tirta Empul and while exploring the sacred spaces at Pura Besakih. On another? You might be all about going big mountain biking and photographing the rice paddies and terraces. Or, perhaps, all of the above on every trip? From the beaches of South Bali to the cool hills of Baturiti and the cultural hotspot of Ubud, options abound.

Banjar Patas, Taro, Gianyar, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80561, Indonesia
A number of organic farms in the region offer cooking classes, but Bali Farm Cooking School is by far the most welcoming, warm, and traditionally Balinese of the lot. If you’re a foodie or just want to get out and see a bit of Bali family life, Wayan and his family will welcome you with open arms. Students begin by heading to the market and touring the farm’s garden to gather fresh ingredients and to learn about local herbs and spices that are used in cooking as well as in herbal treatments for a variety of ailments. Then students work in an open-sided kitchen to prepare some classic Balinese dishes and, of course, sit down to a terrific feast afterwards. The farm is almost an hour outside Ubud, but offers convenient round-trip transportation from central Ubud.
Jalan WR. Supratman No. 306, Kesiman Kertalangu, Denpasar Tim., Kota Denpasar, Bali 80237, Indonesia
Batik textiles are one of Indonesia’s most distinctive crafts. Using hot wax to block out intricate patterns before dyeing (a technique called resist dyeing), craftspeople create fabrics of an astounding range of designs and colors. A number of places in Bali teach the technique and allow you to spend a few hours creating your own batik, but Batik Popiler in Denpasar is recommended. Visitors can take part in a class or watch experts painstakingly create batik work. In an adjoining shop, you can browse and buy batik artwork and beautiful handmade sarongs, and see how these traditional fabrics have been used in modern fashion.
Bunutan, Abang, Seraya Bar., Kec. Karangasem, Kabupaten Karangasem, Bali 80852, Indonesia
It’s quite a hike to Lempuyang temple, which sits at the summit of Mount Lempuyang, 3,855 feet above sea level, but it’s worth every one of those thousand(ish) steps. Time your trip to arrive at sunrise, when the view of Mount Agung to the north is at its most stunning and the air is still cool. You might even find you’re alone for most of the hike, a rare occurrence in busy Bali. Remember to be respectful and wear a sarong and sash even while climbing. (Women are asked not to visit this or any other Balinese temple while menstruating.) Lempuyang is about 2 1/2 hours from Ubud by car, but close to Amed, a sleepy coastal town with plenty of places to eat and stay.
87A Jalan Kresna
On the shoulders of Bali’s most sacred mountain is perched its Mother Temple, Pura Besakih, a complex of 23 sacred buildings. Several times annually, pilgrims flock here from around the island—on the backs of motorbikes, in buses and bemos, even crowded together, standing-room only, in the beds of trucks—to make offerings at the several clan temples (each family is part of a clan represented here) and at the largest and most important temple, Pura Penataran Agung, tiered and built into the mountain’s slope. Make sure to climb to the impressive second courtyard, which is as far as tourists are generally allowed to go. The complex is most alive during frequent festivals, when thousands descend, ceremonially dressed, and flow throughout the temple grounds. When the sky is clear, you can see from here down into the valley and out to sea.
Jl. Tirta, Manukaya, Tampaksiring, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80552, Indonesia
Balinese people have taken ritual baths in the waters of Tirta Empul since it was founded in 962. The waters are believed to have healing powers, both physically and spiritually, so people come from all over the island to purify themselves under spouts of cool water in the long stone pools. Worshipers place offerings or say a prayer at each of the spouts from west to east. Nonworshipers can bathe, too, and the experience can be very moving (be aware that the last of the spouts in the first pool are reserved for purification after funerary rites). As at any Balinese temple, you must be respectful of Hindu rules and traditions. Menstruating women should not go inside any temple, and all visitors must wear a sarong and sash while on temple grounds, even while bathing. Men can go shirtless in the pools. There are changing rooms, so don’t forget to bring an extra set of clothes. Tirta Empul, 25 minutes outside of Ubud, is very close to Gunung Kawi, another religious site worth a visit.
Komplek ITDC Nusa Dua, Benoa, Kuta Sel., Kabupaten Badung, Bali 80363, Indonesia
On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, catch a performance of Devdan—Treasure of the Archipelago. The 90-minute show, inspired by Indonesia’s cultural diversity, is a kind of Balinese Cirque du Soleil. It features a fusion of traditional Indonesian dance with modern contemporary dance and aerial acrobatics. While highly entertaining, the show also offers an insightful introduction to the history and diversity of the cultures of Sumatra, Java, Borneo, and Papua.
Pecatu, South Kuta, Badung Regency, Bali, Indonesia
One of the best places to watch the sun set is from the cliffs of Pura Luhur Uluwatu, or the site of the old Uluwatu Temple on the island of Bali. The dramatic cliffs overlook the ocean, and arriving before sunset allows you to explore before dark. The temple grounds are inhabited by a large number of monkeys, which are fun to watch but can be aggressive, so avoid wearing sunglasses or jewelry and bringing food, and be careful with your camera. Expect to wear a provided sarong over your pants/skirt/shorts, which is a sign of respect at religious sites in Indonesia (true here for men and women). At one end of Uluwatu, the rhythmic Kecak dance is performed nightly at sunset, and if you plan to stay, expect a crowd. Uluwatu is easily reached by car from most places on the southern part of the island. Drivers can be hired from hotels or villas.
108 Jalan Raya Singakerta
The stunning contrast between the modern design of the Ubud Yoga Centre and the lushness of the surrounding landscape makes it a beautiful sight. Whether you want to sit in the open café for a snack or take part in a yoga or Pilates class, you’ll enjoy your time in this very relaxed, social atmosphere. Ubud Yoga Centre is the only Bikram or hot yoga center in Ubud and also offers kundalini, hatha, vinyasa, and Ashtanga classes, as well as something called Inferno Pilates, which is as torturous as it sounds. Parents in need of a sweat and a stretch appreciate the playroom and the Sunday art classes for kids. Check the website for special events and class timetables.
Jl. Kayu Aya No.21, Kerobokan Kelod, Kec. Kuta Utara, Kabupaten Badung, Bali 80361, Indonesia
Kim Soo Home, a French-inspired boutique shop in Seminyak, carries everything from Indonesian ethnic pieces to handmade textiles and wooden furniture. If you’re looking to pick up something to remind you of your trip to Bali, you’ll find it here—the shop stocks items from makers throughout the archipelago, along with its own unique, locally made designs. It’s difficult to leave the airy and carefully manicured store, but you can decompress for a bit in the stylish adjoining café before you reenter the harsh world outside.
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