Bali is often considered one of the quintessential places to visit in Asia. So strong is its draw that nearly 40% of all foreign tourists to Indonesia make their way to the mellifluous sounding island famous for its unique style of Hinduism, beach clubs, rice paddies and luxury resorts.
Many visitors who hail from nearby countries swear by the allure of its charms. They come to Bali not once or twice but make it an annual affair (or even more often than that). Whether you are into beaches or culture or nature, there is something for everyone here in Bali. In this suggested itinerary, I show you how you can visit Bali for up to a week’s duration. You can easily trim this down, depending on the length of your stay – picking activities here and there dependent on where you are staying.
If you are visiting Bali and contemplating how long you need to spend in the island, I would suggest you go for 5 days / 4 nights minimally if it’s your first time and you intend to explore a bit. While it’s easy to do day trips to various parts of the island, the lack of major highways could mean that you could be facing traffic jams especially in places frequented by tourists.
Table of Contents
Day 1 – Ubud Itinerary
Ubud’s history dates back to as early as the 8th century when the town was known as a center of healing. The name “Ubud” in itself comes from the Balinese word ubad or medicine. I have been to Bali a number of times and I always start each visit by walking around lush and atmospheric Ubud. Ubud is the cultural heart of Bali and its setting, surrounded by rice paddies and hills, makes it an attractive starting point to any exploration of Bali. At roughly 200 meters above sea level, temperatures here are also slightly cooler and this is most apparent at night when even a room with just a fan provides for sufficient comfort.
Those ubiquitous “Bali swings” have become something of an Instagram sensation. You will find quite a few options around the island. One of the more popular ones is Bali Swing located at the outskirts of Ubud town. This is a relatively small space with highly instagrammable photo-taking of people on the swing with colorful outfits being the main purpose. If you end up here wearing plain clothes and wished you had something better on, fret not. You can even rent a costume here for IDR 250,000 each. Don’t miss out on the delicious ice cream near the entrance. You can purchase discounted tickets for admission here. It is suggested to come here in the morning to avoid long queues later in the day.
The main landmark in Ubud is the iconic Ubud Palace (open daily, 7AM to 5PM). Entrance is free to this incredibly beautiful compound filled with intricate carvings as well as traditional architecture. It’s a relatively small place and you can finish it within a few minutes. At night, it’s transformed as a venue for the traditional legong dance.
Roughly two blocks from Ubud Palace is the ornate Saraswati Temple. Built in a similar style as the royal palace, what makes this temple especially photogenic are the lotus ponds that lead to the main gate. Entrance is normally forbidden in the main temple area but it’s still worth a visit for its facade.
A short walk from the palace is the rebuilt Ubud Market. This is a sprawling market selling all sorts of souvenirs – main ones being animal figurines, rattan products and wooden carvings. Remember to haggle well. You can get cheaper prices for artworks and handicrafts further in the market as compared to the stalls by the main road. Compared to standalone handicraft stores, the wares found in Ubud Market are markedly cheaper but you also get what you pay for.
Further out from the main town of Ubud are some other important attractions. Goa Gajah, also known as Elephant Cave, was built in the 9th century as a space for meditation. It contains both Hindu and Buddhist motifs. Its most defining feature is perhaps the cave entrance which contains a menacing face with its mouth opened wide – serving as the actual opening to enter the cave.
Gunung Kawi and Pura Tirta Empul
A further drive north from Goa Gajah is Gunung Kawi, an 11th century funeral temple. It consists of 10 shrines carved in niches. It’s quite a fun walk to get to the temples from the parking lot as you will pass by some picturesque rice paddies. This visit can be easily combined with Pura Tirta Empul which is known for its bathing area. There is a rather touristy water blessing ritual that many visitors go for. I would suggest doing it only if you really want to have photos taken for social media or personal keepsake. Otherwise, I find the ritual a bit of a tourist trap.
Tegalalang Rice Terraces
End your Ubud itinerary by stopping by for a quick photoshoot at Tegalalang Rice Terraces. These rice fields are built on a more elevated hillside as compared to the flatter, undulating terraces of Jatiluwih. As such, Tegalalang is also popular as a view point with swings, cafes and even private day-use pools situated at the opposite side of the terraces. Popular photo spots for shooting the rice terraces include Tis Cafe and Alas Harum Bali.
Where to Eat in Ubud
Nusantara (open daily, 6PM to 9:30PM and Tuesday to Sunday 12PM to 2:30PM) offers traditional Indonesian food in a cozy, home-like setting. Dishes come from all over Indonesia, including lesser traveled corners like Aceh and Sulawesi. Check out their assorted appetizer platter consisting local specialties such as fritters, tempeh, salted fish and tropical fruits. Their degustation set is a good option for those who can’t decide what to get from their pretty extensive menu.
Cafes can be found all over Ubud but a highly popular one is Ubud Coffee Roastery (open daily, 7AM to 6PM; until 3PM on Sundays) . They source their Arabica beans locally. Guests can choose between indoor airconditioned seats or those overlooking a terrace.
Day 2 to 3 – Northern and Central Bali / Activities in Bali
Northern and Central Bali is mostly mountainous and roads mainly run in a north-south direction with limited east-west ones. As such, it is best to devote at least two days if you intend to gain a more holistic view of the region. One day can be devoted to Mount Batur, Tirta Gangga, Lempuyang and Besakih temples while another day can be devoted to Danu Beratan, Gitgit waterfalls and Jatiluwih Rice Terraces.
Mount Batur Sunrise Trek
If you are up for it, you can hike up to Mount Batur starting from the wee hours of the morning. Mount Batur is a relatively easy mountain for hiking and you can take a guided tour that brings you up the 1,717 meter tall summit.
Even non-hikers can join in the fun. Specialized tours by 4WD jeep that bring you up are also available. The tours usually includes pick-up from your hotel at around 2:30AM for jeep tours and around 1:30AM for hikes. By 5AM/4AM, you will be making your way up the slopes of Mt. Batur. Depending on the weather that day, you can even see Mt. Rinjani from afar.
One of the most unforgettable spectacles during the sunrise trek is the sea of clouds which can be seen when the weather is good. It was raining non-stop the last couple of days before my visit and I was worried it won’t look good but glad to have witnessed a beautiful sunrise during the day of the tour.
Tip: While I do recommend to go on these join-in or private tours of Mount Batur as these are cost-efficient and the guides are usually great (I went for the 4WD excursion to Mt Batur myself), the coffee plantation visit which usually comes as the last activity of many day tours in Bali is somewhat of an overpriced tourist trap. Most of these “coffee plantations” are found along the same road in the Manukaya area with relatively small properties containing a few coffee plants. A standard routine involves getting to sample a few types of coffee before being led to the shop. The coffee for sale, which are overpriced, don’t actually originate from the property and are near-clones of the products being sold at the “coffee plantations” next door. You might be better off telling your driver to skip this last activity.
The road around the caldera of Mount Batur is more car-friendly and has access to the eastern part of the island. After Mount Batur, you can head to Besakih Temple. It is the largest and most important temple for Balinese Hinduism, comprising 23 separate temples over 6 levels. When visiting, one is likely to encounter a festival going on here as there are at least 70 festivals going on here every year. It’s a worthwhile stop to witness locals observing their religious life, if you haven’t already done so in Bali’s other temples.
A further drive to the east leads to Lempuyang Temple or the Pura Lempuyang Luhur. It is a complex comprising several smaller temples, the most popular one being Pura Penataran Agung Lempuyang. The said temple is known for its split gate that overlooks Mount Agung. This is a highly popular spot for photos among visitors and is usually included as part of “Instagram tours” of Bali.
Tip: If you are going to Lempuyang Temple for the “Gate of Heaven” mirror shot, it is best recommended to go early as snaking queues can mean a several hour wait. Each group is given a number upon arrival and during your turn, you are given up to 3 poses for the shoot. If you plan to go at sunrise, it is recommended to be there well before 6AM to avoid having to endure a long queue.
Ulun Danu Beratan
The other route you can take when exploring the northern part of Bali (separate route from Mount Batur/Besakih/Lempuyang) would be to make an excursion to Danu Beratan – a scenic lake with a pagoda (Ulun Danu Beratan Temple) in an island surrounded by gardens. Boats are also available to take you around the lake if you wish.
The area around Danu Beratan is also filled with several waterfalls. Gitgit Waterfalls is one of the most popular and is considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the island. If you don’t mind traveling farther, Sekumpul is noted for its multiple cascades. On the way to Gitgit, you can stop by Handara Gate -a picturesque traditional Hindu gate which serves as the entrance of a golf course.
Jatiluwih Rice Terraces
Before heading back, stop for a view of the undulating rice terraces of Jatiluwih. The terraces here are irrigated through the traditional “subak” system which has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can easily cover the places listed under day 2 and 3 through an Instagram tour of Bali that you can book here.
Day 4 – Nusa Penida
Nusa Penida is an island off the southern coast of Bali. It is relatively wild with few inhabitants. To Balinese people, Nusa Penida is known as “black magic island” due to folklore that dark spirits are banished to exile there from the main island of Bali. Nowadays, Nusa Penida is an important tourist destination in Bali and some of the most iconic photos of Bali such as Kelingking Beach and Angel’s Billabong are actually located in Nusa Penida.
You can easily visit Nusa Penida as a day trip from the main island. Departures originate from Sanur. You can leave in the morning and return in the afternoon. A typical tour of the island concentrates on the western portion and covers the following attractions:
Kelingking Beach – Probably the most photographed spot on the island. It’s also known as dinosaur rock due to the T-rex – like formation of the rock face. It’s surrounded by azure waters and a seemingly inviting beach. However, visitors are warned against descending all the way to the beach as there are several broken steps. Most visitors just head down a few steps to a level that gives a good overview of the rock before going back up again.
Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach – Angel’s Billabong is a beautiful natural pool with an arched tunnel serving as its entrance. This is another highly photographed spot, with the view point being from Broken Beach.
Crystal Bay – A good option for snorkeling in between your sightseeing trip in Nusa Penida
Atuh Beach (Diamond Beach) – Named as “Diamond Beach” due to the shape of the rocks swirling out of the beach / sea that look like diamonds. This is typically included in an “East Nusa Penida” tour which is a departure from the island’s highlights which are mostly in the western side.
You can book the Nusa Penida day trip here which includes pick-up and drop-off from hotel, boat transport to Nusa Penida and lunch.
Day 5 to 6 – Southern Bali
Southern Bali is in some ways, the most touristy part of Bali. I know of friends who never ventured anywhere north of the beach clubs lining the southern coast whenever they’re visiting the island. It’s here that you can find many of the island’s luxury chain hotels, hipster cafes, top restaurants, beach bars, surfing spots and more. Aside from that, you will also find some important temples and monuments here – including the Uluwatu Temple and Tanah Lot. After days of relatively intense activities, it is therefore sensible to relax and unwind here in the southern part for a few days.
Uluwatu marks the southwestern tip of Bali. Its name comprises of the word “ulu” which means somewhere remote and “watu” which means rock. The area is particularly known for its breathtaking limestone cliff formations that drop dramatically into the sea. Some of the more accessible parts of Uluwatu have been developed as resorts and the area is also popular as a wedding venue. While here, don’t miss out on the Pura Luhur Uluwatu which is perched on top of the cliff.
Tip: The area around the temple is known for monkeys that “steal” small items from visitors. This includes items such as sunglasses, small pouches, etc that are small enough to be carried away by the monkeys. Visitors are advised to keep such items in the car before entering the temple grounds.
If you are there around sunset, you can catch a Kecak dance performance at 6PM. It is quite a dramatic venue for a performance. The dance is different from the one performed at Ubud Palace so the one here is worth checking out even if you have already been to the one in Ubud. You can also book day tours to Uluwatu with admission to the Kecak performance here.
Seminyak and Canggu
You can spend your last few days in Bali relaxing in Seminyak, checking out the high end boutiques, hip restaurants and cafes along the way. Popular hang out spots here include Potato Head Beach Club, Ku De Ta and more. The beach clubs, in particular, actually extend all the way to Canggu with notable spots such as Finns, Como and Mari. Further out from Canggu itself is another iconic temple – Tanah Lot. The temple sits on a large rock by the sea and is well worth a visit for its dramatic setting.
There are many massage places in Bali and you can practically find signs advertising various services in any commercialized area in Bali. But if you are looking for someplace that looks more unique with a more special kind of ambiance, you can check out Bodyworks Spa along Jalan Petitenget. The pink, Moorish architecture of this spa makes for an excellent backdrop for a spa treatment. Prices start from around IDR 385,000 for a 1 hour foot massage.
Where to eat in Seminyak
Sangsaka Restaurant is a popular choice in Seminyak. Must order dishes here include the Lobster Ravioli Laksa, Duck Breast with Banana Blossom and Pigeon with Eggplants. Have a sip of their cocktails as well such as the Sumatran Negroni.
Nook is a serene brunch and all-day dining venue in Seminyak. Customers can have the pleasure of dining directly next to the picturesque rice fields. The menu features a mix of local food as well as grills. For health buffs, there’s a good selection of dairy-free smoothie bowls to choose from.
Neon Palms is an Australian-style restaurant in Seminyak specializing in tapas-style food. Think: mini tacos featuring bite-sized beef rendang, pulled pork and more. Their Grilled Prawns Sushi Rice Bowl is worth checking out.
Expat Roasters is regularly cited as one of the best places for coffee in Seminyak. They source their beans primarily from the Kintamani region in Northern Bali although their coffee blends may also feature beans from other Indonesian islands such as Sumatra, etc.
Where to Stay in Bali
Unless staying inside the resort the entire time is part of the plan, I would personally recommend basing yourself in either Seminyak or Ubud as these places are more centralized especially when you intend to travel all around the island. Here are some of my recommended hotels in Bali.
Ubud – A stay in Ubud is marked by relative quiet surroundings, waking up with view of paddy fields as well as a generally more subdued lifestyle. You can either stay in Ubud town itself to be near eating and shopping areas. Here, you can check out Tegal Sari or Komaneka at Rasa Sayang which are moderately priced while being walking distance to most places in town. Higher end resorts in Ubud are generally located in the outskirts. This is where you’ll find the likes of Capella Ubud and Alila Ubud which offer a more serene setting away from the hustle and bustle of town.
Seminyak – A number of highly aesthetic lodging options have appeared in Seminyak as of late. Lloyd’s Inn Bali is popular for its clean and industrial design while Avani Seminyak Bali and Hotel Indigo Seminyak are relatively new.
Nusa Dua – Nusa Dua is where you will find mega, full-service resorts from top names. If your idea of a Bali holiday is to stay in all day, this is the best place. Many resorts here boast of their own beachfronts and offer plenty of activities to keep you busy without leaving the resort. Popular resorts here include Sofitel Bali Nusa Dua, Westin Nusa Dua and Melia Bali.
Kuta – Kuta, which is immediately north of the airport, is one of the cheapest places to stay in Bali. However, I would not really recommend staying here simply because there are much better options elsewhere.
Travel Tips for Bali
- Travel Insurance: In these uncertain times, it may be wise to get travel insurance before traveling to Bali. I typically buy from Worldnomads due to the relatively extensive coverage of their insurance plans. If you reside in Singapore, check out Starr Travelead, one of the cheapest travel insurance. They have a promotion that comes with S$10 cash rebate that helps to cover the insurance cost.
- Best time to visit: Bali is located in the southern hemisphere. Its dry season starts in April and extends all the way until October. November to March is the wet season. I have visited Bali during both the dry and wet seasons. Bali is still very much a suitable place to visit even during the wet season. Even during the depths of the rainy season, it typically only rains in the afternoon for short bursts or in the evening.
- Airport Transfers: There are a few ways to get your hotel from the airport. You can either buy a prepaid taxi voucher, take one of the buses that venture to various parts of the island, get a ride from ridesharing apps like Grab/ Gojek or book a car and driver for airport transfers. In my experience after multiple visits to Bali, I find that the Klook airport transfer booking is cheaper than Grab/Gojek.