Bali rhymes with paradise in many travelers’ imagination. This small Hinduist island, part of Indonesia, is full of surprises. Although Bali is no longer a secret and tourists from the whole world come to see it for themselves, Bali is still a charming destination with a unique culture and a wide range of activities. But don’t be fooled by the map, even if the island is only about 100km from North to South, it can take hours to drive around due to poor road conditions and traffic around the capital, Denpasar. If you stay only for a week, some choices will be needed so here is my suggested itinerary for a perfect first experience in Bali.
3 reasons to go
- Preserved traditions. Although Bali is a world-renowned tourist destination and receives over 4 millions visitors every year, Balinese culture is still strong and highly visible. Religion being very important in their life, you will witness ceremonies or God offerings every day you spend on the island. It explains why Bali is also known as the Island of the Gods.
- Variety. Bali has a lot to offer and crafting a one-week itinerary is no easy thing. Numerous temples, UNESCO-listed rice fields, beaches, waterfalls, volcano hiking, diving, world-class surfing, the options are virtually endless and there’s something for everyone.
- Uniqueness. In most countries you visit you can often find some similarities with neighbouring countries but the situation of Bali, being the only Hinduist island of a Muslim country make it very unique. The architecture of the temples, ceremonies, traditions, clothing style and traditional music all make for a truly original environment.
In this itinerary I recommend dividing your nights in Bali between 4 places organized around a few additional day trips.
Destination 1: Canggu
This small town is famous with expats and has developed a wide scene of trendy cafes and restaurants. It is surrounded by some of the last rice fields in the area and Batu Bulong beach. A few kilometers north of the airport, Canggu (pronounced Changu) is a much better choice to start your trip than staying in the noisy Kuta.
Destination 2: Ubud
Ubud is the capital of relaxation with plenty of spa and massage centers to choose from. It is also famous for its Monkey Forest where you can feed these vicious creatures hopping they don’t steal anything from you (no it did not happen to me!).
Destination 3: Lovina
A quiet town on the Northern coast, Lovina is famous for its black sand beach and sunset dolphin boat rides. Less touristy than the rest of the island, it’s worth a stop when you explore the northern part of Bali.
Destination 4: Uluwatu
Famous among surfers around the world, Uluwatu is also a sacred place with its temple located right at the hedge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean.
How to book your vacation?
If you enjoy organizing your own trips.
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Day 1: land in Kuta
When people talk negatively about their experience in Bali, it’s mainly referring to Kuta. Unfortunately, it’s true that the city has become everything that mass tourism can negatively stand for. I was rightfully worried to find some sort of an Asian Cancun with loud music, cheap souvenirs and drunk Australian teenagers going on their first trip abroad in the search for cheap booze (I have absolutely nothing against Australians, just an observation here). For all these reasons, and unless you strictly want to party, I would recommend to skip Kuta right away and head further north to Canggu.
Day 2: explore Canggu
Canggu does offer some partying options but is a much more laid-back environment with modern cafes and good restaurants. It’s a famous spot for digital nomads and therefore has a quite large community of expats working on various entrepreneurial projects. It’s a good base for your first days in Bali and to let you recover from the jet lag. Make sure to watch the sunset on Batu Bulong beach, where you can also take a surf lesson if you’ve never tried before.
Day 3: day trip to Tanah Lot and Jatiluwih
On your third day, hire a taxi for the day or rent a scooter if you have driving experience. Start by exploring the rice fields of Jatiluwih (+/- 1 ½ hour) where you can walk along the rice terraces that are incredibly photogenic. Head over to Tanah Lot temple (1 hour 15) around mid-afternoon to get a good spot for sunset. Yes, there’s a lot of sunset watching in Bali!
This place tend to be very crowded but that’s for a reason. The scenery of this temple built on a rock that gets surrounded by water at high tide is just magical. Head back to Canggu (½ hour) for your third and last night there.
Day 4: Ubud
In the morning, transfer to Ubud (1 hour) for a day of relaxation and exploration. Spoil yourself with a massage and go feed the monkeys at the Monkey Forest. Finish the day with a traditional dance show, like the Barong Dance.
Day 5: Lovina and the North
Hire a taxi for the day and plan your itinerary. You can either decide to return to Ubud after your excursion or spend the night in Lovina (2 ½ hours from Ubud) to soak in the atmosphere and reduce the driving time that day.
During this drive you will go through the inside of the island and across the mountains. You can stop first at the Ulun Danu Bratan temple, located on lake Bratan and famous for its 11-story pagoda.
Your next stop will be the 35m high Gitgit waterfalls, easily accessible by a short walk from the main road.
You can also include a visit of the main Buddhist temple of Bali, Brahma Vihara Arama, located West of Lovina.
And finally, Lovina, the quiet town of the north. You can swim in the calm water (no waves there) and relax on the black sand beach.
Day 6: Uluwatu
Transfer from Lovina (3 hours) or Ubud (1 ½ hour) to reach the very southern tip of Bali, on the Bukit peninsula. Have lunch in Uluwatu, overlooking the surfers from the cliff.
Have a look at the Uluwatu Temple, sitting on the top of a cliff with never-ending ocean views. Spend the night in Uluwatu for more surfing vibes.
Day 7: Uluwatu & beaches
Explore more beaches of the peninsula, like Dreamland Beach and Bingin Beach, or if you want to go back to the city for some shopping and fine dining, head to Seminyak (45 min north), which is near Kuta but a bit more upscale.
Day 8: return home
Depending on the time of your flight, spend more relaxing or surfing time at Padang Padang beach.
Tips & Advice
- There’s no Visa required for most nationalities for stays under 30 days. The best time to visit Bali is the dry season from May to October but keep in mind that July and August are the busiest months.
- You may have heard of villa rentals in Bali, it’s one of the main forms of lodging and definitely a nice one when you are a few friends together or traveling as a family. You can find good deals online, including on AirBnB but make sure to be extra careful when you select and pay your villa. Some scams have been reported so please read the reviews and find a reliable supplier.
- Driving scooters in Bali may be a tempting option but keep in mind that it can be very dangerous if you have no previous driving experience with motorbikes. We see tourists wrapped in plasters after accidents every day, and that’s when they don’t get even more injured. Also confirm with your travel insurance that you are covered in these situations if you decide to ride one. But if you already know how to drive, go ahead it’s such a great way to explore.
- Apps like Uber and Grab are available in most popular areas but drivers may ask you to be discreet. They suffer from pressures by taxi mafias in some cases, but as a passenger you are not at risk. From the airport the price is completely exuberant if you don’t use Uber. Make sure you have the app before landing in Bali. To hire a car for the day, ask around in restaurants or at your guesthouse.
- If you are a surfer, even though this itinerary is not focusing on surfing, you will have a chance to catch waves for beginners and intermediate in Canggu, and more advanced in Uluwatu. For a short trip, I would not recommend to bring your own board as rentals are widely available for very reasonable prices.
- If you like diving, consider going to Amed on the East coast for some shipwreck exploration or in Nusa Lembongan.