Floating to the north-west of Australia, surrounded by the Javanese, Sunda and Gili Islands, is the island of Bali. Made pop-culturally famous by the book and subsequent moving Eat, Pray, Love and the Instagram feeds of thousands of influencers, Bali is known as one of the quintessential South East Asian backpacker stops, offering everything from vibrant nightlife, to world class surf and exclusive yoga retreats.
Bali is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, particularly for Aussie travellers who are only a short flight away. Overtourism is real, but, as with most popular tourist destinations, it’s focused mostly on a few areas. For those looking for a good time, Kuta and Canggu are what you’re looking for. For those looking to unwind, relax and recharge, Ubud in the central mountain area is calling your name. And for those looking to catch a wave, the south-west coast serves up some of the best surf around.
Despite being a relatively small island, Bali can be divided into 6 main regions; South, Central, West, North, East and the Southeastern Islands, each with its own style, culture and personality. And whilst there’s nothing wrong with lying on a beautiful Balinese beach, cocktail in hand – get off the beaten track in Bali and you’re likely to have an experience unlike anyone else. As usual, here at House of Coco, we’ve got your back. Read on for some of our favourite lesser known Bali hotspots.
South Bali is the most heavily touristed part of the island, and not entirely without reason. Coastal towns Kuta and Canggu offer some of the best waves for beginner to intermediate surfers, the most vibrant nightlife, and the biggest range of dining and shopping opportunities. The up style Seminyak is also found in the South, and whilst it doesn’t get as rowdy as it’s younger neighbour Kuta, or as bohemian as Canggu, Seminyak is still one of the most popular spots on the island for those among us who like a bit of luxury.
The mountainous central region of Bali is often described as the cultural heart of the island. Far from the pumping beaches of the south, the central region of Bali is home to Ubud, Gianyar, Bedugul and Tabanan, as well as some of the most reputable yoga retreats on the island. It’s a place to relax, unwind, and get in touch with the beautiful Balinese jungle that surrounds you. Here you can explore the world heritage listed Tegallalang rice terraces; an ancient method of rice farming still practiced today. Central Bali is also home to the temple of Goa Gajah, where legends say that the pools are considered to be the fountain of youth, bathing in which would keep you young forever. Legends aside, hidden away in the thick foliage that surrounds the site is the ruins of a Buddhist temple, one of the only examples of which can be found on the predominately Hindu island. For the more adventurous among us, the Ayung River that flows through the central region makes for great white water rafting.
East Bali offers a bit of a different atmosphere from the coastal towns in the south, here, a little more laid-back, a little slower moving. East Bali includes towns such as Amed, Besakih and Candidasa that enjoy some pretty great swell in the wet season from October to March, as well as the only occasionally eruptive Mt Agung. In the foothills of Mt Agung you will find the village of Sidemen, dotted with cheerful locals, rice fields and countless coffee and cocoa plantations. Hire a bicycle and ride along the Unda river and through the mountains to explore this place where time stands still.
The east is also where you can find enough space to spread your towel and then some. With most beaches on the east relatively secluded and a bit of challenge to get to, with a little bit of effort you’ll be able to have them all to yourself. Located about 15 minutes east of Candidasa is Pasir Putih, sometimes called Bugbug beach, is one of the most spectacular. The road down is a little rough, but the journey is definitely worth it.
East Bali is also home to the Lempuyang Luhur, or the Gateway to Heaven. Located at the top of a 1,700 stair climb, make it to the top before the sun and watch the sunrise light up the island. Your Instagram feed will thank me.
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North Bali is usually considered the family friendly option on the island. Less crowds, calmer waters and regular dolphin visitors makes it the perfect place for small children and the parents that want to keep an eye on them. But it’s also where you’ll find some of the most impressive waterfalls on the island. Jembong, Sekumpul and Git Git are the most popular, all of which can be reached through treks of around three hours or less through lush Balinese jungle. Git Git has the easiest road access, but swimming in the calm natural pools that collect at the base of all three of these falls will feel so much more satisfying after a lengthy trek.
North Bali is also home to the secret gardens of Sambangan. A chain of natural pools and a total of seven waterfalls are hidden within dense Balinese rainforest that can be reached through a three hour trek that will again take you deep into the heart of the jungle. The gardens are remote and unspoiled and well worth the journey.
Here in north Bali you can also find Mt Batur. Smaller than it’s occasionally disruptive neighbour Mt Agung, Mt Batur is a relatively easy climb and will reward you with some of the best views of the island. Hikes usually start as early as 2am to catch the sunrise at the top, but don’t panic just yet, there are a slew of mountaintop cafes waiting to serve you possibly the most picturesque morning cup of coffee in your life.
West Bali is the least popular part of the island with very little tourist infrastructure or activities. However, its a great stop for nature lovers; home to the West Bali National Park, and Menjangan Island. Here you can find the rare Javan Rusa deer, calm waters and coral gardens vibrant with marine life and excellent visibility the whole year round. You can also catch a ferry to Java from this side of Bali if you want to explore Indonesia a little further afield.
Around a 30 minute boat ride from the mainland, the last region of Bali is the three Nusa Islands, Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan. Relatively undertouristed for what they are, the Nusa Islands are a beautiful insight into the Bali of 20 years ago, before the island became a tourist hotspot. Each of the islands have something different to offer travellers, but as with most good things in life, you have to put in just a little effort to get a big reward.
The most popular of the Nusa Islands, Lembongan is gaining popularity for its fairly consistent year round swell and for its proliferation of both high energy as well as relaxing water sports. It’s a good place to base yourself if you want to spend some time exploring the Nusa Islands; it has the biggest range of hotels, restaurants and the easiest connection to both the mainland and the other two Nusa Islands.
Penida is the biggest of the three Nusa Islands and offers the biggest range of activities for travellers. With sights like the Peguyangan Waterfall and its iconic, if not heart pumping staircase, the Broken Beach and mesmerising Angel’s Billabong, Penida has plenty of hidden little gems to explore. Don’t miss the Kelingking Point Lookout and Secret Beach for that iconic Bali snap. It’s a bit of a rough journey, and the safety leaves a little to be desired so be careful and know your limits before seeking this little one out.
Smallest of the three, you can get around Ceningan mostly on foot. The island is accessed by the iconic yellow suspension bridge and has a reputation for being the haunt of the adventurous and thrill seeking. Ceningan has the biggest range of safe cliff jumping points, including Mahana Point and the Blue Lagoon. For those of you who don’t consider hurling yourselves off cliffs to be the epitome of a good time, the Blue Lagoon is also a great place to swim or just soak in the beauty.