For many people, the name Bali conjures up an image of tropical bliss, sunsets, surf and cocktails on the beach. Whilst this image is not wrong, it does not do justice to the complexity of Balinese culture, and the sheer richness of experiences to be found on the island. This is not an easy place to sum up in a single sentence, from the party scene that the south of the island has to offer, to the beautiful rice fields of the central highlands and the sleepy north coast, Bali is a place of contrasts. To help you figure out which part of Bali is best for you, here is a quick guide detailing a few of the island’s more well known towns and cities.
Probably the most famous town in Bali and certainly the most infamous! Kuta, as known for its nightlife as it is for its awesome surfing beach, has become the real party town of Bali. The streets are lined with nightclubs and bars and at night the whole place glows neon. The cocktails are cheap, the music is loud and the party goes on until dawn.Accommodation here runs the gamut from 5 star to cheap backpacker. As for shopping, there are some high-end stores, lots of surf shops and more souvenir stalls than you would believe possible (think ‘I love Bali’ and ‘Bintang’ t-shirts). If you are looking for non-stop action, then Kuta is the town for you, but, if your image of Bali is more of the relaxed, traditional kind, then it may be wise to look elsewhere!
The long established town of Seminyak is the places to be for all things shopping, gastronomy, family and fun. Known for all things chic and sophisticate, the streets are lined with touristy stalls in other parts of the island are replaced with fancy boutiques selling the latest fashions, stylish home-wares and amazing works of art. The accommodation here is geared more towards the luxury, although as with most of Bali, there are a few cheaper options if you know where to look. The nightlife here is cosmopolitan, with some of the best restaurants on the island, expensive cocktail bars and stylish clubs. A beach stretches along Seminyak’s coast and is dotted with some of the islands best (and biggest) beach bars and cocktail hotspots.
Canggu is the new kid on the block, known as Seminyak’s up and coming neighbor it is now one of the hippest places to be seen in Bali and the destination of choice for all bright young things. Canggu is quieter then Seminyak (although it may not stay that way for long!) and it still retains something of a more traditional feel. The town is coastal and surrounded by rice fields meaning that even in the middle of things you are never far from a glimpse of nature. The fantastic surf along this part of the coast has made Canggu into a popular surfing hotspot and its many clubs and restaurants have given it a well-earned reputation as one of the trendiest places to be after dark.
NUSA DUA AND TANJUNG BENOA
Whilst the name Nusa Dua can be taken to mean the entire eastern side of the Bukit peninsula, including Tanjung Benoa, it is usually used in reference to a large gated community of luxury resorts. Anyone is free to enter the complex, although there are security checks at the gates. Once inside, you leave behind the chaos of the rest of Bali and enter a world of landscaped gardens and 5 star luxuries. There is shopping and dining complex called ‘Bali Collection’ that caters only to the tourist market as well as a theatre and surprisingly good art gallery.
Just next door to Nusa Dua is the Tanjung Benoa peninsula. Here you will find a wider range in the quality of accommodation on offer, with a good mix of everything from cheap and cheerful to international 5 star resorts and villas. Although nowhere near as busy as Kuta, the main road of Jalan Pratama has quite a lively restaurant and bar scene as well as several excellent spas. The relatively calm waters though make the area great for watersports, although surfers should look elsewhere. As long as the tide is in, the waters are usually thronging with speedboats, jet-skis, banana boats and para-sailors and the coral reef that lies just off the shore provides a good site for snorkelling. The beach itself is beautiful white sand and has a footpath that runs for about 7km down the length of the peninsula and on into Nusa Dua
Although only about an hour’s drive north of Kuta, Ubud, high up in the mountains, surrounded by paddy fields and lush green forests, may as well be a world away. Ubud is often considered to be the cultural heart of Bali and it has a long association with the arts, which is reflected by the many fine galleries that can be found in the area and the huge amount of arts and crafts stores that line the main road. As its spiritual reputation would suggest, this is the best place in Bali for yoga and meditation retreats and it has the highest concentration of spas on the island. The dining scene in Ubud is surprisingly good, the choices range from authentic local food from a warung to world-class international cuisine. During the day there are plenty of healthy cafes, ensuring your body stays as well nurtured as your soul.
Ubud’s nightlife is bit on the quiet side, more bars and bands than thumping nightclubs, but one must do is an evening visit to the royal palace. The palace is a beautiful building that is well worth a visit in its own right, but at night it regularly comes alive with the sights and sounds of traditional Balinese dance.
Ubud is surrounded by nature, temples and adventure activities (cycling, trekking, whitewater rafting and elephant safari etc.) and its central location makes it a great base from which to explore some of the lesser-known parts of Bali.
SINGARAJA AND LOVINA BEACH
These are two of the most famous places along Bali’s north coast, where the pace of life is generally a little sleepier than it is down South. Singaraja is the capital of Bali’s northern most regency, Buleleng, and the second biggest city on the island. During the period of Dutch colonial rule, Singaraja was their administrative capital and the city, with its wide boulevards and a few remaining colonial buildings, still retains a distinctly more European feel than the rest of Bali. Whilst not many visitors actually stay in Singaraja, there are a few things to see that make it worth a visit. The royal palace in Singaraja was originally built in 1604 and is currently open to the public; the descendants of the former rajas still live at the palace, giving visitors not only the opportunity to experience high caste Balinese architecture in all its glory but also the chance to mingle with a few royals! Other sites of note include a charming waterfront area and a very ornate Chinese temple.
The most popular place to stay along the north coast is Lovina Beach, which stretches for about 10 kilometers and encompasses 7 traditional villages and plenty of accommodation options for all budgets and lifestyles. The main focal point is at Kalibukbuk village and is comprised of market stalls, restaurants and enough bars to give the place a bit of nightlife. The relaxed pace of life does not mean a lack of things to see or do, dolphin watching, diving and snorkelling are all available and Bali’s biggest Buddhist temple (set in incredibly beautiful gardens) as well as several waterfalls are all easy to get to. The sea is calm, the sand is black and the sunsets are glorious.
Denpasar is the provincial capital and with a population that will soon be approaching a million, it is a very busy place to be! With its tightly packed streets and, at times, oppressive heat, this is not a popular city with tourists but there a are a few museums and historical landmarks that are worth a look. The Bali Museum, located close to the site of the former royal palace, has an archaeological collection and is one of the better museums in Bali. The museum is adjacent to Taman Puputan, the main square in Denpasar and the site of a large monument dedicated to the Balinese royal households who were massacred under colonial rule.
Sanur is a bit like the mature older brother of some of the other tourist towns in southern Bali. Its still a fun place to be, but, in general, is a little more refined. The streets are attractive and well cared for and the nightlife tends to wind down around fairly early. The town center is full of restaurants and shops and the beach is a beautiful strip of white sand. The waters off Sanur are crystal clear and there are few good spots for diving and snorkelling. Surfers may find one or two breaks, although there are better places elsewhere on the island.
Sanur is not very big and most of its highlights are within easy walking distance of each other. The town is close enough to Kuta and other well-known spots to ensure that there is always something to see and do but its somewhat less hectic atmosphere makes it a great place to relax with the family.
Contact Bali Villas for a short consultation, and they will be able to find you the perfect villa. Bali Villas aim to take the stress out of planning your holiday, so you can concentrate on creating lasting memories with your family.