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top five guide: bali, indonesia

Updated: Sep 7, 2023


Bali is a destination that has been glamorized my entire adult life, thanks in no small part to social media. Depicted as an aesthetically-pleasing and affordable haven for surfers, digital nomads, wellness seekers, and beach bums, this island paradise has always felt tailor-made for millennial travelers like myself. With a Tulum-esque hype and similarly mixed reviews, I was curious to see how Bali stacked up in real life. A true Instagram versus reality trip.


Perhaps it was my cautious optimism that set the tone, but Bali exceeded my expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed the stunning landscapes, rugged nature, cheeky wildlife, budget-friendly prices, and distinctly Balinese culture. It's easy to see why so many Westerners have fallen in love with the place (and in many cases, decided to move there indefinitely).


One thing I did not realize before our trip is that you do not simply visit "Bali." Bali is a large island with nearly a dozen distinct areas or cities that are popular to visit. I spent days agonizing over whether we should stay in Seminyak or Nusa Dua, Canggu or Uluwatu, Ubud or the Gili Islands, Kuta or the Nusa Islands...you get my point. Ultimately, I feel you need at least a week or two to get even the smallest introduction to what this vast area has to offer, and I would suggest an itinerary similar to the following:


10-DAY INTRODUCTION TO BALI


5 NIGHTS: ULUWATU

Located on the Bukit Peninsula, Uluwatu is known for having some of the most dramatic and beautiful beaches on the main island of Bali. Also known as a more relaxed surfer's haven, this area is home to charming cafés, boutique shops, and luxe beach clubs. It is significantly less crowded than Canggu and Seminyak, two places I still suggest you visit by taking day trips.

We used Bonvoy points to stay at the fantastic Renaissance Bali Uluwatu Resort & Spa, which I would absolutely recommend.


2 NIGHTS: NUSA PENIDA

The most beautiful parts of Bali are actually not in Bali at all! Neighboring island Nusa Penida (the largest of a three island chain) has some of the most rugged, jaw-dropping scenery I've ever seen, with sheer, green-topped cliffs leading down to saturated blue waters. This is also a huge snorkeling and diving area, with an abundance of sea life. While many people day trip to this island, I think it is better to stay here so that you can explore the main sights before (or after) the notoriously massive day trip crowds leave.


We stayed at the cliffside Adiwana Warnakali resort, which is a bit tricky to get to but offers beautiful views of the northern coast.


3 NIGHTS: UBUD

End your trip in wellness mode with a trip inland to Ubud. Known for its yoga retreats, healthy restaurants, picturesque rice terraces, and monkey forest, you can unwind from the adventures earlier in your itinerary in total bliss. Namaste.


We (once again) used Bonvoy points to stay at The Westin Resort & Spa Ubud, and this was my favorite stay of the trip! The property is stunning, well-located, has an extensive breakfast buffet, and makes for an ideal retreat with yoga and other wellness activities available.


here are my top five tips for a trip to BALI:


Kelingking Beach Nusa Penida Bali Indonesia 2023

1: exploring nusa penida


As I mentioned above, it's a bit ironic that the most beautiful parts of Bali aren't in Bali at all: they are a short boat ride away on neighboring island Nusa Penida. Rent a scooter (only if you are have the right license and are experienced!) to navigate the rocky, narrow roads on this rugged island and explore the many stunning sights along the coast. While there is much beauty to admire, king of them all is Kelingking (pun intended, pictured). Another must-do activity is scuba diving or snorkeling with manta rays, a truly wild experience that can be experienced year round.


Suka Espresso Cafe Uluwatu Bali Indonesia 2023


2: vibey cafes


Bali makes it absurdly easy to eat food that is at once delicious, healthy, and cheap (at least by Western standards). Even better is that this tasty food is served from some of the most aesthetically pleasing cafes, ones that beg you to linger a bit longer over your smoothie bowls and juices. Our favorites across the island included Suka Espresso (locations in Uluwatu, pictured, and Ubud), Milk and Madu (Canggu), Tarabelle (Uluwatu), Gooseberry (Uluwatu), and Revolver Espresso (Seminyak and the airport).



Uluwatu Bali Sundays Beach Club Bean Bag Chairs Umbrella

3: beach club


What's an island getaway without a trip to a beach club? Bali has many options for you if you are looking to enjoy a bit more pampering at the beach: clubs range from chill, low key chair rentals to full on dance clubs with international DJs and bottle service. We visited two clubs in Uluwatu and preferred the vibe at Sundays Beach Club. Set inside this luxurious clifftop resort, this club had a higher-end feel without being too pretentious. Get there early to nab one of the waterfront seats, and beware that the tides can be pretty strong here!



Uluwatu Temple Kecak Fire Dance Bali 2023

4: uluwatu temple/kecak dance


Balinese culture is unique and distinct from the rest of Indonesia, as the island is the only Hindu-majority region in the Muslim-majority country. You get a sense of that culture naturally when you visit, noting the canang sari offerings delicately laid on the ground and the many beautiful and intricate temples. A great way to more directly experience the culture is by visiting Uluwatu Temple and attending a nightly kecak fire dance show. The gorgeous cliffside setting at sunset makes for a dramatic and entertaining performance. Be sure to get there at least 30 minutes early for good seats.


Bali Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary 2023 Three Monkeys

5: sacred monkey forest


The treasures of Bali aren't limited to the coastline! Traveling inland to Ubud replaces the craggy seaside cliffs and turquoise waves with thick green forests and terraced rice fields. Our favorite stop in Ubud was the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Don't worry, you won't have to look hard to find them; the place is quite literally crawling with monkeys. They should be behaved and leave you alone so long as you don't bring in food or water bottles. Personally, I could have spent all day watching these cheeky guys hang out together.



You can't always do it all, so one thing we didn’t do but wish we had:

Explore more of Bali's natural beauty. By the end of our trip, I was struck with "Bali belly," an unfortunately common experience among foreigners who visit and unknowingly come into contact with contaminated food or water. That cut some of our intended adventures short, and I would love to return one day to hike Mt. Batur at sunrise, see more beautiful waterfalls, and explore more of the neighboring Nusa and Gili Islands.


Have a great trip! Feel free to leave a comment with your own favorites. You can also find these recommendations (and more!) in map format by following me on the Out of Office app.

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