Insider’s Bali: the bits you absolutely mustn’t miss

Relaxing with a sea view

As Garuda Indonesia begins non-stop flights to Bali, there has never been a better time to discover the Island of the Gods. Here ex-resident Mayya Goldfinch picks the Balinese highlights that keep her coming back for more.

Bali is renowned for its stunning natural beauty and friendly locals. It’s an amazing destination where adventure and serenity await. Whether you’re a beach-lover, hardcore surfer, yoga enthusiast, foodie or just doing it for the ‘gram (😉), here are the top places and activities you should absolutely check out.

The beach bum’s Bali

Aerial view of beach club

Crystal clear waters, seawater swims and a top-up of sunshine … some of the best spots to sunbathe and relax are Bingin Beach, Thomas Beach, Balangan Beach, Padang-Padang Beach in Pecatu (Uluwatu) and Geger Beach in Nusa Dua.

Of the free-access spots, Thomas Beach is now my favourite. The first beach I fell in love with in Bali was Padang-Padang, but it’s popular and now getting crowded.

If you seek something a little more exclusive, beach clubs are the way to go. They’re a great way to soak up the sunshine, music, cocktails and island vibes.

Some favourite beach clubs are The Lawn Canggu, La Brisa, Potato Head Beach Club, Karma Beach, Mrs Sippy Bali, and the Bali Sundays Beach Club.

I like Sundays as it’s secluded, premium but accessible (as it’s not too expensive). Upon arrival you are greeted with views of a spectacular cliff above the sea, and you take a tram down to a gorgeous beach with beanbag loungers or regular lounge chairs, all with umbrellas and nicely spaced out. The service is fantastic, the food and cocktails even better!

This picturesque stretch of white-sand beach on the Bukit Peninsula is the perfect spot to relax, enjoy the beat of the DJ’s tunes and take in the beauty of the surrounding scenery. You can even rent a kayak or paddleboard at low tide, or just swim or snorkel in the crystal-clear water.

Surfing, snorkelling and diving

Reef manta ray (Manta alfredi)

Bali is among the best and most consistent surfing destinations in the world. The Bukit is the primary surfing region and has an exceptional number of surfing breaks which work in most swells and wind.

The top five advanced waves are Uluwatu, Padang-Padang (Balinese Pipeline), Impossibles, Bingin and Keramas. But don’t fret if you’re a beginner or first-timer.

Some of the best breaks to work out your stance and learn the basics are also some of the best-known – Kuta and Seminyak Beach.

While it’s renowned for fantastic surf beaches, Bali has also earned a reputation as a diverse and unique dive destination.

Even if you’re not a diver, Bali’s underwater world has much to offer those who prefer to snorkel, from beginners to the enthusiasts.

Some of my top picks are Tulamben, Amed, Menjangan Island, Blue Lagoon – where you can find lots of ‘Nemo’ clownfish – or Manta Point in the Nusa Islands, the only place in Bali where reef manta rays are spotted on a regular basis.

I have seen the giant rays, though that was near Komodo island, a 90-minute flight from Bali. I was swimming next to one and she looked sooo majestic.

They can be quite shy, but if you swim calmly next to them, they will stay with you. It was surreal, but I tried my best to respect these wonderful creatures by admiring them and not trying to touch or stroke them.

Yoga in Bali

Practising yoga in Ubud

Calling all Yogis! Detox and de-stress in some of Bali’s trendiest yoga shalas (houses). Here is my list of just some of the island’s most serene places to zen out:

  • Desa Seni Canggu
  • Jiwa Bali
  • The Yoga Barn
  • The Ubud Yoga Centre, nestled right in the centre of peaceful Ubud. It’s a brilliant setting to escape the stresses of the crowds, and relax and recharge your mind and body.
  • Morning Light Yoga, where your practice will take on a whole new dimension as you stare out at the Indian Ocean and breathe in.

Bali for foodies

Ayam betutu and sate lilit

Bali has a wide range of delicious, affordable restaurants serving all types of food (including Western and other international favourites).

If you’re vegan and concerned about food options in Bali, don’t fret – there’s a huge number of cafes and restaurants to take your fancy. My top picks are Nook, Betelnut Café and Green Ginger Noodle House in Canggu; Cafe Organic Bali in Seminyak; and The Elephant, Sage, Sari Organik and Kafe in Ubud.

Be sure to try Balinese delicacies such as babi guling (spit-roasted pig) and sate lilit (spicy minced chicken or beef on lemongrass sticks). Another excellent dish is ayam betutu, a slow-cooked, spicy chicken wrapped in banana leaves. There is also a duck version, bebek betutu.

Gado-gado is a must-try, a traditional Indonesian salad consisting of boiled or blanched vegetables in peanut sauce. The word gado-gado literally translates as “mix-mix”, which is very fitting!

Don’t forget the copious amounts of fresh, tasty seafood on offer, from prawns and lobster to other exotic oddities. Jimbaran and Echo Beach are great places to try fresh seafood, with a choice of many reasonably-priced beachside restaurants.

You can even dine in the renovated 17th-Century Royal Palace at Kerambitan (reservations necessary), accompanied by traditional island dancing. Bali is a genuine treat for the taste buds – I’m Indonesian myself, but I promise I’m not biased!

Instagrammable Bali

Honeymoon couple on swing near rice terraces

Old and new temples, serene mountains, epic waterfalls, gorgeous sunsets, picturesque rice paddies, endless beaches and unreal infinity pools – all contribute to make Bali a fantastic setting for social media stars and selfie-lovers alike.

Insta is flooded with snaps of Bali’s infinity pools – excuse the pun—but they are some of the ultimate holiday content, right? So if you want the most epic shots, pay a visit to The Hanging Gardens of Bali – its twin-tiered cascading pool has been voted one of the world’s best.

Or if you’re aiming higher, how about attempting a drone shot of the cliff-top glass-bottomed infinity pool at The Edge Hotel in Uluwatu? (Look through the glass in the pool’s floor to see the cliffs and ocean below).

Chase the sun

Bali provides unbelievable sunrises and sunsets, so check out Uluwatu’s hot new OMNIA Dayclub for sunset beats and jaw-dropping backdrops.

El Kabron’s Cliff Club is a must-visit for sun-seekers, with stunning clifftop views on the Pecatu coast. Or why not just sink into beanbag cushions and chill at La Plancha Beach Bar. And finally, for unparalleled clifftop sunsets you cannot beat the famous Single Fin at Uluwatu.

Bali’s countless waterfalls provide mighty cascades and crystal clear waters to enjoy. There are so many to choose from for that perfect Insta-shot. To experience these unreal backdrops for yourself, head north to Tengenungan, Banyumala, Git-Git, Sekumpul, NungNung, or Munduk.

Bali’s rice paddies and ridge walks deliver fantastic Instagram photo opportunities. Ubud’s ultra-photogenic landscape is crowned by the Campuhan Ridge Walk. Its simply-paved path and sprawling green panoramas will have you filling many a memory card with beautiful shots.

Most who frequent Instagram will have seen the famous sunset swing on Gili Trawangan. And Bali Swing in Ubud will not disappoint – it will have you flying over the jungle with awesome views. If you’re brave enough, don’t miss out.

Some smaller islands off Bali are certainly worth a day trip, like Nusa Penida. For the ultimate Instagram shots head for Angel’s Billabong, Blue Stairs, Broken Beach or Kelingking Beach. Ensure you make the trip early in the day to miss the crowds.

Eat Pray Love-lovers

Lotus pond and Pura Saraswati temple, Ubud

If you enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s life-changing memoir  (or even the Julia Roberts movie!) you can experience your own Eat Pray Love tour. Explore Ubud, following in Gilbert’s footsteps to understand what makes Bali so remarkably special.

Eat gorgeous organic meals for lunch in little-known spots encircled by the sights and sounds of nature. You can even speak with a Balinese fortune-teller and have your life’s questions answered (or just say hi and take a selfie!). One unique experience for your Instagram stories! 😊

Plan your trip to Bali

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Garuda Indonesia flies non-stop from Heathrow Terminal 4 to Bali before continuing on to Jakarta. Departures are on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

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