There is something about Bali that tempts visitors from all around the world. Whether you are coming here for a holiday, currently backpacking South East Asia, or are a surf enthusiast; at some point you have decided to make Bali your next adventure travel destination.
Bali has been popular long before ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, although Elisabeth Gilbert’s 2006 book release, followed by a Hollywood film adaptation starring Julia Roberts in 2010, have contributed to driving the travel boom.
So, what is it about Bali that annually attracts millions of visitors, with the 23% of growth rate year on year? Is it a truly exotic paradise, a spiritual life changing experience, a must visit surf destination, or just an oversold promise of experiencing something unique? Does Bali still have its magic and authenticity, or is it a thing of the past? Like a circa 1980s past, when it was a backpackers’, surfers’ and hippies’ mecca.
I would say - it is all the above, and how you will perceive it, depends on your personal experiences.
A lot of that can be influenced by your trip planning, from choosing a place to stay, deciding which town or area will be on your stopover list, who you meet during your solo trip, to adventures and experiences you will have in Bali.
If you are a surfer and have never been to Bali before, yet thinking of your next surf trip there; or a solo female traveller, visualising yourself pedalling on a bicycle through green rice fields, taking yoga classes and eating healthy vegan food… I will tell you about my experiences, share some tips, so you can love it and hopefully won’t be disappointed by it.
A Perfect Solo Travel Gateway
Bali is and most likely will be for a long time, one of the favourite solo travel destinations, especially for solo female travellers. As I am writing this blog, I am still in Bali. I perfectly fit the bucket of solo female travellers, and my writing is influenced by my personal experiences here.
It’s not my first visit in Bali, but it’s my first solo trip here. Since I first visited seven years ago, I am less tourist and more an explorer this time. During my first visit, I did all the mandatory touristy things one must do when in Bali, often falling into tourist traps, such as oversold excursions, dance shows, or overpriced massage places. This time, after seven more years of travels, the experience is different.
Why did I come to Bali? It was an instant and spontaneous decision, followed by a real need of a ‘break’, to find a place to recharge and unplug from the matrix... if that’s even possible, whilst still working remotely.
As a solo female traveller, I could choose many places in the world, but I wanted something safe, easy and familiar. I loved Bali the first time and I always wanted to come back. So here I am, experiencing it again. This time a little differently.
For a woman travelling solo, I find Bali a safe destination for my little adventure. I don’t need to worry about danger here and can fully immerse what the island has to offer. I am staying in the South of Bali, which is the most touristy and popular area of the island. Although West and North are less crowded, you may find less spoiled for choice there.
Yoga, spirituality, healthy living
Are all found here in Bali.
Bali is one of the top world’s yoga destinations, with yoga retreats, yoga centres and drop in yoga classes found all around Bali. The South of the island is topping the ranking. There are around 500 yoga retreats in Bali, but you can also practice yoga in many hotels, or come to a drop-in class in a yoga centre. Yoga and Bali are sisters, since Bali is predominantly a Hindu island. If you end up practising yoga in Bali, you will likely feel more connected to the source, as it’s hard to escape Hindu traditions in Bali. Offerings are made several times a day and you will witness them on a regular basis. For Balinese a religious ritual, for a non-Hindu, a reminder that beyond a sunny paradise, it’s a different world and a different culture.
Ubud is probably the most iconic place to practice yoga in Bali, but not the only one. To me Ubud has lost its charm, and nowadays is a very busy place, with heavy traffic, too much attention from locals trying to sell you another souvenir you don’t need, and the overwhelming number of tourists. You can still find peace in Ubud, just stay outside of the busy centre and book your place around Ubud. Ideally somewhere in the rice fields. There are plenty of hotels within a proximity to Ubud. Trust me, you will have much better experience not staying in the centre. I have recently stayed in Penestanan Village just outside of Ubud, known as the ‘artists village’. Penestanan feels like Ubud years ago, before it turned from the authentic spiritual and artistic centre of Bali, to a mass tourism ‘must do’ on a bucket list.
If yoga and spirituality is your number one reason to visit Ubud, check out Yoga Barn – the most popular place to practice yoga, cleanse and detox, where you book yourself for a wellness package or an ayurvedic treatment, or just drop in for a yoga session.
In Bali you can easily get back on a health wagon and drop your bad habits without making any real effort. The choice of delicious healthy food options is just too hard to ignore. Switching Bintang (local beer) for a fresh coconut water that costs you less than a dollar here, and a small fortune back home is a no brainer. You will find plenty of delicious, healthy, often vegan food choices in bigger towns (Kuta, Seminyak, Canggu, Ubud, Uluwatu area). Not to mention plethora of freshly squeezed cold presses fruit and vegetable juices and widely popular kombucha, you can have with your breakfast, lunch or dinner. Cleansing your body out of toxins that way couldn’t be easier.
Surfing in Bali
Bali is the most renowned surfing destination in Indonesia, however many experienced surfers escape Bali and head to Lombok, Nusa or Mentawai islands, Sumbawa, or Sumba. Overcrowding is one of the main reasons many surfers venture outside of Bali, to catch some warm waves in Pacific waters. However, many of these spots are more suitable for advanced surfers, thus Bali is still a good place to catch waves if you are a beginner or an intermediate surfer. And of course, despite a traffic in a lineup, it’s still a world class surf for surfers of all levels, with consistent conditions all year round.
Not to mention, you can buy a good quality surfboard here, whether that’s your first board, or you are adding to the collection. The prices are competitive, there are shops that sell locally shaped boards, but using good quality imported materials, and if you are surfer, it’s difficult not to be tempted.
Bali is where I had my first adventure with surfing seven years ago, but it didn’t end up well, and I gave it up, only to give it another go a year or so later. I have been hooked since.
What’s good about surfing in Bali, is that you can enjoy it together with everything else the island has to offer. The culture, the food, the beauty, the spirituality and the openness to foreigners. There are plenty of surf camps to book yourself in, as well as plenty of independent instructors to give you a one on one lesson, whether you are a beginner or want to improve in your surfing skills. And if you’d rather surf on your own, there are still plenty of good surf spots and good conditions all year round to have some fun catching waves. But what’s the fun in surfing alone? Wouldn’t you rather do it with another soul?
Where to surf in Bali? Check out Kuta, Canggu, Balangan, Bingin, Padang Padang, Uluwatu. Many of these breaks are reef breaks. It might be a bit too much for a beginner surfer, if you haven’t surfed reef break before or have never surfed whatsoever. Make sure you don’t just rent a board and venture on your own but hire a local instructor or better; book yourself in a surf camp.
Warm waters all year round make it a perfect bikini and boardshorts surf destination.
Where to stay and what to do in Bali
That all depends on how much time you have on the island and how often you are willing to relocate. It is also not uncommon to make your base in one place, and take plenty of day trips from there. I will focus on the South of Bali and around, but if you are staying here for longer than two weeks, I would recommend venturing West and North to experience more authenticity.
If you are thinking of staying in one of the buzzy places, meeting other travellers, have your first go at surfing and immerse yourself in wellness, healthy eating, yet still be surrounded by people, head for Seminyak or Canggu. I would avoid Kuta, as it has very little authenticity and it’s overpopulated. I have recently spent a week in Canggu and I loved it. And if you haven’t bought your holiday attire yet, don’t bring too much with you. You may want to immerse yourself in a shopping spree here. From world sports brands, such as Billabong, Rip Curl, RVCA, to locally made clothing and bikinis, it’s easy to get carried away with your credit card without realising it.
If you think of pursuing more spiritual journey, head to Ubud. Even though, I am no longer a huge fan of Ubud, I was smitten by it seven years ago. I would say, if you are in Bali, you should experience Ubud. Whether you will make it a day trip, or book yourself a few nights there (just stay outside of the centre), it’s a ‘must visit’ place to complete your Bali bucket list.
There are plenty of places to see and things to do near Ubud, due to its central location. Day trip worthy, is a visit to Tegallalang Rice Terraces and nearby temples: Tirta Empul, Goa Gajah - “The Elephant Cave”, Gunung Kawi or Tanah Lot. I was fascinated by Tirta Empul - “ A Holy Water Spring Temple”, visited by Balinese people for purification bathing rituals.
West of Bali, you will find Jatiluwih rice terraces, a candidate to UNESCO heritage site, both dramatic and breath-taking opportunity for a photo to capture the moment otherwise gone.
And if you are up for an adventure, try sunrise hiking of Mount Batur, an active volcano 1717 m above sea level, believed to be a sacred place by Indonesians, located in Kintamani district. Be prepared to be picked up around 2 AM in the morning, a couple of hours ride to the starting point, around two hours trek (quite challenging for some) and finally spectacular views of another active volcano Gunung Agung, Lake Batur and a beautiful area around, accompanied by coffee and breakfast at the top.
Worth considering are also beautiful Gili Islands (so different to Bali), as well as Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan. You can get there by boat from Sanur. Gili Islands are so tiny, you can bike around one in less than 30 minutes and you won’t find any traffic there. The only means of transportation are bikes, your feet and horse carts; although poor animals are made to work hard in extreme conditions. It might be more humane to choose a bike or carry a backpack to the hotel yourself. In Gili you can snorkel, scuba dive and even surf, although not directly from the beach. Nusa islands are a tropical paradise, a short boat ride from Bali, where you can snorkel and surf in crystal clear waters.
If you plan to stay in Bali for longer, you will most certainly visit Lombok, where you can enjoy beaches, surfing, hiking and immerse yourself in a less developed environment than Bali.
When in Bali, one must try and embrace numerous wellness and spa services the island has to offer. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get pampered. A Balinese massage starts at Rp 80,000 ($6) and the service is excellent, even though the budget places are likely to be quite modest.
Will you fall in love with Bali?
It’s a possibility. And even if you don’t fall in love with this island, there is a high probability that you will come back refreshed, recharged, sun kissed and happier. Just don’t drink water from the tap;)
There are enough reasons to see this beautiful island and even though it’s not the same as it was ten, twenty years ago, it’s still an awesome adventure travel destination.
You won’t get bored in Bali, there is plenty to do and see for everyone.
A lot is being said recently about World’s pollution, as well as turning our planet and oceans into a massive wasteland drowning in plastic. Following my eye-opening experience in Bali, I decided to mention it, when writing about Bali.
I have to say, I wasn’t paying that much attention to the problem globally, besides having general awareness and trying to be responsible back home. However, particularly during this trip I realised the scale of the problem worldwide, and how it is also connected to travel and tourism.
In my first days on the island I went surfing with a local guide and rented a surfboard. After a surf session, I was offered a small plastic cup filled with water to refresh and a plastic straw. Later that day I went for a massage and the same happened. Multiply that by eight million tourists expected to visit Bali this year, add all the plastic bottles of water consumed, and you can imagine the real scale of the problem. On a global scale that number is even more staggering, with over 1.3 billion people taking international travel every year.
We all can make a small effort in tackling the global problem by bringing own refillable water bottle, instead of buying water. Many places nowadays offer clean water to refill, although a lot also have a long way to go. Less developed countries still have a massive amount of work to do, raising general awareness amongst own citizens. We - as tourists and travellers, also have the responsibility to think what we are living behind here; not just how we behave at our own countries.
Our recycling back home won’t bring much impact, if our behaviour when travelling is different. We are still living on the same planet, regardless of to what exotic destination we have teleported ourselves to.
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