A GUIDE TO PLANNING HOLIDAYS TO BALI
Ah Bali: the fabled Isle of the Gods. This land of carved Hindu temples and smoking incense, lush jungles, swinging macaques, bustling bazaars, brooding volcanos and roaring surf swells has a deserved place amongst the big players of Southeast Asia. It can rival Thailand for beaches and Vietnam for its adventure. It can muster a party that would put even Bangkok to shame (sorry Khaosan Road!), and offers some of the most primeval backcountry in Indonesia – think mist-topped jungles and cascading rice paddies that bloom with 10,000 shades of green!
Thanks to its popularity, tourist facilities and infrastructure in Bali is one of the best in Southeast Asia. The island is really well-connected by air to many major destinations in the region, from Ho Chi Minh to the Land of Smiles, making it a great place to add to any tour. It's also got everything from swish hotels to budget guesthouses; more accommodation options than you can shake a bubbling pot of peanut sate at (and trust us, you certainly will want to be shaking a tasty pot of peanut sate!).
Here, we'll a look at some of the things anyone planning holidays to Bali will want to consider, from the top destinations to the best time of year to go. We'll see you on the surf!
Decide where you want to go
First things first, as they say. The initial step to planning holidays to Bali is surely deciding exactly where it is you want to go on the Isle of the Gods. The place you opt to spend your time here will dictate what sort of trip you have overall, and there's plenty on the menu, from out-and-out party towns on the south coast to salt-washed surfing villages primed for the wave rider.
Roughly speaking, the southern end of Bali is the most popular overall. Starting with the sun-kissed lands of the Bukit Peninsula, this is where you'll find many of the famous surfing locations, not to mention some of the most luxurious hotel resorts. If it's the waves you're after, consider hitting somewhere like Uluwatu (there's also a pretty awesome clifftop temple there) or Bingin Beach. For the high-end luxury and 5-star hotels that spill out onto shimmering yellow sands and the Bali Sea, be sure to hit Nusa Dua – there's nowhere with the same panache.
A little to the north of Bukit is where you'll find the famous trio of towns that most people who come to Bali will be visiting. There's Kuta, with it's easy beach-break waves (great if you want to learn how to surf), thumping open-air rooftop bars, and gaudy street markets (think knock-off tees and Rasta bracelets by the bucket load). There's Legian with its wide beaches and pub parties. And there's Seminyak, complete with oodles of luxury beachside villas and chichi cocktail bars. All of these merge together to form what feels like one continuous town; one that's walkable from end to end and connected by a powdery beach.
The capital of Bali is also close by. This is the city of Denpasar, and remains largely overlooked by travellers, even despite its fascinating wealth of temples and cultural centers. Denpasar is also the place you're going to arrive when coming by air.
Bali's other major draw – Ubud - is found between the waxy jungles and hills of the island. A thought-provoking town of artsy cafes and interesting galleries, veggie eateries and low-key jazz bars, it's a more cerebral destination than the party towns on the coast. And it's a fine jump off point for stays in the rice fields close to Jatiluwih.
Bali's north shore also has its fair share of great beaches. Check out Lovina for some of the best, along with oodles of romantic places to stay. Finally, the eastern shore has Padangbai; a charming port town with volcanic, black-sand beaches and great connections to the picture-perfect Gili Islands out at sea (more on them later).
Decide when you want to go
One of the things that makes Bali such a loved tropical destination is the fact that it's pretty much perfect to travel all year round. Officially speaking there are two seasons: the wet and the dry. But, unlike in other Asian destinations like India, Thailand, Vietnam and the like, the monsoon here only really means a little more wind, and the occasional midday downpour that usually lasts less than half an hour at most.
Generally speaking, it’s the months between May and August that are considered the best in Bali for travelling, particularly if its unceasing sun and high temperatures without all the humidity you're after. That said, surfers may want to hold off a little for the Indian Ocean swells of late summer and early autumn – this is when you'll catch all the surfing comps and the top rollers on the western side of the Bukit Peninsula.
As a general rule of thumb though, you won't have to worry about when to book those holidays in Bali – the weather in this paradisiacal isle is virtually always, well…paradisiacal!
Make a list of all the must-see and must-do things
Like all awesome Asian travel destinations, Bali has a real host of activities on the menu. Whether you come to unravel ancient tales of the aga folk of the north or hunting for some of the top surf swells on the globe, you can rest assured there's something that will suit your tastes.
Some of the top activities include cooking lessons (to learn how to rustle up those chili-packed gado gado salads), surf lessons (Kuta is the top choice for those), the fire dance rituals in Uluwatu Temple, tours of the Monkey Forest in Ubud, and trips to see the mystical Elephant Cave and cascading rice paddies in the central regencies.
Also, be sure not to miss the awesome Gili Islands and a trip to Lombok. These are the top destinations in the region of Bali. The former offer sparkling beaches and wild nightlife (check out the raucous parties on Gili Trawangan), while Lombok is all about hidden surfing beaches in the south and arduous volcano treks.
Are you a veteran traveler of the Indonesian Isle of the Gods? Do you have some other tips and tricks to add to this guide to booking holidays to Bali? We'd love to hear about them in the comments below. Or, if you think it's time you came and explored this gorgeous corner of Asia yourself, by sure to check out all our tours in Indonesia.