Bali's Top Off-The-Beaten-Path Destinations
Leave behind the hangovers and the surfboards of Kuta, Seminyak and the south, and head for Bali's other, wilder, lesser-known reaches, all courtesy of this LBW list of the top off-the-beaten-path places to visit on the fabled Indonesian Isle of the Gods.
The Karangasem Regency is one huge cut-out of north-eastern Bali. It's a land that's carved through by colossal volcanic mountains, and dips to valleys where clutches of misty rainforest and palm trees pepper the riversides. It's something of a trek to get here from the popular southern side of the island, but you'll be glad you did – particularly if you're after a more secluded and wild stay on the Isle of the Gods. Don't miss a trip to the old royal temples of Karangasem, the cascading water fountains of Tirta Gangga, or the beautiful palaces of Ujung.
This small little coastal spot on the eastern edge of Bali is usually passed over quickly by travelers hopping on and off the speedy catamaran and boat connections to the pretty isle of Lombok or the party-mad Gilis. Those who opt to linger a couple of days will get to explore a charming little centre of salt-washed fishing shacks and bobbing boats, where dive centers cluster along the main seaside drag and the occasional luxury hotel crowns the hillsides. Nearby, there are also some interesting black-sand beaches, along with the gorgeous white-sand stretch at Bias Tugal Beach – complete with roaring waves and rugged cliffs.
There's one mind-boggling sight that keeps the occasional (read: very occasional) visitor heading to the remote reaches of Jagaraga village on the northern edge of Bali. That's the great Pura Dalem Temple, whose elegantly carved shrines, stepped facades and half-thatched rooftops date all the way back to the middle of the 12th century. The whole complex was raised to worship the god of death, and a tour guide in these parts can reveal some fascinating tales relating to the nuanced culture and history of the old Balinese folk.
Wild and rugged Kintamani is mainly delineated by the hulking outline of the Gunung Batur volcano. The occasional eco traveler and adventurer will pass its way to scale the great peak and wonder at its pretty caldera lake, while others will come to encounter the ancient Aga (pre-Hindu) villages that lurk in the shadow of the cones and close to the lowland trails. The area also hosts some cascading rice terraces, which tend to be much more rustic, less manicured and far more authentic than the ones you'll find around the tourist town of Ubud.
Although it juts its way out from the rolling rice paddies of south-central Bali to meet the lively resort towns of the south coast – Kuta, Legian, Seminyak – Mengwi is hardly the party-mad, surfer place you'd expect of this part of the Isle of the Gods. Instead of raucous Aussie bars, it's got fascinating temples like the timber-carved Tamun Ayun and its mysterious Garuda shrines. Instead of picture-perfect beaches, it's got rustic hamlets filled with leather-faced locals going about their daily business.
West Bali hardly gets more handsome than at Jatiluwih, where 10,000 shades of green dress the verdant backcountry as it rolls out in swathes of rice paddies and highland farmland. Part of the UNESCO-attested cultural landscapes of Bali, the site does draw its fair share of visitors but still competes with its compadre in Tegalalang for the bigger crowds. Trekking, farm visits and cultural encounters are amongst the top draws.
If you're dying to get away from the endless resort hotels, infinity pools, surfer beaches and sleepless bar strips of the south coat and the Bukit peninsula, then a trip to the untrodden stretch of coast known as Amed might just be the perfect thing. Peppered with traditional Asian fishing hamlets, where bobbing skiffs and old bamboo lean-tos mark the shore, it's got a real, lived-in vibe that can be difficult to find these days on the Isle of the Gods. You'll get to wander coastal coconut groves, watch the tanned folk unravel nets on their catamarans in the morning, and gaze across the strait at the outline of Lombok's mighty volcano on the horizon.
This finger-shaped spot of land that drifts out in the Bali Sea just off from the Bukit Peninsula is like a small, long-lost fragment of Bali itself. One of the least-visited sections of the Nusa Islands, it's actually connected by a footbridge to its nearest neighbor, Nusa Lembongan. Once you've arrived, you can take walks over the wave-buffeted cliffs, dive straight into the sky-blue seas from heart-thumping Mahana Point, swim in the crystal-clear lagoons that pepper the coastline, see mangroves, eat local fish BBQs, and meet the island's seaweed cultivators.
Perched high up between the verdant fields right in the heart of the Isle of the Gods, Munduk sits shrouded in some of Bali's most dramatic landscapes. You'll see cascading rice terraces draped over the palm-spotted hills. You'll see rustic bamboo villages clutching like limpets to the ridges. You'll see the outline of volcanos in the distance, and watch as plumes of cloud drift and coalesce over the peaks. Must-see sights here include the crashing cataracts at Jalan Raya Munduk, the waterfall at Bolangan, and the great Gesing Banyan Tree – said to be a whopping 500 years old!
One of the most famous of the so-called Aga villages of Bali (ancient towns that have existed on the Isle of the Gods for thousands of years), Penglipuran makes its home between the coffee-scented hills of the Bangli region. The place is a lesson in the elegance and uniformity of traditional Balinese architecture, with its perfectly arrayed lines of classic homes, their verandahs and gabled roofs and regimented gardens all standing like a phalanx against a cobblestone street. Don't forget the camera!
If you can think of any more awesome off-the-beaten-track places to visit in beautiful Bali, we'd sure love to hear about them in the comments section below. Or, if you think it's time you booked to travel to this unforgettable corner of Southeast Asia yourself this year, LBW has some excellent tours on the menu…