Header image courtesy of Bady Abbas (via Unsplash)
We all know Bali as an Indonesian tropical paradise much famed for its iconic cliffside religious sites boasting sprawling views of the Indian ocean, the densely forested volcanic mountains that offer great camping and nature trail opportunities, vast swaths of vividly green rice paddies to trek through, and pristine beaches and coral reefs that seem as if they are plucked straight from a tropical dream.
For most of us, the term Bali conjures up images from the travel memoir Eat, Pray, Love. It’s a place to kick off our self-discovery journey, examine our thoughts, words, and actions to understand who we truly are. While there is nothing wrong with that, little can be achieved with easily packaged holidays. How many of us can say that we have experienced the sunrise over an active volcano? Or had a fire-grilled breakfast with Balinese coffee in the company of free-roaming monkeys? Bali is warm, welcoming, and therapeutic. So, be curious, venture out, and experience Bali like never before.
Seminyak and Kuta are two of the most popular beach areas in Bali, and most people will tell you that a visit to both is a must. And why not? Ultimately, Kuta is where the party vibes never cease and a jumble of a large number of cafes and affordable eateries at Seminyak never fail to keep tourists on their toes. But if you go slightly beyond these touristy spots, you will find one of Bali’s best-kept secrets—Canggu.
This former fisherman’s village is located at the southern end of the island and recently emerged as one of the trendiest parts of Bali—thanks to its endless chilled vibes from hip yoga studios, coolest giant murals, and a massive stretch of lively beach bars hosting bohemian-inspired beach parties all night long, all of this while keeping its old-world charm and laid-back feel alive. Despite embracing a host of travellers, Canggu still gives a feeling of being stuck somewhere between a traditional coastal village and an upcoming holiday resort. Amid a plethora of options available for surf breaks that line the whole coastline, lush green paddy fields to explore through, and wellness programs to help you make healthier choices, Canggu is still simple, cosy, and friendly at its core.
Even if you aren’t an early bird, catching a sunrise from the Mount Batur sunrise trek will be well worth getting out of bed for. An early morning pick-up from your resort will take you to the foot of an active volcano from where you start your hiking trail. It’s safe and fun, and all you need is a great pair of shoes and sunglasses. The hike up will take a few hours, but once you reach the top around sunrise, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views from the mountaintops while overlooking the rocky coasts splashed with a dash of gold.
With all the early morning hikes, fitness regimes, and surfing breaks, it would be a shame not to indulge in Canggu’s delightful variety of vegan food. Canggu has many affordable options for a quick meal as well as fine dining. And for those who are up for a little adventure, try out street-side family-owned stalls called Warung to get the best of the mouth-watering local cuisine.
Canggu also boasts some of the best rice fields in Bali, and the best way to experience these fantastic locations is by hiring a bicycle as the plantation spots are quite spread out. Depending on where you are put up, this may be too long a walk. Ride along the well-paved roads and explore Jalan Batu Mejan and Jalan Padang Linjong, before moving on to Jalan Pura Blulang Yeh. You will then be met with an intersection where one road leads to a similar set of stunning slopes of Balinese-style rice fields named Jalan Sempol and another towards silky soft sand beaches. Needless to say, both are well worth your time!
Very few of us can picture Bali without sun, surf, sand, and more sun. You get the point, right? It’s quite normal to get annoyed (and sick) of the constant assault of scorching sun and blistering heat. Thankfully, Bali understands that and so, it has hidden a few surprises up its sleeves. Travel a little further up north than most travellers go and unveil an entirely different side of this island of the Gods. As odd as it may sound, this side of Bali is tranquil, serene, and yes, you guessed it right, peacefully cool.
Nestled far away in the peaceful mountaintops of Kintamani, where the breathtaking landscape of Mount Batur unfurls majestically to offer sprawling views of the Lake Batur underneath, is Toya Devesaya Hot Springs. This place strikes a perfect balance between tropical surroundings and cool temperatures, which means that you no longer need to worry about your sweat levels and constant need for hydration. Instead, just take the time to relax and revel in the fresh mountain air by indulging in out-by-the-lake dining, kicking things up by taking in the vistas from the infinity pool, and of course, taking a dip in its therapeutic hot springs.
This mountain resort features eight natural hot spring pools, an Olympic sized infinity pool, incredibly comfortable rooms, and views that stare out at the lake with an imposing volcanic mountain as the backdrop. It has a lakeside restaurant that offers an interesting take on Asian-inspired dishes, a cosy coffee house creating coffee recipes from authentic Kintamani coffee beans, a massively spread out terrace-top restaurant overlooking the enormous infinity pool, and an impressive line-up of bars occupying the most picture-perfect spots next to the warm spring pools.
While we keep hearing about THE most picturesque natural wonders of the world, nature has so many more surprises in reserve—some so remote that they remain untarnished by tourism advancements, yet offer jaw-dropping photography spots. Nusa Penida is one such hidden oasis far off the beaten track. Somewhere in the large cluster of tiny neighbouring islands of Bali is Nusa Penida, where the world comes to a standstill—quite literally since you would struggle to find a cellular range, jazzy beach clubs, trendy nightclubs, or charming cafes, and because it still largely untouched by civilisation.
Although you wouldn’t feel like leaving once you get here, even a day trip to Nusa Penida is worth all the hassle of waking up at dawn and travelling all the way till Sanur to catch a speed boat to this island. But to really make the most of this paradise, you do need to set aside at least four to five days. Legend has it that long before the island was frequented by visitors, the locals tended to avoid it. It was considered to be an island inhabited by dark spirits, which are essential to maintain a balance between good and evil in the universe. In fact, you could still spot some temples where these dark spirits are worshipped.
First, make your way up directly to the most photographed locations in Nusa Penida—Kelingking Beach. It’s a secluded, white sandy beach with turquoise waters enclosed by a steep dinosaur-shaped cliff & headland. Comfortable walking shoes and sunglasses are a must-have if you are planning to hike down the path to Kelingking Beach as it will easily take about two to three hours to get there. And while swimming and surfing in these waters are not recommended, considering how strong the sea currents can get, you will know you are among the ‘blessed few’ when you have these rugged untouched islands, the whooshing of the wind, and a few seabirds for company.
You can continue your Nusa Penida tour by going a little further north till Angel’s Billabong—one of the magical spots where a glossy blue tide pool cascades into the ocean and Broken Beach—famed for its arched tunnel in the cliffs and a remarkable formation that allows ocean water to flow into a pool. A giddy downhill walk to the stunning seaside waterfall, Guyangan, will offer guaranteed sensations with breath-taking views of Nusa Penida islands. You could even pay a visit to the temple of dark spirits—Pura Dalem Ped, more fondly referred to as the ‘universal temple’, and experience true Balinese culture by being a part of its quest for spiritual awakening.
Around 150 kilometres off Bali is the east-most edge of Java consisting predominantly of open savannah grasslands. If you’ve dreamed of experiencing the diversity of wildlife in the mosaic of incredibly vast and varied landscapes of Africa, but had to forgo all desires considering the exorbitant costs involved in travelling there, then Baluran National Park will serve as a great and worthy alternative. Nothing beats the views of lush green mangrove forests and a chance for a personal encounter with an amazing array of wildlife, including primate species, who are unbothered by pretty much anything.
The park is habitat to over 25 mammal species, which include the wild water buffaloes, foxes, black panthers, mouse deer, and mangrove cats, to name a few. You’ll also spot banteng—considered amongst the most beautiful or graceful cattle species which remain exclusive to Baluran, thus named as the park’s mascot. Bird watchers, do not feel left out. With the spectacular views of extremely rare fire kites, red forest owls, hornbills, and herons soaring high above against the backdrop of cloudy skies, birders definitely have a great incentive to visit this park.
Baluran National Park also houses a variety of spectacular, stunning, and most importantly, sustainable ecolodges that are tucked into some of the region’s wildest places. Lavish suites and cabins dressed in straw and wooden floors, stocked with linens made of natural materials like cotton, and fitted with larger-than-life windows overlooking the vastness of these forests where countless rabbits, squirrels, and butterflies frolic around—these are properties truly works of art inspired by nature. And what better way to revel in nature than to relax with a traditional Balinese massage cocooned by the calming sounds of the flowing waters of a little creek, views of articulately decorated lotus ponds, and soothing aromas of plant fragrances and essential oils.
For an island that’s just an hour flight away from Bali, Lombok is a relatively untouched location lagging by at least a decade worth of development. With pristine white sand beaches devoid of crowds, waterfalls that will leave you breathless, world-class surf breaks, and numerous cultural activities, Lombok really is an island full of crazy adventures. And as cliché, as it sounds, it really does have something in store for everyone.
Here, surfers are guaranteed the perfect waves, intimate travellers can spot the quaintest hideouts, backpackers can’t get enough of the chilled vibes of the Gili islands, and culture nuts are ensured plenty of opportunities to learn and celebrate the art and traditions of the Sasak people. You could easily spend a month here and not have seen half of the best-kept secrets of this island.
To start, visit Lombok’s most famous sights—Mount Rinjani, an active volcano towering above the rest of the landscape. Standing tall at 3726 metres, it is also Indonesia’s second-largest volcano. The hike is bound to test the physical and mental endurance of the best of the best hikers, but once you are able to tackle the mammoth hike of Mount Rinjani, you will be rewarded with truly epic landscapes of lowland forests, wide-open valleys, and diverse terrains packed into the wilderness.