It was love at first sight, and the deeper I got to know Bali, the more I became enchanted.
A question I often get in connection with my work is; “Where in Bali should I stay?”. Well, now I have written a guide to give you a better overview of the island’s areas, which (hopefully) will make it easier for you to make a decision on where to stay.
Guide to Bali – The areas
Roughly said – Bali can be divided into the following four areas:
- Southern Bali – the popular choice
- Central Bali – Culture and rice terraces
- North and East – the untamed Bali
- The surrounding small islands
– Gili Islands and Lembongan
Although Bali isn’t a big island, there is a big difference between the experience you get, depending on whether you choose to stay along the beaches in the south, central in the highlands, in the unspoilt north or on one of the magical little islands off the Bali coast.
There is no clear answer to where it is best to stay, it depends on the wishes you have for your holiday, but no matter what you dream about, you can find it in Bali.
Below, I introduce you to the individual areas and give you three reasons why you should choose one area over the other – and then there is also a single place in Bali, I don’t think you should spend your holiday on.
Southern Bali – the popular choice
Southern Bali is where tourism started in Bali.
The beaches are long and wide, and on the water the surfers are in line and waiting for the next big wave. The area is full of restaurants, beach bars and is the center of nightlife in Bali.
Although the majority of tourism is concentrated on a coastline of less than 10 km, there are also major differences in the areas of southern Bali.
When you arrive from the airport in the south, the first area you come across is Kuta – hurry on. Kuta is the most legendary holiday area in Bali, but also the least attractive in Bali if you ask me!
Kuta is a party town that rarely sleeps. The small streets are filled with bars, stalls with cheap souvenirs, night clubs and drunk Australian teenagers.
If you want to party 24 hours a day, Kuta is a great place, but why travel all the way to Bali just to get drunk when it’s faster and cheaper to go to southern Europe.
If you drive a few kilometers further up the west coast you will end up in Seminyak, Bali’s hippest beach area. Seminyak is also touristy but far more charming than Kuta.
At the beach bars along the beach, bartenders mix up exclusive cocktails to enjoy while the sun sets in the sea.
In the city’s many spas, you are treated like a king or a queen, and Seminyak town is full of restaurants with soaring ambitions in the kitchen.
Nowhere else in Bali do you find such luxurious accommodations as in Seminyak, including hundreds of pool villas where everyone is fully staffed and many with private chefs.
Seminyak is probably the most expensive place to spend a holiday in Bali, but the money still goes far beyond Denmark and the rest of Europe, and you get great amounts of pampering for the money.
If you want to enjoy Seminyak’s many temptations, but prefer to stay in quieter surroundings, Kerobokan is an obvious option.
Once, Seminyak and Kerobokan were two small villages, but they are now largely merged into one area, with the big difference that Kerobokan is less visited than Seminyak.
In addition to the quiet surroundings, a good handful of Bali’s very best restaurants help attract people to Kerobokan.
About 15 mins drive north of Seminyak and Kerobokan you will find Canggu, which doesn’t yet get as many tourists. Here you easily (and relatively cheap) find accommodations with private views of green rice fields or the Indian Ocean.
The sand on the beaches is darker than the south, and apart from surfers who enjoy the good waves, you have the beaches almost for yourself.
Sanur is, contrary to the cities mentioned above, located on the west coast and a popular destination among families with children.
Sanur is a classic beach area which is defined by the beach where restaurants and hotels are situated side by side, as well as a quiet main street that runs parallel to the beach and where there are good opportunities for shopping.
The fact that many families choose to go to Sanur is mainly due to the fact that the beach is very child-friendly, but also that the atmosphere in the city is more relaxed than in the neighboring towns on the opposite coast.
In addition, there are plenty of activities for children relatively close to Sanur, including Waterbom Water Park (in Kuta), Bali Safari and Marine Park and Bali Bird Park.
3 reasons to visit southern Bali
- It’s in the south you find Bali’s best beaches and best surf waves.
- Pampering – glamorous spas, elegant beach clubs and top restaurants competing to indulge.
- The nightlife in the south is several levels above all other places in Bali.
Central Bali – Culture and rice terraces
Central Bali is heavily influenced by Ubud, which is referred to as Bali’s cultural center and by far the majority who visit the area do so with Ubud as a base.
It would be difficult for me to choose one favorite place in Bali, but if I had to, Ubud would be among the top candidates.
There is something magical about Ubud’s small streets flanked by rice fields, flowering frangipani trees and traditional Balinese houses, where the women light incense sticks and offer offerings at the family temple in the evening.
Compared to the southern part of Bali, the culture of Bali is much stronger in Ubud and in the surrounding villages.
Here you will find traditional crafts and a myriad of local and international artists have settled in and around Ubud.
It is in Ubud you find most temples, museums and attractions within a short distance and you can spend weeks in Ubud without running out of things to do.
Everything is greener in and around Ubud.
Near the city you will find some of Bali’s most beautiful rice terraces, areas of lush forest and rivers where you can go on riverrafting.
The landscape is characterized by hills, mountains and volcanoes that can be climbed on a day trip, and the high location makes the temperature often more comfortable than along the coast, without needing long pants.
Ubud city itself is filled with small galleries, spa salons with massage for your sore muscles after a day of hiking in the rice fields, small cafes serving locally produced coffee and freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices, which can cure everything from stomach problems to insomnia.
In addition to a few individual gourmet restaurants (Mozaic and Locavore), the restaurants are less pretentious than around Seminyak.
However, this doesn’t mean that the food is less good, there are plenty of good restaurants with a focus on local produce and ecology.
Therefore, you must visit central Bali
- Ubud is Bali’s cultural center and nowhere else do you find so many museums, temples and artists.
- Lots of opportunities to be active. You can trek through some of Bali’s most beautiful rice fields, river rafts or mountain bike on volcanoes.
- The small cozy streets of Ubud, the family-run restaurants and Bali’s best cafes.
North and East – the untamed Bali
The northern and eastern part of Bali is where fewest tourists come, which is a shame.
The beaches may not be at the same level with them as in the south, and you have to drive a little longer to reach (3-4 hours).
On the other hand you will find magnificent scenery, small idyllic villages, lots of warmth and smiles – and you will get much closer to the Balinese, which may be the world’s most pleasant people.
If you have the ambition to dive along Bali’s shores, you should also look north and east where Bali’s most interesting underwater destinations are located.
Candidasa is a sleepy coastal town, where at times it seems as if time is standing still.
In the eighties, it was believed that Candidasa was to be Bali’s next major beach destination and hotels were built in great style along the coast.
Tragically, they got the beach destroyed in the eagerness of tourism, which they never really got.
Over the past few years, efforts have been made to repair the damage and there are now small parts of the beach and town that are slowly recovering its charm.
A typical day in Candidasa is used for walking and snorkeling, as well as perhaps a visit to the nearby Water Temple (Taman Tirta Gangga).
Amed is the name of a number of villages on Bali’s east coast.
Amed is a popular base for divers to explore Bali’s most famous diving site – the wreck at Tulamben (a 120-meter-long American transport ship torpedoed by a Japanese submarine during World War II).
The wreck, now home to a myriad of fish and corals, is located so close to the shore that parts of it can be reached only with snorkeling equipment.
Besides good diving and snorkeling, Amed also offers plenty of opportunities for the active on shore.
Especially the area around Mount Agung, Bali’s highest volcano is definitely worth a visit.
The volcano can be climbed in 3-4 hours, but you have to get up early to avoid the heath, but you get an unforgettable sunrise from the height of 3000 meters.
If you don’t want to climb volcanoes, there are a number of good and less strenuous walks in the area around Mount Agung.
No matter which of the villages around Amed you settle in, there is “no stress” guarantee.
You can enjoy the peace on one of the area’s characteristic black beaches, where the fishermen work on their colorful boats or take a trip into the country where corn and peanuts are grown.
Lovina is the closest you get to a real tourist center in the north, but it is on a completely different level than what is found in the south.
Things are more quiet in Lovina than it is south. This applies to both days and nights, but also to the beaches, which are largely wave-free and therefore very child-friendly.
A classic activity in Lovina is a morning boat trip where you, most likely, see some of the dolphins Lovina is known for.
Other popular activities include cycling on the small quiet roads that hide in the country, trekking and snorkeling, as well as a visit to Singaraja, Bali’s old capital and second largest city.
Pemuteran is a small idyllic coastal town located at the bottom of a small bay.
The city is a gem if you need a few days (or weeks) to relax.
You can dive and snorkel in the actual Pemuteran, where there are good chances to see the sea turtles that the city makes a great effort to preserve, or you can visit one of the other exciting places nearby, such as Menjangan Island, which is among the very best dive sites around Bali.
There is a pleasant mix between village life and tourism in Pemuteran, and it is one of the places where you easily want to hang out longer than planned.
Therefore, visit North and East Bali
- You come close to the “real” Bali.
- Here you can live the quiet life and relax completely.
- Here you will find some of Bali’s best dive sites.
The surrounding small islands – Gili Islands and Lembongan
Island hopping is not necessarily the first thing to consider when planning a trip to Bali, but not far from Bali, a number of small islands are definitely worth a trip.
About an hour and a half by boat from Bali’s east coast you will find the three small islands, the Gili Islands. None of them are bigger than you can walk around the islands in a few hours.
The beaches are milky white, the water is turquoise blue and they surpass Bali’s best beaches.
None of the islands allow motorized vehicles, all transportation takes place on foot, by bike or in horse-drawn carriage – which helps give the islands a unique atmosphere.
In addition to the above-mentioned common features, the three islands are very different despite being only 5 minutes away from each other.
Gili Trawangan, the largest of the islands, is known as a bit of a party island and is clearly the most visited of the three islands.
Just opposite is Gili Meno island – a peaceful oasis where you often only share the amazing beaches with the many sea turtles that live around the Gili Islands.
The last of the three islands, Gili Air, is an intermediate point between the other two islands, so it is not entirely wrong to say that the Gili Islands have something for everyone.
Nusa Lembongan is even more accessible than the Gili Islands, and only half an hour by boat from Sanur.
Despite this, not many tourists go here, which may be surprising.
The small island offers fantastic beaches (though not quite on par with the Gili Islands), super snorkeling and challenging dives for experienced divers.
In the July to September season, Lembongan is one of the rare places where you can see the fascinating lumpfish that are the size of a smaller car.
Furthermore, Lembongan has a local community that deals with much more than tourism, among other things, a large part of the population lives by harvesting seaweed.
Many describe Lembongan, as southern Bali 30 years ago, before tourism really took off.
If you have time, you and your traveling companions should spend some days at Lembongan, where there is time and space to enjoy each other’s company in wonderful surroundings.
Therefore, visit Bali’s surrounding islands
- Milky white sandy beaches and crystal clear turquoise water.
- Dive or snorkel with sea turtles, manta-rays and lumpfish.
- Party all night at Gili Trawangan.