No matter how long or how often someone travels, there are always a handful of destinations, sites or experiences that call out more loudly than the rest. For me, Bali has always been one of those places. Luckily, I had the chance to heed the call this year and—while my expectations were sky-high—Bali delivered.
Bali is truly the definition of a paradise in every way shape and form. Yes, it’s home to some of the nicest beaches I’ve ever visited, with different shades of blue and turquoise water still as vivid in my memory as ever. But Bali is a paradise in so many other ways—astounding Buddhist temples are always just a corner away and the country is full of people that are honoured and privileged to show it to you. Unfortunately, not all of us have enough time to explore Bali to it’s fullest—so here are 5 of the must-see experiences that Bali has to offer.
Lake Bratan temple. Photo courtesy Stephan Popescu.
1. Enjoy the serenity of Pura Ulun Danu Bratan
Often referred to as the Lake Bratan Temple, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is one of the iconic images that often resonate with those who’ve visited Bali—and rightfully so! Located on the shores of Lake Bratan (hence the nickname), Lake Bratan temple was built as a way for the Balinese to make offerings in honour of the goddess of the lake, Dewi Danu. Today, the temple is surrounded by beautiful gardens as locals and travellers flock here to wander around, snap photos and enjoy the calmness and serenity the temple complex offers.
Mt Batur view from Kintamani. Photo courtesy Stephan Popescu.
2. Soak in the sunrise atop Mt Batur
In a paradise full of sights and experiences, waking up at 3am to hike Mt Batur and soak in the sunrise was by far the most memorable. Located right near the mountain village of Kintamani, Mt Batur is a sight to behold in itself. A volcano that is still active to this day, its picturesque views are best enjoyed from Kintamani. Nevertheless, the highlight of Mt Batur is the hike. Countless stories proliferate about the ‘Mt Batur Mafia,’ where local guides co-erce travellers into booking a guide; however, it’s quite cheap and easy to book a reputable guide while in Kintamani—and by using a guide you are ensuring that local communities benefit from tourist dollar. Regardless, the sunrise views from the top of Mt Batur are worth the price of a guide.
Sunrise from Mt Batur (Mt Agung and Lake Batur in the background). Photo courtesy Stephan Popescu.
The hike itself—while no walk in the park—is also terribly challenging and shouldn’t be a problem for most active travellers. With the summit being just 1,700 meters, it usually takes ~2 hours to hike to the top of the volcano. And once you’re there, the views are absolutely stunning. One of the defining memories of my time in Bali was sumitting, grabbing a hot chocolate (yes they have hot drinks up there!) and watching the sun rise over Lake Batur and nearby Mt Agung. You’ll work up a sweat, but this is one highlight you definitely won’t want to miss.
Jatiluwih Rice Fields. Photo courtesy Stephan Popescu.
3. Walk back in time through the Jatiluwih Rice Fields
A symbol of Balinese culture and the “hard work” mentality of the Balinese, rice fields, patties and terraces appear everywhere. Yet, there is no rice field more jaw dropping than the emerald green fields of Jatiluwih. In fact, UNESCO has classified the rice fields as a cultural World Heritage site. Indeed, taking a stroll through the Jatiluwih Rice Fields is like walking through a dream. Make sure to start at the top of the fields, where you can enjoy the panoramic views while breathing in the fresh mountain air. But the real joy of visiting the fields comes afterwards when you start making your way down into the fields themselves. Intricate, ancient and beautiful, a walk through the rice fields is a walk back in time. Spend as much or as little time as you want here, but prepare to be inspired.
Staring contest in the Monkey Sanctuary in Ubud. Photo courtesy Stephan Popescu.
4. Monkey around in Ubud
Often regarded as the cultural and artistic center of Bali, Ubud requires at least a few days to truly experience everything that it has to offer. This is where some of Bali’s best artists and artisans come to sell their work. Paintings, carvings, jewelry—if you want to bring a little part of Bali back home with you, then Ubud’s markets are the place to get it. The streets are also lined with local shops, cafes and restaurants for you to explore, relax and grab a bit of delicious local cuisine. Many restaurants offer cooking classes, allowing you to bring the flavor of Bali home with you. And of course, no trip to Ubud would be complete without a visit to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Spend a few hours there exploring and witness all the monkeys scavenging, playing and even fighting with each other every once in a while. Just make sure to keep your belongings on you, as they are known to be quite the little pickpockets! Finally, for fans of the Eat, Pray, Love, the medicine man can be found here—and still offers palm readings for anyone willing to wait in line.
Tea and coffee ‘platter’ at the coffee plantation. Photo courtesy Stephan Popescu.
5. Tour a coffee plantation
A visit to Bali wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of its many coffee plantations—heaven for coffee (and tea) lovers alike. When visiting a coffee plantation, not only are you able to explore the plantation itself, you’ll have the opportunity to do a test (and buy) all the varieties of coffees and teas on offer.
For those adventurous souls, make sure to try out Bali’s famous Kopi Luwak. The coffee gets its unique flavor by going through the digestive process of a civet (a cat-like, nocturnal mammal). That’s right, Kopi Luwak seeds are only ready after they’ve made it all the way through a civet’s digestive tract! Now Bali’s most expensive and exotic coffee, Kopi Luwak was only discovered after the Dutch colonized Bali and refused to allow the locals to pick coffee for their own consumption. It was only after the farmers realized that digested seeds from a civet had stayed intact (and had a more distinguished taste) that they began picking the coffee beans to use for their own personal use. Today, the coffee is popular worldwide and considered a delicacy in many circles!