Bali might be small but it is rich with culture and activities. It won’t take more than a day before you realize why so many people never make their return flight home from this magical island. There’s just something so special about its soil, especially in Ubud, where the heart of the island is alive and vibrant. This is not visiting a third world country. While life is modest in many of the villages and the cost of living is outrageously low, there is a true pride and cleanliness throughout the island. Ornate temples, adorable bungalow homes, and such an overwhelming sense of community and belonging. It’s in the Hindu nature to practice contentment over materialism, and you will see this love of religion, family and just a general enjoyment of life everywhere that you look. Crime is virtually non-existent making Bali an ideal destination for just about anyone who can endure the travel time to get there.
If you’ve got a week of island bliss: I suggest you spend 2 nights in Seminyak, 2 in Ubud, 2 in Gili Air or Nusa Lombongan and your final night in Canggu or Uluwatu.
If you’ve got 10 days: 2 in Seminyak, 3 in Ubud, 3 in Gili Air, 2 in Canggu or Uluwatu.
And if you’re lucky enough for a month of travel: 3 nights in Seminyak, 1 week in Ubud, 1 week on the Gili islands, a few days in Lombok and the last week in Canggu (before you miss your return flight and never leave that is).
Just to keep things simple, here is the itinerary for a 10 day trip in Bali:
|| NIGHT 1 – 2: SEMINYAK ||
Arrive in Denpensar (yay you’re here!) and get a cab or uber directly to Seminyak (cost around 150k idr with a bit of bartering) and check into your hotel. If you rather have a driver waiting for you, Nengan was sweet and spoke perfect English (+62 813 3842 2409).
<< STAY >>
For accommodations in Seminyak, you really can’t go wrong at the Legian, the W or Seminyak Beach Resort, all of which are situated directly on Seminyak beach and in the hub of the day party & nightlife scene. As I was traveling alone on a budget, I opted for Hotel Casa Kayu Ayu for the astronomical price of $22 per night. The room was modern and clean and the very best location possible – close to the beach and to the town center.
<< ACTIVITIES >>
Once you’re checked in, change into something airy and light – Seminyak is excruciatingly hot. Get the big ticket list items checked off first and head right to Potato Head Beach Club for a cocktail in the infinity pool overlooking the beach. Stick your toes in the water but don’t dive in unless you’re an Olympic swimmer and are sure you can fight an undertow and larger than life swells back to shore. From Potato Head, wander down the beach to the W for an equally bougie scene.
What Seminyak lacks in culture, it makes up for in shopping. The area is just brimming with boutiques selling cute and trendy pieces you’ll wear on your trip and back home. The shopping scene is seriously elevated, nothing like Thailand where you can get elephant pants… or elephant pants. Other than shopping and eating, just enjoy being by the beach and taking in the pool party scene over libations. The only other mandatory activity is a daily massage from one of the million parlors. If you want a no frills Balinese massage, you can find them anywhere along the street for around $10 usd. If you want a full indulgent spa experience, you can’t go wrong at Spring Spa or the Spa at the Samaya Seminyak. Lastly, but most importantly, make sure to catch the sunset at Seminyak beach, it is absolutely mesmerizing.
<< TO EAT >>
Sea Circus: Quite possibly the best breakfast I’ve ever had. This colorful little Mexican inspired ocean shack is brimming with energy and serves up healthy and creative dishes and juices. Get the chia seed bowl, die happy. Then come back for dinner and get a burrito.
Cafe Organic: I mean, their slogan is “Garden Gangstas” what else could you want? Amazing vegetarian brunch spot with a healthy and organic market attached for you to stock up on beach snacks.
Earth Cafe: Same deal as cafe organic with an attached marketplace. You really can’t go wrong with one of their health elixirs and organic vegan dishes.
Sisterfields: Chic and less …earthy as the previous two. As in you can get ham. And real cheese.
Grocer & Grind: Right next-doorr to Sisterfields, this trendy little cafe also has something for every palate, not just those who elect to refrain from meat and dairy.
Revolver Coffee: The hippest of hipster coffee spots, visit Revolver Coffee for a cold brew in one of their kitsch rooms. Make sure to snap an instagram photo here, it’s a right of Bali tourism passage.
Motel Mexicola: what an incredibly fun vibe, great place to grab a margarita over tacos.
Sip: Wine in Bali is disgusting. And expensive. There, I said it. But at Sip you can get non-gag-inducing wines to enjoy at their bamboo yurt restaurant or to take away from their globalized wine shop. Menu is distinctively French.
Sarong Seminyak: I never made it here, but it was recommended frequently and from the photos I’ve seen the vibe seems to be dripping with romance. If you go let me know how it is!
|| NIGHT 3-5: UBUD ||
Soak your last moments of beach life before hoping an uber or getting a driver to take you to the cultural hub, the heart and soul, the absolute sparkling gem of Bali: Ubud.
<< STAY >>
There are a plethora of accommodations for every type of budget located in and around Ubud center. My suggestion is a bit conflicting here. On the one side, I want to tell you to garner a traditional Balinese cultural immersion and elect to stay in a homestay (like Kunang Kunang Guesthouse for $30 per night, or where I stayed Ubud City Hotel for $20 per night). From here you can walk basically anywhere your heart desires in the little city center. The lofty side of me is screaming no! Take full advantage of the peace in Ubud by staying at one of the zillion luxury villas (Zen Hideaway) or hotels (Hanging Gardens) on the city outskirts. It’s so easy to rent a scooter or hire someone to drive you around on the back of theirs that you don’t really need to stay close to the action. Just seems pretty lovely to have a jungle oasis to return to. And lounging by an infinity pool overlooking the jungle does seem quite sublime, no?
<< ACTIVITIES >>
Yoga: Yoga Barn is absolutely infectious and a must visit – definitely encompasses what it means to move to Ubud and never look back. A hippie paradise where you can sip health elixirs and chat philosophy before your acro yoga class overlooking the jungle. Take a class or two that puts you out of your comfort zone and really challenges you. Then get a cacao, mint and goji berry Ubud raw chocolate bar from their fridge. The best. Also notable mention: Taksu Spa is where I did my yoga training and I can’t recommend it enough for yoga classes. The shalas are gorgeous and intimate and less dreadlocks and body odor than you might find at yoga barn. Radiantly Alive is also very popular in Ubud and has a range of classes.
Hiking: If you’re up for it, book a 2AM transfer up to Mount Batar for a night hike to catch sunrise from the volcanic peak. If you’re keen on soul searching… you’re bound to find something on this trip. If you’ve only got an hour (instead of 5 hours of prime sleeping time) there’s a scenic ridge walk near Bridges Restaurant that’s good for stretching your legs.
Healing: There’s something magical in the soil in Ubud, something that draws you in and gives you what you need. Don’t be afraid to seek out some healing here. I did a breaking workshop that mirrored the effects of LSD and had me in and out of consciousness for two hours. I also attended a 70 instrument sound bath. But the possibilities are truly endless. Go to a chakra healer, see an ayurvedic doctor, learn some pranayama techniques at a workshop, attend a special meditation event, go to ecstatic dance (sober dance party with no touching or talking – talk about going out of your comfort zone!). My point is, there’s no where else I’ve ever visited with resources like this at an affordable cost, make good use of them during your trip.
Waterfalls: This is your jumping off point to get to any of the dozen jaw dropping falls. Tegenungan is the easiest to get to from Ubud and a must visit. Don’t leave without stopping by the natural water pools located near the restrooms. I also visited Kanto Lampo, which is pretty impossible to find… but worth getting lost to look for. It’s located about 30 minutes on scooter from Ubud center. Tibumana Bangli is also only about a 30 minute drive.
Monkey Forest: Let me just begin by saying that these little furry devils have slippery fingers and will grab just about anything they can. For $4 USD you can get into the monkey forest and for less than $1 you can buy a bushel of bananas to encourage the furballs to climb all over you for your guaranteed 200 likes instagram photo. Once you buy those bananas, hide them immediately. One of my girlfriends had her leg bit and ended up paying $400+ in shots at the hospital. Not cool. Other than that though, this place is pure magic. The monkies are adorable and friendly and the grounds are something out of the jungle book. Definitely worth the potential hospital visit and stolen sunglasses.
Rice Paddies: Can’t go to Bali and not see a rice field! And this one happens to be a Unesco World Heritage site, probably because it is absolutely stunning. Pay a small 10k idr donation to stroll through
Swing: So touristy I almost don’t want to write it down… but I think it’s another one of those instagram right of passages, so I succumbed. For $20 usd it was one of the more expensive things I did, but definitely worth the photo op. This one was called the Wheel Bali and is located near Zen Hideaway.
Cooking Class: There are innumerable options for cooking classes, but I suggest you chose one of the services that pick you up and bring you to a village where you visit a local market and pick fresh produce right from a farm then cook in your host’s kitchen. There are so many vegan options too!
Temples: The entire country is sprinkled with ornate temples, but Ubud is home to some extra special ones. Right in the city center is the Ubud palace and a short drive out of town you’ll find the famous water temple and elephant cave.
Bali Dance Show: Now, I know they seem like a tourist trap… but in actuality, these are performed everywhere with or without tourist dollars. My best Balinese friend was a dancer in a troupe and she did it for the pure joy and love of the art. These shows happen every night, but I was always most intrigued by the sounds of the performances coming from the opulent Ubud Palace. Secret tip is to grab dinner at 7pm at the restaurant adjacent to it and you can catch pretty much the entire show.
Art Market: The shopping scene in Ubud is a perfect mix between the chic and trendy boutiques of Seminyak and the articraft stalls of locals. Head to the art market to get your fix on the widest array of souveniers, knicknacks, jewelry, clothes and really anything else your little heart desires all at a negotiable price.
Infinity Pools: Spend a day sipping cocktails and lounging in the serene jungle setting of Jungle Fish
Spas: I see no reason not to get a massage every single day that you’re here.
Live Music: Welcome to coverband central! Laughing Buddha is a fun spot that always has a crowd, but you’ll find live music and open mics everywhere in Ubud!
<< TO EAT >>
I’ll make a separate in depth blog post for all the euphoric life changing food I ate in Ubud, but here’s a quick list of my favorites:
1.Best Raw & Vegan (and just like best thing I’ve ever tasted – get the brownie a la mode): Seeds of Life
2. Coolest Trendy Restaurant: Clear Cafe
3. Best Straight Up Hippie experience with exceptional & cheap food: 9 Angels
6. Make your own Smoothie Bowl: Alchemy
7. Most Romantic (vegan) Dinner: Sage
8. Another great healthy vegan spot: Earth Cafe
9. Best Breakfast Buffet: Taksu Spa
10. Flavorful Vegan food with a rice paddy view & amazing desserts: Atman
11. Coconut Ice cream made by the Tukies. Although Kokolato is also pretty spot on.
|| NIGHT 6-8: GILI AIR ISLAND or NUSA LEMBOGAN||
If you are short on time and only have 1 night to head off the big island, elect to visit Nusa Lembongan. If you’ve got a few days to spare you should head further to Gili Air Island (and if you’ve got an extra week you could even split time between the Gili Islands and Lombok). Gili Air is the middle island and the perfect mix between the party island Trawagan and the quiet Meno.
The streets of Ubud are lined with tourist huts where you can directly book your island excursion with roundtrip transfer from Ubud to the ferry, from the ferry to your island hotel/airbnb and then back to Bali (this time your return transfer should be to Canggu or Uluwatu, not back to Ubud). My favorite tourist friend can be found right outside of Ubud City Hotel on JL Monkey Forest Road. His name is G’day and his English is impeccable. Don’t be afraid to haggle prices, although he won’t start out high. Tell him Chelsea says hi 🙂
If you end up at Nusa Lembongan, stay near The Deck as it is the most ‘exciting’ area for restaurants and nightlife overlooking the crystal blue water. We stayed at an airbnb and woke up to a sunrise over the ocean we could watch from bed. For only $200 USD and change, 9 of us comfortably fit in a 4 bedroom house with an infinity pool. Can’t really beat that price!
<< ACTIVITIES >>
All about the snorkling and scuba diving at both locations. At Nusa you’ll be able to free dive with ruins, which is pretty incredible. Other activities include drinking the freshest pina coladas in the world, surfing, bar hopping, beach bonfires with locals, and enjoying all your meals like this:
|| NIGHT 9-10: CANGGU or ULUWATU ||
For your last nights in paradise, Canggu or Uluwatu are the best choices, as they are both a short distance to the airport (although traffic is always so bad nothing is really close in a car). Canggu is a smaller and less touristy Seminyak while Uluwatu is a laid back surfer town. I stayed at The Eyes in Uluwatu and couldn’t have enjoyed my bungalow overlooking an infinity pool (overlooking the ocean) more. Especially for $36 usd. #baller
<< ACTIVITIES >>
Rent a scooter in Uluwatu and putter down to the very tip to explore the monkey-inhabited temple and watch the waves lap the rocky cliffs. Have your last breakfast bowl of tropical goodness somewhere along your drive then spend an entire afternoon into the evening at Single Fin drinking them out of frozen drinks as you watch the surfers chance fate on the swells below. Don’t forget to get that last Balinese massage before your flight home!