Candi Dasa (pronounced chandi dasa) is a town with a bit of a sad past. As with the rest of Bali, it was first discovered by mainstream tourism in the 1970s and quickly became a destination for those wishing to lounge on the beach beneath coconut palms. This continued until the late 1980s when mining of the coral reef offshore allowed the power of the Lombok strait to erode the very thing people visited Candi Dasa for: the beaches.
The mining stopped (presumably because there was no more coral left) and officials ordered the building of breakwaters to stop the ocean's relentless eating away of the coastline. The hope is that in a few years sand will return and Candi Dasa will have beaches once more; there is even talk of trucking sand in, but after the previous disasters, one can only wonder how this might turn out. The one upside of the breakwaters is that it makes for very calm safe waters to paddle in — one of the reasons why it is so popular with families.
Most people now visit Candi Dasa to relax or for use as a base to explore the rest of East Bali. The main attractions are all outside of town and will require some form of transport to get to. The primary demographic of the tourists visiting Candi Dasa tends towards package tourists and families booking their accommodation in advance, meaning that the cheapest losmen style guesthouses are sometimes difficult to come by, especially in peak seasons, but generally speaking Candi Dasa has a comprehensive range of hotels and guesthouses to choose from. In low season, massive discounts are easily available. Nightlife is also rather limited — well non-existent really.
The main "town" is basically one long road that runs the length of the bay and whose beach side is lined by most of the hotels and guesthouses. The road forms a section of the main around-Bali-road so traffic noise is an issue — while you may notice it less during the day, in the evening and especially early morning it is a bit annoying to be awoken by thundering trucks rolling through town, so try to get a room as close to the water as possible — better to be woken by the waves than the number 42 bus.
The town is split by an especially pretty lagoon that sits between the main temple in Candi Dasa and the sea. Lotus filled, with a small islet it is lovely in the early morning and late afternoon and it empties out onto a slither of sand where a handful of fishing boats are pulled up. You'll find more fishing boats on any bit of beach they can fit them onto.
This same rood is lined by most of the restaurants in Candi Dasa. While there are a couple of close-to or on-the-beach eating options, most are on the far side of the road meaning you get to observe the traffic rather than the water. One of the exceptions to this (and one of the cheapest places in Candi Dasa to eat) is the seaside warungs towards the start of town — the tremendous sunsets are free! There are a couple of fancier options available as well.
Despite most of the beach being gone, the coastal views over the Amuk Bay are still very scenic. Offshore you can see the three offshore (uninhabited) islets of Gili Biaha, Gili Kambing and Gili Mimpang, with Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan further in the distance, while to the southwest you can see Padang Bai. The closer islands form one of the main activities in Candi Dasa — snorkelling. You can hire a jukung for the trip out and back allowing for a couple of hours snorkelling (or diving). It certainly isn't world class, a lot of the coral is quite badly banged up, but there are plenty of fish — some quite big.
The second main claim to fame for Candi Dasa is the Bali Aga village of Tenganan which lies a fifteen minute drive inland from Candi Dasa. They're well regarded for their traditional beliefs and handicrafts. The village can be visited as a part of an organised trip from Candi Dasa, or, if you have your own transport, you can drive up there yourself.
Lastly, while much of the beach in town has washed away, there is an exceptional strip of sand a twenty minute drive north of Cansi Dasa. White Sand Beach (Pantai Putih) really does have close to white sand and makes for a great half or full day trip. While no accommodation is available, there are a bunch of seafood eateries to choose from along with deck chairs and umbrellas.
Shifting sands aside, Candi Dasa is a pleasant place to visit for a few days, whether you plan to simply relax or explore sites further afield.
Some cafes in town have free WiFi and a couple of internet shops are on the main street. ATMs can be found in the centre of town.
By Adam Poskitt