It annoys me when I read a diatribe writing off Bali as an over-touristed hellhole when it transpires that the author was too lazy to go exploring the greater island. So before you let your rant-stained fingers anywhere near a keyboard and whinge about the island, try some of the following.
This is one of our favourite beaches in Bali and makes for a smashing alternative to Kuta. Beautiful bright yellow spherical grains of sand face onto an excellent surf break. Cliff-backed, you can only reach the beach by long sets of stairs, but once at the base a bunch of cheap warungs offer ice cold beers and simple fare at very budget-friendly prices. Accommodation is mostly up on the cliff, ranging from the fancy La Joya through to the budget-ish and amiable Flower Bud. The cheapest beds though are uber-basic surfer lodgings inside the warungs on the beach. Watch the sun set with volcanos in the distance at the low-key beach bars.
Lift Ubud up, turn it upside down, shake all the bad stuff out and put it back on earth, and you’ll have Sidemen. Set in a glorious rice field valley, Sidemen boasts tremendous rice field views and walks and has an excellent range of accommodation, from simple budget rooms to quite upmarket lodgings with horizon pools. The food scene lacks the diverse upmarket eateries of Ubud, but if you’re hankering for gorgeous rice field wanderings with none of the traffic, this spot is indeed difficult to beat. It also makes for a comfortable leaping off point to hike to the summit of Gunung Agung, Bali’s highest and most revered peak.
You won’t catch a wave in the series of bays along the coast of east Bali, but there’s something magical about watching the fleet of sometimes hundreds of jukungs running up onto the black sand beaches every morning, crab claw rigs fluttering, as locals unload their catch to deliver to market. While it’s slowly getting more developed, the area retains a strong local tilt; you’ll still be walking between family houses rather than condotels to make your way to the beach and you’ll be sharing the sands with fishermen and cheeky kids rather than sunburnt tourists. Enjoy sunset at a bar clinging to a rocky headland, or early risers can organise to head out on a fishing boat at 04:00 to watch the sun rise over Gunung Rinjani on Lombok — an unforgettable experience. Still not sold? Snorkel the coral garden or Japanese Wreck, or just put your feet up and enjoy babi guling.
The majority of the lodgings in Munduk cling to either side of the ridge road than leads up to Danau Tamblingan, meaning that it doesn’t matter where you stay, you’re going to have a spectacular view. Heavily forested in both directions, on a good day you can see all the way to the ocean, but Munduk’s real charm is far closer — a series of tremendous waterfalls that are easily reached on foot. Best visited in the height of wet season, the most powerful of the falls fills the valley with spray making it almost impossible to take a photo unless you’ve got an underwater camera. Wander fruit orchards, explore the market or do a village walk — don’t be surprised when you realise you’re the only foreigner in town.
If you’ve ventured as far as Sanur, you’ll have seen the islands of Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan offshore. The latter is quite well known and developed, the former less so, but wedged between them is a sliver of an island, Nusa Ceningan. Despite its size, it’s home to a clutch of great places to stay, an excellent surf break and photogenic seaweed farms. The early morning views from here across Lembongan to Bali, with Gunung Agung towering over, will just take your breath away. While it’s easy to hop on a boat to go snorkelling off the mangroves on Lembongan, you could just as easily get a boat to Penida and hire a motorbike to explore weaving villages and magnificent cliff views … or you could just swing in your hammock for a day or two.
Why were you going to Kuta and Ubud again?
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
29 other destinations in Bali