The tropical island of Bali attracts over 2 million visitors each year, but it is not just the island’s lush landscape, sandy beaches and warm ocean breezes that make it so popular. Bali also offers a multitude of activities to keep you entertained whether you visit the island as a couple, family or a group of friends. From surfing to shopping, kayaking to temple hopping, the Island of the Gods is an action packed holiday waiting to happen.
The waters and coral reefs that surround Bali are alive with marine life, making the island an ideal destination for divers from all over the world. For beginners, there are a number of dive schools across the island that offer PADI certification courses, as well as several dive sites in the vicinity that give novices the chance to polish their skills and explore. The seas surrounding Bali also boast more challenging sites for experienced divers.
If you organise a day dive tour with one of the dive schools on the island, it is likely that the package will include transfers to and from your villa, as well as equipment and lunch. Many dive tours even document your underwater journey by snapping photographs or talking video of your marine adventure. Sanur is a magnet for divers that visit Bali, as it's home to three excellent dive sites – Channel Point, Penjor Reef and Jeladi Wilis. The latter is a great dive site for beginners, who can catch a glimpse of nudibranchs, stingrays, octopus and some attractive corals. Channel Point is another location well suited to novices or those on a refresher course – and although not Bali’s most exciting site, it does offer some interesting marine life. Penjor Reef, meanwhile, is home to an abundance of colourful corals and marine creatures.
Divers in search of a challenge often take a trip to Nusa Penida, which is situated across the Badung Strait from the southern tip of Bali. Sea conditions are not for the faint of heart, as the strong currents drift past Penida, which means divers have a tendency to drift along too. Toyapakeh, one of Nusa Penida’s most popular dive sites, is home to an array of reef fish and large pelagics, in addition to black jacks and turtles. Another of Nusa Penida’s dive sites is Sekolah Dasar, where divers can spot reef sharks, sunfish and manta rays.
If scuba diving is not your thing, that doesn’t mean the thrill of discovering Bali’s underwater world is out of bounds for you. Snorkelling is an activity that can be enjoyed by the whole family on a day trip to one of many sites off Bali’s coast, or even as a beach activity. Like dive tours, snorkelling day trips can be arranged through one of the many operators on the island and usually include transportation, equipment, lunch and snacks.
One of the most popular snorkelling sites off the Bali coast is located in the area around Padang Bai. This part of the island is home to Nusa Penida, which is also a popular spot with divers due to its crystal clear waters. The crystal sea allows snorkellers too can catch sight of the area’s stunning coral and even spot passing manta rays. The tranquil waters of Padang Bai’s Blue Lagoon are also home to cuttlefish and eels.
The waters in the vicinity of Tulamben are also famous with snorkellers because they surround the shipwreck. USAT Liberty was a United States Army transport ship torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-166 in January 1942 and it is one of the few shipwreck sites around the world that snorkellers can explore thanks to the shallow waters. The black sand seabed also hosts some exciting marine inhabitants, including stingrays.
Those who want a more secluded snorkelling adventure, away from the crowds that flock to Tulamben and Padang Bai should try squeezing in a visit to Menjangen Island. Situated a 30-minute boat ride from the northwestern coast of Bali, this protected marine park is a great place to take underwater photographs as it is inhabited by over 100 species of corals. Snorkellers can also seek out angel fish, surgeon fish, lion fish and turtles in the clear waters of the area.
For adventure seekers that visit Bali, kayaking is one of the more intriguing (and healthy) ways to explore the island. On one of the most popular trips, a guide can be hired to lead kayakers down the Ayung River, helping them negotiate their way through 33 sets of tricky rapids. This ride is also open to first timers, who receive special training from the guide before the trip.
Canoeing adventures are also available on Lake Batur, otherwise known as Bali’s “Holy Lake”. Resting in the shadow of Mount Batur, Mount Abang and Mount Agung, the lagoon offers visitors the chance to float serenely on its waters in contemplation of the stunning natural scenery that surrounds them. Canoeing is the only water sport permitted on the lake, and visitors will therefore only share the waters with local fishermen.
For adventurers who like to get out on the open water, sea kayaking is also an option off the island’s southern coast. Kayakers can paddle in the natural surf along Pandawa Beach, as well as get up close to the rugged cliffs and hidden caves that characterise this stretch of the island’s coast. Tours of the area are guided by an experienced sea kayak guide, and take approximately two and a half hours.
Situated at the centre of a vast archipelagic nation, Bali is a great base for exploring some of the neighbouring islands on boat trips. One popular ride takes cruisers from Serangan Harbour over to Nusa Penida’s Crystal Bay, appropriately named after the area’s sparkling transparent waters. The bay’s stunning white sand beach and ancient temple provide an idyllic the backdrop for a relaxing day out. After lunch, visitors are free to explore the beach area on a short stroll, discover the underwater marvels of the bay or even try jumping from one of the beach’s cliffs into the clear water below.
Another popular boat tour from Bali takes visitors to the nearby Gili Islands, located off the neighbouring island of Lombok. Gili Trawangan is the most popular of the islands, and a great destination for snorkelling and diving. Many visitors choose to stay overnight or even longer to make the most of the natural surroundings, entertainment and dining choices offered on the eastern coast of the island, but an increasing number of companies are also now offering fast crossings of just 1.5 hours from Bali to Gili Trawangan.
Visitors who want to experience more of Bali’s own natural wonders can also take a sunrise boat trip from Lovina Beach to see the dolphins who live in the area, although sightings of these fun loving creatures is not always guaranteed.
Over the last 10 years, Bali has become one of the premier destinations in the world for surfers. Whether you are an absolute beginner or a rip curl pro, Bali is a great place to catch some of the best waves in Asia.
The island boasts a number of beaches that are great for surfing, although the height and pace of surf depends on the season. July is often touted as the best month of surfing on Bali, although on the island's west coast, May through to September is generally good thanks to the offshore winds, which also makes conditions suitable for beginners. On the east cost, December to early March are considered prime surfing months.
Once you have mastered the basics, it's possible to organise surfing tours of the island that take you to some of the best locations and can even be matched to your skill level. Tours generally include transportation, a guide, equipment (including surf board) and insurance, although it's always best to check exactly what you are paying for. Popular spots on surfing tours take in Canggu, Kuta, Serangan, Dreamland and Sanur beaches.
Ideal for beginners, Kuta Beach stretches from Seminyak to the area of Tuban, and is probably the most famous tourist beach on the whole of Bali. Kuta is home to good surfing and beautiful sunrises, and is best in the dry season as the flows from southeast to west create good waves. Seminyak Beach is also a great location for visitors who want to take the plunge, and is located just north of Legian Beach. The beach offers stunning vistas of the Indian Ocean, and is another of the most popular tourist stops on the island. Surfing here is best from May to September when the wind powers the waves from east to west and the water is warmer.
Bali is home to just three golf courses: Nusa Dua Bali Golf and Country Club, Nirwana Bali Golf Club near the Tanah Lot Temple, and New Kuta Golf in Jimbaran and Bali Hendara Kosaido in Bedugul.
Despite limited choice, the island offers keen golfers the experience of a lifetime. All three courses offer a top class round in stunning surroundings with views that take in the island’s lakes, oceans, mountains and rice terraces, offering golfers a unique experience during a game.
Golfers who like getting close to nature should head to Bali Handara Kosaido Golf Club, which is perched 1,142 metres above sea level on the slopes of a dormant volcano.
Bali may have established a solid reputation as a party destination, but the island also has a lot of activities on offer for families. Kids visiting the island can't get enough of the Waterbom Aqua Park, which is also a great place for a bite to eat. Another great day out for the family is to Bali Safari and Marine Park, where rhinos and zebras roam free. If you want a break away from the beach and sea, this day trip is ideal, and the animal rides and shows are a great attraction for younger visitors.
Families looking to go all out in their discovery of some of the creatures that call Bali home, should be sure to fit in a visit to Bali Bird Park where you will be welcomed by an array of exotic birds, and even a few Komodo dragons. The Bali Tree Top Adventure Park is also a fun place for thrill seeking families to visit, and suitable for children from the age of six and above. Found within the Bedugul Botanical Garden, there are six different height levels for visitors to explore. Families who enjoy a bit of healthy competition should head to Paintball War Games on Jimbaran Hill to take part in a little light-hearted warfare.
Known as the island of a thousand temples, many visitors visit Bali in search of its unique and fascinating historical culture. Temple visitors should always observe the local customs, including appropriate dress, and sashes or sarongs can usually be hired at the temple entrance. While it is impossible to visit all of the temples on the island, even on a longer holiday, visitors should make it a priority to see at least a few if they are interested in soaking up some of the island’s traditional heritage.
Besakih Temple, otherwise known as “Mother Temple” is located in the village of Besakih, perched on the side of Mount Agung. This temple is considered by locals as one of the most spiritually important on the island, and has been standing for over 1000 years.
Nestled just off the rugged coast of the island on a large rock lies Tanah Lot, probably the most famous temple on Bali. Believed to be the work of a priest from the 15th Century named Nirartha, the location of the temple provides some superb, mystical sunset views over the ocean.
Another sea temple is Pura Luhur at Uluwatu. Constructed in the 11th Century. The temple overlooks the waves at Uluwatu, and is believed to guard the island from the evil spirits in the southwest. Another wonderful temple to visit is Ulun Danu, which is positioned on the shores of Lake Bratan in the mountains near Bedugul. Meanwhile, a relatively new temple compared to others on the island, Ulun Danu, was built in 1926 and is dedicated to the goddess of lakes and rivers.
Shopaholics will feel right at home in Bali. They can make the most of everything from the island’s high end fashion boutiques in Seminyak to the handicraft stalls in Ubud.
Seminyak boasts the island's most upmarket retail strip and is home to a number of high-end boutiques, bars and restaurants. Shoppers can browse the many designer fashion and jewellery shops in the town, and should start their retail therapy in the vicinity of the designer stores on Jalan Laksmana. Whether you're after clothing or accessories, or striking pieces of original art from one of the many galleries, Seminyak has it all.
When you are in the mood for a little souvenir shopping, Ubud is perhaps the best location on Bali for a shopping spree. Visitors ail find an abundance of local craft workshops in the town where local artisans craft gold, silver, wood and ceramics into magnificent pieces of art. The skilled artisans of Ubud produce intricate and unique souvenirs, which many visitors take home as a unique keepsake of their time on the island.
by MAX VEE