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Tips for visiting Bali for the first time:
Where to base yourself in Bali
- Canggu (my personal recommendation!)
Canggu is a colourful coastal town in the southwest of Bali filled with bright street art, hipster cafes, beach bars and yoga studios. If you’re looking for instgrammable interiors, vegan health food (you can find tasty meat options too), great brunch spots, daily markets and beautiful sunset spots looking out over the ocean, Canggu is the place to be.
While the hipster town of Canggu is particularly popular with digital nomads, bloggers and young expats living in Bali, neighbouring coastal town of Seminyak is a little bit more of a tourist destination. With a number of bigger hotels and resorts, the town is popular with families and holiday goers looking for a base by the beach. Seminyak is also seen as slightly more upmarket than its more rustic little sister Canggu.
The traditional inland town of Ubud is slightly more practical for exploring Bali’s beautiful nature, being surrounded by lush rainforests, rice fields, temples and more. With plenty of gorgeous resorts, hipster restaurants and cool bars, Ubud is another one of the best places to stay in Bali if you don’t mind not being by the beach.
How to get around Bali
- Rent a Bike
The easiest, cheapest and most common way to travel around Bali is to rent a motorbike. A bike should cost you roughly IDR 60,000-70,000 (£3-£4) per day, while petrol is extremely cheap too. Not only is hiring a bike cheap, but it’ll also be quicker to get around the island as you can skip past traffic and take back roads.
- Hire a Driver
If you don’t want to ride a bike, another option is hiring a private driver. A driver will cost around IDR 600,000 (£32) per day and can take you anywhere on the island. While the great thing about hiring a driver is that you can plan your own itinerary, you’ll also be able to ask your driver for local tips and advice so they can help plan your day.
- Take a Tour
The final and most expensive option is booking onto an organised tour. For those who are not as budget-conscious and would rather someone else plan their trip for them, a tour is a good way to go. Throughout this Bali itinerary, I will suggest some organised tours relevant to each day.
When to visit Bali
In my opinion, there’s never really a bad time to visit Bali, but for more detailed information, check out this monthly guide and full run-down of when to visit Bali.
Day One – Canggu & Seminyak:
Let’s start off this first time in Bali itinerary with two of the most popular destinations in Bali and my personal favourites – the southwestern beach towns of Seminyak and Canggu.
Not only are they beautiful spots to visit in Bali, but as mentioned previously they’re also two of the best places to base yourself in Bali, especially during this 5 day itinerary.
Brunch at Cabina Bali, Canggu
Start your trip to Bali out in the sun with one of the most ‘Bali experiences’ you could possibly imagine – a floating brunch!
Cabina in Canggu is a cool brunch spot with its own outdoor pool which offers the famous floating brunch experience. Plus the food is seriously delicious!
For roughly £12 per person, you’ll get a main dish (the chicken and waffles are unreal!), a tasty sweet dish (pancakes or panna cotta), a hot or iced coffee/tea and a fruity mocktail each.
After breakfast, the rest of your first day in Bali is pretty flexible, depending on what you want to do.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can easily explore both the towns Canggu and Seminyak in a day, and even find a bit of time for relaxing on one of the beautiful beaches along the coast.
If you feel like more of a chilled out day to start your holiday (or you’re based in one of the towns and don’t want to travel around too much), stick to just one. Spend the day sunbathing on the beach, swimming in the ocean, and find a cute little spot in town for lunch and an ice-cream.
Things to do in Canggu in a day:
- Batu Bolong Beach – large beach with lots of shopping and dining options close by.
- Echo Beach – popular surf beach.
- Eat! – there are loads of tasty cafes and restaurants in Canggu so don’t miss out.
- Go shopping at one of Canggu’s regular markets.
- Finns Recreation Club – an entertainment venue with a water park, pool, bowling, trampolines and tennis courts.
- Tanah Lot – an ancient Hindu shrine perched on top of a small outcrop just off of the coast.
Things to do in Seminyak in a day:
- Horse riding on Seminyak Beach.
- Sunbathe at Double Six Beach.
- Pura Petitenget – one of six important sea temples in Bali.
- Shopping on Jalan Laksmana – one of Bali’s best shopping streets.
- Sip cocktails by the pool at Potato Head Beach Club.
Sunset & Cocktails on Batu Bolong Beach, Canggu
For the evening head back to Batu Bolong Beach in Canggu, one of my personal favourite places to watch the sunset in Bali.
Located at the end of the busy street of Pantai Batu Bolong, which is filled with hipster brunch spots, restaurants and shops, Batu Bolong Beach is lined with a number of cool restaurants and bars with stunning ocean views to watch to sunset over dinner and a few drinks each evening.
Chilled-out Sandbar is one of my favourites and located directly on the beach itself. The bar has a small shack on the beach selling chilled beers, wine and a beach-perfect cocktail list (I’m a sucker for a piña colada on the beach!), which you can enjoy right by the ocean on the bar’s tables and comfy beanbag chairs.
After the sun has set, head off of the beach to Old Mans, one of the most popular bars in Canggu. This cool typical-Bali nightlife spot is busy pretty much every night of the week, with regular live DJs and dance parties. On Wednesday nights the bar hosts a huge beer pong competition which gets particularly lively with both hostel-goers and the local nomad crowd.
OR Sunset & Cocktails at Ku De Ta, Seminyak
If you’re based in Seminyak and would rather stay in the area for the evening, head to Ku De Ta.
Ku De Ta is a large beachfront bar with great sunset views over the ocean, comfy beanbag chairs, an exciting cocktail list and live DJs late into the evening.
Day Two – Ubud:
The traditional town of Ubud is located in the central uplands of the island, surrounded by beautiful rainforests, rice fields, temples and more, and is one of the most popular places to visit in Bali amongst tourists (that’s not the beach!).
The laid-back town itself is known as the hub of arts and culture in Bali, with plenty of local arts and crafts, as well as traditional dancing which brings Balinese and tourists together. It is also a spiritual hub of the island, being particularly popular with travelling yogis and spiritual healers.
Ubud is another great place to base yourself during this 5 day Bali itinerary, however if you’d rather stay by the beach (like me), it is also easy to visit Ubud for the day and is just an hours drive away from the coastal towns of Canggu and Seminyak.
So here’s how to see Ubud in a day:
Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
Mandala Suci Wenara Wana (local name), or the Sacred Monkey Forest, is an ancient Hindu temple in Ubud which doubles as a nature reserve and sanctuary for over 1,000 Balinese long-tailed monkeys.
Visiting the Monkey Forest is now one of the most popular things to do in Ubud, with ancient shrines being eerily engulfed by the surrounding forest and overrun by its wild monkey population.
The monkeys are friendly enough, just be sure not to bring any food into the forest with you if you don’t want to get jumped on. And don’t touch or provoke them – they are wild after all!
Ubud Arts Market
Ubud Arts Market is a popular market in the centre of town selling artisanal goods, handmade crafts and tourist knick-knacks. You’ll be able to find everything from lovely handmade dresses to religious artwork to cheesy ‘I [heart] Bali’ souvenirs.
The market is large and usually fairly busy so you have to have patience and an ability to haggle to find a good bargain. Just be sure to negotiate the price down as much as possible as the traders always start off high – we managed to get a pair of shoes down to 1/5th of the original price asked for.
Taman Saraswati Temple
Taman Saraswati is a charming Hindu temple dedicated to the Hindu goddess of wisdom and art; Dewi Saraswati.
The temple is also known as Ubud Water Palace due to the large lotus pond which is constantly being refilled from fountains pouring from the front of the temple itself.
Ubud Royal Palace
The Royal Palace, or Puri Saren Agung, dates back to the 1800s and was the residence of the Royal Family of Ubud. Today the Royal Palace is still used by the Royal Family, however, guests may visit the beautiful gardens and admire the amazing Balinese architecture.
The Palace also makes the perfect end to your day in Ubud as of an evening traditional dance performances are held at the temple.
Day Three – Northern Bali:
Today is time to head up to the north to the lush mountains and scenic lakes of northern Bali.
From Canggu or Ubud it will take around 1 hour 30 minutes by motorbike to reach the region, whilst from Seminyak you should give yourself around 2 hours, so best to start the day as early as possible.
As well as probably being one of the longest days of this 5 day Bali itinerary, it is also the most important day to remember your camera as this is where you’ll find many of the most ‘iconic’ Bali Instagram shots.
Pura Ulun Danu Beratan
The first stop of the day is Pura Bratan, a Hindu floating water temple on Lake Bratan nestled peacefully within the surrounding mountains.
The temple has become one of Bali’s most photographed spots due to the beautiful reflection of the ancient Balinese temple onto the water below and the traditional paddle boats floating in the surrounding lake which you can rent and take out yourself for the perfect shot.
Plus there’s more to the temple than just the idyllic Instagram photo. You can take a relaxing walk in the surrounding gardens and watch the fishermen and their children catching dinner on the edge of the lake.
There are also facilities including food stalls, a few market-style shops and toilets available at the temple.
No Bali itinerary would be complete without a photo at the Hardara Gate!
Handara Gate, the traditional Balinese gate which is surrounded by lush green forests and mountains, is in fact the entrance to a golf course. The spot has become so popular as a photo destination that you now have to pay a small fee and queue for your chance to take that photo.
As it was on our the route between Pura Beratan and Wanagiri, we decided to stop by and only had to wait around 10-15minutes for our turn for a quick snap (in mid-Feb).
Wanagiri Hidden Hill
Wanagiri Hidden Hill is a destination in northern Bali with one purpose and one purpose only… getting the perfect shot for the ‘gram!
The stretch of road overlooking Lake Buyan is filled with classic Bali ‘Instagram spots’ including swings, hanging nests, bamboo birds nest, angel wings, heart-shaped seats and more.
You’ll have to pay a fee to use the props and if you’re visiting at a peak time then there will more than likely be other people around, but that’s the price you have to pay for the perfect shot, right!?
Bonus tip: Just a few minutes off of the main stretch of Wanagiri Hidden Hill overlooking the lake there’s another lesser-known spot called ‘Bali Hidden Swing’ on Jalan Puncak Amik, which although not having the beautiful lake view in the background still has all the same props and is significantly quieter than the rest. Plus, you can actually get harnessed into the swing and fly high above the lush Bali forest which is a super fun experience!
The mountains of northern Bali are absolutely packed with beautiful waterfalls surrounded by stunning natural beauty, so there are plenty you can choose to visit during your day exploring the north of the island.
Here are a few I’d suggest (time-dependent you’ll probably be able to fit in one or two):
- Banyumala Twin Waterfalls
- Munduk Waterfall
- Sekumpul Waterfall
- Wanagiri Pucak Manik Waterfall
- Aling-Aling Waterfall & the Blue Lagoon
- Gitgit Waterfall
Most waterfalls in the region require a short walk or climb down a cliff or through the forest to find, however, each will have its own car park and the routes to the falls themselves are always signposted. Just bear in mind to bring small change with you as the car parks often require a tiny fee.
Jatiluwih Rice Terrace
As you start the journey back down south, take a detour to close by Jatiluwih Rice Terrace, one of the prettiest and most popular rice terraces amongst tourists in Bali.
At Jatiluwih there are over 600 hectares of rice fields set within the hills which you can explore on a quick hike to round off your day in northern Bali.
Day Four – Nusa Penida:
Nusa Penida is a small island southeast of Bali with a green, hilly inland and some of the most beautiful beaches in Indonesia.
You can easily take a day trip to Nusa Penida from Bali.
Getting the Ferry from Bali to Nusa Penida
For a simple guide, check out my post – How to get from Bali to Nusa Penida.
To avoid the crowds of other tourists, its best to make the most popular attraction on Nusa Penida your first stop of the day.
KelingKing Beach is a stunning white sand beach surrounded by turquoise waters at the bottom of a steep cliff. The beach is around 45 minutes from the ferry port.
The view from the top of the cliff down to the bay below has become the postcard image of the island thanks to the unusual shape of the cliff which look like a T-Rex, giving the beach the well-known nickname of T-Rex Bay.
You can either admire the cliff and bay from above or if you’re feeling particularly brave, make the trek down to the beach itself.
The path down to the beach certainly isn’t the easiest, with the extremely steep and uneven ground feeling more like an abseil than a walk at points. As long as you’re careful and take the journey slowly, you’ll arrive safely at the beach below in around 45 minutes.
However, arriving at the breathtakingly beautiful white sand beach below, the strenuous climb will be undoubtedly worth it!
Another reason you’ll want to arrive early is to avoid the peak midday sun during the tough climb back up.
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Located all the way on the east of the Island, Diamond Beach is definitely one of the most beautiful beaches in Bali and its surrounding islands. The white sand beach is surrounded by turquoise waters, tropical palm trees, tidal rock pools and small caves which are fun to swim around.
The beach is a 15 minute walk down a sloping staircase, which is also where you’ll find one of the best viewpoints and photo spots of the beach.
While at Diamond Beach, also pop over to the other side of the cliff where you’ll find the remote cove known as Atuh Beach, another beautiful spot with white sand and bright blue waters.
Goa Giri Putri Temple
Goa Giri Putri Temple is a fascinating temple located inside a cave in the north-east of Nusa Penida.
Climb partway up the cliff via a winding staircase and through a small crack to enter the cave where you’ll find the hidden Hindu temple.
The temple is unlike anything you might have experienced before and definitely a unique experience not to miss on Nusa Penida, with colourful shrines, small benches and a number of locals praying inside of the dimly lit cave.
Book a tour –
Day Five – Bukit Peninsula:
Bukit Peninsula is the southern end of the island of Bali, south of the airport and Jimbaran beach. From the areas of Canggu and Seminyak, you can reach the Peninsula in around an hour by bike.
There are so many beautiful beaches and things to do on Bukit Peninsula that I could easily write a 5 day itinerary about this region alone. However for this first time Bali itinerary I’d suggest focusing on the area around the west coast of the peninsula, also known as Uluwatu.
There are a number of beaches in Uluwatu worth visiting, but one of my favourites has to be Balangan Beach in Pecatu, a white sand beach stretching 200 metres down the coast. It is commonly acknowledged as one of the most picturesque beaches in Bali and is a chilled-out spot for sunbathing, swimming and surfing.
While on Balangan Beach, a visit to Lucky Wins is an absolute must. The large open plan restaurant and bar has its own infinity pool overlooking the beach and ocean in front and surrounded by tables, daybeds and loungers. Sit back and enjoy a cold cocktail or tasty lunch after taking a dip or simply lounging in the sun for a while.
Padang Padang Beach
Next head down the coast to Padang Padang Beach, one of the most popular surf spots in Bali.
To get to the beach you have to follow the concrete stairs down the cliff and past the resident monkeys (watch they don’t steal anything!), then venture through a narrow staircase built in between the limestone cliff face.
On the beach itself you can either hire a surfboard or paddleboard and hit the waves, or sit under one of the colourful umbrellas with a coconut in hand. Padang Padang may not be the quietest or most relaxing beach in Bali but it certainly has a fun and lively energy about it for a quick afternoon pit stop.
Uluwatu Temple & Kecak Fire Dance
For the final stop of the day drive to the south-eastern tip of the peninsula where you’ll find Uluwatu Temple, an ancient Hindu temple perched on the edge of a cliff with spectacular views out across the Indian ocean.
The temple is one of the six key temples believed to be Bali’s ‘spiritual pillars’ and is a place of worship of Siva Rudra, the Balinese Hindu deity of all elements and aspects of life in the universe.
You can visit the temple and take a walk along the cliff, taking in the numerous shrines, gates and ancient sculptures while watching out for the temples cheeky population of macaques.
The reason Uluwatu Temple should be the last stop of your day is that at 6pm every day a traditional Kecak fire dance is performed on the adjacent cliff-top stage as the sun sets over the ocean behind.
A great way to end this ultimate 5 day Bali itinerary!