A week in Bali:
Spectacular temples and perfect waves!
The Island of the Gods, a surfer’s paradise, a unique cultural experience within a lush, tropical paradise. No trip to Indonesia would be complete without soaking in some of the Balinese vibes!
So much has been said about Bali, and you can find useful info about accomodation and how to move around the island in this post, so let’s go straight to a summary of our week there. We spend seven days in total, and chose to split them between Ubud and Uluwatu. Ubud is a great base to get to know the central, North and East part of the island, while Uluwatu makes for days of surf and epic sunsets in a totally different environment. We spent 5 nights in Ubud and 2 in Uluwatu.
Day 1. Makassar – Denpasar – Ubud
Day 2. Goa Gajah – Tegalallang Rice Terraces – Bali Pulina – Gunung Kawi – Tirta Empul
Day 3. Monkey Forest – Ubud Palace – Pura Ulun Danu Bratan – Handara Gate – Danu Buyan – Danu Tamblingan
Day 4. Pura Besakih – Tirta Gangga gardens – Pura Lempuyang – Keramas Beach
Day 5. Ubud Market – Kuta – Seminyak – Canggu – Tanah Lot temple
Day 6. Uluwatu: Bingin Beach – Padang Padang beach – Uluwatu cliffs and Suluban Beach
Day 7. Uluwatu: Balangan Beach – Dreamland Beach – Uluwatu Temple
Day 8. …off to Lombok!
Read more about each day after the jump.
DAY BY DAY
Our memorable week in Bali, that left us wanting to come back, or even live there at some point, unfolded as follows:
Landed in Denpasar in the morning after a 10 hour bus ride from Rantepao to Makassar (all about our Sulawesi adventure here) and an early morning flight to Bali, so decided to go straight to our villa in Ubud, check in and rest all afternoon by the swimming pool. Once recovered, we decided to go to the center of Ubud for a stroll, ended up watching a traditional Balinese dance and performance in Ubud Palace, and then go for a well deserved dinner date before going back to Pumpking Village. Read all about our favourite restaurants in Ubud here (coming soon), and check our accomodation and transport choices in this post!
Woke up early to try to beat the crowds, which is nearly mission impossible in Bali. After an epic breakfast at Pumpking Village, started our day with a quick scooter ride to Goa Gajah, also known as the Elephant Cave. The place is pretty and has some spiritual value as a meditation spot with nice gardens and pools surrounding it, although not the most interesting thing you’ll see in Bali, so feel free to skip it if your time in the island is tight!
From there we rode to the famous and incredibly touristic Tegalallang Rice Terraces. A must see, although we wish we’d made it our first stop of the day, as the crowds were in full force when we arrived. Wander around the terraces and cross over to the other side for a much quieter and pleasant experience.
Very close to the terraces is Bali Pulina, a lesser known attraction with a great location over a deep trench of rice terraces too. We really enjoyed the views from it. It’s actually a coffee plantation where they’ll explain you all about the civet coffee or Kopi Luwak. We had already tried it in Yogyakarta so we didn’t pay to much attention to the divulgative part and just wandered around the property and even had a go at the swing over the amazing cliff! The ride is a bit more expensive than the ones in Tegalallang, but there are no crowds at all (even though admission to the property is free) and the views are second to none!
After a quick and unremarkable lunch at a roadside warung, we went for more temples. First we visited Gunung Kawi, with its impressive funerary complex and niches carved in stone. The temples around it and the rice terraces allow for visitors to spread out and, despite the gift shops along the stairs that get you to the complex, it doesnt feel like a crowded spot. Really close to it you’ll find Tirta Empul, a water temple where hindus will perform their purificating bathing rituals. It translates to «Holy Water Spring», and forms an interesting complex with several pools, temples and ponds. More crowded than Gunung Kawi, you’ll find plenty of warungs and souvenir stalls near the entrance.
Back to our place before sunset for a quick shower and, following what would be our routine during our stay at Pumpkin Village, we got driven to Ubud center for a stroll and dinner around Gootama street, where you’ll find a wide selection of bars and restaurants.
Started the day with a visit to Ubud’s famous Monkey Forest. As usual, if you go early enough, you’ll avoid huge crowds. It gets pretty busy the rest of the day, and monkeys may seem cute but they can get quite agressive when nervous! Make sure you don’t have any food in your backpack, otherwise they’ll try their best to find it!
After a quick visit to the free area of Ubud’s Palace (there are more comprehensive guided visits, but we didn’t think it would be too interesting), we rode all the way to Pura Ulun Danu Bratan. If you decide to do it on your scooter just like we did, make sure you bring some warm clothes for the ride, as the road goes quite high and it can get really cold before reaching the lake and temple, and it’s an hour and a half away from Ubud. Pura Ulun Danu Bratan might be one of the best known temples in Bali, and it’s definitely worth visiting, but be prepared to find hordes of tourists trying to get the postcard perfect picture for the gram!
Close by if you follow the road that took you there, you’ll find the Handara Iconic Gate. Although it remains as a golf course and resort entrance, it may be one of the most beautiful ‘candi bentar’ or split gates in Bali. Instagram is full of pictures of it, and they’ll even charge to stand outside and take that desired shot.
Stay on that road and reach Danu Buyan and Danu Tamblingan, the twin lakes with their respective water temples: Pura Ulun Danu Buyan and Pura Ulun Danu Tamblingan. Although less known, you won’t have to deal with the masses and will probably have them all to yourself.
The night ride back to Ubud is almost inevitable if you want to make the most of daylight while up in the lakes.
Early wake up call to ride northwest an hour and a half to Pura Besakih, also know as Mother Temple. At Mt. Agung’s feet, it’s probably our favorite temple complex in Bali. The location is simply breathtaking, and is of the holiest places of Hinduism. You’ll find 23 different temples in the largest complex in Bali. We’ve heard it also gets super crowded, but despite the offerings and ceremonies taking place on that day, we were early enough to wander around it pretty much alone. You’ll be almost forced to take a guide, which allows you to enter without a problem into the prayer areas, but we felt like exploring it on ourselves and argued our way out of it.
Another 45 minute ride will take you to Tirta Gangga. Roads in this part of Bali are beautiful and with almost no traffic, which makes for a very pleasant experience if you compare it to Ubud or Denpasar’s surroundings. The Tirta Gangga gardens are one of those typical instagram destinations, but despite their undeniable beauty, full of ponds, sculptures and fountains, we wouldn’t say it’s a must-visit place. We enjoyed a good lunch in one of the warungs next to it, and then resumed or path towards Pura Lempuyang, 20 minutes away from the gardens.
You’ve surely seen plenty of pictures of the main gate of Pura Lempuyang, framing Mount Agung in the background. This complex is, along with Pura Besakih, one of the Sad Kahyangan Jagad, or the «six sanctuaries of the world» adn one of the holiest places in Bali. A snaking and steep road will take you up to the parking area at the bottom of the complex, where the stairs start. Wrap a sarong around your waist and leave a small donation, and you are ready to go up. One of the first temples you’ll see is Lempuyang Luhur, where 99% of the photos you’ve seen are taken. The queue to take the perfect photo on the split gate doesn’t take away the beauty of the place, and you can go up the dragon stairs for an even better view of the surroundings (do it on the two side stairs, as the central one is reserved for prayer and ceremonies). But if you really want to explore this Holy complex, keep going up the slope of Mount Lempuyang through the dense forest to unveil hidden temples and views that most tourists won’t reach.
Getting back to Ubud takes a few hours from Mount Lempuyang, so we left early enough to try to avoid riding at night for too long. We took the east coast route, and though we didnt make many stops along the way, we realised there is a lot of potential in this area and we’ll try to explore its towns and beaches in our next trip to Bali. We did stop at the black beach of Keramas, which most surfers will know very well as it hosts a world class wave right in front of the Komune Resort. Enjoyed sunset in the beach before resuming our way back home. Traffic near Ubud gets really dense at certain times, so it took us at least one more hour than we expected to reach our destination.
Although not the cheapest place in Indonesia to buy gifts, we spent the morning wandering around Ubud’s market and engaged in some fun bargaining trying to get some resonably priced souvenirs.
After some pool time at home (a much needed rest after so many kilometers the day before), we spent the evening in Canggu, a cool surfer’s hub and beach at the end of the Kuta-Seminyak stretch, which we tried to avoid since we don’t really enjoy the crowded, party-oriented places, as you may have noticed if you’ve read this far.
After some surfing and chilling by the beach in Canggu, we decide we couldn’t leave without visiting Tanah Lot, another one of the postcard perfect temples in Bali’s south coast. It was not an easy decision, as we’d been warned about the thousands of tourists that go there for sunset every day… guess what? they were right. Despite the undeniably beautiful setup, it’s nearly impossible to enjoy sunset here without someone sticking a selfie stick in your eye. As soon as the sun sets, the crowds start to leave, and you can find a bit more peace to even walk up to the temple if the tide is low. Mixed feelings here: beautiful place that we felt like we had to visit, but the thickest crowd we’ve seen in Indonesia…
A sour good-bye to our peaceful Ubud retreat at Pumpking Village. We left Ubud to spend a few days in Uluwatu, in the Bukit Peninsula at the south end of Bali. The drive to Uluwatu can take pretty long, since you need to cross Denpasar and the airport area (read all about how we moved around here!). We checked in at our accomoodation for the next two days, the Bingin Green View and rented a scooter to move around again.
Life in Uluwatu revolves more around the surf culture than omnipresent cultural and religious heritage of Ubud. Good vibes everywhere, nice warungs and beautiful beaches. Tourist from all over the world, although mostly aussies, come here looking for the perfect waves. We decided to go straight away to the most famous one: Padang Padang. Pretty busy with people and monkeys, the stairs down are quite an experience. The beach is small but you’ll find surf rentals, warungs, cold drinks…
SURFER’S TIP: the famous Padang Padang wave is not the one you’ll find right in this beach but the one that breaks along the cliffs to the left of it. Access to it is not as well known, and locals try to keep it that way. Ask around if you feel like you can handle its green, perfect barrels.
Sunset is a no brainer here. Go to the Uluwatu cliffs and enjoy a Bintang in one of the many bars that populate the way down to the cave that gives access to Suluban beach and the Uluwatu wave. Single Fin is where most people will go, and for a reason. Good music and food, perfect sunset views and first row seats to watch the last surfers to paddle in before dark.
Dinner option are aplenty in the surroundings, so feel free to check out our favorites (coming soon), or just ask around.
Spent most of the day at Balangan beach, a beautiful bay that somehow has remained nearly untouched by the huge developments and resorts that populate nearby locations like Dreamland beach. Not many people, perfect waves for the more experienced surfers and several warungs to grab a bite overlooking this picture perfect setup.
Don’t forget to visit Pura Luhur Uluwatu, or Uluwatu Temple, hanging on top of the Uluwatu cliffs with uninterrupted ocean and sunset views. Daily traditional dance performances in one of the six most sacred Hindu places in Bali are well worth your time.
This was our last full day in Bali. On day 8 we flew to Lombok from Denpasar to spend two days in the Kuta area (south Lombok), another one visiting the mesmerizing waterfalls in the north, and the three more day in the Gili Islands paradise to end our month in Indonesia. Dive with us into the coral reefs of Gili here, or take notes from our Lombok itinerary here!.
NOTES: There is no question about it, we have to go back to Bali. A week is great for a first time, but there is so much left to see that we feel we need to go live there for a while in order to soak in all the wonders of the Island of the Gods.
We had a hard time deciding whether to go to the Nusa or the Gili Islands. We don’t regret choosing the Gilis, but we certainly have Nusa Penida, Lembongan and Ceningan on our bucket list!
Pollution is a real problem in Bali: the traffic is hectic, plastic litters every beach, stream or forest… be mindful when travelling and try to make a difference with your small gestures. This paradise is more fragile than it looks.