I moved to Bali on a whim, very much like a lot of the people I have met on the island. You come for a week or two and next thing you know, your life no longer fits in the suitcase you brought. Perhaps you fell in love with a foreigner with a nice smile, or maybe you met your spiritual guru. Did you become a master surfer and forget to check in with work? Possibly. Whatever the reason, Bali can capture your heart. It happens to the best of us.
I won’t list all the reasons why this place is truly unique and worth every effort you may make to get here. After all, it’s Bali—I did not just discover the next hot spot. It’s long been a popular destination, and for a reason. Burning souls have made pilgrimages to Bali since the 1950s, when hippies, spiritual seekers, and adventurers discovered legendary waves, turning Bali into one of the most sought-after travel destinations in the world.
Today, Bali is less idyllic than it was during the early days of wanderlust. It has seen terror attacks, the rise of concrete chain hotels, and unsustainable tourism. Yet Bali endures, and it still tops my list as one of the places that truly changes perspectives and brings a lifetime of lessons, even in a short period of time. Just for the record, it is safe—super safe—and still oozes unbelievable natural beauty. It’s really hard to fathom sometimes. If you take a minute to step away from the hustle, you will see Bali’s true nature. A unique energy encompasses every rice field, every smile, and connection you make.
To set things straight, forget Eat, Pray, Love. Bali will cater to your heart’s desire, but sometimes you have to have a clue about what you really want. I have seen too many people leave without getting a proper Bali experience, simply because they didn’t know what they needed. Bali is diverse and way bigger than you may think. Here, my personal guide to help you travel in a way that allows for that magic to happen.
SPIRITUAL SEEKERS & YOGIS
– Ubud –
The quintessential vision of Bali that most people have in their head is of Ubud. Ubud is Bali’s cultural epicenter and the new-age capital of Asia. Shoulder-width alleyways, perfumed corners, traditional architecture, and ladies in sarongs are staples of this part of the island. Scenic and spiritual, Ubud is an ideal place to ground, heal, and experience Bali’s centuries-old traditions. Rice fields that extend for miles will appear out of the blue during a walk; elaborate temples can be found on every corner; local basket weavers sit on the side of the road as healers, yogis, artists, and meditators flood Ubud’s streets and cafés. Expect to be hugged by a stranger, and expect that hug to last 20 seconds.
Where to Stay
Those looking for an out-of-the-ordinary experience will find it at Bambu Indah. In 2005, 11 antique Javanese bridal homes were restored, brought to Bali, and decorated with the finest details. Now, Bambu Indah is an intimate hotel with enchanting views across the Ayung River gorge and the picture-perfect mountains.
While Bisma Eight might not qualify as the most typical Bali getaway due to its concrete architecture, this place feels well-balanced and peaceful thanks to its lush surroundings. The infinity pool overlooking the jungle is definitely a perk.
Where to Eat
Ubud is a health-food haven, so it’s no surprise that plant-based restaurants like Moksa come highly recommended. While most of the menu is raw, the chef’s creative approach to healthy eating is refreshing. Be ready for a one-of-a kind experience, and don’t forget to visit their garden.
The Sayan House
The view at The Sayan House is quintessentially Ubudian and postcard-worthy. Aside from the jaw-dropping view, the staff is extremely friendly and the cocktails are delicious.
Located right in the center of town, Clear Café is a retreat away from the hustle. Beautiful white interiors, flower sculptures, and floor cushions add to the Zen vibe. Shoes come off at the door—but don’t worry, they will be right where you left them. A mix of traditional Indonesian and Western dishes assures there’s something for everyone here.
What to Do
Champuhan Ridge Walk
A relaxing, scenic walk falls right in line with the lifestyle in Ubud. While there are many routes to choose from, this roughly one-hour walk through the rice fields and green hills gives you the perfect introduction to the Balinese way of life and is best done early in the morning, before it gets too hot and crowded.
Finding a spa or sauna you really like and going there weekly is a thing in Bali. I was told to not tell this to anyone, but here you go: Tjempuhan Bathhouse is the best outdoor spa in Ubud. Located in a legendary hotel from 1928, the property is surrounded by trees with a river flowing through it. The spa itself is beautiful and very Balinese. You can move from hot pools to icy cold pools to the private sauna rooms. Arrive around 5 or 6 p.m. for this alternative happy hour.
Ecstatic Dance at the Yoga Barn
The Yoga Barn is one of the most well-known yoga studios in the world. It’s almost like a yoga university, attracting yogis from all over. Take a class if you can, but most importantly, come for Ecstatic Dance. It’s one of the weirdest things you will do on your trip, I’m sure, but also it will be unforgettable. I won’t say more—just go.
CREATIVE TYPES & PARTY PEOPLE
– Canggu and Seminyak –
When you hear people refer to Canggu as “irresistible” or “a hot spot,” know that it’s accurate. Also know that this is the more Westernized part of Bali, and if you choose to spend time here, you may feel like you are in Bondi, Brooklyn, or Montauk. The good part is, it’s still Bali. Everything tastes better, the air is more clear and scented with incense, and driving on these roads grants some of the best people-watching you will find on the island.
Canggu and Seminyak’s coffee and restaurant culture is on par with most cosmopolitan cities. Fast Wi-Fi and espressos are both available, along with outdoor tables on patios surrounded by trees and succulents. While Canggu beaches leave much to be desired aesthetically, they are great for learning how to surf or catching a spectacular sunset. I always recommend spending time here for the fun bar and music scene, great vegan and vegetarian food options, and shopping. Seminyak is busy, but it’s also home to some of the best beach clubs in all of Asia, If that’s your style. Canggu is a treat for your inner hipster, and I recommend it in small doses if you are on vacation. You won’t see anything here that you haven’t already seen somewhere else in the world, so make it short and sweet.
Where to Stay
The Slow is the hippest hotel in Bali. Part art gallery, part restaurant, part hotel—this is where the aesthetically inclined come to mingle. Rooms are generously sized and made for hanging out; each suite boasts a lounge, and some have private pools.
It is not uncommon for Bali visitors to rent villas and skip hotels altogether, especially if traveling in groups. As a matter of fact, I highly recommend doing that. Hidden from Canggu’s noise and traffic, this private sanctuary is surrounded by a river, waterfalls, and streams. Red Door Bali has four eco-chic bedrooms and and an open floor plan. You will feel like you’re outdoors, even when you’re in bed.
Where to Eat
Breakfast is a big deal in Bali. The island is full of early risers, and places like Peloton are used to rush hour before 10 a.m. This restaurant is also plant-based, and the breakfast smoothie bowls are award-worthy in my opinion. You’ll find the best avocado toast on the best gluten-free bread here.
Da Maria’s pizza dough, inspired by Neapolitan artisan techniques and cooked to perfection in lava-stone ovens, is arguably the best in Bali. Unlike any other restaurant on the island, Da Maria’s is a scene of its own type, combining elements of classical Italian hospitality with Bali’s sophisticated tropical setting and nightlife. If you’re feeling fancy, come here. There is a live DJ on Fridays and Sundays.
This picture-perfect restaurant is everything I love about Canggu. It’s relaxed, beautiful, and vegetarian. The halloumi burger is an experience on its own, but apart from that, you can choose from a variety of smoothies, healthy bowls, and veggie platters that will make you forget that meat is a thing.
What to Do
Sunset at La Brisa
Canggu’s sunsets are simply outstanding. From La Brisa you can perch yourself on a cozy floor pillow, order a white wine spritzer, and have someone rub your back while you watch the sun go down. Feel free to jump into the ocean, too—you’re right in front of Echo Beach.
Get a Custom Suit from Okar Style Suits
Oskar Lindholm, a.k.a. Okar, is a longtime Canggu expat from Sweden. I met him on the street one day. He was wearing an epic floral suit, and I had to know where he got it. Turns out, he made it himself, and he offered to make me one, too. All I had to do was show up at Gimme Shelter, have a beer, and get my measurements taken by his tailor. Okar often has “measuring nights,” during which he takes custom orders and gets your measurements while you party. The next day we hopped on his scooter and went fabric shopping in Denpasar, which is an experience on its own. Needless to say, Okar’s suits are one of a kind and very affordable. You won’t regret buying one.
Yoga Class at Desa Seni
Out of the four more established yoga studios in Canggu, Desa Seni is the most serene. The yoga shala is situated on a lush garden surrounded by trees, birds, flowers. You may not want to leave after class. Classes are typically small and just challenging enough.
Surf Lessons at Batu Bolong
Batu Bolong is the go-to beginner-to-intermediate surf spot. I highly recommend surfing here first before heading south to some bigger, more challenging waves. You’ll find dozens of surf instructors right on the beach, where you you can rent boards by the hour.
SURF ENTHUSIASTS & BEACH BUMS
– The Bukit Peninsula –
When I first set foot in the Bukit, something inside of me said, “This is it. You found your spot”. The Bukit Peninsula is the southernmost point of Bali and includes some of the island’s very best beaches, incredible cliffs, and waves for days, year round. Still fairly quiet and off the beaten track when it comes to development, the beaches on this coast will take your breath away. Bingin, Balangan, Thomas Beach, Nyang Nyang, Green Bowl, and Uluwatu are must-sees.
While there isn’t much to do apart from surfing or beaching here, there is a certain calm and charm in the air, something that makes you feel like you found a treasure, a piece of paradise just to yourself. Rent a scooter and hop around, keeping an eye on the tide.
Where to Stay
It’s almost hard to believe a place like this exists in a part of the island so quiet and understated. The Alchemist is a mini oasis in Balangan, perfect for those who want to experience an even more local part of Bali without compromising on comfort. The six cabins each feature a unique theme, one of them being a treehouse.
Sun, Surf, and Stay
Be prepared to walk down some narrow alleyways and climb a few sets of stairs to get here. Bingin Beach is located on a cliff, with dramatic ocean views. From here, you can surf the near-perfect Impossibles and Bingin. Padang Padang and Uluwatu are to the left, and Dreamland and Balangan to the right. Aside from the best possible location for surfers, the hotel is also surrounded by charming restaurants and a semi-private beach.
Probably one of the most romantic places in the peninsula, Mu is for lovers (though I go there alone all the time). Perched atop the white cliffs of Bingin, the nine private bungalows with palapa roofs are as secluded as they come. Mu offers yoga every morning.
Where to Eat
Here you can find a really nice, upscale combination of Indonesian and Latin flavors. While the food at Ulu Cliffhouse is truly outstanding—especially the ceviches—what makes Ulu unique is its location and ambience. You may want to spend a day here relaxing in the daybeds and sharing their tapas-style menu with friends. You can get a custom surfboard made with their in-house shaper while you wait for cocktails.
I come here for a friendly neighborhood feel whenever I can. The owners are always there, limoncello is almost always on the house, and the pasta is as fresh as you can find. Definitely come here when you want a break from all the nasi goreng and campur campur.
A local favorite, Kelly’s Warung is tucked in the cliff on the way down to Bingin Beach. Kelly’s is the epitome of the unpretentious beach bar with great food we all want to stumble upon by accident. That’s how I discovered it.
What to Do
Fast Boat to Nusa Lembongan, Ceningan
Only an hour from the Bukit you’ll find Sanur, a port that connects mainland Bali to other neighboring islands. A day trip to either Nusa Lembongan or Ceningan is a must. Boats depart Sanur almost hourly and the trip takes just 30 minutes. Plan a snorkeling adventure or simply ride your scooter around and explore. It’s stunning. Look for the Blue Lagoon and Secret Beach.
Watch Surfers at Uluwatu
Uluwatu is one of the most famous surf breaks in Bali. Naturally, this beach is filled with surfers from all over the world. Small restaurants and bars with observing decks facing the water are aplenty, but Single Fin guarantees the best view. The true upside of Uluwatu is that it’s not for beginners, so on a good day you should grab a seat and a drink and watch the spectacle. Sunsets here are also stunning.