Where to go in Bali & Indonesia
Where to go in Bali & Indonesia
Our guide on the best places to visit in Bali & Indonesia
Bali is a gorgeous tropical island that can be visited time and time again with little danger of repeating the same ground.
The south of the island is Bali’s tourism hotspot, and where you’ll find all of its well-known beach resorts. Should you be looking for a busy package holiday scene then Kuta or Nusa Dua will not disappoint, but here at UTC we tend to offer guests quieter, more authentic destinations such as Sanur, Tabanan, or the clifftop resorts of Uluwatu.
An hour up from the coast is Ubud: the spiritual heart of ‘Island of the Gods’. With its many art galleries, craft centres, yoga retreats, and a plethora of accommodation from budget to blow-out, all set against a backdrop of idyllic emerald green rice terraces, Ubud is the jewel in Bali’s crown. Further inland still you’ll find the stunning rural regions of Sidemen and Munduk, offering gorgeous scenery, fantastic hikes, and adventure activities galore, and yet more stunning accommodation.
Should you embark on a wider tour of Bali you’ll find the excitement and adventure keep coming even as you move around its far reaches. Out in the far western corner of the island is the nature of West Bali National Park and the underwater treasures of Menjangan. To the east, the alluring and laidback black sand resorts of Amed and Candidasa, and behind the immense volcanic backdrop of Mount Batur and Mount Agung.
Look further afield from Bali and the riches keep coming. To the immediate west is Java: Indonesia’s most populous island, housing the UNESCO Heritage temples of Borobudur, cultural hotspot Yogyakarta, and the magnificent Ijen and Bromo volcanoes. To the immediate east is Lombok, home to imposing Mount Rinjani, and the laidback, postcard-perfect Gili Islands. Further still are unforgettable cruise charters around Komodo National Park and Raja Ampat, the alluring, untamed landscapes of Sumba, wild West Papua, and adventures galore in Sumatra, Kalimantan, or Sulawesi.
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Best places to go in Bali & Indonesia
Our guide to Indonesia’s principal destinations is below. You’ll find there’s a lot to see and a great deal of variety on offer! Please speak to our specialists for much more information and travel inspiration.
South Coast Beaches
The vast majority of Bali’s tourism, and 100% of its package holiday scene, occurs in the beaches and resorts in the south of the island. There are many locations to choose from each catering to a different style of traveller. Seminyak on the southwest coast draws a hip, upmarket crowd looking for creature comforts and a lively nightlife scene, with many luxury hotels and upscale bars and restaurants. Further up the coast Canggu has a youthful focus thanks to its excellent surf and evident backpacker roots. At the opposite end of Seminyak is brash and bouncy Kuta – only recommended for those seeking a very busy stay. Around on the southeast coast is quieter, village-like Sanur – often our preferred beach of choice due to its relaxed atmosphere and excellent hotels.
Considered the heart and soul of Bali’s hippy scene, Ubud is the island’s top non-beach destination. Once a bucolic and unspoilt collection of villages, Ubud today is a sprawling town that spreads across a wide patchwork of ricefields and rivers. It has seen a surge in interest in recent years in part to the book and film ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, but its tranquil appeal hasn’t been spoiled yet, with plenty of tranquil temples, impressive Hindu architecture and photogenic rice terraces to be found. These sit alongside trendy cafes and boutique shops selling the island’s famous craftsmanship and local artists’ works. There are plenty of museums and cultural performances to enjoy – especially the unique and colourful traditional Balinese dances.
Munduk & Around
Tucked into the mountains in north Bali, among rice fields, clove and coffee plantations, the peaceful village of Munduk has an enchanting, misty ambience. Among the surrounding scenery you’ll find rolling terraces of emerald green rice fields and waterfalls cascading off dramatic cliffs. Hiking opportunities here are epic, with plenty of cultural experiences available too, offering a deeper connection to nature and an understanding of Balinese traditions. You might learn how to make Canang Sari (offerings), how to wear traditional Balinese attire or visit a coffee plantation for a tour and tasting of the fresh-roasted brew.
Pemuteran & Menjangan
Far from the buzzing south coast, the peaceful coastal village of Pemuteran lies on the border of West Bali National Park and serves as the main gateway to Menjangan island, considered the best destination for snorkelling and diving in all of Bali. Nestled between the mountains and the sea, it’s a sleepy town calling both outdoor enthusiasts and those who want to enjoy plenty of relaxation. The park itself is home to a spectacular array of fauna and flora, including long-tail macaques, Banteng, a species of wild cattle, deer, wild boar, leopard cats, and 160 bird species. Accommodation can be found within the confines of the park, or back in Pemuteran should you prefer access to local shops and eateries.
Those embarking on longer, round-island trips will find Bali’s lesser-visited eastern beaches pleasantly tranquil, authentically Balinese, and scenically striking. This stretch of coast is black volcanic sand & crystal clear waters, set against a dramatic backdrop of Mount Agung and Mount Batur. Village resorts Amed and Candidasa offer outstanding diving and snorkelling, plus good quality hotels, making a stark contrast to the over-touristed south. As well as underwater riches, your stay here can also include adventures inland such as hiking, rafting, mountain biking, and visits to striking cultural sites such as Tirta Empul and Pura Lembuyang.
Java’s cultural capital, Yogyakarta – pronounced (and sometimes spelt) Jogjakarta, or simply ‘Jogja’ – is Java’s most popular tourism destination. This small city of around half a million people is the island’s artistic and intellectual heart. You’ll find historic treasures – at its centre is a large and attractive Kraton (walled palace) and around on its eastern edge you’ll find the majestic, UNESCO-listed Prambanan temples – juxtaposed with a modern, youthful scene. Yogyakarta’s sizeable university population, plus its artistic DNA, provide a colourful, walkable city centre with numerous boutiques, cafes, eateries, craft centres, and an excellent street food scene. The city is a perfect starting point for memorable overland trips through Java and on to Bali.
Around 75 minutes north of Yogyakarta are the stunning, also UNESCO-listed, temples of Borobudur. Thought to date back to the 7th century, this is the largest Buddhist temple complex in the world; surrounded by fertile paddy fields and set against a backdrop of soaring volcanoes, it’s a genuinely staggering, once-in-a-lifetime sight. Borobudur’s proximity to Jogja means it is possible to visit as a day trip, but we recommend staying out here and allowing yourself more time to take in the temples and surrounding countryside, and to time your visit for dawn or dusk when the site is at its most photogenic.
A string of smouldering volcanoes runs through Java, from legendary Krakatoa off the west coast to ethereal Ijen, on the eastern tip of the island looking across to Bali. Any itinerary through Java and Bali must call in at Kawah Ijen, where a sunrise hike takes you up from the fertile paddy fields at the volcano’s base to a summit looking straight down into its ice blue crater lake, at which point you might feel like you’ve landed on a different planet. Trekking along the path with you are Ijen’s superhuman sulphur miners, who dig down into the crater for the ‘devils gold’, ferrying loads of up to 90kg between the crater and trailhead.
In the centre of Java, roughly halfway between Mt Ijen and Yogyakarta, is the equally stunning Bromo-Temenggor National Park. Sitting within a huge volcanic massif which also houses Mt Semeru and Mt Batok, a viewpoint over the three peaks, with the otherworldly ‘sea of sands’ in the foreground, is one of Indonesia’s most iconic and sought after photography opportunities. As with Ijen, the area houses several fantastic luxury lodges, allowing you to explore the incredible scenery in comfort and style.
The Gili Islands
Made up of three tiny islands just a short boat ride from Lombok, Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air have many things in common, including postcard-perfect beaches and crystal-clear blue water with an abundance of exotic marine life, but they each offer something unique of their own. Gili Trawangan is the most developed and the largest: it has a party scene of sorts, but still a very relaxed getaway. Gili Meno is the smallest, known for its thriving population of sea turtles, while Gili Air is home to the most authentic villages and traditional huts, which sell locally produced crafts.
Komodo National Park
In a country of endlessly striking scenery, Komodo may be the most staggering. Coming across from Bali or Java you’ll notice the landscape become dramatically drier and starker, with the Komodo National Park made up of countless earthy-toned islands, contrasted by beautiful coral blues and pink-hued beaches. The best way to explore the Park is on a charter cruise, taking you from islet to islet, where you’ll come face to face with the famous Komodo dragons – as well as a host of other unforgettable adventures both on land and under the sea.
Sulawesi has a wealth of attractions, but top of any visitor’s list is a memorable journey up into the central highlands to the villages around Rantepao – home to the famed Toraja people. The Toraja have long held a fascination for anthropologists and intrepid travellers alike, known for their unique attitudes towards the deceased and their elaborate, multi-day funeral celebrations. Toraja villages – dotted all across this mountainous region – are easy to spot for their unique saddleback tongkonan houses. A visit to this region is an experience unlike any other in Indonesia – or the world.
Manado & Bunaken Marine Park
At the northeastern tip of Sulawesi is Manado. With a busy little airport connecting to Bali, Jakarta, and Singapore this smallish city is a jumping-off point for adventures inland – up to the slopes of Minahasa and Tomohon, known for their beautiful gardens, intriguing village life, and rewarding hikes around Mt Mahawu – or off-shore, into the little-visited Bunaken National Marine Park. The latter is another of Indonesia’s underwater oases, with several excellent dive resorts offering an off-grid and highly attractive slice of paradise.
A journey of around 5 hours’ takes you from the clogged, unloveable urban sprawl of Medan deep into the rich jungles of Gunung Leuser National Park. Here you’ll find the tiny riverside village of Bukit Lawang, your base for adventures into the heart of the pristine park, trekking for sightings of orang-utan, rhino, elephant, and a huge array of tropical birds, reptiles, and lizards. Accommodation here is basic at best but those of an adventurous disposition which will be richly rewarded.
Tanjung Puting National Park
The immense and many storied island of Borneo is shared by both Malaysia and Indonesia, with the latter taking up by far the majority of the island. Unlike Malaysian Borneo however, much of the Indonesian half – known as Kalimantan – is dense and untravelled wilderness. A few small pockets are open to tourism, chief among them the Tanjung Puting National Park, in the south of the island. Accommodation is simple but memorable, with overnight stays possible sleeping on the top deck of ‘klotok’ river boats, which wind their way along the Sekonyer River looking out for swinging orang-utans and tropical birds.
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