Bali is a dream destination for many people, myself included. However it caters to so many different types of tourism, that naturally not everyone can love every part of it. Some places are best suited if you’re looking for a surfing holiday, others for a yoga retreat and others yet for a party weekend with your friends. In this article I will run you through all the places to avoid in Bali, in my opinion, listing both pros and cons of each location. Who knows, maybe the areas I would avoid actually sound like your dream holiday!
- 1 Places to avoid in Bali
- 2 Off the beaten track places to discover in Bali
- 3 Touristy but cool areas of Bali
- 4 Where to stay in Bali
Places to avoid in Bali
We only visited Tanah Lot as we were staying in a villa close by and since it is always listed as one of the main attractions and best sunset spots in Bali, we figured we should give it a shot. However I found myself extremely disliking Tanah Lot and would not recommend it, going as far as placing it in my list of areas to avoid in Bali. While the temple itself is impressive, perched on a rock in the middle of the sea, the whole area surrounding it is flooded with people. You can’t even go inside the temple. There is a set of steps along the rock to the side of the temple that look like they might lead inside, we tried following them but were told we had to get blessed and donate an offering to have access to it. While it can be fun the stairs don’t actually lead anywhere, and stop half way up the side of the rock formation, way before being able to get in the temple.
If however you do want to visit Tanah Lot the main tip I have for you is to not visit in the middle of the day, go maximum an hour and a half before the sunset as this is really the only main attraction there. Be ready for A LOT of people. If you were coming especially for it from further away I wouldn’t do it. From a personal point of view, the heat and the amount of people put me off. Yes it’s by the sea but there isn’t really a beach, it’s all rocky so chilling by the beach and water isn’t much of an option. I’m not saying it’s not worth visiting, I’m just warning you that it is not the idyllic temple it can seem in photo.
On my first trip to Bali we spent a couple days in Seminyak when we first arrived, as it’s close to the airport and I had hotel points I could use at the Marriott there. This might not be the best spot if you’re looking for a relaxing getaway, as there are a lot of tourists and traffic (although you can’t really seem to escape that in Bali). Everything is slightly overpriced, from the hotels to the restaurants, understandably so as it’s one of the main tourist areas in Bali. While there are some cool aspects to Seminyak (more on it below) we didn’t enjoy the overall vibe to it. We found it a bit of a stressful location, which isn’t what you want on a relaxing holiday.
Seminyak is however a great spot for surfing and dinners on the beach while watching the sunset. I had only been surfing two or three times before and was determined to improve my skills. There are lots of places along the beach that rent boards and offer lessons, and you can easily haggle on the price, we rented two boards for half a day for less than 10 GBP. Seminyak Beach is also a good place to practice as a beginner as it is not particularly crowded and the waves are long and low. There are lots of bars with bean bags where you can sit to enjoy dinner with the sunset and most of the bars will also have live music. It’s quite a touristy part of Bali, and it might not be the best if you’re trying to get away from that, but it worked fine for us as we wanted to surf and have a chill first couple days as we had just arrived and were quite jet lagged.
Imagine Seminyak and multiply all the negative things about it by ten. Kuta is the Aussie party central of Bali. I have been to Bali twice now and still haven’t been to Kuta, but from the reputation it has I am not interested in visiting it. While accommodation and drinks may be relatively cheap, I would not want to spend my Bali trip there. The tourist influence is so strong that it has very little of Balinese left, you can read more about that here. However if you’re going on a lads trip looking for a good party holiday, then Kuta is the place for you! If you’re looking for alternatives to Kuta, check out this article to find out why you should go to Uluwatu instead of Kuta.
Off the beaten track places to discover in Bali
The whole Northern region of Bali is often ignored and widely underrated. This is where the best waterfalls, temples and rice fields can be found. It is also considerably less busy, since all the touristy areas (Seminyak, Kuta, Canggu etc) are further down in the Southern part of the island. You can visit the north of Bali on day trips from the south, however if you have the time I would highly recommend staying a few nights in areas like Munduk. Also, regardless of what area of Bali you are in, check out this article to learn how to do things like the locals do.
Cepaka is a small village on the Western side of Bali, a short 15-minute drive away from the popular Canggu. We stayed in Cepaka for two nights in the most beautiful villa at Villa Sungai, truly submerged in the Balinese atmosphere. If you are looking for a relaxing and secluded getaway away from other tourists, this is the place for you. We went for a walk around the village and were pleasantly surprised to find we were the only tourists out and about. The busy roads of Seminyak filled with scooters are a distant memory here. It is also a short drive away from Tanah Lot, one of the most famous temples and sunset spots in Bali (which I’ve already told you to avoid but hey if you really want to go, at least make sure to check out Cepaka first)!
Keramas is on the Eastern coast of Bali, another area which is widely under estimated. The beaches here are empty, with only the locals surfing and a couple resorts along the shore. To get here we drove across beautiful rice fields and small villages, to eventually reach a lovely restaurant called Timur Kitchen where we had an amazing lunch, characterised by a fusion of Balinese and Western cuisines. Close by there is also a natural marine park where you can go snorkelling and scuba diving.
Touristy but cool areas of Bali
I figured that in this list of places in Bali to avoid like the plague and off the beaten track places to discover, I should include also a list of areas that aren’t really untouched but are still pretty cool. In these areas of Bali you can expect the traffic and business of Seminyak, however they actually have something to offer in my opinion and are worth the crowds.
If you’re looking for a yoga retreat, this is the place for you. Surrounded by green rice fields the small town of Ubud is a popular location full of fancy resorts where you can relax immersed in nature. It is home to the famous terraced rice fields of Tegalalang, which you can explore and feel like you are in “Eat, Pray, Love”. While access to the rice fields is free you will find there are little stalls around where locals will ask you for a small donation. Ubud also has a famous Monkey Forest where you can go play with monkeys. There is also a huge market that the fans of colourful dresses and jumpsuits like me will absolutely love. However in the actual town itself the traffic is pretty bad, second only maybe to that of Kuta. While I still enjoyed my time in Ubud it is far from the idyllic green yoga retreat they paint it to be. Ubud is also famous for the waterfalls that surround it, amongst which the famous Tegenungan Waterfall.
Nusa Dua is in the North-East of Bali and is considered one of the few areas of Bali where the beaches are actually nice. If you follow my Instagram account you will know I’m spoilt when it comes to beaches. While I enjoy surfing I don’t enjoy beaches like Seminyak Beach since the big waves, so perfect for surfing, don’t make it a pleasant beach to relax at. Nusa Dua instead actually has white sandy beaches with turquoise water that isn’t too disrupted by oceanic waves. However it is also where the majority of big resorts are concentrated and all that comes with them; the traffic, touristy shops and overprices restaurants. Not far off the coast of Nusa Dua is Nusa Penida, a beautiful island that is quickly becoming a popular tourist destination. I haven’t been there myself, so check out this guide to the best things to do and places to visit in Nusa Penida by Travel Through My Eye.
If you’re a digital nomad looking for a home base, this is the place for you. Just to the north of Seminyak, Canggu is similar to it but with a much more chilled vibe. There is a beach where you can surf and while the streets are busy with scooters the traffic isn’t quite as overwhelming. There is also no shortage of cool and quirky coffee shops where you can eat or work if you need a reliable internet connection. It’s also a very popular area for first time visitors and for solo trips to Bali. If you want to learn more about eating in Bali, check out this ultimate Bali food guide. I personally didn’t go surfing here as I thought it was too crowded, but I really enjoyed the vibe and meeting so many expats living in the area. One of my personal favourite restaurants there was Moana’s Fish Eatery. If you want to know more about this part of Bali, check out this Canggu travel guide.
Where to stay in Bali
As you may have guessed by now, that really depends on the kind of holiday you’re after. Bali is also exceptional in the wide diversity of accommodation, with prices a night ranging from 5 GBP for a hostel dorm to 600 GBP for a private villa, there’s something out there really for all tastes and budgets. I have travelled around Bali a lot and tried my fair share of both fancy resorts and cheaper AirBnbs, some of the places I have personally stayed at and can recommend include:
In Seminyak: Courtyard by Marriott
As previously mentioned I only stayed here as I had Marriott points to use (one of the few perks of my corporate job that I recently quit). With rooms starting at approximately 100 GBP it’s a bit pricey, but good value for money. The rooms are big and spacious, and the breakfast buffet is amazing. They also throw in a few free services such as a shuttle to the beach and free beach beds and umbrellas.
In Ubud: Desa Visesa or Komaneka at Monkey Forest
I stayed in Ubud twice on separate occasions and in very different types of hotels. The first time I stayed at Komaneka at Monkey Forest, located right in the centre of Ubud, an easy walking distance to all the main attractions. Despite being so central it wasn’t noisy, and the resort is very beautiful. I also stayed in a resort called Desa Visesa, which was a bit outside the centre of Ubud but they offer a free shuttle service in the town centre. Both offer standard rooms at affordable prices, or private villas with pool if you’re looking for something a bit fancier.
In Cepaka: Villa Sungai
If you’re willing to splurge a bit on your Bali trip, Villa Sungai is the place to do it. Villa Sungai has been featured multiple times in luxury travel magazines and has won multiple awards. The property itself is beautiful, with outdoors bathrooms and private pools. The staff are simply stunning and really go out of their way to make your stay there unforgettable.
In Canggu: Pondok Homestay
In Canggu we stayed at a lovely AirBnb a short 20 minute walk down to the beach. For 24 EUR a night we had a private ensuite room with air conditioning and a pool. The property was just off the main road and next to a rice field, away from the noise of the trafficker road, which made it a very quiet and pleasant place to stay. If you’re looking for other cool places to stay in Bali, check out here my guide to the best villas in Bali with private pools!
Have you been to Bali before? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear from you if you would recommend and avoid the same places, let me know in the comments below! Once again I want to clarify that this is entirely based on my opinion and experience, maybe the places I would avoid are the ones you would love to visit and vice versa. Just use these as an indication when planning your trip. If you’re looking for more Bali inspiration, check out this list of the 101 most awesome things to do in Bali. Personally, on both trips to Bali I actually enjoyed visiting the neighbouring islands much more than Bali itself; when I went hiking an active volcano in East Java and swimming with turtles in Gili Trawangan. If you’re looking for more Indonesia inspiration beyond Bali check out this guide of the best things to do in Bintan.