A travel guide to the gorgeous island of Bali
Terraced emerald rice paddies, volcanoes rising through pink clouds, friendly locals, endless festivals, Hindu temples... Bali is Heaven on Earth, yet terrorist bombs in 2002 and 2005 sent Western tourists packing—and prices in the doldrums (hotels from $15, meals from $5).
A post-9/11 discomfort with traveling to Muslim nations has kept visitors away in droves, but Bali is a peaceful Hindu island, and the local government has ratcheted up security.
Travel to Bali is as safe as anywhere these days, so the question is: do you stay at the beach resorts of Kuta (lots of international tourists and thumping clubs) or in the inland crafts capital of Ubud (ideal for lovers of art, music, and festivals)?
What to see on Bali
Especially to Aussies on a sun-and-sea getaway, Bali means beaches.
Kuta/Legian comprise nearly four-miles golden sand lined by resorts and packed with holidaymakers (paradise for partiers; not for those in search of quiet and/or culture).
For more peace, head to Candidasa on the east coast, or the black sands of Lovina on the north coast.
Beyond the beaches there are shipwrecks to dive, jungles to trek, and more than 20,000 pura (temples) to visit—the best is Tanah Lot, perched atop a rocky outcropping on the beach, and Pura Besakih, a complex of more than 20 temples halfway up Gunung Agung volcano.
What to Experience on Bali
Bali's kaleidoscope of Hindu festivals fill the calendar nearly every day, whether temple celebrations or simple family weddings or funerals (much more festive than Western ones). Outsiders are often welcome and invited.
Traditional dance, gamelan, and shadow puppet performances fill the nights in Ubud, which is also the best base for visiting the surrounding villages of artists and traditional craftspeople.
Also: climb Gunung Batur volcano to take in the sunrise.
Where to Stay on Bali
For the cheapest and most genuine Bali experience, ask the tourist office for a list of (or simply wander the alleys looking for) losmen, private homes where two can stay for around $5 to $15.
On the hotel front, beach nuts can get the best of both worlds—digs in downtown Kuta, but in thatched cottages surrounded by gardens rather than modern low-rises—at Poppies Cottages (011-62-361-751-059, www.poppiesbali.com, $66-$79).
To experience the quiet of Lovina, try Rambutan Beach Cottages, set amid coconut and fruit groves (011-62-362-41388, www.rambutan.org, $15-$60).
Alam Sari is a quiet hotel outside Ubud devoted to maintaining local traditions in decor, live music, and activities (011-62-361-981-420, www.alamsari.com, $55-$65).
Where to Dine on Bali
Most Bali restaurants cater to an international crowd. Best of the bunch at the beach is, again, Poppies, mixing upscale cuisine (Balinese and international) and a lush garden setting with downscale prices (full meals well under $10).
In Ubud, sample authentic Balinese cooking at Batan's Waru (011-62-361-977-528, www.baligoodfood.com) or at the dozen-course feast held several nights a week at Ketut's Palace guesthouse (www.indo.com/hotels/ketut-place).
Planning a Bali vacation
Best times to visit: June, Sept.
Tourist info: Bali Tourism Authority (www.balitourismauthority.net) and Indonesia tourism (www.indonesia.travel). Also check out the independent sites devoted to Bali, including www.baliblog.com, www.baliguide.com, and www.bali-paradise.com, plus the excellent Southeast Asia site www.travelfish.org.