What with all the cheap flights that are now available to the Indonesian island of Bali, more and more people are popping across for a short holiday of anything from a couple of days to a week. So what’s the best way to spend a short break in Bali?
The simple answer is it depends … on you.
Are you looking for a week-long laze on the beach with a bit of surfing thrown in or would you prefer bike riding and volcano climbing? You’ve no double heard of Eat, Pray, Love so perhaps a hideaway in the hills of Ubud with a generous dose of yoga thrown in would do the trick?
We’re going to depart from our standard itinerary model and instead suggest a few different places for different kinds of people — you can put the pieces together yourself.
Bali is bigger than you may think and the generally poor standard of roads — and the heavy traffic in the south — makes the going even more time consuming than it should be. This means that while it is possible to get around by the local transport system (bemos) in practice most people tend to get around by hire car or taxi.
We’d say with a week, pick three spots at the most as you’ll otherwise be spending too much of your time in transport, packing and unpacking.
Bali in a nutshell
Here are some of the main destinations in Bali you might be looking to fit in to your week-long stay. Remember: no more than three!
This is the heart of the south Bali beach set. Kuta and Legian are the most crass, migrating to something slightly more upmarket in Seminyak. Think an oversupply of bars and restaurants, some really quite good, some awful. Similarly awful are the touts and dodgy characters. On the plus side, especially in Kuta you’ll find some very affordable beds (and beers), and the beach, when clean, is quite good for learning to surf on. If you’re young (or young at heart) and like to party, this is where all the action is. Beyond Seminyak lies Canggu, once all paddy, now filling with high-walled private villas which are often (illegally) available for rent.
The teardrop shaped sandstone rise at the southern tip of Bali is home to some of its best beaches. Balangan, Padang Padang, Bingin and Uluwatu are just the better known of some classic Bali breaks. Most beaches have a good range of budget beds, but bear in mind you’ll be a long way from the party at Kuta/Legian. Many choose to stay at the latter, commuting for the waves by motorbike.
This is Bali’s five-star bubble. When Obama comes to hang out in Bali and meet with other world leaders, this is where he stays. Think five-star resorts with six-star food and drink prices. Like the rest of the Bukit, you’re quite isolated here and while the hotels can seem affordable for the standard, they’ll kill you on F&B. Nusa Dua is popular with families due to its calm waters and self-contained resorts, but as independent travellers, this is not somewhere we’d put near the top of our list.
Ubud is struggling with its popularity. The traffic is terrible, touts worse and the beautiful rice paddies are slowly being paved over for yet more hotels and resorts. It retains a charm and sublime beauty once you’re off the main streets. It’s popular with new agers, yogis, outdoors types and those trying to discover their inner selves with a yoga mat under one arm and a copy of EPL under the other. The town goes to bed early and is known more for its organic food than its party scene. If you’re looking for the scenery without the touts and hordes, consider either Sideman(midway between Ubud and Candi Dasa) or Munduk (halfway from Ubud to Pemuteran).
Sanur and Candi Dasa
Both are old school family beach resort areas. Sanur has a good offshore reef break,Candi Dasa some good snorkelling. Neither’s beaches are lovely — Candi Dasa has next to no beach left. Prices are moderate and both can serve as good bases to visit outlying sites. Think: slow couple of days with the family.
Amed and Lovina
North Bali has no surf to speak of. Amed is well regarded for snorkelling and its laidback vibe, Lovina for its dolphins and incredibly persistent touts. The hinterland behind both are beautiful. Both are best with your own transport and Amed has by far the better beaches.
Pemuteran and Menjangan Island sit on the far northwest tip of Bali. Pemuteran itself has a pleasant enough beach with some average snorkelling but is otherwise quite unremarkable; nevertheless it’s the best place from which to visit Menjangan Island, which has the best snorkelling and diving in Bali. Around on the southwest coast you have Medewi and Balian. Both are surfing hotspots and while lovely, may bore after a few days if you don’t like getting wet.
Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan
These three islands off the coast from Sanur are gaining in popularity. Nearly all the accommodation is on Nusa Lembongan. Lembongan and Ceningan are well regarded for their beaches and surf. Penida will appeal to outdoors types and those comfortable roughing it as accommodation is very limited.
So what to do in a week?
If you’re looking for a mixed beach holiday but not intending to spend the entire time learning to surfing, then we’d suggest Kuta, Legian or Seminyak (depending on your budget/interests) or Sanur (a sleepier option) for two nights, followed by two nights in Ubud and two nights at one north Bali destination (we’d recommend Amed or Pemuteran over Lovina).
If beach isn’t your thing, then start in Ubud for two nights, followed by two in Sideman and two in Munduk. You will need your own transport to do this comfortably. If you wanted longer in Ubud, then we’d skip Munduk.
If all you want to do is surf, then we’d say base yourself somewhere on the Bukit for four nights, trying the various breaks out (we’ve a soft spot for Balangan, but there are lots of other beaches on the Bukit) and spend the other two nights at either Medewi or Balian. Another option would be to switch Medewi or Balian for Nusa Lembongan.
For divers and snorkellers who’d rather be under the waves than over them, we’d suggest one night in Pemuteran (with trips to Menjangan Island), two nights in Amed (with a day trip to Tulamben), and three nights on Nusa Lembongan or Nusa Ceningan.
An option for those travelling with kids would be to do two nights in Sanur, Amed and Ubud. Sanur and Amed have calm waters so are quite safe for swimming, and Ubud, with its ricefield walks, can be quite a bit of fun as well as educational for children. Don’t forget to grab a copy of Bali for Kids.