Tegenungan Waterfall, Bali
Photograph: Shutterstock

The best things to do in Bali, from hanging with monkeys to mountain sunrises

Unsure how to make the most of your time in paradise? We’ve got you – from wellness to wildlife, this is your guide to the very best things to do in Bali


Bali is one of the world’s great tropical hideaways. An adventure seeker’s paradise and a spiritual sanctuary rolled into one, it’s a destination that appeals to families and retirees as much as it does to digital nomads and young hedonists. And while there are certain destinations verging on overtouristed, when you venture outside of the usual spots you’ll find that Bali lives up to its reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful islands.

So what are the best things to do in Bali? We’ve rounded up a perfect mix of Bali’s best experiences, from the justly popular to the unexpectedly exciting. With enough stuff to inspire the most tireless adrenaline junkie or the most demanding culture vulture, this locally-curated list will turn a visit to the Island of the Gods into a heavenly vacation.

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The best experiences and things to do in Bali

1. Catch a wave

Surfing has long been part of the Bali dream. While the island has several world-class breaks that can test even the pros (especially around the southern Bukit Peninsula), Kuta Beach is one of the best places to surf, with dozens of board-rental stands and willing tutors lined up along the sand. The Bukit’s Dreamland surf break and Canggu’s legendary Old Man’s – where tamer waves break over sand instead of reefs – are also great places to hone your skills. Baliboarders is a collective of experienced local surf teachers who can operate as tutors or guides anywhere on the island.

2. Practise yoga

Ubud has become one of the world centres for yoga – although the hedonistic hipster hangout of Canggu has been doing its best to unbalance the old guru from her yogi pedestal. Around Ubud you can find everything from cheap drop-in classes to ‘complimentary’ classes at thousand-dollar-per-night luxury hotels. The Yoga Barn and Radiantly Alive are battling it out (albeit with decorous mutual respect) for the title of Ubud’s premier yoga studio. Each has their dedicated partisans, but you won’t go wrong with either – they’re both such well-respected brands that they attract the world’s best teachers.


3. Hang out with macaques at a monkey forest

Another hardly-secret spot, but there’s a reason why Ubud’s Monkey Forest is the number one tourist sight on the island. Even if you visit several times there’s always something new to see – look out for the few young monkeys who enjoy swimming underwater in the fountains. While you’re happily bonding with our simian cousins, keep in mind that macaques consider grinning to be aggressive behaviour. For a less ‘in-your-face’ monkey experience head to the relatively unknown Sangeh Monkey Forest, just a 45-minute drive away.

4. Take a ‘safari’ in the Wild West

Okay, this is hardly Big Five country – sadly, the last Bali tiger was shot over 80 years ago – but Bali’s far north-western tip boasts a jungle wilderness that defies all you might have heard about ‘overcrowded, overdeveloped’ Bali. West Bali National Park is still very much a secret spot, well beyond the radar for most travellers and islanders alike. Majestic sambar deer gallop through the shallow and squirrels as big as cats jump through the canopy. You have an excellent chance of sightings of Bali starlings (one of the world’s rarest birds) and rare endemic ebony leaf monkeys. Stay overnight at The Menjangan, one of Bali’s most idyllic resorts. Its timber jungle watchtower offers views toward jungle-clad hills, which are home to flocks of flying foxes and, amazingly, hornbills.


5. Catch the sunrise on Mount Batur

Bali has often been called ‘The Morning of the World’ for its spellbinding tropical sunrises and the 1,717-metre summit of Batur Volcano is arguably the best place on the island to witness it. Hundreds of trekkers set out around 3am each morning for a spiritual rendezvous with the rising sun – or, in many cases, just hoping for the selfie of a lifetime. This is hardly a secret spot but its place is justified on a tick-list of must-do experiences because of the views of Mount Agung (Bali’s highest peak) and Mount Rinjani (on neighbouring Lombok). For a more solitary and spiritual experience, consider climbing remoter Batukaru, at 2,276m the island’s second-highest peak.

6. Swim under a waterfall

The tropical rainfall on Bali’s volcanic peaks creates a profusion of waterfalls as the island’s lifeblood makes its way down to the stepped paddy terraces. Some have become such celebrated ‘beauty spots’ that they are long since mired by garbage, but there are some lesser-known beauties that are just remote enough to retain that picture-postcard perfection. Tegenungan Waterfall (a 15-metre drop) is one of the most popular thanks to its accessibility from Ubud. But Nungnung Waterfall – accessible via a return trip of 1000 steps into an unspoiled gorge – is more spectacular. Remoter still, on the north side of the island you’ll find Sekumpul Waterfall, where you can cool off in a pool formed by a grouped cascade of seven waterfalls. With the main drop crashing down from 80 metres, you’d be unwise to swim directly under this one.


7. Explore the villages on a scooter

There are arguably more bikes per capita here than anywhere in the world and, thanks to competition, you can rent a scooter for as little as $2. For that price, you can’t expect insurance or even much in the way of maintenance, so we’d recommend paying a little more and looking for reputable places to rent. BaliMotion.pro and Bali4Rider rent well-maintained scooters with insurance from about $6 per day, rising to around $17 for more powerful, sportier models.

8. Hit the trails around Sidemen village

The drive across the countryside from Ubud to Sidemen takes in one of Bali’s most beautiful roads – a rollercoaster ride across steep ravines, through shimmering paddies and past flower-decked villages. Sidemen itself is the sort of rural hideaway that evokes images of what Ubud might have been like before western tourists arrived. It’s perhaps illuminating that back in the 1930s Walter Spies – the rebel artist and socialite who lived in Ubud – built a Sidemen villa as a hideaway when visitors became a bit much. Ninety years later Sidemen is still a cool place to go hiking through unspoiled rural valleys, fruit orchards and forests.


9. Dive (or snorkel) Balinese reefs

While Bali’s wave-pounded southern coast draws surfers by the thousands, globe-trotting divers are frequently astounded to find world-class diving along the sheltered north coast. Menjangan Island – offshore from West Bali National Park – offers truly spectacular snorkelling or diving (as long as rainy season currents haven’t brought the garbage in), with sightings of sharks, rays, turtles and sometimes even whale-shark. Lovina and Pemuteran both have reefs that are accessible from the beach, but the town of Amed is Bali’s dive centre par excellence, with several unforgettable wreck dives. Bali Hai, the island’s biggest dive operator, runs diving day trips to offshore reefs around Nusa Lembongan Island – the highlight is a spot aptly named ‘Manta Alley’.

10. Walk with (pink!) buffalo

Buffalo have been an intrinsic part of Indonesian culture for centuries. West Bali is one of the few places in the entire archipelago where you can find pink buffalo, but even here they are rapidly approaching extinction as they are replaced with machinery for paddy work. A few are still used in sacrifices or in the brutal West Balinese sport of mekepung (buffalo chariot racing), but paddy-farmer Nengah Sudana has found a more ecological use for his animals through his Pink Buffalo Walks. His tours give an insight into the traditions and irrigation systems that are part of the island’s millennia-old rice farming culture.


11. Relax at a beach club

Bali is full of beach clubs, but the stand-out has to be Seminyak’s Potato Head Beach Club. Having earned the gratitude of countless islanders during the pandemic for its innovative ‘Sweet Potato’ food distribution and local support schemes, Potato Head is as much a community hub as it is a place to hang out. The Potato Head village is a destination in itself with several great bars and restaurants – including Tanaman, spearheaded by visionary plant-based super-chef Dom Hammond – alongside music venues, yoga spaces, a library, and Bali’s best co-working space, all laid out around two wonderfully decadent infinity pools.

12. Visit a sea temple

While Besakih is the mother temple for Balinese Hindus, Uluwatu Temple is probably the most famous religious drawcard for visitors. Understandable, given its truly breathtaking clifftop location above the wave-smashed reefs of one of the world’s most challenging surfing amphitheatres. There are several so-called sea temples – Tanah Lot Temple also draws sunset-chasers because of its similarly spectacular location on a steep islet (inaccessible during high tides). To experience the serenity and splendour of such a location in solitude, head farther out west to Rambut Siwi Temple, with views over a stretch of deserted beach. Climb down to the beach to explore the (fairly spooky) shrine grottos along the cliff face.


13. Shoot the rapids in Ayung Valley

The jungle-clad slopes of Ayung Valley are an unexpected geographical feature, lying as they do within a stone’s throw of Ubud town. A white-water rafting trip down the Ayung River is a fun way to explore this unique part of the Balinese landscape, especially for seekers of thrills and (if requested) spills. Mason Adventures can combine an Ayung Valley rafting trip with cycling trips from the volcanic peaks of the island down through forests, rice fields, and villages, and past ancient Hindu temples.

14. Cruise among the world’s most vibrant fishing fleet

If this fleet of around 150 colourful boats was moored in east or central Bali rather than at Perancak inlet on the island’s west coast, the place would be overrun with souvenir shops. As it stands, you’re unlikely to see a single tourist here. There’s no sightseeing infrastructure, but a little offering of uang merokok (literally ‘cigarette money’) should be enough to inspire a boatman to putter you around this glittering array of vibrant vessels.


15. Learn the secrets of Indonesian cooking

Our memories of Bali are inscribed on our tastebuds. Fresh, fragrant, spicy, sweet, tangy, nutty and, above all, imbedded firmly in fare grown (sometimes literally) metres from where you are standing. Indonesian cookery is truly like nothing else, which is why a little gastronomic detour to your trip will have your feeling like you know the place like nothing else. Visit a local market, see rice growing abundantly in a plantation and learn authentic cooking techniques and recipes to impressing all and sundry when you return home. Oh, and then eat, eat, eat on the feast you prepare.

16. Leave your heart at the top of the ‘Smashdown’ waterslide

Kids (of all ages) are thrilled by the 16 waterslides, manmade rivers, lagoons, pools and FlowRider surf waves at Waterbom. It’s hardly a secret spot but there’s a reason why it’s been one of Bali’s favourite venues for almost three decades. The iconic waterpark has a whole new section opening in 2023, with four extra slides, a lagoon pool, and extra dining venues.


17. Meet Bali’s feathered population on a bird walk

This small but incredibly diverse island is home to almost 350 bird species. Despite rampaging development, the paddies, forested canyons, and jungle temples of Ubud remain an important bird habitat. Ace birding guide Sumadi, at Bali Bird Walks, is an expert at catching elusive sightings of her island’s feathered population. She’s also a wealth of knowledge on the paddy-farming system and on all aspects of traditional Balinese life.

18. Sip on sundowners at Rock Bar

Nothing says ‘vacation’ like sipping on a cocktail and watching the sunset, right? If you agree, make Rock Bar Bali your go-to spot for paradise sundowners. Perched on dramatic rock formations over the coast at Jimbaran, this cocktail bar and restaurant is regularly listed among the world’s best hotel bars. Keep an eye on the fixtures list because it’s also one of Bali’s chicest music venues, with a DJ booth carved into the cliff face and an elevated stage from which live bands can serenade the stars. It’s part of Ayana Resort, but is open to the public – just don’t rock up in your flip-flops, as smart attire is required.


19. Stroll the Campuhan Ridge Walk (or an even better alternative)

Once the celebrated hangout of resident Ubud artist Walter Spies and friends, Campuhan Ridge Walk still gets headline billing on countless Bali blogs and websites. There’s not much to this 1.5km paved trail, however. For a prettier stroll, head along the less-hackneyed subak trails just to the north of Ubud. Follow Subak Sok Wayah northwards and you’ll wander through a lovely patchwork of paddies, with a number of charming little cafés to keep you motivated. Turn your stroll into a longer circular walk by crossing a narrow valley (shortly after you pass Sunset Café) and returning to town via Subak Juwuk Manis. Thanks to the rotating cycle of the rice seasons, this walk seems to be different every time you do it.

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