Grab those travel pillows! This month we’ve got a very special edition of the #gaanguide. We’re headed overseas to one of the world’s most exotic, adventurous and inspiring locations: Bali, Indonesia.
It’s no surprise that people from all over the world in search of adventures, spirituality, delicious food, and unrivaled scenery are flocking to Bali – a destination that truly has it all. Hopefully you’re able to enjoy an extended stay (given the time to travel there and adjust, we suggest spending at least a week), and because you’ll want to cover a lot of ground, we’re breaking out our favorite Bali highlights into Adventures, Places to Stay and our can’t-miss places to eat and drink. It goes without saying that the climate in Bali is tropical – it’s hot, and humid and all of nature’s creatures flourish – including mosquitos. For your enjoyment, and your safety, don’t forget to bring along a variety of our body cleansing & personal use wipes and all-natural mosquito repellent wipes. They’ll quickly become your best friend. So, as they say in Bali “ayo pergi!” or “let’s go!” Here’s our #gaanguide to an unforgettable time to Bali.
If you thought your Balinese getaway would entail laying on a hammock beside an infinity pool and not moving for a week, you’re in the wrong place. While we’re huge advocates of unwinding (and have plenty of recs to help you do just that), this wouldn’t be the #gaanguide if we didn’t start with some recommendations for active adventure.
With endless views of waterfalls, rainforests and crystal water lakes, taking a few hikes and on-foot excursions during your stay is our preferred method for exploring all of Bali’s wonder. Plus, you’ll work up a ferocious appetite for all the delicious food you’re about to consume.
The Banyumala Twin Waterfalls in Gitgit is easy compared to many more advanced hikes on the island. The descent is a mere 20-minutes, but the reward is monumental. You’ll arrive at a basin with picture perfect twin waterfalls flowing into a gorgeous swimming area, just in time for a refreshing dip amidst the tropical heat. Watch out for slippery rocks and surfaces along the way and wear the right shoes! (Cue product pick for June: SIMARI Women’s & Men’s Quick-Dry Water Shoes). Next up, the treks found in the West Bali National Park are definitely off-the-beaten-path, and equally worth checking out. The trails are moderate in terms of expertise, and you won’t be alone, as the park is home to many local animal species including deer, monkeys, iguanas and over 300 different birds. The trails are marked by estimated duration, and span from shorter 1-2 hour hikes, all the way up to a 7-hour hike that takes you throughout the entire park, ending at a picturesque snorkel-spot just off the coast. If you’re a seasoned hiker looking for an unconventional excursion, we recommend taking a Mount Batur Sunrise Trek (guided tours are plentiful, or you can take it on your own). Head to bed early, because you’ll be leaving the hotel around 1:30am in order to reach the peak of Mount Batur by sunrise. Guides are equipped with flaming head-torches (don’t try this at home folks, they’re experts), and the fire will light the path up the ancient volcano until dawn. After 2.5-3 hours up, you’ll arrive in time for the most magnificent day break, and if you used a guide company, they’ll even pour you a fresh cup of coffee as you take in the scenery. Island guides mark this hike as moderate to difficult, and we mark it as a must do.
Mount Batur at sunrise - pictures certainly don't do it justice!
The beaches in Bali are plentiful, and one would have to spend months on the island to enjoy them all. We love the vibe at Balian Beach in Tabanan, with its jet-black volcanic sand and minimal crowds, it’s a special escape on the western coast. The beach is popular with surfers, and there are several little cafes and surfboard rental shops on the waterfront, but it’s still quiet and laid back. It has our vote as an excellent spot to walk for miles on the uninterrupted coastline. Thomas Beach in Uluwatu has managed to stay a well-guarded secret, with only the most curious of travelers venturing down the path to one of Bali’s most beautiful spots. To find this gem, head to Suka Espresso and follow the dirt track opposite the cafe. Head down the marked path of 175 steps and you’ll arrive at a sprawling beach bordered by billowing palm trees. The shimmering blue water is calm and perfect for swimming, and there’s a long stretch of sand so it never feels too crowded.
Similar to the number of beaches, the yoga studios and retreats in Bali are plentiful to say the least, and there are endless ways to practice with local experts. The Yoga Barn in Ubud is famous for the atmosphere and the community building approach to yoga. It is a full-service studio and retreat center, so you can try a single class, or stay and participate in holistic healing sessions for a few days. Classes are held in the rustic outdoor barn and can choose from classical hatha, vinyasa flow, pranayama or a meditation or dance-based practice. For a smaller setting with expert teachers, we also love the Mana Yoga Studio in Lombok. This studio holds the belief is that Yoga is for everyone, which is validated via the mixed-level, no-reservations required policy. By offering different variations within the same class, you’ll be both challenged and rewarded based on your skill level and personal goals. They have a beautiful shower area to rinse off, and are located amongst several quaint cafes to grab a post-yoga beverage.
And now that we’ve been adequately active, let’s transition to the more relaxing part of our program! There is no shortage of options for massages in Bali. They are super inexpensive, ultra-relaxing and you can find them just about anywhere. From luxurious spa treatments at high-end resorts to street side (very satisfying) foot massages for tired toes, definitely plan to take some leisurely rest stops here and there. True spa lovers should also check out the island’s reserves of natural hot springs for a nice massage-alternative for relaxation. The Toya Devasya natural hot springs are housed at a resort and spa in Kintamani, with awesome views of Mount Batur (which you may have just conquered during your sunrise hike!). The water is known for it’s healing powers, rich in natural minerals that provide almost immediate relief for tension in tight muscles. The Angseri Hot Spring in central Bali is surrounded by rice fields and rolling hills. It’s oh so remote and peaceful. And for a livelier atmosphere, the Air Panas in Banjar, the hot springs are just inland from the popular Lovina coast in north Bali. There is a range of blue lagoon-style pools with warm water and hot stones, surrounded by tropical jungle. Many of the locals insist that Bali’s hot springs are a fountain of youth, and while we can’t guarantee you’ll age in reverse, we can guarantee you’ll leave feeling refreshed, and restored.
Regardless of where you stay in Bali, the exotic, jungle-like scenery is just outside your door. It can be tempting to stay put in one place, but if you can manage, we recommend staying in a few different spots during your stay to enjoy the culture and hospitality of the Balinese people across the island. Here are some of our top picks.
Be Bali Stay in Ubud is a wonderful Balinese homestay run by a very special local family. You’ll stay on their beautiful farm in a two-bedroom, two story house that is spacious, charming and equipped with a full kitchen. A balcony runs around the entire home with gorgeous views of the valley. The family is there to help make sure you have everything you need during your immersive island experience. For your inner chef, you can arrange a cooking lesson with Made’, one of the owners. She’ll teach you how to prepare a spread of traditional Balinese dishes and she’ll make sure you leave with new cooking skills and a very full stomach! Putu, the other owner, is a local philanthropist. He uses the proceeds from the villa bookings to help fund weekly English classes for children in the local village. So your stay will fill your mind, body and soul, and will benefit others as well.
If you want to turn even your sleeping arrangements into a true adventure, check out Hacco Capsule Hotel in Ubud. This is the first of it’s kind; a hotel comprised entirely of sleeping pods made from woven bamboo sheets set about 20 feet above the ground, accessible only via ladder. If you’ve ever dreamt of sleeping in a tree house, this option is for you. Each capsule costs only $40 a night and there’s no better way to see the stars. Just don’t skimp on gaan+co mosquito repellant wipes!
The views at Mu Bali, a boutique bungalow resort, are breathtaking. With a prime location perched on the cliff above Bingin beach, you can lose whole afternoons watching the sun glistening on the tips of the lapping waves. The resort is completely sustainable and environmentally friendly, with bungalows created using recycled and natural materials, such as beds made from bamboo and lights crafted from large seashells. The villas range in size, so they are perfect for solo travelers, or groups of 12, and the staff is super accommodating, making sure you have everything you need for a perfect stay. Dinner at Mu is community-style, so you can chat with fellow travelers over delicious homemade Indonesian and Mediterranean cuisine. There’s Cliffside Yoga, a spa with the most invigorating Foot Bath and Massage Ritual and a Fresh Squeezed Juice Bar that is complimentary for all guests.
Taman Sari is another resort with private huts and bungalows. It’s tucked away in a more remote location, so you’ll escape the tourists and stay amongst the coconut groves and beautiful ancient temples dotting the coastal mountain landscape. It’s quiet, with nature and marine preserves surrounding the resort. The experience is community based, so meals, activities and spiritual gatherings are designed to bring people together to take part in the cultural wonders of Bali.
EAT & DRINK
Eating in Bali is an adventure in itself; the local cuisine is affordable, fresh and packed with flavor. Here are some of our favorite spots to grab a beachside bite, a morning beverage or enjoy an island fine-dining experience.
Single Fin in Uluwatu is a perfect spot to start any day in Bali. The terrace is prime for travelers to take in the views, watch the local surfers and enjoy some of the freshest cuisine Bali has to offer. Their smoothie bowls are made with locally grown Acai berries, making for one of the healthiest breakfast options, (or brunch or lunch) on the Bukit Peninsula. Paired with a great cup of their signature drip coffee, you’ll feel energized as you embark on your day. Single Fin also has happy hour and dinner featuring fresh local fish, live music and everything from nutritious salads to heartier meals (we still dream about the fish tacos) that are perfect after a full day of exploring.
Another staple in Bali is Revolver Espresso near Seminyak Square in Oberoi. This local coffee purveyor is truly an establishment for locals and travelers alike. This Coffee Institution takes the art of roasting, grinding and brewing extremely seriously. The vibe is beautiful and relaxed, plus they have a menu of versatile and innovative dishes that appeal to every palette. We love the Most Wanted, an avocado toast on steroids served on house-baked sourdough bread topped with whipped feta, tahini, fennel, dill, and mint. They’ve got burgers, salads, and several vegetarian dishes that will be both familiar yet totally inventive all at the same time. You can also check out Baby Revolver, the smaller hole in the wall spin-off of Revolver, providing a haven for caffeine lovers with a small, but a mighty menu. With only eight seats, Baby Revolver has a cozy bohemian interior, and location is a bit quieter on Jalan Petitenget so it’s a nice place to relax.
TripAdvisor voted our next pick as one of the Top 10 Restaurants in all of Asia in 2018. Cuca is head chef Kevin Cherkas’s lifelong dream turned reality. He was formally trained at Michelin-starred restaurants (okay, let’s get real – he worked at El Bulli in Spain – the best restaurant in the world), and when he met his wife, he decided to say goodbye to formal fine dining and hello to an unpretentious, yet utterly delicious style of eating. Cuca is nestled in the coconut groves of Jimbaran, and serves up tapas-style dishes spanning three categories: ‘harvested’ – vegetables, ‘hooked’ – seafood, and ‘farmed’ – meat. Everything is local – and we mean everything. Cuca is on a mission to maximize freshness, support local farmers and growers and showcase the uniqueness of delicious local products. The Roasted Pork Buns are oozing with sticky bbq pork, slightly sweet pancake buns, pickled cabbage and coriander, and the Ricotta Risotto is a departure from the traditional dish using cheese dumplings, roasted watermelon, and a sun-dried tomato pesto. If you can swing it, go with a big group so you can try as many tapas as possible. Cuca is awesome for celebrating something extra special.
Another island favorite is Mama San. You can experience flavors from Indonesian, Balinese, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines, all in one spot. It’s been around for quite some time, managing to maintain big crowds for lunch and dinner every day despite the many culinary options in Seminyak. The ambiance is unique, the service is excellent and the menu is diverse and eclectic. The Limóncello martini available at the bar upstairs is made on site and so refreshing. We highly recommend the Pork & Prawn spring rolls, Malaysian Chicken Masala, and a signature dish – the rich and tasty Beef Green Curry. End your meal with a crème brulee and affogato. Check please!
These Hindu daily offerings line the streets of Bali.
And because there’s so much to eat and drink in Bali, here’s a list of some of our other favorites to try along your adventure:
- Dandelion Café: Cozy and quaint atmosphere, delicious coffee, cocktails and a vibrant menu of seafood and freshly baked bread.
- Deus: Great happy hour spot with awesome food like Balinese pizzas, curries, and satays. This surf shop/café/full bar is a great place to meet and socialize with other travelers.
- Potato Head: Open-air beach club where you can kill some serious time. 4 restaurants, 4 bars, an infinity pool and game-lawn line a spectacular view of the Indian Ocean. Great for sunsets!
- Sea Circus: Fish tacos and a Guava Margarita. Enough. Said.
If you can’t tell, we’re huge fans of all that Bali has to offer. Even if you’re not headed there this summer, we hope you add Bali to your bucket list of future travel destinations!
- Written by Rachel Levy