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This diamond-shaped island on the edge of the Nusa Tenggara has long been hallowed ground for travelers in search of a quintessential Southeast Asian paradise. At its center, the stepped terraces of Ubud’s rice paddies glow in deep organic greens in the Indonesian sun, shrouded on all sides by the mighty silhouettes of brooding Gunung Agung; macaques swing through the boughs of the Monkey Jungle, and incense smoke twirls and twists between the effigies of Hindu temples and shrines.
Along the coast, sheer cliffs and rugged rocks give way to palm-threaded beaches; secluded sands sit hidden betwixt lively fishing towns like Padangbai and Lovina, and surfers carve out lines in the swells of Bingin and Balangan. However, it’s not just about kicking-back on Bali, because there’s a character that lurks in the bamboo bungalows and sporadic towns of this island that sets it far apart from the rest of the country: Hedonism reigns supreme in Kuta town; thumping party nights rage on until the early hours. Lively markets throb at daybreak, awash with mysterious Hindu trinkets and animistic totems. There’s nowhere on the planet quite like it.
Most travelers arrive in Bali via the Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar, and the temptation can be to head straight for the streets of the capital. However, beach-seekers should be sure to make a beeline for the sands of South Kuta, where clusters of locally-owned guesthouses abut budget bamboo shacks on the clifftops, while opulent resort hotels like the Grand Hyatt and the W Retreat offer a little more refinement. However, to experience the truly unique accommodations of this wonderful isle, travelers would do well to adventure a little inland. This will sacrifice the sweeping sea views and easy access to the Bali beaches but herald in dramatic broadsides of volcanos and verdant rice terraces, not to mention a degree of luxury that the busier resorts closer to the coast simply can’t achieve. For that, be sure to check out the prestigious Viceroy Bali, or the exquisite Chedi Club of Tanah Gajah.
Balinese cuisine is all about achieving harmony and blends with various pungent spices, with meat, fish, and vegetables all often coming heavily dressed in a mishmash of nutmeg, fresh ginger, aromatic cinnamon, palm sugar, shrimp paste—the list goes on. For the most authentic sampling of local foods, be sure to try out a traditional warung: a family-owned eatery that is often found protruding from the front of a bungalow, or spilling out from someone’s garden. And while the best of these is a hotly debated topic, common recommendations often include the Mama’s Warung in Ubud, Warung Murah in Seminyak and the Warung Eny in Kerobokan. For something a little more upscale, travelers would do well to head for the Cuca Restaurant in Jimbaran, or the Malaika Secret Garden on the edge of Denpasar city.
From sunbathing on the sands that string their way along the coast southwards from Kuta to learning how to ride the waves of the Bali Sea, this island is bursting with activities for the beach-loving tourist. For the prettiest spots, be sure to case out Bingin Beach or the appropriately-named Dreamland. For surfing, Kuta itself is surely the best for beginners, while the roaring reef breaks at Balangan, Medewi, and Canggu are reserved for more seasoned wave riders. Away from the coast and Bali throws up oodles of other opportunities: Intrepid types can hike the volcanic ridges of Mount Batur to its very caldera; culture-buffs can lose themselves between the lichen-dotted monkey temples of Ubud, and hedonists can erupt in beach parties, organised pub crawls and rooftop bars after dark.
With its coveted surfing spots and legendary nightlife, the island of Bali is geared to receive travelers all year long. However, be prepared for the crowds to boom during the dry season months between April and September, which is also when tour prices and hotel rates are at their highest. Visitors between December and March will certainly get the worst of the weather, with regular downpours and high humidity.