Did you read Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love (or watch the movie with Julia Roberts), and did you suddenly feel inspired to go to Bali to find yourself, do yoga, bicycle in between the rice fields, and flirt with dangerously gorgeous men at beach parties? So did I, and I've already been ! The reality: I am a married mother of three, I can't even imagine sleeping in a hut without air-conditioning, and I enjoy an early luxury hotel breakfast far more than waking up with a hangover from a wild beach party the night before. Luckily, Bali is the perfect travel destination for both kinds of experiences. It is an island for romantic getaways, ladies-only trips, family vacations, or independent travels. Bali offers the perfect mix of exotic culture, tropical weather and luxury for everyone. Here are 14 tips for eating, praying and loving in Bali.
1. Relax with yoga
There are several famous yoga retreats on the island, but many hotels offer private yoga classes. For example, the Westin Nusa Dua offered afternoon classes right off their Heavenly Spa. You can take private or group yoga classes, and enjoy a spa treatment afterwards.
2. Rent a bike and discover natural wonders
Rent a bicycle in Nusa Dua, and ride along the beach boulevard and the Nusa Dua peninsula. Peddle past the souvenir sellers on the beach, the tourists having massages in the luxury gazebos, and locals enjoying the day with their kids. Or, drive down to the Nusa Dua peninsula, where there is a large park with a bike path , featuring a natural surprise: a blowhole .
Photo courtesy of Katja Presnal.
3. Learn about Balinese offerings to the gods
The Balinese make offerings to the gods every day. These gifts are typically small baskets made from banana leaves and filled with flowers and fruit. You will see people placing offerings in the front of their homes, places of business, or at the temple. At t the Kuta marketplace, where you can buy fresh food and the materials to leave an offering, you will see many locals at the beginning of the day gathering the materials for their gifts. Visitors can take a class and learn how to make offerings at the Westin Nusa Dua.
4. Eat Seafood BBQ
The Menega Cafe is not the fanciest restaurant in Bali, but highly recommended. The delicious smell of barbecue hits you before you even enter the restaurant (and yes, your clothes will smell like it at the end of the night). Upon entering, you will be led past the smoky kitchen, where chefs in t-shirts are grilling seafood on open fire and lobsters are climbing out of their containers, not knowing the fate that awaits them. Nothing beats truly fresh seafood. The seating area is in the back, on the beach. Come early and watch the famous Bali sunset. Get a table close to the water, and sometimes the edge of the surf will gently hit your feet. While the seafood, a combination of sweet and spicy flavors, is unbeatable, don't skip dessert. Head across the street to have some amazing gelato at WaLa.
5. Pamper yourself with a stay in a luxury villa
If you are looking for the ultimate luxury beach paradise, book a stay at the St. Regis Bali. Your one bedroom villa has beach access, and a private pool, just for you. Not to mention your own private butler. This is the perfect place for honeymoons and romantic vacations, but also for families. The St. Regis offers a children's program, a luxury spa, several restaurants, and a variety of activities. But be warned, your private villa is so amazing that you might be tempted just to stay in.
6. Meet the elephants
Getting to know the elephants at the Elephant Safari Park & Lodge in Ubud is a unique experience favored by many tourists. You can even stay at the Elephant Safari Lodge, and wake up and see the elephants right outside your window.
7. Keep an eye on the monkeys
There are several places to see wild monkeys in Bali. The walking path to the Uluwatu Temple in Kuta Selatan is one spot. But they can be aggressive. When you are heading to an area with monkeys, don't wear sunglasses, or carry things in your hands, because these monkeys will sneakily snatch it away from you. On the other hand, if you want to feed them, they will be more than happy to eat out of your hand.
8. Drink the world's most expensive coffee
Civet Coffee, or kopi luwak in Indonesian, is one of the world's most expensive coffees due to its quite unique production process. The Asian Palm Civet, a small wild cat, has the talent for picking the best coffee berries to eat. After the civet has eaten the coffee berries, the berries are perfectly fermented as they pass the animal's digestive tract. The civet feces is then picked up by coffee farmers and washed and sanitized. You can find kopi luwak in many places in Bali, but it might be difficult to find a place offering kopi luwak produced by Asian Palm Civets living in the wild. Places like Teba Sari Bali Agrotourism offer coffee tasting and a Balinese farm tours, and are great for the experience, but the animals live in captivity.
Photo courtesy of Katja Presnal.
9. Learn about ikat weaving
Bali Aga is a village that maintains the traditions and rules of ancient the Balinese. Visit the Tenganan Bali Aga Village to experience ancient Balinese culture. Roosters roam the village, and women spend their days weaving double ikat fabrics in their small shops. You can smell smoke coming from kitchens, where food is still cooked over a fire. It's like stepping back in time. I highly recommend visiting the Tenganan village, and remember to bring money to shop for the gorgeous double ikat fabrics and scarves to take home!
10. Watch dancers play with fire
The performance: traditional Balinese Kecak and Fire Dance.
The stage: atop a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean.
Time of the day: the performance begins just before sunset.
Now that I have painted the backdrop, you see why this is one of the top tourist attractions on the island. It's not just a fascinating dance performance, but also the dramatic setting that makes this such a special experience. The afternoon turns to evening, act by act, and after the sun has set, the performers play with fire, right in the front of you. The performance of a lifetime.
11. Discover Balinese history
Visit historical sites and temples to learn more about Balinese culture and history. Head to Uluwatu temple, where you can see the monkeys and the Balinese dance performance at sunset on the same trip. The Uluwatu temple sits on a cliff bank in south part of Bali Peninsula overlooking the Indian Ocean.
Another great cultural place to visit is the Kertha Gosa, a historical site in Semarapura Town, which was home to the ancient Bali royal families. Also on the grounds is the court of justice, and the Kertha Gosa Pavilion, famous for its painted ceilings. There is much more to see here, like the "floating pavilion," the Bale Kembang, and at the Semarajaya Museum where you can learn about the history of Klungkung King and the royal family.
12. Enjoy the beach and ocean - and the hotel pool too
Remember, you are on a tropical island. Don't plan too many activities. Leave some time to relax. Enjoy the hotel pool and the warm, turquoise Indian Ocean. Many beachside resorts offer a private lounge for rent, with full service amenities. Often you can even get a massage with an ocean view. Many beachfront properties in Nusa Dua have wave breakers, making swimming in the ocean safe and easy. If you are looking to surfing the waves, book a hotel in Seminyak instead. There are also many public beaches if you are not staying at a beach resort.
13. Drink fresh juice
A must-do in Bali: drink the fresh melon juices. They are simply incredible, and readily available: you can get them in most restaurants and hotels. They make them from any kind of melon, like watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe. So good and refreshing, and you will be tempted to even skip the cocktails on the beach because the fresh melon juices are simply too good to be true.
14. Learn to cook Balinese food
Take a new skill home with you: learn to cook Balinese food. Bali Asli offers cooking classes in an amazing atmosphere next to rice fields, near the town of Amlapura, Karangasem regency, in northeast Bali. Or check out the Anika Balinese Cooking Classes close to the international airport in Denpasar. The morning class at Anika starts early in the morning with a visit to a local farmer's market. You will learn about Indonesian food, get tips on how to replicate the recipes at home, and receive a cookbook to take home. You can arrange a pick-up from your hotel, making it very easy. Combine the class with a visit to the Anika spa. Anika is right next to the Denpasar airport making it convenient to take a cooking class and have a spa visit, just before your flight home.