One thing I love about Bali is that there are so many different aspects of the island to be enjoyed; with South Bali being the tourist hub, further North is cultural Ubud, while in East Bali you can appreciate the beauty of history, rice terraces and volcanic beaches. The central mountains are great for hiking and North and West Bali is perfect for diving and surfing respectively. There is a huge draw in experiencing the ‘real’ Bali, beautiful nature, unspoilt beaches and serene rice fields…but a first time trip to Bali will most certainly include at least a few days in the hugely popular South. Here’s my advice on what to do in some of the key areas of South Bali and the Bukit Peninsula.
1. Visit the Beach
Jimbaran Beach, where we stayed for our first few days, is known to be one of the best beaches in Bali. It’s quiet, the water is beautifully calm, the beach is very clean and the beautiful sunset can be enjoyed from one of the beach’s restaurants or from near by Rock Bar.
As we stayed in Jimbaran we stuck mostly to the beach there but we loved the quiet charm of the beach on Nusa Lembongan. Though we didn’t visit ourselves Kuta Beach is known for the excellent surf, Seminyak has stylish beach clubs, Nusa Dua is the home of some top luxury resorts and Sanur Beach is for those looking for a slower pace. For more luxurious seclusion book a hotel with a private beach such as The Bulgari, The Banyan Tree or the Karma Kandara.
2. Hire a Boat for the Day
Mr S and I hired the luxurious Burjuman Yacht from Pulau Luxury Charter to take us for a day out on the ocean spent swimming (Mr S) and drinking wine (me) before heading to the beautiful island of Nusa Lembongan for lunch at Sandy Bay Beach Club. For a less pricey option Bali Hai Cruises was also recommended to me for group days trips and evening dinner cruises.
3. Spa, Spa, Spa!!
One reason to stay in South Bali is for total relaxation; you’re not here for hiking, spending your days in temples or trekking through the rainforest! Many of the spas in Bali have combined ancient Balinese techniques with modern treatments and products to leave you feeling relaxed and balanced in both body and mind.
The classic treatment is the Balinese massage which uses long strokes, skin rolling, kneading and foot reflexology to send you into a zen-like state. We loved the spa at the Alila Villas Uluwatu which uses all bespoke hand-made products with natural ingredients. For added romance the spa also offers couples treatments in the same therapy room or in the privacy of your own villa. If you’re staying in a luxury hotel it’s pretty much guaranteed there will be a spa but if you’re still left searching for one The Bali Spa Guide is a very comprehensive list.
4. Fire Dancing at Pura Luhur Uluwatu
Uluwatu Temple or Pura Luhur Uluwatu is one of the most important temples in Bali and has a rather spectacular location, perched on cliff top 70 metres above water. The temple is visually stunning and is one of the nine directional temples that protects the island from evil spirits.
Not only can you enjoy a dramatic sunset from here but also the popular Kecak Dance which was first performed in the 1930s and based on a traditional Balinese ritual. The performance begins with a choir of men chanting before the story begins…
A drama told in the five acts, we watched as the story of the kidnap of Princess Sita unfolded before us. Whilst wondering the forest, Sita is kidnapped by the evil Rhawanabut she is eventually rescued by her husband Rama with the help of Hanoman, the white monkey.
The story is told with dramatic flourishes, evocative costumes and audience interaction – at one point the whole stage was set on fire. As with many things to do in South Bali, it’s a touristy experience but certainly a fun one!
5. Enjoy seafood in Jimbaran Bay
As well as the beautiful beaches, Jimbaran is well known for incredible seafood and the fish restaurants that line the beach. If you’re a real fish foodie you can visit the market on the Bukit Peninsula and see the local fisherman selling their catches. If you sign up for the cookery academy at The Four Seasons Jimbaran, there’s the option of a guided tour of the market.
As it was rather too hard to leave the gorgeous environs of The Four Seasons Jimbaran, we enjoyed the delicious freshly cooked fish from the hotel but I did love the look of the restaurant on Jimbaran beach that Rosie visited.
6. Shopping in Seminyak
Now admittedly, I’m not too into shopping whilst on holiday but if you’re into designer boutiques Seminyak’s the place to go. As well as fashion and surf shops there are galleries, jewellers and homewares. We avoided the shops but Lonely Planet tells me the best shopping starts in Jl Raya Seminyak and here’s a guide to some of the best quality designer boutiques.
7. Go to a Beach Club
If eating and drinking with a view of the ocean is more your thing than frolicking in the sand, head to one of Bali’s fabulous beach clubs. We loved Potato Head in Seminyak and Sundara at the Four Seasons both of which offer all day beach front dining, cool cocktails and use of the beach or the pool.
Ku De Ta has been one of the hottest spots in Bali for fifteen years while the other options which we didn’t check out include Mozaic Beach Club in Seminyak, Finn’s Beach Club in Uluwatu and Nikki Beach in Nusa Dua. Though if you want to get away from the glitz and glamour of South Bali I highly recommend Sandy Bay Beach Club in Nusa Lembongan for rustic, bare foot beach living.
8. Fine Dining in Kerobokan
Seminyak and nearby Kerobokan contain some of Bali’s best restaurants both casual and fine dining. I would recommend Sarong which served upmarket Asian street food in a chic and buzzy environment. It was by far our favourite restaurant of the trip.
There are many restaurants in the hub of Seminyak and it’s easy just to walk into anywhere that takes your fancy but for the more special places booking is highly recommended. Restaurants that I didn’t try but came highly recommended were Mamasan (same chef as Sarong), Merah Putih, Sardine, Metis and La Lucciola. One of the main drawbacks of staying in the less busy areas of Jimbaran and Uluwatu was not having easy access to these restaurants and with the traffic being very bad you can expect up to an hour drive from Jimbaran.
9. Rock Bar in Jimbaran
Ok, it’s a tourist trap and you may have to queue for an hour to get to the bar but there’s something very cool about having a cocktail in a bar jutting out 14 metres above the sea. I definitely recommend going to Rock Bar at the AYANA Resort at least once especially if you’re staying in Jimbaran.
10. Go Hotel Hopping
South Bali is a hub for some of the most beautiful and luxurious hotels on the island; particularly the areas of Jimbaran, Nusa Dua and Uluwatu. I would recommend visiting The Four Seasons Jimbaran for traditional decor and friendly service, The Bulgari for super chic style and a romantic dinner at Il Ristorante and The Alila Villas Uluwatu for unique design and stunning views from the cliff top. Another one that we popped into was The Banyan Tree Ungasan Bali, which has the Ju-Ma-Na cliff top bar, lovely for sunset drinks. One hotel I wasn’t so keen on was the AYANA resort, where Rock Bar is located, it’s a huge resort and very crowded. We ate one night at the hotel’s Kisik restaurant which is located on the rocks and boasts a gorgeous view. However, it’s rather over-rated with mediocre food, long waits and high prices.
I hope this post helps you negotiate some of the best that South Bali has to offer. Do you have any other tips?