Bali is an island province of Indonesia, known for its rugged coastline, varied landscapes of hills and mountains, and world-class surfing and diving.
When you think of Bali, it’s easy to think of Instagrammable swing photos, hot weather, affordable accommodations, and easy access from nearby Australia. But there’s obviously way more to Bali than the whitewashed picture I just painted.
Bali is home to a historic culture, strongly influenced by religion and spirituality. The largest religion in Bali is Hinduism, and while the majority of Indonesians are Muslim, Islam is treated as a secondary religion in Bali. Bali tends to be slightly less conservative than the rest of Indonesia, but it’s important to respect cultural norms, especially when visiting sites of worship and historical importance.
Full disclosure, I’ve never been to Bali—but I know a lot of people who have. It was on my list for a surf and yoga retreat while I was traveling down under, but when I found out I needed to attend not one, but two weddings on different continents, my trip changed. I ended up in Thailand for six weeks, and then in Berlin and Paris for a month before heading home to Canada—and my Bali surfer dreams were dashed.
So here’s my wishlist of Bali experiences that will happen one day when my attendance isn’t required on the dance floor at my loved ones’ nuptials.
STEAL: Wave Guru Bali Surf Camp
This was the trip I had planned originally! On my own, I’d probably choose one of Bali’s women-only surf camps, but with a partner, Wave Guru is the way to go. Hilariously, their website offers a phone number and email address to “do a deal” but warns that if they don’t answer, they’re probably surfing.
Wave Guru is located in Jimbaran, in the south of the island, where the surf tends to be the best. They feed you three meals a day, host a weekly seafood BBQ party, and coach you to surfing greatness, all for one low fee—only about $900 CAD a week for a duo sharing a private room with air conditioning.
DEAL: Waterfall Bungalow at Bali Eco Stay
This accommodation was recommended to me by a friend, and she declared it life-changing.
I haven’t gotten there yet, but I already feel the same way. Bali Eco Stay is an ethical resort (both economically and environmentally) in the mountains with a 4.7 star rating on Google. It’s co-operated by a pair of Australians and a pair of traditional landowners. They’ve got restaurants, yoga, trekking, and day tours, and the bungalows themselves look and feel like treehouses—open air in the jungle.
The food is all based on the theory of permaculture—working with a mutually beneficial relationship with nature. 75% of their menu items are local, cooked by Balinese staff using traditional methods. Guests can learn more about the eco resort by joining a daily tour of the facilities
I’ve chosen the two-bed-one-bath Waterfall Bungalow, which has direct access to a waterfall, the promise of Wifi, a mosquito net for sleeping, and a mountain view. Starting at about $300 CAD per night and able to sleep up to six people, it’s a deal if I ever saw one.
SPLURGE: Sky Penthouse at Six Senses Uluwatu
If money were no object, though, I know where I’d be staying—the exclusive Uluwatu, in Bali’s southwest. It takes a while to get there, but once you’re there, you’re settling in.
And with the two-bed, three-bath Sky Penthouse, you’ll settle just fine. Not only does the suite feature a large living area, private deck, and luxurious sunbed—it features a private pool with 180° views of the Indian Ocean.
It’ll cost you—it’s about $2,600 CAD per night, and sleeps a maximum of 5—but for that pool, it’d be well worth it.
STEAL: Charcoal chicken satay
Forgive me for mentioning Australia for a third time in this Bali-focused article, but hear me out: I ate the best meal of my life there, and it was from an Indonesian food stall at Fremantle Markets.
The market is a treat—stuffed full of shops and food stalls, with buskers around every corner. Since it’s only open on weekends and holidays, it was jam-packed with tourists and locals.
Like any foodie would, I googled the market—and discovered that Fluffy Lamb, their Indonesian Charcoal BBQ stand, is world-renowned for their charcoal chicken satay, bone marrow rice, and beef rendang, which takes 6-8 hours to cook.
So the steal of the day is charcoal chicken satay—you’ll see them at warung, food carts, or in markets like Sindhu Night Market in Sanur. I know that’s where I’m headed the minute I land—for the street food!
DEAL: Smoothie bowls at Nalu
When you’re traveling somewhere with a climate like Bali, you’ve got to take advantage of the fresh fruit. And maybe that just happens to be in a gorgeous smoothie bowl, which can be found all over the island.
The overwhelming first choice is Nalu Bowls. They’re a little more pricey than many places, but when a tiny smoothie shop has a whopping 96K Instagram followers, you have to follow the hype! Personally, I’d go for the Macaronis—papaya, mango, dragon fruit, pineapple, strawberries, and coconut water, topped with strawberries, granola & coconut flakes—for $5.75 CAD.
SPLURGE: Seaside brunch in Seminyak
When in the super trendy Seminyak, you may as well brunch—especially at all-inclusive, waterfront brunch like Seasalt. The menu, which works out to about $50 CAD per person, boasts an incredible lineup of seafood, including sashimi, prawns, smoked fish, fried octopus, and oysters.
And if you’re in the mood, there’s a free-flow brunch option for $110 CAD per person. We’re talking bottomless wine, beer, and full access to the cocktail list, which includes Bloody Marys, Passionfruit Bellinis, and even Caesars for the Canadians.
STEAL: Relax at Sanur Beach
This beach may go by the nickname of Snore, but it’s anything but a snooze. There are more than five kilometres of seawalls for wandering and tons of hidden gem spots to relax and enjoy the sun.
There’s a turtle conservation and education center, tons of diving and snorkeling, an orchid garden, and the Pasar Sindu Night Market. Food, relaxation, and adventure, all in one stop.
DEAL: Hike Mount Batur for sunrise
According to a friend, the 2am wake-up call (if you’re staying in Ubud) is worth it! This active volcano is 1,717m above sea level at its peak, and you’re going to watch the sun rise from the top.
You can book tours through resorts or through tour companies, or you can do a self-guided hike, but you’ll need transportation. Try to choose a tour like Get Your Guide which includes transportation, motivation, and a stop at some thermal waters on the volcano.
The hike is only about six and a half kilometres round trip, but it’s steep! AllTrails marks it as “Hard”, so if you’re not a regular hiker, be prepared. Pack shoes with good grips, ideally hiking boots, and as with all high-elevation hikes, be sure to pack a warm layer to wear at the top—even if you’ve been sweating throughout the rest of your time in Bali.
SPLURGE: Go for a drive in a VW Kübelwagen
If you took my advice on the Six Senses resort at Uluwatu, then your luxury activity is just a few steps away. The resort offers a spa, fitness center, and multiple dining options, of course, but their experiences are next level. Sailing trips, helicopter tours, luxury cooking classes, and chef’s tables are just a few—plus plenty of cultural and spiritual offerings, too.
My pick is taking a chartered joy ride in a vintage Volkswagen Kübelwagen, dating back to Germany during World War II. You might recognize the car from Netflix’s recent runaway hit Red Notice, where the bad guys drive one through underground tunnels in pursuit of The Rock, Gal Gadot, and Ryan Reynolds. It’s bound to be a similarly bumpy ride, and don’t forget your sunscreen for the open top!
Whatever your budget, your trip to Bali will be filled with nature, culture, and great food. As always, I recommend seeking out Balinese-owned businesses and talking to locals to get recommendations of what to do and see. If you go—especially if you go surfing—know that I’ll be jealous!