In this guest article, Lash from LashWorldTours shares her outdoor adventures on the island of Bali. Known as the Island of the Gods, this tropical island in Indonesia is well known for its gorgeous beaches and surfing, but did you know that you could dive on some of the best reefs in Asia, go white water rafting, pedal past paddy fields and hike up a volcano?
Of all the countries I’ve visited during 15 years of nomadic world travels, the place I would most like to live long-term is Bali, Indonesia. When I first visited the ‘Island of Gods’ in 2001, I didn’t know much about Bali except what was written in a guidebook: a volcanic tropical island with a large tourist industry and inhabited by Hindu Balinese people who possess a rich and varied artistic heritage.
During that first two-month trip around the island I immersed myself in Balinese arts, bicycled half the island, climbed its two major volcanoes and then plunged myself into several weeks of beach-side clubbing. I quickly fell in love with Bali and have returned numerous times to teach scuba diving and explore the island in more depth, usually staying 4-6 months. On my very first trip, what I learned foremost about Bali is the island’s mind-boggling diversity and depth. I discovered that Bali embodies very different things to many different kinds of visitors.
Bali feeds the senses and the spirit
For surfers Bali is one of the premier surfing destinations on the planet. For young Australians Bali offers a hedonistic tropical party paradise. For short-term luxury-vacation seekers Bali provides world-class, all-inclusive beach-side resorts.
Many spiritual-health-oriented people consider Bali a major ‘power center’ and gather on the ‘Island of Gods’ for intensive yoga, detox/cleansing, spa treatments and meditation. Avid scuba divers flock to Bali to enjoy pristine reefs and the rare opportunity to spot giant mola-molas and manta rays.
Among art aficionados, Bali’s unique painting styles are famed throughout the world, fetching extremely high prices at exclusive international auctions. World-music practitioners head to Bali to study its unique gamelan percussion music. And for young, creative entrepreneurial artists, Bali is the place to design and manufacture anything from jewelry to clothes to home interiors and furniture.
Beauty lies off the beaten path
Despite all that, I’m afraid that for most Americans and Europeans, living halfway around the globe from the ‘Island of Gods’, distant Bali probably only conjures up images of an over-developed tropical tourist destination packed with luxury beach-side resorts, international restaurants and shopping (a la Waikiki Beach, Hawaii). That image is enough to put off many independent travelers, especially outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, from even considering a trip to Bali. And that’s a shame because Bali really is a beautiful nature-lovers’ paradise.
Truth be told, that grossly touristic slice of Bali does indeed exist. But thankfully only on Bali’s far southern shores, comprising the Kuta-Legian-Seminyak sprawl emanating out from the international airport. Though most westerners may not realize it, beyond Bali’s overly-developed tourist zone, there’s a completely different Bali, one which I consider to be the real Bali. That Bali is full of unique cultural arts, pristine nature and great outdoor adventures. In fact, that real Bali comprises 80-90% of the island. Visitors who venture outside the maniac tourist zone down south quickly discover a lush, tropical, little-developed natural paradise full of outdoor adventure opportunities and a unique artistic culture.
The island of eco-adventure opportunities
Bali island is dominated by several high volcanic peaks which the Balinese consider sacred. As a result of those central volcanoes, most of the island consists of steep slopes, plunging canyons & gorges and winding mountain roads. All is blanketed by incredibly-dense tropical foliage: palms, bamboos, bananas, gingers, coconuts, flowering trees and bushes, all of which bloom year round.
Bali also has miles and miles of little-developed beaches, fast-flowing rivers, steeply terraced rice fields, sacred crater lakes and pristine coral reefs. Unfortunately most nature-loving, adventurous western travelers are probably unaware of this fact. Hopefully that’s changing. During the past decade, Bali has taken up the call of ecologically-minded travelers and outdoor enthusiasts. Around the island the adventure-outdoor-eco travel industry has been growing steadily. And Bali’s visitor’s board has been promoting Bali as a prime eco-adventure destination.
Bali offers white-water rafting trips, snorkeling and scuba diving, sailing trips, hiking and mountain climbing, cycling, wind surfing and other outdoor activities. Most of these outdoor sports are actually not new to Bali, by any means. Visitors have been scuba diving, surfing, white-water rafting and mountain climbing on Bali for at least two decades. It’s just that few people outside any particular sport have been aware of it. What has changed is that Bali’s tourist organizations have been striving to make more people aware of the island’s natural beauty and developing its potential as an eco-outdoor destination. Here are three of Bali’s most extensively available outdoor activities (excluding Bali’s already world-famous surfing scene):
Dive on pristine reefs in Bali
Bali’s scuba diving industry has been established for well over two decades. Many world-class dive operators (a majority run by westerner dive professionals) guide divers on Bali’s pristine reefs and varied dive sites year-round. Most companies also teach all levels of diving courses from introductory to professional levels.
Until recently few people besides dive enthusiasts knew about Bali’s supreme diving. That’s rather a mystery to me because Bali has incredible reefs and excellent dive conditions. Amed, in Bali’s far northeast coast, has perfect conditions for beginners, while dive sites off Bali’s southeast coast have trickier dive sites suitable for advanced divers only. As a PADI Dive Instructor in Asia since 2004, I can honestly say that Bali’s has some of the best reefs I’ve seen anywhere in the region.
Bali’s best dive areas are in Amed, on Bali’s far northeast coast; Mengingan in the far northwest; and southeast Bali dive sites accessed from Sanur, Padang Bai and Candidasa. For more details, see my guide to diving in Bali.
Cycle mountain trails in Bali
Besides surfing and scuba diving, cycling has probably been making the most headway as an outdoor sport on Bali. Since the early 2000s many small local tour companies have set up guided cycling tours through Bali’s central terraced rice fields and downhill from Mt. Batur volcano. One company even offers rugged off-road cycling on forested mountain trails. More recently, rental bicycle shops have been cropping up all over the island, particularly in Sanur, Nusa Dua, Ubud, Lovina and even at remote Amed. Several international-quality bike stores have also opened in Denpasar city and the south. The Bali Cycling Federation has been established and several local cycling clubs have sprung up. The Cycling Federation organizes an annual BaliAudax international advanced bicycling challenge in November, a 2-day race around the entire island.
Increasingly westerners are bringing their own bikes with them to pedal around the Island of Gods. Independent cyclists can easily cycle around the entire island on their own in 1-2 weeks. The total distance is only 500-700 km, depending on which routes are taken. Bicycling around Bali immerses cyclists in the daily lives of Bali’s local villages, towns, and rural areas. They’ll pedal past rice fields, along beautiful coastlines, up volcanic flanks, and through lush winding mountains. The entire way, riders will be surrounded by nature and in personal touch with locals, reaching authentic Balinese places that very few tourists even know exist. Visitors who want to simultaneously explore Bali’s fascinating culture and scenery more fully can cycle-tour at a more leisurely pace, perhaps stopping in Ubud, Bali’s artistic heartland, for one week then along the north coast beaches for one week.
Cyclists can either buy a new bike in Bali or else bring their own. Either way, bike parts, repairs, and service are easy to come by. Bali’s roads are in good condition and drivers are well-aware of smaller vehicles like motorbikes and scooters sharing the roads. All over the island visitors will find plenty of local food to eat, inexpensive places to stay, and friendly, curious, helpful people. In short, cyclists will experience the real Bali while staying fit, exploring at their own pace, spending money in local communities, and not harming the environment. It’s the epitome of eco-adventure in Bali. I’ve personally toured Bali by bicycle twice. You can read about the daily adventures of my 2010 tour here to get a feel for what it’s like.
Hiking & Mountain Climbing in Bali
A small part of Bali’s hiking/mountain climbing scene has been in operation for at least two decades as well. Visitors have been trekking up Bali’s two most famous volcanic peaks with local guides since then. Guided treks to the summits of Mt. Agung and Mt. Batur usually start in the middle of the night in order to reach the peaks by sunrise. But it’s certainly feasible to hike up either volcano in the daytime, like I’ve done, particularly if you hike on your own without a guide. Besides these two volcano climbs, in more recent years several other hiking options are slowly becoming more well- known.
One rewarding hike is the climb up the 1700 steps of Pura Lempuyang Temple, near Tirtanganga and Amlapura city in northeast Bali. The 7 tiers of Lempuyang Temple are located along the steep route between the parking lot, near the base of the mountain, and the mountain peak. The route itself consists almost entirely of steep stone steps going up through a dense, damp, rain forest with trees dripping in vines, ferns, and moss. At the top are astounding views of nearby Mt. Agung and sweeping views all the way to both Bali’s south and north coasts. Hiking Pura Lempuyang from the parking lot takes about one hour each way. Almost unknown to visitors, it’s also possible to hike to Pura Lempuyang on a RT day trek through mountains from Bali’s northeast coast at Amed.
Another hiking region is Bali Barat National Park in the island’s far western corner. The park’s interior is rarely visited and completely un-developed, probably because of the park’s very strict entry rules. Anyone who wants to hike in the park is required to obtain a permit and hire a fairly pricy local guide to escort them. If costs aren’t a deterrent, hiking Bali Barat N.P. can be a rewarding experience, a chance to see wildlife, and a glimpse at a part of Bali that very few people ever see.
Travelers who prefer independent hiking without any fees or guides, can head over to Amed, Bali’s remote northeast coast. The region is famed mainly for its coral reefs and for its charming little boutique resorts that dot the coves and headlands. But Amed also offers loads of great hiking opportunities in the seaside hills that hug the coast. Locals traditionally engage in fishing, farming, and salt-making. Many live in small thatched houses up in the mountains.
They’ve created an intricate system of paths to get between their houses, fields, water sources and the coast. Hiking along those local trails takes visitors past villages, houses, fields, cows, roosters and crops. The trails offers spectacular views of Bali’s north coastline and glimpses of rural Balinese life. As mentioned above, it’s also possible to walk all the way to Pura Lempuyang and back along the mountain’s sole paved road. Other independent hikes are found at Ubud in south-central Bali and Munduk village, accessed from the north-central coast near Lovina.
More information about activities on Bali
I hope this post will help spread the word about the real Bali beyond its tourist glut, particularly about the island’s lush, pristine nature and it’s great eco-friendly outdoor adventures. If you’d like more detailed information about diving, cycling, hiking or other great activities in Bali outside the ‘tourist zone’, please feel free to e-mail me; firstname.lastname@example.org , read through over 50 posts I’ve written about Bali on my travel blog, or check out my two guidebooks: Hiking in Bali and Cycling in Bali.
Were you already aware of Bali’s great outdoor scene? Does this sound like a place you’d like to go hike, cycle, dive or check out other outdoor activities?
About the Author: Lash is an expat American who’s been traveling the world solo since 1998, immersing herself in nature, culture and the arts of countries she visits. She aims to inspire others to follow their dreams by sharing her cultural insights, narrative adventure tales, travel tips and photos at LashWorldTour. Lash is the author of two adventuring guidebooks to Bali, which are available in 3 eBook formats on LashWorldTour and in print on Amazon: Hiking in Bali & Cycling Bali. Catch up with Lash on Facebook or Twitter
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