Bali – Which towns to visit, and which towns to skip!
Everyone has heard of Bali. You may not know a lot about it, or even where it is, but you’ve heard of it. Before we arrived in Bali, Indonesia I had an idea of what Bali would be and it was pretty much comprised of pristine beaches, beautiful people who do yoga, island food and culture, and just beauty everywhere!
All of these things can be found on the island of Bali, but they do not exist everywhere. This post is about our impressions on three different towns on Bali, which we hope can help you plan your next trip to this beautiful island.
#1 – KUTA [K00-Tuh]
Kuta is a strange place because it’s not what you think Bali will be. Let me apologize in advance for this criticism, but it’s true. Kuta is not the tropical paradise you are thinking of. It’s beaches are dirty with trash, which is a real shame. It’s in the water, it’s on the sand, it’s just everywhere. But even if there wasn’t trash everywhere, the beaches in Kuta aren’t great for swimming either. The beach itself is kind of steep, the sand is coarse and brown, and the locals will try to make a profit from you any way they can so you can’t really relax. And if beaches aren’t for relaxing, then what are they for??
Off the beach, every taxi cab that sees you will honk their horn trying to get your business. So taking a stroll through the town is a hassle because you’re being honked at, loudly, every minute. There are tons of taxi’s, and they will all honk at you. The town’s purpose is tourism, everywhere you look it’s a souvenir shop, or an overly priced inauthentic restaurant, or a t-shirt shop. Unfortunately, this is what happens when a place is popular, and with Kuta being so close to the airport it gets a lot of traffic. We can’t blame Kuta for being what it is. This is what happens when tourism takes over, so our advice is: skip it.
#2 – CANGGU [Chang-goo]
If you’re looking for a better beach town, Canggu is your answer! It is located 45 minutes north of Kuta, and on a map it looks to be closer than that, but traffic is rough. Sure, this is a tourist town, it has shops (but nice ones), it is full of foreigners (Australians mainly?), but Canggu is FUN. Our experience in Canggu gave us this impression: this is where the 20-35-year-olds who are looking to hang out at the beach in the day time and party hard at night go to. Not that the party scene takes over this town, but it’s not hard to find. This is also the Aussie surfer scene which makes for some great entertainment whilst relaxing on the beach.
You’ll experience a woman trying to sell you a bracelet every once in a while, but generally, this is a much more relaxed beach where you can spend time actually relaxing! There are tons of good restaurants, cheap ones too if you look hard enough. The general rule when looking for cheap food is: where are the young people eating? We found a gem of an eatery, Varuna Warung Canggu, that was about $3-5 dollars a plate depending on the number of meats you add. We would have completely passed it had it not been where young people were flocking to.
The beach has dark sand but it’s a volcanic island so you can’t really complain about that, and there was much less trash… that we saw. Maybe they do a better job of cleaning it up? Or the current wasn’t dumping trash on the few nights we were there? Trash is definitely a problem on Bali right now… probably all of Indonesia. And what is weird is no-one is trying to pick it up. I would have thought that the island, that relies on tourism, would have created a task force to do nightly trash clean-ups. You could really take a rake to it there’s that much… but I guess not.
#3 – UBUD [Ooo-bud]
Ubud is the hippie yoga epicenter of the island. You will find Ubud is also a tourist town, but it has a much different feel than Canggu and Kuta because it is situated in the mountains. It is not a beach town, it’s a tropical mountain town! There are tons of places to eat and if you look hard enough there are affordable options. Check out Puspa’s Warung they have GREAT food, with good prices. Try the goda-goda, chicken curry, and the pumpkin soup! This restaurant doubles as a cooking school during the day, that’s how you KNOW the food is good. If you happen to be in Ubud, definitely go there for dinner. You will not be disappointed.
The traffic is bad in Ubud, but its a great home base for day excursions to unique parts of the island. We hired private drivers for two different day trips. The first day was to Tegalallang rice terraces and a coffee plantation nearby, this cost us 300,000 Rupiah (=$21.20 USD). The second day we went all the way to Lampuyang Temple (a.k.a. Heaven’s Gate) and Blue Lagoon, this cost 600,000 Rupiah (=$42.43 USD).
Blue lagoon was by far the most beautiful place we experienced while on Bali. No trash. No hagglers, except for ones whom you can rent snorkel gear from, and this is the only time we said yes to someone trying to sell us something on a beach! There’s tons of fish to see in the crystal clear water, Parrotfish, Yellow-tailed Fusilier, Blue Tang, Bannerfish, Clownfish, and even a white and black speckled eel! We had such an amazing time here, it may have been the best part of the trip.
Ubud is really adorable to walk around, the hilliness gives it a real charm. Plus there are some good viewpoints you can walk to if you’re up for a small hike. The Bali culture is more noticeable here as well. We happened to be staying at a guesthouse that was hosting a wedding, so we saw a lot of traditional dress which was great because we could then identify it elsewhere, and there seemed to be a lot of it. I don’t know if it’s a tourist trap aspect to sucker us into spending more, but I liked it. The women’s dresses are made of colorful lace and the men wear elaborately printed sarongs. There are also a lot of temples in Ubud you can explore for a fee.
Overall, Ubud is just really adorable and anyone can have fun there, or use it as a home base to explore the rest of Bali. You can do a trip to other islands, go see the volcano, or go explore the many beaches along Bali’s eastern coastline! We wish we had more time in Ubud to do all of those things, but unfortunately, we did not.
If we could do it all over again, we would have gone straight to Canggu for about 2-3 nights, then spent the rest of our time in Ubud and surrounding areas. Hopefully, this post will help you plan your next trip to the beautiful island of BALI!! Thanks for reading!
– Leah & Zach