Bali is beautiful. The surf can be incredible, the food and people are great and the eternal summer never gets old. Travel in Bali always gives you something back. As a result, every digital nomad and their mum can tell you that Canggu is buzzing and that the vibe at Old Man’s on a Sunday evening is just straight-up special. But, at the same time, there has to be more to this Island of the Gods than all those samey Instagram posts?
Since the influx of surfers in the ’60s tourism has been Bali’s jam – it’s main squeeze. Traditionally tourism has been focused on the south of the island, but dig a little deeper and the rest of the island, its unexplored forests, volcanic ranges and vast lakes, are open to those brave enough to escape Kuta’s tourist-heavy main strip.
Travel like a local
First, you have to give a little thought to how you plan to get around. Bali is not replete with great public transport options and yes, of course, you could hire a local driver. But this is travel like a local not travel with a local.
So, what are your options? Bali does have a useful bus system. Bus terminals are dotted around the south, mainly in Denpasar, and can vary from larger buses to fairly basic minibuses. These offer a cheap, if – arguably – unreliable way to explore the island. Plus, it’s inevitable that you will need to organize more transport to get to further flung parts of the island.
Driving a motorbike in Bali
What would be my transport mode of choice? Come on, this is Bali. No doubt about it: it’s the motorbike. Now, this is where I’m going to get all Health and Safety on you. You need an international driving license to drive in Bali legally. Which I suggest you do. Unless, of course, you feel like spending some of your hard earned cash lining the pockets of Bali’s Finest.
Next, wear a helmet! I still can’t help but be amazed at the sheer volume of tourists driving around without helmets. What, you think Bali tarmac is softer than the western kind? If you crash, even at spectacularly low speeds you will smash your head on the ground and you will get hurt, annoying loved ones around the world and the good people of Bali who have to scrap you up off the pavement.
With health and safety taken care of, a motorbike is your key to exploring Bali’s quieter, less visited destinations. It can be rented fairly cheaply for the length of your stay. So, international driving license in one hand and helmet in the other, it’s time to hit the tarmac. But let your motorbike tour of Bali commence… the local way.
Places in Bali
Bali is home to some staggering beauty and even with a lifetime of trips, it would be hard for you to see them all. But I am going to talk you through a few options to aim for on your little trip away from Kuta.
Lovina is a chilled seaside town at the very north of the island. The ride here is phenomenally beautiful and takes you up and over Bali’s mountainous interior. The ride up can be pretty chilly and more than a little foggy, so go prepared. Locals in Bali will be carrying raincoats in their motorbike seats and I advise you to do the same.
The three-hour ride from Seminyak also takes in some tiny villages, tasty local warungs and more temples than you can shake a surfboard at. The atmospheric temple of Ulu Danu Beratan, situated on Lake Beratan, is particularly noteworthy. The temple offers up stunning lakeside views of the surrounding mountains and, depending on the time of year, can play host to some spectacular festivals and ceremonies.
Actually, a cluster of smaller villages universally know as Lovina, the area is home to some super friendly locals, incredibly cheap accommodation and great local food. Plus, it’s the draw of the area’s famed dolphin watching. Do the tour right and you will be in for a spellbinding addition to your trip.
Where to Sleep and Where to Eat in Lovina
Check into your welcoming accommodation and put your feet up, because Lovina is all about relaxing. With a narrow strip of sand for a beach, checking into a guesthouse with a pool is a massive plus. The options in Lovina are both stylish and cheap enough to feel like you are getting a bargain.
My recommendation would be Lovina Life, a modern boutique hotel. It’s not dripping with local charm but it’s relaxed and contemporary enough to keep you entertained. It’s also reasonably priced and within walking distance of the area’s main drags. It’s not dirt cheap though, with prices starting from around 550 000 Rp. Funky Place next door offers a fun, more budget-focused option, with prices starting at 225 000 Rp.
The cheap eats and down-to-earth bars dotted along Jalan Binaria and the even more mellow Jalan Mawar offer up many a reason to sit and enjoy the atmosphere, and a local brew or two. My highlights would be the Global Village Kafe, which has a menu oozing local flavor and offers the feel-good factor of profits going to a local charity. Also, check out the raft of beachside bars serving up ice cold Bintangs dotted around Lovina’s much loved Dolphin Statue.
Break up your Lovina stay with massages, snorkeling trips, and the much-discussed dolphin tour. What’s not to love? You are guaranteed to leave feeling refreshed, relaxed and ready to head for the hills. Jump on your bike and head south, or perhaps on to one of our two other less-traveled destinations.
Bali Barat National Park
Situated on the northwest point of Bali, the Bali Barat National Park is home to forests overrun with local flora and fauna, miles of mangrove swamps and Bali’s greatest dive site. The park can be easily accessed from a number of quaint local villages, making authentic travel a rewarding and exciting experience.
If coming from Lovina, the main road takes you past dizzying waterfalls, Buddhist monasteries, and Bali’s vineyards. If heading up from the south, the most obvious route takes you up and over the mountains again, past the Jatiluwih rice terraces – a real must see!
Staying in Pemuteran, on the road from Lovina, can give you the bonus of ease of travel to the park entrance. Plus, it gets you close to Labuan Lalang to arrange boats over to Pulau Menjangan.
Where to Sleep and Where to Eat in Bali Barat National Park
Dimpil Homestay ticks all of the boxes and gets you onto the beach in three minutes. This clean and simple homestay is run by the loveliest family and comes in at 545 000 Rp a night. Watch out – Pemuteran’s cheaper options can be hit and miss. Blues Guest House scores highly in my books and tips the scales at a budget-friendly 205 000 Rp.
For cheap eats, Warung Prapat Sari comes highly recommended with heaping portions of Balinese treats coming in at around 40 000 Rp per meal.
Things to Do Bali Barat National Park
Now, what you really traveled all this way for. Hiking and diving are the two huge draws of Bali Barat National Park. The park headquarters are found in Cekik, where you can arrange guides and permits. Park entrance fees are 200 000 Rp.
While trekking, be on the lookout for monkeys, deer, buffalo, lizards, and snakes. Sadly, the park’s last tiger was shot in 1937, but for a gold star, you can spot the super rare Bali Myna. There are said to be as few as 100 Myna left in the wild. Spot one of these bad boys and you’ll be a hero back at the headquarters!
As for diving, Palau Menjangan is Bali’s granddaddy. However, unlike the splendour of Lombok’s Gili Islands, the dive sites aren’t caked in tourists! The underwater pleasure-land is pretty novice friendly and easily accessible from Labuan Lalang, a small harbour located inside the park.
While in town, be sure to drop in at the Garden of the Gods to witness the multiple statues and sculptures of Balinese gods placed about 400 m offshore. The island also boasts Bali’s oldest temple, Pura Gili Kencana.
Now, the last place on my Bali magical mystery tour sits on the east side of the island: Amed. A far-flung collection of eastern coastal villages, Amed is perfect for really forgetting the Seminyak crowds.
The journey east takes you up the well-worn path past Sanur and into the shadows of Mount Agung, but once you arrive in Amed everything changes. Life gets slow, yoga and diving are the norms and Balinese ceremonies seem like a daily occurrence.
Great diving and a friendly, chilled to the bone atmosphere give the area a real sense of charm and character. Stay in Jemeluk for chilled traveler vibes right on the beach, or head slightly inland to the nearly horizontal Selang for isolation and authentic village life.
Where to Sleep and Where to Eat in Amet
Sama Sama Cafe and Bungalows in Jemeluk is my pick of the bunch, with knockout sunsets and prices starting at 300 000 Rp. Good Karma Bungalows in Selang offers bright decor and sea views, plus a great pool! The bungalows are right on the sand, so why not drift away a few hours sipping Bintangs! Prices start from 450 000 Rp.
Warung Osin will knock your lights out (trust me that’s a good thing) with authentic Indonesian flavors. As you’d expect, the seafood is killer. They also have great vegan options – a rarity in sleepy Amed.
Things to Do in Amet
Diving is the main draw just up the road in Tulamben and if you can drag yourself from the chilled-out haze for long enough, diving Tulamben’s shipwreck is a must. Torpedoed in 1942 the US cargo ship Liberty beached in Tulamben. A massive earthquake pushed the wreck back into the sea in the 60s. The dive site is over 100 m long and dives go between 15 m and 30 m. The site is busy (understandably) and staying in Amed gets you the head start on tour operators that ship divers in from Lovina and Candidasa. Keep it local by using Organisasi Dive Guide Tulamben, the area’s local dive guide group.
Whether it’s being invited to a ceremony in Bali, visiting a cute homestay and hanging out with your new pal Nyoman or simply sitting by the sea, contemplating life, Bali’s got you covered. Having a motorbike in Bali and getting off the beaten path to travel like a local is beyond rewarding. Canggu and Seminyak are great and Kuta is an f’d up hoot but break the back of the mountains and you’ll see a side of Bali that is seldom spotted by the hordes of people pouring into Sky Garden on a Friday night. Be brave and do it!