Many of the best things to do in Bali are inexpensive and can be arranged independently. Indonesia’s Hindu island is the most popular of more than 17,000 in the archipelago and Bali's world-renowned beauty keeps it in the global spotlight. The pleasant vibe attracts interesting people from all over who moved to Bali and opened unique businesses that appeal to visitors.
When you can’t possibly handle any more sunbathing on the beautiful beaches, there are plenty of other things to do in Bali, from visiting ancient Hindu temples to waterfalls and botanical gardens.
Get Healthy in Ubud
The town of Ubud in the interior of Bali is arguably the health-and-spirituality hub of Southeast Asia. Along with a generally good energy, there is plenty of healthy food, yoga, and opportunity for self-growth. Although Ubud lacks a beach, it is a top destination in Bali and favorite for many artists who set up shop there.
Ubud is home to countless spas and workshops that focus on disciplines ranging from yoga and breathwork to stuff you’ve maybe never heard of. Gong energy bath, anyone?
Give Surfing a Try
Bali is one of the top places in the world to learn how to surf. Even if you’ve never thought of trying before, the accessibility and availability are just too tempting. You’ll see people of all skill levels showing their stuff on the waves at most of the beaches.
The surfing in Kuta is (usually) gentle enough for first-timers to experience standing up on a surfboard. Canggu has a range of waves to challenge newbies and experts, and Ulutwatu boasts “lefts” big enough to attract professional surfing competitions.
Get Some Sun in South Bali
The widest, most popular beaches on Bali are conveniently only minutes from Ngurah Rai International Airport. Stretched from south to north, Kuta, Legian, and Seminyak are the busiest beaches on the island for a reason. Quality sand and easy swimming with (mostly) mild-mannered waves attract a majority of Bali’s visitors.
Whether you want to jog, stroll, or just hang out under an umbrella and drink a coconut, you’ve got easy access to miles of perfect sand in South Bali.
Go Snorkeling in Pemuteran
Little Pemuteran near the national park in the very northwestern corner of Bali is mostly off the tourism radar—but that’s changing. The calm water in the bay is ideal for snorkeling the artificial reef just offshore. Divers come to enjoy the excellent dive sites near the national park.
Although hardly busy, Pemuteran has just the right number of guesthouses and restaurants. The 4-hour drive from the airport helps keeps tourism under control and for now, you can still walk the beach without attention and hassle from touts selling something.
Enjoy Food and Drinks on the Beach in Canggu
Although Kuta has a reputation for rowdiness, particularly for budget travelers, most of the action takes place away from the beach. Canggu, on the other hand, is home to some massive party venues directly on the sand. Old Man’s, Finns, and La Brisa—among others—attract scores of people who want to eat, drink, and socialize within eyesight of the beach.
Sunsets on Batu Bolong Beach are extra special. A string of side-by-side restaurants (the kind with cushions on the sand) are situated with perfect views of the surfing action and sunset.
See (or Climb) an Active Volcano
Mount Batur in the Kintamani region of Bali is a spectacular sight. Although not as troublesome as its sibling, Mount Agung, Mount Batur is indeed active. The cone, volcanic lake, and surrounding landscape are beautiful to behold.
Assuming neither of the volcanoes are currently erupting, Mount Batur can be climbed via one of several trails. The steep trek begins in the middle of the night so sunrise can be enjoyed from the caldera. Take warm clothing—the 5,633 feet of elevation feels chilly until midday.
Get to Mount Batur by driving a little over an hour north of Ubud or book a tour with a 2 a.m. pickup from Ubud.
Walk (and Swing) Through Rice Terraces
The cascading, vividly green rice terraces of Tegallalang are often featured on postcards from Bali. The area attracts travelers who come to photograph or stroll through the rice terraces. Although Tegallalang has become an attraction, farmers still go about their business much the way they did decades ago.
Numerous cafes and restaurants sell coconuts and other drinks to sip while enjoying the view. The village of Paku Dui is home to woodcarvers and craftsmen who display their creations along the road. One of Bali’s most Instagrammed swings (there are now many) is located at Tagallalang.
Get to Tegallalang by driving 30 minutes north of Ubud.
Visit an Ancient Hindu Temple
Located 5,725 feet above sea level, Pura Puncak Penulisan is an ancient temple in Kintamani just to the west of Mount Batur. Unlike the famous temples at Tanah Lot and Uluwatu, Pura Puncak Penulisan doesn’t get as much attention. Archaeologists don’t yet agree on the age or origins of the temple, but it dates back many centuries. Island views from the temple on a clear day are unforgettable.
Add a visit to Pura Puncak Penulisan onto your trip around Mount Batur and the Kintamani region. Ubud (one hour away) is the most convenient base for exploring the area.
Dive an Old Shipwreck From Shore
The USAT Liberty cargo ship was first commissioned in 1918 and served in both world wars. The ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942 but stayed afloat. It was then towed to Tulamben on the north coast of Bali where it remained for years. In 1963, Mount Agung shook the island and caused the USAT Liberty to sink just offshore, making it one of the most convenient shipwrecks to dive in the region. Shipwrecks accessible via shore dive are especially rare in the world.
Although the ship rests at around 30 meters, snorkelers can see the highest points of the ship at a depth of only around 5 meters. The inviting beach town of Amed (20 minutes south) is a popular base for travelers wanting to enjoy the north coast of East Bali and dive the USAT Liberty wreck.
Watch a Spectacular Sunset in Uluwatu
Although Bali’s sunsets are spectacular from anywhere on the west coast, they’re especially celebrated in Canggu and Uluwatu. Uluwatu Temple is one popular place to enjoy the sunset but there are many options along the coast.
Surfers and travelers like to cram into Suluban Beach for a sunset cocktail. Cascading restaurants there are stacked atop a sea cave accessible via stairs. Single Fin is one of the most popular sunset venues, but you will be spoiled for choice.
Suluban Beach is located on the southwestern corner of Bali, a little over an hour drive from Kuta.
Go Inside a Creepy Cave Temple
Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) dates back to the 9th century and even gets a mention in a 14th century Javanese poem. The cave’s entrance is carved to look like the head of a demon and visitors enter through the gaping mouth. The creepy facade is meant to deter evil spirits from coming inside. The small cave takes only minutes to look inside, but lingering in the area is an option. A moss-covered forest outside has pleasant trails and some ruins of a forgotten temple.
Goa Gajah is only a 15-minute drive west of Ubud.
See Wild Deer on a Beach
Menjangan Island, a part of West Bali National Park, is home to a wild deer population who swam over to the island one day and became stuck. Although wild, they tamely approach visitors on the beach for a drink from water bottles. Fresh water is scarce on the small island, particularly during Bali’s dry season.
Seeing large deer on the beach isn’t the only reason to visit Menjangan Island. The surrounding reef is perfect for snorkeling and diving, and an ancient Hindu temple on the island is the only one constructed entirely from coral.
Pemuteran (20 minutes away) is the usual base for exploring West Bali National Park.
Attend a Traditional Balinese Dance
Traditional Balinese dance is colorful, theatrical, and yes, a major tourist draw on the island much like luaus are in Hawaii. Regardless, some of the sacred dances are mesmerizing to witness. Symbolic hand gestures and exaggerated eye movements do the storytelling.
Balinese dance shows can be booked in Ubud, Nusa Dua, and at a few resorts around the island.
Watch the Kecak Fire Dancers at Uluwatu Temple
Also a traditional Balinese dance, kecak and fire dancing come from an old Balinese ritual involving chanting and fire to induce a trance-like state. Kecak performances tell a story based on the "Ramayana," a Hindu epic written in Sanskrit.
The most striking place to witness a fire dance is at Uluwatu Temple where people cram in for nightly performances. Shows are often cramped and sold out. Keep an eye out for the cheeky macaques who are known to grab belongings.
Visit a Temple on the Sea
Tanah Lot is a small temple perched atop a rock just offshore in Tabanan. The holy site attracts Hindu pilgrims and dates back to the 15th century. Waves crash against the base of the important temple, making it even more photogenic. Although the actual temple is closed to tourists, the setting is hard to beat. An adjacent cultural park hosts shows, and you can receive a water blessing from a Hindu priest. Fun fact: venomous sea snakes actually guard the temple!
Tanah Lot is located on the coast a 30-minute drive north from Batu Bolong Beach in Canggu. Getting there from the airport takes around 1.5 hours.
Find Peace and Plants in Bedugul
Located in Bali’s interior, Bedugul is a tranquil lake area far removed from the traffic and hustle of South Bali. Mild weather and three crater lakes draw a trickle of tourists, but peace prevails in the lush region. Nestled in Bedugul is the Bali Botanic Garden, the largest such garden in Indonesia, boasts 389 acres of orchids, begonias, and tropical flora to delight plant lovers.
Bedugul is a little over two hours north of the airport. Accommodation choices are limited in the area.
Brave a Monkey Forest
The Monkey Forest in the southwest corner of Ubud is one of the most popular tourist attractions in town. The forest sanctuary is home to hundreds of long-tailed macaque monkeys who entertain—and sometimes accost—tourists. You’ll get laugh out of watching monkeys climb on others to steal sunglasses, water bottles, and whatever else they can grab; that is, until they turn their attention to you! Three Hindu temples inside the sanctuary date back to the 15th century.
The Ubud Monkey Forest is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; adult entrance is 80,000 rupiah (around US$5.70).
See a Beautiful Waterfall
Bali is blessed with beautiful waterfalls, and the Bedugul region has some of the best. Gitgit Waterfall is probably the most popular on the island, but others that are harder to reach will be less busy and more romantic. The dual falls at Sekumpul are possibly the most photogenic, especially after some rain. Kanto Lampo Waterfall is one of the most accessible. Be sure to bring swimwear with you; you can swim under some of the falls.
Visit the Neighboring Islands
Let’s face it: There are so many things to do in Bali, it can sometimes feel too busy. Residents joke that the two seasons are “high” and “higher”—low season doesn't exist anymore. Although you can escape the crowds by visiting quieter places in the island interior, sometimes the best move is to pop over to one of the nearby islands for some breathing room.
Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida, and Nusa Ceningan are three less busy choices just a short boat hop away from Bali’s west coast. The Nusa islands offer snorkeling with mantas, mangrove forests, and far fewer tourists than found on Bali.