If any area in Bali, Indonesia, can rightly claim to have it all, South Bali would be it. You can find fancy art galleries sitting close to stalls selling cheap tourist souvenirs, friendly surfing breaks not far from imposing Balinese temples, and boozy dives just a few minutes away from some of the planet’s fanciest clubs. From watching traditional dances to exploring the Balinese customs at the New Treasure Island Cultural Park, there are plenty of great ways to spend your time in South Bali.
The imposing Pura Luhur Uluwatu stands on a cliff in southwest Bali and serves as the backdrop to Bali’s most famous cultural performance: an adaptation of the Hindu epic Ramayana, with a backup choir of 30 chattering, bare-chested men.
In this traditional performance, the kecak, the chorus sits in a circle, swaying, rising, dancing, and uttering a rhythmic and repetitive “chak-chak-chak” that helps the narrative along as masked actors representing the Ramayana’s cast of characters tell the story through dance.
As the sun sets, a torch is lit in the middle of the chorus, setting the stage for a fiery confrontation between the Monkey King and his enemies. (Uluwatu, by the way, is rife with thieving macaques.)
Dinner on Muaya Beach at Jimbaran Bay often follows a kecak show at nearby Uluwatu, but even if you’re not coming from there, the dining scene at Muaya Beach is worth visiting on its own.
The dining crowd comes in during the late afternoon, just in time to watch the sunset; tables are set up right on the beach, alongside oil torches and penjor (Balinese banners) rising from the sand.
No matter when you choose to visit, though, you'll be treated to some great dishes of traditional Balinese food such as fresh ikan bakar (grilled seafood), including shrimp, fish, and lobster, served alongside rice and garlic-steamed greens. Food is charged by weight, meaning you can have large seafood meals at about IDR 50,000 (about $5) per head.
You don’t have to explore the length and width of Indonesia to see the best of its culture--not when you can visit Nusa Dua and see it all performed for you under one roof. In the space of 90 minutes, the Devdan Performance at the Bali Nusa Dua Theatre presents free-flying Borneo lovers, an intense Javanese sword fight, and a recreation of a Bali kecak performance.
The theater space was constructed just for the show, and no expense was spared to bring in the technical wizardry needed to make the production sparkle. A comparison to the Cirque de Soleil is unavoidable, but you’ll have to watch Devdan for yourself to see if it’s a fair point.
Kuta seems swamped with resorts and roving crowds of tourists these days, but its long stretch of beaches was where surfing first became popular in Bali. Fortunately, Kuta is still the best place in Bali to learn how to surf, as the waves are extremely newbie-friendly. A good number of surfing schools and stores in the vicinity are ready to help you with your surfing requirements, too.
The peak surfing season on Kuta begins in May and ends in September, but there are a number of other popular times to visit throughout the year. Determine when the mid to high tide takes place to take advantage of the best breaks.
The eastern coast of South Bali is far more sedated than its western counterpart. The beach there is no good for surfers (a shallow shelf obstructs the waves coming in), and this, among other factors, has kept the younger partying crowd well away.
Their loss as Tanjung Benoa beach makes up for the lack of surfers through a surfeit of watersports activities, from snorkeling to banana boat rides to motorized “flying fish” and parasailing. One personal favorite is the reef-walking activities organized by Seawalker from their desk at the Grand Mirage resort.
As far as unfinished statues go, Garuda Wisnu Kencana is a whopper: The statue is intended to rise over 470 feet when completed and depicts the Hindu god Vishnu riding his winged mount Garuda. As of this writing, only Vishnu’s head and torso, his hands, and Garuda’s head and shoulders have been completed.
You can stroll around the park and see for yourself just how massive the statue’s brass and copper components are. After wandering around the complex, you can retire to the nearby Jendela Bali restaurant for dinner. Their crispy fried duck is amazing.
Jalan Legian is lined with high-end shops selling quality beachwear, home furnishings, women’s accessories, and artwork. The stalls around Jalan Sahadewa and Jalan Melasti serve the opposite end of the budgetary spectrum, selling cheap souvenirs and mass-manufactured artwork from Central Bali.
However, there's always an opportunity to save even more money while you're in Bali. Even the fancier establishments along Jalan Legian will permit some haggling, and you can get away with really low prices if you buy in bulk.
The party scene in South Bali comes to life rather late, but things start picking up before midnight.
Kuta’s nightclubs and discos provide plenty of cheap booze and throbbing techno music aimed at backpackers. Seminyak, on the other hand, features a good number of upscale lounges and clubs for a classier crowd, and some favorite hangouts in Seminyak include the oceanfront club Ku De Ta Bali and chill Hu’u.
With over a thousand birds representing over 200 species endemic to Indonesia and Southeast Asia, the Taman Burung Bali Bird Park offers guests an intimate look at these birds’ living and eating arrangements.
Visitors wander through a number of regional exhibits featuring caged birds and walk-through aviaries which simulate the tropical environments of certain Indonesian islands. The Papua aviary feels like a walk through the forests of New Guinea, and Papua-native birds provide an added dimension of realism.
At certain times of the day, Taman Burung Bali Bird Park puts on bird shows, also themed according to region, from raptor shows featuring Indonesian birds of prey to spectacles featuring trained Balinese birds.
Balinese culture combines Hindu religious practices with the remnants of royal arts and rituals, and, while it’s beautiful to behold, it can be hard to get a grasp on during a casual trip to Bali. However, a visit the New Treasure Island Cultural Park in Sanur, Bali, offers an abbreviated version.
The bale (pavilions) in the New Treasure Island feature a number of Balinese cultural practices that you can try yourself. Learn to cook basic Balinese dishes, make the offerings known as canang sari, try your hand at the traditional Balinese gamelan, make batik, or even get dressed up in Balinese formal wear.