For a relatively small island, Bali can pack in a lot of activities in just a week: volcano-climbing at dawn, scuba diving in coral reefs, cooking traditional Balinese cuisine, visiting Balinese Hindu temples, taking in a traditional Kecak performance, hanging with monkeys, enjoying a few Balinese massages, relaxing at the beach, and much more. If you only have one week to travel in Bali, here are our suggestions for putting together an itinerary filled with a bit of adventure, outdoor activities, culture, food, and relaxation.
Volcano Sunrise: Climbing Mt. Batur
To be perfectly honest, waking up at 3:30 AM was hellish, particularly since we went to sleep after midnight. But as we climbed in perfect darkness and the silhouettes of the surrounding cloud-swaddled volcanoes appeared, it was clear this was all worth it. Only 90 minutes later, we were enjoying a volcano sunrise.
After we'd admired the view, our local trekking guide took us to the edge of one of the craters, buried a bunch of eggs in the ground, and allowed the hot steam of the volcano to cook them. Volcano breakfast, no stove necessary.
Watch out for the hungry monkeys. They may look cute, but they snatched Audrey’s breakfast right from her hands.
How to do it: We spent the night in Kintamani and took a tour that included transport from our hotel, local trekking guides and breakfast for 250,000 IDR ($30). If you have low blood sugar, you may want to bring some snacks or Gatorade to help you get through the climb before breakfast.
Menjangan Island: Scuba Diving the Coral Reefs
Of our two days of diving in Bali, this was our favorite. Because Menjangan Island is a nature reserve, its coral reefs are relatively well-preserved. Visual artists can find inspiration in the shapes, patterns and colors of Mother Nature’s underwater designs. The visibility is fantastic and you don’t need to go very deep for a visually satisfying experience. Because this area is less susceptible to strong currents than other Bali dive sites, it makes for a relaxing dive experience where you can conserve a bit of your air and can stay down longer to enjoy the underwater journey.
Cost: With Sunrise Dive shop, 500,000 IDR ($60)/person includes transport from Lovina, two dives, all equipment and lunch. If you don’t dive, you can opt to snorkel for 300,000 IDR ($35).
Special thanks goes to our friends Daniel and Juliet Jones for the underwater photos above.
Balinese Cooking Course
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of mediocre “Balinese” food served up in restaurants across the island, so much so that were almost about to give up on Balinese food. Then we took a cooking class in Ubud. We are so glad we did. Our understanding of and opinion of Balinese cuisine changed drastically.
Our cooking class began appropriately with a tour of the Ubud market. Deep in the fruit and vegetable stands (if you can make your way past the souvenir stalls, you’ll find local produce in the back), our instructor explained the various ingredients used in Balinese cuisine.
Then the real fun began. Together, we prepared seven dishes, including: Bumbu Bali (Balinese spice paste), Sayur Urab (mixed vegetables), Tuna Sambal Matah (shrimp with raw sambal), Sate Lilit, Opor Ayam (chicken curry), Tempe Manis (temple in sweet-spicy sauce), and Sambal Udang (shrimp with spicy sambal).
Cost: A Balinese cooking course with Bumi Bali restaurant in Ubud costs 250,000 IDR ($30/person) and includes a market visit, instructions on how to prepare seven dishes, a cookbook, an apron, transport from your hotel, and a lot of eating. Initially, we were concerned when we discovered the teaching facilities included only one cooking station. However, everyone in the class had the opportunity to participate in preparing multiple dishes and overall, the course provided an enjoyable, tasty and enlightening overview to Balinese cuisine. Recommended.
Note: For a deeper dive into Balinese cuisine and how it incorporates different roots, spices and chilies to create unique flavors and delicious sambals (sauces) read out Bali Food Guide.
Kecak Performance and Fire Dance
We have to admit that our expectations for this tourist staple were rather low. Everyone and his brother (and sister) seemed to be selling “Kecak Show” tickets across Ubud. While we can’t vouch for the quality of the other shows, we thoroughly enjoyed the performance at Pura Dalem (Mondays and Fridays, 7:30 PM).
Even if you read the show's plot description beforehand, you’ll likely be confused throughout the show. But that’s OK – the point is more to enjoy the chanting, dancing, and various beautifully-costumed characters that appear throughout the show.
The show concludes with a man who runs through and dances on piles of burning coconut husks. Talk about intense. After experiencing the pain of stepping on burning embers in Koh Samui, Thailand earlier this year, we have a real appreciation of this art.
Relaxing in Ubud
Ubud has become a popular place for travelers to relax, take yoga, and just be. But, don't let the touristy areas turn you off to the place. Keep your eyes open as you walk down the streets of Ubud, Bali. Tucked in between all those trendy cafes and shops, you'll find wooden doorways — sometimes plain, sometimes intricately carved — built into brick and stone archway gates.
Take a peek and you'll find these doorways serve as portals to other worlds of green and tranquility. Walk inside and you'll find altars dotted with offerings or perhaps a carved Ganesh adorned with flowers (my favorite Ganesh statues are those where his feet come together in a yoga pose).
At first glance, you might find yourself wondering if you've stepped into a Balinese Hindu temple complex.
In fact, these peaceful garden sanctuaries are often just family courtyards. As the father of our homestay explained, they usually feature a temple for the gods (where daily offerings and prayers take place), a temple for the people (where birth, marriage, and death ceremonies take place) and a home where multiple generations of family live.
Spirit and life, side by side.
Balinese Hindu Temples
Balinese Hinduism differs considerably from Hinduism practiced in India, and it plays an integral role in much of day-to-day life in Bali, including daily offerings and rather frequent festivals.
Our visit to the 8th century Besakih Temple at the foot of Mount Agung featured a long walk with a local guide to the top of the complex. Along the way, we asked all the questions about Balinese life and belief that we'd collected — about its various gods, ceremonies, pagodas, and caste system — and a beginner’s course in Balinese Hinduism had emerged.
Lunch at Senang Hati Foundation
Balinese Hindus believe in karma and rebirth, making it challenging for those born with disabilities. The prevailing perception is that if a person is born disabled, they must have done something in a previous life to deserve it. Families of disabled children will even go so far as to hide them from society.
The Senang Hati Foundation attempts to break down this cultural discrimination by providing a supportive community environment and skills and empowerment training to people with disabilities.
When we asked about whether companies on Bali were open to hiring disabled people, the women at the center told us, “Now companies hire disabled people because our people are better trained in English and professional skills. We may be physically disabled, but we have an advantage in our skills.”
G Adventures supports this organization by bringing its tour groups by for lunch to meet the people behind the organization and learn more about its activities.
Did we see all of Bali in a week? Absolutely not. But in this week, our aim was to get an introduction to the island and have some fun. And in that, we succeeded.
Practical Details for Traveling in Bali
- Accommodation in Bali: Find hotels, guest houses or hostels in Ubud, Sanur, or Lovina. Airbnb also has a good selection of apartments or homes to rent if you're staying in one place for a while. (Note: Get $25 off your first Airbnb rental.)
- To reduce plastic bottle waste, refill your reusable water bottle in cafes, restaurants and other businesses for free or a small charge. The Refill Bali map shows all the refill stations on the island. Very cool.
- Recommended travel insurance: Don’t travel to Bali without travel insurance. You never know if you'll end up with some bug or sprain your ankle when climbing a volcano, or your phone gets stolen, or some illness or injury means you need to cancel all or portions of your trip. With all of these scenarios, travel insurance will be there to help you and ensure that you don't end up with a huge bill at the end. We recommend and used for years World Nomads as travel insurance for trips throughout Southeast Asia (as well as the rest of the world).
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