The island of Bali is part of the Republic of Indonesia and is 2 km to the east of the Indonesian island of Java. It is easy to explore the whole island as it measures just 90 km along the north-south axis and less than about 140 km from east to west.
Six imposing volcanoes dot the island and lakes have formed in the crater of some of them. Lush tropical forests, mountains, terraced rice fields, vegetable and fruit gardens, fast-flowing rivers, and deep ravines are some of the other natural features of the island. Not to forget the beaches which have white sand in some parts and grey or black volcanic sand in other parts. The beaches are superb for water-sports such as surfing, sailing, scuba diving, and white-water rafting.
Bali is religiously distinct from the rest of Indonesia as the Balinese are Hindus and people in the rest of Indonesia follow Islam. There are almost 10,000 temples in Bali, most of them dedicated to Hindu deities. The Balinese are religious people and austerely follow their customs and traditions. In the 15th century, the Java-based Majapahit dynasty retreated here (because of the spread of Islam in Java) and later the Portuguese and Dutch colonised Bali. Despite these external influences Balinese maintain their tradition of music, dance, visual arts, architecture, and religion.
The capital of Bali, in the southern part of the island, has been the focus of much of the growth and wealth on the island. Most tourists don’t stay here because of the traffic, noise, and pollution. But it is worth a visit for its museums, monuments, and markets. The city is full of community temples called "Pura". There is a famous temple here called Pura Jagatnatha and it is dedicated to the supreme god of Balinese Hinduism. The statue of a turtle and two dragons (prevalent in all temples) signify the foundation of the world.
A popular attraction is the Bali Museum which is spread over a series of four separate buildings. These buildings include examples of both palace and temple architecture. The Museum was established in 1910 by the conquering Dutch, who sought to collect and preserve artifacts they felt were disappearing overseas. The museum's four buildings contain a splendid collection of Balinese art, Neolithic stone implements, Buddhist clay seals, Balinese folk crafts, cricket-fighting cases, dance costumes, masks, weaving looms, textiles, furniture, carved and painted woodwork, agricultural tools, musical instruments and scale models of ceremonial events.
The Art Centre in Abiankapas, a suburb of Denpasar, houses a collection of modern paintings, masks and woodcarving. The Centre is set in a garden with lotus ponds amid richly carved baroque Balinese buildings. Both Balinese and Indonesian artists feature in dance troupes and gamelan orchestras which regularly perform here.
Sanur is 8 km from Denpasar and the palm-lined beach here is a popular recreation site for people from Denpasar and elsewhere. Offshore reefs protect the beach from the waves and make it a popular spot for windsurfing, snorkelling, boating and other water-sports. Sanur offers many good hotels, restaurants and shops.
Kuta is 10 km south of Denpasar in southwest Bali. Once a lonely village, Kuta is now a thriving tourist resort and has the best beach in Bali. The beach is popular for surfing and the sunset here is stunning. Kuta abounds with hotels, restaurants, shops and discotheques. Regular performances of Balinese music and dance are staged here especially for tourists. Though tourism has bought rapid commercialisation to Kuta, it is still a village away from the crowded centre.
Legian Beach, 2 km north, is quieter and less congested than Kuta. This beach is for those who just want to relax, away from the hustle and bustle. Jimbaran Bay, a few kilometres south of Kuta, has several luxury resorts. The area's white-sand beaches, splendid sunsets and pristine blue waters with colourful fishing boats create an enthralling scene. An offshore reef makes the waters gentle rendering it a swimming spot.
Nusa Dua, 15 km south, consists of two tiny islands linked to the mainland by a reinforced sand strip. Unlike Kuta and Sanur, this is an entirely planned resort with wide and peaceful beaches. Ulu Watu, on the southern tip of Bali, some 20 km from Kuta, is the island's most famous surfing spot.
Situated in the hills 20 km north of Denpasar, Ubud is the cultural centre of Bali. Extensive development in recent years has led to the nearby villages being engulfed into Ubud, although they retain their distinct identities. Local crafts can be seen in these villages.
The Puri Lukisan Museum displays fine examples of all schools of Balinese art. There are several other galleries such as Neka Museum and Agung Rai Gallery, which feature work of some Western artists who have painted in Bali. Just south of the town centre are the dense Monkey Forest home to numerous monkeys and temples. Ubud is a good place to see Balinese dance and hear Balinese music. It has some of the finest restaurants on the island.
5 km south of Ubud is Mas, a village of woodcarvers. Visitors can wander through the Balinese style houses to view the carved wooden pillars and the artists at work. The Pejeng region east of Ubud hides some of Bali's most ancient monuments and relics. Rock carvings can be seen at Yeh Pulu, the Pura Samuan Tiga temple and Goa Gajah (the elephant cave) - all just a couple of kilometres east of Ubud.
Bali is the place to practise your bargaining skills. There are numerous western-style department stores and shopping centres in Denpasar, Kuta-Legian, Sanur and Nusa Dua that offer a range of clothing, shoes, leather goods, sports gear and toys. Balinese arts and crafts are the most popular purchases but you can also get value-for-money goods such as clothing, music, musical instruments and watches.
Traditional antique stores to the latest fashion boutiques beckon the shoppers in Bali. Splendid local hand-woven materials, silver and gold works (including silver filigree work), woodcarvings, ceramic wares, garments and many other interesting things can be found at most markets. International quality ready-made apparels are quite inexpensive here. There are duty-free shopping outlets in Kuta, Sanur and Nusa Dua in addition to the ones at the airport. Shops are generally open from 10 am to 10 pm.
Good to know: You can avoid aggressive touts selling all kinds of trinkets by just being patient and walking away.
Best time to visit: April to October | Reasons why: The weather is cool and dry during this period as compared to the rest of the year when it is more humid, cloudy and there are rainstorms.