Bali activities & outdoor adventures
There's so much to see and do in Bali that you won't quite know where to start. Do you stay on the coast to snorkel, dive, party and learn to surf? Or would you prefer to head inland and take cooking classes, trek through rice fields and rappel down waterfalls?
The choice is yours, but there is no such thing as a bad decision. Whether you're into physical adventure, a cultural journey or just want to have fun, Bali has everything you could want and more.
Must-do activities involving temples, rice fields and monkeys
Some of the top activities in Bali revolve around ancient temples, forests and landscapes. In the heart of Ubud, you'll find the Sacred Monkey Forest. It has several beautiful moss-covered temples, picturesque bridges, ancient nutmeg trees and heaps of Balinese long-tailed monkeys living the dream in an unfenced sanctuary that has been their home for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. These simians are fascinating to watch as they play, fight, groom each other, bring up their babies and generally live a wonderful free life. You'll have an amazing, National Geographic kind of experience viewing wild animals in their natural habitat.
Kemenuh Butterfly Park is another wildlife experience where you can be awed by nature. Filled with tropical plants and lush rice paddies, it's the home of thousands of butterflies. You'll get plenty of wonderful butterfly-bedecked Insta pics, plus you might see an adult butterfly emerge in the chrysalis room.
Terraced rice fields are another important must-see (and must-photograph) in Bali. Depending on what time of the year you visit, you might see planting, growing, harvesting or ground preparation. If your heart demands a trek through the delicious bright-green lushness of a rice field growing at full tilt, aim for the wet season - October to March. The paddy fields of Tabanan, Tegallalang and Jatiluwih are some of the most famous options; go in the morning to enjoy the cool dew and fewer tourists.
A famous Bali landmark, Tanah Lot Temple, is the place for epic sunsets. Visit before sundown to watch the swiftly-changing watercolour sky behind this exquisite piece of traditional architecture. Legend says Tanah Lot is guarded by spirit of a giant snake. In keeping with this story, sea snakes can often be seen coiled in rock cavities near the temple.
Thrills and challenges
If you like your adventures to be wild rather than mild, Bali has more action than a Bruce Lee movie. To get your heart pounding, head to Maya Dewa Canyon to traverse some incredible waterfalls and speed down a 50m zipline. Or find your way to Shiva Canyon, where you'll river trek through the Balinese jungle before rappelling down a waterfall.
Other thrills can be found at Seminyak, where you can bungy jump from a 45m tower over an iridescent blue pool. And if you really want to push the envelope, you can strap yourself to a BMX bike and hurl yourself off the jump at speed. Or casually set yourself on fire and aim to extinguish the flames in the pool below. Seriously.
There are also plenty of opportunities for white water rafting on the Ayung, Melangit and Telaga Waja rivers. They have varying levels of difficulty. Melangit is only 8km long, but has level two and three rapids. Ayung is 12km long, with challenging conditions for adventurers only. Telaga Waja is the longest and safest, so just perfect for a family or rafting beginners who simply want to float through tranquil valleys and rice fields.
Water activities in Bali - surfing, snorkelling and diving
If you adhere to the belief that 'the best surfer out there is the one having the most fun', you'll have an epic time surfing in Bali. Newbies (groms) can practice at Padang Padang (little Padang), Dreamland, Kuta Beach, Jimbaran or Batu Bolong Beach at Canggu. These places have surf schools, easy waves and a great vibe. Intermediate to advanced surfers can chase waves at Padang, Medewi, Keramas, Green Bowl or Echo Beach. Kuta Beach also has breaks for badass surfers who like to show off.
Dipping beneath the waves to see the underwater circus is the perfect way to relax. You can snorkel at Blue Lagoon Padangbai, Virgin Beach, Tulamben shipwreck and coral garden, Menjangan Island National Park and Pemuteran Biorock. Or venture further afield to Amed or Lovina, where there's good snorkelling straight off the beach. The best time to go snorkelling is when the sea has been calm, which happens mostly in the dry season. You can look forward to turtles, rays, shipwrecks, live coral, an avalanche of fish and even an underwater temple if you're lucky.
Take your underwater adventure to greater depths and go scuba diving in Bali. Found in the same areas as snorkelling, guided dives are a chance to improve your skills and meet some of the ocean's bigger residents. If you want to learn to scuba, look out for PADI certified dive centres such as Geko Dive and Bali Scuba.
For any keen cook, the opportunity to learn techniques and discover new flavours from other cultures is irresistible. In Bali, food adventures revolve around pork, duck, fish, chicken, tempeh and rice. Ideally, you want to find somewhere that takes you on a magical journey through a local market (this may be early in the morning) to choose fresh and fragrant ingredients that you'll turn into a culinary masterpiece. Going to cooking school is frequently named as one of the best activities in Bali.
Anika cooking class in Kuta is a great example. It offers a range of options, but all are focused on mastering Indonesian cooking techniques and using local ingredients to make amazing food. You'll learn to make dishes such as gado-gado, bubur sum-sum, shredded spiced beef, beef in Balinese sauce and green pancakes with coconut.
At Lobong cooking school in Ubud, you'll learn to cook a Balinese feast. They encourage you to bring your children with you too, so that they can cook for you back home (it has to be one of the best kids activities in Bali, for this reason alone!) You'll start your experience with a market visit, then learn to learn to create sate lilit ayam, ayum bakar sambal matah, banana fritters and much more.
Nightlife in Bali
If you're in Bali to party, you'll find nightclubs along the coast and in the main cities. Head to Mirror Ball Lounge in Seminyak, Bounty 'Ship' Discotheque in Jalan, Woo Bar Beach Club and Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak or Old Man's in Canggu. Be warned - the night may start earlier in Bali than at home. You'll need to pace yourself.
If you like a more cultural evening out, find a performance of the Kecak Fire Dance. A Hindu 'monkey chant dance', it involves a group of male dancers who chant to create a rhythm that sends the dancers into a trance. It was originally a form of exorcism, but today's performances tell the story of Rama, Sita, Ravana, Hanuman (the monkey god), Sugriva and Lakshmana performed dramatically around a fire.
For something a bit different, take a night-time cruise around Benoa Harbour, a night safari at Bali Safari and Marine Park, or visit Pasar Malam, a magical night market.
Off the beaten track
While many visitors to Bali gravitate to the south, there are some incredible and unusual experiences to be found in the centre, north and east of the island. If you're coming for more than a week, try to fit at least one of these into your plans:
- Penglipuran village has narrow roads with rows of penjor and traditional homes along the sides - a visual symphony
- Mas Village is the home of carving in Bali. You can watch the creation of intricate and detailed carvings made by master craftsmen
- The village of Trunyan is famous for its method of disposing of their dead - they place them on the ground, covered with cloth and bamboo canopies
- Hike to the Aling-Aling waterfall, not far from the town of Singaraja
- Sidemen is the way Ubud used to be; traditional, charming and green
- Munduk is a relatively undiscovered hill station. It has coffee and tea plantations you can visit, horse riding and plenty of hiking options
- Climbing Mount Batur to see the sunrise is a signature outdoor adventure in Bali. Tours leave from Kintamani or operators will pick you up from your accommodation