Bali beyond the beach
Travelers share their top recs for exploring the island.
Why go to Bali? Where should we start? It’s a surfer’s paradise. It’s one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world, from the waterfalls and volcanoes to the patchwork of lush green rice fields. Plus, it’s full of rich history and unique culture that’s best experienced in person.
So really, the question is: Why wouldn’t you want to go to Bali?
Take it from our community of travelers who’ve been there. One honeymooned (and eventually moved there), another did a deep dive into the island’s temples, and another went for the standout food (we’re talking heaping plates of Indonesian fried rice and steamed dumplings). Here are their top discoveries.
For a honeymoon
If you’re looking for a couples getaway, Bali doesn’t disappoint. My husband and I honeymooned on the island and were so captivated that we moved here and built a house. As full-time residents, we now take regular staycations whenever we want to rekindle the romance. These are our spots.
Located outside busy Ubud, the Four Seasons at Sayan is jungle-resort perfection. The scenic arrival (you walk across a dramatic sky bridge) had us swooning from the start, and the private pool in our villa only added to the romance. No honeymoon is complete without a couple’s spa treatment, so be sure to book the shared Muladhara chakra ritual, complete with a smoke ceremony and head-to-toe massages.
Perched on a cliff over the Indian Ocean, the Bulgari Resort feels like it was designed expressly with romance in mind. Villas come with bathtubs large enough for two and private plunge pools with dreamy views.Take the funicular to the resort’s quiet beach club and splurge on a prix-fixe dinner (complete with caviar, naturally) at Il Ristorante–Luca Fantin, where every table feels like a private dining room.
Bali is covered with waterfalls, but not all are created equal—or swimmable. My husband and I discovered this hidden gem while riding our scooter around the Bangli region and had the best time floating in the natural pool at the bottom of the falls. The waterfall itself is powerful, but not so strong that you can’t comfortably stand under its refreshing spray. Go first thing in the morning for fewer people.
When the sun goes down on Bali, the best place to be is Sunset Park, a rooftop bar at Desa Potato Head, a little village and beach club in Seminyak. It overlooks what is arguably the most beautiful beach in the area and has amazing cocktails (get the martini with dragon fruit–infused gin). It’s a total vibe and perfect for social couples.
This moody Uluwatu restaurant is our date-night go-to thanks to its smoldering seting (it's built around a blazing wood-fired grill) and its Mediterranean-accented dishes that are meant for sharing. I recommend starting your meal with the Four Pillars Spiced Negroni, then continuing with the haloumi dripping in honey, the tuna tartare made with crème fraîche and basil, and either the pork loin or charcoal chicken. It’s hard to go wrong.
At this extraordinary dining experience within the John Hardy store in Seminyak, you'll have a surprisingly romantic meal while dining with other travelers. Everyone sits at a communal table with stunning garden and temple views. I’ve never had more delicious bebek goreng (Bali’s signature crispy duck) or more imaginative cocktails (don’t miss the one infused with jamu—a turmeric-ginger juice). Be sure to make a reservation in advance.
For the temples
Though it's only the size of Delaware, Bali is home to an estimated 10,000 temples. It would take a lifetime (and then some) to visit them all, but I managed to see quite a few while exploring the island’s spiritual side. These are my top five.
Pack your sarong (or rent one) at Tirta Empul Temple in the town of Tampaksiring, about nine miles north of Ubud. You’ll need it to wear over your bathing suit before taking a purifying dip in the central pool, which is surrounded by stone carvings of mythological creatures (it’s rumored the Hindu God Indra created the sacred springs that flow through the temple). A tip: This is one of Bali’s busiest temples, so go early in the morning before the crowds arrive.
You’ll need your walking shoes for the steep descent—we’re talking more than 300 steps, winding past rice paddies and small shops—to Gunung Kawi, which sits at the base of a river valley in Tampaksiring. It’s quite the journey, but try and save some energy for exploring the temple’s 10 famous tombs carved out of the rock, each representing a Balinese royal family.
You'll need to time your visit just right when you're going to Tanah Lot off the coast of southwestern Bali. The temple is perched on a jagged rock formation and can’t be accessed during high tide because the steps disappear into the water. It’s worth the effort: This temple is truly a wonder to witness, with its carvings of sea serpents and other mythological creatures set against the sea.
You may have to fight off some influencers, but you won’t want to miss Ulun Danu Beratan in the breezy highlands of north-central Bali. The temple looks as if it’s floating on the surface of Lake Beratan—the stuff of Instagram dreams. Get some pics in front of the towering 11-story pagoda, which dominates the complex. (I found it especially beautiful when shrouded in mist.) If the temple looks familiar, it’s because it’s depicted on Indonesia’s 50,000 rupiah note.
At Pura Kehen—the main temple in the landlocked Bangli Regency area—you’ll climb a stairway up to the entrance. In the outermost courtyard is an enchanting, centuries-old banyan tree. From there, you’ll pass through a transitional middle sanctum that leads to the highest and innermost part of the temple, featuring an amazing, 11-tiered pagoda tower.
For the waterfalls
Let's be honest—we all love Bali for its amazing beaches. But sometimes, you might find yourself craving a different kind of scenery. If you're up for a day (or two) of adventures in the lush forest, here are some of the island's best waterfalls that you can't miss. You'll need to hike to get there, but we promise they're worth the trip.Read less
Tucked away in a thick jungle, this waterfall is one of Bali's biggest and most powerful. Tons of water descend from 160 feet into a stunning pool, spraying mist all around. Be prepared though. To get here, you'll need to climb 500 steep stairs, and that's just one way. It's definitely a challenge, but look on the bright side—because it's tougher to get to, there'll be fewer crowds.
Touristy? Yes. A must-visit? Also yes! Located a few miles from Ubud is Bali's iconic Tegenungan Waterfall. It rushes down a deep gorge, and is surrounded by lots of verdant greenery. Go early in the morning to have your main character moment before the crowds show. You'll also find lots of cute photo spots around, including "bird nests". And here's a fun fact: if you enter via Blangsinga Village, Tegenungan Waterfall is known as—you guessed it—Blangsinga Waterfall.
No typical cascading falls here. Gembleng Waterfall is home to natural rock pools with infinity edges *and* fab jungle views. Getting to the top is a little easier compared to the other spots, too. You'll have to climb about 60 stairs and cross a couple of suspended bridges. There's also no entry fee, but I recommend making a donation as the local community works hard to maintain this space.
Adventurous folks would love Aling-Aling. There are four waterfalls, a natural waterslide, and plenty of cliff-jumping platforms. While it's a great spot to explore and let loose, prices are on the higher side. How much you pay depends on the activities you plan to do, whether it's hiking or...well, everything. A short trek starts from about US$8.15 per person. But for many travelers? They say, "Worth it."
With a cluster of step-like rocks, Kanto Lampo is one of the island's most beautiful falls. It's no surprise that travelers far and wide would queue for hours to get that perfect shot. If that's not your vibe, cool off in the refreshing pool and watch the photographers in action. From afar, they expertly direct their subjects and dish out all kinds of flattering poses. Funny as it may be, you gotta admit—they sure know what they're doing.
Standing at 260 feet, Sekumpul Waterfall is Bali's biggest. The majestic twin falls seem like they're permanently covered in mist—adding to the intrigue and beauty. It's a great spot if you enjoy going off the beaten track, but wear good hiking shoes. The trek itself is steep, slippery, and can get a bit tedious. You'll need about three to four hours to explore the place, so it's best to start early.
Most people flock to the famous Tukad Cepung Waterfall to snap a photo with the shimmering curtain of water. But just a five-minute drive away is the entrance to this hidden gem. From there, you'll have to walk for about 15 minutes, past rice fields and cave tunnels. Waiting at the end is a natural pool surrounded by three gorgeous falls—all yours to soak in. 😎