The island of Bali has been a popular tourist destination for many years, but most tourists stick to the beach resorts of Kuta and Sanur and rarely explore more than what the standard day trips of temples and markets have to offer. Bali is a small island and pretty much any point is reachable within a few hours drive so there’s really no excuse not to get off the beaten path and see some amazing sights away from the usual tourist trail.
Here are our top ten attractions in Bali that you won’t find on most travel itineraries:
1. Sangeh Monkey Forest
The monkey forest in Ubud is more famous but unless you get there early in the morning you may well find yourself fighting through bus-loads of tourists all desperate to take the same pictures of the cute little monkeys.
The monkeys at Sangeh are wilder and you’ll need a guide to take you through the forest (included in the ticket price). Apart from the monkeys, this forest of giant nutmeg trees houses a temple – Pura Bukit Sari. If you’re looking to get away from the crowds and experience some truly stunning scenery, head to Sangeh instead of Ubud
2. Climb Mount Agung
This sacred mountain (and active volcano) is visible on a clear day from most points in Bali. Many have seen it from a distance or even visited the famous Besakih (Mother Temple) on its slopes but few attempt the climb to its summit.
Gunung Agung is the 5th highest volcano in Indonesia, at 3,142 metres tall. It last erupted in 1963 during a huge religious ceremony at Besakih that occurs only once every 100 years. Many villages and crops were destroyed, thousands of people died and the whole island was showered in volcanic dust. The temple however, escaped damage and remains standing to this day.
Mount Agung is a highly sacred mountain to the Balinese and may not be climbed during important Hindu ceremonies. It is also un-climbable during the rainy season from around November to March every year. The trek is steep and takes around 6-7 hours. A guide is essential and only people who are physically fit and have trekking experience should attempt it. Those successful will be rewarded by stunning views from the summit, right across to Lombok’s Mount Rinjani. Most treks are timed so that the summit is reached just before dawn.
3. Nusa Penida
Nusa Penida is a small island to the Southeast of the main island of Bali. While some tourists venture as far as the smaller island of Nusa Lembongan, few travel across to Nusa Penida itself. Those that do will be rewarded by a taste of the ‘real’ Bali, as this island remains relatively untouched by tourism.
The entire island of Nusa Penida is a designated bird sanctuary and is one of the few places where you may be lucky enough to see the endangered Bali Starling in the wild. Diving is also a popular activity around the shores of this island and the coral reefs are home to colourful tropical fish, Manta rays and sea turtles.
Pemuteran is a small fishing village on the north coast of Bali that has become popular with divers and snorkelers due to being home to the largest area of shallow reefs in Bali as well as a Biorock conservation area. As well as diving, Pemuteran is a nice area for trekking, cycling and dolphin watching. There is also a turtle-breeding program, which is worth a visit.
Pemuteran may be a less well-known destination in Bali but it is still set up well for tourists with plenty of restaurants and accommodation ranging from budget homestays to luxury beachfront villas.
Not so very long ago, Munduk was just your typical Balinese mountain village but some unique nearby tourist attractions and stunning scenery coupled with some enterprising locals have turned it into a successful example of eco-tourism.
Most visitors to Bali will go on at least one trek in the area – rice fields, coffee plantations and some beautiful waterfalls are all easily reached from the village.
But perhaps the most fascinating attraction in the Munduk area is the giant tree in the village of Gesing, estimated to be around 700 years old. This enormous Bunut tree (similar to Banyan) has a diameter of 70 metres and the root structure can be entered and explored. It’s said that during the Dutch occupation of the 1940s, hundreds of villagers hid in the roots of this tree.
6. Brahma Vihara-Arama Buddhist Monastery
Bali is primarily a Hindu island and there are many thousands of Hindu temples to visit. But a Buddhist community in Bali does exist (in fact Balinese Hinduism is more of a blend of several different religions and there are many similarities with Buddhism). This Monastery near Lovina in the north of the island is the largest Buddhist temple on the island. This temple combines traditional Balinese architecture with Buddhist stupas, statues and a giant bell donated from Thailand.
This is a working monastery, which serves as a place of worship and meditation for Buddhism followers, but visitors are welcome. As in other Balinese temples, a sarong and sash must be worn and although entry is free, a small donation is appreciated.
7. Bamboo Chocolate Factory
It may sound like something out of a children’s movie but the Bamboo Chocolate Factory is real and exists in Bali. The home of Big Tree Farms, a producer of organic chocolate and snack products, the chocolate factory is the largest commercial bamboo structure in the world.
You can visit Big Tree Farms for a tour of the factory and a chocolate tasting. There are plans for a café and retail space to be opened later in the year. The bamboo chocolate factory is located in the village of Sibang Kaja, about 20 minutes from Ubud.
8. Nungnung Waterfall
Many visitors to Bali take a day trip out to the more famous Gitgit waterfall near Singaraja but Nungnung in Badung is taller, more impressive and not well known to tourists so you’re likely to have it all to yourself.
To reach the waterfall you must first descend many hundreds of steps. The steps have recently been repaired and renovated but are still quite steep and slippery and not recommended for young children or the elderly.
The waterfall itself is about 50 metres high and is most impressive in the wet season when a huge amount of water comes thundering into the valley. The pool beneath the waterfall is very shallow and it is possible to get very close to the raging torrent without getting too wet.
9. Trunyan Village
Most of what we know today as Balinese culture is influenced greatly from the Javanese influx of royalty, priests and artists who fled Java during the Majahapit dynasty. However there are a few remaining villages still populated by the descendants of the native Balinese people – the Bali Aga and where time almost seems to stand still.
The village of Trunyan on the banks of Lake Batur was isolated from the rest of the island for centuries, being accessible only by boat. The most curious attraction of this mysterious village is the cemetery. As Hindu traditions such as cremation never made it into Trunyan, bodies of the village dead are simply laid out under a large Taru Menyan tree to decompose. Remarkably, the decaying corpses do not smell due to the strong perfume of the tree.
10. Taman Nasional Bali Barat
Taman Nasional Bali Barat or West Bali National Park is a protected reserve in the northwest of Bali in a large area covering 770 square kilometres. Only a small area of the national park is open for visitors.
Few tourists make the trip out to this area of Bali and so accommodation and dining options are limited. The real reason to visit the national park though is to experience the untouched rainforests, mangrove swamps and mountains inside.
Many endangered birds and animals call Taman Nasional Bali Barat their home and you may be lucky enough to encounter some of them on a trek in the area. Wild boars and leopard cats are common but rarely seen by visitors. There are rumours that Bali tigers still exist in the national park but the last confirmed sighting was in 1937.