Volcanoes and mountain lakes, luscious green rice terraces and an old temple which stages a colorful play on bank holidays, fascinating arts and crafts and lively holiday centers on dream beaches: with its exotic flair, Bali is a magical holiday destination.
The much-visited beaches in the south are Nusa Dua, Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, Jimbaran and Sanur. In the east is Candi Dasa and in the north is the black sand of Lovina Beach. Hotels and restaurants with excellent food offer a rich selection for both small and opulent budgets. The nightlife, primarily in Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, attracts tourists after a long day in the sun on the wide beaches or adventurous surfing on the waves.
Further inland, Ubud is the center for artists. In the east, Gunung Batur challenges walkers. In the west, the relatively untouched Bali Barat National Park is the place for nature lovers. The destination for divers and snorklers is the Island of Menjangan; trips run from Lovina Beach.
A wonderfully broad sandy beach lures in the tourists in droves. Most are young and looking for a good time. By day you can enjoy great surf, and the fantastic sunset puts the water rats and sun worshippers into the right mood for the evening. The choice of restaurants is staggering, although the cuisine is more often international than local.
Invigorated, the hoards then seek out the notorious nightlife: bars, clubs and pubs have no closing times and cater to all budgets. The Jalan Raya Legian is at the center, the Jalan Pantai Kuta a somewhat quieter beach road. Those happier away from the hustle and bustle head north to Legian or further north towards Seminyak. Here, the plentiful shops offer better quality than in Kuta where only cheap bulk goods are on offer.
It was here, starting with the Bali Beach Hotel constructed by the Japanese as a reparation measure, that tourism first emerged in Bali in 1966. This ugly concrete block remains the only monstrosity on the island since a law prevents other buildings from extending above palm-tree height. Europeans came much earlier: In her must-read novel A Tale from Bali, Vicky Baum describes everyday life in Sanur, where the Belgium painter Adrien Jean Le Mayeur founded a cosmopolitan artist colony in the 1930s. His house at the northern end of the beach is now a museum.
The beach is wide and protected by a coral reef which enables people, including children, to swim safely. The other side of the coin: when the tide goes out, you cannot swim. Water-skiing and paragliding are also possible. Boat excursions take tourists out to dive on the reef. Sanur is a quiet bathing resort with fine accommodation, much of it directly on the beach, good restaurants and numerous shops – everything you need for a restorative (family) holiday.
The tourist enclave is situated on the eastern side of the dry peninsula of Bukit in southern Bali, whose savannah landscape is completely different from the rest of Bali. Nusa Dua was conjured up as an exclusive tourist oasis far away from any villages with the help of the World Bank. The concept behind this was fully implemented: too much tourism might damage the culture on the island. Therefore, western visitors could be concentrated here and provided with everything they could wish for; dancing and Gamelan music at evening buffets, arts and crafts in the hotel arcade, travel agencies in case anyone can pull themselves away from the swimming pool and make an excursion to true Bali.
All the hotels are of luxury status and offer a rich variety of sports – even an 18-hole golf course - wonderful parks and exquisite restaurants. Swimming in the sea is only possible at high tide due to the coral banks, something the fine pool complexes in the hotels have allowed for.
The capital of the Indonesian Province of Bali has around 40,000 inhabitants and is therefore congested, loud and hectic. However, the museum, art center and market are worth a visit.
The buildings in the Bali Museum in traditional palace and temple architecture are well worth seeing. The collections inside provide a good overview of Bali's history; the dance masks and shadow play figures are particularly worth visiting. The Werdhi Budaya Art center on the eastern side of the beach combines Balinese architecture in opulent gardens with exhibitions of art and wooden crafts. Furthermore, dances are also performed here and the Bali Cultural Festival takes place every year in June/July. Genuine Balinese life can be experienced in Pasar Badung, the multi-story market hall where the Balinese buy everything they need. A prolific choice of arts and crafts can be found at Pasar Kumbasari, the basement of which has a night market from late afternoon.
Bali’s second most important tourist center offers a fantastic symbiosis of nature and culture. In the midst of rice fields, surrounded by small villages such as Campuan, Peliatan and Pengosekan, it is alluring for walks, short walking tours or cycling. Ubud is the artistic center of the island, where the most painters, woodcarvers, dancers and Gamelan musicians live. The best dancing on the island is performed here every evening.
In the 1930s, the German painter Walter Spies and the Dutchman Rudolf Bonnet founded the Pita Maha art school here which has strongly influenced Balinese painting. The works of European and local painters of various styles are exhibited in the Ubud museum. Puri Lukisan in the center of town, Museum Neka north of Campuhan and the Agung Rai Museum of Art in Pengosekan. Monkey Forest Road lies at the center of the shops and restaurants and is often the only road that visitors see on short visits to Ubud.
About one-third of the way up the western side of the 10,300-foot high Gunung Agung volcano, you can find Bali's most important sanctuary. Bali's Mother Temple consists of several individual complexes, a total of over 200 buildings. It has been historically proven that a sanctuary existed here in the 11th century. Once every 100 years, the Eka Dasa Rudra ceremony was held to cleanse the universe. The ritual was due to be held again in 1963 but the gods became angry and the sacred Agung spat fire: 2,000 people in the villages flanking the volcano died in the lava flows. Pura Besakih, by some miracle, escaped undamaged.
The three main sacred towers of Besakih are dedicated to the Trinity of Hindu gods, namely Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer. Pura Panataran Agung is dedicated, in his manifestation of Shiva, to the Supreme God Sang Hyang Widi Wasa, Pura Kiduling Kreteng to Brahma and Pura Batu Madeg to Vishnu. Only Hindus may go inside the temple complexes.
Several dead ends leading down to the sea and lined with hotels and restaurants branch off the main road from Singaraja to Gilimanuk along a stretch of coast roughly 3 miles long. Lovina Beach is still in the shadow of the tourist center of southern Bali. The sand in the north is dark due to the lava and is thus not so attractive for some. As recompense, however, the coast is protected by a coral reef which makes bathing, even for children, completely harmless. Those who go here cherish the quiet and relaxation in contrast to the hubbub of the southern Bali coast.
Divers and snorklers take boats out to the reef. Some travel agencies and hotels offer day excursions to by far Bali's finest diving haunt, the island of Menjanga right over to the west. The surrounding mountains offer lovely walks as a change from beach life. North Bali’s largest city, Singaraja, is an attractive destination for day excursions.
Candi Dasa could be used as a textbook example of over-exploitation of nature, which is still taking revenge. The beautiful beach in front of the bungalow complex was once protected by a coral reef, which fell prey to dynamite fishing and pillage for building materials. Nature retaliated and flooded the beach. Now, only when the tide goes, out a narrow strip of sand can be seen. Swimming is only feasible at high tide, and even then not safely. Long concrete wave breakers have been erected to protect the hotels, which all built pools long ago, from the force of the sea.
In spite of this, Candi Dasa promises a pleasant, peaceful holiday: beautiful bungalow complexes boast good restaurants with no hustle and bustle, and the surrounding area offers alluring excursions. Those really looking to bask on the beach head to Balina Beach, Mendira Beach or Sengkidu Beach a few miles west.© Berlitz Publishing/Apa Publications GmbH & Co KG, Singapore Branch, Singapore