With black sand beaches, cranking surf, and volcanic nature, you don’t have to ask us twice why Bali is so popular. But what is it about this once lowly populated Hindu island that draws in tourists year after year? And why is Bali’s vibrant ex-pat community unmatched when it comes to other Southeast Asian islands?
Bali has been recognized by the TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards as the most popular destination for 2021, with the island welcoming over six million foreigners in 2019 alone. With a population of over four million, Bali is not just a tourist hotspot, but somewhere many never want to leave. And we have a few ideas why.
This guide explores seven reasons for Bali’s unrivaled appeal and looks at the island as a unique vantage point into the world’s largest archipelago. From scenery and sunsets to culture and cuisine, by the end of this list, you’ll be ready to book your one-way flight. Let’s find out why.
Bali is so much more than sun, sea, and surf. But it’s a great place to start. Whether you’re looking to try your hand at surfing or you’re a seasoned pro in the waves, Bali can be surfed all year round. The island is unique for its numerous epic surf spots in such a concentrated area.
You’ll find the best swell and reef breaks in July and August, but anytime between April and October is perfect for getting your footing as a beginner surfer in Bali. When the beaches are packed with tourists and competition is high, surf lessons can start at anything from $5 an hour. You won’t be short of vibrant beach bars to grab a cold Bintang post-surf at this time of year.
You can’t miss:
Batu Bolong, Canggu – Overtaking Seminyak, and Kuta in recent years, Canggu has quickly become one of the trendiest spots in Bali for restaurants, bars, and surf. The black sands of Batu Bolong cater to beginners and pros with long but mellow waves that break consistently over the submerged reef. Expect bigger crowds and tiring paddling but a lively and beginner-friendly atmosphere.
Uluwatu – Uluwatu is often named as a singular spot, but this southern peninsula has five main peaks varying in tide and swell. Locals believe that the Bali Gods bless those who ride the Uluwatu waves. One visit to this vast reef overlooked by a stunning cliff face and the mystical Uluwatu Temple, and you’ll know why. Check out the fisherman’s village of Bingin Beach for a hippie’s paradise and perfect waves.
Medewi – A hidden gem on the crown of Bali surfing, Medewi is located far north on the west side of the island and off the usual tourist trail. Medewi should be at the top of the list for any intermediate and advanced surfers, with waves stretching up to half a kilometer long in the high season. Situated two hours from Kuta, Medewi is away from the crowds, but the area is not short of post-surf dining options.
The question here is, why is Bali so popular with yogis and spiritual gurus? With a 90 percent Hindu population, religion is deeply rooted in Bali’s culture and everyday life, and not just for locals. Bali is a mecca for spirituality, with millions flocking to the island each year for healing, yoga, and self-discovery.
It’s not uncommon for visitors to Bali to feel a cosmic pull to the island. This is explained in spiritual terms because the Earth’s chakras, or Ley Lines, are said to intersect in Bali, making it one of seven points in the world where “Mother Earth’s” energy is most high. It’s not called the Island of the Gods for nothing.
These locations also tend to be where volcanoes reside because of the rich crystal deposits in volcanic soil. Hence Bali’s volcanoes draw more than just an adrenaline-junkie crowd but also those on the path to transformation. Bali’s temples and ceremonies are steeped in cultural history and provide unforgettable experiences for any subjective spectator.
Waterfalls, rice paddies, rainforests, and unforgettable sunsets are just some of the renowned scenes of natural beauty that Bali has to offer. The island boasts almost every kind of landscape, whether you’re looking to trek up a volcano or laze in a crystal-clear tidal pool.
The list of must-see natural attractions in Bali is endless. But here are some of our favorites:
Aling Aling waterfall – Situated in the far north of Bali, Aling Aling is a 90-foot waterfall that tumbles down into a deep jungle ravine where visitors can slide and cliff jump. The site is a 10 to 15-minute scenic walk from the parking lot and boasts three other waterfalls, making Aling Aling a great day out for thrill-seekers and Instagrammers.
Mount Batur – An active volcano and one of Bali’s most sacred Hindu sites, Mount Batur is famed for its sunrise trekking tours and summit views. Batur overlooks Lake Batur, a volcanic crater in Kintamani, and the vast impact site of Mount Agung’s 1963 eruption to the East, which leaves the earth blackened and ashen to this day. You can hire a guide for less than $20 and embark on a 3 am ascent up the 2km mountainside to catch the sun rising over the adjacent peaks.
Tegalalang Rice Terrace – This functional series of rice fields in Ubud has become a top attraction because of its terrace layout. The traditional “subak” irrigation system creates a scenic and sweeping valley view of deep-set paddies beneath tropical palms. For an entrance fee of around $1, visitors can walk the rice fields, which take about 45 minutes to scale.
Most of Bali’s scenic attractions, like the waterfalls, mountain treks, and rice paddies, are budget-friendly and adventurous. Year after year, backpackers and families alike are drawn in by the promise of accessible and breathtaking beauty, and Bali does not disappoint.
Situated just eight degrees south of the equator, Bali benefits from a warm and tropical climate. The rainy season runs from November through to March, but visitors can still expect average temperatures of 80 degrees Fahrenheit all year round.
Bali is undoubtedly the most popular island in Indonesia, but it is neighboured by four main islands that you should not neglect. The two most popular of these are Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan, joining Nusa Ceningan with an iconic yellow draw bridge. These stretches of white sand beaches, crystal clear shoes, and rolling hills promise fewer crowds, pleasant weather, and paradisial scenes. Don’t miss Penida’s Kelingking beach from your Bali bucket list for your dinosaur Instagram moment.
But Bali is also a gateway to some of the world’s most stunning areas of natural beauty. Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago, consisting of over 17,000 islands in total. Located just a stone’s throw from Bali’s shores are Lombok and the Gili Islands, where you’ll find the epitome of laid-back Island life and unbeaten diving spots.
Wind in your hair, sunset on the horizon, and the cheapest tank of fuel to keep you going. Bali’s scooter culture is a huge pull factor to the island, and the ease of bike rental makes travel more accessible.
Riding a scooter is by far the best way to get around, especially with Bali’s significant absence of public transport compared to areas like Thailand and Cambodia. While this might be a downfall to some, scooters are cheap, nimble, and mostly safe. You’ll have to dodge a few ceremonies and stray dogs, and it’s advised to avoid the crowds in Kuta and Seminyak. But once you push through the traffic, you’ll find that accessing the island’s remote areas is made scenic and exciting on a rented scooter.
Like any foreign destination, you need an international driving license to drive a bike in Bali, which you can apply for in your home country. Experience with scooters is also advised, but intense and cheap training courses are available all over Bali.
Renting a scooter starts from as low as $3.50 a day. Check out this article for the most trustworthy bike rentals on the island.
Although Bali is a popular tourist destination, it has become a thriving hotspot for digital nomads in recent years. Those looking to embark on a life removed from the hustle and bustle of big cities and 9 to 5s find solace in Bali’s sultry shores and remote working spots.
Ask any of the 5,000 digital nomads who reside in Canggu alone why Bali is so popular. They’re bound to mention the perfect balance between laid-back island attitude and entrepreneurial vision ingrained in Bali life. The island is considerable in size compared to other paradise locations, meaning the Wifi connection has dramatically improved in recent years. Online work is now more accessible than ever to the masses of digital nomads who reside on the island.
The Bali life is also one of leisure. Tourists and settlers come for the slower pace of life and hedonistic activities that the island’s chill atmosphere invites. You can enjoy a cold beer any time of day, and surfing often takes precedence over emails. What’s not to like?
With a party scene that’s a little bit Berlin, Ibiza, and backpacker all-in-one, Bali’s nightlife is a significant pull factor to the island. There’s something for everyone, whether it’s fine dining, famous DJs, or cheap alcohol that visitors are after.
But Bali is perhaps best known for its classy beach clubs that offer poolside lounging by day and raging club events by night. If partying is on your agenda, or a vibrant atmosphere is what you look for in restaurants, check out the spots below:
Potato Head Beach Club – With three restaurants, a swim-up bar, and strategically placed daybeds around the beachfront infinity pool, Potato Head is the ideal spot for sunset sips. You can now stay at Potato Head Studios, the recently opened 5-star accommodated, to enjoy these luxury and immersive vibes around the clock.
Motel Mexicola – A quirky and colorful Mexican restaurant with distinct decor, cheap cocktails, and some of the best tacos in Bali. Motel Mexicola is Instagrammable and lively and hosts regular DJ sets for when mojitos turn into more.
Old Man’s – This hipster restaurant and bar borrows its name from Batu Bolong’s famous surf break and offers great pizza, sunset views, and a laid-back vibe for surfers and party-goers alike. Old Man’s has been closed since March 2020 as a precaution against Covid-19 but is set to reopen in 2022.
So, why is Bali so popular?
From breathtaking scenery and sacred grounds to beach parties and diverse inhabitants, the magic of the island is undeniable. It’s easy to see why Bali is so popular with holidaymakers and digital nomads. Who can say no to checking their work emails from the pool with a cold coconut in tow? Bali is also one of the safest places for solo female travelers. Sure, it might not be the cheapest spot in Southeast Asia, so think about leaving the backpack at home. But chances are, once you get here, you won’t be packing anytime soon.