Bali, an island that appeals to one’s imagination. It had been on our list for years after hearing so many wonderful stories about beaches, the amazing culture and relaxing vibe. Unfortunately, a few less attractive stories came to our attention as well. Mainly concerning all the tourists heading over there, which makes the island extremely busy and not authentic anymore.
Still, we are looking forward to exploring Bali with our kids and making up our own mind about the island. We’ve heard Bali is a fantastic place for kids and families!
We start our stay with three weeks of family time. We’ll use these to explore the island but especially to rest, teach and work. After waving our family goodbye in Thailand, we have some catching up to do. And within 3 weeks friends of ours are coming to visit. We have 6 weeks in total on Bali, a lot to look forward to! And a lot to write about in this travel story.
Read more: Travel Diary #20: Thailand with our family
Canggu has become the new hotspot of Bali. If you want to eat healthy at trendy spots, this is your place to be! Since Kuta and Seminyak are bursting at the seams, more and more ex-pats and tourists head to Canggu. Which translates to the traffic on the main road. Scooters, scooters and more scooters, even at 10 o’clock in the evening the road is packed.
Luckily, however, our first guesthouse is located away from the main street, past the centre of Canggu. A small side road towards the sea takes us to this little paradise. They welcome us with coconut for everyone. A friendly welcome we can really appreciate. We booked a very affordable room, not too big but cosy, with a view over the swimming pool and the surrounding rice fields. In the morning, when we are served an extensive breakfast, we immediately know that this is a place to cherish.
After a few weeks, we return to Canggu. This time we’ve booked an even nicer (but also more expensive) accommodation on Airbnb. We stay in a beautiful house with a magnificent swimming pool. The spacious rooms have large windows overlooking the pool. There are a modern living room and kitchen … We could live here.
Renting a scooter on Bali
For Jurgen, it becomes a bit stressful when he realises it will be hard to visit anything in Bali without getting a scooter. You can easily rent a scooter on Bali for little money. At first, he did not like the idea. He never drove a scooter before and the idea of having to take one of our girls along terrified him. But after having to walk for 40 minutes to the nearby beach at 34° and 100% humidity, he was convinced to give it a try.
After 39 joyful years, this is it… His first scooter ride! On an island were only 2,500,000 scooters drive around. Heleen has previously driven a scooter in Thailand, so she’s less nervous about it. We decide to take the first ride, again towards the beach because that’s a very quiet road. And to be honest, he loves it! It’s an amazing feeling to ride among the rice fields, under the palm trees lining up beside the road. We see those typical Balinese temples everywhere and pass friendly people waving at us (ok, let’s be honest, to the children). Bali has already captured our hearts …
Pura Tanah Lot
This is undoubtedly one of the hotspots in Bali. Tanah Lot means ‘land in the sea‘ and Pura is a temple. This holy place is located on a rock surrounded by the sea, which means it can only be reached on foot during low tide. The fierce waves surround the temple at high tide. After a short but fun ride with the scooter, we reach Pura Tanah Lot. Before we can reach the temple, we have to pass hundreds of souvenir shops (we told you it is one of the hot spots). The girls don’t mind though. Temples in Bali are still highly incorporated in the culture, so if you are lucky, you’ll be able to witness a ceremony. The local people have to come from villages far away to attend these. It is wonderful to see all the local Balinese people profess their faith in traditional costumes. Not to forget the adorable children in their beautiful outfits.
To visit the domain you have to pay an entrance fee. It’ll cost you $4 for adults and $2 for children. The temple itself is not allowed to visit for foreigners. The view and the atmosphere is still worth the visit though. If you walk a little further, there are some lovely terraces where you can drink or eat something delicious, with a view of Tanah Lot. The sight is mysterious and spectacular, especially with the waves crashing onto the rock and temple! It is a very hot day and we are sweating a lot, so its time for a nice terrace and a good meal. We went there during the day to avoid long queues. In the evening, during sunset, it’s way busier.
All the way to the south of Bali is the Bukit Peninsula. Together with our friends, we stay in a house a short distance from the most famous attractions. A nice place, although it’s not always easy to find food, especially with the kids. There are no restaurants or shops nearby. Luckily there is Grab and GoJek, who also bring food to the house (after a fairly long wait).
Our cottage is within driving distance of a lot of sights. The peninsula is known for its temples, beaches, high waves and surfers. Which means it is time to discover this part of Bali, after relaxing in the pool of course.
Uluwatu lies in the south-west of Bali. The place is best known for its temple, built on the top of a cliff, with breathtaking views. But most tourists also go to Uluwatu to attend the typical Kecak dance performance. You can buy your tickets in advance or on the spot just before the show if it is not sold out yet. The Kecak dance is also known as the Fire Dance. No instruments are used, but the rhythmic sounds of the dancers bring you into a trance while the sun is setting. Unfortunately, we cannot enjoy this sky on fire, it is cloudy. But still, we can feel the magic. The children are impressed, as are we!
Dream Land beach
According to the Lonely Planet, this is one of the most beautiful beaches in Bali. our taxi drops us at the entrance to the Klapa beach club. We are obliged to buy a ticket here before we can enter the beach. Although I’m not sure about that, could be they just tricked us into it. Anyway, it’s nice to see the beach club as well.
The pool is filled with groups of Chinese people. Nothing against that, but they are with so many. So we decide to continue to the beach where we find a nice bar. With a view on the beautiful blue waves, we eat a tasty hamburger with fries.
Swimming in the sea with the kids is not an option because of the meter-high waves. Even walking on the beach could be dangerous because of the danger of being dragged into the sea. We actually see this happen to a tourist who goes way too close and is pulled into the water. Fortunately, there are some Balinese locals who jump into the sea and can save the woman. A bit scary to see.
We decide to go back to the beach club and take a dip in the pool. A lot safer for the kids!
Another beach on the Bukit Peninsula is Jimbaran. This long, beautiful sandy beach is very suitable for the children. The waves are much quieter here and the beach is wide. Time to play! Ideal for families with all the restaurants and bars right on the beach. Mommy and daddy can enjoy some delicious food while the kids play.
We were only able to enjoy it for a short moment because suddenly we get hit by a real tropical storm. Nothing else to do than to hide in the restaurant and wait. Fortunately, these showers never last long over here. On our way back to the taxi, the kids eat one of those delicious corn cobs sold on the beach.
Sanur is a wonderful place for families. Unlike many other beaches in Bali, which have high waves and lots of surfers, Sanur has a long sandy beach and a fairly calm sea. Especially because the surf is 200m deeper into the sea and is blocked by a reef. Which means even surfers can have their fun here. Along the beach, there is a stone path (mini boulevard) with a lot of nice restaurants and (lounge) seats right in the sand.
On the beach itself, you can rent sunbeds or floaties, which the kids love. We stay a few hundred meters from the beach in the Touring Sanur hotel. Our family room is small but nice and not expensive. Every morning, they provide a delicious breakfast right at our room, which is easy with the children!
In Sanur, you can find lots of shops, with additional restaurants in the main street. We find a delicious Mexican restaurant, a bit over budget, but it tastes excellent!
While we are in Sanur, we have to extend our visa. Therefore, we need to go to the immigration office in Denpasar, luckily only 30 minutes away by scooter. The first time we arrive, it is closed. The second time we have to wait for a few hours and hear we have to come back another time to pick up our passports. After the third time, everything is arranged and we can stay an extra month in Bali.
Finally, we also visit a derelict amusement park, a bizarre and mystical place. Nice to walk around and take photos though.
Ubud is located in the centre of Bali and has become increasingly popular with tourists. A fact we easily notice when approaching Ubud by taxi. The road quickly clogs up with scooters and cars. The traffic in and around Ubud is notorious. Fortunately, our first guesthouse is a short distance from the main road and we are not bothered by the busy road that runs through the centre.
Ubud is known for yoga, healthy food and its Balinese culture. In the area, you can explore many villages, rice fields, etc … Again, to be able to explore easily, we rent two scooters and head out. As soon as we leave the centre (and the crowds), we end up in the rice fields driving up and down the steep hills on the nice and quiet roads.
Temples in Ubud
Bali is known for its temples, they call it the “Island of the gods”. In this travel report about Bali, we mention only a few as there are just too many. Some of the most famous ones are close to Ubud.
The most famous one we visit is the Pura Tirta Empul or the water temple known for its holy water. If they want, tourists are allowed to go into the water to cleanse themselves. But there is a big ceremony going on and we decide to attend it. Wonderful to see the local costumes and customs.
In the city, there is the Pura Taman Saraswati. A beautiful complex located in the centre, right of the main street, surrounded by water lilies.
Waterfalls in Ubud
On Bali, there are many waterfalls, some even more beautiful than the others. A lot of them are located not too far from Ubud. With our scooter, we go waterfall hunting.
The first one we visit is the beautiful Tegenungan waterfall. We approached the waterfall through the Dtukad River club. A fantastic spot where you can relax, enjoy a snack or a drink, have a swim and enjoy the view over the waterfall. What a fantastic hip club, a wonderful discovery! Yuna and Hanne are having fun in the swimming pool, we enjoy the rare moment of feeling hip with our kids. After 1 pm, however, a DJ suddenly takes over the scene and produces more decibels than we can handle. Time to get out. We loved the place so much, we come back with our friends as well. And go and explore the waterfall extensively.
During one of our trips by car (in Bali a car plus driver costs around 50 dollars for a whole day), we drive to the Tibumana waterfall. Another beautiful fall, where the water tumbles over the edge with an incredible force. We try to swim close, but the strong current pushes us away. The kids play in the cold water for a while, but then it’s time to leave again.
Walks in Ubud
Ubud is known for its rice fields. As soon as we leave the city, or even deviate from the main street, we immediately find ourselves surrounded by rice fields.
A well-known walk starting from Ubud is the Campuhan ridge walk. It runs over the green hills and occasionally offers fantastic views. It takes us about two hours and on the way we drink a delicious coconut! Nice walk, although we saw only a few rice fields and were not over-enthusiastic.
Rice fields in Ubud
A much nicer and less well-known walk started right next to our second guesthouse in Ubud, Abangan Bungalows (a wonderful place for families). The path takes you through the rice fields past a lot of local restaurants and accommodations. Next time, we definitely want to stay in this area. It is not accessible by car, but by scooter. Which is immediately the biggest disadvantage of this walk, you have to watch out for the scooters with the kids. Although they do not drive fast.
When you are in Ubud, you must visit the Tegalalang rice fields! Together with our friends, we are dropped at ‘the’ entrance from where the walk starts. After a while, we notice that this was not the main entrance, however, but a trick to let us walk past a lot of local shops. What was supposed to be an easy stroll through the rice fields, ended up to be quite a long walk.
We headed deeper and deeper into the rice fields, with four children, up and down at a temperature of 35 degrees. After a satisfying coke, because we were almost dehydrated, and a few photoshoots, we find the main entrance again. In the end, I was glad we took the wrong entrance. We saw more of the rice fields and walked a less busy path.
On our way back, we taste the legendary Kopi Luwak, coffee made from the droppings of the civet cats. These civet cats eat the flesh of the coffee berries. Expensive coffee but very tasty. The children taste the vanilla coffee and love it!
Local souvenir shops and crafts
Ubud is the place to buy Balinese souvenirs! You could go to the traditional market in the centre of Ubud, but we don’t recommend that. It is busy, very touristy and they ask way too much for their stuff. Take a scooter and discover the roads and villages around Ubud. Every village has its own specialization such as woodworking, sculptors, … When you go shop in the villages, you buy directly from the artisans and it will cost way less. Moreover, the quality will be better. You can find everything there! We could fully furnish our house with the furniture and things that we have seen here.
We head for Amed, located in the east of Bali and known for the black volcano beaches and beautiful underwater world. Unfortunately, a lot of coral is dead, but there are still enough tropical fish around. We don’t see turtles or sharks and enjoy our snorkeling day.
Mount Agung, an active volcano, is only a 30-minute drive away. One of the most famous Instagram pictures of Bali is one of the Lempuyang temple with Mount Agung in the background. Our guide picks us up very early because otherwise, the queues can be several hours. It’s cloudy, so you don’t see Mount Agung behind the famous gate to heaven. But we still have a fantastic photo! The temple itself is also worth visiting, many tourists forget to take a look around.
We also visit the water palace Taman Ujung and the water temple Tirta Gangga. Such stunning places again!
The east is a lot quieter than the rest of Bali, definitely worth a visit. It is a shame we can not spend more time here because we are already moving to our last destination of Bali, Nusa Penida. We definitely want to come back here!
From Sanur, we take the ferry towards Nusa Penida. Fortunately, we do not have to carry our luggage to the boat ourselves because the water is just above our knees. After a fairly wild trip (high waves) we reach Nusa Penida. Our accommodation is in a nice hotel which has only 4 bungalows. As we occupy three and the other one is empty, we have the swimming pool completely to ourselves. In the neighbourhood are a few nice restaurants, although it’s hard again to reach them. Luckily the guys of the hotel give us a ride. Nusa Penida is known for its beautiful cliffs, vistas and beaches. Time to immediately explore the island!
One of the highlights of Nusa Penida is Kelingking Beach or better known as the T-Rex viewpoint. The accompanying photo says everything. However, the road towards this beach turns out to be bumpier than we expected. We get rattled in the car. Unbelievable and amazing at the same time that these places are still so little accessible. Something that is likely to change quickly in the future.
Angel’s Billabong is also worth the effort! When we were there it was high tide and we could not swim then, way too dangerous. But at low tide, it is possible to swim in the naturally formed pool. If you follow the path further down, you get to Broken beach.
One of the absolute highlights in Nusa Penida is to see the mantas. We have been wanting to see them and rented a boat that will take us to the place where they regularly appear. As soon as we leave, it becomes clear how dangerous the sea is and the waves are getting higher and higher. When it turns out the mantas aren’t going to appear, our disappointment is big.
On our way back, we go snorkelling at Crystal Bay Beach. We see a lot of tropical fish but the current is very strong. Despite the blue sky, the power of the sea appears to be too big to make it an unforgettable day. Maybe we were just here at the wrong time. Anyway, we are happy when we return safely.
What do we think of Bali?
We heard mixed opinions before we left. Some people were wildly enthusiastic, others thought it was too touristy and too busy. As this travel story about Bali probably reveals, we loved the island!
The people are incredibly friendly, the culture is fascinating and so peaceful. And we’re not even mentioning the incredible nature yet. Waterfalls, beaches, rice fields, … Bali has everything!
When you make the effort to go beyond Kuta, Seminyak and the centre of Ubud, you will see the real Bali. Take the time to discover that too! Next time we will certainly explore the north and spend more time in the east to find the authentic Bali and avoid the crowds.