Bali — Indonesia’s sublime tropical sanctuary; the country’s “Island of the Gods.” As Indonesia’s most popular tourist destination, Bali attracts visitors in the millions. In March 2023, approximately 1.03 million international tourists visited Bali, while in 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, that number was a whopping almost 6.3 million in direct arrivals. Japanese nationals comprise a chunk of these tourists. Per Statista, there were approximately 257,900 Japanese who traveled to Bali, Indonesia in 2019, prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This showed a slight decline from the previous year’s 260,170 Japanese visitors, but higher than the annual figures over the previous decade.
Famed for its romantic beaches, upbeat nightlife, dense jungles and wondrous natural vistas, as well as its marvelous temples and heritage structures, Bali is equal parts sensual and spiritual — and this is exactly what makes for its specialness. Bali gracefully welcomes every type of traveler with arms wide open, offering everything from art and adventure to serenity and scintillation.
The art aficionado’s haven
Bali is a haven for all things artistic, and art-aficionados delight in its varied expressions. From intricate wood-crafted items (whether in décor, sculpture, bas relief, doors, or the posts and lintels of customary homes), exquisite stone and metal work, and skillful weaves in fabrics, to masterful paintings, and awe-inspiring theatrical dances (such as the mesmerizing Kecak Dance), Bali breathes art.
Famed for its romantic beaches, upbeat nightlife, dense jungles and wondrous natural vistas, as well as its marvelous temples and heritage structures, Bali is equal parts sensual and spiritual
The Ubud District is perhaps the best showcase of Balinese art, and a visit to this area mandates a stop at the Blanco Renaissance Museum, the home gallery and studio of the late Spanish artist, Don Antonio Blanco. The studio-cum-sanctuary of the most renowned and successful artist to ever live in Bali sits atop lush, hilly terrain overlooking the Campuan River. Converted into a museum, the main house is a stunning showcase of Blanco’s many masterful and provocative paintings, as well as a romantic monument to his Indonesian wife. The eye-catching property melds traditional Balinese architecture with Catalonian influences, and is nestled within exquisite tropical gardens teeming with exotic birds. Tours are typically conducted by the late artist’s own son, Mario, making for a much more in-depth and insightful experience.
There is much to explore in Ubud Town, art-wise. Small galleries and gift shops line its sloping streets, with local art and artisanal ware for sale. The Ubud Traditional Art Market is likewise a well-known destination to visit, when in town. This shopper’s paradise is a good place to score some customary crafts, at a bargain. Allow for at least two hours to browse through the market’s countless stalls.
Every nature-lover’s oasis
Perhaps the most evident attraction of Bali is its sublime natural beauty. The island stretches approximately 153 km wide and spans approximately 112 km, north to south, and there is no shortage of nature’s splendor in its expanse. From awe-inspiring active volcanoes and rapidly rolling rivers to beauteous beaches and lush tropical jungles, Bali teems with verdant vistas and enthralling environs.
When in Ubud, the Ayung River is a must-see (even better, a must-do), for its white-water rafting adventure. Snaking through vast, unspoiled jungles, the river not only offers rollicking rides down its robust Class 3 rapids, but also riveting views of the surrounding highland thickets. The Tabanan Regency, bordering West Bali National Park, is likewise a must-visit for its breathtaking scenery. It is particularly renowned for the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces, in the village of Wangaya. Boasting over 600 hectares of gracefully-flowing terraced rice paddies cloaked in green and framed by majestic Batukaru Mountain, Jatiluwih affords postcard-perfect panoramas.
Of course, beaches abound, in Bali, with the most popular one being Kuta Beach in Seminyak. Once a sleepy fishing village, Kuta has, over the years, morphed into a major tourist attraction for its bustling beach town with a dynamic surf scene and robust nightlife. Beach lovers who prefer a quieter experience, however, will delight in Bali’s further-flung spots. The island is home to an array of less-populous, more pristine beaches, as well. Ibus Beach and Lipa Beach in Amed, on Bali’s eastern side, are just two examples on a lengthy list. Both beaches boast gorgeous reef systems, volcanic black sand from nearby volcanoes, dramatic naturescapes, and a serene atmosphere.
A culture-seeker’s getaway
Despite its Western influences, the Island of the Gods still retains much of its Indonesian identity. Bali offers travelers a strong sense of place and culture, and provides them with a glimpse into its most sublime customs and traditions. With more than 650 Hindu villages throughout the island, and with each village being required to have at least three“puras” or temples, Bali has in excess of 20,000 temples. It’s no wonder that Bali is also known as the Island of a Thousand Temples.
While each temple has its own unique attributes, Pura Tanah Lot or Tanah Lot Temple in Bali’s Tabanan Regency is one of the most special, as far as temples go. This 16th century holy structure is among the most remarkable ancient places of worship in the world. Built atop an island rock, Tanah Lot (which roughly translates as “Land in the Sea”) is important in Balinese mythology, honoring the sea deity Dewa Baruna or Bhatara Segara. Large moss-covered slabs of stone pave the way to the rocky shrine by the sea, and visitors must first receive a cleansing and blessing, to gain access to the temple’s inner sanctum. As dusk approaches, thousands of bats fly from their cave, located in the bay south of the main temple, to the surrounding cliffs. This exodus lends an exciting air of mystery and drama to the incredibly stunning sunset view, and is well-worth the wait.
For a feel of Bali’s royal culture, a trip to the 18th Century Ubud Palace is in order, while visitors looking to immerse themselves in customary life may book a stay at a heritage villa or a traditional Balinese home, many of which have opened their doors to guests and tourists.
For its beauty, imbued with spirit and boldness, alike, Bali beckons — whether for the first or the hundredth visit. And those who accept the invitation come away gratified, each time.