Ask many a seasoned tourist about their first impressions of Bali and unfortunately many (particularly if their visit involved chaotic Kuta) will relay sordid experiences of skanky street fronts, polluted beaches and beer bonging tourists.
But of course this idyllic paradise offers infinitely much more. From volcanic hillsides, ancient monuments and windswept coastlines, to its pamper hubs, adventure hotspots and master-chef-making cooking schools, Bali truly does deserve its moniker of the Island of the Gods.
You just need to bypass the tourist traps to discover why.
If you’re the sporty type
Fancy a spin around a picturesque rice paddy or two? Then head to Ubud, where you can cycle your way through a myriad of traditional villages (including the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces, which are a World Heritage Site), before soothing those aching muscles with a hot spa at one of the town’s health retreats.
Or wax up that board and join the hundreds of other grommets trying their luck at some of the world’s most iconic surf spots. Seminyak Beach offers short lengths perfect for beginners, or if you’d prefer a bit of professional instruction, Legian Beach boasts several notable surf schools.
Blessed with several beaches that feature natural wave barriers perfect for viewing a teeming array of tropical marine life, snorkelers should check out the calm swells of Nusa Dua or head east for Amed’s coastal strip, where you’ll find an immense spread of coral reefs spanning Jemeluk Bay.
Divers should explore Napoleon Reef in the northwest or the Tulamben Drop-Off at the east end of Tulamben Bay, which is one of the most stunning dive spots in Bali, created by lava flow from the 1963 eruption of Mount Agung.
If you’re a nature lover
Butterfly Park, northwest of Denpasar, offers the chance to view hundreds of these beautiful creatures fluttering past in their natural habitat and whimsical ones can also witness the wonder of baby B-flies being born in the park’s ‘nursery’.
Cheeky critters abound in the Ubud Monkey Forest, home to 600-odd hairy types that are notoriously sticky fingered (carry yellow treats at your own peril), or if you’d prefer much less aggressive fauna, visit the turtle breeding sanctuary on Bali’s Serangan Island. Developed as part of the country’s strategy to eradicate illegal turtle trading (and supported by the WWF), you’ll view heaps of these flippered cuties here, and you can even adopt one of them (but release it into the ocean like all good turtle mamas).
Did someone say dolphins? On the northwestern side of Bali, the coastal strip of Lovina Beach beckons those with a soft spot for these uber-intelligent mammals, particularly when you get the chance to get up close and personal with them. Book a pre-dawn tour aboard a local fishing boat and come sun-up, watch these glorious creatures frolick about in their balmy surrounds.
If you’re a culture buff
A visit to Denpasar doesn’t have to be just about pool time and endless partying. The city has a number of great cultural sites including the state temple Pura Jagatnatha, the Negri Propinsi Museum and Pasar Kumbasari, a bustling arts and craft market.
Further south in Nusa Dua, wander through the Pasifika Museum, with its extensive collection of Balinese art and its Pacific Room that displays a great collection of jewellery, carvings and artefacts from across the great ocean.
And if you’ve not been within a whisper of a temple, then you’ve not yet experienced Bali. With over 20,000 of them spread across the length and breadth of the island, you’re spoilt for choice. Taman Ayun, with its exquisite gardens and tinkling water features, is a UNESCO site and probably the cream of the crop, however Uluwatu Temple is also a crowd favourite, if not just for the views.
Perched precariously atop a 70-metre cliff, if offers stunning selfie opps in front of the Indian Ocean and as the evening draws near, the venue hosts a quirky Kecak Fire Dancing ceremony that’s also worth checking out.
If you’re a peaceful type
Whether you’re after a quick rubdown or the complete royal treatment, infinite options abound here for the pleasure seeker, from ladies-only day spas to rustic zen centres. From flower-petaled baths, coconut scented massages and quartz lift facials to frangipani body gloss treatments and the old down and dirty mani-pedis – it’s all here.
Like to sharpen up your dog, cobra or butterfly? Then bliss-out with a running-waterfall-rice-field-edged yoga retreat. Tune in as uber-masters subliminally counsel you in the art of meditation, offer healing consultations and blessing ceremonies and offer you sumptuous ayurvedic-approved food, that’s been freshly plucked from five-star organic gardens.
If you’re an adventurer
Experience an exhilarating hike 1700 metres or so up Bali’s most active volcano (Mount Batur) in pitch darkness and you’ll experience stunning views from the summit as the sun rises over the lake and surrounding crater. A truly magical experience, you’ll also be rewarded with a hot, steamed breakfast, volcano-style (typically boiled eggs and steamed bananas).
If you’re fancy a mix of hiking, abseiling (and depending on your skill level) swimming, adrenalin junkies should definitely have a crack at river rafting, where you can get your fill of towering gorges and tumbling rapids. Or if a creating a bit of air is your thing, try kite surfing, where the best of both worlds is merely a wave or two away.
If you’re a foodie
They are two of life’s palatable pleasures – coffee and chocolate. So why not succumb to both? With its high altitude mountains, Bali also has the perfect climate for both types of these flavour packed beans to grow. From ethically grown, handmade chocolates to the most expense coffee in the world (it’s called kopi luwak and it’s made from beans harvested from the droppings of an Asian mammal), this stuff will get those tastebud’s tripping.
And if you love to cook, Bali serves up a host of great locations where you can take advantage of the island’s eye watering spiciness levels and range of rich ingredients. Start your gastronomic journey with a trip to the local markets for some fresh produce (just-caught fish and organic veges for a start), then try your hand at recreating some of Bali’s age-old traditional favourites.