Whether you come to Indonesia’s most popular island to surf, party, or live out your Eat Pray Love fantasy, Bali has something for everyone — and then some. From luxury tented camps in Ubud’s jungled hills to pillow-strewn beach clubs in Canggu, journalist Chris Schalkx shares his favorite spots on the Island of Gods.
Surrounded by rice fields and palm groves in little-visited Tabanan, Nirjhara stands out with a sleek, straight-lined design from warm woods and volcanic rock. Bordered by an infinity pool and overlooked by a breezy restaurant, a dramatic-multi tiered waterfall sits at the heart of the resort and flows past a small village of spacious villas downstream. The most sought-after rooms, though, are the treehouse-like stilted villas with bathtubs on their rooftop viewing decks.
When you give eccentric hotel designer Bill Bensley free rein over a luxury jungle camp, one thing is certain: guests can expect the unexpected. That’s certainly the case at Capella Ubud, a Bensley-designed camp just outside Ubud, where 22 tents come packed with surprises. There are quirky monkey statues hopping around the tents’ private pools, and the minibar is hidden inside a leather travel trunk. Don’t miss the nightly hot cocoa and marshmallows around the resort’s central fire pit.
At this Ubud institution, desserts aren’t an after-dinner afterthought – they’re the stars of the show. From his open kitchen, pastry chef Will Goldfarb (who previously worked at El Bulli) dishes out all-desert tasting menus with course after course of sweet creations from ylang-ylang, candlenut, and nutmeg — many of which are grown in gardens surrounding the restaurant.
Opened by a group of young Bali-born chefs who spent years honing their cooking skills in Melbourne, this New Nordic-looking dining joint in Seminyak gives local ingredients an unexpected spin. Served in multi-course tasting menus that change every two weeks, dishes could include pork chop with black garlic and green sambal, or house-made flatbread with whipped sesame cream. Keep an eye out for the frequent chef collaborations popping up on the calendar.
This stamp-sized cocktail spot in Berawa’s co-working space Kinship Studio feels like one of those sultry, wood-clad neighborhood bars in Tokyo. Served under the soft glow of a Noguchi paper lantern, the drink list covers classic cocktails, sakes and natural wines, and more innovative creations featuring sous vide-infused pandan rum and tequila washed with roast sesame.
With its bean bag-lined beach in front, palm-fringed pool, and seating nooks from sun-bleached wood, La Brisa in Canggu is the kind of beachside drinking den you arrive at in the afternoon and leave—sun-blushed and slightly tipsy—well after the sun has set. This whimsical space is made from more than 500 old fishing boats, and serves classic cocktails with a twist (think: cinnamon espresso martinis, starfruit-studded mojitos). Every Sunday, a farmers’ market pops up between the palm trees in its central courtyard.
Stroll around Pererenan
This still-quiet village one beach west of Canggu is on its way to becoming Bali’s next hip ‘hood, but has so far been spared from the perennial traffic jams haunting the areas to the east. Start the day here with coffee and house-made pastries at concrete-floored BAKED, or stop by rattan-clad Touché for a coconut latte. Black-sand Pererenan beach has dependable reef breaks for excellent surfing. For dinner, head to Woods, a glasshouse-like restaurant just of the main drag, serving flower-flecked salads, sashimi, and steaks, after which you can follow clued-in locals to the chic LeBlon for pineapple-ginger caipiroskas and hickory wood-smoked negronis.
Potato Head is Seminyak’s hottest ticket for a reason: this beautiful beach club constantly brings in top entertainers from around the globe (think: Peggy Gou, Grace Jones, Richie Hawtin) and has a restaurant line-up ranging from haute-Indonesian KAUM to plant-based Tanaman. Better yet: following its ‘Good Times, Do Good’ motto, the club and the surrounding creative village put the spotlight on sustainability with eco-workshops, zero-waste design, and art projects from recycled materials.
Nyang Nyang Beach
Even though this gorgeous white-sand beach on Uluwatu’s southern tip is one of Bali’s worst-kept secrets, it still only sees a small fraction of the crowds that descend on the beaches further north. Nyang Nyang Beach (also known as Pantai Nyang Nyang) requires a 20-minute trek down a steep, jungle-covered hairpin trail, but once you’ve reached the shore, you can reward yourself with a dip in the bathwater-warm ocean and a cold beer or coconut from one of the ramshackle beach bars lining the sand.
This jumble of rice fields and dirt roads with a backdrop of mist-shrouded volcanoes feels like the Ubud of 20 years ago. While tourists have definitely discovered this village on the island’s east, it’s still blissfully free from massage parlors, souvenir stores, and big-buck resorts. This is a top spot to rent a scooter and just tour around: hit up the bamboo-clad warungs fringing the rice fields, or one of the many waterfalls hidden in the jungled perimeter.