A Detailed Guide on Where to Stay in Bali: from Ubud to Seminyak
Many people think of Bali as a touristy place that’s overrun by party backpackers. But let’s first get this clear: Bali is a big island. While south Bali is dominated by tourism, the rest of the island remains distinctly Balinese, with traditional culture that is largely intact. The unique culture of Bali is resilient, persistent and very much alive, not only in its small villages, but also in the towns and cities, where ancient traditions blend with a burgeoning global lifestyle.
If you want to get the experience you’re seeking for, then it’s important to find the right area to stay in Bali. The good news is that each part of the island is different and caters to a distinctive group of travelers. Whether you’re a yogi, surfer or trekker, you will find your enclave here on the island.
Most party backpackers head to hedonistic Kuta, while well-heeled vacationers congregate in chic Seminyak for cocktail bars and boutique hotels. Family travellers in Bali tend to gravitate towards Sanur for its calm waters and yoga enthusiasts and hippies flock to Ubud in search of their own version of “Eat Pray Love”. Hardcore surfers like to stay in Uluwatu as that’s where the best swells are, while scuba divers go straight to Tulamben in the North.
Having just spent two months in Bali, we stayed at every corner of Bali you can imagine: from the southern tip (Nusa Dua and Uluwatu) and the touristy trio (Kuta, Seminyak, Legian) to secret hidden corners (Balian Beach and Nyanyi). We got a good feel for the vibes and character of each town and we’ve compiled a guide to help you decide where to stay in Bali.
READ MORE: 7 Kid-Friendly Hotels in Bali
This is the most populous and busy region of Bali, where you’ll find the biggest hotels, the most vibrant nightlife, the best surf, and the most stylish bars. It has a lot going on in such a small space — but you’ll still find that each town has its own characteristics and quirks.
Seminyak is Bali’s capital of chic — being an upscale and more stylish version of Kuta (backpackers’ party town). The beach along Seminyak is right to Kuta, but this stretch is more exclusive and lined with high-end resorts and hip beach bars. Although it’s become much busier in recent years, it’s still relatively chilled and laid-back. This area is also full of high-end villas, which are often much cheaper than you’d imagine. If you’re looking for upscale resorts and modern cocktail bars, then this is the place for you.
Recommended Hotel: Villa Asri
This two-bedroom villa in a quiet street just a 10-minute walk from the heart of Seminyak is quite a steal at less than US$100/night. We stayed here with my parents who had come to visit, and had a ball just hanging around Seminyak, swimming in the villa everyday and exploring Bali from our comfy base. Our housekeeper Neng was probably the reason why we loved this place — she was always ready to help, she took great care of us and made sure we felt right at home here.
This is where the tropical entrepreneurs and digital nomads living in Bali hang out. They are here for the lifestyle and not just a holiday. While the beach isn’t anything different from Kuta or Seminyak beach, the vibes in Canggu town remind me of laid-back surfer’s towns like Los Angeles’ Venice Beach and Sydney Bondi Beach. There’s a whole slew of hipster cafes that boast organic food and artisan beers; and best of all, prices here are much lower than neighboring Seminyak. We really liked it here and wish we stayed longer.
Recommended Hotel: Villa Sarasvati
It’s quite hard to hunt down a villa that’s closely located to restaurants and supermarkets, but Villa Sarasvati ticks all the boxes for those looking to explore Bali on foot. This villa is perfect in every sense of the word with respect to location as it’s just steps from hip cafes in Canggu and a 10-minute walk from Berawa Beach. Built on a rare patch of land that overlooks lush green rice paddies, this four-bedroom villa is contemporary in design but still oozing plenty of Balinese character.
Located just a 10-minute drive from the airport, this area is where most people would stay upon arrival or departure. What was once a tiny fishing village with a daily market is now home to several large-scale five-star beach resorts. What we like most about Jimbaran is the clean white sand beach that’s safe for kids (most beaches in Bali have huge waves and black volcanic sand). The bay has a stretch of seafood restaurants on the beach that draw in lots of tourists during sunset but they are heavily overpriced.
Recommended Hotel: Intercontinental Bali
For a real Balinese experience, you won’t go wrong at the Intercontinental Bali. Featuring beautiful traditional Balinese architecture and furnishing, the resort makes you feel like you’re entering an ancient palace studded with temples, pagodas and lotus ponds. For my family, the resort was beyond what we expected in every sense of the word — offering great service, fun activities and plenty of space to relax and learn about the Balinese culture.
READ MY REVIEW
Uluwatu/ Padang Padang
Bali may be famed for its beaches and rice paddies now, but it was the surfers who first discovered this beautiful Indonesian island. The best swells on the island are found in the southwestern tip of the Bukit Peninsula of Bali — Uluwatu beach and Padang Padang beach boast the kinds of waves surfers dream of. Note however that Neptune’s fierce in this part of town. Only experienced surfers should attempt to brave the waters around the Bukit Peninsula.
Recommended Hotel: Terrace Ampels
A great budget option for surfers in Uluwatu, Terrace Ampels is a simple surfers hotel with very affordable prices and newly renovated rooms. It’s owned by a Brazilian veteran surfer who has set up home here since a decade ago. The hotel is perched on a hilltop overlooking lush jungles, so expect to walk a little to get to the beach. Padang Padang is a very quiet town, so don’t come here if you want to party all night long.
Poised at the southernmost tip of Bali, this area easily has the best beaches on the island in my opinion, large empty swathes of white pearly sand and clear waters. Because it was never used for agriculture, the area is relatively untouched. Nusa Dua has two separate parts – the gated resort area that’s away from it all, and Tanjung Benoa, which has quite a few local shops and restaurants.
Recommended Hotel: Samabe Bali Suites & Villas
Samabe is a five-star resort poised on a cliff top overlooking the spearmint waters of Nusa Dua. We absolutely loved our private villa that had a huge living space and our own pool. Samabe Bali also offers families a choice of “limited and unlimited privileges” for its guests. “Unlimited privileges” cover everything including immersive day trips and the full gamut of meals and beverages, entertainment, and spa treatments.
READ MY REVIEW
From all the areas we explored in Bali, this was perhaps the most unexplored part of the island. Tanah Lot Temple aside, other parts of the region are completely free of tourists, and are studded with rice paddies, mountains and volcanoes. This part of the island is great for those who want to experience the ‘real Bali’.
The village of Nyanyi is everything you’ll imagine rural Bali to be: quiet, slow and surrounded by nature. This calm and serene area is far from the chaotic traffic and tourist crowds of Seminyak and Kuta, but still just 50km from Denpasar Airport. Although it’s a quiet area, there are many interesting sites to explore nearby, such as the seaside Tanah Lot temple, UNESCO Heritage Site of Jati Luwih rice terraces, and Mount Batukaru.
Recommended Hotel: Villa Umah Wa Ke
Surrounded by lush jungles and tropical foliage, Villa Umah Wa Ke gives a truly unique experience that few other accommodations on Bali can rival. A river flows just beneath the villa, and different types of tropical vegetation — from fragrant frangipani to banana trees and swaying coconut palms — envelop the villa in a garden-like assemblage. It gives the sensation that you’re immersed deep in rural Bali, but you’re actually just a 15-minute drive from Canggu.
READ MY REVIEW
Further north on the coast is the wild and rugged Balian Beach, a secret spot that even the Balinese know about. Very few tourists make their way here, so expect to have long stretches of black-sand beach all to yourself. Besides being one of the best surfing spots on the island, Balian is studded with headlands and secret coves that are great fun to explore especially for kids.
Recommended Hotel: Villa Delmara
This eclectic 4-room villa is anything but average — it’s got so much character and unique flair that you’ll be hard-pressed to find any other living space quite like this in the world. With an eclectic design and architectural style, Villa Delmara features Dali-esque styles, retro colors and European elegance all at once. You really can’t ask for a better spot than at Villa Delmara, just steps from the rugged and spectacular black-sand Balian Beach.
This is the heartland of Bali, not only geographically but also culturally, spiritually and historically. It is a region of great natural beauty, with dramatic mountain scenery and an equally dramatic cultural panorama characterised by traditional performing arts and ceremonies.
Ubud was once a sleepy artist village, but has transformed into a mini-metropolis now thanks to tourism. Despite that, it’s still a good place to base from which to explore the surrounding region packed with temples, rice terraces and mountains. In Ubud town itself, there are also a hodgepodge of interesting museums and temples that are some of the best in Bali.
Recommended Hotel: Villa D’Uma
This small family-run villa is located within the rice fields of Penastanan in Ubud. It’s brand new and the rooms are spacious and gorgeous. There are only three rooms in the villa, so you get lots of privacy as a family. We absolutely enjoyed our time here, waking up to views of the rice fields and having breakfast on our verandah. However, Villa D’Uma is a 15-minute walk to the main road (not accessible by car), so it’s more suitable to families with older kids.
The other side of the island is a whole different world. You won’t find the kookiness of Kuta or the pretentious vibes of Seminyak here — things are more down to earth and toned down on the eastern coast of Bali.
Some people call this a sleepy town, but we rather enjoyed the mellow and laid-back atmosphere here. Sanur tends to draw in many families, as its beach is protected by a reef meaning that the water is calm and shallow – making it safe for kids. Also, Sanur is home to Peekaboo, the biggest children’s playground and play cafe in Bali. Play areas like that are not common in Bali, so having this nearby can be a life saver for parents.
Recommended Hotel: Puri Tempo Doeloe
Quirky and tastefully designed, this heritage hotel is housed in a traditional Indonesian ‘palace’ with beautiful bungalows painted in pastel colors and decorated with antique and vintage furniture. Puri Tempo Doelo is also very well priced and offer great value for families. The only drawback is that it’s located along the Ngurah Rai highway and at least a 20-minute walk from the beach.
All the way up in the northeastern part of Bali is a quiet little nook that scuba divers congregate. Tulamben is home to the best dive site in Bali: the USS Liberty shipwreck that’s plonked right off the beach. The town itself isn’t really worth writing home about, but most people come here just to dive. It’s also the closest point to the Gili islands, so it’s worthwhile to stay here for a night or two if you’re planning to head to Gili.
Recommended Hotel: Mimpi Resort Tulamben
For divers, this resort has the best location as it’s literally in front of the best dive site in town. You’ll be able to dive as many time as you want right off the resort’s beach. The architecture of the Mimpi Resort hotel oozes traditional Balinese flair, and rooms are simple but comfortable.
Disclaimer: Some of these hotels provided us with complimentary stays, but all of the opinions expressed are our own.
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