Bali is one of the most famous island tourist destinations in the world. This Indonesian isle's idyllic beaches, endless surf, easygoing population and exotic culture are all reasons why people from around the world put Bali high on their to-visit lists.
Known as the “Island of the Gods,” Bali draws everyone from surfers and beach aficionados to young backpackers with only a few dollars in their pocket to ultra-wealthy resort-goers. Most people focus on the beach, the water and the handful of headlining tourist-oriented nature and culture sites. However, the island is filled with eco-tourism opportunities because of its natural interior and its diverse set of landscapes, which include mountains, terraced rice fields, forests, savannas and a coastline that fluctuates between rugged and pristine.
Its high profile status means that Bali can be a crowded place, especially during the summer and the Christmas/New Year holiday season. However, the island has a rural side, and eco-tourism is a well-established sub-industry, so there is ample opportunity to get away from the beaches and bars and into the natural, wild places that characterize much of Bali. It is quite possible to have a green, nature-themed vacation on the Island of the Gods without too much effort. A low-impact getaway is possible even if you choose to indulge in the beach-and-bar scene at Kuta Beach, Bali's crowded and sandy headlining attraction.
In major tourist areas and urban centers, Bali's infrastructure is pressed to handle the high amount of traffic. This is true in the capital city of Denpasar and the popular Kuta Beach area nearby. Brave visitors who can deal with any traffic and safety concerns can rent small (125 cc or less), gas-sipping motorcycles and bicycles.
The main form of public transportation is provided by minibuses known as bemos. These minivan-type vehicles are found throughout Bali, though you'll be just as likely to find taxis in touristy areas. One semi-public-transit option is to book a shuttle bus from a tour company. Perama Tour & Travel offers buses that are far more amenity-filled than their bemo counterparts. These are useful for cross-island travel.
The Udayana Kingfisher Eco-Lodge is a well positioned sleeping option in south Bali near Denpasar. It overlooks a beach and is also within eyeshot of Agung Mountain, one of Bali's tallest and most picture-worthy peaks. Udayana’s 24 acres are a haven for birds and butterflies, with more than 80 species of the colorful insects and 50 avian species (including several varieties of the lodge's namesake kingfishers) on site.
Hotel Uyah Amed, located in the less crowded region of Amed, in eastern Bali, was built using sustainable, environmentally friendly principles. The Uyah has green features like solar power, efficient appliances and an on-site organic garden. The traditional industry in the area, sea salt production, is still practiced adjacent the hotel. Both trekking and diving opportunities are available within a short distance of the Uyah.
Central Bali's Sarinbuana Eco Lodge sits in the shadow of the 6,000-plus-foot Mount Batukaru, one of the tallest peaks in Bali. Sarinbuana offers a pure eco-tourism experience and, unlike many Bali resorts, has nothing to do with the beach. Set directly on the slopes of the mountain, this hotel features a natural setting and a whole range of nature-centered excursions. The lodge's restaurant uses ingredients from the on-site organic garden to make many of its dishes. Bali Eco-Stay is similarly focused on sustainable practices and natural surroundings. This hotel is located in the rice-growing section of central Bali on the slopes of Mount Batukaru.
Because agriculture still plays a large part in Bali's economy, it is easy to eat local, fresh foods while on the island. Vegetarians and vegans will find themselves with a wide variety of meatless eating options from upscale specialty restaurants to local veg-oriented eateries. Most of these places serve traditional Indonesian, Balinese and Chinese cuisine, so visitors are likely to find a solid list of local dishes instead of the funky fusion and faux meat dishes that plague some places' vegetarian scenes.
For fresh local foods, the Ubud Organic Market in the central Balinese town of Ubud is a unique option. This market runs each Saturday and features produce, herbs and artisanal products (of an organic nature) sold by local producers. Another green spot in Ubud is Sari Organic, a small, hard-to-find restaurant that can best be reached by foot. It is adjacent to a farm that bears the same name. Sari is as locally grown as it gets, with its ingredients coming from the fields directly across the street.
The Manik Organic Health Food Store, in the Kuta area, holds a Thursday evening market that features fresh, local produce. The market's namesake store sells health food products and is open daily. The Earth Cafe, meanwhile, serves organic foods sourced, in large part, from local farmers. The adjoining Earth Market features organic products, with both locally sourced and imported goods.
Bali is known for its surfing even though it does not boast the mammoth waves of Oahu's North Shore or other legendary surfing destinations. Beaches on both the east and west parts of the island's coastline have virtually uninterrupted surf. Surf schools (and instructors who are associated with local shops) make this a good place to learn to ride the waves. Even those who want to avoid the crowds at Kuta Beach might want to visit this most popular stretch of sand because it is the most convenient place to learn to surf.
Underwater sports like snorkeling and scuba diving are also possible on the Island of the Gods. Tulamben Bay, in northeastern Bali, is has clear waters and an unspoiled marine-scape. Nusa Dua, on the opposite end of the island, is known for its five-star beach resorts, but is also the location of some of the island's best dive spots. Coral reefs hold abundant wildlife, and the shallow depths mean that the area can easily be explored by snorkel by people who don't want to strap on oxygen tanks.
Bali Barat National Park (Taman Nasional Bali Barat) is a 190-square-mile area of protected land in west Bali. It is the island's only national park. Landscapes inside the confines of Bali Barat include savannas, mountains and monsoon-fed jungle. An additional 27 square miles of marine landscape and coral islands off the coast also fall under the parks' protected status. The park is home to hundreds of species of plants and animals, the most famous (and most elusive) being the endangered Bali starling.
Bali's monkey forests are popular with tourists (though they are probably not what most nature-lovers would consider high-quality eco-tourism attractions). The Sangeh Monkey Forest is easy to reach from both Denpasar and Kuta Beach. The forest is crowded with camera-wielding tourists on most days, but the tame, mischievous long-tailed macaques (known for grabbing any shiny objects that tourists happen to be carrying) are not the only wildlife. Wild birds and large nutmeg trees are other picture-worthy natural features. The Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud is less touristy and boasts similarly natural landscapes to go along with its headlining primates.
Bali Bird Park is a conservation-minded attraction that includes a five-acre bird sanctuary with botanical-garden-like landscapes. Tropical birds, from parrots to the local endangered Bali starling, have been successfully bred in captivity by the park's avian experts. In all, more than 40 protected bird species call the park home.
Mount Agung, a picturesque volcanic mountain, is one of Bali's highest peaks and a great spot for mountain trekking. The trek to the top can take less than a day and can be done without guides, though guides are available in the towns near the trailheads where the ascent starts.
The Bali Mangrove Information Center is a Japanese-funded project that seeks to preserve mangrove forest and educate the public about this type of eco-system. Aside from an educationally focused information center, there are boardwalk trails through the surrounding protected areas.
Bali is firmly in Southeast Asia's tourism spotlight. However, except for a handful of beaches and tourist-centered areas, this lush island is not at all overrun by camera-toting, swimsuit-wearing visitors. If you want a full-on eco-adventure or just a quiet, sandy spot to listen to the surf rolling onto the beach, Bali is an almost ideal destination.
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