The beauty of Bali is that it has something for everyone. The island has long established itself as an extremely popular destination, but 80% of tourists stick to the areas down south (Kuta, Canngu, Seminyak) or Ubud in the centre. Venturing a little further away from these areas, you’ll still find plenty of hidden gem spots without the crowds – where you’ll most certainly get a better feel of real Balinese culture. 

I’ve created this hidden gem guide to some of Bali’s lesser-known interesting spots based on my own experience of exploring the island by moped over a number of weeks. It focuses on northern, eastern and western parts of Bali as this is where you’ll find more of the less-explored, hidden gem Bali as the whole island may have been like 40 years ago.

Map of Bali’s Hidden Gems

 

Bali Hidden Gem Map

East Bali

Dominated by Mount Agung, east Bali is diverse region ranging from lush hilly forests and vast rice terraces to black sand beaches with outstanding snorkelling sites, this part of the island is ideal for a laid back stay away from the crowds. Here you get a better taste of local Balinese life while still having ample options to enjoy the outdoors. 

East Bali is also the most convenient region to stay if you’d like to combine your Bali visit with Lombok or Gili Islands.

 

Amed

Why visit: A peaceful alternative to south Bali with outstanding snorkelling / diving sites

 

Amed Panorama, East Bali

Because fewer visitors bother to venture this far, the eastern side of Bali enjoys a laid back, quaint and authentic lifestyle that the resorts down south have lost over the years. 

Amed is a town that seems to stretch for miles along the coast (so having a moped really helps here), offering a variety of black sand beaches, seafood warungs and pleasant cafes, with the ominous cloud-laden Mount Agung volcano looming in the background. Here you’ll find a wide selection of mostly unassuming accommodation options from seaside bungalows to farmland homestays at fantastic value. Don’t expect much nightlife – Amed is a place to relax as well as a great location to work remotely from. 

And it’s a snorkelling / scuba paradise. The otherwise unimpressive beaches stretching along the coastline boast coral reefs that you can access right off the shore as well as some of the world’s finest scuba diving spots. This includes the eternal resting spots of two WW2 ships (one American called USAT Liberty and another Japanese), the wreck points being close enough to the surface that they can also be enjoyed snorkelling.

For the most local experience, head to the traditional morning market in Culik Village as well as its street food for a game of Bali belly roulette, if you feel particularly adventurous.

Besides the sea-based activities you’ve got many trekking options and a bicycle rental place (East Bali Bike Tour) that does tours of the local back roads. If you have a private car or moped there are options to venture out for inland day trips to the likes of Amlapura and Sibetan (see below!)

Getting to Amed

Amed is around 2 hours’ scenic drive from Denpasar area or Ubud. The town is also conveniently served by occasional passenger boats from Lombok and Gili Islands in case you want to combine them in your itinerary.

 

Sibetan Rice Terrace

Why visit: Beautiful rice paddies with a volcanic backdrop – all to yourself

 

Sibetan Rice Terraces, Bali

Besides the beaches and the temples, for me Bali stands out for its stunning rice paddies scattered along its hills. And you’ll quickly learn there is no shortage of rice terraces to explore on your visit to Bali. Of course you have the tourist hotspots like Tegallalang near Ubud with its many Instagram spots and those Bali swings that somehow became the essential Bali social media post.

If you want to enjoy rice terraces all to yourself, head further out. One of my favourite discoveries on the island is the Sibetan Rice Terrace located in the east of the island. There are no shops or swings here – just a wide expanse of meticulously-sculpted rice paddies with the backdrop of the dominating Mount Agung

Come here in the morning for the best chance of seeing Mount Agung in its full glory before it gets wrapped up in clouds. Along the way there are a handful of local warungs to enjoy a ridiculously cheap lunch in front of the full Sibetan panorama.

Combines well with Samsara Living Museum Bali (see below) and Tirta Gangga.

Getting to Sibetan Rice Terrace

Sibetan area is easily done as a day trip from anywhere on the island. The easiest would be if you’re basing in Amed or Padang Bai (45 minutes’ drive), while from the south or Ubud it’s around 1½ hours’ each way.

 

Samsara Living Museum Bali

Why visit: Learn about the Balinese culture while enjoying the nature

 

Samsara Living Museum, Bali

It might be fairly remote, but if you’re in the area and want to learn more about the Balinese and their culture, this is the place to go. Samsara Living Museum is an open air museum that introduces you (with the help of a guide) to key events in the lives of Balinese, shows how they use coconuts to make the local liquor arak (of course you get to try some!) as well as how people go about their lives in a typical village.

Part of the joy of this place is just how peaceful it feels up here in the jungle (we were the only tourists at the time of visiting) and being a little higher above sea level you’ll be feeling less of the heat and humidity. 

They also feature a range of bookable activities including cooking, Balinese dancing and arak brewing classes. 

Getting to Samsara Living Museum Bali

It’s not well signposted but Google Maps will get you there. As with most places on the island, moped or a taxi are your main options, and it will take around 1½ hours from south Bali or Ubud area. For those basing in Amed or Padang Bai it’s only a 45-minute drive. 

 

Padang Bai

Why visit: Charming port town with white sand beaches

 

Padang Bai Streets, Bali

Thanks to its hilly surroundings and white sand beaches, there is something charming about the harbour town of Padang Bai.

Rarely seen more than a stopover point for onward ferries and fast boats to Lombok and the Gili Islands, the area itself deserves attention in its own right thanks to its peaceful vibes and less-visited gorgeous beaches.

For an idyllic beach day, I recommend Bias Tugel Beach as it’s quite secluded and surrounded by hilly capes. It’s reachable by foot from central Padang Bai. The waves and currents can be quite strong here so avoid swimming on the less calm days.

The Padang Bai area is more geared towards affordable guesthouse-style accommodation and as a result is some of the best value on the island, and this makes it a good choice for a base to explore eastern Bali for a few days.

Getting to Padang Bai

The town is about 1 to 1.5 hours from Denpasar / Ubud areas of Bali. It’s also a popular boat and ferry port to Lombok and Gili Islands so Padang Bai works great for a few days’ base if you’re planning on including the neighbouring islands on your itinerary.

 

Goa Lawah Temple

Why visit: One of Bali’s most unique temples with a holy bat cave

 

Goa Lawah Temple Bat Cave

There are more temples on Bali than craters on the moon, but a few really stand out and Goa Lawah is one of them.

A part of this beautiful black and gold Hindu temple complex is carved into a holy cave that’s also home to what seems like tens of thousands of bats. Some may find this eerie, but for others getting up pretty close to a living city of bats is quite special. They’re pretty cute if you ask me.

The rest of the temple is of course interesting but not that different to the other major temples of Bali. At the entrance you’ll be asked to rent a sarong before being allowed in, so if you already have one be sure to bring it.

Since you’re in the area, drive a little further down the coastal road to the Goa Lawah resting stop by the beach. Down on the black-sand beach you’ll find the remnants of a boat which makes for an interesting sandy walk.

Abandoned Ship near Goa Lawah Rest Area, Bali

Getting to Goa Lawah Temple

It’s easy to spot the temple right off the main coastal road between Denpasar (1 hour drive) and Padang Bai (20 mins’ drive). Ubud is roughly 45 mins’ away. There is ample parking at the entrance.

North Bali

North Bali is best described as what south Bali might have been like many decades ago. Less favoured by tourists, it’s the best region to choose if you want to embrace Balinese culture, soak or snorkel in quiet beaches, spot some dolphins or tour the best waterfalls the island has to offer. Climbing the steep hills of the northern coast, you’ll discover a different world of Bali with a temperate climate, crater lakes, coffee and vivid green mountain forests.

Banyumala Twin Waterfall

Why visit: A stunning waterfall with a bathing pool and few tourists

 

Banyumala Waterfall, Bali

Bali has a wealth of stunning waterfalls streaming down its verdant central mountains. But the other side of visiting waterfalls on Bali is that when a particular location gains too much popularity, the entry points eventually become overrun with local guide mafia aggressively enforcing their overpriced services on visitors for what is often just a 5 minute walk down to the site.

Banyumala Waterfall, meanwhile, is a rare combination of serene beauty and a natural bathing pool that is so far not so well known despite being quite accessible from parking. This made it our favourite waterfall to visit in Bali.

Banyumala Waterfall sits high up on the northern slopes of Bali’s mountains, the relative remoteness likely part of the reason they haven’t been put on most itineraries. A cement panel road brings you quite close to the falls (moped will get you closer than a car), where a small parking fee and a modest entry fee (30k at the time) are asked without enforcing a guide. Just a 5-10 minute trek down (20 mins if arriving by car), you’re met with a beautiful scene akin to something out of Jurassic park. The impressive twin falls have an ideal and fairly large bathing pool and there are even some bathrooms nearby to change into swimsuits.

Getting to Banyumala Waterfall 

As with most of Bali’s best waterfalls, Banyumala is up in the forest hills of Northern Bali. This means around 1.5-2 hours’ drive away from south and Ubud so best combined with a few other nearby sights. Coming from South, take the main road towards the Twin Lakes past Bedugul. In the area with the roadside cafes / picnic spots, look for the sign to Wanigiri Hills / Banyumala Fall which will take you down a small side road for another 5 minutes. 

The Ghost Palace

Why visit: Explore an eerie & huge abandoned hotel with sweeping mountainscapes

 

Ghost Palace, Bali

 

Set on an impressive mountainside in central Bali lies a huge luxurious hotel that never opened its doors. For fans of derelict stuff, this is a perfect place to explore.

The hotel was built sometime in the 1990’s and was close to completion before the owner/investor went into prison for allegedly ordering an assassination. While I didn’t spot any ghosts on my visit apart from the occasional spooked bat, apparently some locals are fearful of the abandoned hotel to the point they’ll avoid coming in.

Ghost Palace Reception, Bali

In fact entry to the site is off-limits, so you need to “gift” the security guy with a reasonable fee (50k IDR / person at the time) to be allowed in. It’s worth it though – you could literally spend hours exploring the complex and its many levels, if you enjoy these sorts of sights. The mountain views from the abandoned hotel rooms alone are worth the visit. And you might have the place all to yourself – I only came across one other couple while exploring the complex.

Getting to Bali’s Ghost Palace

You’ll need a moped or a private car. Enter “Hotel Pondok Indah Bedugul” into your navigator and look for a roadside plant seller near the pin. Behind it is a corrugated iron door that the plant seller will open for you once you pay him the aforementioned “entrance fee”. 

It’s under 2 hours’ drive from south Bali, a bit less from Ubud and about an hour from the northern coast (Singaraja/Lovina). From whichever direction, the journey to get there is part of the joy.

 

Munduk Coffee Plantation

Why visit: Great coffee in relaxing mountainous surroundings

 

Munduk Coffee Plantation, Bali

The cooler mountain climate and the mineral-rich volcanic soil make the central hills of Bali ideal for coffee growing.

Munduk Coffee Plantation is about as tranquil as you can get on Bali while enjoying a cup of freshly-ground coffee and views stretching all the way to the coast. The little coffee house on the edge of Munduk village is part of the Munduk Moding Plantation Natural Resort, a luxurious accommodation up on the highest hills of the island. But no need to stay there to enjoy the locally-grown coffee – just turn up, order a coffee and relax in peace for as long as you like. Or if you feel like learning about coffee, ask for a little tour that comes with coffee tasting.

Finally, don’t repeat my mistake and remember to bring mosquito spray.

Getting to Munduk Coffee Plantation

Up in the central Balinese hills, you’ll need private transport that will take roughly 2 hours’ riding from the likes of Canggu or Ubud. Coming from Lovina on the north coast you have some adventurous twisty steep roads for a fun moped experience that will take 30-45 minutes.

 

Handara Golf Resort & Spa

Why visit: A tranquil place to escape the heat with lush green mountain views

 

Handara Golf Resort, Bali

A few minutes beyond the photogenic Handara Gate that always seems to have a small crowd taking photos around it, is a little paradise that reveals a different, unfamiliar Bali. The Handara Golf Resort is a large hotel that also offers a restaurant & bar with views of green picturesque scenery with surrounded by Bali’s mountains. It’s an ideal place to visit if you are craving a break from the relentless heat as the resort is located high up with fresh air and temperatures staying in their low-20’s. 

You don’t need to be a guest or member to visit the restaurant or even just stop for a coffee, and while the service can be a bit sporadic it’s all about the views and a rest from tropical heat.

Getting to Handara Gold Resort & Spa

Coming from the south, you’ll need to follow the roads up to the lakeside town of Bedugul (about 2hrs from southern Bali and Ubud) before reaching the Handara Gate. Navigate past the photo session crowd in front of the gate, and drive another 3 minutes through the golf course to get you to the resort entrance.

 

Singaraja

Why visit: A city with colonial history and great local seafood in its historical harbour

 

Singaraja Lion King Statue, Bali

 

Singaraja (meaning “Lion King”) was once Bali’s capital during the Dutch Colonial era and the most important place on the island thanks to its strategically-placed port. Nowadays Singaraja has lost its importance and is second to Denpasar in size, but it’s still a city worth visiting for a few hours especially if you’re in the area.

The oldest part of Singaraja still features some surviving Dutch Colonial buildings near the harbour and it’s worth exploring this quarter for something you won’t find elsewhere on Bali. But for me the best part of Singajara is the harbour, quiet and peaceful in contrast to the busy streets of Singaraja, at least on weekdays. 

The harbour features a large pier home to a selection of local seafood restaurants. It’s a perfect choice to enjoy ikan bakar (charcoal grilled fish) while enjoying the ocean breeze at sunset as the local fishing boats go in and out to sea. The harbour area also has a few monuments of interest, a museum and a Chinese temple.

Buleleng Harbour Pier, Singaraja, Bali

On the way down to Singaraja from the central hills, I recommend stopping at Taman Bung Karno. Dominated by a huge golden lion king statue, it’s a spacious new park where locals love to hang out on weekends. The statue symbolises Singaraja and faces another monument of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno. If you’re lucky you’ll time your visit with a traditional dance or musical show in front of the big stage.

Getting to Singaraja

Singaraja is most easily visited from the nearby Lovina – a quaint seaside option to base on Bali for a few days. It’s only 20 minutes along the coast from Lovina Beach to central Singaraja. A scenic day trip from south Bali or Ubud through the central mountains is doable, but consider 2 hours each way and likely more with weekend traffic.

West Bali

The least visited and most sparsely populated region of Bali features some of the most untouched beaches and snorkelling spots, as well as a large protected area of West Bali National Park

Pemuteran Beach

Why visit: Snorkelling, quiet beaches, turtles & pure relaxation

 

Pemuteran Beach, Bali

Besides being one of the most chilled sandy beaches on Bali (no pesky beach sellers here – at least not yet), Pemuteran also enjoys a nice success story. The local diving centers work together to keep Pemuteran beach clean as well as reviving and protecting the bio-rock. This makes for some of the easiest-access snorkelling & diving just meters from the shore, so long as you enter through the dedicated ‘paths’ and follow the usual “Don’t touch anything” rules.

Also along the beach you’ll find the Turtle Project – a turtle hatchery dedicated to preparing baby turtles for the big journey out into the ocean. You can visit the baby turtles for a modest fee that goes to a good cause and take part in feeding time or even help the little guys make it to the sea if you’re lucky to visit at the right time.

Getting to Pemuteran

Being in the far northwestern Bali, we’re talking about a 3 hours’ drive from southern Bali resorts or Ubud. So while a day trip is possible, I’d definitely recommend staying here or around Lovina (1 hour drive) for a few days. Because there’s plenty more to explore in the quietest part of the island.

 

Menjangan Island

Why visit: Small protected island with outstanding snorkelling & pristine nature

 

Menjangan Island Beach

 

A small island just off the West Bali National Park Literally as far from the noisy crowded Kuta as you can go in Bali, Menjangan is a real piece of paradise that’s very well preserved thanks to its protected status. Literally translated as “Deer Island”, it’s basically known for its (very friendly!) deers and the outstanding coral reefs that make for some world-class snorkelling and diving.

The other side of being a protected island is you can’t get around it freely – you’ll need to pay for a guide and a permit. Prices for this inevitably change over time but at the time of visiting in January 2023 it cost around £27 (€30) for both on a weekday. I think it’s slightly more on a weekend.

At least paying for the extras does mean you’ll be sorted for the best snorkelling spots and a few stops around the island including a pristine beach, friendly deer encounters and the island temple (how can there not be a temple somewhere on Bali!).

Getting to Menjangan Island

The easiest way to reach Menjangan is to hop on a 30-minute boat from the port of Labuhan Lalang. You could also do the same from Pemuteran Beach which is a little further East if you’re coming from that direction. Both are a distant ~3 hours’ drive each way from southern Bali and Ubud, so a more local base like Pemuteran or Lovina would be far better bets.

 


If you’ve been to Bali and know of other secret spots that deserve to be on this hidden gem list – I’d love to know! Share it in the comments below or reach out.

1 Comment

  • KT
    Posted May 4, 2023

    Thanks for the inspiration with this itinerary – the northern parts of Bali were a different world to Kuta. But I think Penida deserves to be on this list too!

Leave a comment