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Once you arrive at Denpasar Airport, the journey to the best dive sites in Bali is still quite a while longer. If you arrive from America or, like me, from Europe, you may need some serious rest after often more than 20 hours of flight. Besides, Bali is in the GMT+8 time zone, so there is a 13-hour time difference from NYC (12 in summer) and a 7-hour time difference from Paris (6 in summer). Here is one key piece of advice to make your dream trip to Bali successful: take things easy on the first 2 days. How to take care of your jetlag is one of the things to know before going to Bali. By doing so, you will fully enjoy the rest of your trip, especially when it comes to scuba diving and outdoor adventures in general.
Before moving to Amed, I went on a mini-road trip to reconnect with the island of Gods since it’s been 8 years since my last visit (blame it on COVID) and also check what had changed over the years. From the 5 places I visited, here are my top 3 picks of places where you can enjoy Bali’s vibe while recovering from jetlag. You can either plan a 2-day stopover in one of them or make it a mini road trip too before going diving in Bali, either in Amed, Pemuteran or Nusa Lembongan.
Sanur, the most convenient
If all you want is to sip a fresh coconut on a sandy beach without any loud music right after your arrival, Sanur is what you need. Infamously known for being the favourite spot of retired people on the opposite shore of Kuta-Canggu, this is precisely why I love it! It’s quiet.
Besides, it is almost one of the nearest towns you can reach from the airport (Not as close as Kuta, but I assure you, you don’t want to treat your jetlag there). So if you arrive quite late, you won’t have to endure a too long transfer before falling into your bed. Download the Grab or Gojek app (forget about Uber or Boltz in Indonesia). A ride from the airport is about 40 minutes and 200,000 IDR (about 12€). You’ll find a waiting lounge for both apps after the international arrival exit (where all the taxi drivers yell at you, just keep walking).
Where to stay in Sanur?
I stayed at the Swiss-Belresort Watu Jimbar in Sanur, and this is the kind of resort where everything is made to make your life easier. From the welcome drink in the swimming-pool to the breakfast time starting at 6.30 am (for those of us who will wake up at 4 or 5 am because of jetlag) or its in-house spa for anti-jetlag massage, this hotel has it all sorted out. Whatever the time your flight actually arrives, they have a 24-hour reception.
You can even push the comfort of your stay by booking a room with direct pool access or, like me, a jacuzzi on your balcony when you are too tired to even go to the main pool and just want room service to bring you chilled watermelon juice. Still, special mention to the main swimming pool which is stunning, with its sunbed in the pool and its lush garden of blooming frangipani trees. Worth noting that they have a car park in their basement, should you choose to rent a car too to explore Bali.
What to do in Sanur?
Sanur is mostly about its long sandy beach that is closed to cars, you can only walk or ride a bicycle along it. This is why it is so quiet. My hotel had a partnership with a café/beach club where you can get a free sunbed and parasol, I made sure to have a few hours in the morning to enjoy it. Just go early, because from 10 am it’s already really hot and yes, you’ll need a parasol if you don’t want to cook in the sun.
But for me, Sanur is also a convenient place, near Denpasar centre (the capital of Bali), where I could rent my car and arrange my local SIM card at the normal price (so I could use Google Maps as a GPS). Sanur is definitely the easiest place to start a road trip in Bali. You are 50 minutes away driving from Ubud, 1 hour from Sidemen and 2 hours from Amed.
Note, if you can’t wait to get in the water, Sanur has many dive centres; they will mostly take you by boat to either Padang Bai or Nusa Penida. Not the cheapest option, but surely a convenient one. Besides, if your plan is to go diving in Nusa Lembongan or Nusa Penida, you can hop on a speed boat directly from Sanur Beach. This would be the absolute best option on a mission to see mola-molas in the season (July- October).
Ubud, the most breathtaking
On my second trip to Bali, I tried the option to head directly from the airport to Ubud right after my arrival in the evening. It wasn’t too bad by taxi, it takes about 1h15 to get there. A look at my Grab app shows me the current price is around 450,000 IDR (about 27€), which is pretty much what I paid back in 2015. But there is something magical about waking up in Ubud the next morning that makes the beginning of your trip to Bali special. Sure, the south is convenient and close to the airport, but lacks a bit of Bali’s unique vibe. Waking up in Ubud is a sure way to be carried away by Bali’s beauty and culture.
While 8 years ago I found a hotel with a beautiful garden right in the centre, the price of the same hotel that hasn’t changed much is now more than 3 times what I used to pay. So this time, since Ubud centre has become significantly busier (especially Monkey Forest street, to avoid at all costs), I went to one of the wonderful resorts you can find 15 minutes of driving away from the centre. Most of them have a free shuttle to the centre, so you can still enjoy the centre without the hassles.
Where to stay in Ubud?
I stayed at the Sankara Resort in the south of Ubud, and gosh, this was maybe one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever stayed at, around the world. From the moment you step in the lobby, the kindness, hospitality and services here are not mere words. I was offered to sit down, and while sipping a refreshing fruit juice, I was explained all the services offered in the resorts at no additional cost: tea time with homemade cake at 5 pm, yoga lesson at 8 am, cultural activity at 1 pm and the shuttle to the centre every hour. The hotel doesn’t look big from the start despite a stunning infinity pool over the rice fields, but as I walked to my room, hum… private villa, the garden kept opening up until a flower tunnel crossing a rice field.
So, yes, indeed, it wasn’t planned this way, but I got upgraded to a villa with a private pool. The main bedroom was huge with its impressive canopy bed under a 6 m high bamboo ceiling. Do I need to keep going with the indoor plus outdoor bathroom with a stone bathtub and two showers? Or about how yummy the options at breakfast between the Indonesian or healthy options were? In a nutshell, everything was perfect.
What to do in Ubud?
There are so many things you can do while in Ubud that I tried below to narrow it down to my top 3 favourites for a short relaxing stay in the cultural capital of Bali.
- Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary: It is a natural reserve in the heart of Ubud that is home to over 700 Balinese long-tailed monkeys. Visitors can observe the monkeys in their natural habitat. This is not a zoo, but it’s worth noting the staff is feeding monkeys. Being the most popular attraction in Ubud, I hesitated a long time before visiting, but the truth is I love it with its beautiful lush jungle where you’ll find majestic decorated temples and even a carved stone bridge entangled in lianas over a river. There is no end to the fun of watching the monkeys, but be careful with your belongings. Note the entrance is more expensive on the weekends (100,000 IDR – about 6€) than during weekdays (80,000 IDR – about 5€).
- Traditional dance show at Ubud Palace: The Ubud Palace, a cultural gem in central Bali, is a majestic testament to the island’s royal heritage and hosts traditional Balinese dance performances every evening at 7 pm. The Legong dances involve intricate movements and vibrant costumes showcasing Bali’s rich artistic legacy with the music of gamelans (Balinese xylophone). The price at the door is 100,000 IDR – about 6€.
- Tirta Empul Temple: It is one of the holiest Hindu temples of Bali, where locals, like curious travellers, engage in purification rituals immersed in the cold water of sacred springs. Dedicated to Vishnu, the Hindu God of water, the temple is located 15 km north of Ubud. The best moment is to arrive on a Sunday early morning (before 8 am) to witness the different rituals and ceremonies. The entrance price for visitors is 50,000 IDR – about 3€.
Sidemen, the most local
This is definitely the most adventurous option. To reach Sidemen, you’ll need to drive for 1h30 (note this is only 15 minutes more than Ubud). While you can get there with a Grab driver for about 600,000 IDR (about 35€), you will have to find a local taxi driver to go anywhere else after, and you won’t be able to rent a car there. However, if you want to start your trip with a total immersion in a place that is still Bali, charming, slow-paced, and welcoming, then Sidemen is for you. It was my very first time visiting Sidemen, and it was love at first sight. Some people say it’s what Ubud used to be, and I think I can relate for having known Ubud in 2012.
Next to my hotel was a school, and as I leftafter sunrise to take pictures, all the young girls waved at me with big smiles, and it just made my day. Further, I had to pay attention to ducks crossing the road, and when I arrived at the viewpoint, I realised it was beautifully overlooking all of Sidemen rice fiels and… it was free! Indeed, many famous views of Bali are now tourist attractions. I have no problem paying, especially since the prices at not that high, but once in a while, it feels good not to feel like a walking wallet.
Where to stay in Sidemen?
By chance, the local guesthouse I had booked, Giri Carik, was facing Agung, the highest volcano in Bali, overlooking Sidemen rice paddies. Unfortunately, it was cloudy the next morning, so I couldn’t see it despite having the bungalow with the best viewpoint (the one immediately on the right after the entrance). It’s ok, given how budget friendly this place is, I’ll come back.
My bungalow was definitely simpler than the stylish hotels I stayed in the days before, with only a fan and a basic outdoor bathroom. However, it had all the charm of the Balinese houses in a flowered garden and a delightful and surprisingly large swimming pool for the size of this 5-room hotel. Kudos to the owners for serving the mandarine juice at breakfast with a stainless steel straw!
What to do in Sidemen?
Sidemen is mostly about appreciating the rural life around the rice fields of Bali. But in its immediate surroundings, it’s also the home of some of Bali’s most stunning waterfalls. As you drive back to the coast, I recommend stopping in Semalapura (more known as Klungkung, its ancient name); there is a historical hidden gem properly out of the beaten path.
- Rice field hike: Sidemen offers a breathtaking view of emerald rice terraces cascading down the hills. Start by the Agung viewpoint (Free: look for “Spot for mount agung, Sidemen” on Google Maps), which on a clear day will give you Bali’s majestic volcano overlooking the fields, and then head to the start of the trail (“Sidemen Rice Terrace” on Google Maps), where you have to pay a donation of 25,000 IDR (about 1.50€). The trail is really well maintained, and I was happy to pay. Make sure to visit early morning to enjoy a softer light for your pictures and witness farmers at work. There is no better way to immerse yourself in Bali’s rural life.
- Gembleng waterfall: Even with Google Maps, it took me a while to find it as the roads zigzag into the hills and I had to drive back twice. There is quite a steep stair to climb, but once there, you’ll enjoy a cascade of natural pools with a plunging view of Sidemen ricefield. It might be Instagram famous, but on the day of my visit, around noon, it wasn’t that busy. The warung (small restaurant) above is the perfect place to chill in the shade with drinks with a view after your dip in the refreshing water of the cascade. Prices are not more expensive than in other places. The entrance is based on free donations (I recommend 20,000 IDR per person, which is the price of the other waterfalls I visited).
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