Before I visited Bali, I often traveled quickly. I would force hundreds of activities, tours, and sights into a week or two and never stopped to take a break. Don’t get me wrong – I loved it, as moving constantly and never stopping is in my nature. However, South Bali taught me a lot about vacation and travel. It taught me to slow down and relax. The beautiful beaches and sunset called to me each day and only asked that I explore them – a part of nature that I don’t normally get to experience, because, as a Texan, I don’t live anywhere near an ocean.
After several weeks traveling throughout Bali, I can honestly say that South Bali exists in its own world, separate from the rest of the country. It’s quieter, laid-back, and more down-to-earth with less tourism than you’ll find in Kuta, Seminyak, and even Ubud.
South Bali is the place for the freshest seafood and the kindest locals (well, in my opinion). It’s a haven for adventurers, nature-lovers, writers, artists, and whoever simply wants to relax and explore lesser-known attractions and places.
So, take the off-beaten path to South Bali and explore some of the hidden gems that this place has to offer. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Despite being a (stunning and laid-back) rocky beach area, Bingin Beach is full of small hotels, a surf shop, and restaurants lining the shore – all of which have stunning ocean views. It’s one of the most popular surf destinations in Bali.
Most mornings, I grabbed a pitaya bowl (chilled fruit combined with granola and coconut chips) from Kelly’s Warung, a patio restaurant on the beach, and gobbled it up while watching surfers hit the waves. In the evenings, the warungs (small family-owned businesses) on the beach set out tables on the shoreline, meaning I could blissfully eat freshly-cooked prawns and watch the sunset over the sea.
Tip: If visiting Bingin Beach on a Thursday, head to Cashew Tree for their evening parties. During my visit, they had an African band who played reggae, provided food, and had a huge bar, all of which attracted tourists and locals for the most exhilarating dance party I’ve ever had during my travels.
When the tide was low, I walked from Bingin Beach to Dreamland, and I’m so glad I did. Bali’s shoreline is generally filled with rocks, seashells, and coral-filled waters, but as I got closer to Dreamland Beach that all changed. The sand is soft and clean on the shore and in the water. Just be careful as Dreamland is known for having a strong undertow and large waves.
My friend and I swam for hours here, and there were many a time when we were hit hard by one of the big waves that we couldn’t jump over. But I didn’t mind – the water was warm and the sand was smooth making for a perfect beach day.
Statues at Pandawa Beach
For a long time, Pandawa Beach was a secret beach with very few visitors. That’s beginning to change now, but it’s not what I want to focus on here. Rather, travelers should go to the beach to see a beautiful selection of white stone statues that are on display here. There are several caves carved out of the limestone cliffs of Pandawa Beach and inside those caves are white statues inspired by Panca Pandawa, a Balinese Hindu story. These statues aren’t ancient like some parts of Bali, but rather created through public donations – which kind of makes them even more cool.
Despite all of the tourism and modernization that has hit Bali in the last 50 years, the region is still maintaining its arts and culture in the most off-beaten paths of their country.
In the future, South Bali may be the home to one of the largest modern statues in the world. It’s called the Garuda Wisnu Kencana Statue, and features Vishnu riding on the back of a garuda, a supernatural eagle-like being. Right now, only 25% of the statue is complete – the upper part of Vishnu, his hands, and the head of the garuda. It may not be complete but it’s super impressive and makes you feel tiny in stature next to it.
So, head to the Garuda Wisnu Kancana Cultural Park to see this incomplete statue. When it’s completed, it could stand as tall as the Statue of Liberty – and then it might be a little hard to get as up close and personal as you can now.
In Nusa Dua, on the east coast of South Bali, is the Water Blow, a natural occurring phenomenon. There’s a crag below a cliff face that when hit by the waves of the Indian Ocean, creates surges of water that reach almost 100 feet high. Hence, the name “Water Blow.”
Take the paved footpath that leads to a lookout point to watch this cool, free natural phenomenon. Just be careful with your electronics and clothes as there’s a 100% chance you will get wet.
Like Bingin Beach, Balangan attracts a lot of surfers, but that’s not entirely why I loved this beach. Once on the beach, I took some time to explore the reef and rocky shoreline during low tide. My favorite spot at Balangan Beach is a small private cove around the corner of a cliff on the south side of the beach. It’s best reached during low tide and has a beachy area with some shade thanks to an overhanging cliffside.
The water here is very shallow and extends far out, so I had loads of fun soaking in a few feet of water and relaxing. While I was there, I even witnessed a small wedding on the beach while I chilled in the warm waters of the cove.
About a 10-minute drive north of Pandawa Beach is an abandoned aircraft in the middle of a forest, surrounded by large cliffs and tons of greenery on either side. The airplane is a Boeing 737-200 that’s been sitting in the same spot in South Bali since 2008.
There’s a guard on-site that charges a small fee for visitors to take photos, but unfortunately, he won’t let you get too close to the aircraft. However, there’s rumors that the owner has plans to turn it into a bigger tourist attraction that you can explore more in depth. Fingers crossed!
Uluwatu Temple and the Kecak Fire Dance
Uluwatu Temple on the southernmost tip of Bali isn’t a “secret” as it’s visited by hundreds of tourists daily, but it’s hard not to include this South Bali favorite on the list. I didn’t plan to explore Uluwatu Temple for a few hours, but I’m glad I did. This sea temple sits on a stunning cliffside, 230 feet above the sea. Monkeys run free here so keep your possessions close by; I saw one monkey handling a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses whose owner I’m sure was quite upset to lose.
Yes, the temple and the grounds are stunning, but one of the best-kept secrets of the Uluwatu Temple is the chance to see the Kecak Fire Dance. It’s one of the most iconic dance performances of Bali and has a stunning backdrop of the setting sun when it’s performed in the evening.
There’s singing, dancing, and a storyline that is incredibly entertaining; I was transfixed the entire time (and filled with laughter too). The story involves a young woman stolen from her husband (a prince) by a demon, and is then saved with the help of a mischievous monkey king. Oh, and yes, there’s fire, of course!
What more could you want? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group adventures in beautiful Bali.
(Image credits from top to bottom: Alex Temblador, iStock, Alex Temblador x2, iStock x2, Alex Temblador)