The Best Outdoor Activities in Bali
Bali offers so much more to do than lazing on the sand, eating fine cuisine, and being pampered in a spa — even though that’s not a bad way to spend your time! But if you crave more than just a beach holiday, there are plenty of ways to get out and explore the island’s natural side.
Here’s our pick of some of the best ways to experience the great outdoors in Bali.
Wildlife watching in Bali
Bali has an abundance of wildlife both on land and sea, and there are many ways, including scuba diving, hiking in national parks, and visiting reserves and sanctuaries, to encounter its myriad species. A popular spot is Ubud's Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. This lush forest of over 12 hectares houses around a thousand long-tailed macaques, and it's easy to get up close to them. One of the most amusing parts of a visit is watching them raid the backpacks of tourists who've smuggled in some snacks — so don't take along a packed lunch! In fact, they’ll grab anything that isn't securely put away, like sunglasses and cameras. The reserve also features three temples, a river, several beautiful bridges, and ancient statues.
The sea turtle is another magnificent creature found in Bali, and there are several places where you can learn about the work done to protect it. Bali Sea Turtle Society, based on the Kuta seafront, looks after hatchlings until they are big enough to be released into the ocean. You can even get involved; for a donation, you can take a baby turtle in a Tupperware box to the beach, then watch as "your" turtle swims free. Spaces are limited, so booking ahead is a good idea.
Trekking in Bali
Cloud-piercing volcanoes, lush jungle, dramatic coastlines, and verdant rice terraces are just some of the landscapes Bali has to offer, and hiking allows you to make the most of them. There are so many trekking routes to choose from on the island. You can head more than 1700 metres above sea level to see the sun rise from the summit of Mount Batur on a guided volcano tour — you'll be rewarded with stunning views across the island and a breakfast that includes eggs cooked in the hot volcanic soil beneath your feet. A much less strenuous route is the Campuhan Ridge Walk on the edge of Ubud. You’ll cross a lovely landscape of hills, lush forested valleys, and fields of tall grass before emerging at a nearby village where you can stop at one of the cafés for refreshments.
The interior of Bali also has many waterfalls, which make popular destinations for jungle treks. They include Gitgit waterfall, which is around 40 metres in height and in the north of the island. It is surrounded by lush foliage and features natural swimming pools. Another good area for waterfall treks is Munduk, near Lake Tamblingan. The Munduk Waterfall Trek takes in four waterfalls, and is not a particularly long hike, but you could easily spend most of the day just admiring the falls and cooling off beneath them.
Cycling in Bali
If you want to explore Bali at a leisurely pace, cycling is a perfect way to get around. It's easy to hire a bike in resort areas and explore independently, but seeing the real Bali by getting off the beaten track to escape the crowds and traffic is a welcome change. And to get the most out of the experience, why not let a guide show you the best routes through the island? You don’t have to be super-fit to see some incredible scenery; of the numerous Bali bike tours available, there are many with routes that are mostly downhill.
The area around Lake Batur, beneath the peak of Mount Batur, is a popular starting point, and you can head out to ride through small villages where children come out and wave, and travel between forests, temples, rice fields, and plantations, while your guide can give you more information about the places you visit. Many tours also include water and lunch, as well as offering early-morning pick-ups from the main beach resorts, so getting to the starting point is not a problem.
Bali has so much to offer watersports enthusiasts. It has excellent waves for surfing, coral reefs for undersea adventures, and breezes to power your sail or kite. Bali is a surfing mecca, and whatever your level, there's a beach to suit. For beginners, Kuta is an ideal place to learn, as the waves are not high and there are plenty of schools offering classes. More experienced surfers have a fantastic array of spots to explore, such as Balangan and Bingin beaches on the west coast of the rocky Bukit Peninsula, with their many left-hand breaks. For right-hand waves, head to the southeast coast, where Keramas is a good spot.
Because kite-flying and surfing are both popular activities there, it's little surprise that kitesurfing has taken off in Bali. The dry months of June to August bring favourable wind conditions to the shallow, calm waters of Sanur and Nusa Dua, which are ideal spots for learning, while more experienced kitesurfers can travel to Canggu, where the wind blows out to sea and is stronger.
Bali offers some excellent scuba diving and snorkelling opportunities — a great place is Pemuteran Beach in the northeast of the island. There's a large shallow reef beneath the clear waters, so scuba divers can simply walk into the sea and don’t need to take a boat. Sea life to spot among the coral includes turtles, moray eels, giant clams, and even whale sharks. There are several dive centres in the nearby village. Away from the sea, a number of adventure companies offer white-water rafting on Bali's wild rivers. Popular locations include Telaga Waja River, near Sideman, and Ayung River, close to Ubud. You’ll pass towering cliffs, waterfalls, and lush jungle as you tackle the rapids.
Camping in Bali
Think of accommodation in Bali and 5-star spa hotels and luxury beachside villas will likely spring to mind. However, a few nights under canvas will allow you to get closer to nature, spend more time in remote areas, and gaze up at starry night skies. You can buy or rent equipment in Bali, but you don't always need to, as there are plenty of organised tours that include camping. One of Bali's most popular areas for camping is Kintamani, next to Lake Batur. Campsites range from basic pitches to glamping sites, and they make a great base for treks up Mount Batur, visits to the local hot springs, and watching beautiful sunrises across the lake.
Another great place to camp is on Nusa Penida, a small island an hour's boat ride from mainland Bali, where you’ll find clear seas, rocky cliffs, and some gorgeous beaches including the magical Kelingking Beach. There are several beaches where you're allowed to camp. Rent or buy some camping gear before departing for the island — you don't have to take the kitchen sink with you; there are plenty of places to eat on Nusa Penida.
West Bali National Park is a stunning 190-square-kilometre area where you can tackle several hiking trails of varying difficulty, spot a wide variety of wildlife, and go snorkelling in a marine reserve containing some excellent coral reefs. Camping is not allowed inside the park itself, but there's a campsite at the park headquarters a few kilometres away, where you can arrange guides and permits.
Wellness retreats in Bali
Many visitors travel to Bali to spend time at its many wellness retreats. And with Bali's beautiful natural surroundings and tropical climate, you don’t have to stay indoors to enjoy some relaxation and rejuvenation. All over the island, treatments and classes take place on rooftop terraces with mountain views, in jungles next to tranquil rivers, and on beaches or clifftops overlooking the ocean.
Wellness experiences on offer include Balinese massage, a full-body deep-tissue treatment that includes elements of reflexology, stretches, aromatherapy, and acupressure, and stimulates oxygen and blood flow around the body. Benefits include stress reduction, and soothing of joint and muscle pain. You don't even have to stray far from your sun lounger, as you can get a massage on many popular beaches in Bali.
Yoga is another popular activity in Bali, with many world-class studios situated around the island offering a wide range of sessions and classes, so whether you’re a first-timer, you want to spend a long weekend at a retreat, or you're looking to learn to be a yoga teacher over a period of a few weeks, there's plenty of choice. There are many other wellness activities on offer in Bali, including spas, mindfulness walks, reiki, sound healing, detox, and meditation, while there are also boot camps where you can give your physical fitness a boost.
If cycling and hiking are too strenuous for you, you could take a quad bike tour, during which you can travel along jungle tracks, skirt around rice paddies, explore bamboo forests, and stop at small villages. Or if you want an aerial view of Bali, you could go for a tandem paragliding flight; which usually involves taking off from a cliff and soaring above the southern coast of the island. Parasailing in Bali — where you take off while being towed behind a boat — is also popular. You can even share the experience, with some operators offering 2- or 3-seater flights.
If you're looking for a more sedate way to pass the time, Bali has several excellent golf courses, including 9- and 18-hole courses, and some also feature driving ranges and other practice facilities. Most are situated in the south, close to the island's main beach areas, such as the Bali National Golf Club, though there are some courses further inland, including Handara Golf & Resort Bali, which has lovely volcano views.
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Ceri Garnett, Amy Lindsay, Stephen Dunk, Anne-Sophie Thivolle, and Nick Elvin contributed to this post.
Read more about:
Bali's most popular festivals.
Keeping safe and respecting Balinese culture.
Sunning on Bali's best beaches.
Where to find the best hikes in Bali.
Bali's best pools.
Our favourite spots for sunset and sunrise views in Bali.
When the best time to visit Bali is.