Has Bali lost its charm or are we just looking for it in the wrong places?
I’ll be honest, our last Bali vacation was a bit of a letdown. Our Seminyak villa was nice, the area was nice, the sunsets were nice (the company wonderful, of course!). But it didn’t blow us away.
The streets not just in Seminyak but around most of the southeastern corner of Bali were immensely congested; the whole island felt like it was collapsing under its own weight of traffic, noise and pollution. This wasn’t the whimsical paddy fields and serenity I had imagined!
Can beauty peace and sanctuary still be found in Bali?
Luckily, some of our wonderful Instagram community jumped to Bali’s defence! When I asked whether it was still possible to find that little bit of peace and harmony, but not too far off the beaten track that you can’t do it with kids they were just brimming with ideas!
Clearly, I had the blinkers on booking our last trip!! We took the easy option of booking accommodation close to the airport, but when you see where many of the popular family attractions are (or where they’re not if that’s what you’re going for!), you will find yourself needing to do A LOT of driving regardless. So if I were to do it all again…..
This article is part of our South East Asia series – see more on our favourite Asian destinations here, and our guide to whether you should choose a villa or hotel resort when staying in Bali with kids.
Where to Stay in Bali – 8 best areas away from the crowds
Whether you’re coming for a big family getaway or a romantic Bali Honeymoon, our globetrotting families recommend you try these 8 fabulous locations away from the hustle and bustle.
Travel times are only estimates from Denpasar airport and depend heavily on traffic! Click the links below to jump straight to the location, or scroll on for all the details….
- Amed (East coast, 3 hours)
- Lovina (North coast, 3 hours+)
- Munduk (Central mountains, 3 hours+)
- Nusa Penida (Southern island – got to Sanur / Padang Bay+ 90-minute boat)
- Pemuteran (Northwestern coast, 4.5 hours)
- Sanur (Southern coast, 30-60 minutes)
- Sidemen (Central-eastern region, 2 hours)
- Uluwatu (Southern tip, 40 minutes)
Looking for activities with the kids while you’re in Bali? Check out this bumper guide to Bali with kids
Recommended by: Lisa at FlipFlopGlobetrotter
Where: Amed is a village on Bali’s east coast. When the Balinese say Amed, however, they usually refer to any one of the seven fishing villages in this area: Amed, Jemeluk, Bunutan, Lipah, Selang, Banyuning and Aas.
We stayed in Bunutan and had to get used to the fact that the villages are stretched out along the coast, without real town centres. It is about a 3-hour drive from the airport in Denpasar.
What to do in Amed: In Amed, you can experience the laid-back island life, away from the masses. There’s no public transport and renting a motorbike is the easiest way to get around. You can be surprisingly active here or just relax. Negotiate with one of the many fishermen to take you on a small cruise of the bay in their traditional jukung boats, get your PADI dive certification or go on a trip to the nearby Taman Tirta Gangga water temple.
Snorkelling from Jemeluk beach is really good and it’s interesting to see the salt farmers at work in the summer months. If you’re a diver definitely don’t miss out on diving the USAT Liberty wreck at nearby Tulamben. From Amed, you can also take a fast boat to the Gilli Islands or Lombok.
Top Tip: For great and affordable Balinese food go to Warung Wayan near Lipah Beach!
Where to Stay: Accommodation in Amed ranges from luxury villas to homestays. When we first arrived we stayed at Anugerah Villas, a nice mid-range option.
Recommended by: Ariana from World Of Travels with Kids
Where: On Bali’s far north coast, Lovina was a wonderful place for our family to stay a few days and soak up Balinese life. If you are researching Lovina be warned; it doesn’t have a fantastic reputation with black volcanic beaches… but in a way, that means that there are fewer tourists and more ‘travellers.’
Travelling directly from the airport to Lovina bang smack through the middle of Bali would take 3 hours.
What to do in Lovina: We stayed in a cheap-ish (and isolated) small hotel with affordable large rooms half way between Lovina and Singaraja; we loved taking the Bemo into town to explore the former colonial capital of Bali.
Lovina itself is most famous for its dolphin tours; with a 2.5-year-old we elected to not spend several hours in a small, narrow boat but our friends with tween kids enjoyed it. Apart from dolphin tours, temples and old colonial heritage around the area, you could use Lovina as a base for exploring the Pemuteran or Munduk areas which are both about an hour away.
Lovina is also a good location for a Bali yoga retreat.
Where to Stay: We stayed at the Bali Taman Resort, while we have heard good things about the Padmasari Lovina Resort (On the other side of Lovina).
The Lovina, right in the centre of Lovina is higher priced than both of those but would warrant investigation.
How long do you need for Bali? Check out this Bali itinerary planner with a budget by location
Munduk & Bedugul area
Recommended by: Ariana from World of Travels with Kids
Where: High in the Balinese mountains! When you get up into the mountains, the roads are amazingly winding and slow so even though the map makes the places look close, a number of hours driving are involved.
There are many photo opportunities along the way, we stopped many times. Also, even our normally “good travelling” children began to say they were queasy on some of these roads. You could conceivably go directly from the airport to Munduk in 3 hours. We went from Lovina and the drive was about 50 minutes.
What to do in Munduk? Around Munduk there are plenty of hikes of varying length, through rice paddies or to secluded waterfalls. We would use it as a base to visit nearby attractions in Bedugul, including the Bali Botanic Garden or the Pura Ulun Danu Bratan Temple which had a fun playground and paddlewheel boats.
We love that it is green, luscious and far from the touristed areas with plenty to do and see! It feels like it is the “real” Bali, as you see people working in their fields and going about their daily life. Learn more about the area on World of Travels with Kids.
Where to stay: Want to stay in a restored rice storage house in a rice paddy? Then Puri Lumbung Cottages is for you. In a higher price bracket but with reviews to die for, Munduk Moding Plantation is on our ‘dream hotels’ list for our next trip to Bali! (It has an infinity pool in the clouds – perfect for a romantic Bali honeymoon.)
Looking for a Bali Tour? Guide to choosing the right adventure for your travel style
Recommended by: Jasmine from the Aussie Traveller
Where: If you’re looking for a slice of untouched Bali, the small island of Nusa Penida will send you back in time. Just a short 90-minute car and boat ride from the main tourist area Kuta, transfers can be easily arranged through your travel agent, resort or any tourist booth on the main streets around Bali.
For approximately $35 each return, this trip includes pick up and drop off from your resort on the mainland and a speedboat to the island. (See detailed guide here on how to get to Nusa Penida)
There is a range of transport options once you arrive including mopeds for hire or with one of the locals who would be more than happy to provide a personal tour around the island for a half or full-day tour ranging from $30-$60. As some of the roads around the island are unmaintained and not signed, we would recommend booking a tour guide if you are not comfortable riding a moped off-road.
What is the to do in Nusa Penida? The island offers a range of beautiful attractions including white sandy beaches, swimming with manta rays or snorkelling reefs, natural cliff edge rock pools and religious temples and waterfalls.
We highly recommend swimming with the manta rays or snorkelling the several reefs surrounding the island. With many types of marine life including massive oceanic sunfish, white-tipped reef sharks, nurse sharks and sea turtles, the whole family will enjoy.
There are several companies that offer half and full-day trips and this can be arranged through your resort or one of the tourist booths in the main street. There’s a great itinerary here for exploring the Nusa Islands.
Where to stay: Nusa Penida offers a range of accommodation to suit everyone from backpackers to families. From homesteads to resorts, you will be able to find something within your budget and comfortability.
Astiti Penida Resort and Spa is a stunning resort close to the main boat port, shops and has a restaurant and pool on site which we recommend.
Nusa Penida offers the perfect family escape from the hustle and bustle of the tourist district and allows you to enjoy another perspective of Bali.
Want a unique Bali experience? Find out about the abandoned Airplanes of Bali
Recommended by: Giulia at Smalland Travel for Kids
Where: In the North of Bali, you’ll find heaven on earth. 4.5 hours of a drive from Denpasar, 3.5 hours from Ubud. It is worth it to do a few stops while driving, especially in Munduk village.
What is the to do in Pemuteran? Diving and snorkelling are fun activities to try, it’s the easiest and closest point to Menjangan Island. If you don’t, just relax drinking fresh juices on our favourite beautiful little black beach of the whole island. My kids, 4 yo and 10 yo, had so much fun riding ponies on the beach… and swimming with them in the water!
Where to stay: We loved Taman Sari Bali Resort & Spa, it’s the greatest escape with its restaurant and tables “piers dans ‘eau”, but we’ve also enjoyed Hotel Pondok Sari, pools and restaurant, for an excellent lunch directly on the beach, under the shadow of mangroves!
We will come back for sure, it’s the best spot to avoid horrific traffic in Bali during high season in August.
Top Tip: We suggest you book in advance, there are very few hotels in Pemuteran (especially those on the beach), and they easily are sold out (for the reasons why mentioned above…)
Recommended by: Sally-Ann from Tips 4 Trips
Where: Sanur is 16 km from the Bali International Airport easily accessed via a turnoff from the major highway Jl. By Pass Nagurah Rai. Sitting on miles of white sandy palm tree lined beaches overlooking the Bali Sea to Penida Island and Lombok, Sanur has such a relaxed bohemian vibe.
Sanur, Bali may not exactly be a hidden gem, but I would certainly call it the forgotten gem. Popular in the 1960-70s many tourists turned their attention to areas located on the west and far southern coasts of Bali. This is what makes Sanur such a gem. The hordes of tourists are elsewhere.
What to do in Sanur: To me Sanur is old Bali. Families and seniors walk or cycle along the paved beach boardwalk. The Balinese tout their wares or services as you pass by, they are rarely pushy and accept a polite “no thank you”.
Meanwhile, other holidaymakers take advantage of swimming in the cool calm blue waters or jet skiing and paragliding (Ok that’s a bit more modern but you get the gist).
When you’re ready to eat there are plenty of options available. There are market stalls, local cafes, and upmarket restaurants – you don’t have to be on the other side of the island eating at all the new and expensive trendy restaurants. Sanur offers top quality delicious meals for a fraction of the price, few restaurants do you have to pre-book.
Where to Stay: Our top pick is the Sanur Paradise Plaza Suites, with its low rise buildings, two and three-bedroom spacious self-catering apartments and resort-style facilities including a restaurant, kids club with water slide, all a mere ten-minute walk to the beach.
However, there are plenty more choices of accommodations at a range of price points from villas, boutique hotels to five-star resorts all located on or between the beach and the main highway.
Recommended by: Kate at Rolling Along with Kids
Where: Our most memorable experience of all our Bali trips with the kids is our visit to a small village in Sidemen called Iseh with our Balinese nanny. This area of Bali is located a 2-hour drive from the Denpasar airport and a private driver in a van is the best way to get there.
It is easy to do a day trip from Ubud or Sanur with family-friendly accommodation options available. Here’s exactly how you get from the airport to Ubud
What to do in Sideman: The quiet, the culture and the amazingly breathtaking views. The day we visited the village we were the only tourists, there are not many places in Bali that you can say that!
We started with a visit to the local school and handed out supplies like noodles, books and pencils that we had purchased at Hardy’s supermarket in Sanur. The smiles on the kids’ faces were priceless and our 2-year-old daughter had a fantastic time. The kids played together and it did not matter that they could not speak each other’s language.
We were then invited back to a locals house for tea and to look at a house that our Balinese nanny had helped rebuild for a poor local family. Oh my goodness, the memories make me smile so much.
They live in such a simple place compared to us Westerners but the sense of community is evident everywhere. Sitting in the Balinese house with the elders of the community enjoying a tea is a memory I will never forget.
Afterwards, we wandered down past the stunning rice fields to see where the families showered with the local natural spring water. My heart was full of respect for these Balinese people that had so little but their huge smiles and thanks will be something I will never forget.
Top Tip: The number one factor to consider whenever visiting a local village in Bali is to respect the culture and customs. Dress appropriately which means don’t wear your swimwear or tiny tank tops, I have seen this many times! Most of all, allow yourself plenty of time to wander around and take in everything Sidemen has to offer, it is beautiful.
Where to Stay: I highly recommend staying in Sidemen to fully enjoy the local villages. Imagine waking up, heading out for a walk and there is not a tourist in sight! Samanvaya is a stunning resort close to warungs and local shops or try Villa Sidemen, a great 2 bedroom villa with amazing views.
Recommended by: Melissa from Thrifty Family Travels
Where: On the southern tip of Bali, around 40 minutes’ drive from the International Airport.
What to do in Uluwatu: You won’t find a stack of things to do in Uluwatu, but that’s the very reason to go there! This is where you go to completely relax and unwind. You will spend your days swimming in the various Uluwatu beaches, relaxing by the pool, eating delicious food at various restaurants and cafes as well as perching yourself high on the cliff face for a spectacular sunset.
One must-do attraction in Uluwatu is a visit to the Uluwatu Temple at sunset to see the Kecak Ramayana Fire Dance. Arrive just before sunset, or even earlier if you can as this is one place in Uluwatu that does get packed with tourists. The temples are full of cheeky little monkeys, which are fun to watch. Explore the temples before taking your seat to watch the dance as the sun sets.
Beaches to explore in Uluwatu include Padang Padang Beach, Bingin Beach and Sulaban Beach. Given the landscape of Uluwatu, you will need to walk down steep stairs in the cliff faces to reach the beaches, but these are some of the nicest beaches in Bali.
A popular past time in Uluwatu is to hang out at a beach club like Sundays Beach Club. Located on a gorgeous private beach with the turquoise blue ocean and white powdery sand you can spend the entire day here swimming, eating and making sandcastles. There is a flat entry fee which includes sun loungers and even basic sand toys for the kids. Make sure you stay for the spectacular sunset and then the beach bonfire.
Top Tip: It is important to note that unlike the usual tourist spots in Bali, Uluwatu is fairly spread out and you will need to grab a taxi to visit the various places, which is easy enough to do.
Where to stay: A great budget accommodation option for families is Bingin Bienvenue Guest House. Bungalows can comfortably fit families of 4 for around $75 US per night. The Guest House is a 12-minute walk to the Bingin Beach and has a swimming pool.
Thank you to all our travel blogging friends for helping restore my faith that there is still some beautiful, traditional Bali to explore with the kids.
Further tips for exploring Bali
The best tip I can leave you with is don’t be deceived by the size of the island! If you only have a week, or even two, don’t try and do it all. The roads are extremely congested, pick out a few activities near to your location and perhaps try splitting your time into two spots to see and experience different things.
The major west coastal resort towns such as Kuta, Nusa Dua, Seminyak are near some popular family attractions like Water Bom and Bali Zoo which kids do love – but don’t expect to see uninterrupted views of waterfalls and rice paddy’s if staying here.
Even Ubud in the central uplands, known for its crafts and cultural offerings as well as the popular Monkey Forest is becoming an incredibly busy, congested town too.
Don’t be afraid to base yourself further afield from the airport – a longer drive to commence but will save you a lot of hassle later, with perhaps a more beautiful and tranquil setting.
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14 thoughts on “Avoid the Bali crowds; uncovering the hidden gems”
Thank you for sharing this blog. As I was planning a trip to Bali.
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This is really a great inspirational article about hidden gems in Bali! We’ve been to Munduk, Uluwatu and Sanur and genuinely loved all three places. Our favorite was Munduk because of the amazing waterfalls there! And if we had the time, Sidemen and Nusa Penida were on your wish list as well – we’ll keep this for next time then! 🙂 Oh, and Nusa Lembongan/Ceningan is really great too!
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I can tick off 6 out of 8 on this list of great places – although it is rather long ago: 2009 prior to parenthood… Great to read obviously most of them are still worth visiting. In the south, in Uluwatu we stayed at a nice French-owned place – “La Joya” http://www.la-joya-bali.com/en/home/ They also offer larger family villas with a separate shared pool and I got the impression kids are welcome.
I think 2009 was our previous visit too – I was pregnant and chronically unwell so the memories are vague!! but certainly, the traffic was 10x worse than I recall. Well done you on getting around 6/8 and thanks for the family-friendly recommendation