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Thanks to two lengthy visits to Indonesia, TPG contributor Kathryn Romeyn has explored many of Bali’s beautiful beaches, from the white sands of Bali’s Bukit Peninsula to the intense aqua waters of neighboring Lombok. (All photos by the author.)
From the moment I set foot in Bali, I was hooked — the first time, when I flew to Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar (DPS) on an easy Virgin Australia hop from Melbourne (MEL), the second time after flying via Tokyo and Singapore from Los Angeles (LAX). Bali’s friendly people, stunning Indian Ocean setting, cheap-yet-fantastic food and brilliant colors — especially in the form of the omnipresent Hindu Canang Sari offerings — instantly had me head over heels.
I’m a surf and sand lover, but in truth Bali doesn’t have the best reputation for gorgeous beaches — those in the most populated areas of the island, Seminyak and Kuta, aren’t the greatest. But after some exploration, I discovered plenty of powdery-white sands offset by cerulean-blue waters that tourists haven’t bombarded yet. It turns out the island is full of five-star coastlines if you know where to go — and you don’t mind lots of stairs.
I skipped Seminyak and Kuta in favor of hipper, smaller Echo Beach in Canggu, about 45-minute drive north of (or a 250,000 IDR, $18 taxi ride from) the airport. The sand there may not be quite as white as other beaches, but the waves work for both beginner and advanced surfers and there’s no shortage of cool dining and drinking spots — don’t miss my favorite, Deus Ex Machina.
From Canggu, I traveled across the island through Ubud to get to Amed, a great spot along the east coast that’s famous for its black sand beaches. Here it’s all about what’s beneath the surface, like the USS Liberty shipwreck, where the snorkeling is excellent and scuba diving, even better. As the sun sets, you’ll see brightly-colored traditional Jukung boats sailing back to shore.
While Bali has a lot going for it, there’s really no excuse not to also experience the neighboring island of Lombok, a place people say is close to what Bali was like 15 years ago. The boat ride and subsequent taxi trip take about three hours, but the beaches waiting around the small town of Kuta are definitely worth your while.
Rent a motorbike and ride 15 minutes to Tanjung-Aan and its breathtakingly turquoise waters. Set in a bay, the sea is calm and the sand bright white. At low tide you can enjoy Sama Sama Cafe’s much-photographed swing set or climb a slightly treacherous pole (watch out for rusty nails!) and swan dive off the top into the ultra-clear waters below.
Head 15 minutes in the opposite direction to Mawun, the ultimate swimming beach. Because of its expansive swath of ivory sand and big bay of calm water, it feels like you’re in your own private paradise. That being said, you’ll still find a couple of places to grab plates of local favorites like nasi goreng or mie goreng and a slew of charming, persistent youngsters selling gigantic coconuts, watermelons and juicy pineapples for next to nothing. The Kuta area is considered to be a surfer’s paradise because of the reef breaks: Head to Mawi if you’re looking for barrels, or to Gerupuk for beginner- to intermediate- level waves.
Back in Bali, the Bukit Peninsula is home to picturesque spots that are prized by surfers and require a bit of stamina to reach. Just north of the always-crowded Padang Padang beach and break — a popular stop for tour buses en route to Uluwatu Temple — is Impossibles, a tiny but pristine stretch of sand dotted with large volcanic boulders, accessible via rugged stone steps. It’s generally deserted apart from surfers heading out or back in.
Although Jimbaran, located just up the road, is widely recognized for sunsets and fresh seafood, Bingin is my number one when it comes to watching the sky change color with a local Bintang Beer and fresh catch of the day dinner. The stretch has plenty of Warung restaurants and homestays but the super-casual grill-on-the-beach Lucky Fish wins big for best value and atmosphere: You just can’t beat eating local mahi mahi with your feet in the sand.
Like many of Bali’s best beaches, Bingin can be tough on the knees — you’ll have to brave steep, winding steps to reach its remarkably clear waves. Enjoy the view from Temple Lodge, a small hotel offering perks like daily yoga classes and bougainvillea-laden patios.
Surfers also flock to Balangan, a great place to begin lessons and a gorgeous spot to spend the day lazing on chaise loungers and sipping a cold coconut or Bintang beer. The dramatic cliffs on either end make for a stunning photo-op.
Uluwatu is the most happening beach in the Bukit, thanks to frequent surf contests and a clifftop temple that draws visitors by the busload. Many don’t actually make it to the beach, however, since a somewhat tricky path winds around restaurants and surfboard ding repair shops, down steep concrete stairs, then under a small opening in the boulders that’s impassable at high tide. When the water is low, Uluwatu’s crystal-clear tide pools are the best place to beat the heat and get a front-row seat to the serious surfing happening out over the nearby reef point.
Neighboring Thomas Beach is one of the area’s most unknown. Like the super-private Nyang Nyang beach down the road, which boasts 300 exhausting steps, there’s only a small, inconspicuous sign that marks the driveway — if you can find this sweet spot, expect to pass monkeys on the way down to the low-key stretch framed by black boulders. This beach is so peaceful, it’s tempting to keep it all to yourself.
Where to stay
These beaches are located along the western and southern coasts of the Bukit Peninsula, but Nusa Dua on the eastern side is a popular resort area that’s home to The Ritz-Carlton, Bali, a clifftop Tier 3 property with a beachside pool and ocean view balconies. Rates start at about $393 or 50,000 Marriott Rewards points per night in February. In Jimbaran, the sustainable InterContinental: Bali Resort lords over extensive white sands and azure waters just 15 minutes from the airport. Rates start at about $253 or 35,000 IHG Rewards points per night in February.
Getting to Bali
Unfortunately, there are no nonstop flights to Bali from the US and routes will typically include a layover in Asia or Australia. Here are a few points and miles options:
American Airlines: One-way flights from LAX to DPS (via Hong Kong) start at 35,000 (economy), 55,000 (business class) or 67,500 (first class) American AAdvantage miles when booked before the American Airlines devaluation on March 21, 2016 — as of March, 22, you’ll need to use 35,000 (economy), 70,000 (business class) and 110,000 (first class) miles.
Delta Airlines: Round-trip flights from LAX to DPS start at 80,000 Delta SkyMiles for economy seats and 140,000 for business-class seats.
United Airlines: Round-trip flights between the US and Bali start at 80,000 United MileagePlus miles for economy seats and 140,000 miles for business class seats — the cost jumps to 160,000 miles for business-class seats and 260,000 for first-class seats on Star Alliance partner flights.
Credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the Citi Premier Card don’t charge foreign transaction fees, making them ideal to use on your vacation in Bali, where credit cards are accepted that is — many businesses are cash only.
Know before you go.
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