Lay of the Land
“You were given life; it is your duty to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight.”~Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
Bali is less than ninety miles from east to west and fifty-five miles from the north shore’s black sand beaches to its southernmost point. Some of the roads are narrow and unpaved, but it’s actually quite easy to get around (driving around the entire island would take less than twenty-four hours). Bali’s only international airport, Ngurah Rai, is located on the island’s southwest coast, about nine miles south of the capital of Denpasar.
The South: Southern Bali focuses around Seminyak, ten minutes north of Kuta. Now international travelers hop from cocktails to dinner parties at Seminyak’s many luxurious villas, and trendy well-heeled visitors nibble on sushi and foie gras at one of the designer restaurants on Jalan Oberoi (more commonly known as Jalan Oberoi, after the first hotel built in the region, and also nicknamed “Eat Street”). Another burgeoning glamour area is the western side of the Bukit Peninsula, at the southern tip of the island, which was once home only to the Uluwatu temple and a few surfers. The Bulgari Resort opened its doors here, and the Bukit is also the location of some of the island’s most beautiful villas.
Ubud & Surroundings: If southern Bali attracts an Ibiza beau monde then Ubud reminds one of Santa Fe: it’s a wealthy, creative and spiritual-minded place with a substantial international expat population. It has long been a magnet for Western artists (German painter Walter Spies moved here in 1927). What draws many to this region, besides world-famous resorts like Amandari and Como Shambhala at Begawan Giri, is the Balinese experience on a smaller, more authentic scale. But even though Ubud may be more laid-back, it, too, has gone through a redesign with cool restaurants and cafés.
The North: This infrequently visited area is a landscape of mostly black sand beaches, temples and casual bungalow hotels. It’s where expats head when they need to escape and where the island’s expansive national park and some of the best snorkeling and diving are found. If you don’t have time to spend a night or two on the northern coast, take a day trip to the sacred temple of Besakih (the mother of all Balinese temples), on the slopes of Mount Agung, the island’s tallest mountain, or Mount Batur, a volcano and crater lake a half-hour’s drive from Ubud.
When to Go
Bali’s busy high season is July and August, which you will want to avoid, as well as Christmas and New Year’s. The best months to visit are April through June, September and October. Rainy season generally runs from November to March, though climate changes have made it far less predictable.