Nicknamed the Island of the Gods, Bali is one of the world’s top tourist destinations. However, this enchanting island in Indonesia still offers plenty of off-the-beaten-path activities. From buzzing markets and kite festivals to remote hikes and community projects, here are some of the best non-touristy activities in Bali.
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Markets in Bali are usually great places to buy cheap souvenirs like scarfs, dresses and accessories. However, most locals attend these markets early in the morning. Farmers bring their fresh produce to town and set up stalls around 3–4am. To get the best items, visitors should head to the market around 5am. You’ll be mesmerized by the scents, sounds, colours and rhythms of local life.
As soon as you arrive on the island, you may notice that although Bali’s infrastructure is well-developed, the island has a severe waste management problem. Remember to limit your use of plastic items and bring your own water bottle that you can refill at various – safe – stations. Do not ask for plastic bags at supermarkets and be mindful of your consumption. Several organizations on the island are trying to raise awareness about this issue and are taking action. They organise weekly, monthly and yearly cleanups. Check out Trash Hero and One Island One Voice and join a group cleanup if you want to give back to Mama Bali.
From May to August, the wind in Bali is ideal for flying a kite. Locals paint Bali’s sky with these colourful, flying shapes. The Bali Kite Festival is held in July, an annual celebration of traditional, Balinese kites. The event summons kite clubs from local villages and showcases their unique – and giant – creations, mixing traditional and contemporary designs.
Ubud offers myriad food choices, with restaurants and cafes featuring cuisine from all over the world. However, in order to experience a real taste of the local food scene, get off the main road, seek out tiny alleys and pop into a local warung, or a small, family-run restaurant. They usually specialize in only a few dishes: basko, or broth with meatballs and noodles, nasi lawar, or rice with chopped jackfruit, coconut, local spices and pig blood (though you can skip this) and nasi campur, a dish of mixed rice with chicken, vegetables, eggs and tempe (an Indonesian soy product). Your taste buds will be ecstatic. Also, do as the locals do and forget the cutlery to use your hands – the right hand, according to local etiquette. However, a spoon is allowed for broth.
Looming over Lake Beratan, Bali’s second-biggest lake, Mount Catur is one of Bali’s volcanic peaks, the fourth-highest in fact, at 2,096m (6,877ft). The trek to the summit starts from the Gua Jepang caves – which were built by WWII prisoners – and takes around three hours; the path is relatively easy to follow. It’s an ideal alternative to the busy Mount Batur hike. Pro tip: Avoid the hike during the rainy season (October to March), as leeches can be a problem.
Batik is the traditional Indonesian art of decorating textiles with wax dye and liquids, using a precise method. Several places around Ubud hold workshops that offer the opportunity to draw, design and make your own batik shirt. Imagine going back home with a unique piece of art that you designed. You’ll have an ideal souvenir from an unforgettable holiday and a day spent diving deep into the local culture.
Booking a room in a family-run homestay will open the doors to Bali’s timeless culture and day-to-day life. Your host family will likely welcome you with open arms and if you show interest in the local customs, you’ll be invited in no time to ceremonies and celebrations. The banjar, local villages, have a tight community and events take place every day. Connect with your host family to enjoy the most authentic experience in Bali.
There are a lot of street dogs and cats in Bali, with rabies still a problem. It’s common to find puppies and kittens abandoned in markets, parking lots or on street corners. Several organizations in Bali are helping thousands of cats and dogs. If you are an animal lover, or simply want to do something beyond swimming and drinking mojitos, visit BAWA (Bali Animal Welfare Association) and Villa Kitty. Spend an hour, afternoon or day with some fluffy friends. Most of the time, all they need is a cuddle.
In order to avoid touristy experiences, you should widen your perspective and observe what the locals do. When travelling, you don’t have to understand everything; just try not to judge it. You’re a guest in a region with timeless traditions. Respect their customs, just as you would want someone to do in your country. Also, learning a bit of the local language goes a long way; it explains a lot about the local culture’s way of thinking.