Bali off the beaten track: travel, eat, dance
My first trip to Asia was back in 2008, when I was living in Australia and going to Bali was quick and quite cheap.
I spent 10 days travelling by private transfer with a party of 3 friends discovering Bali off the beaten track places such as Amed, Nusa Lembogan and Mount Batur.
As my first experience in Asia, I fell in love with Bali.
Bali is one of the very few places I had been to, where I have always wished to return. So, when 10 years after my first trip there, I got the opportunity to join one of my favourite bellydance teachers’ retreat there, I thought it was the perfect solution for a travel-eat-dance experience.
Coming back to Bali, I found out that the places I had visited have become popular destinations, so I felt privileged to have enjoyed them before the arrival of the crowds.
Luckily, November is low season so I took few days before my dance retreat to travel solo at the discovery of new Bali off the beaten track destinations.
What to see in a Country you visit for the second time?
I spent quite few hours looking up in the internet trying to figure out a place in Bali which could be still considered off the beaten track.
Difficult in a small island that relies mainly on tourism and receives more than 6 millions international visitors each year.
After going through hundreds of instagram pics, blog reviews and online research, I made my choice for the Munduk area, attracted by the lush vegetation dotted with secret waterfalls and coffee plantations (although I don’t drink coffee 🙂 but for those who do, here is where the prestigious Kopi Luwak coffee is produced!).
You can reach Munduk in approx. 3 hrs drive from Denpasar airport. I chose to hire a local driver Eddy, really nice and helpful, neat car and always on time, who I sticked to for the whole week.
I booked an accommodation for 3 nights there and forced myself to leave a blank daily program to be decided on the spot, contrary to my usual tendency to over-organize my trips.
Best choice ever, since it allowed me to receive suggestions directly from the locals and to fast realize that some of the most instagrammed spots are in reality very different from what they look online, appearing to me more as tourist “theme parks” i.e. The dozens of swings and cocoons hanging on each corner of the road where you are asked to pay from $10 to $30 to get your perfect instagram picture.
I stayed at a nice and comfortable guesthouse called Bali Rahayu Homestay .You can book direct as they speak good English. Staff is super friendly and food simple but savoury.
The homestay overlooks quiet rice paddies, where I loved to take a morning walk before leaving for my daily activities.
What to do in Munduk in 3 days
Waterfalls hunting: Bali off the beaten track ultimate experience
Sekumpul, the most popular waterfall in Bali
Thanks to the advise of the guesthouse staff, I left pretty early to avoid the group visits and, fingers crossed, the risk of rain that, in this period, usually hits the area around lunch time (from November to March is indeed rainy season here!).
I got picked up at 8 by my driver, got to the first waterfall by 9 am (groups usually arrive around 10), hired a local guide who drove me on the back of his scooter for approx. 5 minutes down narrow paths, before starting a short but steep hike down to the river (hiking shoes recommended, though the guide wears flip flops 🙂
As soon as I approached the first waterfall called Sekumpul, which is said to be one of the most popular, I found out it was very different from what you see in the pictures!
Which doesn’t mean I was disappointed, on the contrary, I was excited to see this huge waterfall which is even more impressive for realand pleased to enjoy it completely on my own!
I tried to get closer to take a couple of pictures struggling to walk on the slippery rocks and getting soaked wet by the watery breeze of the waterfall dropping from a hundred meters of height.
I honestly don’t know how all these nice ladies posing in their red long-tailed dresses manage to be captured so perfectly looking without getting damped 🙂
Sekumpul is not just one waterfall…
10 minutes walk from Sekumpul are twin waterfalls named Fiji. Here again, I was on my own. So the trick about timing works!
Keep in mind it can really make a difference to arrive just half an hour earlier to enjoy some popular sights without the crowds.
Swinging in Bali
Before we returned to the departing point, we stopped for a tea at a small stall where I had my “swinging time”.
I confess that after seeing all those tourist places on the main road of Munduk, swings didn’t appeal to me that much, but finding myself in this lovely spot with no tourists at sight, I decided to give it a try, and it’s actually fun!
Banyumala, a waterfall where you can actually swim!
On my way back to the village, I stopped at another place under the radar compared to Sekumpul: the Banyumala waterfalls (entrance 600m from the car park + 15 min walk).
It turned out there were actually more people here (we are talking of 10-15 people not hundreds :), probably due to the later time of the day.
However, the waterfall is gorgeous and more suitable for swimming because the fall is not that violent.
Although very inviting, I didn’t dare to jump in because the weather was starting to change and the temperature was not exactly hot 🙁
Bali off the beaten track: Tambligan lake jungle trek
Next, a quick lunch at a local warung (steet food stalls) before undertaking a jungle trek to the Tambligan lake.
Nothing remarkable nature wise, a part from some giant ficus and a lot of leeches jumping on my ankles 🙁 Don’t worry they are not dangerous, but better to spray your legs and cloths with insect repellent since they crawl also on trousers and socks!
Still, it was a pleasant hike and I really enjoyed to be alone and fully experienced the quiet and misty atmosphere of the lake, which we crossed onboard of a traditional paddling boat.
Notes: You can hire a local guide at one of the small huts along the main road of Munduk. Not sure you really need one, but I always like to have insights from the locals when I visit foreign environments and cultures.
Snorkeling at Menjangan Island
When I had booked for Munduk I got “distracted” by the waterfalls, jungle, temples and didn’t realize I was actually very close to the northern coast as well!
So for my second day I decided to head to Menjangan Island for a snorkeling trip.
I bumped into an affordable and well-rated dive company (Herman Lovina Tours) who efficiently chat via whatsapp at 9pm giving all necessary information and organizing my transfer for the following morning.
Herman was right on time to pick me up and drove me to Lovina, where the main office is. He is a gentle Balinese guy who speaks good English because he worked for some years for a Dutch tour operator and today runs his own business organizing diving and snorkeling trip.
From Lovina, it took us another hour and half by minivan to reach the West Bali National Park, from where we boarded our boat to the “Island of the Deer” – indeed, in Indonesian language menjangan means “deer”, guess why the island got this name?
I had no big experience of snorkeling except for a couple of trips in Australia and Bali (Nusa Lembogan), but I enjoyed the day very much.
We had two stops for swimming. The water around the island goes from shallow, where the coral garden is, to quite deep where you can swim along a sheer coral wall.
The coral is not particularly colourful due unfortunately to the damages caused by unrespectful visitors and excess of boats.
However, there are plenty of fish including nemos and giant clams.
Lunch and gears are provided.
Contrary to what you may think, Sunday is the quietest day to visit since on public holidays the Park Board charges an extra fee to patrol the number of visitors… and it works!
There were just two other boats of tourists plus a number of local people coming to pray at the temple on the island so I recommend this activity if you are interested in experiencing Bali off the beaten track!
Hiking Jatiluwih rice terraces: a must-see of Bali off the beaten track
Before leaving Munduk, I popped into the Ulun Danu BerataTemple right at the opening time, so nobody was around (timing trick works again ;-).
Nice little temple but nothing compared to the Mother Temple or Water Temple I visited years ago.
On my way to Canggu (located on the south-west coast, around 3 hour drive from Munduk), I decided to stop at the Unesco World Heritage rice terraces of Jatiluwih.
Simply amazing, no words can describe it!
As soon as I approached the lookout, I remembered a picture of myself with this backdrop took during my last visit, but I am pretty sure I didn’t go any further at that time.
I wandered around for approximately 3 hours, walking well-marked footpaths surrounded by lush rice paddies. The feeling you get being immersed in this relaxing place is a true peace of mind.
I was surprised this place is still a Bali off the beaten track gem compared to the more crowded Tegalalang near Ubud.
Indeed, during my hike, I met only a nice Belgian couple with whom we tried to figure out the right direction at a crossroads, since the numbers of the trails were different from sign to sign. They were surprised when I recognised their accent, in fact as I had lived in Belgium I can tell a French from a Belgian 🙂 I was surprised as well to hear that they were travelling for a month in Indonesia with a 6 month-old baby in their backpack. I never thought about it, but they made me realize that Bali is actually suitable also for families.
Note: if you visit make sure to have sunscreen, hat and lots of water as there is no shades anywhere! Allow yourself at least 2-3 hours to explore.
Before reaching my final destination, my driver suggested to stop at the Tanah Lot Temple, a must-see pretty close to where I was going.
I remembered I had been there before but I didn’t mind to go back, considering it was still pretty early for my check-in and I don’t like to lazy around.
The place is very nice and the temple surrounded by the sea, especially during the high-tide time, like when we visited.
However, I didn’t remember so many shops and souvenirs!
Not sure if they popped up like mushrooms in the last few years, but certainly you cannot consider this place to be off the beaten track, still it is nice to visit, though too touristy for my taste.
I must admit I didn’t have a nice souvenir about Balinese food from my first trip, probably because, despite our repeated requests to our driver to take us to non-touristy places, we always ended up in tourist restaurants having average nasi goreng (typical rice dish) with no special flavours.
On the contrary, this time I had the chance to savour some local dishes that, to my surprise, were actually pretty good and tasty!
Eat like a local
I particularly loved the Gado Gado (mixed vegetables seasoned with peanut sauce), the sweets Laklak (sort of green pancakes filled with coconut and brown palm sugar, yummy) and, of course, I couldn’t miss the traditional Babi Guling (roasted baby pork cooked with spices, herbs and crunchy bacon rind, mind it’s quite hot!).
I had been told from the first day that this was THE local dish, so I asked my driver to stop at a local warung (typical street stall) where, to my appreciation, I was the only western person surrounded by locals, from kids in their school uniform to workers at their lunch break. I couldn’t have asked for a more “local” experience.
This was my last treat before getting into a healthy vegetarian diet for the rest of the week (which was nonetheless mouthwatering and appreciated as a necessary detox from my western food habits), based on lots of fresh fruit, pulses, soups and fusion veg dishes. Yummy!
Dance retreat in Bali
I have been into bellydance for quite some years now (I started at my first year of University more than 10 years ago!) and attended various workshops with international teachers to keep learning and embellish my personal style.
In fact, though I am not a full time dancer, I am a certified instructor, hold classes twice per week and perform at local events and nationwide festivals any time I get the chance to.
I had been following online for the last 4 years the videos of Colleena Shakti, an exceptional Indian fusion teacher, dreaming of joining one of her retreats in Bali. Last year, I finally decided to give myself this opportunity and booked my dance retreat for November. Needless to say it has been one of the best experiences of my life.
A full week entirely dedicated to yoga, dance training, healthy food and sisterhood with other 9 lovely ladies from all over the world.
A nourishing experience not only for my dance but first of all for my soul.
What is a dance retreat like?
Each day we woke up very early, kicked off with a 1 hour yoga warm up, breakfast and then straight into a 2 hour technique class.
A swim in the pool, lunch, relax and then back to work for another couple of hours before dinner.
After that, we sat on sofas chatting about Indian aesthetics and beauty.
Of course being in Bali we couldn’t miss a lesson of traditional Balinese dance with an amazing teacher devoted to preserve the local tradition and culture.
This has been our schedule for an intensive and rewarding week, which concluded with a small performance to celebrate all the beauty we soaked in for the entire week.
I still had one day free before my departure, so I decided to join Colleena for another Indian fusion workshop held in Ubud at a Yoga Retreat Hotel where each detail is conceived to make you feel at home and at peace: the Soulshine Bali.
A bit over budget for my usual style of travelling, but a splurge I granted myself to conclude a memorable trip that has represented for me a real transformational journey (read more about Transformational Travel).
If Bali had gained a place in my heart during my first trip, with this second experience it definitely confirmed to be an extraordinary destination.
You often hear stories of people who have chosen this island to live and describe it as a paradise on earth. I can tell it’s not just a cliche, because Bali really has something special that allows you to step out of your daily routine and reconnect with your inner self.
I am that sort of traveller who like to always discover new destinations, but I can tell you that after my second time in Bali, I still wish to go back one day.