Last year Bali was voted the best destination in the world, and for good reason. It has all the culture, history, and beaches you could possibly want, not to mention the friendly people and the sunny weather. Countless tourists flock to this beautiful island every year, but if you want an authentic experience of Bali’s culture that doesn’t always stick to tried-and-tested tourist spots, here are five things you can do.
1. Attend a cultural evening
The perfect introduction to Balinese culture, this event is ideal for any newcomers to the island. Live performances and a delicious dinner will give you the chance to get a taste of the dance, music, art and food Bali has to offer.
Some of these performances will tell traditional stories, accompanied by a gamelan (a Balinese orchestra mostly featuring percussion instruments). For example, Barong dance depicts a fight between good and evil. Other types of dance, such as Kecak, which is performed by chanting male dancers and often accompanied by flames, are solely about the movement.
Want to know more? UNESCO have a useful guide to dance in Bali.
2. Explore Ubud
Start your day by hiking along the Campuhan ridge. The route overlooks the rice fields and is particularly beautiful in the early morning light (plus it gets too hot at lunchtime to really enjoy it properly). You can even hire a motorbike or go on a bike tour to explore the countryside, although make sure anything active is covered on your travel insurance policy — 1Cover have a guide to adventure activities if you need help.
If you’re looking for something a little more relaxed, stroll through the rice fields or the central market on Jalan Raya, where you can bag yourself a bargain — but only if you haggle.
3. Pay your respects at the Pura Luhur Uluwatu
This clifftop temple overlooks the beach and often hosts dance performances at sunset. It’s worth the trip to see the Balinese architecture, intricate statues and carvings, and to learn about the temple’s history, but the real attraction is the beautiful view.
Remember: You need to be wearing a sarong and sash before you enter a Balinese temple.
4. Take a safari trip
Whether you want to see mountains, lakes, waterfalls, jungles, or a bit of everything, a safari trip will fit the bill. The itinerary can be personalised to take your interests into account and English-speaking guides will share their local knowledge and history as you make your way across the island.
5. Learn how to cook Balinese food
There’s no better way to learn about Balinese food than in the kitchen of a local, where you can get a taste of proper home-cooked food. Bali’s most famous dish is juicy roasted pork called babi guling and they often use a spice blend called basa gede, which is made of garlic, red chilli peppers, shallots, nutmeg, ginger, tumeric, palm sugar, cumin, shrimp paste, and Indonesian bay leaves, which are known as salam leaves. (Check out Culture Trip’s list of Balinese dishes you need to try for more.)
Your guide will help you pick up your ingredients (and practise your language skills) at the nearby market, then teach you how to prepare some signature dishes. You’ll learn about how food plays a part in local life and — of course — you get to enjoy eating your creations at the end.
Written by: Maggie Smithson