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Jetsetter Guides

Bucket List Bali: The 6 Spots You Need to Know

Bali ranks among the world’s most popular honeymoon destinations, but with fratty backpacker bars, dense traffic, and crowded tourist attractions, paradise can often feel lost. Here, six sure-fire spots where you can find the real romance of the Indonesian idyll.

See recent posts by Chelsea Stuart | Photo by Ira Lippke

Sunburned Aussies spill out of neon bars pumping techno J-Lo mixes and advertising specialty Red Bull shots with names like Viagara. Out on the beach, discarded beer bottles litter the sugary sand. Touts throng the streets shilling knock-off Ray-Bans and vulgar tee shirts. Welcome to paradise.

Bali’s secret is that the secret has long been out. But the magic is there, and it’s there in spades: Deserted beaches flanked by palm-topped cliffs. Stone temples shrouded in jungle ferns. Emerald rice terraces spilling down balmy hillsides. Some of the world’s most over-the-top luxury hotels. Open-air restaurants grilling just-plucked-from-the-sea lobster beneath the stars. Eschew the tourist traps for the true gems. This is our guide to the ultimate Bali trip.

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The Beach Hotel: The Mulia Nusa Dua

If you’re looking to bliss out on beach time, avoid the overcrowded party scene in Kuta in favor of Nusa Dua. Here, Bali’s typically wild surf is replaced by calm crystalline waters lapping powdery shores. Because the beach is almost entirely private, you have plenty of room to yourself and are free from the aggressive touts and massage hustlers that plague other stretches of sand. Checking into The Mulia gives you the feel of a boutique hotel—private balconies with hot tubs and personalized butler service—with the perks of a luxury beach resort—multiple pools, a stunning spa, five restaurants—right next door.

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The Ubud Hotel: Alila Ubud Ubud

Though most Americans associate Bali with beaches, its lush green interior is as magical as its coastline. Be sure to block off a few days to wander the areas around Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali. Perched on a bluff in the jungle above the raging Ayung River, the Alila Ubud offers a modern take on a traditional Balinese village. In the restaurant, coconut tree trunks support a thatched roof and tables spill out into the trees. Frogs chirp and monkeys swing from the treetops next to the infinity pool. And an onsite art gallery and spa help you tap into traditional Balinese culture and massage. The hotel offers bikes for riding around the deep green rice terraces as well as transfers into Ubud proper.

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The Beach: Green Bowl Ungasan

Green Bowl is that postcard pristine beach that you dream of finding in Bali. It’s so hidden that many taxi drivers don’t even know how to get there. Ask them to take you to the southern coast near the abandoned Bali Cliff Resort. Here you’ll find monkeys playing in a clifftop temple next to a set of weathered concrete stairs. This is definitely paradise earned with a 300-step descent. Then the dense jungle foliage breaks open onto a onto a glittering crescent of sand flanked by caves filled with massive shells and driftwood. Your only companions are likely to be a handful of hardcore surfers and shy little geckos. Afterwards, join the pretty people sipping sundowners nearby at Rock Bar, an open air, glass bar hovering over the crashing surf at AYANA Resort.

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The Club: Potato Head Seminyak

Swank Seminyak has cornered the market on cool with independent boutiques, Balinese street art and buzzy cafes. Potato Head is its clubhouse. A rainbow of teak shutters reclaimed from houses throughout Indonesia forms its Alice-in-Wonderland exterior. Inside, boho model types in filmy caftans float from afternoons suntanning by the infinity pool and sipping at the swim-up bar to tiki aperitifs in the midcentury-style bar and dinners of globetrotting comfort food or haute Indonesian street fare in the two open-air restaurants. After dark, international DJs spin a mix of house and hip hop.

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The Show: Kecak Fire Dance Uluwatu

The late afternoon sun burns bright overhead as you set out down a weathered stone path through a forest of monkeys. As you arrive at the hushed 10th century temple, the orange orb hangs heavy, casting an orange glow on a sheer cliffface plunging 200 feet into the Indian Ocean. As the sun begins its descent, you reach an amphitheater and it starts, a hypnotic percussive chant. Fifty performers encircle the drama, their voices scoring an epic dance battle from the Ramayana. The chanting reaches a fever pitch as the sun dips below the horizon and the stage is suddenly aflame, the show’s monkey king dancing among the embers. The fire dance is Bali’s most dramatic sight, and one of its most romantic by far.

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The Meal: Menega Cafe Jimbaran

Sometimes the most romantic meals are the simplest: Seafood sets the rhythm of the day on Jimbaran Beach, with fishermen heading out in wooden boats each morning, hauling in their catch to the market before everyone arrives to greet the sunset at the dozens of simple shacks stretching along the sand. Menega is the best of the bunch, serving a spread of clams roasted in their shells, giant grilled prawns, squid sate and grouper topped in spicy sambal sauce. You can pick your fish and watch as it's grilled over coconut husks or just linger over icy Bintang beers at your table on the sand, watching the sun set over the surf. As the sky grows dark, candle and torchlight stretch down the beach, mingling with the canopy of stars overhead—the kind of only-in-Bali honeymoon moment you'll revisit for eternity.

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