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Is Bali too touristy?

In February 2018 we came to a crossroads in our travel plans. Due to unforeseen health issues, we had to make a quick exit from our current location in West Papua. Our options were pointing towards Bali, however our previous experience there left us believing it was a bit overrated and just another tourist trap. But in our search for well-being, we discovered a whole other side to this little island!

We could have happily stayed in wild West Papua forever, but an ear infection and perforated ear drum meant it was time to leave. Healthcare and comfort was limited in this remote place, so we decided to bunker down in Bali for a while and get better. We arrived with no plans and no real expectations, but the question was, is Bali too touristy for us now?

Is Bali too touristy for us now?

Tegallalang Rice Terraces Ubud Bali
Too many tourists at Tegallalang Rice Terraces for our liking…

Bali was the place we started our adventure back in 2017; four brief days were spent exploring the famous tourist spots. We took a taxi to Ubud and ventured into the Monkey Forest, tasted our first Lewak Coffee and went to Tegallalang Rice Terraces. We even tried out the famous ‘instaswing’ (cringe!!).

Even though we’d barely even touched the sides of Bali, we didn’t have much desire to go back. After numerous discussions with likeminded travellers during our time in West Papua, the general consensus was, if you liked West Papua (i.e. remote places) then don’t bother with Bali. So as we found ourselves booking a flight to Denpasar, it felt like we were cheating on ourselves!

Settling in Sebatu

Kintamani sebatu Ubud Bali rice fields
Peaceful morning runs through the rice fields of Sebatu

However, we settled ourselves in Sebatu, a tiny village sandwiched between Ubud and Mount Batur. It is surrounded by green rice terraces and views to Kintamani. The local people here are artisans, and their main trade is creating many of the beautiful Balinese handicrafts sold in Tegallalang, and far beyond.

We were one of very few foreigners staying in Sebatu and after a while, came to know the friendly villagers quite well, and started to feel part of the community. It was a million miles from the bustling streets of Ubud, yet we were only a 40 minute drive from the hustle.

Bali by Bike

Munduk Bali North Ubud waterfall dirt road
Getting ourselves lost on dirt tracks in Muduk, Northern Bali

It wasn’t long before we discovered that Bali is best explored by scooter or motorbike. Heavily populated areas were testing at times, but once we were able to push through the traffic, the roads were empty and endless.

Most days were spent biking around the island, in search of something beautiful. With an aim to avoid all main attractions (and tourists) we became masters of getting off the beaten track. The bike gave us freedom to see another side of Bali, far away from the likes of Sanur, Canggu and Kuta.

Venturing anywhere but the hotspots, we let ourselves get lost, allowing nature to take its course. Passing through colourful neighbourhoods filled with temples and frangipani – the waft of incense in the air, we watched the Balinese people go about their daily rituals, admiring their dedicated and peaceful demeanour.

We rode by miles of lush rice paddies, through thick jungle gorges, past great gushing rivers and over cool and misty mountain tops, stopping to refuel at friendly roadside Warungs for Es Teh & Nasi. This revealed many parts of Bali which are still completely untouched by tourism.

Nature untouched by tourism

Munduk Banyumala Waterfall Bali
There we were, merely spectators, watching nature do its thing

We took a trip towards Munduk one day on the hunt for a waterfall. The weather in this part of the island is a stark contrast to that of the south. It is a completely different climate. The clouds above were so heavy you could almost reach out and touch them, and rolling thunder echoed across empty farmland. The path to the fall was tricky by bike, so we trekked our way through eerie fields of cornflower blue hydrangeas.

The storm looming was threatening rain, so we tried to make it to the waterfall as quickly as possible before the path became too slippery. When we eventually made it through a mist shrouded jungle and down what felt like endless makeshift steps, we were rewarded by the most impressive sight. The great Banyumala Waterfall effortlessly pouring over the sheer cliff face of the jungle, into a pool of crystal clear water.

This environment was so far removed from our preconceived notions of Bali. We found ourselves completely alone. We had been seeking remote… this was it.

Banyumala Waterfall is just one of many undiscovered places we found in Bali. Places that were hard to reach, near void of tourists. Exploring the island in this way showed us another side of Bali. We never knew that there was such an abundance of raw natural beauty here. The land is rich and bountiful, it is so pure in parts if you dig a little deeper.

The heart of Bali

Is Bali too touristy
Peaceful Balinese offerings in the heart of the jungle

At its heart, the Balinese set an example to the rest of the world. Their gracious nature and positive outlook on life is infectious. On countless occasions we were met with genuine acts of kindness and selflessness. It is impossible not to be drawn to this kind of humility.

During our time living in Bali, we never felt like outsiders. We were welcomed into the community and encouraged to experience their unique culture and way of life. It’s not until you leave and go someplace else, that you realise how fortunate you were to be surrounded by such lovely people, and how you smiled so much during that time.

The truth about Bali

Sideman Mount Agung central Bali countryside river
Sideman: There is still much beauty under Bali’s radar

If the truth be told, there are parts of the island which have been overrun and spoiled by tourism. This is undoubtedly why it has a bad rep with the more discerning traveller.

Driving home to Sebatu we’d pass the busy shops and restaurants of Ubud, up through Tegallalang dodging bus loads of tourists taking selfies over the rice terraces.

But as soon as we cleared the last few Lewak Coffee plantations on the main road, the environment changed dramatically. The further you travel towards Mount Batur, the more vastly remote Bali becomes. It is entirely local, and spectacularly beautiful.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

Bali unspoiled
Discovering endless views, unspoiled nature and hidden gems in Bali

Bali gave us the convenience of a more comfortable lifestyle, which is ultimately why we came back in the first place. Yet it was still possible for us to get off the beaten track, to be at one with nature, far away from tourist traps.

We also discovered that it is a great place to settle down for a while. Food and accommodation is highly affordable and the island offers an excellent quality of life. Now we understand why so many digital nomads are drawn here! We took full advantage of this, and it served its purpose well. For any long-term travellers looking for a little respite from the real sense of the word ‘remote’ please don’t be put off by coming to Bali.

It took us quite by surprise, but we fell in love with this little island.

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2 comments

  1. Hi Claire,

    We recently got sent a link to your site! What a fantastic adventure. Bali is somewhere Becky and I have talked about visiting but, like others, have been put off by the reputation for being overly touristy. We might of just added it back to the list. Thank you.

    1. Hi Pete & Becky!

      Really lovely to hear from you both and thanks for your comment! Yes it has been quite the adventure so far.

      Aw thank you, well we really hope you do. We recommend checking out Sideman, Sebatu, Kintamani and Munduk – you’ll be well away from the tourist spots, and surrounded by lots of beautiful countryside! So glad we were able to help 🙂 Speak soon – Claire x

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