12 Must-Do’s for first-timers in Bali, Indonesia

Some people say Bali is overrated and that it’s lost its magic over the years. I say those people must be on something 😛 The list of things to do in Bali for first-timers can go on forever, you’ll never run out of things to do! We spent a week in Bali and only scratched the surface of this paradise- there’s still so much left to be explored.

Bali’s one of those places that made us go “Okay, we’re definitely coming back”… and we are! We loved it so much that we just booked our flights to revisit this fall. There’s still so much we want to accomplish but first, here are 12 of many, many things to do in Bali for first-timers.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Kintamani

12 things to do in Bali for first-timers

1. DON’T try the Kopi Luwak, or cat poo coffee

Known to be the most expensive coffee in the world, it’s actually brewed from the feces of an Indonesian cat-like animal called the civet. They feed on coffee cherries, magic happens in their digestive system, and out comes these ridiculously priced coffee beans. However, most coffee plantations in Bali force feed these animals and cage them up in appalling conditions. Perhaps it’s not as intense as the making of foie gras but still pretty damn inhumane.

2. Visit rice terraces and rice fields

One of the main things to do in Bali for first-timers is to visit rice paddies, and Tegalalang is the obvious choice. If you want to avoid the crowds, head to Jatiluwih instead. But really, there are rice fields everywhere! We saw so many driving through the rural areas of Bali.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali for first-timers - Rice Fields

Tegalallang Rice Terraces

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali for first-timers - Rice Fields

rice fields outside Karsa Spa Ubud

3. Stay at a villa, live like a king

You can live like a king for the price of a 3-star hotel in metropolitan cities (i.e. Vancouver, New York). Ours at The Amala came with a private plunge pool, outdoor jacuzzi tub, and a steam room- all within our own suite! You can easily spend a day just relaxing, doing absolutely nothing.

Kollecting Koordinates - The Amala

breakfast at our private pool at The Amala

4. Make friends with monkeys

Or not, they might have rabies and most likely carry other diseases. Remembering what our travel doctor said, we tried our best to keep our distance. It was awesome seeing so many monkeys monkeying around because they’re so smart. A baby monkey tried to steal my clutch while another little dude tried to pickpocket AS!

We only visited the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, but our driver said that the ones at Uluwatu Temple are a lot more feisty. Regardless, keep your hands to yourself and your personal belongings close or hidden.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Monkey Forest

little thief

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Monkey Forest

5. Chill out at infinity pools

Do you like infinity pools overlooking the jungle or do you prefer listening to the ocean while you sip on a tropical drink? The choice is yours depending on where you stay. You can still find stunning infinity pools at reasonably priced resorts even if you don’t have a fat wallet to afford the Hanging Gardens. If your resort or villa doesn’t come with an infinity pool, you can simply spend a day at Jungle Fish.

Kollecting Koordinates - Puri Gangga Resort

infinity pool at Puri Gangga Resort Bali

infinity pool at Bisma Eight Ubud

6. Go temple hopping

Visiting temples is one of the top things to do in Bali for first-timers. While Indonesia has a Muslim-majority population, the predominant religion in Bali is Balinese Hinduism, which is a fusion of Buddhism and Shivaism. Pura, or Balinese temples, integrate core beliefs of Hinduism and Indian spiritual ideas.

Uluwatu, Tanah Lot, Tirta Gangga, Goa Gajah, Ulun Danu Beratan, and Besakih are some of the most popular ones. Because these temples are scattered throughout Bali, you’ll have to group them by region and plan your itinerary accordingly so you’re not wasting the whole day on the road. 

Pura Lempuyang is by far our favourite one. It’s waaay out in the east but the scenery at the ‘Gateway to Heaven’ is second to none.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali for first-timers - Pura Lempuyang

Gateway to Heaven at Pura Lempuyang

7. Pig out on healthy delicious food

Using a variety of spices, fresh veggies, and meats, there’s a hint of Indonesian, Chinese, and Indian flair in Balinese food. Our favourite dish is probably the glass noodles at Bambu Restaurant in Seminyak.

Because it’s a tropical island, Bali is loaded with tons of fresh fruits and veggies. Lots of restaurants serve organic cuisine using only fresh local ingredients, making healthy eating very easy. Earth Cafe and Kafe Ubud are perfect examples!

8. Always chase waterfalls

Home to many stunning waterfalls, Bali is the place to prove those TLC girls wrong. Some waterfalls you can swim in, some you can slide down, and others you can only watch from afar. Just look at how many there are!

Our favourite is the Nungnung Waterfall. We had to descend down around 500 steps to reach this oasis, which means it was a strenuous hike back up. It was totally worth it though, because we had this all to ourselves!

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Nungnung Waterfall

9. Take a cooking class

Learn how to make local cuisines from scratch! We learned how to cook a 3-course Balinese meal at The Amala: lawar salad, tum ikan, and dadar gulung.

10. Get pampered, treat yoself

Massages are dirt cheap here- without losing quality! Most resorts have an on-site spa. Many also offer a complimentary 30min massage when you book a stay with them.

Our favourite is Karsa Spa in Ubud. Surrounded by rice fields, its idyllic location is perfect for some R&R. The best part? A 60min massage is only 160,000IDR, which is around $15CAD! A flower bath can be added for an additional 160,000IDR.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali for first-timers - Spa

flower bath at Karsa Spa in Ubud

11. Go scuba diving

I legit thought I was going to drown when I went diving the first time in Oahu but I’m so glad I gave it another shot in Bali. We got PADI certified last spring with Bali Aqua and it was one of the most surreal experiences ever. I’d have to say that diving is one of the best things to do in Bali for first-timers.

We checked out the USS Liberty Shipwreck in Tulamben, swam with manta rays in Nusa Penida, and were carried by the currents through a giant aquarium while drift diving in Nusa Lembongan.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Manta Point

mantas in Nusa Penida

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Shipwreck

shipwreck dive in Tulamben

12. Catch the Mount Batur sunrise

If you can wake up at 2am for a hike, you’ll be rewarded with a majestic 360-degree view of the sunrise on the summit of Mount Batur. Or if you’re lazy like us, just ask a driver to take you to Kintamani. The sunrise seen from here is still gorgeous, no?

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Sunrise

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Sunrise

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45 Comments

  1. January 30, 2017 / 5:51 pm

    Great post! I absolutely loved all those things you mentioned. Mt. Batur at sunrise was amazing! Hanging by an infinity pool is a MUST on vacation!

  2. January 31, 2017 / 10:20 am

    Looks like a pretty well-rounded trip to Bali. I’m set for my second trip at the end of the month, and now I’m gonna do it in style since I won’t be in broke backpacking mode like before. I’ll have to follow your advice to pamper myself at a villa and believe it or not I hadn’t dived in Bali the first time so that’s a major one I’ll be checking off.

    And you’re right about the monkeys by the way. One of my friends got horrendously sick because a monkey climbed on her head and shoved a finger in her mouth. Yeah, imagine that!

    • January 31, 2017 / 5:17 pm

      Yay for diving! I can’t wait to see your amazing underwater pictures. Are you just going to Bali or will you be diving elsewhere in Indonesia too? We’re planning on doing a liveaboard in Komodo in September and would love to hear other people’s experiences!
      I’m sorry to hear about your friend 🙁 hopefully it wasn’t anything too serious? I was so shocked seeing people play with and hand feed the monkeys. Crazy!

  3. January 31, 2017 / 2:13 pm

    Beautiful photos, Ivy! I’m dying to visit Indonesia properly and spend some time in Bali as well as visit Komodo National Park/Padar! Definitely pinning this for a future trip 🙂

    • January 31, 2017 / 5:18 pm

      That’s what we’re doing in September! Splitting our time between Bali and Komodo, perhaps we’ll see you there 😀

  4. January 31, 2017 / 6:02 pm

    Love this post! I’ve been wanting to visit Indonesia for so long. My partner and I were meant to go last summer for a month, but we opted for a trip back to my home country, USA! I’m happy you included not drinking the coffee as I’m all for responsible travel. It’s tragic that people don’t consider all of this while traveling. Thanks for evoking a sense of wanderlust today =)

  5. February 1, 2017 / 5:10 pm

    The rice fields look straight out of a fantasy! I have never been to Bali but I am now adding it to my list as a “must-see” place! Thank you for sharing!

  6. February 1, 2017 / 5:42 pm

    Brilliant post! I’m Australian and I’ve never been to Bali! I think I’ve been put off over the years as so many Aussies go to Kuta and get drunk and run a muck and so it never appealed to me. But this side of Bali is so spot on! Your hotel is literal bliss and what I wouldn’t give for some sunshine and my own private pool – simple things really! This post has definitely inspired me to put Bali at the top of my travel list!

    Rebecca

  7. February 1, 2017 / 6:08 pm

    Oh these pictures are absolutely beautiful! There seems to be SO much to do here – and across the board, there’s something for everyone! Love all the recommendations, especially the cooking class idea – what a great way to learn about the culture of where you’re visiting!

  8. February 1, 2017 / 6:14 pm

    I love this!! My 4 year old is obsessed with Bali so we plan to go in the fall. I’ve pinned this for later!! I love the FOOD, it looks so yummy and delicious, and the tip for the less-touristy rice terrace. Thanks for sharing!

  9. February 1, 2017 / 6:34 pm

    I had planned to visit Bali when I was in South East Asia, but didn’t end up making it there! Maybe a blessing in disguise because now I have some badass, first-rate tips to refer to when I DO finally make it there. Great list, makes me all giddy! I loved how your number 1 was DON’T drink cat-poo coffee. Solid advice with good reasoning!

  10. February 1, 2017 / 6:48 pm

    That gateway to Pura Lempuyang temple looks like gateway to heaven!!
    What an amazing post and photos! Bali is in the bucket list, hopefully one day 🙂

  11. February 1, 2017 / 7:07 pm

    What a great list of tips. I’ve been considering a trip to Bali and this has really inspired me to go sooner rather than later. Your first tip made me chuckle as I don’t know if I was going to be tempted by expensive cat poo coffee to begin with – it’s weird the things that people will try on vacation. And on a more serious note, thanks for warning people away from experiences that are harmful to animals. I really appreciate it when bloggers share about more sustainable and humane ways to travel.

    • February 2, 2017 / 12:21 am

      Our driver made an impromptu stop at a coffee plantation saying there’s something we HAVE to try, and we were like ‘sure, of course!’ because we didn’t do our research before going. I was horrified when I saw the caged civet 🙁 Say no to luwak kopi but yes to the fruit teas! Those are super yummy and no animals were harmed in the process 🙂

  12. February 1, 2017 / 7:59 pm

    Wow Bali looks amazing and somewhere we are definitely intending to visit. We are planning a trip around south-east Asia and Bali was on the periphery of the planing but I think after reading this I will take another look!

  13. February 2, 2017 / 2:09 am

    Incredibly beautiful! If only there was more time to travel (says someone who’s traveling since 8 months 🙂

  14. February 2, 2017 / 3:10 am

    I’ll admit that I was one that wasn’t in love with Bali on the first go (probably largely because my friends only wanted to stay in Kuta and hop between reggae bars…..), though there were some really cool things we did while staying in Ubud. Our hotel had a local guy who wanted to practice his English, so he took us around the island to places like Gunung Kawi Temple and then a good lookout spot for the Batur volcano. I really love that you mention the interesting religious background of the island – that’s definitely one of the cooler, yet lesser known tidbits about the island!

  15. February 3, 2017 / 6:07 am

    I loved everything about this article. Inspired travel spending to promote humane treatment of animals – check. Beautiful infinity pools in the jungle – check. Cheap massages (I miss Thailand and getting daily massages). Monkeys, fresh fruit, scuba, sunrises, waterfalls. I want to go right now You have certainly inspired me.

  16. February 3, 2017 / 2:27 pm

    I so badly want to visit Bali!! Reading this post has fueled my desire even more. The temples, waterfalls, spa and infinity pools are all high on the list. The only thing that scares me is the monkeys!!! Thanks for the inspiration.

  17. February 4, 2017 / 12:21 am

    COFFEE FROM CAT POO?! Errrrr… that sounds very interesting! I always say I have to try something at least once, so we will see if I actually am brave enough to do it! I’ve also heard the villas in Bali are absolutely gorgeous. When I make it over there, you bet I will be living like a QUEEN! *insert crown emoji here*

  18. February 5, 2017 / 12:46 am

    Your picture at #3 literally made me dream of Bali! Are most of the villas that fantastic and affordable? One more question: why keep hands to ourselves when it comes to the monkeys? Simply not to touch them or do they bite???

  19. February 5, 2017 / 7:15 am

    You guys love chasing waterfalls, don’t you. And yuck! Coffee made from feces? Whoever even came up with that idea? No thanks…

  20. February 6, 2017 / 3:13 am

    Great guide! Only one thing I didn’t try in Bali last time – the local food. We mostly ate at our resort, so next time we’re need to return and explore the local scene!

  21. February 8, 2017 / 5:31 pm

    wow how can anyone say Bali is over rated looking at your pictures it looks beautiful. I haven’t been yet but do want to go and I am definitely going to check out the Amala villa looks amazing.

    • February 16, 2017 / 6:18 pm

      I know! I think it’s because they stay in Southern Bali / Kuta area. There’s so much more to offer than just the beach clubs and partying!

  22. February 8, 2017 / 6:12 pm

    I first heard of the cat poo coffee in the movie Bucket List, it’s a shame the conditions of the cats are not good. I guess just driving through rural areas is the best way to go to see rice fields without crowds, your pictures are great by the way! Living like a king in a villa sounds good, I’d love to stay where you stayed! I’m not into temples, although they look pretty unique, what does interest me is climbing Mount Batur early for the sunrise!

    • February 16, 2017 / 6:20 pm

      A few years too late but I just watched that movie 2 weeks ago!! A great movie that feeds our wanderlusting souls. minus the cat poo coffee of course 🙂

  23. February 8, 2017 / 7:31 pm

    Bali looks amazing. I really want to go there. I’d love to see the waterfalls and the rice terraces and eat the delicious food. But even though I love coffee, I won’t be drinking the civet poo coffee. Interestingly enough, we have civets in South Africa too although they don’t produce coffee

    • February 16, 2017 / 6:21 pm

      That’s good right? Hopefully this means they’re not exploited in South Africa?

  24. February 9, 2017 / 1:42 am

    Bali is seriously one of my favourite places in the whole world! Great list – glad to say I’ve managed to experience almost everything on here! I would LOVE to do a cooking class though – next trip!

  25. February 9, 2017 / 1:50 am

    This post makes me want to go to Bali so bad! It’s been on my list for so long. I need to make it happen soon. I want to do everything on your list – except maybe the monkeys and the cat poo coffee. I will avoid those. Otherwise, I’m pinning your post for future reference for when I finally make it! Gorgeous photos!

  26. February 9, 2017 / 3:26 am

    Wonderful list. Not sure if making friends with Monkeys will be my thing. But I would really like to live king size in a villa and visit those beautiful and unique rice fields. Thanks for compiling the list.I will refer to it when plan my first trip.

    • February 16, 2017 / 6:21 pm

      No, definitely do not make friends with monkeys unless you want to catch weird diseases!

  27. Riely
    February 9, 2017 / 3:33 am

    Wow, that sunrise looks amazing. Definitely something I would want to experience. It seems like there is plenty to do in Bali and the food does look delicious. A great compiled list of activities.

  28. February 9, 2017 / 8:08 pm

    I did nearly everything on your list, except the luxurious stuff. I didn’t treat myself to a luxury villa, infinity pool or spa day!!! Though those do look amazing, everything is so cheap there I should treat myself next time 🙂

    • February 16, 2017 / 6:26 pm

      I saw some decent pool villas in Ubud for around 100USD a night (excl tax). Not too expensive but still pretty luxurious! Perhaps next time 🙂

  29. February 9, 2017 / 10:14 pm

    Ivy this post is basically the best Bali post I’ve ever seen! I’m totally pinning it to refer to it when I visit Indonesia! Bali has been on my list forever, and I feel like I did many of these things listed here in Thailand so I know I’ll have the time of my life in Bali as well! Wonderfully put-together list with gorgeous photos!

    • February 16, 2017 / 6:27 pm

      Thanks Shem! <3

  30. February 10, 2017 / 12:42 am

    Ivy, I am very glad that you have shared your amazing journey in Bali with us. I would definitely pay attention to the things mentioned in this post!

  31. March 8, 2017 / 9:17 am

    We are hoping to get to Bali in the next year or two, so I appreciate this list! The Cat Poo coffee things is really sad. I’d love to check out the temples, infinity pools, and waterfalls. So much beauty there!

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