Ah, Bali. The famed island paradise. The stuff postcards and honeymoons are made of.
If you’re planning a visit to Bali, you’re not alone. 2016 saw a record 4.4 million foreigners descend on the tiny Indonesian island!
So where can you go to escape the masses? If you’re feeling adventurous, why not explore one of Bali’s less-traveled routes – the coastal road from Kuta to Amed Beach.
Arriving in Kuta
Bali Tip #1: SKIP KUTA. (Note: This does not apply to South Kuta or Nusa Dua, which we’ll get to later).
Unless you’re an aspiring surfer or you want to party all night with thousands of drunk Aussies, there is absolutely zero reason to go to Kuta.
There. I said it. (In case no one else did.)
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the place. There are lots of cheap little restaurants (warungs) where you can get delicious Indonesian food. As soon as we checked into our guesthouse, we headed for the closest one and had a phenomenal meal for less than $3US.
I’ll write a separate post about the food in Bali, but for now, suffice to say it’s superb. Thanks to its strategic location along the trade routes between China and India (and 350 years of Dutch rule), the Indonesian food has claimed the best flavors from around the globe and combined them in ways that are truly magical.
Our intro to this wonderful world of flavors consisted of nasi campur (mixed meat and vegetable dishes with rice and plenty of spicy sambal chili) and ayam pedas (chicken and fragrant rice steamed in banana leaf). No joke – each dish cost about $1. And they were insanely delicious.
But wait, aren’t I supposed to be talking you out of Kuta?
Yes, for the aforementioned reasons (#1: You’re a surfer. #2: You like drunk Australians. Or #3: You’re a drunk Australian surfer). That’s pretty much all you’re going to find in Kuta. So if this describes you, you’ll be right at home. If not, you’ll be bored and annoyed in about 20 minutes.
Sadly, Kuta is the beginning and the end of most people’s visit to Bali. All they see of this incredible island is a mediocre (dirty) beach, shady massage parlors, rundown nightclubs, and endless touts selling cheap souvenirs. Add in maniacal motorbike drivers and terrible traffic jams, and you’ll quickly be wondering where all those idyllic rice fields are.
Hint: They’re not in Kuta.
If you want to party in Kuta, by all means…do so. Get your drink on, practice your fake (or real) Aussie accent…and then GET OUT to see the rest of Bali. The real Bali.
Bali Road Trip 101
This may seem like a strange piece of advice in an article about road-tripping, but here it is: Unless you’re already very experienced in driving in congested third-world countries (on the left), I DO NOT recommend attempting to drive here.
Repeat: DO NOT attempt to drive in Bali unless you already have experience driving someplace like Vietnam, the Philippines, or Malaysia. The roads in Bali are more like…bicycle paths. With an endless flow of cars, trucks, buses, and motorbikes competing for space that doesn’t exist.
Or, if you do manage to get out of the city, you enter miles and miles of hairpin turns with no lane markings, no guard rails, and no one to save you when you go careening over a cliff. (Okay, maybe that was a tad dramatic.)
Still, the warning needs to be given. Travel agencies are eager to rent you cars (or, God forbid, motorbikes) for your “relaxing, fun-filled holiday” in Bali. Let me be the first to say that driving here is ANYTHING but relaxing and fun-filled.
Is it impossible? No. Obviously, people (like us) manage to do it – although we’ve lived and driven in Asia for two years so we’re kind of used to it. If you do decide to rent a car (only rent a motorcycle if you have a death wish), then please be prepared for the most exhausting, intensive driving you’ve ever done.
If this is all sounding a little intimidating, don’t despair. You can still have an amazing road trip by hiring a driver who’s used to the chaos. There are also plenty of buses and shuttle companies that will haul you to the most popular parts of the island.
Okay. Lecture done. Onto the adventure.
First Stop: Candidasa
Let’s assume you’ve hired a driver or have mentally prepared yourself to drive in Bali. Leaving the chaos of Kuta behind, you’ll drive through an unremarkable stretch along Sanur and Bali’s southwest coast. The only real place of note here is the Safari Park (if that’s your kinda thing).
If not, drive straight on to the delightful seaside village of Candidasa.
Once you’ve dipped your toes in the water and marveled at the volcanic rocks along the shore, hop back in your car to continue your Bali road trip.
Next Stop: Ujung Water Palace
If you’re following Google Maps to Amed, it will lead you inland through Tirta Gangga along the main road to Kubu. Since your goal is to explore Bali “off the beaten path,” ignore Google. Instead, when you reach the town of Amlapura, follow the signs south to the seaside Ujung Water Palace.
We stumbled upon this place by accident, having never even heard of it. As it turns out, the complex dates back to Bali’s Dutch colonial days and was built between 1909 and 1921. Once a playground for Balinese royalty, these days it serves as a beautiful park for locals and tourists alike to enjoy.
Bali Road Trip: The Scenic Route From Amlapura to Amed Beach
Okay, now we’re getting to the good stuff!
Once you leave the Water Palace and start heading north, your Bali road trip really kicks into high gear! The road begins twisting and turning its way up the twin peaks of Gunung Seraya and Gunung Lempuyang, both reaching about 3500 feet/1050 m in elevation.
What does this mean for you? Aside from the sensation that you’re driving along a jungle go-kart track, each new hairpin turn offers a new breathtaking view of the Indian Ocean.
For an hour or two (depending on how fast you dare to drive), you’ll wind through lush forest, tiny villages, and roadside markets. Chances are you’ll be the only vehicle on the road – this is definitely the path less traveled! If you’re looking to carve out your own little private chunk of Bali, this is the place to do it.
As a small aside, the east coast of Bali is renowned for its “black sand” beaches. We didn’t find too many sand beaches (black or otherwise) – instead, these beaches are actually composed of smooth, black volcanic stones. Awesome.
At last you arrive in the seaside village of Amed, where you really feel like you have the place to yourself. We chose to stay in the Beten Waru Bungalows. With an incredible view of the pool, frangipani trees, and a huge balcony that opened up over the ocean, it was awesome!
With the remaining daylight, walk the short distance to Waeni’s Sunset View Bar & Restaurant. Do not go anywhere else in Amed for the sunset, or else you’ll miss this:
Order a cocktail, sink into a bean bag chair, and watch the sun sink behind Bali’s largest volcano, Mount Agung. Not a bad way to end Day One of your Bali road trip!
What’s next on your Bali road trip? Click here for Days 2 and 3!