Bali Road Trip: North Coast to Central Highlands

Bali Road Trip: North Coast to Central Highlands

The gentle sound of lapping waves stirs you awake. Warm sunlight pours through the balcony doors, illuminating the deep blue waters of the Indian Ocean. The scent of salt and blooming frangipani drift in through the windows. And right in your backyard, the towering peak of a still-active volcano casts a long shadow.

Welcome to Amed Beach, Bali.

beten waru amed bali

This beautiful little beach town is truly one of Bali’s hidden gems. Set way off the beaten tourist trail, it will take you several hours to get there from the southern cities of Kuta and Denpasar. If you want to take the scenic route, turn off at Amlapura and drive the narrow, winding coastal road. If that’s too daunting, you can take the main road north through Tirta Gangga.

Either way, you’re on your way to a true island paradise.

amed beach bali

amed beach bali

We awoke to the opening scene at the lovely Beten Waru Bungalow. After a hearty breakfast of banana pancakes and Balinese tea (seriously…my favorite tea EVER), we rented snorkeling gear, hopped in our rental car, and backtracked a few miles to Amed’s Japanese shipwreck.

amed bali

amed beach bali

Scuba diving is one of the main draws to this side of Bali. But even if you aren’t certified (we’re not), there’s an incredible site to explore just a few feet offshore. The Japanese wreck is about 65feet (20m) long and lies at a depth of 10-30 feet (3-10m). Apparently, this was a Japanese patrol boat which sank during the island’s occupation in World War II.

It’s covered with countless soft corals and a huge variety of fish. The sea floor is sometimes sandy, in other places covered with black coral, sponges, and gorgonian sea fans. Besides the typical varieties of tropical fish, you might also spot scorpion fish, ghost pipefish, seahorses, white-tip reef sharks, or sea turtles!

The wreck is easily accessible from the beach. Look for the parking lot and sign between Baliku Dive Resort and Eka Purnama Cottages. You can also access the beach from Kawi Karma Beach Cottages. Head down the steps onto the tree-lined coast, where you’ll find divers and snorkelers getting ready to wade into the water.

amed bali

amed beach bali

(Tip: GO EARLY! We arrived around 9am and had the wreck to ourselves for about 20 minutes. By the time we headed back to shore around 9:30, there were dozens of divers arriving.)

The wreck did not disappoint. The water was clear and fairly warm (I’m a Floridian, so take my temperature gauge with a grain of salt). It’s an easy swim from shore, no more than 50 feet (15m) to the first part of the wreck, and plenty of coral and fish to see on the way!

japanese shipwreck amed bali

The best part? Aside from 10,000 rupiah (75 cents) to park your car, snorkeling this beautiful wreck is absolutely free!

We enjoyed a yummy brunch of nasi campur on the beach, settling in to watch the divers head out to the wreck. Then we headed back to our bungalow, soaked up a little more sun, and reluctantly bid farewell to Amed. There was still so much more of Bali to see!

nasi campur bali
Nasi campur – a delicious blend of Indonesian flavors.

amed beach bali

I’d love to tell you that the 3-hour drive from Amed to the far northern shore around Lovina Beach is a scenic wonder. But compared to the mountain road between Amlapura and Amed, it was kinda boring. The one cool sight was the peak of Mount Batur, partially obscured by passing clouds.

bali road trip

bali road trip

bali road trip

We passed through Singaraja and Lovina on the north central coast. Again, not much of note. After a relaxing evening at Lovina Beach (including Balinese massages in a beachside bungalow), we awoke early and continued our scenic road trip.

lovina beach bali

bali massage

Turning south from the coast towards the central highlands, we climbed steadily towards the hilltop towns of Gobleg and Munduk. Both towns sit around 2,000 feet (600m) in elevation and offer 360 views of Bali’s majesty. Distant volcano peaks, vibrant green rice terraces, towering palms and banana trees – it’s a dizzying palette of color.

bali road trip

bali

bali

bali

We regretted only passing through this stunning area. I actually felt quite jealous when we passed a few tourists with day bags, on their way to a nearby trailhead. On our next trip to Bali, we’ll definitely set aside a few nights to explore the surrounding area, which features scenic hikes to hidden waterfalls.

lake danau timblangan bali

lake danau buyan bali

As we descended towards the twin lakes of Danau Tamblingan and Danau Buyan, we passed a roadside viewpoint. Not only was it an awesome photo of the lakes and mountains, but we got to meet some of the local wildlife. One species, in particular. While Jeremy kept a very safe distance, I stepped right up to meet Petrie the Giant Fruit Bat.

giant fruit bat bali

Okay, I don’t actually know what his name is. But he reminded me of Petrie from The Land Before Time (the pterodactyl), so that’s what I called him. Petrie was friendly, calm, very much alive, and HUGE – easily 4 or 5 pounds!!

giant fruit bat bali

We said goodbye to Petrie and continued down to the lakefront, stopping briefly at the abandoned Pura Ulun Danu Buyan temple.

pura ulun danu buyan temple bali

pura ulun danu buyan temple bali

Then we drove the short distance into Bedugul and the much more popular Danau Bratan (Water Temple). This beautiful Shaivite temple dates all the way back to 1633!

water temple bali

water temple bali

It continues to be used for ceremonies and offerings to the water goddess Dewi Danu. And at almost 4,000 feet (1200m) above sea level, Bedugul enjoys a cooler climate than the lowlands.

water temple bali

water temple bedugul bali lake

water temple bali

(Side note for ladies and gents: If you show up at a temple in Bali wearing shorts or a short skirt, you’ll be given a sarong to wear for modesty.)

After jostling through the crowds for the best photo ops, we continued south on the main highway out of Bedugul. Our plan was to drive straight to Ubud, but we couldn’t resist another roadside stop along the way. “Pure luwak coffee” jumped out at us in big bold letters – and like any good foodies, we couldn’t pass it up!

coffee bali

We received a little tour of the roadside coffee plantation, where we saw coffee beans at all stages of processing. Then we took a seat and prepared to sample their many specialty teas and coffees – including kopi luwak.

And what is kopi luwak, you may ask?

To start, I’ll tell you what a luwak is. It’s a catlike creature (similar to a mongoose) that lives in Southeast Asia. What does this have to do with coffee? Well, luwaks are particularly fond of coffee beans. In fact, they eat them all the time.

And somewhere along the way, someone decided it would be a great idea to pluck the undigested coffee beans from the luwak’s excrement and make coffee out of it.

Yes. Kopi luwak is, in fact, made from coffee beans that have passed through an animal’s digestive tract.

Before you start gagging, let me assure you that this is no tourist gimmick. Kopi luwak is the most expensive coffee on earth, selling for hundreds of dollars per pound. Why would anyone pay that much for coffee made from – well, cat poop?

Because it’s delicious.

Let me add that I actually hate coffee. Won’t touch the stuff. It’s way too bitter for my taste. But kopi luwak doesn’t have that bitter taste. It reminded me more of roasted nuts. It was smooth, nutty, and utterly delicious. I totally understand the price tag now. (Although in Bali, you can sample a roadside cup for just a few dollars.)

The plantation also offered coconut coffee (like drinking a Mounds bar), and a dozen varieties of tea. Sufficiently hyped up on all the caffeine, we got back in the car and continued on to Ubud.

What adventures awaited us in Ubud? Stay tuned to find out!

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