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Bali’s Best Beaches: Black Sand and Emerald Water

Bali’s Best Beaches: Black Sand and Emerald Water

It was our last day in Bali, and we still had a few things to check off the bucket list. The volcanoes and rice terraces were spectacular, no doubt. But we still hadn’t found Bali’s best beaches.

Truth be told, we hadn’t found any great beaches. The famous backpacker haven of Kuta Beach was quite the disappointment. And while the volcanic backdrop of Amed was stunning, the actual beach was nothing but rocks and stones.

amed beach bali

There was no way we could leave this island paradise without finding at least one amazing beach.

So, over a delicious breakfast of buckwheat crepes at Le Moulin in Ubud, we scoured Google one final time. We knew there was a black sand beach somewhere – a beach that was actually made of sand.

Finally, in an old TripAdvisor forum, I saw a recommendation for a place called Keramas Beach. Google maps said it was 32 minutes away. That was good enough for us!

We checked out of the charming Kamandhandi Hostel and headed south out of Ubud. Approximately half an hour later, we hit the southeast coast (north of Denpasar) and made a comical U-turn to find this “hidden beach.”

This, my friends, is why you should NOT attempt to drive in Bali!

We turned off the main road and onto a completely deserted, bumpy dirt road. We were surrounded on both sides by rice fields, one of which held the remains of an abandoned cargo plane.

keremas beach bali

keramas beach bali

Sure enough, the road dumped us out right on the coast. And, as promised in the forum, we were the only souls in sight on the stunning black sand of Keramas Beach.

keramas beach bali

keramas beach bali

keramas beach

black sand beach

I can’t say how cool it was to have the entire beach to ourselves – especially a rare black sand beach! If you want to get away from the crowds, this is definitely the beach to visit.

The afternoon was slipping away, and we still had a few more stops on our list. Reluctantly we bid goodbye to Keramas Beach and continued south, past Denpasar and Nusa Dua to the very bottom of Bali.

Our earlier internet search had yielded another hidden gem: Green Bowl Beach. Tucked away at the bottom of South Kuta, this beach is not marked and only accessible via a steep 300-step stone staircase.

green bowl beach bali

Was it worth the effort of driving all the way to the bottom of Bali to a basically unknown beach? HECK. YEAH.

green bowl beach bali

green bowl beach bali

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There were a few stragglers lounging around in the late afternoon sun, but once again we almost had the place to ourselves. The water was warm and clear as glass, providing a perfect view of the colorful coral rocks.

bali beach

My only regret is that we didn’t find this gorgeous spot until about 4 pm! Bali travel tip #27: Head to Green Bowl Beach EARLY and plan to spend the day there, because you’ll never want to leave.

But alas, we did have to leave, because we still had one more stop to make. We climbed the 300 steps and got back in our trusty Honda Brio, heading west to Uluwatu. Uluwatu is ranked the #4 surf destination on earth, and it’s easy to understand when you see the ENORMOUS swells rolling in from the open ocean.

Uluwatu is ranked the #4 surf destination on earth, and it’s easy to understand when you see the ENORMOUS swells rolling in from the open ocean. We didn’t go to Uluwatu to surf, though. We went to visit the famous 11th-century Hindu temple, Pura Luhur Uluwatu.

Our goal was to watch the sunset, as this spot supposedly has the best sunsets in Bali. However, due to a sudden rainstorm and one of the worst traffic jams I’ve ever seen, it didn’t exactly work out that way. I jumped out and walked a good distance to the temple while Jeremy tried (and failed) to find a parking space in the chaos.

I got drenched and a monkey nearly stole my camera (literally) but I did manage to snag a few shots of the Uluwatu sunset.

uluwatu bali

uluwatu temple bali

uluwatu temple bali

My advice if you want to see an Uluwatu sunset? GO EARLY. The crowds were insane, even in the downpour.

After sitting in more rain and more traffic, we arrived at the lovely Mahogany Hotel in South Kuta. It was a last-minute find, and it turned out to be the nicest place we stayed all week. They even have a ban on durian, which was just fine with us!

Overall impressions of Bali? I’m very glad I went. There are definitely some beautiful sights to see.

Am I dreaming of the day I get to go back? No, I can’t honestly say that I am. I think it’s an amazing island to visit once…but there are so many other places to explore, too!

What’s the next destination on our hit list? That remains to be seen!

Bali Road Trip: Kuta to Amed Beach

Bali Road Trip: Kuta to Amed Beach

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!

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Bali from the air.

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.

warung bali kuta
Sampling Indonesian specialties at a warung in Kuta.

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.

Kuta bali
Kuta’s narrow, congested streets (yes, that IS a two-lane road).
kuta beach bali
Kuta Beach. Nothing to get excited about.

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.)

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Typical road in rural Bali.

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.

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Enjoying the sunshine in Candidasa.
candidasa bali
Obligatory tourist shot.
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The beach at Candidasa.
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Balinese fishing boat.
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Idyllic Candidasa, Bali.
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Seaside pavilion in 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.

Ujung Water Palace.
Entrance to Ujung Water Palace.

Ujung Water Palace.

Ujung Water Palace.
Ujung Water Palace.
Ujung Water Palace.
Ujung Water Palace from above.

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.

Ujung Water Palace.

Ujung Water Palace.

Ujung Water Palace.

Ujung Water Palace.

Ujung Water Palace.

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.

amed bali
The road to Amed.

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.

amed bali

amed bali

amed bali
Fishing boats lining a black-sand beach.

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.

amed beach bali
Black, red, and gray stone beaches of Bali’s east coast.

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!

amed bali
Beten Waru Bungalows, Amed

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beten waru amed bali

beten waru amed bali

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:

sunset amed beach beali

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!

Dusk at Waeni’s Sunset View Bar.
Welcome to Bali.

What’s next on your Bali road trip? Click here for Days 2 and 3!