Eye-popping beaches, enthralling culture and friendly locals—the Indonesian island of Bali offers much more than just blissful respite from your daily grind. The idyllic destination got caught up in the zeitgeist thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 memoir, “Eat, Pray, Love,” and subsequent movie. But along with spiritual retreats and self-actualization, Bali gives visitors a wide-ranging palette of outdoor adventures, after-dark thrills and opportunities to meet new friends from around the world.
The flight from the States (depending on your point of departure) is around 20 hours, so you should plan to stay there for at least nine days. It’s not worth your time and money to make the journey and turn back around before you are acclimated. The island is very small—about three hours across—so you can visit several different parts of Bali during your visit.
It’s important to know that the people of Bali are primarily Hindu. The unique, beautiful religion has a ton of ritual and tradition; it has influenced my personal religious understanding immensely. Hindus invented the concept of Karma, meaning that lying, stealing and just generally being unkind is frowned upon. The Balinese are typically courteous, honest and kind.
There is also a huge influx of internationals escaping to Bali. The locals and expats seem to get along quite well, sharing friend circles, surf and laughs. Balinese people live communally, and adhere to almost daily traditions and rituals. You will not leave Bali without passing by at least one gorgeous ceremony.
And, perhaps most importantly, there are lesbians in Bali—you just have to know where to look. While Bali is fairly LGBTQ-friendly, queerness is somewhat of an unspoken topic. Marriage is still defined as a union between a man and a woman, though Bali does not criminalize homosexuality and it does have a few gay bars (mostly hangouts for men). A lesbian friend of mine recently moved to Bali from inland Indonesia because it is generally a more accepting place. And with many visitors from nearby Australia, the island’s LGBTQ tourism is a noticeable part of the travel trend, with everyone looking to get a little bit of serenity from one of the most beautiful places in the world.
THINGS TO DO
I traveled Bali solo, and one space that I love for the single traveler is The Chillhouse (Jl. Kubu Manyar No.22, Banjar Pipitan, Canggu, Kuta Utara, Canggu, Kuta Utara, Kabupaten Badung, thechillhouse.com). Hotel guests eat communal organic meals, and it’s a great place to interact with other adventurers in a beautiful, eco-friendly setting. This space encourages group interaction through incredible outdoor activities that the staff will organize for you.
Think shared surf lessons—if you’ve never surfed, don’t worry. The Chillhouse provides guidance from beginner to intermediate levels on nearby beaches in Canggu, where the waves, swells and breaks suit all comfort zones. The English-speaking, International Surfing Association-certified coaches and guides will have you on a board in short order.
There are plenty of other ways to get out on the water. Gaze upon pods of wild dolphins splashing around at sunrise in the waters off Lovina Beach (near Singaraja, Buleleng) in northern Bali. Tour operators will also take small groups out by boat to view the mammals up close. Visit these beautiful, lively creatures in their natural habitat—and avoid unethical tourism that depends on captive animals.
Or, tone your guns paddling against rivers choked with Class II and III whitewater rapids in Bali’s jungle regions. Snag a tour, like those offered by Bali Adventure Tours (Jl. By Pass Ngurah Rai, Pesanggaran, 62-361 721480, baliadventuretours.com), on the Ayung River, the longest in Indonesia, for a world-class experience.
Bali boasts stunning dive spots for scuba enthusiasts. Gili Air, one of Bali’s tiny island neighbors, is a great place to rack up explorer cred. Accessible by ferry from various cities in Bali, the islet has a laid-back atmosphere, a handful of holiday cottages and smattering of beach cafes. It takes under a day to learn the scuba ropes, and you can dive up to 12 feet with a buddy. Gili Air is also unique in that no mechanical transport is allowed on the island: everyone and everything is transported by horse and cart.
Are land-based pursuits more your style? The Chillhouse also offers mountain bike tours over Bali’s hilly terrain. Customizable tours take you through some of the island’s magnificent scenery, including ribbon-like waterfalls, sinuous rice paddies, charming rural villages and cool mountain plateaus. Cross country tours are great for first-timers, while ambitious athletes can try the “endura” runs for pulse-pounding rides.
For stunning views and a strenuous workout, trek 5,600-foot Mt. Batur (Batur village, Kintamani District), a mildly active volcanic mountain that overlooks all of Bali. The three-hour hike is not for the faint of heart: to make it to the top for one of the most gorgeous sunrises of your entire life, you have to leave at 3 a.m. with a flashlight. You’ll be able to rest your tired muscles at the summit with a hot breakfast cooked over the volcanic sulfur gas. Hook up with an outfitter like Bali Trekking Tour (Jalan Raya Gentong, Ubud, 62 81 238 300 909, balitrekkingtour.com) who will arrange all the details.
Balinese culture is highly sophisticated, with complex folk arts, music, theater and temple architecture on display. Examples of the latter are some Bali’s biggest tourist draws, but by visiting in the morning you may avoid most of the crowds. Don’t miss Tirta Gangga (five miles north of Amlapura, Karagesem, no phone, tirtagangga.nl), a beautiful temple and water garden complex originally built as a royal palace—and you can swim in the serene pools. The pilgrimage site Tanah Lot (12 miles from Denpasar, Tabanan, no phone,
tanahlot.net) sits offshore on a rocky outcropping, surrounded by waters allegedly infested by venomous sea snakes that protect the temple. Uluwatu Temple (Uluwatu, Kuta South, Badung, no phone or website), another historical coastal site, perches on a cliff over dazzling blue-green seas. Watch out for the resident monkeys who like to snatch tourists’ belongings.
In addition to the Chillhouse, other choice places to stay are the family-owned Ayoks or Ubud Tropical Garden (Jl. Monkey Forest, Ubud, Gianyar, Kabupaten Gianyar, ubudtropicalgarden.com), where you can lounge by the pool to your heart’s content.
For a delicious local meal, visit Savage Kitchen (Plaza Club, Jalan Raya Pantai Berawa, Canggu, Kuta Utara, Tibubeneng, Kuta Utara, Kabupaten Badung, thesavagekitchen.com). Describing itself as “a wild health-driven food concept that evolves around the way we were supposed to eat,” this female-owned spot is stocked with greens. It is a good place to begin, even if it’s to locate a new friend or lady travel partner.
Old Mans (9Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong, Kuta Utara, Canggu, Kuta Utara, Kabupaten Badung, oldmans.net) is another beachside staple with cheap beer, delicious pad thai and an outgoing crowd. There are ping pong tables—and a small town feel you won’t find in the more populated areas. Gorgeous murals and art adorn the place for that perfect Bali photo opp.
If you want to check out the badass lady surfer crowd, Single Fin (Pantai Suluban, Jl. Labuan Sait, Uluwatu, Kuta Selatan, Pecatu, Kuta Sel, singlefinbali.com) is an oceanside restaurant, bar and lounge in Uluwatu. Uluwatu is at the Southernmost tip of Bali on a beach that’s known for its amazing waves. Wednesday nights are complete with an acoustic Bali-style jam session.
Another surf eatery happens to have the best breakfast. CRATE Cafe (Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong No.64, Canggu, Kuta Utara, Kabu-paten Badung, facebook.com/cratecafebali) is for the hip and hungry. Whether you grab a Brekkie Plate or a smoothie, this place has a perfect playlist and is oh-so-Instagramable. Maybe that’s why it’s always stocked with surfer girls, blogger girls and, well, girls of all stripes.
FIND YOUR BLISS
You won’t find a lot of nightlife in the sweet town of Ubud, which is known for its affiliations to “Eat, Pray, Love,” so you might as well sweat it out! A popular yoga studio is Yoga Barn (Raya Pen-gosekan, Ubud, Gianyar, Kabupaten Gianyar, theyogabarn.com).
If you’re looking for a little extra love, visit Clara (facebook.com/claraenergyhealing), an energy healer with piercing blue eyes and a talent even this skeptic couldn’t deny. I went to see her when I was feeling agitated and sad, and spent an hour with her working to clear my energy. Calm took over my body: I fell asleep to the sound of the Balinese rain. You can make an appointment with her via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). She is also a professional mermaid—no, really, ask her about it.
Where Sashi (facebook.com/hernameissashi) performs, lesbians follow. A singer-songwriter from Jakarta, she often plays original tunes peppered with a Justin Bieber or Chili Peppers cover—if you’re lucky.
Sashi is known to play at another one of my favorite queer-friendly nights in Bali: Deus Sunday Sessions at the Deus Temple of Enthusiasm in Canggu (Deus Temple of Enthusiasm: Jalan Batu Mejan No. 8, Canggu, Kuta Utara, Canggu, Kuta Utara, Kabu-paten Badung, deuscustoms.com/flagships/temple-ofenthusiasm). This event space-meets-restaurant hosts weekly live concerts accompanied by dancing, drinks and tattoos.
For those who want to get down all night, DJ Pyrope (sound-cloud.com/dj-pyrope) plays to queer crowds at MINT nightclub (Jalan Petitenget No.919, Kuta Utara, Kerobokan Kelod, Kuta Utara, Kabupaten Badung, mintbali.com) and other smaller beach venues, while DJ Mistral (Indonesia’s first lady of drum and bass) can be seen and heard at the Soul Sessions (soulshinebali.com) pool party in Ubud at the Soulshine Bali Hotel (Jalan Ambarwati, Ubud).
Pretty Poison (Jalan Subak Canggu, Canggu, Kuta Utara, Canggu, Kuta Utara, Kabupaten Badung, prettypoisonbar.com) is another DJ destination. A backyard-inspired arts bar with a California-style pool for skateboarders, the venue is also known to stream its DJs live for the world to watch. The skating is wildly entertaining, but can be way too bro-heavy on any given night. But the crowd is mixed, the bintang beer is cheap and the ladies are diverse. I wouldn’t miss this party while in Bali.
L. Weezy is a therapist and avid traveler based in Los Angeles, Calif.