Bali is barely more than a speck on the map yet this tiny island has a huge reputation. Since it’s “discovery” by a few intrepid surfers back in the late 1970’s, the island has earned itself a place in the hearts of millions of travellers around the world and there’s no sign of the love affair ending anytime soon.
Dubbed the “Island of the Gods” it’s hard to know whether the moniker is a reference to the majority Hindu population’s deep spirituality and propensity for numerous gods, or the island’s immense natural beauty and fertility which must surely have been bestowed by a truly benevolent deity. Perhaps it is a combination of both. Either way, the description is entirely apt.
With looming volcanoes, dense tropical jungle, superb beaches, fringing coral reefs, terraced rice fields, soaring coastal cliffs and world class surf, Bali is absolutely gorgeous. But the island doesn’t have a monopoly on tropical splendour. It’s the friendly Balinese and their unique culture that gives the island its particular brand of special.
Bali’s culture is inseparable from the islander’s unique brand of Hinduism which incorporates traditional Hindu gods such as Vishnu and Brahma as well as their own deities, early animistic beliefs and ancestral worship. Every element of life, death and the environment has a spiritual connotation. After the exodus of intellectuals, artists, priests and musicians from Java to Bali in the 15th century following the decline of the Hindu Majapahit Empire, the little island entered a rich period of religious expression that remains at the heart of Balinese culture today. We see it everywhere from the superbly crafted temples, shrines, statues and intricate carvings to the elaborate ceremonies and simple daily acts such as the pretty sidewalk offerings. It’s this honest, pure devotion that visitors find utterly charming.
With its abundant tourist infrastructure, easy access to the entire island and widely spoken English, Bali is a great introduction to Indonesia. And it literally has something for everyone regardless of budget, age, gender, marital or family status. From local markets to designer brand shops, wobbly sidewalk food carts to fine a la carte dining, back to basics homestays to indulgent luxury resorts, quiet village retreats to the crowded nightclubs, monkey forests to safari theme parks, sheltered sandy beaches to adrenalin pumping water sports, traditional dance and gamelan music to thumping rock and roll. The choices are mind boggling but there’s one common denominator – it’s all dished up with boundless Balinese hospitality within a stone’s throw of a lovingly maintained ancient Hindu temple or under the watchful eye of some Hindu effigy.
Not surprisingly, Bali has huge range of adventure activities to suit young families all the way through to hard core adventurers. White water rafting, climbing a volcano, trekking through jungle or rice paddies, snorkelling, canyoning, zip lining, kayaking or cycling through the Bali countryside; the choice is literally endless. And the best part is it’s all easily accessible; you can be watching the sunrise from the top of Mt Batur, white water rafting in the afternoon and relaxing by the pool with a cocktail in hand before dinner. That is one of the great appeals of Bali.