As you read in Taste of Bali: Ubud, there is much more to Bali than it’s beaches. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE it’s beaches, but don’t spend your whole vacation hugging the coast. Hit up Ubud and venture a little farther northwest to the central mountains.
Bali has two active volcanoes: Gunung Agung and Gunung Bantur. The scenic beauty of Bantur’s caldera with it’s lake and the cone of Batur, make it one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bali. On Lonely Planet’s recommendation, we took off from Ubud at 2:30 a.m. so we could be at the trail head by 4.
<begin rant> I try to mostly write in the affirmative, but this was just an awful experience. This sunrise hike is scenic as advertised, but the actual hiking experience was hands down the most unpleasant hike either Jay or I have ever done. And we’ve hiked a lot (read How I learned to Trust My Feet on the Annapurna Circuit). We were herded up a steep, rocky (and sometimes sandy) mountain in single file with 600 of our closets friends by nothing other than a dull headlamp and starlight. You can’t even enjoy the abundance of stars twinkling above you or the occasional shooting star because you are too busy taking a single step and then waiting 30 seconds for the person ahead of you to take a step so you can take your next step. It’s a slog. Maybe that kind of hiking is your jam, but from the people I spoke to milling around the top of the mountain, none of them would have agreed to take the trek if they knew how busy it would be. And this was only shoulder season! The guide said the crowds are even larger during peak season. My recommendation? There are several surrounding peaks and even large hills where I think you could probably get the same view without the crowds. <end rant>
Our experience on Gunung Batur was a great lesson for us. Just because a guidebook recommends something, doesn’t mean we should do it without exploring further what the recommendation entails so we can then decide if the experience fits our travel tastes. Jay and I don’t care for large crowds where there is an atmosphere of “herd mentality.” Hence why Gunung Batur was not an experience I would ever repeat or chose to do if we could do it all over again. We also don’t particularly like visiting temples. After our experience in Taste of Bali: Ubud, we decided even though temples are high on most guidebooks list of things to do in Bali, we won’t be making any extra trips to see more in the weeks to come. Guidebooks, such as Lonely Planet, are great starting points to map out adventures, but we’ve learned not to rely on them alone.
Which leads me to share a travel tip that works well for us when booking accommodations: when we don’t find recommendations that fit our needs via LP, we turn to Expedia. In fact, most of our accommodations here as well as in South Africa and Nepal, we booked via Expedia even when we originally found the property in LP. We’ve had great success in finding unique properties (we prefer smaller, intimate properties) at affordable rates. For example, after our debacle at Gunung Batur, we spent three nights at the eco-hotel, Puri Lumbung, in Munduk. Dedicated to conservation and enhancement of the local flora and fauna, Puri Lumbung is a sanctuary where you can find relaxation and adventure in one destination.
An oasis surrounded by rice fields, plantations, valleys, mountains and overlooking the Java Sea, the property boasts the most stunning view of the sunset from the hotel bar and each guest room. At sunset, the staff serves balinese cake in the “sunset courtyard.”The hotel also offers yoga, cooking and weaving courses, and wellness and spa services. Stick around for dinner, Munduk is a small village with a few warungs offering food, but the food on site – mostly Balinese and Indonesian fare – is stellar and is served while local Balinese music is performed live each evening.
The area is known for it’s waterfalls, many of which you can hike to easily from the hotel property (anywhere from 45-minute hikes to six-hour hikes are possible). I invite you to get lost on the winding hiking trails that circumnavigate the mountains and the rice fields (we did). With a hand-drawn map from our hotel, we ventured about two kilometers in the wrong direction before finding our way, but encountered some of the best views of the valley in the process. Engage with locals. Warungs line the hiking trails with vendors as eager to sell their goods as they are to meet you.
Find one of the many waterfalls that are sprinkled throughout the area. Feel the spray of the largest waterfall in Bali on your face. Dance in it. And when you’ve had enough of the central mountains, head northwest to the beaches of Pemuteran or east to the Gili Islands where you can dine on the beach and experience ocean life up close. More to details to come in my next post!