In January 2023, Bali was celebrated as the second-best tourism destination in the world by TripAdvisor.
The Island of the Gods is best known for its tropical beaches, lush rice paddies, and deeply reverential culture, but as many ex-pats and frequent visitors to the island have observed, Bali has undergone a massive transformation in the last thirty years.
Tourism infrastructure and development have exploded in the last ten years, especially so, with many now popular tourist areas unrecognizable compared to the pre-tourism boom.
As tourism grows, many areas of the once laid-back beach resort island have transformed into a bustling hub of modernization.
This has led many returning tourists to experience a growing nostalgia for the Bali of old.
Some believe that island, once defined by its relaxed atmosphere and traditional way of life, has given mass tourism free rein.
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Yet it’s still possible to find the authentic, quiet, and quaint Bali that first put Bali on the map as a tourism destination.
Bali’s ever-strong culture has never gone away and will not be dampened by the impact of tourism, but for travelers seeking somewhere new to explore and somewhere to lean into the Bali of old, there are plenty of places to explore.
With a little effort and an adventurous spirit, it’s easy to uncover the hidden gems that embody the essence of the island.
From traditional villages where time seems to stand still to the more westerly beaches that host only a few beach shacks, the Bali of old is, in fact, the Bali of now.
It is about time to fall in love with Bali all over again.
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It may seem like the mass tourism developments along the southern coast of Bali are encroaching further west by the minute, starting with Kuta and running through to Canggu and soon to be beyond.
But hop a little further down the shoreline from Tanah Lot, and travelers will find Balian Beach.
A vast expanse of black sand beach, accompanied by a lush green cliffside, Balian Beach is relaxed, welcoming, and reminiscent of Kuta Beach 30-40 years ago.
The quaint coastal village has just the right amount of accommodation, local-style warungs, and beach cafes serving meals to a western palette.
Balian Beach has long been one of Bali’s remaining secret surf spots. Surfboard hire is a laid-back affair, and lessons are available from experienced local guides.
Although a mere 56km from Kuta Beach, travelers should leave around 2 hours to travel up the coastline by car.
Local-style guesthouses have accommodation starting from IDR 350,000 per night, and the few boutique hotels in the area have bed and breakfast rates starting from IDR 1,000,000, depending on the season.
Moving further away from the tourism hubs of central Bali, travelers should not overlook the stunning West Bali National Park.
Whether seeking an adventurous getaway or simply a chilled-out retreat close to nature, West Bali National Park really ticks all the boxes.
As is the case with any national park in Indonesia, visitors are not permitted to explore the area alone.
However, guides, treks, bird spotting, and boat tours can all be easily arranged through the hotels and guesthouses that support the park.
West Bali National Park is a must-visit for an avid birdwatcher or nature enthusiast.
The park is now home to a newly reintroduced population of the Bali Starling, a stunning white bird with a striking blue coloring around the eye; the species declined to only six known individuals in the wild before a conservation program bought the indigenous bird back from the brink of extinction.
West Bali National Park has great accommodation options, offering local homestays, glamping, and full five-star luxury hotels.
Don’t miss an opportunity to take a snorkeling or diving trip in the waters around West Bali National Park for some of the best (and quietest) marine experiences in Bali.
Staying in Buleleng Regency but now moving eastward, travelers deep in their nostalgia for ‘old Bali’ should stop by Munduk.
The stunning jungly district of Munduk is a waterfall chaser’s paradise.
Check out Air Tern Munduk, Golden Valleys Waterfall, and Melating Waterfall. The area is slowly increasing in popularity and has a consistent tourism presence.
The tourism offering in Munduk has a strong eco-feel, and many guesthouses, hotels, and cafes are directly connected to small village farming initiatives.
The most famous landmark in Munduk is Tamblingan Lake, the smaller of the Twin Lakes. The viewpoints around Pura Ulun Danu Tamblingan are not to be missed.
These destinations are close to the beaten path; Bali is a small island, after all.
What Balian, West Bali National Park, Munduk, and other quieter destinations currently have in common is that they are the focal point of day trips away from the busy mass tourism destinations.
If travelers are seeking the Bali of old, perhaps it’s best to mix things up a bit and stay longer in these more off-beat locations and take a day trip into the busy areas if they feel so inclined.