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.
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Monday 20th of March 2023
A problem is those that remember it are now older. They remember Kuta, Bukit....as it was back when they were younger and adventurous. The 'Old Bali' still exist in the majority of the island. All you have to do is stop whinging in your Bintang, get off your arse and go there.
Sunday 19th of March 2023
There are thousands of old authentic Bali spots to visit once you get up passed all the developed areas from Bali's southern coasts to just north of Ubud; thousands and thousands of real traditional places in the west, north and east.
Sunday 19th of March 2023
reality is, that south Bali due to traffic congestion is a nightmare and most other beaches only have black sand so where to find magic? I guess it's either have a complete make over as far as road design or move to another island, but government regulations in Bali don't paint a favourable picture for the future
Friday 17th of March 2023
No mention of the North or East of the island where you will find a more traditional Bali. Try Pemuteran, Amed, Padang Bai, CandiDasa or Tulamben if you don't want to be shoulder to shoulder with bogan tourists.
Tuesday 21st of March 2023
@Amanda, Very hot there and so hard to get too. No beach. Jeez it's a three hour drive front the airport.
Saturday 18th of March 2023
I tried Amed, but could not stand the lack of hygiene. Restaurants full of flies, garbage everywhere. A cleanup is required.
Candi Dasa was somewhat better, altough beach is not suitable for swimming. Some of the villages North of Candi Dasa quite nice (clean).
Tried Tulamben as well. All paradise and quiet until Indo neighbour installed outdoor karaoke. They decide to rent a house on 300m2 land and then they think is ok to bother everybody within 1km radius with their singing? Incredible lack of self awareness if you ask me.
Friday 17th of March 2023
Completely sold out to Russian Mafia. This not Bali anymore and will never ever be Bali again.
Saturday 18th of March 2023
@Raymond, Not so. I think this perception comes from the high incidence of anti social behaviour, and arrogance shown by some. The development of Tuban through to Seminyak started, rapidly expanded and 'owned' long before any Russian involvement. It may not be the Bali of old, but numbers in these areas tell it's what the tourists want. The rapid development of Canggu, Echo and Pererenan came through the covid restrictions. Yes some business and villas are Russian owned, but they are a small % of the overall.