The enchanting Indonesian island of Bali is many people's dream destination, yet despite its tourist popularity it has managed to retain all its laid-back charm. With its golden beaches, its lush tropical jungles and steep mountain trails, its wealth of spectacular temples, and its colourful and deeply spiritual culture, it's no wonder that it has become known as the Island of the Gods. Whether you are seeking adventure, a spiritual experience, a family beach holiday or a fabulous surfing trip, with Bali holidays you are certain to find what you are looking for.
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Truly the Island of the Gods
Bali is of course unique in all sorts of ways, but in many people's eyes what makes it unique above all is the extraordinary spirituality that pervades the whole island, and is manifested both in the day-to-day life of the people, and in the abundance of shrines and temples wherever you look. Every home has its shrine -- in fact, most homes are built to look like temples -- and every day you can see offerings presented of flowers, fruit or rice, and processions of beautifully dressed people heading to the temple for a ceremony. Bali is a place of art and dance, and much of what you see around you -- the floral decorations, the wood and stone carvings, the beautiful paintings in the galleries, the spectacular dance displays in front of the temples -- springs from their spiritual beliefs.
The big temples are of course among Bali's most astonishing and awe-inspiring sights, and are part of the very essence of island life. The mother temple, Besakih, standing 3,000 feet high on the slopes of the Agung volcano, is a magnificent, magical and mystical World Heritage site, best visited at full moon for the full effect. The directional temples, there to protect the island from evil, are just as sensational -- Uluwatu, perched right on the edge of a dramatic limestone cliff on the Bukit peninsula; Tanah Lot, on its rocky outcrop rising out of the sea, one of seven sea-temples forming a ring round the coastline; or the serene Ulun Danu Temple by the Bedugul lake, perfectly reflected in its clear still waters.
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Sand and Sea
For many people visiting Bali, beaches may not be a priority, but still it does have many gorgeous beaches around its stunning coastline, including many secret, pristine and quiet ones away from the crowded tourist areas like Kuta and Legian. For instance, there is the tranquil Perasi Beach, or White Sand Beach, on the east coast, reached along a bumpy track, and the even more serene and beautiful Blue Lagoon Beach nearby, while Pandawa, in Kutuh in the south-east, sheltered among steep limestone cliffs, is so peaceful it is known as the Secret Beach. Padang Padang, made famous by the movie "Eat, Pray, Love", still remains a secluded bay, hidden among giant rocks, and there is a wonderful beach at the famous fishing village Jimbaran on the south-west coast, with many small hidden coves amid leafy tropical forests.
Wonderful Water Activities
However, Bali's real fame is as a surfer's paradise, and the best beach for surfing, with huge waves and an almost mythical swell, is the one just below the Uluwatu Temple in the Bukit Peninsula, closely followed by Echo Beach at Canggu, just north of Seminyak. Scuba diving here is also world class -- you can dive with huge manta rays off Nusa Penida, a little island off the south-east coast, and the USAT Liberty shipwreck in Tulamben Bay in the far north-east is one of the world's safest and most accessible wreck-dives. At Lovina in the north-west you can enjoy dolphin-sighting boat trips at dawn, while at Sanur in the south you can swim with dolphins in a floating sea-pen.
Ubud is Special
No visitor to Bali can miss out on the beautiful town of Ubud, regarded as the heart of Bali, the focus of its spiritual energies and the centre of its cultural and artistic life. Ubud abounds with gorgeous art galleries and market stalls full of handcrafted goods, and scattered through the town are remains of ancient Bali kingdoms. The sacred monkey forest is home to Balinese long-tailed macaques, and wandering through the forest you can explore ancient Hindu temples, including the mysterious Temple of the Dead.
Not far from Ubud is the Elephant Safari Park of Desa Taro, where you can interact with endangered elephants and experience an elephant trek through the luxuriant jungle. A bit further south is the spectacular Bali Bird Park, with thousands of brilliantly coloured tropical birds, and next to it the Reptile Park with a diverse range of species roaming through the tropical gardens and ponds, including pythons, turtles, crocodiles and the giant Komodo Dragon. On the west of the island, the West Bali National Park is a place where you can hike along jungle trails and find yourself transported into the heart of nature.
Bali is really the ultimate exotic destination. Unlike many beach holiday spots where one beach is much like another, Bali is truly set apart by its natural and spiritual beauty, and its utterly distinctive and all-pervading culture and traditions. With Bali holidays you can really get away from it all, and find yourself in another world that will change you for ever.