Naturally endowed with sprawling beaches and warm tropical weather, Bali has long been a haven for those looking for respite. In fact, the Indonesian island has become even more popular with foreigners over the years, receiving more than nine million tourists in 2014.
While areas such as Kuta and Seminyak have turned into well-oiled tourist attractions that boast an energetic nightlife and culinary scene, quieter areas on the island still offer respite for seasoned travellers who have been there and done that. Towns like Canggu, Uluwatu and Umalas – which are 30 minutes to an hour away by car from the noise and people – offer serenity and scenery varying from undulating rice fields to jagged cliff edges overlooking the Indian Ocean.
“These areas are seeing a grassroots movement developing organically at the local level and then, as the word spreads, becoming independent tourist enclaves of their own,” says Alastair Loxton, CEO and co-founder of Ministry of Villas, a website offering personalised villa reservations. Although less busy than central Bali, these areas build tourism around its existing attractions and landscapes like cliffs, waterfalls, mountains and waves.
Darrel Bella and Sylvain Roullier from The Luxury Signature, a villa rental business, share that “a focus on outdoor pursuits and the area’s natural features (allows places like) Ulutwatu to welcome many vacationers to its shores without changing too much”. Indeed, it seems this form of “respectful” tourism is gaining popularity and, as Anita Ngai, general manager of Viator tours, has witnessed, drawing more investors.
Just 20-minute north of Seminyak by car is Canggu, a sleepy fishing village famed for its black sand beach. Jude Davidson, head of marketing at vacation rentals Homeaway, calls it “the Brooklyn of Bali”. The atmosphere here is akin to that of a cosy, self-contained enclave, where most days go by as you lie on the beach or take part in a yoga session.
Cafe culture is slowly taking root but, in place of long queues and buzzing coffee shops, are lazy, quirky spaces perfect for idle gossip. The only action that happens is when surfers decide to take on the notoriously large waves at Echo Beach. Besides small yoga studios for recreation, this part of South Bali is home to the Nirwana Bali Golf Club, which has its coursed shaped by terraces and rock cliffs facing the Indian Ocean. It is also home to the island’s first country club, members-only Canggu Club.
Situated right at the southwestern tip of Bukit Peninsula, Uluwatu is considered the fourth best surf destination in the world. Surf enthusiasts convene to take on waves but, for other visitors, Uluwatu’s best assets are its wide sandy beaches along the Indian Ocean coastline.
Sometimes hard to get to – going through small roads and walking down cliffs on uneven steps – they are mostly untouched by peddlers, unlike those in the Seminyak and Kuta areas.
The best views are, of course, on top of the towering limestone cliff edges where swanky luxury villas and resorts compete for spots with a panoramic view of sunsets over the horizon.
A cosy town surrounded by lush rice paddy fi elds, Umalas is a serene neighbourhood home to the French expat community. Part of the Kerobokan area, it rests in between Canggu and Petitenget, with Seminyak a 10-minute drive away. Umalas is mostly still undiscovered by the average visitor – it’s tough even to fi nd information online – but navigating through the locale isn’t too diffi cult.
Three main streets divide the neighbourhood: Jalan Umalas I, Jalan Umalas II and Jalan Umalas Bumbak, but residents usually take dirt-path shortcuts through waist-high rice plants, in addition to trailing the main roads. Living here will give you a peek into the quirks of the local expat community – evidenced by an Italian gelato shop, the Monsieur Spoon bakery’s croissants and Spoiled Hairdresser run by a Dutch.