Bali Island Indonesia Review

Bali is famous for being a vacation destination for sunseekers and funseekers. At the same time it is an island four soul searching and meditation. Tourism has been the source of income for locals and international investors for decades now. Beach hotels and resorts are numerous, as well as accommodation for every price level close to beautiful beaches.

As many wish to visit Bali for its beautiful beaches, we will provide a short review on five of the beaches in southern part of the island. There are several others in the western and northern part of the island, apparently ones not so crowded or almost untouched ones to discover.

We visited Bali for the first time in May 2017 during our round-the-world journey. For us it was about family vacationing and relaxing together. We stayed in an AirB&B rental house about 3 km from the closest beach, Nusa Dua and about 5 km from Jimbaran beach. In Sanur we stayed in a little garden hotel about 500m from the beach. The Blue Lagoon and Dreamland beach were daytrip destinations to us. One beach we certainly wanted to avoid was Kuta Beach as we had heard and read quite many bad reviews about it. Plus we wanted to avoin worst party places as we were not up for partying ourselves.

One thing about most of the beaches in Bali is that there almost for certain are restaurants that rent sunbeds with towels and provide showers and toilets (besides providing drinks and food of course). So if you stay a little distance from the beach you don’t have to carry towels etc with you and you get to shower off the sea water if you are willing to pay about 3 to 10 euros per bed per day. We usually paid around ten for two with towels and access to toilet plus showers.

Another thing you might want to consider is the time of month as full moon causes quite big tidal changes. One day a beautiful beach great for swimming and the next day may be such low tide you cannot swim at all. Low tide brings terrible smell from the sea bottom and too high a tide can mean impossible snorkeling conditions in otherwise perfect spots. Tide difference here is usually12 hours. Currents can be fierce in some beaches as well as waves too heavy for the small swimmers.

Thirdly, there almost for sure will be quite much rubbish in any beach you visit in Bali. Even though mostly visited beaches and especially those in front of the five star resorts will be cleaned throughout the day, waves will still bring lots of trash to shore. This is rather annoying for snorkelers, but to swimmers too. And the worse is of course issue of sustaibalibity and maltreating nature.

Five beaches in review:

Nusa Dua beach

Nusa Dua beach was once a tiny fisherman village, until hotels and resorts were built ever since 1990s. Today it is filled with some fancy five star resorts and still you see cranes on constructions sites at the other end of the beach where new resorts are being built. It has quite  a long beach infront of these resorts, but is accessible to anyone. In between are a few warungs or local restaurants and cafes. Some hotels have bars on the beach that serve other customers too. There is another smaller public beach bay area just next to the hotel “zone”, filled with restaurants and cafes as well as a small waterpark and pool area too. In between these too is a little peninsula with a temple and a natural waterhole as an attraction. Go during high tide if interested.

Nusa Dua beach was one of the best for swimming in our opinion. Shallow bay areas make the water very calm, turquoise and appealing, especially since there was hardly any rubbish visible on the beach or water. Cleaners were doing their job all day long, but still we were a bit surprised to see so little rubbish. When we went there there a second time, the tide was so lo that it was impossible to swim and you could definitely see there sadly was rubbish on the sea bottom. Still, this beach is great for smaller swimmers.

Besides big resorts there is a huge shopping mall complex called the Bali Collection, filled with restaurants, shops, spas and cafes. This is a popular area to go hang out at night too after a day by the pool or the beach. Prices are of course a bit more expensive and there’s really nothing local except the service personnel. The same with Nusa Dua beach area itself: you have to go further away from the beach area to see any local living conditions. And one hint: apparently there is another beach close by called Nusa Cedang, which still is more of those beches that you may get all to yourself if lucky…

Jimbaran beach

this beach is a few kilometres long beach just south of the airport in Denpasar. That means it is the beach just south of Kuta beach too. There are a few bigger hotels just on the beach at the southe end of this beach, but otherwise local seafood and beach restaurants. There is really no boardwalk or shopping street that would be nice to walk on. The restaurants are on the beach side, but a few great ones to have dinner on the beach watching the beautiful sunset. Especially seafood is good here. You can watch local fisherman go out to the sea during the day with their colorful boats and enjoy their catch at night.

Jimbaran beach was surprisingly good. Long beach with shallow beach to walk on. It was much cleaner than we expected. Not much coming from the sea either. Waves were not too big at all, even though some surfers were trying to catch some. No strong currents either on this bay area. One funny entertaining thing is to watch the rather busy airport in action: planes descending and taking off the runway that starts right from the sea it seems!

Sanur beach

Quite close to Denpasar, about a 30 min drive from the airport is the beach village of Sanur. On this beach the first hotel in Bali was built in the 1960s. Ever since it has grown, but not to too big. Sanur was in our opinion one of the nicest, prettiest and most comfortable beach area in Bali with many amenities available. It has a great and clean boardwalk along the quite long beach. You can watch local fishermen go out to the sea or just stroll on the boardwalk and stop for a drink or meal in one of the restaurants and little booths.

I don’t know if this beach is packed with partying people during the busiest months (packed, but I doubt the partying type), however, in May it was nearly empty! That resulted to all the service sellers and such to be quite aggressive on us. Not too agressive though since I ended up getting all kinds of feet treatments… For a ridiculously little amount of money (prices negotiable, they really needed customers!)

Similar to other beaches, here too you can rent sunbeds on the beach. If you rent them from a hotel on the beach you get to use their swimming pool too, which is quite convenient with kids! Especially when this beach was difficult with the small swimmers as the sand to reach water was way too soft. It was very hard for even an adult to get to and from thr water thru that soft sand which made you sink. There were big chunksof seashells and rocks with which you can easily get nasty cuts to your feet. Otherwise the beach was very nice and quite clean! Not a beach for snorkeling and did not see any other water sport activities either, but great for relaxing, strolling and lazying on sunbeds.

Dreamland beach

This beach was one advertized as one of the daytrip destinations for being a dream beach like the name prevails. I would not consider it a beach from the dreams but it was pretty. And definitely a good one for those who surf! My preassumption was a turquoise bay like area where you could snorkel and be almost all by yourself. I was completely wrong. It has some very high tides and excellent for surfing apparently. The best thing on the beach was to admire surfers from shore and watch them ride the waves so beautifully. Going into the water ourselves was a bit hard due to those waves, especially our junior had a little hard time and he really likes waves. Otherwise good sand and bottom and quite clean for being so crowded and with heavy waves.

Dreamland beach is very far from everything else but one or two hotels for now and a couple more to be built. For real it is only maybe 10 km from Jimbaran beach (which is only about 5km from Kuta beach), however, it seemed so far from everything else but these few new establishments. Even going there was a bit strange: our driver took us to a parking lot and stayed there for the few hourse we wanted to spend at the beach. From there we jumped on a free shuttle bus that drove us maybe 500 meters to a staircase that lead us to the beach. So no car access here. Only one restaurant (monopoly, but decent prices) and very basic or tolerable toilet and showers charged separately. The same with sunbed rentals. And once you rent a bed you get constant selling of eg massage services. Selling of services was very aggressive, even rude at times. A few shops selling clothes and souvenirs on the way to shuttle bus.

Sunset here too was absolutely gorgeous.

Blue Lagoon beach

This one is said to be one of the best for snorkeling. On low tide and calm seas may be so. There still will be a lot of rubbish. Blue Lagoon beach is a very small beach on a bay called the Blue Lagoon. To reach it you go thru larger Padangbai, from where boats to Gili islands and Lombok leave. Also snorkeling trips leave from here to the blue lagoon. But if you have your own ear, you can go snorkeling from the beach too. On rough seas waves may be make it very hard to get back to shore, but lots of colorful fish and coral to see still. Among the rubbish.

During high tide snorkeling trips (2h) take you to the next bay from the Blue Lagoon. Hopefully not all, but the one snorkeling tour we went on seemed quite risky. As the sea was getting rougher, they still took the boat out but with really no safety considerations. One driver only in the boat did not even check how good swimmers his customers were, so if anything should have happened while in water, he wouldn’t have been able to do anything. Luckily not, but the safety measures were nonexistent.

On the beach there is only one restaurant, so renting sunbeds or using toilets or showers are all charged separately. Service was unbelievably rude as was quite the same in Padangbai restaurants or cafes too. We did manage to find one restaurant with smiling waitresses, so went in and found the best satay chicken ever!

All in all, surely the lagoon looked like a paradise when the beach was just cleaned. After a few high waves it was filled with trash again. It was a disappointment as it was so dirty and push selling for tourists together with irresponsible boating. One nice thing about it was that there is a larger Hindu temple in between of Blue Lagoon and Padangbai, so there are quite good chances to see some ceremonies taking place even in the bay area.

Conclusions

Visiting five beaches on the island of Bali gives you a pretty good understanding of what they are like, in my opinion. Surely they are mostly very beautiful and pittoresque as the water is blue, sand looks nice in the sun and nature here so close to the Equator is so green and lushious. Surfers and sunseekers surely will love this island, but for perfect snorkeling experience you may want to find another island such as the Gili islands just off he coast of neighbouring island of Lombok (we hear!). The same if you’re looking for deserted islands on remote destinations with alabaster white sand and clear as well as clean turquoise water. Otherwise Bali offers fairly nice beaches together with cultural and beautiful nature experience.

 

Por la revolution y sosialism! Yo soy Fidel! Siempre Fidel! This is what you see in signs at the time of revolution celebrations just a month after Fidel Castro passes away. And not just in capitol Havanna, but everywhere in the country. Cuba is not just all cigars, salsa rythms, mojitos and beautiful 50’s cars and colourful buildings. Havanna is filled with monumental buildings, statues, parks and avenidas – space is not a scarse resource apparently. Cuba is still a lot about well-regulated systems, fumes and what seems to be going back in time to us. Perfect time to visit now – before it all changes.

Caught up in the system

Visiting Cuba in January 2017 is still going back to a developing country. Cuba is still very regulated. Stores, hotels, restaurants, transportation, space eg. are mostly state-run businesses. Private citizens can provide accommodation in casa particulaires and run  restaurants  in paladars, However, business is very much regulated. Everything must be reported to the government at all times. For example, private citizens renting rooms must report all guests within 12 hours of arrival. Paladars, private restaurants, report an invent all sales daily. As we discussed with other foreign visitors, many told the same: local private casa providers would very much like to maintain and improve the outline of their houses; however, for some peculiar reason the state wants to maintain an older and a bit rustic appearence on the buildings and private business.

Stores carry basic necessities for locals, but there’s really no selection nor supermarkets carriyig miscellaneous products. Bread you get from bakery, milk in a dairy shop, meat from butcher’s, veggies from veggie market etc. Snacks from occasional snack carts you may spot in some parks. Restaurants and bars are luckily plenty with wide menus. Liquour shops are everywhere.  As a tourist travelling with a child this was a bit annoying since all meals have to be eaten in restaurants or food booths (that were not all that clean and fresh…). That adds up to your expenses fast. Hotels carry some sanitary products and baby products, but with very limited offering. What struck to us as Northern Europeans was the price level – Havanna seemed to be as expensive as our capitol Helsinki, with the exeption of meals and drinks in restaurants being cheaper (eg our average 3 person meal with 2 or 3 dishes + 3 drinks was about 20-30 euros).  Prices drop when you leave Havanna to other parts of Cuba.

Pictures from left: 1) long long Malecon, the beach avenue running from the Old town to newer parts. 2) Plaza Vieja, a charming old plaza with restaurants & live music, 3) Hotel Nacional and 4) Hotel Sevilla, in which some actions of revolutions took place

To travellers euros are worth a lot more than US dollars. If you change currency,  bring euros. You get a lot more. If you exchange US dollars, you lose a lot (at least in Dec 2016). ATMs sometime work, other times they don’t. Apparently they can also eat up you card so a risk involved. If they work, you get a much better rate!  Otherwise Havanna seemed to be quite safe, even to stroll on the streets of Old town with a child at night. Althoug, we did witness a tourist getting mugged by a 10-12 year-old local boy stealing a mobile phone just outside of a big hotel entrance.

When planning a trip to Cuba, do your homework before. How annoying it is not to have a travel book with you and no access to internet? Don’t count on studying of finding things out on the internet while in the country as internet connection is only provided by the state-owned company and hourly internet-cards can be quite expensive – and sold out. We found decent priced in Hotel Sevilla in Old town (1 hr for 4,5 convertible pesos, eg the same in euros). Mostly connection was still very weak and some sites or applications restricted. For example, hotel reservations for outside Cuba could not be made at all using American online services (eg Booking.com or Hotels.com).
Piece of history alive in the city

When in Havanna, visit the Museum of Revolution and the old Presidents’ castle. It’s definitely telling the story – through Cuban revolutionary lenses. Still, it is a journey to history not too long ago. It was really an interesting trip to what made Cuba what still is today. Museum entrance fees are only 8 convertible pesos per adult and kids enter free of charge. Museum has several halls filled with photographs and articles collected during the Revolution events in 1959-1960, when Castro lead the revolution and took over former president Batista. The building has been Presidents’ palace for all Cuban presidents office, goverment meetings as well as official state visits. You can still witness several bullet holes in the walls from battles.
Behind the building is a “Granma Memorial” park that is included in the entrance fee. Granma was the recreational ship that brought 82 revolutionists from Mexico and landed in the region of Grandma in South-East of Cuba. Memorial also hold several vehicles that were used by Castro and his forces during the takeover as well as some craft remains they had shot down. Eternal flame lit by Fidel Castro in 1989 is located in front of the park, which is tightly guarded 24/7. Museum is well worth a visit even with kids!

As we were in Cuba just weeks after Fidel Castro passed away and Revolution memory day Jan 1st celebrations took place, it was really like living the history right there. A visit to Plaza de Revolution (a huge square with monuments and monumental buildings with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara portrayed on the walls) is on most tour routes, but can easily be visited on your own too. The Square is about 5 km from the Capitol National, or a 15-20 CUC taxi ride away (one way). Recently named “Eternal Commander in Chief”, Fidel Castro is very much present and idolized everywhere in the country. To what seems propaganda to us is strong, but then again, it gives hope for a better future for the people. His brother Raul still leads the country; however, it’s hard to imagine what comes after the Castro era.

Beautiful Habana Vieja
Old Havanna, or Habana Vieja in the capitol of Cuba is a beautiful, colorful and vibrant historic city center. Founded in 1511 this old center of now a metropolitan city clearly has a Spanish influence, best seen in buildings, fortresses and names. Old Town “Habana Vieja” is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which never fails you. Narrow streets and alleys, colouful shallow houses and greener plazas with statues and cannons create a historic ambiance. Old town is mostly neat, but has a little more rustic alleys where locals live their everyday lives in tiny spaces (as you can peek into some apartment homes from the street)…

 

Plaza de Armas is a guaranteed spot for eating out, listening to authentic cuban music and purchasing local souvenirs. Blocks around provide plently for tourists, as do most streets all the way up to Prado, a big avenue dividing the Old town and newer Havanna.  The same with Plaza Viejo, the “Old square” close to harbour for big cruisers and other passenger boats. Live cuban music is everywhere. There is no bar that would not provide live Cuban music. A bar with no live music has no customers. Musicians play on tips and selling their cds so contributions are expected.

Malecon, the famous beach boulevard that runs about 12 km from the Old town all the way to Miramar, an area in the newer parts, is a an avenue where people – tourists and locals – come to stroll, sit, admire the sunset or fresh ocean breeze and just hang out. From the fortress of  Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta about 5 km away is located Hotel National, a luxurious accommodation for many famous start and which played a scene for some revolutionary actions.Fumes behind the beauty of classics

Among strong Spanish influence, and American spice in Havanna is very visible. Old classic cars from the 1950’s America are everywhere and are strongly a part of Havannan image. What is there not to like about sitting in an old colourful and well-maintained American classic convertible and just stroll around the city while driver giving you a tour?
In addition to American oldmobiles, Russian counterpart Ladas are still widely in use. And they are all in heavy use everyday as distances in the city are quite big and public transportation available only in newer parts. Besides American classics and Russian Ladas, there are several possibilities to get around on a bicycle taxi, on a horse carriage or a little three-wheel moped taxis. Trucks can’t be really seen in the Old town; however, very much present in the back alleys and newer parts. And when everything with an old motor on goes on a 83 octave gasoline, you can only imagine the pollution and fumes they bring to this pretty town…! Something that would never be accepted back home (but was very much common still in the 1970-80’s…).

Ever again?

Sure, why not. It’s a city with plenty to do. If I did, I would go in an adult-only trip, make sure to stay in a fine hotel with good services, a pool and decent location in the Old town. I believe in an adults-only trip you can get even more out of the colourful culture (not just the drinks, but eg shows too!). Havanna is ok to visit with kids too – eg. with a day trip from Varadero resort area. But to stay in Havanna, I would go with out and combine Havanna with a village in countryside. That is quite easily done and can be arranged when in Havanna too! Next time I go to Cuba, I’ll be surely visiting East end of the country, eg Santiago de Cuba.