November 12, 2023
Just Back: A Private Luxury Tour of Bali
Artisans of Leisure travel expert Maria Merrill recently visited Bali, a spectacular island paradise in Indonesia with a deeply traditional culture, beautiful scenery and over-the-top luxury resorts. Read more about favorite experiences that Artisans of Leisure can incorporate into any of our private Bali tours.
Q: How did you decide on Bali?
A: Bali has been on my travel list for a while and I thought it would be a perfect destination to visit with my husband to celebrate our anniversary. Bali offers a great balance of scenic, cultural and culinary touring, romantic dining and resorts, and opportunities for total relaxation.
Q: Where did you go?
A: We wanted a variety of cultural and scenic touring with plenty of time to relax at luxury resorts on either end of our itinerary.
We started at a luxurious seaside resort in Jimbaran Bay in southern Bali, an area known for its turquoise waters and golden sand beaches. It was the perfect place to relax after the long flight, and we spent several days soaking up the ocean views and enjoying spa treatments, yoga classes and great food.
We continued north to the town of Ubud, considered the cultural heart of Bali. It offers a great mix of cultural, scenic and culinary touring. It is especially known for its traditional crafts and iconic landscapes of rainforests, waterfalls and rice terraces.
We privately toured water palaces and visited Hindu temples, attended a Balinese dance performance, hiked to waterfalls and through rice terraces and shopped for traditional Balinese crafts.
We concluded in eastern Bali at the luxurious Amankila resort near Candidasa for more downtime before the trip home. East Bali is known as the island’s most traditional region, with artisan villages, historic water palaces and sacred temples. The volcanic landscapes are spectacular, with lush rice terraces, forested mountains and a beautiful coastline.
These destinations are the top destinations featured in Artisans of Leisure’s luxury Bali tours.
Q: What were some of your favorite experiences?
A: We enjoyed a range of experiences, including touring temples and palaces, hiking in the gorgeous natural scenery, visiting artisan villages and relaxing at resorts with incredible views, spas, service and restaurants.
One of our favorite experiences was visiting an artisan village near Ubud that’s known for its high-quality gold and silver jewelry. We met the silversmiths at one shop and learned about the Balinese designs and motifs incorporated into the pieces, which was really interesting.
Many villages around Ubud specialize in different local crafts, such as wood carving, stone carving, shadow puppets, traditional paintings and more. Artisans of Leisure’s guides will tailor shopping excursions to suit your interests.
En route from Jimbaran Bay to Ubud, we visited the Turtle Conservation and Education Center, a rescue and rehabilitation center for sea turtles on Serangan Island. Most species of sea turtles in Bali are endangered, and the center is committed to rescue, research and education.
We loved this experience! You get to see different types and ages of turtles and learn about the different species and conservation efforts. The baby turtles were so tiny and cute.
Visitors can participate in an adopt-and-release program. For a donation, you can take a turtle that is ready to return to the wild and release it yourself on the beach.
Other experiences we enjoyed included hiking through rice paddies and learning about the farming process. The rice terraces are beautiful, and seeing those iconic landscapes was incredible.
We also took several hikes to waterfalls. There are so many in Bali, and Artisans of Leisure can arrange a short, gentle stroll to one or more strenuous guided hikes that last several hours.
One day, we toured the Ubud Palace, a beautiful temple-palace compound where the local royal family lives. Part of it is open to the public, and we enjoyed seeing the traditional carvings and courtyards and learning more about their history and significance.
For interested travelers, Artisans of Leisure can arrange attendance at an evening dance and music performance at Ubud Palace.
We also met with a local Balinese healer at his house. I loved seeing the inside of a traditional Balinese home. Spiritual healers are an important part of Balinese culture, and meeting with one is an interesting way to engage firsthand with local traditions.
One afternoon in eastern Bali, we came across a local festival, which was fun to see. There are always festivals happening in Bali, and most Artisans of Leisure travelers have the opportunity to see one.
Q: Bali is often called the “Island of the Gods” due to its Hindu spirituality and the numerous temples and religious sites across the island. What were some of your favorites?
A: There are so many temples! We prioritized seeing a mix of different kinds: coastal temples such as Pura Tanah Lot or Uluwatu, a water temple such as Pura Gunung Kawi Sebatu and a beautiful temple with gardens or water features such as Pura Taman Ayun.
Pura Tanah Lot had the most scenic setting on a rocky island off the coast. You can’t go inside, but it’s such a beautiful site.
One of my favorites, and the one I thought was the most beautiful and impressive inside, was Pura Taman Ayun. It’s a 17th-century water temple, a former royal palace and a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its groundwater management system (subak). Subak is an ancient system integral to agricultural, social and religious life.
Pura Taman Ayun is a large complex with gardens, pavilions, pagodas and courtyards built around water. It’s a sacred bathing temple, and seeing that aspect of the culture was really interesting.
Q: Tell us about the food! What was your favorite restaurant or culinary experience?
A: The food in Bali is incredible! A lot of the food combines indigenous cooking with Chinese and Indian influences. Rice is a staple combined with vegetables, fish, meat and spices to create very flavorful dishes.
One of our favorite culinary experiences was a 17-course dinner (the portions were small!) at an upscale restaurant in Ubud. They use only fresh, local ingredients, and the dishes are a unique, creative interpretation of traditional Balinese and Indonesian food. We sat at the counter and watched the chefs in the kitchen, which was really fun. They also paired each dish with an art piece for sale in the restaurant, which was really unique and special.
One of our favorite resort restaurants was Kubu at Mandapa, where we had our own private cocoon. We had an 8-course gourmet tasting menu of Mediterranean and European dishes overlooking the Ayung River.
Also, Api Jiwa at Capella—the food was amazing, and the cocktail (and mocktail) combinations were spot on.
Artisans of Leisure can arrange special dining experiences around Bali, private cooking classes, and visits to local markets.
Q: Bali has such incredible local crafts. How was the shopping? Did you bring home anything special?
A: I brought home a kaftan and jewelry made by the artisans we met. Going to the art market in Ubud was really fun. We had a great time browsing and bargaining for gifts for family and friends.
Q: Tell us about the resorts.
A: We began at the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, which was amazing. It’s just 20 minutes from the airport (which is great for international arrivals) but tucked away in the most tranquil, beautiful setting that feels very private.
They do a great job of incorporating a sense of place with architecture and design inspired by a traditional Balinese village. The food at the resort was fantastic. The breakfast buffet was a highlight! It offers a variety of cuisines from all over the world.
The spa was amazing and incredibly beautiful. It’s considered one of the best spas on the island.
In Ubud, we stayed at Mandapa, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve and Capella Ubud. They’re very different from each other, and we enjoyed experiencing both.
Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve is a luxurious sanctuary outside of the town of Ubud, hidden away in a lush river valley.
It has stunning villas with private gardens and gorgeous views of rice terraces. It’s very spread out, which contributes to the sense of privacy and serenity, but you can take golf carts everywhere.
It’s a smaller resort and felt very intimate and exclusive.
It has such a wow factor when you first arrive. Check-in is on a platform overlooking the resort spread out below, surrounded by jungle.
The decor of the suites and villas reflects traditional Balinese art and design. Each one comes with a dedicated butler.
The wellness facilities are located by the Ayung River. There are yoga classes with highly regarded yogis on platforms in the terraced rice fields and riverside pavilions. There are also options for guided meditation, private sessions with healers, luxurious massage therapies and a heated vitality pool overlooking the lush jungle.
Capella Ubud, a luxurious tented camp about 25 minutes north of Ubud, offers a completely different experience and is a great option for more adventurous travelers.
The camp was designed by Bill Bensley, who also created two other tented camps loved by Artisans of Leisure travelers, Shinta Mani Wild in Cambodia and Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle in Thailand. Inspired by stories of Dutch settlers in the 1800s, Capella Ubud captures the spirit of 19th-century exploration, albeit in a very luxurious way.
The secluded, spacious tents are individually decorated with Balinese and European antiques, travel trunks, handmade batik and ikat fabrics, wood carvings and teak floors.
We had a tent with a private plunge pool looking out into the jungle.
We enjoyed the beautiful setting, nostalgic atmosphere and excellent food and service.
We also stayed at Amankila, a beautiful resort and an ideal base for exploring eastern Bali that’s a favorite with Artisans of Leisure travelers. In contrast with the other resorts that showcase Balinese design, it’s very much an Aman property with spacious villas decorated in a minimalist style.
The resort is on a hillside overlooking the Lombok Strait, and we enjoyed relaxing by the pool with impressive views.
Some of the activities and experiences Artisans of Leisure arranges in the area include visiting deeply traditional local villages known for creating beautiful baskets and double ikat weavings, touring palaces and temples, guided walks in the gorgeous landscapes, boat charters and private diving and snorkeling excursions.
Q: What are your thoughts on Bali as a family destination?
A: It’s a very family-friendly destination. We saw so many families with children of all ages, from babies in carriers to teenagers. There are many fun adventure activities, wellness activities and experiences like private cooking classes, visiting the turtle conservation center, private boat charters and fishing. Other hands-on experiences Artisans of Leisure can arrange include planting rice with a local farmer and making floral offerings or batik fabrics.
There is something for every age, interest and fitness level. Also, the resorts have great kids’ clubs with a variety of curated activities for younger travelers.
Q: What about active touring in Bali?
A: Bali is a fantastic destination for active touring in spectacular landscapes. Some options include river rafting, hiking, biking, horseback riding, ziplining, diving and snorkeling. It’s also a significant destination for yoga and wellness travel.
Q: What would you recommend in combination with Bali for a more extended tour?
Bali and Singapore also combine really well, and there are new direct flights from New York to Singapore, making it a convenient place to stop en route or on the trip back to the States.
Q: What makes an Artisans of Leisure tour of Bali special?
A: The quality and expertise of our guides and the flexibility we offer on the ground. Also, the ultra-luxurious resorts we book and the personalized experiences we arrange, whether for a couple on a honeymoon or a multigenerational family tour.
Contact Artisans of Leisure to begin planning a private luxury Bali tour.