Indonesia’s poster child, the fun-loving island of Bali, may have smartened up in the last decade, with renowned spas and lavish hilltop boutiques, but a vacation here doesn’t need to break the bank.
In fact, Bali has plenty of activities you can enjoy that won’t cost a single rupiah, and often these make for some of the most authentic experiences on the island. From watching traditional craftsmanship in action to perusing vibrant local markets, here are nine of the best free things to do in Bali.
Watch a religious ceremony
Processions of traditionally dressed locals are a daily sight on Bali, nicknamed Island of the Gods. An integral part of Balinese life, Hindu ceremonies range from intimate village gatherings to elaborate rituals that throng the streets and shut down major roads. Witnessing one of these celebrations will make for a memorable, invigorating experience, but remember these are religious displays – be respectful at all times.
Explore Tegallalang’s rice terraces
Around a 20-minute drive north of Ubud lies the valley of Tegallalang, home to some of the island’s most picturesque rice terraces. Here you can see Bali’s ancient, Unesco-listed subak irrigation system in action, with small streams and gullies running to the terraces from pretty puras (temples), showcasing the island’s connection between religion, community and nature. Take in the spectacular scenery from one of the roadside warungs (small restaurants) or spend an hour or so exploring the area’s unique landscape on foot.
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Witness artisans at work
Bali is well known for its array of artisan craftspeople, who work their magic in studios or small family workshops. With different villages specializing in a particular craft, it’s just a matter of deciding what art form piques your interest. Head to Celuk to see silversmiths cut and file intricate pieces of jewelry, or visit Mas to be wowed by giant ornate wood carvings and browse stacks of decorative masks.
Visit Pura Taman Saraswati Temple
Located behind Café Lotus in central Ubud, Pura Taman Saraswati is fronted by a stunning lotus-filled pond. The picturesque water temple, which dates back to 1952, can be accessed via a stone walkway decorated with Hindu sculptures. Once inside the inner sanctum, look out for sandstone bas reliefs of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning, literature and art, who this temple is dedicated to. Listen out for talks of evening dance performances, which are staged here regularly.
Wander around an abandoned amusement park
One of Bali’s more unusual attractions, Taman Festival Bali is an abandoned amusement park just north of Sanur. The park, which closed at the end of the 1990s because of the Asian economic crisis, is said to have featured a man-made volcano, an inverted roller coaster and even a crocodile pit. Exploring isn’t for the fainthearted, and today the overgrown structures and graffiti-spattered kiosks make for some great photo opportunities. Sometimes “security guards” stand at the entrance and ask for a small donation to enter the park, though it’s unclear where exactly this money goes.
Meet Barack Obama (the puppet version)
Housed in a series of pretty Balinese and Javanese wooden buildings on the outskirts of Ubud, Setia Darma House of Masks and Puppets showcases around 7000 masks and puppets from Indonesia, China, Latin America, Europe and Africa. Some of the highlights of the collection include a number of beautiful wayang kulit Indonesian shadow puppets and some intricately detailed Sicilian stick puppets that date back to the 16th century. Don’t leave without checking out the puppet of Barack Obama.
Walk the Campuhan Ridge
A mere five-minute drive from the center of Ubud, Campuhan Ridge stands a world apart from the restaurants and boutiques of the nearby Monkey Forest Street. Around 6km (3.7 miles) in total, the walk starts as a narrow trail at the Pura Gunung Lebah temple before widening to reveal a breathtaking valley. After around 30 minutes walking along the ridge, the trek reaches the village of Bangkiang Sidem, with its bucolic scenes of rural Balinese life. It is best to attempt the walk in the morning or late afternoon, when it’s not so hot.
Chill out on Bali’s spectacular beaches
Bask in the sun, swim, build a sand castle or enjoy an afternoon of people watching at one of Bali’s dreamy beaches. The powdery white sands of Kuta and Seminyak are the heart of the island’s tourist activity, complete with luxury resorts, restaurants and beach clubs mere feet from the shore. Meanwhile, Echo Beach in Canggu is one of Bali’s trendiest coastal hangouts. Grab a sunlounger for a prime spot to watch surfers take on the island’s legendary breakers. Those looking for an off-the-beaten-path slice of seaside paradise should check out the palm-fringed White Sand Beach in Padangbai or Bingin Beach on the Bukit Peninsula.
Get a taste of the local markets
Immerse yourself in Indonesian culture as you take in the sights, smells and sounds of one of Bali’s ubiquitous markets. Stroll from stall to stall to check out colorful arts and crafts, plus all forms of delectable dishes from across the archipelago – any chance of a free sample? Pasar Sindhu Night Market and Kuta Night Market are just two of the more popular options for an evening of sensory delights.
This article was first published on May 30, 2019 and updated on December 26, 2021