I first visited Bali in 1988 when I was living in Hong Kong, and Bali was one of the major weekend destinations for expats living in Southeast Asia.  I have since been back over a dozen times, and despite an ever increasing number of hotels, restaurants, roads and now a new airport, the underlying spirit of Bali has essentially remained the same.  The people are still warm and friendly, the little villages and temples are still charming, the rice terraces and beaches are still lovely, and the enduring magic of Bali remains.

Bali has over 3,000 hotels scattered all over the compact but diverse island of over 6 million people.  There are many different regions of Bali, and figuring out which areas and hotels to choose is confusing at best.

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Remote Lands only works with the top dozen or so properties in Bali, but even sorting through these is a challenge (albeit a pleasurable one!)  Therefore, I went back to Bali in May 2014 to revisit all the top hotels and sort through the differences and analyze which hotel is best for which client, from honeymooners to families to singles.

I always recommend that people visit at least two regions of Bali – Ubud plus at least one if not two beach destinations.  There are many choices, and these are the finest amongst them.

UBUD

If you go to only one region of Bali, Ubud should be it.  Ubud is the real Bali, the old Bali, the culture and art center of Bali, with charming little villages, ancient temples, stunning rice terraces, endless art galleries and museums and world-class hotels.

Amandari

The very best of everything with superb service in this boutique property up in the rice terraces of Ubud.  The ne plus ultra of Ubud resorts.

Amandari

Amandari

  • Rooms/Suites – 30 traditional Balinese villas, some with private pools
  • Genre – Traditional Balinese pavilions
  • Location – on the edge of Ubud, very private once you are inside the resort but still near the shops and restaurants of the town
  • Views – Rice terraces, lush jungle of palm trees and other tropical plants
  • Ideal client – Couples, honeymooners who value privacy
  • Tip – Spring for a pool suite, but make sure it’s on one floor and not a duplex which have tricky spiral staircases.  It’s heaven and worth every penny.

Como Shambhala

Focus on wellness and cuisine in this boutique property with superb service up in the rice terraces of Ubud.

Como Shambhala

Como Shambhala

  • Rooms/Suites – 39 suites including five shared residences, five retreat villas and four 2- or 3-bedroom private villas.
  • Genre – Traditional Balinese pavilions
  • Location – Rural area outside town. Huge grounds and very spread out on steep hilly grounds, so you need a buggy to get around the resort or else do a lot of walking
  • Views – Lush jungle, beautiful gorges with a river way down at the bottom
  • Ideal client – Wellness travelers, family taking entire villa with private pool. A fair bit of walking is required so the fit and the mobile are best-suited, although buggies can pick you up at your villa when required.
  • Tip – Make sure you have a private pool. It is not ideal to share a Residence with strangers and therefore have to share your pool, living room and dining room. If you only need one bedroom, make sure you have a one-bedroom private pool villa. If you are a family and taking an entire 4-5 bedroom residence, my favorite is Tirta Ening – it is massive with magnificent outdoor spaces.

Uma Ubud

Young, hip vibe and active social scene at lower price point than sister property Como Shambhala also up in the rice terraces of Ubud.

Uma Ubud

Uma Ubud

 Rooms/Suites – 46 rooms and suites, some with private pools.

  • Genre – Modern light feel
  • Location – in the middle of Ubud so you can walk out the door to top restaurants and shops.
  • Views – Lush jungle, and can see houses in the distance across the ravine from some rooms
  • Ideal client – Young or young at heart travelers who want to see and be seen at the big group pool and the busy bar. If you want seclusion, Uma Ubud is not ideal
  • Tip – If you want to stay here but don’t want to take part in the social scene, choose one of the pool villas which are lovely.  Or better yet, stay at sister property Como Shambhala not far away.

 Four Seasons Sayan

Ideal resort for families with children. Pair with the Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay so you have both the beach and Ubud.

 

Four Seasons Sayan

Four Seasons Sayan

 

  • Rooms/Suites – 60 rooms/suites, some with private pools.
  • Genre – Modern with Balinese touches
  • Location – Rural area outside town. Huge grounds and very spread out, so you need a buggy to get around the resort or else do a lot of walking
  • Views – overlooking a ravine with the river at the bottom and the lush jungle on the other side.
  • Ideal client – Families with kids who want the excellent kids club. North Americans are particularly well suited for the two Four Seasons resorts in Bali due to the menus (e.g .build your own personal salad, even on the room service menu) and overall sensibilities.
  • Tip – Some of the villas are very close to the river which has an endless flow of whitewater rafters so privacy is compromised, so this is not ideal for couples although it is fine for families. The garden villas don’t have the river view but they do have more privacy.

 ULUWATU

Alila Uluwatu

Stunning clifftop ocean views with Asian feel, ideal for couples.

Alila Uluwatu

Alila Uluwatu

 Rooms/Suites – 56 one-bedrooms pool villas, 8 three-bedroom residences

  • Genre – Modern Asian/Balinese
  • Location – Uluwatu on the southern tip of Bali
  • Views – spectacular high clifftop views over the Indian Ocean.
  • Ideal client – Couples and honeymooners. Many of the guests are Asian because Alila is based in Singapore, and the brand is less well known in Europe and America. The beach far below is not ideal for swimming, so this resort is for people who like to relax in their own villa or at the shared pool, as opposed to on a sandy beach.
  • Tip – Make sure you have a villa at the oceanfront with an unobstructed view.  They call the best view villas “Cliffside”, as opposed to “Hillside” which are farther back and are partially blocked by villa roofs in front.

Bulgari

Gorgeous clifftop ocean views and European feel plus a new tram straight down to private beach club; ideal for couples.

Bulgari

Bulgari

 Rooms/Suites – 59 villas, all with private pools, all with ocean views (some with better views than others), including three 2-bedroom suites and the Bulgari Villa with three bedrooms.

  • Genre – Contemporary European with Balinese touches
  • Location – Uluwatu on the southern tip of Bali
  • Views – spectacular high clifftop views over the Indian Ocean
  • Ideal client – Couples and honeymooners.  Many European and Asian guests. The beach far below is not ideal for swimming, so this resort is for people who like to relax in their own villa or at the shared pool or on the beach down below on the tram, but swimming there is not ideal because the currents are rough.
  • Tip – Make sure you have a villa at the oceanfront with an unobstructed view, called an “ocean cliff” view which is in the first row.  Other villas such as “ocean view” are farther back and are partially blocked by villa roofs in front.

SEMINYAK

Oberoi

Traditional Balinese design on gorgeous spacious grounds right on the beach in close proximity to the action of Seminyak. Boutique hotel with excellent service.

 

Oberoi Bali

Oberoi Bali

  • Rooms/Suites – 30 rooms/villas, all of which open out to the lovely lawn. Some of the pool villas including the Royal Villa Ocean View with Private Pool have ocean views.
  • Genre – Very traditional Balinese design and décor pavilions
  • Location  – In the heart of Seminyak which is the most fun part of Bali and the most westernized with lots of great shops, bars and restaurants.
  • Views – the resort is right on the beach with views of the crashing waves, but the rooms do not. The best rooms are the private pool villas which have walls around them for privacy but most have no ocean views.
  • Ideal client – Couples and honeymooners.  Many European and American guests.
  • Tip – Spring for a pool villa and ask for an ocean view.

Legian

4-storey hotel with large suites overlooking the ocean + Legian Club private pool villas in the back. Located right on the beach in close proximity to the action of Seminyak.

The Legian

The Legian

  • Rooms/Suites – 67 suites, all with ocean views, in a large multi-storey elevator building like a traditional hotel. The upside is that the suites are quite large, but they are rather dark and feel a bit tired. The Chedi Club at the Legian has ten 1-Bedroom villas which are much nicer, but it is in the back and has no ocean view.
  • Genre – Modern Balinese in a regular hotel structure for the suites; more traditional Balinese pavilions in the pool villas
  • Location – In the heart of Seminyak which is the most fun part of Bali and the most westernized with lots of great shops, bars and restaurants.
  • Views – The hotel is right on the beach and many of the rooms have ocean views but the pool villas do not.
  • Ideal client – Couples and honeymooners in the one-bedroom suites, families in the larger suites including the Beach House.
  • Tip – Go for The Beach House 3-bedrooms private pool villa right on the beach which has ocean views as well as a private pool. If you don’t need three bedrooms choose the Chedi Club private pool suites.

W Seminyak

All W’s around the world have a party vibe, but the W Seminyak takes the cake. If you are looking for fun and one BIG social event then the W is the place for you. If you want privacy and solitude then steer clear.

W Seminyak

W Seminyak

 

  • Rooms/Suites – 237 rooms including 79 villas.  76 have ocean views. The private pool villas are fantastic but they have no ocean views.  The regular rooms are on the small side in a large multi-storey elevator building like a traditional hotel.
  • Genre – Uber-contemporary, colorful and over-the-top cool.
  • Location – In the heart of Seminyak which is the most fun part of Bali and the most westernized with lots of great shops, bars and restaurants.
  • Views – The hotel is right on the beach and many of the rooms have ocean views but the pool villas do not.
  • Ideal client – Young travelers and the young at heart who want to meet other people, party and have a good time. Everything is a party, with bars, hookah pipes and fun everywhere. If you want privacy and seclusion, there are better choices for you. If you want a really fun time, this is the place for you.
  • Tip – You have to choose between an ocean view OR a private pool. In an ideal world you have both.  But you can’t have an ocean view, a private pool AND a big party atmosphere all at once.  You can have two or the three at the W. Since this is a relatively large hotel, the service is good but of course not at the level of a small boutique property.

OTHER BEACHES

Amankila

The very best of everything with superb service in this boutique property on a secluded beach in eastern Bali. The ne plus ultra of Bali beach resorts.

Amankila

Amankila

  • Rooms/Suites – 35 traditional Balinese villas, some with private pools
  • Genre – Traditional Balinese
  • Location – Manggis in eastern Bali with black volcanic beaches
  • Views – Ocean views from high above. The hotel spills down a hillside down to the beach below.
  • Ideal client – Couples, honeymooners who value privacy.  A fair bit of walking is required so the fit and the mobile are best-suited.
  • Tip – Spring for a pool suite. It is heaven to have both a private pool AND a view over the ocean.

Alila Soori

Alila Soori

Alila Soori

  • Rooms/Suites – 48 villas, 38 of which are 1-BR, 5 are 2-BR, 8 are 3-BR, 1 is 5-BR, 1 is 10-BR. 15 one-bedroom Beach Pool Villas, 15 one-bedroom Ocean Pool Villas, 8 one-bedroom Mountain Pool Villas and 10 residential villas.
  • Genre – Contemporary Asian/Balinese
  • Location – 30-40 minutes drive north of Seminyak along the coast on a very private beach in an isolated area, as opposed to Seminyak where many other people are sharing the beach.
  • Views – many are beachfront and some are in from the beach.
  • Ideal client – Couples and honeymooners and families and extended families to take the 5 and 10 bedrooms villas. This is a secluded area where there is no “scene” which appeals to many people.
  • Tip – If you are a “beach person” who wants to spend time on the beach, and you are looking for a secluded beach and privacy then Alila Soori could be ideal for you.

Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay

Ideal resort for families with children. Pair with the Four Seasons Sayan so you have both the beach and Ubud.

Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay

Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay

  • Rooms/Suites – 156 villas, all with private pools and ocean views, from one to three bedrooms, plus 2-4 bedroom Residence Villas.
  • Genre – Traditional Balinese pavilions
  • Location – Right on the lovely Jimbaran Beach about 15 minutes south of the airport.
  • Views – Overlooking the ocean at Jimbaran Bay with distant views of the airport.
  • Ideal client – Couples and honeymooners as well as families with kids who want the excellent kids club. North Americans are particularly well suited for the two Four Seasons resorts in Bali due to the menus (e.g .build your own personal salad, even on the room service menu) and overall sensibilities.
  • Tip – Every villa has a private pool and an ocean view, so you can’t really go wrong, but Oceanfront is in the front row and Ocean-View is farther up the hillside with villas down the hill in front (although not blocking the view).  Note: The 2-4 bedroom Residence Villas have larger pools and grounds but no ocean view.

Tugu Bali

Funky boutique hotel a step below the 5-star properties but a good fit for the more Bohemian set or those on a lower budget.

Tugu Bali

Tugu Bali

  • Rooms/Suites – 21 eccentric villas, each with a totally different personality, and some with small plunge pools.
  • Genre – Very traditional Balinese with lots of antiques and interesting furnishings and European touches
  • Location – On the beach in Canggu, 15 minutes north of Seminyak, so near the action but still allowing some serenity
  • Views – The hotel is on the beach but the villas look out at their own gardens
  • Ideal client – Clients of all ages with Bohemian sensibilities who love antiques and don’t want to spend the money for a top tier hotel
  • Tip – This is a 4-star property but with tons of charm and character

 

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