For CheapOAir MilesAway blog, October 2016.
The paradise island of Bali attracts tourists from all around the world, who are mainly interested in exploring its pristine beaches, surfing waves, colorful festivals, and yoga studios. With 6 million visitors each year, the small Indonesian island receives a lot of stress on its resources. Conscious travelers can leave a positive footprint on the island by making smart choices about their accommodations, dining and activities. Here are some of my personal recommendations for where to eat, stay, shop and give back in Bali.
WHERE TO STAY
Bali offers a myriad of options to spend the night, ranging from five-star branded properties such as the uber luxurious Bulgari Resort, which starts at $700 a night, to budget friendly hostels at only $6 a night, and everything in between (including home stays and farm rooms). Most visitors prefer to stay at the beach resorts in Kuta or the bustling central Ubud, though boutique hotels and eco-friendly resorts are scattered all over the island.
At Puri Gangga Resort and Spa, pristine natural surroundings meet lush accommodations. This unique hotel is located in the quiet village of Sebatu in East Bali, and strives to be completely sustainable in its architecture, food and other activities. The rooms, which are made using all natural materials, keep the villas cool while blending in with the surroundings. Even the partially open roof in the bathroom hydrates the plants around the shower with rain water. All of the employees at the hotel come from the Sebatu village itself, thus insuring that the local economy thrives on the resort as well.
WHERE TO EAT
Dining options in Bali also range in price, ambiance and cuisine. From vegan and vegetarian cafes, beachfront bars and casual Indian bistros, to high-end restaurants serving French and Italian menus, there is something for everyone here.
Warungs are small family-owned restaurants that offer traditional Indonesian dishes, such as chicken satay, gado-gado, and nasi goreng. These are the best places to taste local flavors and buy from the locals. Most of the warungs have their own rice paddies and poultry farms (sometimes at the back of the restaurant), so the food is fresh and organic.
Fair Warung Bale donates 100% of its profits to the Fair Future Foundation, which provides free medical care to people in need.
Slow Food Bali gives out a seal of approval to those restaurants that act ethically and responsibly, in particular by ensuring at least 75% of their menu uses ingredients produced in Indonesia, they sustainably manage their waste and pay fair wages to their employees. Some of these establishments include Bali Buda, Locavore (rated #1 restaurant in Bali), Batan Waru, Cuca, and Puri Ganesha.
WHAT TO DO
Where we shop and the activities we engage in as tourists also have an impact on the places we visit.
It is very important to respect the local culture wherever you go. Bali is home to some of the most beautiful Hindu temples in the world and certain measures of respect must be followed. Most guides will help you wear a sarong to cover your legs and show you how to ask for blessings. Make sure to not disturb others while praying, especially by taking pictures.
Indonesia is also well known for its art and crafts, such as its stone statues, decorated wooden carvings, painted wicker boxes, woven baskets and printed Batik. Instead of buying these items from souvenir shops, visit the artists in their studios or homes. Travelers can enroll in a day-long Batik painting class with world-renowned artist, Widya, where he shows you how to create your own scarf or t-shirt using all natural colors and beeswax.
Cooking classes are a great way to learn about the native food and interact with locals. Unlike other hotel-led classes, Paon Bali Cooking School is a family-run establishment at a private home. The chef, Aunty Puspa, is not only educational and entertaining, she employs many of her extended family members in her village, thus creating a sustainable source of income for the women.
HOW TO GIVE BACK
Poverty on the island of Bali often goes unnoticed by tourists. There are thousands of kids who fend for themselves by selling souvenirs on the streets, because their families cannot provide enough for them. A local nonprofit organization, Bali Children’s Project enrolls kids in school, gives them free books, uniforms, meals, blankets and more — all through individual sponsorships. They are always looking for volunteers to assist in their offices or at one of the schools.
ProFauna offers opportunities to volunteer in West Bali, where you can assist with preserving sea turtles. Activities include taking care of eggs, relocating and releasing hatchlings.