You've never been to Bali before and you don't want to waste your precious time on the island. Let me tell you my favourite activities over the months I've spent here, and let me also tell you which activities to avoid.
Truth be told, it is always easier travelling when someone has given you an advice in advanced, or when you already know where to go and what to do. Otherwise, it can get complicated investigating every single thing to do and risking your money and time on doing all the activities.
When I went to Bali for the first time, I did do all the activities there are to do, and I did waste money and time in some of them. So now that I already know which are the best, let me spare you the suffering and give you a shortlist of the activities that will keep you entertained and those that will only be a disappointment.
Top 5 Activities To Do in Bali
Number Five - Ubud Monkey Forest
This one is a must and it is one of the most popular ones, but the forest is big enough to hold all the tourists and still, it doesn't feel crowded.
The monkeys roam freely all around the forest, you can feed them and they sometimes get friendly and decide to play with you or your belongings. This is a very low-cost activity that I consider one of the bests in Bali.
Number Four - Visit a Few Temples
Bali is a Hindu island in a Muslim country, so the Hindu temples here are a true jewel; they're both beautiful and incredibly interesting. Remember to wear proper clothes, this means legs and arms fully covered for both men and women.
Some of my favourite Bali temples are:
Tirta Gangga Temple
Tirta Empul Temple
Taman Ayun Temple
Of course, there are plenty more. I recommend you check on a map where you will be staying, and which of the many options there are suits you best.
Number Three - Visit Some Waterfalls
Same as with the temples, there are enough waterfalls to keep you from going anywhere else, but it is best to choose just a few and diversify your activities. Check a map to locate your accommodation and decide which waterfalls are on your way. My favourite waterfalls were some of the following.
Kanto Lampo Waterfall
Goa Rang Reng Waterfall
Number Two - Slide at Waterbom Bali
This one is the most extreme waterpark in Asia. Honestly, there are about 3 or 4 very extreme slides, some of which I didn't even dare to try, but the rest are quite mild and very fun!
This activity might be a bit more expensive than the other I have included, but if you come to the park to spend the whole day, it is totally worth it. You will have fun like a little kid again! Rides are so fun, the lazy river is so nice and the swimming pool is great to spend the afternoon.
Number One - Eat and Relax at Ubud
Ubud was by far my favourite part of Bali. I highly recommend you stay here and rent a scooter to move to other places of Bali.
Ubud is a very nice town in the middle of the jungle, going out for dinner is a whole experience.
My favourite activity of them all in Bali was to go out to get a Balinese massage and then walk the streets of Ubud to find a place where to have dinner.
The food options here are limitless! You will find all sort of food, from Italian to Mexican, and from Indonesian to Greek.
Same with the spas. There are some low-cost spas that offer 60 minutes full body massage for $6USD, or some fancier spas that have whole treatment packages. I recommend you try both, maybe one day a nice spa with a whole spa day, and the next days a simpler full body massage.
Top 5 Activities To Avoid in Bali
Number Five - Swimming with Dolphins
That is just a lie, I cannot believe they keep selling this trip to anyone. Truth is, they will take you on a boat to see dolphins, there will be about 30 boats harassing the dolphins and you will find yourself swimming among a lot of people.
This activity is not good for the dolphins, not good for you, and certainly not good for the environment.
Number Four - Elephant Rides
Same as the dolphins, you will find yourself in a crowded "sanctuary", and most of them are not sanctuaries.
The elephant is taught to parade and be with people through lashes. Some of them even put a mounture on top of the elephant for you to sit.
I highly recommend to avoid all elephant activity because it is so difficult to find an ethical place where to do it, but if you are not going to resist form going, do a very good research and find an actual sanctuary where they save the elephants, not abduct them from the jungle.
Also, if you're going to take a ride, it is not a sanctuary. There are some places where you can go and bathe the elephant, that's different from climbing on top of them.
Number Three - Private Day Tours
Day tours mean a private car with a private guide.
The traffic in Bali is unbelievable! If you get into a car, it will take so much more time to get to your destination. Then, the entrance to those places is super cheap and sometimes even free! This private tours will charge you a lot when actually it is super cheap and simple to do it by yourself.
Unless you're travelling with kids, I strongly recommend doing your own trips on your own scooter and by yourself.
Number Two - "Instafamous" places
I made such a bad choice and wasted so much time in line to take pics at some of the most Instagrammable places of Bali. Honestly, there are prettier places everywhere else! Don't stand in line for a pic, and don't pay an entrance to somewhere just for a pic.
I mean this, there is a swing park which is extremely expensive and there is NOTHING to do apart from taking shots. Do not spend your time and money in this place, it is not worth it! There are nicer swings everywhere else.
Number One - Tegalalang vs Jatiluwih
If you only have the time to visit one of these rice terraces, choose Jatiluwih.
Jatiluwih is a UNESCO Natural Heritage site with over 600 hectares of rice fields, they are the biggest in Bali. And since they are a bit further, it is way less crowded. They're so big and less crowded, so chances are you won't have to share your photoshoot space with anyone else.
If you have the time to visit both, Tegalalang is also a nice place, but this one is not very well taken care of, there not many rice terraces and the crowds here can get nasty. There are only one or two places to take a nice shot, so you will find yourself battling with other tourists for the spot.
Finally, Bali is a whole experience which you will have to see for yourself. Maybe make your own mistakes to decide for yourself, but these are my best recommendations, and if someone had told me so, I would have been thankful; especially about that swing park, it was just so expensive and I didn't even stay there for one hour, it was the most expensive picture ever!
If you're headed to Bali, enjoy! There's nothing else to recommend but to discover, learn, appreciate and enjoy a lot. Oh and also, if you have the time, do check Lombok island too!