If deities were drawn to earth, itâ€™s likely theyâ€™d vacation on Bali. But with its dramatic volcanic peaks, ancient Hindu temples, intensely emerald rice fields, and a culture that celebrates beauty at every turn, Indonesiaâ€™s â€œIsland of the Godsâ€� is also heaven for photographers and the aesthetically inclined.
â€œBali has an abundance of sensory riches awaiting its visitors,â€� says Varya Simpson, a California-based Virtuoso travel advisor and former Asian studies instructor at UC Berkeley.Â â€œIn even the smallest corners of every village, youâ€™ll find a visual feast of striking scenery, along with the open faces of the friendly people who define this small island.â€�
I was fortunate to experience both during a recent seven-day visit, highlighted by stays at The Ritz-Carlton, Bali in Nusa Dua, and Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Ubud, the islandâ€™s cultural and spiritual center. Beyond luxury hotels, the two properties feature programs that lend insight into the islandâ€™s cultural traditions, and both offer a bevy of Instagrammable images in their own right.
When you go: Bring your good camera, but be warned that your biggest challenge will be winnowing down the number of your favorite photos. Here, I gave it my best to trim it to a dozen.
Rise and Shine
Light is almost always at its most magical in the early-morning hours. True, waking at dawn and voluntarily parting from The Ritz-Carlton, Baliâ€™s feather beds are no simple tasks. But fortunately, said beds are just steps from Sawangan Beach. Sunrises here shouldnâ€™t be missed, particularly during super-low tides, when a necklace of reflective pools connects earth and sky.
Post-purification seaside snacks include dragon fruit and rambutan, displayed above at the nearby Kedonganan Market. Local produce also features prominently in Ritz-Carltonâ€™s â€œfloating breakfasts.â€� Later, guests can visit the market with the resortâ€™s chef to purchase more of their favorite fruits (sampling durian, infamous for its malodor, is a travel rite of passage), plus fresh spices, vegetables, and fish for use in a hands-on Balinese cooking class.
Garden lovers, rejoice: Tropical flora such as jasmine, magnolia, orchid, oleander, plumeria, and bougainvillea are ubiquitous on Bali. Shown here, lush lobster claws (heliconia) proliferate along the resortâ€™s perfumed paths.
At the John Hardy jewelry workshop near Ubud, towering flags flicker by the Kapal Bambu showroom, a hull-shaped cathedral built with locally harvested bamboo. Visitors can tour the workshopâ€™s campus to watch its artisans bring their handcrafted jewelry to life, have lunch with its staff (almost all the 750 employees come from local communities), and learn about its extensive sustainability programs.
All roads lead to something beautiful at Mandapa. Built in the spirit of a traditional Balinese village, the Ritz-Carlton Reserve is home to two shrines, a holistic spa and yoga pavilion, and private bamboo pods for riverside dining. Tip: Pack your camera bag with plenty of memory cards â€“ youâ€™re likely to take hundreds of photographs here.
Also at the resort: rice fields where guests can plant the crop and learn about its significance in Balinese life.
The preferred way to tour Ubudâ€™s back roads and surrounding villages: in the back seat of Mandapaâ€™s classic VW 181 with experienced local guides behind the wheel. Stops include â€¦
Fall for This
â€¦ the largely undiscovered Tukad Cepung waterfall. The trek down steep paths and through knee-deep pools (pack amphibious shoes) is well worth the effort, as youâ€™re likely to have the place to yourself …
â€¦ eleventh-century Pura Kehen, the oldest and most sacred Hindu temple in Bangli â€¦
â€¦ and I Made Adaâ€™s woodcarving studio in Garuda Village. Expect the warmest of welcomes and loads of genuine laughter from the master craftsman as he shows you around his shop.
The best travels provide some indelible, emblematic shot that stays with us long after weâ€™ve returned home. I found mine when I wandered to the far recesses of I Made Adaâ€™s studio, stepped outside, and stumbled upon this scene. For me, this image will forever represent the beauty and peace that is Bali.
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