Blessed with a gorgeous coastline and an easy-going vibe, Uluwatu is an offbeat yet immensely appealing beach destination on the popular island of Bali.
By ARZOO DINA
It’s a warm summer day, the kind where the sun is not overbearing, but just right, and complemented by clear, blue skies. After enjoying a leisurely breakfast at a popular coffee spot, Suka Espresso, I am now basking in the serenity of my scenic surroundings. I’m in Uluwatu—a laid-back, hilly beach-town located on the southern tip of the island of Bali, Indonesia. The pace of life is slow and relaxed here, unlike the more buzzing and crowded party-centric beach destinations like Kuta and Seminyak. Most first-time travellers to Bali end up visiting these or even Ubud for its iconic rice-terrace fields. But there’s a certain charm to Uluwatu that sets this immensely picturesque destination apart.
Lined with understated luxury resorts, chic spas, boutiques selling stylish resort wear and surf gear, and trendy restaurants, Uluwatu may not be overly glamorous but it more than makes up for it with its easy-going vibe and untouched air that gives its guests their own space to relax as they like. It’s also home to stunning clifftop vistas and some of the best coastlines on the island. I spent three blissful days here, soaking in views of rugged beaches, clifftop bars, beach clubs, and indulging in some of the best spa treatments I have ever experienced.
Basking done, I make my way to Thomas Beach, one of the prettiest beaches here. It’s also notoriously tough to get to, thanks to the nearly 200 steps one needs to take down a steep cliff to access the beach! And yes, it’s also the only way to go back. The awe-inspiring views are worth it though, as I discover. A long stretch of soft, pebbled white sand fringed by turquoise-blue waters and coconut palms makes up this beach, dotted with wooden deck chairs and umbrellas, set up by the many surf shacks operated by locals.
The owners of these shacks are busy piling large coconuts in ice coolers, so visitors can sip on chilled coconut water for respite. A bunch of surfers are bobbing in the sea, trying to catch the mid-afternoon surf. As I wade into the cold water for a dip, the waves’ cheekiness becomes apparent. Post a short adventure with their mischievousness, I decide to settle on my sunbed with a book. The quiet calm and solitude here are just what I look for when visiting a beach—a far cry from the typical scenario one is used to seeing, with beaches overrun by hawkers, sunbathers, food shacks, and more. I begin to understand the sway Uluwatu holds in Bali.
After a peaceful afternoon at Thomas Beach, I make my way to the popular Padang Padang Beach. Accessing this cove means crossing a local temple via a long stairway carved into the rocks, where monkeys are often found scampering around. We’re told to keep an eye on our belongings as the inquisitive creatures can try to pocket a thing or two, especially food! The beaches along Uluwatu are mostly accessible via cliffs that add a mesmerising touch of beauty to the surreal landscape. Some other popular picks include Nyang Nyang Beach and Green Bowl Beach. After a heady day of beach-hopping, I’m ready to call it an early night, enjoying a traditional dinner of jackfruit soup and satay lilit (usually minced meat skewers) at a local restaurant, Ulu Garden, where guests can also partake in a traditional Balinese dance with their meal.
SUNSETS AND SPREADS
In addition to the natural scenery, Uluwatu boasts a vibrant food scene, as well—from cosy brunch spots and stylish eateries to the surfer-cool shops. And the next day, I head out to experience its culinary offerings. I discover quite a few! For instance, Nourish Café is well-known among locals and tourists for its eclectic vibe, Instagram-friendly dishes, and tropical concoctions. Ours is another great pick for European and Mediterranean cuisine. Its interiors merge Balinese and Scandinavian design aesthetics with a pleasant outdoor dining space. Right next door is the popular Ours Spa, where I enjoyed a sublime Balinese massage the previous day. For a romantic meal, I would recommend CIRE, a restaurant at the Alila Villas Uluwatu, which whips up dishes alongside panoramic ocean views.
The local warungs or street stalls, sprinkled across beaches and street curbs, offer a delightful hyper-local experience while serving delicious fare like nasi goreng and mie goreng, as well as burgers. Kelly’s Warung on Bingin Beach is a very popular choice with locals and tourists alike. In recent years, several healthy, vegan-friendly cafés have sprung up across the island. Tempted, I sample vegan pancakes with cold-pressed juices, smoothie bowls that are just as Instagram-worthy as advertised, shakshuka and smashed avocado toasts, and copious amounts of tropical fruits—from bright-pink dragon fruit or pitaya to tart java plums and sweet rambutan. Jamu juice (made with turmeric, ginger, honey, and lemon) is another highly popular drink, believed to have anti-inflammatory properties.
After a day of leisure and indulging in yummy gelato to combat the heat, I’m on the lookout for Uluwatu’s gorgeous sunset points. Locals suggest I head to Single Fin, a popular dining haunt. Positioned as a casual beach bar, this cliffside eatery overlooking Suluban Beach is where everyone gathers to watch the famous Uluwatu surf break. I grab a chilled drink and settle in on one of the several outdoor decks overlooking the Indian Ocean. As dusk falls and the sky changes colours, from streaks of pink and purple to crimson, I watch surfers head deeper into the waters until they are just tiny flecks against the horizon. The 11th-century Uluwatu Temple or Pura Luhur Temple, nestled on a clifftop overlooking the ocean, is another vantage point for breathtaking sunset views. The setting also hosts a traditional Kecak (a fire dance based on ancient Balinese rituals) every evening.
It’s my last day in Uluwatu and I’ve loved every minute of the relaxed atmosphere so far. I decide to spend the evening toasting my last sunset at a beach club. And there’s no better place to do that than at Melasti Beach. Located at the southernmost point of Bali, this is where most of the nightlife activity unfolds. Palmilla is one of the recent club additions at the beach, featuring boho-chic design elements, an infinity pool overlooking the beach, cabanas, and bean bags to lounge on. The iconic glass-bottomed infinity pool at the One Eighty Day Club jutting out over a cliff at The Edge, a spectacular luxury resort, proves to be a great spot for clicking truly memorable pictures! And beautiful memories are what I will carry with me from Uluwatu. Part of an island almost synonymous with party hotspots heaving with people, this little town is a charming escape and pure Balinese gem.
Fly to Bali with Vistara’s codeshare partner Singapore Airlines and interline partners Cathay Pacific and Thai Airways.
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