Bali’s New Wave
Prior to 2020, Bali was cranking with experiential leisure packages, unique activities, and an incredible assortment of ultra-luxe resorts trying to outdo one another. Once visas and quarantines became required to visit, tourism rates to the small Indonesian archipelago dropped and it seemed that paradise was completely closed. Now, before the crowds return and immigration requirements change, you can apply for a social visa and still do all the things with more space and privacy for yourself.

While new destinations become hot each year before being passed over, Bali maintains perennial popularity and following a quiet year, demand is especially pent up. Synonymous with the imagined ideal of tropical South Pacific island bliss, it has beautiful beaches, and lots of them. But frankly there are great beaches all over the world, and given that it takes a real effort to get here, most visitors expect more than just sun and sand. Primed for the red-hot, post-lockdown experiential travel movement, Bali is now more relevant than ever, having given rise to the trends of immersive yoga, touring by bicycle, and cooking class vacations. Here’s where to stay depending on what you’d like to do.

Coveted Culinary Courses

As the sole Hindu island in an archipelago of more than 1,000, Bali is jammed with temples to a degree unknown in the rest of Indonesia, causing constant head spinning for culturally or architecturally interested visitors. At the same time, the Hindu diet, eschewing beef but embracing pork (roast suckling pig is the island’s obsessively beloved signature dish) in the midst of a Muslim country that does the exact opposite, makes Balinese cuisine distinctly different from Indonesian or any other Asian style. The delicious mashup includes noodles, rice, tropical fruits, meats, fish, spices, and a heavy splash of lasting influence from Dutch colonists.

The Anantara Seminyak ( features an outpost of its Spice Spoons cooking school, a brand-wide trademark, though sessions are more delicious demonstrations than hands-on learning. The rooftop restaurant has excellent cuisine and some of Bali’s finest sunset views. Many of the fancier resorts on Bali operate French or Italian eateries as their signature option, while Anantara opts for a deep dive into Balinese and Indonesian cuisine. The Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan ( features a standalone riverfront cooking school, Sokasi, which is the envy of its rivals, with a dedicated demonstration kitchen under an open-air awning of interlaced bamboo, set amid the resort’s extensive chef’s kitchen gardens. Key ingredients of Balinese flavors such as ginger, Kaffir lime, turmeric, and coriander are all freshly plucked for classes, and options include festival specialties and standards of Balinese cuisine, all led by the superlative resort sous chef and Bali native Wayan Sutariawan. Classes begin with a morning field trip to Ubud’s market, followed by about two hours of hands-on instruction, culminating in a delicious, self-created lunch.

Hiking, Biking, and Rafting

Rice, the most local of dishes, grows in abundance on the island, and jaw-dropping terraced rice paddies, with their elaborate, centuries-old canal irrigation systems, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These in turn feed an entire industry of rice paddy, jungle, and countryside hiking and cycling tours. The island’s volcanic topography makes for some dramatic and athletic uphill hikes and less strenuous downhill bike tours.

Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve (, the third among five global locations of Ritz-Carlton’s higher-tier Reserve brand, focuses on highly curated outings with top-notch guides and behind-the-scenes access. Mandapa’s unusually extensive slate of excursions makes every effort to get guests off the beaten path. The signature half- and full-day Vintage Volkswagen tours employ classic and meticulously restored VW 181 convertibles, loaded with a full wicker picnic hamper and itineraries that include a highlight reel of Bali sights as well as a more curated Hidden Gem tour featuring less visited locales, including smaller temples arranged by special permission. Even the shortest 90-minute mountain bike trip accesses otherwise hidden back alleys and includes a by-permission visit to the guide’s friend’s private home—a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the real-life walled compound architecture on which so many of Bali’s luxury hotels are based.

Given its elevated opulence, Mandapa also offers a surprisingly impressive array of longer and more aggressive 4–6-hour treks and bike trips visiting the less developed periphery of Bali, which few visitors see. Since the resort opened in 2015 (its beachfront “regular Ritz-Carlton” sister, on the southern coast in Nusa Dua, opened in 2014), the signature exertion experience has been the sunrise ascent of Mount Batur, a miniature version of Africa’s famed Kilimanjaro experience. Guests set out in the dead of night, around 3 a.m., to ascend Bali’s second-highest volcano, completing the two-hour hike in time to watch the stunning sunrise from its summit. This is such a popular Bali excursion that tour operators hawk trips in the street, with guides of unknown provenance for hire and crowded trails. Mandapa circumvents all this by using the best and most highly certified mountain guides, its own cars, and a smaller, more exclusive parking area that gives its guests access to a much less crowded route. Guides carry boxed breakfasts to enjoy at the top.

Back at Four Seasons’ Sayan resort, its location on Bali’s longest river makes private rafting trips another signature experience. There are many day-trip whitewater outfitters serving other hotels, but the Four Seasons uses its own guides, rafts, a better located launch point, and best of all, while everyone else has to hike out of the deep river valley and shuttle home, this two-hour trip ends right at the resort. In 2019, the resort rolled out a three-night immersive wellness stay package as a new year-round program. But that’s a given as spas and yoga studios are ingrained in Balinese culture.

Just Say Om

Opened in 2017 as one of the most exclusive and secretive properties on the island, Hoshinoya Bali ( takes water very seriously. The Japanese hotel operator whose roots go back over a century started with ryokans (with in-house onsen, or hot springs bathing areas) in Karuizawa, Japan. In Bali, the 30 architecturally unique one- and two-story guest villas open onto private pools. The resort is laid out as a watery, Zen-like village set in the thick mountainous jungle outside Ubud. With one fine-dining eatery and a large spa, the focus here is on a cloistered, escapist, high-touch experience.

In addition to the aquatic focus at COMO Uma Canggu, spa, wellness, and yoga are main events. With the brand’s signature Shambhala Retreat and healthy cuisine menus, two Pilates studios (with reformers), two yoga studios (one offering aerial classes), and a heavy calendar of scheduled classes like TRX, not to mention the swinging daybeds and sun loungers surrounding a pool that overlooks the ocean, Uma Canggu makes it hard to leave the property.

Six Senses Bali ( overlooks the surf from a dramatic clifftop in southernmost Uluwatu, near one of Bali’s most famous temples. A hybrid of the Balinese resort model and a more traditional beach hotel, the property has that less formal, more relaxed vibe centric to the Six Senses ethos of “reconnecting” and features sprawling accommodations with open-air elements and private pools. Besides easy access to water sports, a reason to visit is the wellness screenings and bespoke personal programs.

Out of Africa

Three years ago, Indonesia’s first tented resort arrived. While it claims to be modeled on the early camps used by European explorers (mainly Dutch) in Southeast Asia circa 1800, it’s a good bet that those original camps had no plunge pools, wine fridges, aerial yoga facilities, or mountain bike trails.

Capella Ubud, Bali ( has transported the high-end African safari lodge model of Singita or Zarafa to the misty tropical jungle around Ubud, the island’s primary tourist town. Capella Personal Assistants service each of the 22 one-bedroom tented camp compounds outfitted with vast outdoor decks for eating, drinking, and lazing; indoor and outdoor showers; private pools; and spacious interiors with hammered, oversize copper tubs and elaborate minibars set within antique campaign chests.

The resort was conceived in part so that its owner, an Indonesian steel tycoon, would have a place to display his extensive Asian art collection, and each tent and all common areas are adorned with original collectible pieces. They even throw in daily laundry service (normal on safari but not in Bali). Each retreat is unique, but most have multilevel decks, rope swing bridges, and cantilevered pools; these are “tents” in the same sense that 10 Downing Street is a townhouse (there is also a two-bedroom, non-tented lodge aimed at families). —Larry Olmsted