Physically, Bali is divided in half, east to west, by a volcanic mountain chain, and north to south by deep river gorges. Black volcanic sand is the norm, but white sand beaches periodically dot the coast, with some of the most spectacular either on the Bukit or hidden in the east. The island is dominated by two active volcanoes, Gunung Agung, the apex of Balinese religious and cultural belief, and Gunung Batur, with its twin calderas and shimmering lake. The northwest is given over mainly to national park, the central mountains to coffee and crops, and the remote east with its pebble beaches and crystal clear seas, to diving and snorkeling.
South Bali -- The triangular wedge of tropical lowlands south of Ubud to the Bukit Peninsula is the most developed area of Bali. The tourist hub of Seminyak-Legian-Kuta is next door to the international airport and provides a convenient first stop and a good base for day trips. Kuta is perhaps the most developed, with the cheapest digs on the island. The tourist influx means this is the place to come for nightlife, which attracts a younger, backpacking crowd, but you'll find much better fine-dining options in Seminyak. Unfortunately, Kuta Beach has a very strong current, which makes swimming difficult and dangerous, but it's a surfer's paradise with rip curls and challenging waves. Seminyak is certainly Bali's chicest "village," home to the majority of the island's expats and upscale accommodation.
Denpasar is Bali's capital, with a population of over a half-million. Though most visitors completely bypass the city for more idyllic surrounds, it is home to the Bali Museum, one of the island's best for a general overview of Balinese history and culture.
Though Sanur has a history of hosting international visitors that dates to the beginning of the 20th century, it maintains a level of tranquility near impossible to find in the tourist mania of Seminyak-Legian-Kuta. Surfing, windsurfing, scuba diving, and snorkeling are the main attractions here. Just off shore are the islands of Penida, Lembongan, and Ceningan, which provide some of Bali's finest scuba diving and are an easy boat ride from the mainland.
Bukit Peninsula -- This dollop of land just to the south of the airport is not only a favorite among globetrotting surfers, but also hot on the list of hotel and resort developers. Jimbaran Bay, just past the airport, is famous for its beach lined with seafood restaurants. Nusa Dua is a government-sponsored and -built walled high-end resort that sits above the eastern cliffs and is soon to be joined by a similar new development, Pecatu Indah, on the west. In the meantime, the surf still rages at Uluwatu, one of Bali's, and indeed the world's, most famous waves.
Ubud -- Simply put, Ubud's raison d'être is to be Balinese. The island's rich culture -- with traditions, artistry, and spirituality that encompass seemingly every aspect of daily life -- thrives here in a multitude of temples, museums, art galleries, and artisan villages. Money and development in Ubud is funneled toward preserving traditions and encouraging cultural innovations; international chain companies are kept at bay. You cannot visit Bali without seeing Ubud.
Central Mountains -- Volcanic Gunung Batur, with its double caldera, is the biggest draw for visitors to the central mountains. But as a visitor, your experience of the mountain may be sullied by overly aggressive touts and busloads of tourists. Certainly the view from the top at sunrise will be worth it. Don't overlook the other highland charms hidden in villages on the volcano's slopes. Bring your hiking shoes and warm clothes -- it's a different world up here.
East -- The volcanic chain of mountains that dominate Bali's landscape are home to the center of the Balinese world: Gunung Agung. On the drive up to the mountain and Pura Besakih, Bali's largest and holiest temple, you'll pass through one of Bali's most scenic areas, the Sidemen Valley. East Bali also has its fair share of gorgeous coastline and some of Bali's greatest scuba diving and snorkeling is right off the shore of Tulamben and Amed.
North -- North Bali's string of seaside villages and resorts are cut off from the south by the mountains.
West -- The western half of Bali is dominated by the West Bali National Park, with its hiking and bird-watching, and supreme diving off Menjangan Island.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.