There are few destinations where the term paradise lost cuts deeper than Bali's overdeveloped west coast. But in the island's eastern highlands and on its eastern seaboard, the knockout natural beauty the Indonesian province has been renowned for remains largely intact.
The deep religiosity of the Balinese Hinduism blended with Buddhism, ancestor worship and a sprinkle of white magic continues to thrive in the east too. See it in all its glory from Aug. 29 to Sept. 7, when islanders travel en masse to their ancestral villages for Galungan, a major festival for the Balinese Hindus.
Marking the period when deities are believed to return to the island created as a shrine in their honor, Galungan comprises 10 days of temple visits, family gatherings and quirky animist rituals to exorcise demons and pay tribute to the gods. The feast of Kuningan takes place at the end of Galungan. Gatherings are generally restricted to family and close friends, though restaurants in the east rise to the occasion by spicing up menus with holiday foods like jaja (colored cakes made of fried glutinous-rice dough) and lawar babi (a spicy pork-and-coconut dish). Coupled with the colorful festivities, these tantalizing morsels help locals and visitors alike reconnect with the Island of Gods. Check out these other east-coast highlights.
A string of fishing villages lining Bali's easternmost peninsula, Amed is reminiscent of the west-coast hot spot of Kuta in the 1970s. From alfresco seafood restaurants to small bars and boutique B&Bs, infrastructure in Amed is low-key, low impact and locally owned. The beach oscillates in color from gray to jet black, a remnant of the violent volcanic explosions that formed this gently meandering coast. The sand is fronted by coral gardens teeming with tropical fish and rated among the island's most idyllic snorkeling spots. Rise at dawn to see fleets of triangular-sailed outriggers returning to port with the morning catch, or charter one yourself to trawl for mackerel, wahoo and dogtooth tuna.
2. The USAT Liberty Wreck
A half-hour drive north of Amed, Tulamben is the jewel in the crown of eastern Bali's dive industry. It's the site of the wreck of the USAT Liberty, an American supply boat torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942. PADI-accredited operators like Dive Concepts Bali offer day- and night-dive trips of the shipwreck, plus multiday safaris that take in Nusa Penida and Gili Selang islands. Visit diveconcepts.com for more information.
A dreamlike village hidden within the velvet green rice terraces of the Sidemen Valley, Sidemen is a haven for peace and introspection. The German painter Walter Spies relocated to the village in the late 1930s to escape the commotion of Ubud in central Bali a move New Age travelers have been emulating for a few years. They spend their time hiking, meditating, practicing yoga and attending Balinese-language, painting and cooking classes, or simply immersing themselves in the rhythms of village life. A one-stop shop for all of the above, Nirarta Centre for Living Awareness (awareness-bali.com), has six bungalows set in a flower-filled garden overlooking the Unda River.
4. Mount Agung
At 3,142 m, Mount Agung is the highest and most active volcano in Bali. When it last erupted in 1963, rivers of lava came within meters of Besakih, the island's largest temple complex. Balinese flock to Besakih during Galungan to pray for the victory of dharma (good) over adharma (evil) and leave flowers, yellow rice and other traditional offerings. Besakih is also the start of one of three routes used to scale Mount Agung. It incorporates an overnight stay in a tent with the final leg traversed on all fours. An easier route, tackling the mountain's southern peak, departs from Pasar Agung, a temple not far from the village of Selat. Discovered by master guide Wayan Wiji Yasa, tel: (62) 8523 7250 607, the route requires three to four hours to reach the summit. Views look into the crater and over at Mount Rinjani, the highest volcano on Lombok, Bali's sister island.
5. Pantai Pasir Putih
The beautiful Pantai Pasir Putih (White Sand Beach) stands in contrast to the black volcanic beaches that typify Bali's coasts an angel among demons. Bookended by dramatic limestone cliffs, it is a coconut-lined half-moon bay and the stuff tropical-island postcards are made of. Access is restricted by a heavily rutted track or a half-hour boat ride from Alam Asmara Dive Resort & Spa (alamasmara.com) in nearby Candidasa. That's kept development blissfully at bay, though a row of cafés squatting on the middle of the beach could be harbingers of what's to come.