East of Jimbaran on Bali's southern peninsula is the island's very own Shangri La. The history of the Nusa Dua gated hotel complex dates back to the early 1970s, when it was conceptualised and built by the Indonesian government-owned Bali Tourism Development Corporation (BTDC). The idea was to insulate the local communities from the vagaries of foreign tourists and to insulate the foreign tourists from the vagaries of the local communities.
In many ways they were successful: Nusa Dua feels like a luxury bauble affixed with five-star bandaids to the rest of Bali. The lawns are manicured, the footpaths lack random holes, the roads are smooth and have curbing and guttering. Grandiose resorts overlook (imported) sandy beaches that are as free of roving merchants and hustlers as they are of natural shade. There's not a warung in sight and every bill comes with at least two pluses attached. All in all, the only thing remotely Indonesian about the whole place are the gouging taxi drivers and their forever handicapped meters.
As you may have guessed, Nusa Dua isn't at the top of our favourite places list, but for many, especially families looking for an all-encompassing beach holiday and upmarket travellers with the means, Nusa Dua really fits the bill. There's even a golf course. Indeed some lovely hotels lie within the "reserve" and many international five-star brands are represented. Just bear in mind that there are fabulous hotels across Bali and many have done just fine intermingling with the local communities. Within Nusa Dua, expect to receive premium service and amenities — at a premium price.
If you do opt for a luxury hotel in Nusa Dua, do try to make the effort to "jump the fence" now and then to see what some of the rest of Bali has to offer. Even a trip up to the northern reaches of Tanjung Benoa will give you at least some contact with normality and the island's rich culture. If the Bukit is the fist and Nusa Dua is the knuckle, Tanjung Benoa is most definitely the finger — stretching up towards Serangan Island and Sanur, what was once a long thin sandbar offers protection to the remaining mangroves and waters of Benoa Harbour.
Nusa Dua Explore
Watersports at Tanjung Benoa
As a general guide, one round of parasailing or a 15-minute ride on a banana boat will cost 100,000 rupiah. A 15-minute ride on a jet ski will cost 200,000 rupiah. Often operators will have two price lists — one for locals and one for foreign guests. The first step is to ask nicely for the local price list and then commence negotiation as even the local price list is an ambit claim.
You will typically see families opting for banana boat rides and younger people opting for jet skis, but other more bizarre options are on offer such as being towed on an inflatable raft that once at speed takes off out of the water with the occupant hanging on for dear life. While few problems arise, there have been fatalities in the past, particularly with the parasailing, so do take care and try to select an operator that seems to know what they're doing.
The dishes are prepared to Western standards but still retain Balinese flavours of dishes such as sate, banquet-style rijsttafel and even a range of vegetarian options. This is the place to come for Balinese food if you are worried about hygiene standards in the warungs. Because of its popularity, bookings are recommended. You can go quite a while in Bali without stumbling across true Balinese dishes on a menu: your nasi goreng, cap cay, mie goreng and even most sate are imports from China and Java. Yet Bali’s is a delicious, rich cuisine and it’s not only worth tracking down babi guling and ayam betutu while you’re here — why not learn how to cook a few dishes as well? Imagine a combination of the following minced, simmered then smeared over your favourite meat or veggies: chillies, garlic, shallots, fresh turmeric, ginger, coriander seeds, tamarind, shrimp paste, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaf, salam leaf, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper, etc.
A Balinese bumbu, or spice paste, features a combination of those ingredients and is the key to many of Bali’s home-grown dishes. It’s among the first recipes covered in the one-day cooking course at Bumbu Bali, one of the few restaurants serving only real-deal local cuisine. Opened in 1997, Bumbu Bali is run by Heinz von Holzen, author of several cookbooks on Balinese and Indonesian cuisine. The Swiss chef originally came to the region to work with Hyatt and Hilton in Singapore, before moving to Bali to open the Grand Hyatt as executive chef; he later opened the Ritz Carlton (now the Ayana) as executive chef.
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Warung Babi Guling Pak Dobiel
After asking for a portion, you will be presented with a bowl of spicy soup with some bones and scraps of meat on them — this soup is incredibly delicious and be sure not to consume the lot as you may well want it to mix with your rice when the main meal arrives.
The pork arrives on a bed of rice and is heavily spiced, accompanied by some vegetables and usually a bit of crackling and some crispy pig skin. The portions here are not massive and it's not uncommon to find those with more money buying a second portion, such is the popularity of the pork here. If you want to try babi guling the way the local people love it, this is the place in Nusa Dua to try. This nondescript warung on the side of the road is not inside the gated Nusa Dua resort complex, but is a short cab ride away in the village of Nusa Dua, to the west of the resorts and to the south of the main road to the airport.
Bemos do travel to and from here into Kuta and Denpasar, but they are infrequent and unreliable.
Most people will choose to catch a cab and use hired vehicles and cabs to move around from place to place. If you have your own hired car, most of the larger hotels have valet parking, so just pretend to be visiting a guest and have all your parking needs taken care of.
Taxis to and from the Kuta/airport area should cost around 100,000 rupiah and short trips within Tanjung Benoa and Nusa Dua no more than 15,000 rupiah. Always insist that the taxi driver uses the meter.