We are riding the back way across Bali’s majestic mountains from Medewi to Amed. There are no major roads running east-west across the mountains because most roads follow the river valleys down to the sea.
This less travelled route takes us along small roads through rural Bali around the mountains following the contours, crossing rivers, down into valleys, through small villages, plantations and forests from Medewi on Bali’s west coast to Amed and Candidasa on the east.
Google maps estimate travel time is about 11 hours to cover 370 kilometres, we think our bike travels a bit faster than that. Trip notes follow.
Rural Bali is such an enjoyable place to tour – beautiful scenery, scattered villages, small warungs, local markets and the friendliest people. It can get cool and damp in the mountains so we’ve packed accordingly. We like to travel slow, take in the sights and stop for a chat, so a few hours travelling a day is enough.
Denpasar to Munduk
Leaving early we head west to Pekutatan, along the always busy road to Gilimanuk and the ferry to Java. Heavily laden trucks and buses compete for road space and we are happy to give them plenty. We follow the main road which turns to the south at Antosari and meets the coast near Balian Beach.
We catch glimpses of the ocean as we head onto Pekutatan and then a little further to Medewi Beach – a nice surf spot with a pebble-lined shore and fishing boats. We stop for a coffee at a beach warung, we chat with locals as we watch the surf, ‘where are you from, where are you going, you want Medewi T-shirt?’
- Side Trip: Further west at Negara, Buffalo races are usually held in the dry season on Sundays, (you need to ask around) they culminate in the Bupati Cup around Independence Day. So pack a frock!
We ride the short trip back to Pekutatan, behind the town we look for a small road with an even smaller sign ‘Bunut Bolong’. This road climbs steeply inland with views back over the ocean. Like walking past a perfume shop, at first there is just a hint, which soon becomes a scent, and then the air bursts with the fragrance of cloves and cinnamon, coffee and cacao which are neatly arranged in patches of colour on both sides on the road. Driving through plantations and villages we reach ‘Bunut Bolong’ a giant fig tree straddling the road, we take a break, take a photo and chat with local vendors. The road twists and turns through more villages, plantations and rice fields, before meeting the main road, where we head north in search of the road to Munduk. Further on we spot an obscured sign and turn east. Now Google makes it look rather straightforward, but it’s actually a little tricky, so we stop and ask for directions – we get many answers, so we ride on and eventually the Universe delivers us to Munduk.
Set on a lush misty ridge Munduk has great vistas, waterfalls, forests and interesting walks. Several small cafes line the road serving local coffee laced with local crops hmmm… chocolate coffee with cinnamon. We find a cosy little homestay clinging to the mountainside and overlooking the valley. We settle in with a cold beer and watch the sun go down over the mountains.
Munduk to Sideman
The sun rises softly over the valley, Ibu Made serves breakfast on our deck and later waves us goodbye and safe travels. The road winds through villages and terraced rice fields, we meander along a ridge with sweeping views of the twin lakes. While these two smaller lakes are less visited, there are still plenty of warungs and picnic spots and interesting villages with old temples down on the lake shores.
At the main road, the intersection is awash with smoky satay vendors. We head south to Lake Bratan and Bedugul. It’s a popular destination on weekends and holidays, full of colourful lakeside warungs, with local specialties including fresh strawberries, home brewed arak, as well as touts selling the Island Temple tours, and our favourite the swan-shaped pedal boats. It’s a quiet weekday and we surprise a couple of sleepy vendors in the empty muddy lakeside car park.
- Side Trip: Pura Ulun Danu Beratan temple complex is on the shores of the Lake Bratan. Built in 1633 and used for offerings to the water goddess, the iconic main temple roof is over 11 storeys high.
- Side Trip: Bali’s Kebun Raya Botanical Gardens is 10 minutes from Lake Bratan. The 157 hectare garden features ferns, orchids, begonias, medicinal plants and plants as materials for Balinese religious rituals.
We sample the strawberries and head south, and just after an abandoned resort we turn down a small local road that drops away quickly. This is the start of the back way to Kintamani, 30 kilometres plus of small winding roads going through less developed areas, of steep ravines and beautiful scenery. As we ride through tidy little villages, school is out – children wave as we pass taxi mums on scooters carrying two, three or four on their bikes all smiling and waving.
A little out of the main village of Pelaga we cross the Tukad Bangkung Bridge, a few sleepy but optimistic vendors are scattered along its length, we stop for a rest and a chat, it seems on weekends it’s a destination packed with visitors and vendors.
As we begin to climb again, the landscape changes, first rice terraces and plantations, then vegetable and flower gardens and then orchards and an array of road side stalls. It’s higher and cooler with occasional cloud cover, our hands and faces become chilled. As we approach Kintamani a couple of local women flag us down, it seems a bike blessing is in order, we have a little roadside ceremony and top up the local economy. Blessed and safe we run onto Kintamani, past the Temple and down the hill to the Penelokan lookout with majestic views over lake Batur – even mid-week its busy with tourists, vendors, bikes, cars and buses. In its heyday Kintamani was an overnight destination, now it’s a day-trip, so there are plenty of places to eat, but the accommodation is well past its use-by-date and as it’s still early we ride on to Sideman.
- Side Trip: Kintamani Temple. ‘Pura Ulun Danu Batur’ is one of the most important temples in Bali.
- Side Trip: The traditional village of Trunyan. Located on the far side of the lake this isolated traditional village with a notable cemetery dates back prior to the 10th century.
- Side Trip: Batur Geopark Museum. The museum presents a collection of geology, history & cultural exhibits relating to Mount Batur and Bali’s geographic history.
We leave the Penelokan lookout, head east following the ridge, on a windy canopy covered road which drops rapidly away down the mountain; about half way down we turn east and follow the contours with great views south across the hillsides to rice terraces and dramatic views north to Mt. Agung.
- Side Trip: Pura Besakih temple complex on the side of Mount Agung is Bali’s most important temple.
We pass through Selat village, turn south and onto Sideman. Sideman itself is just another village, but it has a secret – the little hamlet of Tabola just out of town. We turn into the small road, past the temple and local school, with excited ‘hello mister’ from behind the school fence. There is no traffic except a couple of local motorbikes. We find a cosy place to stay and as dusk settles we wander through this tranquil village, at the head of the valley, Mt. Agung is silhouetted against the evening sky and across the valley smoke rises from scattered cottages as farmers head home for their evening meal.
Sideman to Candidasa via Amed
The roosters announce the dawn as the first sun slips across the rice fields and the little valley slowly awakens. Over breakfast, we are quizzed by the staff, what is your name, where are you from, where are you going?
It’s a beautiful ride along an undulating road that winds its way around the slopes of Mt. Agung. The road is wet from overnight rain and dappled sunlight glances through the forest canopy. We continue on until we pick up the main road north and later we turn off and head east to Amed.
Spread out along a series of small bays, Amed has two main activities diving and relaxing. As with most tourist areas in Bali, it’s going through constant renewal with shiny new hotels and restaurants positioned next door to tired homestays and traditional warungs. As we ride around the bays we spot a new hipster café and stop for cappuccino and cake and then head off around the eastern most tip of Bali.
Less travelled, the eastern headland is a leisurely ride with only the occasional motorbike or van taking the night’s catch to market. The narrow road hugs the coast, around every bend it seems there is another fishing village with colourful boats drawn up on the sand, and the locals going about their daily chores. Towards the south the road climbs offering spectacular views across Lombok Strait. As we head back down and along the coast we pass the Water Palace near Amlapura and a bit further-on we pick up the main road, whiz past the Virgin Beach turn-off and arrive in Candidasa.
Now, Candidasa is a nice little town, well-known as an escape from the busier tourist areas in Bali, however constant through traffic and beach erosion has reduced its appeal. We still find it has a nice laid-back feel with some good snorkelling, accommodation and dining options.
Our most favourite destination is Vincent’s Restaurant and our most favourite night is Thursday – Jazz night with live music and performers from all over the country. It’s always a delightful experience, great food, music, staff and service. So it’s no coincidence that today is Thursday and our table’s reserved.
Shhhh… yes, it’s one of the reasons we came all this way.
- Side Trip: The Water Palace at Amlapura (Karangasem) originally built in 1921 and then rebuilt after the 1979 earthquake.
- Side trip: The traditional village of Tenganan is located near Candidasa. It is symmetrically laid out with walled homes and unique crafts.
- Shortcut Sideman to Candidasa
There is a delightful shortcut directly from Sideman to Candidasa, if you’re not up for the Amed trip. There is a small twisting road that starts high in the hills, often misty in the mornings, it winds and falls steeply to the coast at Manggis. There are a couple of opportunities to rest and take in the spectaculars views, as well as contribute to the wellbeing of the local basket weavers. The road meets the coast at Manggis. Turn left and continue on to Candidasa, or turn right and head back to Denpasar.
Candidasa to Denpasar
Next morning we leave Candidasa for the two hour drive to Seminyak. The drive is fairly easy although at Padang Bai, trucks and buses join the road heading to and from the Lombok Ferry. Near Kusamba on the beachfront you can watch families harvesting sea salt using traditional methods. They’re always happy to demonstrate the technique, in the hope you will buy some salt or other souvenirs. Closer to Denpasar the road is dual carriage and except for weekends moves along quickly.
Bali’s East-West Mountain Crossing
The east-west route through Bali’s mountains is not that straightforward, but neither is it that difficult. The rural roads are narrow but in good condition and there’s little traffic. There are a couple of spots where you need to pay attention to navigation, but getting lost always makes for a better story. It’s certainly a great tour and worth the effort to see what the locals say is “the real Bali”!
- “A straight line may be the shortest but it is rarely the most interesting” .
The route travels through the Bali Mountains from Medewi in the west to Amed and Candidasa in the east. Google maps estimate total travel time is about 11 hours covering 370 km.
Denpasar to Munduk 3hr 30 min 120 km
Denpasar to Pekutatan: 2 hours – 75 km. Head west along the main road to Gilimanuk, the road turns south to the coast at Antosari and continues along to Pekutatan Village. This can be a busy road, with heavy traffic heading to and from Java so drive carefully
- Side Trip: Medewi beach just past Pekutatan is a nice place for a rest. A surf haven with fishing boats and a small beach warung. Medewi can also be an overnight stop.
Pekutatan to Munduk 1 hr 30 min 45 km. Just after the market at Pekutatan take a right and head north on the Pekutatan-Papuan Rd. At about 10 km the road runs through ‘Bunut Bolong’ a gigantic fig tree. After several more twists and turns you join the main Antosari to Seririt Rd, turn left here and head north. A bit further on is a sign for Munduk, turn right, head east and weave your way to Munduk, it can be a bit tricky, so pay attention to navigation. Munduk is a good place to stay overnight.
Munduk to Sideman 3 hrs 30min 110km
Munduk – Bedugul 40 min 20 km. From Munduk, head east past the twin lakes and continue until you reach the T intersection at the Singaraja-Denpasar Rd, turn right and head south to Bedugul.
Bedugul to Kintamani 1 hr 30 min 53 km. From Bedugul head south on the Denpasar- Singaraja road at about 4 km, just after the abandoned resort, turn left and head south on a small local road – pay attention, it’s easy to miss. This is the start of the back way to Kintamani. After about 11 km, there is a well signposted turn to Plaga, turn left and head north, after Plaga continue on for some distance until the T intersection with Raya Kintamani Rd, turn right and head south onto Kintamani, Penelokan.
Kintamani to Sideman 1 hr 15 min 40 km. Leaving Penelokan turn left and head east along Batur Tengah Rd, pay attention as this is easy to miss. The road turns south and 20km further on, turn left and head east on Dewi Anon Rd, it is pretty obvious but not well signed. After 10km just past Selat turn right and head south to Sideman. In Sideman just after the market, turn right at Raya Tabola Rd. Follow this small road about 1km to the village of Tabola. Tabola is a good place to stay overnight.
Sideman to Candidasa 2hr 45min 85km
Sideman to Amed 1hr 15 min 40 km. From Tabola go back to Sideman turn left and head north to the T Intersection, turn right and head east. Follow the road through to Ababi Village about 23 km, turn left and follow the main road north. After some distance will be a sign to Amed, turn right and head east to Amed. Amed can be an overnight stop.
Amed to Candidasa 1 hour 30 min 45 km. From Amed head to Candidasa on a nice drive around Bali’s most eastern headland. Head east and follow the road around the coast. The road is in good condition and hugs the coast. Towards the south it climbs into the hills offering views over Lombok Strait. On the coast coming into Amlapura, you will pass the Water Palace; Candidasa is a further 15-20 minutes. Candidasa is a good place to stay overnight.
- Shortcut Sideman to Candidasa 40 min 20 km. From Sideman you can bypass Amed and go directly to Candidasa. From Tabola, go back to Sideman, turn left and head north to the T Intersection, turn right and head east after a bridge crossing take the turnoff to Putung, turn right and head south towards the coast. This small windy road starts high in the hills, then falls steeply and meets the coast at Manggis. Turn left and continue a short distance to Candidasa, or turn right and head back to Denpasar.
Candidasa to Denpasar 2 hours 65 km:
This drive is fairly easy, with some extra traffic from the Lombok Ferry at Padang Bai. Closer to Denpasar the road is dual carriage and except for weekends moves along quickly.