Uluwatu, meaning ‘top or tip’ (ulu) and ‘rock’ (watu), is the famed surfing mecca located on the south-western tip of he bukit peninsula. Home to the Para Luhur Uluwatu Temple, it is equally known for its waves.
Gerry Lopez, aka Mr. Pipeline, the well-known American surfer and shaper (now 67) first surfed Uluwatu back in ‘74. Back then the fabled wave was apparently pristine, magical and empty. Gary returned some 40 years later to discover it was no longer so. Bustling, over-developed and a different scene altogether - but not one to deter the throng of surfers from around the world who still hit these shores today to enjoy Uluwatu’s famed left hand breaks that seem to go on forever. It’s beautiful here.
Like its neighbor Bingin, Uluwatu also boasts a whole bunch of Warungs and little stores that are built into the cliffs (the Pecatu Village). They sell and rent out boards, paddleboards, touristy stuff, and provide food, drink, repairs and even massage - whatever you’re needing first.
In terms of accommodation, there is plenty on offer and something to suit every budget.
On this recent trip though, we were very fortunate to be staying at Alila Villas Uluwatu. Perched on top of limestone cliffs, high above the Indian Ocean, the views from here are absolutely spectacular and the hotel itself is outrageously beautiful. From the moment we got out of the cab on arrival (Alila provides complimentary transfers), our jaw was permanently dropped. Exquisite clean lines and minimalist design. Lots of white. Manicured gardens. A stunning infinity pool. But quite possibly the most impressive of all, the cabanas - constructed out of flat black lava slabs - these “bird-cage” like structures jut out over the ocean and around the swimming pool - perfect for lounging around in (and endless photo opportunities). Sunbathing inside one is like “sunbathing inside a giant Jenga game”, we heard someone say! But more on the villas below.
Here are a few of our favorite things for Uluwatu (please also refer to our Bingin guide for more to do on the Bukit)…
Nalu Bowls: at Single Fin (they have two other locations as well - Seminyak and Canggu). Hawaiian for wave, Nalu here in Uluwatu is the perfect place to come and enjoy your Acai bowl while watching the surf below. Nalu's bowls are full of local ingredients, homemade granola (baked fresh everyday) and lots of fresh fruit. Great smoothies as well.
Finns Beach Club: catch the inclinator down, and stay awhile. The beach club is located on a private beach that is part of the Samara Resort, you will be asked to pay about $30 to enter, but you can then redeem some of this back on your food and drink, your sunbed, towel etc. Be sure to visit at low tide. Bonfires sometimes, and good beats as well.
Karma Kandara: a day well spent. As is the case with Finns at the Samara, you will have to pay an entry fee to gain access to the Karma Kandara resort beach (around $30) but this will also be credited back to your food and drinks. A cable car will take you down the limestone cliffs to the beach, where its an awesome spot for lunch and a drink.
Bulgari Resort: for the perfect sundowner. Before arriving, we thought it might be a little too fancy for our liking, but how wrong we were. The Bulgari is an absolutely stunning resort - opulent and tranquil. A golf cart will escort you from reception down to the clifftop bar, where you can choose your day bed or bar stool and menus will be promptly offered and snacks delivered as well. I’m not sure if its just because it was rainy season (January) when we were there, but it was quiet and chilled and super laid-back and friendly. The views are incredible. The service was impeccable. A really beautiful place to watch the sun go down.
Sunday sessions at Single Fin: something we were told not to miss. We liked it here - yes, the views are awesome (especially at that magic hour), but it was very touristy (largely jam-packed full of Aussies (not that we have a problem with that!!!)). Its by no means classy, but fine for a couple of coronas or a jug of margarita to watch the sun go down. You cant argue with an Uluwatu sunset!!!
Alila Villas Uluwatu
To say we were rendered completely speechless on arrival to Alila Villas Uluwatu would be the greatest understatement. Designed by Singapore-based architects WOHA, nothing can prepare you for the view that awaits you as you first walk into the circle-shaped lobby.
A super contemporary and architecturally-astonishing design hotel perched atop the rugged cliffs of the Bukit peninsula, the Alila experience is one that will stay with you for a long time. With exceptional views over the Indian Ocean, Alila’s design is both dramatic and eco-friendly, housing over 80 spacious villas across 14-hectares, surrounded by terraces, pools and manicured gardens. The harmony with nature is expressed in everything from the locally-sourced and reclaimed building materials, to the seamless transitions between indoor and outdoor living and dining. The most dramatic (and most-photographed) of all - the bird-cage like cabanas - made out of flat black lava slabs - that jut out over the cliffs and swimming pool.
Your own private villa comes complete with a plunge pool (which you can literally jump into straight from you sofa), a deluxe double bathroom (with a set of tailored bath products for him and her - we were obsessed with the lip balms), indoor and outdoor rain showers, and king size beds. The interiors are modern and minimalist, with traditional Balinese touches perfectly incorporated as well - recycled wood, stone, bamboo and rattan. Not only that, you are also allocated your own personal butler who is basically available around the clock to cater to your every whim.
Go beach hunting. Uluwatu is home to many of the island’s best beaches. Jump on a scooter (these can be easily hired anywhere) and explore. Our favourite…the beach down the cliffs from ‘Thomas Homestay’. This was the best tip we received all trip. A hidden little spot that we definitely wouldn't have found on our own. Look out for the Thomas Homestay sign on the road between Uluwatu and Bingin. Park your scooters outside of the homestay and then take the (hundreds of) stairs down the cliffs. Here you will find the quietest, dreamiest beach we found during our time on the Bukit. Its truly paradise (…so keep it on the down low ok?!!). Check out Balangan, Dreamland, Padang Padang as well.
We must admit, we didn't actually see the temple ourselves! We attempted to…but the day we got there, it was super busy, and there were so many busloads of tourists and queues, and monkeys everywhere, and it was exceptionally hot and it was just all a bit much! We decided the Temple wasn't going anywhere in a hurry, and we would one day return to see it in the flesh. But for sure its something you should do!!!
Dine at both the Alila restaurants - The Warung (for traditional and wholesome Indonesian food) and CIRE (for East Asian flavours married with Western cooking techniques). The food is almost as impressive as the design. We had a 6-course tasting menu at Warung one evening which was exceptional. The Warung “Megibung” is a traditional Balinese dining experience in which people share a meal on a plate in a festive feast. The purpose being to strengthen a social tie amongst the village members. Our feast started with minced fish sate on lemongrass skewers, followed by all sorts of other wonderfully flavored and colored delights. Our favourites - the tuna salad with shallot and lemongrass dressing, and the green bean salad with chicken and grated coconut. So fresh, so much colour and so full of flavour. It was an amazing way to experience so many local dishes (we were bursting afterwards).
Uluwatu Temple (Pura Luhur Uluwatu). Set atop the edge of a rocky cliff on the Bukit, this temple was founded by a Javanese Hindu priest in the 10th century. Considered one of the nine directional temples on the island, the temple sits 70m above the ocean below. Look out for the monkeys (we really cant stand those pesky monkeys!!! Sorry).
Breakfast each morning is served at CIRE, and is an indulgent feast. Each dish is tasting plate-sized, with the aim being for you to try as many dishes as possible. With both western and asian influences, it was fun to try some local Indonesian dishes we had never heard of (as well as old favorites such as nasi goreng). We loved the Kolek Pisang- finger banana in coconut milk, and the Pisang Bakar Coklat Keju - grilled bananas with chocolate and cheese (trust me). There is always a healthy daily juice and smoothie, and the coffee is good as well.
Book in for a treatment at the day spa (or try a few). Spa Alila engages holistic and organic health and wellness principles, putting a contemporary spin on ancient Asian healing techniques. The space itself is luxurious and inviting. We sank into a world of bliss with a totally sublime 4-handed massage. Two therapists, synchronized movements. The ultimate indulgence.
Rent a scooter. Alila can organize for a scooter to be delivered to your doorstep (and this was the nicest scooter we had in our time in Bali - a brand new scoopy). They also provide lovely new helmuts, bottles of cold water, maps etc. Everything you’ll need for a day out and about on the Bukit.
Check out Alila’s private beach (at low tide). Take the 600-step descent down a rocky cliffside path from the hotel to the beach below. The perfect way to work off your breakfast. Its a bit of a mission getting down, but probably a little harder getting back up! Its a beautiful beach, and it will likely be completely yours. The currents can be strong, so just be a little careful if you’re going to swim.
Hang out in bingin (see our Bingin guide for more details).
Rent bicycles and ride out to nearby rice paddies or beaches.
Take a tour of the temples - the ‘Journey of Enlightenment’ is just one of seven customized activities that are designed for guests to integrate indigenous nature, traditional culture and local community for an unparalleled guest experience. This tour affords guests privileges access to five of the holiest and lesser-visited temples on Bali's south coast.
And yoga. Make sure you check out the daily yoga practice that is held in the lovely glass box (it does get a bit hot though!) yoga shala at 9am each morning. This was the best start to our Alila day.
And surf, of course.
[uluwatu soundtrack. like an animal]
We learnt that Alila is the Sanskrit word for ‘surprise’ and to pinch an expression coined by another reviewer, we too were completely “alila’d” by this incredible experience.