The legends of Bali are many, from serpent guardians and cave-dwelling goddesses to Eat, Pray, Love. But the reality of this Indonesian island is somewhat less mystical: Amid the mist-covered rice paddies and sacred temples is another Bali—one where the white-sand beaches are crammed with tourists and the once-wild jungles have been stripped of their trees to make way for yet another yoga retreat.
Uncovering the true essence of this storied isle requires a journey beyond the well-traveled resort towns into villages like Keliki (where the new Capella Ubud is injecting the waning rainforest with a dose of much-needed sustainability) and Abiansemal (where Kul Kul Farm is leading a fresh revolution in indigenous cuisine). The hyper-local focus is catching on in some rather unexpected ways, too, with new hotels—and some long-established favorites—digging deep to offer native experiences that bypass the tourist track altogether. Indeed, today’s modern Bali—chic boutiques, beach bars, luxury resorts, and all—is still capable of opening a window to that legendary Island of the Gods. Here’s how to find it.