Swapping Selfie Sticks for Secret Tours in Bali

I’m standing under a 700–year–old banyan tree framed by four Hindu temples – the kind of Bali scene that would typically be flooded with tourists. Instead of selfie sticks, I’m met with silence. Locals visit daily to leave flower–petal offerings (the banyan is a symbol of eternal life and is believed to house spirits), yet on this afternoon, it’s just me, my fiancé and our guide Wayhu exploring a quiet village outside the bustling epicentre of Ubud. I reach for my phone to post an Instagram story of a traditional home’s ornate doorway before remembering the one catch: I’m on a tour where taking photos is allowed, but sharing where you are is forbidden.

September 25, 2019
An illustration of tree roots

The Four Seasons Resort Bali’s “Can you keep a secret?” excursion, launched in May 2018, is the luxury hotelier’s answer to the challenge of preserving Bali’s sacred corners. The island has thousands of temples, but the most famous have become so overrun by tourists who disrespect the rules that locals no longer consider them pure. As an avid Instagrammer, it’s tough to resist the urge to geotag, but these “secret experiences” are fast becoming a way to preserve the tranquility of places for others to enjoy. In Vietnam, a local named Mr. Rot has developed a cult following for his secret tour of Dalat, where he takes guests to small markets and factories around the countryside to soak in the magic of the mundane that so often disappears once a place becomes popular.

An illustration of dropping a pin on a map

The benefit of secrecy in Bali becomes clear at our final destination, a water temple so sacred that if I’d been caught up in “shareable content,” the experience would have felt a lot less meaningful. After being blessed by a Mangku (Balinese priest) with flowers and rice, we step into a communal bathing pool for a water purification ritual that includes a circuit of fountains where we splash holy spring water over our bodies and into our mouths, cleansing the soul inside and out. As my hair dries in the wind on our drive back through lush rice fields, I am tempted to go online and gush about the details of the day. Instead, I turn off my phone and just enjoy the ride.