Bali's Ayana resort review: What it's like to stay at Bali's biggest resort

At Rimba, a hotel cocooned within Bali's sprawling Ayana resort, guests are in no hurry to check in. Instead they trot straight past the reception desk to the far end of the open-air, boat-inspired lobby where there's a ridiculously photogenic reflection pool. No matter how tired or jet-lagged, guests buzz around the aquatic feature, whipping out phones to snap pictures of the upside-down Indonesian sky. Or they strike a pose in one of the pool's two circular sunken lounges, asking companions to capture the moment. This, it turns out, is a prelude of what's to come.

Ayana is not only Bali's biggest resort with 775 rooms and suites over three properties on 90 clifftop hectares perched above the Indian Ocean – it couldn't be a more perfect fit for the Instagram age. It's not for nothing that the resort boasts 215,000 Instagram followers – a figure that outstrips many of its peers.

The destination resort's roots, though, can be traced to a time when photographs were mostly snapped on film and people turned the camera more towards scenery than themselves. Opening in 1996 as the Ritz-Carlton Bali Resort and Spa, it became Ayana Resort & Spa in 2009. Rimba opened in 2013, three years after Instagram launched, and things now – to put it mildly – are a little insane.

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Ayana's two craziest selfie spots are the River Pool and the Ocean Beach Pool. I flop onto a lounger in front of the River Pool with a magazine to while away the time. I needn't have bothered. I've inadvertently picked a front-row seat to selfie central. People are queuing for their turn to pose in a corner of the pool that hovers over another, an unusual aquatic quirk that creates layers of forget-me-not blues. What encourages these never-ending mini-shoots is that there's also a perfect spot – a high and dry ledge – from where a companion can take photos. Often the amateur model isn't happy with the results, though, and returns to the queue to try again.

The other Insta-popular spot is Ayana's infinity-edge Ocean Beach Pool. Here, a handful of cabanas fringe the cliff-side pool where guests again strike a tricky balancing act. The pose that's heart-in-mouth for those watching on is when guests lie along the pool's edge so they seem suspended between water and sky. It looks as though they could easily tumble down to the sea.

The resort is home to an astonishing 12 swimming pools but those in search of serenity should head down to the beach. In 2017, the resort opened Kubu Beach Club, which channels a retro 1960s vibe. When I pop down mid-afternoon, I'm surprised to find I can choose from any of the ocean-facing, cabana-shaded daybeds. Lazing about without having to witness a photo shoot is as blissful as bobbing about in the adjacent cove where lifesavers keep watch over guests. Instagrammers, though, are cottoning on to the allure of circular moss-fringed waterholes within the beach's rock platform.

Serenity, you would think, could be found with a sunrise yoga session under a thatch-roofed gazebo facing the sea. However, between downward dog and cobra poses, we also watch a nearby couple indulging in an early morning photo shoot. More meditative is one of Rimba's cooking classes that can include a market tour and Balinese offering ceremony. The open-air kitchen is located among the resort's evocative rice paddies and a spice garden sprouting pandan, lemongrass and turmeric. It's a glorious spot to scratch up gado gado, grilled satay sticks and nasi goreng.

Personally, I prefer other people doing the cooking. The resort is home to 19 restaurants so there's no chance of becoming gastronomically bored. One of my faves is Kampoeng Bali, which combines a street-food aesthetic with a cultural dance performance and souvenir stalls. As I fill up on wood-fired suckling pig, steamed minced duck in banana leaf, fried chicken with galangal, snapper with tomato sambal, cuttlefish skewers, grilled corn and black sticky rice with coconut ice-cream, I blow any chance of looking svelte in my swimmers.

That hardly matters, though, if you're in one of Ayana's private villas that come with its own plunge pool. Ayana is so big that guests catch free shuttles, styled as traditional wooden trams, to reach different parts of the resort (you might even spy the odd macaque in the trees as you trundle along the roads). If you're splashing out with a stay at The Villas, you skip that shuttle business and just call your butler on a resort-issued mobile to come and fetch you in a golf cart. It's amazing how quickly you adapt to having a butler at your beck and call, and enjoying luxuries such as rose-filled baths and floating champagne brunches.

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The butler can also give excellent advice on the little things, such as where to find a good scoop of ice-cream. Ayana's shopping arcade features an ice-creamery that channels the tropics with creations such as dragonfruit cinnamon sorbet. Those who are mad for matcha should scope out Damar Terrace, which serves the revered Tsujiri brand of green tea as hot tea, ice-cream, floats and more. Another insider tip is to arrive at Rock Bar early (it opens at 4pm but don't wait until 5pm or you'll be at the end of a snaking queue). The bar is perched 14 metres above the ocean. Various levels cling to the cliff and the DJ and band do their thing from atop a rocky outpost. My favourite part is a path trailing between boulders where, just for an instant, you could be in an Indiana Jones movie.

People-watching here is fascinating. Tourists in sensible shoes – perhaps they've made a wrong turn – brush past towering young ladies in backless jumpsuits who are, you guessed it, posing. Sometimes, though, the Island of the Gods has other ideas – for there's nothing like a tropical downpour to snap everyone back to their senses.

TRIP NOTES

Katrina Lobley was a guest of Ayana Resort and Spa.

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Ayana is at Jimbaran on Bali's south-west coast, 10 kilometres from the airport. The resort complex incorporates Rimba Jimbaran Bali by Ayana and The Villas at Ayana Resort Bali. Resort rates start from $US199 a night. See ayana.com.

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