Bali’s attractions draw a range of people, from backpackers and expats, to families and honeymooners. This once laid back tropical and volcanic island has become world famous for its gorgeous beaches, rolling mountains and unique cultural, spiritual and artistic flair. Bali can be very cheap or moderately expensive, depending on your needs. Stay in a resort or hotel and book a tour, hire a private guide, jump in a taxi or bus, or rent a bicycle, motorbike or car to get around.
The island’s most famous beaches are in North Kuta, just a short drive north from the international airport at Denpasar, Bali’s capital city. Kuta Beach and Legian Beach are a surfer’s paradise. In the villages of Kuta and Legian, markets, bars, water parks and food outlets keep the crowds entertained. Head to Sanur Beach, on the east coast, to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere that makes this part of the island popular with families.
Spend a few days inland, among the rice paddies and forests of Tegallalang Village or Ubud to see a more cultural side of Bali. Ubud is Bali’s artistic capital, so take your pick from the Puri Lukisan Museum, Neka Art Museum, Antonio Blanco Museum and the Arma Museum. Take a yoga class, bike along rice paddies or see the macaques on the temples’ roofs in Ubud Monkey Forest. Don’t miss the mysterious Elephant Cave, and take a dip in the ninth-century Tirta Empul baths.
South of Ubud, meet the animals at the Bali Zoo and Bali Bird Park. North of Ubud, in central Bali, is the Gunung Kawi Temple, carved into the mountain. In South Kuta is idyllic Jimbaran Beach. Head here to enjoy a seafood banquet with your toes in the sand. On the east coast of South Kuta is Nusa Dua with Mengiat Beach and the Pasifika Museum. On the southwest coast, the Uluwatu Temple sits atop rugged cliffs, one of the best places on the island to watch the famous Bali sunset.
The allures of Bali has made many travellers to come and visit Bali as their place of refugee from the harshness of the modern world. From navigating the crowds to being monkey-savvy, there are a few tricks to getting the best out of a trip to Bali. We’ve rounded up 15 top tips to bank for your next visit to the Island of the Gods.
Expect the crowds and the traffics
One of the most touristed islands on earth, Bali isn’t exactly an untouched paradise. But while it can be difficult to escape the throngs of south Bali and Ubud, determined solitude seekers will be pleased to find loads of secluded corners beyond these primary tourist centres. Tip: head to the central mountains, or Bali’s more chilled-out north and west coasts.
Choose your home base carefully
It pays to put some thought into your Bali base, as chaotic traffic and hot weather are likely to make you stick close to your hotel or guesthouse rather than wander far on foot or sit in stuffy taxis. If you’re looking for real R&R, Kuta probably isn’t your thing. If you want to shop up a storm and eat more than your body weight in fine food, a week on Nusa Lembongan isn’t likely to leave you fully satiated.
Sudden attack of ‘Bali belly’ will make you occupy toilets for hours
Strict dietary habits are no longer required to prevent spending your Bali break within two steps of a toilet. Bali have many foods to offer from Bataknese porks to Balinese styled Betutu chicken were best served while hot. Once upon a time, salads, cut fruit, ice cubes and most meats were on the danger list, but hygiene standards have improved markedly across the island, and many kitchens offer good quality organic produce. While dodgy prawns will always be out there, by staying hydrated, avoiding notorious local liquor arak and consuming street food with a degree of caution, the dreaded Bali belly should be kept at bay.
Dress wise for the occasion
Beachwear doesn’t always cut it in Bali – many higher-end bars, restaurants and clubs enforce a dress code. If you’re unsure, call ahead to save the potential embarrassment of being turned away.
Balinese are religious
Religion rules the roost in Bali. Don’t get your knickers in a knot when a street is blocked off for a ceremony or your driver pulls over mid-trip to make a blessing – this is all part of the magic of the island. With a population of 4,225,000 as 2014, the island is home to most of Indonesia’s Hindu minority. According to the 2010 Census, 83.5% of Bali’s population adhered to Balinese Hinduism, followed by 13.4% Muslim, Christianity at 2.5%, and Buddhism 0.5%. Therefore, plan accordingly if your travel dates fall on Nyepi when everything in Bali (even the airport) shuts down for the day, and always dress modestly (covering the shoulders and knees) and conduct yourself appropriately when visiting temples and holy sites.
Keep a look out on the price tags
It’s still possible to visit Bali on a shoestring by staying in guesthouses, dining at warungs and shopping at local markets, but you can just as easily blow your life savings as drinks, meals, spa treatments and room rates at high-end establishments are priced similarly to that in Australia, the UK and the US. Look out for online discounts and happy hour deals.
Be cautious of stray hoboes and wild animals
Not only hobos (homeless tourist or locals), but you also have to give wild and stray animals a wide berth. They may look cute, but rabies and other diseases are serious risks in Bali and monkeys are notorious for their thieving ways. Bali’s stray dogs are numerous, and often in pretty bad shape. If you’re keen to make a difference, consider making a ‘doggy donation’ to Bali Dog Refuge (balidogrefuge.com) which helps to rescue and rehabilitate the island’s stray pups.
Bring your own water bottles anywhere and avoid mineral waters if necessary
Bali’s heat and humidity urge for constant hydration, but consider the environment before purchasing another bottled drink. An estimated three million plastic bottles are discarded in Bali each month; help reduce this figure by investing in a stainless steel bottle that you can refill; most good cafes and restaurants have a water filter available that you can use for free or for a small fee. Earth Café in Seminyak has stainless steel bottles available for purchase.
Learn the basic local’s words and their lingua francas
A few basic words of Bahasa Indonesia will take you a long way in Bali. Try selamat pagi (good morning), tolong (please) and terima kasih (thank you), for starters.
Remember these formulas: low season = rainy days + floods + indoors
Be mindful of Bali’s rainy season (January to April and October to November) when planning your trip. Discounts can be great, but if you end up spending your holiday cooped up indoors, you may be left wondering if making the trip was worth it. Fortunately, the rains are often limited to brief afternoon downpours, so your holiday isn’t likely to be a total write-off.
Bargain respectfully, locals expect your wallet is full and your credit card is limitless
You can bargain for many items and services in Bali, but do so respectfully and with a smile on your face. You’ll know when the vendor has reached their limit, and at that point don’t push it. When in doubt, walk away – if the seller doesn’t come after you, you can be sure they aren’t prepared to drop their price any lower.
Learn your current VISA and local regulation beforehand
In early 2015, Indonesia waived its standard 30-day tourist visa-on-arrival (VOA) system for 45 countries; visitors from most other nations (including Australians) must purchase the VOA. While extending a 30-day visa is possible, it can be a tricky business. Speak to a reputable visa agent on the ground, or contact your nearest Indonesian consulate prior to departure. At the time of publication, 60-day visas could be arranged in advance, but not in-country.
Watch yourself out, keep calm and submissive to the local rules
The Indonesian legal system may seem confusing and contradictory, but it’s best not argue with police if you are accused of an infringement that may feel unjust, and pay ‘fines’ with good grace. Do not expect any special treatment for being a foreigner, and it goes without saying that having anything to do with drugs is a very bad idea.
Respect the nature, watch out for ocean currents!
Even if you’re an avid beach-goer and surf worshipper, Bali’s powerful waves, strong currents and exposed rocks can be treacherous, so take care, and don’t swim alone unless you are completely confident in doing so. Show equal respect for the beach by not leaving any garbage (including cigarette butts) behind – when the tide comes in, it’ll be sucked into the ocean at great cost to the marine ecosystem.
Chill out, don’t stress out, your vacation mood must stay “ON”
Bali is generally safer than the headlines suggest, but with close to four million tourists hitting its shores every year, it’s statistically natural that some travellers may have problems. Party safe, always wear a helmet when riding a bike or scooter, be respectful, and don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in your home country, and you’re on track for the holiday of a lifetime.