To be honest with you I knew almost nothing about Bali before I visited. Sure, I’ve seen million pictures of this dream island, I knew that every proper Instagrammer had been there at least once and I saw Eat, Pray, Love, but that was it. If you are like me, I have some good news for you: in this Ultimate Bali Travel Guide I collected everything that you need to know if you are visiting Bali for the first time! So let’s dive in!
The Ultimate Bali Travel Guide
Bali is located in the Indian ocean, it’s by far the most famous of the more than 17,000 islands of Indonesia. The island sits east of Java (the most populous island of the world) and west of Lombok. I know it seems like a tiny island on the map, but actually Bali is pretty big: it’s 145 km long and 80 km wide. Apart from the main island, the Nusa Islands (Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Penida) also belong to Bali.
Bali is home to more than 4.2 million people. About 90% of the population are Balinese, the other ethnic groups are Javanese, Baliaga and Madurase.
The official language is Indonesian, but many people use the Balinese language in the everyday life. English is widely used as well, due to the high level of tourism.
Indonesia is the biggest Muslim country in the world, accounting for 13% of the world’s total Muslims. Bali is the only exception, as it is the only Hindu island on Indonesia. Actually this is not the standard Hindu religion, it’s rather a Balinese Hinduism: it’s kind of a mixture of local beliefs and Hindu influences.
Balinese people live in a magic world of people, spirits, gods and demons. I was so surprised to see how deeply religious they are! There are over 20,000 temple in Bali and you can’t go anywhere without seeing countless offerings to the gods and spirits. They seriously believe in karma, that life is governed by a system of cause and effect, action and reaction. Their religion and culture is really interesting, so try to learn about them as much as you can while you are there!
If you only want to visit Bali for less than 30 days then you don’t have to apply for a visa and you can enter for free. However this is only true for like 170 countries, so please check the official list before arriving, just to be on the safe side.
The free visa can’t be extended, so you need to leave Bali when your 30 days are over. Of course you can stay longer than that with another type of visa, visit the official immigration website of Indonesia for more info about this topic.
Bali Travel Guide - Money
The official local currency in Bali is the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR or Rp). The amounts in rupiah are usually very large because of all the zeros. 1 USD is like 15,000 Rp, while 1 EUR is around 16,150 Rp. Therefore the prices are often given with the thousands implied and left off of the end. So when someone says “one hundred”, they most likely mean 100,000 Rp (around 7 USD or 6 EUR).
Cash is the king in Bali, therefore you always need to carry around some cash in your pocket. You can generally pay with credit cards at most of the hotels and cafes in the urban area, but you will need cash for everything else. The largest denomination is the 100,000 Rp banknote, so your wallet will always be stuffed with a lot of banknotes. Make sure you don’t bring your tiniest wallet with you!
You can easily find ATMs in the popular travel hubs, but once you are out you will have a hard time finding a machine in the countryside. So it’s better to stack up on cash while you are in a more touristy area.
ATMs typically charge you a transaction fee for every transaction. Fortunately it’s not that much, but the bad news is that there is a daily withdrawal limit. It can be different depending on what kind of ATM you use, but it’s usually between 1.5-2.5 million Rp (around 100-170 USD or 90-150 EUR). So basically you have to pick up cash from an ATM almost every day (or you can use different credit cards, if you have more).
Important note: There are some ATMs that deliver your cash first, and your credit card after. If you are coming from a place that it’s the other way around, you have to pay attention not to leave your card in the machine. Unfortunately we managed to lost a credit card, most likely for this reason. So learn from our mistake!
Of course you can exchange all the major currencies into rupiahs at the airport or banks, but you always have to pay a commission fee and the exchange rates are not always in your favour. Generally using an ATM is a better option, but it’s really up to you.
Technically US dollars are not accepted in Indonesia, however you can almost always use them in reality. You will always have to pay more in dollars (because you obviously can’t pay 1.2 USD, so you will pay 2), but it’s good to have a plan B if you accidentally run out of rupiahs.
Best time to visit Bali
Bali is located a few degrees south of the equator, therefore it has a tropical climate all year around. It means that the weather is always hot and humid and there are only two main seasons: the dry season and the rainy season.
Generally the rainy season is between November and March, but it can vary a bit from year to year. During this time it usually rains a couple of hours in the morning and a couple of hours in the afternoon, so you can still have some rain-free hours during the day if you are lucky. Nevertheless I still wouldn’t recommend this period for traveling, especially if you are a first-timer.
Bali is always busy during holidays like Easter or Christmas. July and August are usually crowded too, because of the national school holidays in Indonesia. So if you’re not a fan of mass tourism I would avoid these periods as well.
Based on all this, the best time to visit is May, June, or September. You will have a pleasant weather with almost no rain, and the beaches and famous sites will not be that crowded either.
October can still be a good time, we also visited at the end of October. We were really lucky with the weather, because it only rained on our last day. On the other hand, our driver said that this time last year it was constantly raining all day long and it didn’t stop for days. So be careful with October, it can really be a hit or miss.
How much time do you need for Bali
Anywhere from between one week and a few months. Seriously! We spent 8 days in Bali and it felt really short! We managed to cover all the famous sites but in exchange we spent almost no time at the beach and we were extremely tired at the end. Needless to say, it was totally worth it!
Based on my own experience, I would say 2 weeks would be the optimal amount of time. Of course it highly depends on what you want to see and do. If you are only looking for beautiful beaches and you wish to relax all day long, one week could be enough. However there are so many wonderful sites to explore and various activities to do, that you will need at least 2 weeks if you really wanna see the best of Bali.
Bali Travel Guide - Transportation
Public transportation is basically non-existent in Bali. All right, this is not exactly true: there are some public minibuses called bemo. If you are in a really adventurous mode and you wanna try getting around like a local, you can opt for a ride. But for real transportation I wouldn’t consider this as an option.
Renting a bicycle is possible, but Bali is far too big for biking around. But if you wanna explore the countryside close to your accommodation, it can be a great way to get around.
The cheapest and most popular way of transportation is renting a scooter. However, if you don’t have an experience in scooter riding I wouldn’t recommend it.
Why? Because the traffic is crazy! Cars, scooters, chickens, dogs, all sharing the same lane and they are coming from every direction possible. No matter where you go, the streets are always full with scooters and the roads are often in a really bad condition. Scooter accidents are not exceptional, and trust me, you don’t want to spend your holiday lying in the hospital (if there’s any).
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against scooters at all. I’m just saying you have to be really, really prepared and have a ton of experience before trying to get around this way. So please be safe!
You can find a taxi practically anywhere, and it works the same way as it does in Europe or America. In Bali, almost everyone is a taxi driver. Seriously. You will be constantly asked by the locals where are you headed and if you will need a ride. Everyone will be glad to take you anywhere.
There are two type of taxis in Bali: the Bluebird taxis, and the rest. The Bluebird taxis always go by the meter and they are safe to use. They even have their own app which you can download, and after registration you can summon a taxi as you please.
The non-Bluebird taxis on the other hand are often corrupt, and they usually play dirty tricks with the tourists, like claiming to have a broken meter or taking you on a longer road to pay more.
Side note: Uber and Grab are illegal to use in Bali. I’ve heard stories that despite the ban they still operate, but I don’t know if it’s true or not. However I do know that there were signs all over Bali about these two being illegal. So please don’t use them!
I think having a private driver in Bali is the best option ever, especially if you are a first-timer and you don’t have any experience in scooter riding. It is generally more expensive than renting a scooter, but in exchange it takes away all the stress and you don’t have worry about transportation during your stay.
I contacted him while we were still at home. Like I mentioned before I’m a big planner, so I’ve already planned most of our itinerary before we first spoke. Therefore we only needed to finalize the program I had in mind and he helped me organize every little detail. So by the time we arrived to Bali we already had a perfect itinerary and everything was taken care of.
How does it work in real life?
To be honest I had no clue how does it work in the real life and I received many questions about it, so I will share my experience. When we arrived at the airport Putu was already there, waiting for us. He took us into our hotel (since it was already late afternoon) and we agreed on which time he should pick us up the next day.
The next morning came, he picked us up as we agreed, and from that point he was always with us until he took us back to the hotel at the end of the day. He drove us from location to location, and while we were away exploring he waited us in the car, or spent the time with other drivers (who were waiting for their clients as well). Yes, even when we were out for hours! Sometimes he even joined us exploring the area, so he could tell us stories about the place and about the Balinese life in general.
He was really flexible with the timing as well. We wanted to do a lot of sunrise tours so he usually picked us up very early. And by that I mean very, very early. Like 1am or 3am in the morning. Yes, you’ve read it right! (I know, you must think I’m crazy. Wait until you see my sunrise pictures!) The only general rule is that they don’t work more than 14 hours in a day, which is totally understandable.
Long story short, I really can’t recommend enough to have a private driver. Everything was just so perfect!
What to wear in Bali
Despite Bali is a very religious island, there is no strict dress code for tourists. The only exceptions are the religious sites where you always have to wear a sarong (and a scarf, if your shoulders are not covered by your clothes). Don’t worry if you don’t own a sarong, you can always rent it for a small amount of money at every religious site.
As I mentioned before, the weather in Bali is always hot and humid. Therefore you will most likely stroll around in shorts and T-shirts, or dresses. Try to pack light-weight cotton and loose clothes! A beach hat or baseball cap is also a good idea to protect your head from the sun.
Regarding shoes, you can almost always wear flip-flops or sandals. But having a comfy sneaker in your suitcase is a huge bonus if you wanna go for a hike. If you plan to hike Mount Batur, you should prepare with some warm clothes too! I know it sounds weird to pack a jacket and a warmer sweater for Bali, but trust me, you’re gonna need it.
What to do in Bali
Okay, this is a very hard questions to answer. There are just so much things to do in Bali! I’m planning to write much more detailed posts about the places we visited (which I will link here of course), so this is just a rough guide about what to expect in the different areas of Bali.
The southern side of Bali is the most touristy area on the island. Denpasar (the capital city of Bali) is located here together with the Ngurah Rai International Airport. South Bali is packed with beautiful beaches, posh cafes, fancy restaurants and cool party places.
Best spots: Kuta, Seminyak, Canggu, Uluwatu, Jimbaran
The central area is the cultural heart of Bali and it is also the most picturesque side of the island. Central Bali is home to many beautiful temples, deep river gorges, unbelievably green rice terraces and gorgeous waterfalls.
Best spots: Ubud, Campuhan Ridge Walk, Tegalalang rice terraces, Jatiluwih rice terraces, Pura Tirta Empul, Tegenungan waterfall, Kanto Lampo waterfall
East Bali is dominated by the largest volcano in the island: Mount Agung. This is a very active volcano with constant eruptions, therefore it is not allowed to visit. But it’s little brother, Mount Batur (who is also an active volcano) is still safe and open for hiking. The nearby area is really beautiful and it is home to some of the island’s oldest villages.
Best spots: Mount Agung, Mount Batur, Pura Luhur Lempuyang (Gate of Heaven), Tirta Gangga Royal Water Garden
The northern side of Bali is really different from the rest of the island. The climate is more foggy and rainy, therefore you can see many cloudy lakes, misty mountains and lush jungle waterfalls.
Best spots: Munduk Moding Plantation, Wanagiri Hidden Hill, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, Banyumala twin waterfalls, Sekumpul waterfall, Handara gate
Local people say that the Nusa Islands are the perfect place to see how Bali was like 20 years ago, before it became a tourist hotspot. And it’s really true: the Nusa Islands have such a raw beauty and they are (mostly) still untouched and not packed with tourists.