Before booking a hotel in Bali, there are a few caveats to consider, particularly when searching for accommodation online before your trip.
Should you choose a traditional hotel, small guesthouse, family homestay, or Airbnb? Bali has a wide variety of choices catering to more than 4 million guests arriving on the island every year. Hotels in Bali range from luxurious, 5-star properties in isolated areas to backpacker shanties that cost less than $10 per night.
Bali is a top destination in Asia. In fact, it’s the most visited of Indonesia’s estimated 922 inhabited islands. Bali usually stays busy no matter the time of year, but there's enough good accommodation for everyone. Don’t risk your dream vacation by getting stuck in a place you don’t enjoy!
The Best Place to Stay in Bali
There are a lot of places to stay in Bali, but certain areas tend to attract specific kinds of travelers and budgets.
Thanks to nearly five kilometers of wide beaches and close proximity to the airport, Kuta is where the action is—but that's not always a good thing. Most visitors spend at least a little time in South Bali before heading to quieter places farther afield.
Although not exhaustive, here are a few of the most popular places to stay in Bali:
- Kuta Beach: Kuta attracts a lot of new surfers and backpacking travelers, so there is an abundance of noisy, budget accommodation choices around the neighborhood of Poppies I and II located behind the Beachwalk shopping center. Parallel to the beach, Jalan Pantai (Beach Road) in Kuta is pretty well the main drag for Bali. Jalan Legian in Kuta is a busy strip of nightclubs, restaurants, and shops. Life generally gets quieter and a little more "grown up" as you move farther north from Kuta Beach.
- North of Kuta Beach: Just above Kuta Beach, you’ll find Legian. It's slightly calmer aside from the sports bars filled with day-drinking Bali regulars. North of Legian is Seminyak where hotel and dining options are considerably more upscale compared to their neighbors in the south.
- Canggu: Continuing north, you come to Canggu, one of Bali's newest areas exploding in popularity. Canggu is popular with surfers of all skill levels, digital nomads, and travelers who want a wide variety of choices for cafes, eateries, and nightclubs.
- Ubud: Verdant Ubud is famous for attracting a growth-oriented crowd interested in yoga, spas, and health workshops. The green setting, organic eateries, artisans, and "new age" culture make up for the lack of a beach.
- South of the Airport: Jimbaran and Uluwatu are famous for the world-class surfing. Rocky beaches and big waves keep many families away, but some great deals for boutique hotels and homestays can be found in the area.
- Sanur: Sanur, on the west coast just opposite of Kuta and Denpasar, is home to the oldest luxury hotel on Bali. The strip tends to attract older, more "sophisticated" travelers than Kuta. The beach is laid back, but as with anywhere, a little nightlife can still be found.
- The Northeast: Amed, on the northeast corner of the island, is quickly becoming popular for diving, snorkeling, and freediving. Many of the small hotels along the black-sand beach aren’t found online.
Moving Between Places to Stay
Choosing one area in Bali doesn't necessarily mean you're stuck there! You can move around to see other areas, but traffic on the island is notoriously slow. Ideally, you'll want to stay nearer the area that most suits your travel style and budget so you don't waste too much trip time sitting in traffic.
Bali's shared bemo vans are pretty well a thing of the past. Now, travelers use taxis, rideshare services, or tourist buses (although routes are limited) to get between places. When moving around by taxi, opt for official Bluebird taxis. Unlike the other taxi companies trying to emulate Bluebird's success with blue cars and similar logos, Bluebird has a long reputation for honesty.
Grab, a rideshare app similar to Uber and Lyft, is a popular option on the island. GoJek is a local ridesharing alternative with app for download.
Booking Ahead vs Booking in Person?
The old conundrum of whether to book the duration of a stay or only the first few nights before arriving is a real challenge in Bali.
Although booking a hotel in Bali before arriving does provide a lot of peace of mind, there are some risks. Construction is rampant as Bali continues to grow or renovate. There are few tourist places on the island where you don't hear the pounding of work in progress. Finding out there's a noisy construction project going on and your room is nonrefundable is a common, frustrating experience in Bali.
Unfortunately, online photos of hotels in Bali have often been doctored to make them look more appealing to people who are making reservations from thousands of miles away. Tweaking online reviews is also common practice in Bali; don't believe everything you see or read.
Assuming you aren’t one of the many honeymooners heading to Bali each year and are willing to take a small gamble, you could book only the first couple of nights and then change hotels if necessary. This approach is risky at popular places during high season, especially those ranked well on Tripadvisor.
Some travelers book only the first two nights, then if a place meets expectations, ask the front desk to extend. Confirm that you'll receive the original online price offered and not an inflated "walk in" price, as sometimes happens.
Regardless of whether you book online or in person, you’ll need the name and address of a hotel when exiting the airport. If you choose not to book ahead, at least do enough research to know where to start. Never take the taxi driver’s recommendation for a hotel in Bali.
Not All Hotels in Bali Are Online
Not all hotels and guesthouses have an online listing. Don’t be discouraged by prices or lack of availability based on what you see from booking sites.
For every hotel in Bali you find available on the popular booking sites, there are probably three more independently owned budget hotels nearby that aren’t set up for online bookings.
What's more, not all rooms in each hotel are listed as available to booking sites. In fact, hotels may only open a handful of their many rooms to online bookings. Just because a booking site tells you a hotel is full doesn't always mean that no rooms are available. Booking sites like to spook visitors with warnings such as "1 room left at this hotel" to encourage snap decisions, but there are probably more open rooms at the same property.
Reception May Ask You to Book Online
Inexplicably, Bali is one of the few places in Southeast Asia where hotel management sometimes prefers that you book your room online rather than in reception! Walk-in and online prices may differ greatly because of intense competition between hotels on travel sites.
Rather than matching the price for a room listed online, management will sometimes prefer to pay the commission and ask that walk-in guests sit down in reception, within a few steps of the front desk, to book their own rooms.
Tip: The price to extend your room may be significantly higher than what it was when you reserved online. Don't assume that you can add a day to your reservation for the same rate you've been paying—ask first.
Hotels Reviews Aren't Always Honest
As is the case with pretty much all online reviews, you should be a little skeptical about what you read. Reviews get shamelessly gamed in Bali.
Guesthouses regularly delete bad reviews or engage online "influencers" to leave positive reviews in exchange for free stays. Friends and family also get in on the game. One way to tell is that these types of reviews for a lackluster property are often so glowing they stand out from the others in an artificial way.
The oldest trick in the book is to leave a review on a competitor’s listing about bedbugs. Although not a serious problem in Bali, you should know how to check your room for bed bugs immediately after checking in.
Airbnb Works Well on Bali
Airbnb has exploded in popularity on Bali. The many expat residents who settled on Bali travel frequently or return to their home countries. Some of these residents choose to rent their villas and condos while gone. Others may simply rent an extra room while still living onsite.
If you’re having trouble finding a hotel in Bali, prefer to have a kitchen, or want to stay in a more residential area, consider looking for an Airbnb. Many Airbnb options are just outside of the tourist area.
Airbnb isn't just for booking villas. Many hotels advertise their rooms there, too.
Noise Can Be an Issue
Noise problems come and go at hotels in Bali. If you stay in budget guesthouses in Kuta where parties run late, or near the southern end of Jalan Legian—the liveliest strip for nightlife—expect to hear the thump thump of electronic music all night. Weekends are particularly rowdy in Kuta.
But even strategically selecting where to stay in Bali can still mean dealing with noise. In the shoulder season months of March and April, hotels may be in a rush to finish renovations and construction projects before the busy season begins in summer. The early hours thump thump disturbing your sleep may come from a contractor’s hammer rather than a DJ's techno track.
Traffic is a serious issue around the island, and drivers enjoy using their horns. If given a choice, always ask for a room that doesn’t face the street. Paying the difference for a “garden view” room may be worth the difference. Aside from the annual Day of Silence, the drone of motorbikes never stops along major thoroughfares in Bali.
Choose Hotel Locations Carefully
Before committing to a hotel simply because a booking site listed it as “.04 miles to beach,” bring up Google Maps and plot the route as a pedestrian with legs rather than wings. You may even be able to do a Street View stroll from the address to the beach.
Many budget hotels in Bali are located down dark, narrow alleyways and inconvenient places to reach by walking. Sometimes easy beach access is blocked by upscale hotel properties that don't allow non-guests to cut through. Security is usually posted.
Although crime is relatively low in Bali, walking the unlit passages back to the hotel after sunset could be intimidating. Don’t simply rely on listed geographical distances when choosing among hotels in Bali. The hotel listing may not accurately reflect the obstacle course you'll have to navigate to reach the beach.
Not All Homestays Are Ideal
Family-run homestays are popular in Bali. Sometimes the word “homestay” is used interchangeably with “guesthouse” or "hostel," so free breakfast may or may not be included. You can rest assured that booking a “homestay” does not mean that you’ll be in a high-rise hotel.
Although staying in a homestay should theoretically provide a better opportunity for a memorable cultural experience, they aren’t always the most ideal option. Many homestays are family operations, so employees forced to “earn their keep” in the family may be less enthusiastic about cleaning or responding to complaints. For obvious reasons, homestays are often older properties with more problems. The language barrier may be somewhat of a challenge when English-speaking staff members aren't around.
Homestays can be very enjoyable, positive experiences, assuming you don't mind giving up some anonymity. The family will know what time you wake up and what time you come home. Sometimes they'll even ask you about it!
Watch Out for Top Picks
Homestays and guesthouses who earned the coveted top-pick listing in popular guidebooks and Tripadvisor sometimes suffer from a lack of energy. The so-called “Guidebook Effect” ensures that they’ll receive a steady stream of customers regardless of effort. An overworked staff becomes less cordial when business increases drastically but salaries remain the same. Tipping is not a common practice in Indonesia.
Although choosing among the most popular hotels on the island seems like a sure bet, it depends on management. Negotiating for a room discount when staying at top picks is difficult.
Tip: When negotiating a room rate in a small guesthouse, offer to give up the free breakfast. Doing so is a concession and allows management to save face. You'll usually be able to find a much better breakfast outside the guesthouse anyway.
Test Wi-Fi Before Committing
If Wi-Fi is very important to you (e.g., you’ll be working or making a lot of internet calls while at the hotel), you’ll definitely want to verify that it works well before taking a room. Even large, upscale hotels are plagued by slow Wi-Fi connections, an all-too-familiar source of frustration in Bali.
Try asking reception for a room closer to the access point, although this might not make a difference at night and on rainy days when more guests turn to laptops and smartphones for entertainment.
Check for a Smoke Smell
Smoking indoors is common in Bali. Even if you booked a non-smoking room, a room may have been converted to “non smoking” just before you arrived. Sometimes smoke from communal areas in the hotel can enter rooms.
If you’re sensitive to cigarette smoke, check the room before committing. Moving to a room without the smell may not be an option if the smoke keeps coming from the lobby.
Not All Welcome Drinks Are the Same
Don’t get too excited if your booking description includes a welcome drink while checking in. Many a honeymooner has learned the hard way that “welcome drink” doesn’t always mean “cocktail.”
The welcome drinks are often sugary concoctions better appreciated by children. The same applies to the “one free drink at happy hour” vouchers given out. Free welcome drinks that contain alcohol may be made with arak because it's the cheapest option. Avoid them. Arak, a low-cost local moonshine, has been responsible for numerous tourist deaths on Bali due to methanol poisoning.
Rules Are Rules
Indonesia has a reputation as one of the friendliest places in Southeast Asia. The hotel staff are almost always overwhelming polite and attempt to accommodate needs.
Knowing how to say hello in Bahasa Indonesia correctly will certainly get you some smiles around the guesthouse. But you’ll also find that staff members value their jobs and rigidly adhere to hotel policies and protocol, more so than hotel staff in the West.
In this case, the customer isn’t always right. Instead, the payroll-controlling boss is always right. If breakfast ends at 10 a.m., don’t turn up at 10:10 a.m. and expect to receive anything more than a sweet smile and “I’m sorry.”
Use the Net
Not the internet, the mosquito net! Sleeping beneath a mosquito net isn't just a romantic notion. If your room has one, it’s there for a reason. Use it. Keep the net closed during the day or biters may become trapped on the inside.
Open-air bungalows and rooms with balconies are part of the charm on an exotic island with tropical weather, but Bali has a sizable mosquito population that gets hungry at night.