Before Booking a Hotel in Bali

Tips and Things to Know Before Choosing Accommodation in Bali

Book Hotel in Bali
••• Airbnbs might be a better option, check before booking a hotel in Bali. Trinette Reed / Getty Images

Before booking a hotel in Bali, there are a few caveats to consider — especially if shopping for accommodation from home.

Hotel or guesthouse? Homestay or Airbnb? A wide variety of choices cater to over 4 million guests arriving on the island year around. Hotels range from luxurious and seclusive to 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 922 inhabited islands.

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 crowds. With bemos (shared van transportation) mostly shut down on Bali and buses inconvenient, you’ll be forced to take taxis between places.

Grab, a rideshare app similar to Uber and Lyft, is becoming a popular option on the island. If you’re comfortable driving in lots of traffic, Bali is a great place to drive a motorbike.

Thanks to nearly five kilometers of wide beach and close proximity to the airport, Kuta is where the action is. Most visitors spend at least a little time in South Bali before heading to quieter places afield.

Although not exhaustive, here are a few of the most popular places to stay in Bali:

  • Kuta Beach: Kuta attracts the most surfers and backpacking travelers, so there are plenty of noisy, budget accommodation choices around the epicenter of Poppies I and II. Parallel to the beach, Jalan Pantai (Beach Road) in Kuta is pretty well the main drag for Bali. Jalan Legian (the Kuta stretch) is a busy strip of nightclubs, restaurants, and shops. Although there are a few exceptions, things generally get quieter as you move farther from Kuta Beach.
  • North of Kuta Beach: Just above Kuta Beach, you’ll find Legian — slightly quieter aside from the sports bars filled with Australians. North of Legian is Seminyak where hotel and dining options are considerably more upscale compared to their neighbors in the south.
  • 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 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 tents to attract older, more sophisticated travelers. The beach is laid back, but a little nightlife can still be found.
  • The Northeast: Ahmed, on the northeast corner of the island, is quickly becoming a hotspot for diving. Many of the small hotels along the black-sand beach aren’t found online.
  • Ubud: Verdant Ubud is famous for attracting a yoga crowd, but it has its share of cafes, organic eateries, and boutique shopping to make up for the lack of a beach.

Book Ahead or 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 wonders for peace of mind, you may pay for it one way or another. Finding out there’s a much better/quieter/friendlier hotel next door with discount rates is frustrating, especially when you’re already locked into a property booked from home.

Unfortunately, hotel photos can be doctored to make them look more appealing to people who are making reservations from thousands of miles away.

Assuming you aren’t one of the many honeymooners heading to Bali each year and are willing to take a gamble, you could book only the first night or two and then change hotels if necessary.

Ask the front desk to extend if the place meets expectations. Traveling during peak season in Bali makes waiting to book a bit pricier, but you’ll still be able to find a room.

Tip: You’ll need the name and address of a hotel when exiting the airport. If not booking 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 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 you find available on the popular travel sites, there are probably three more independently owned budget hotels nearby that aren’t set up for online bookings.

Why wouldn’t hotels ensure that they can be found online?

Some lack the knowhow while others don’t want to forfeit the 15 percent or so kept by middlemen. Their great location could mean that they don’t have to bother.

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 often 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 you reserved online. You’ll often be told to pay the walk-in price or fight Bali’s notoriously slow Wi-Fi to extend your stay online.

Reviews Are Gamed

As is the case with pretty much all online reviews, be a little skeptical and tighten the filters. Guesthouses regularly delete bad reviews or engage media companies to leave lots of positive reviews. Friends and family are in on the game, too. Fortunately, these types of reviews are often so glowing that they stand out from the others in an artificial way.

The oldest trick in the book? Leave a review on a competitor’s page about bedbugs. Although not a serious problem in Bali and probably just someone’s jab at the hotel, you should know how to check your room for bed bugs before getting settled.

Airbnb Works Well in Bali

Airbnb, a website that enables people to find or rent vacation homes, has exploded in popularity. The many expats who settled in Bali travel frequently or return to their home countries. Some residents choose to rent their homes 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. Obviously, location is a big factor unless you intend to rent a motorbike for the duration of your stay.

Noise Can Be an Issue

Noise problems come and go at hotels in Bali. If you stay in backpacker 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.

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 thump thump may be from a contractor’s hammer.

Traffic is a serious issue around the island, and drivers are really inclined to use 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. 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. You may even be able to do a Street View stroll from the address to the beach.

Many hotels in Bali are located down dark, narrow alleyways and in inconvenient places to reach by walking. Although crime is fairly low in Bali, walking the unlit passages back to the hotel after sunset could be intimidating. Don’t simply rely on listed geographical distances.

Not All Homestays Are Ideal

Family-run homestays are popular in Bali. Sometimes the word “homestay” is used interchangeably with “guesthouse” or "hostel" so breakfast may or may not be included. You can be 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 quaint, cultural experience, they aren’t always the most comfortable option. Many homestays are family run, so employees forced to “earn their keep” may be less enthusiastic about cleaning or responding to complaints. For obvious reasons, homestays are typically older properties with more problems. The language barrier may be an issue when English-speaking family members are off site.

Watch Out for Top Picks

Homestays and guesthouses who earned the coveted top-pick listing in popular guidebooks about Asia also 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 quadruples 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. You’ll certainly have a tougher time negotiating for a room discount (you should try!) when staying at top picks.

Tip: When negotiating a room rate, offer to give up the free breakfast. Doing so is a concession and allows management to save face.

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, a constant source of frustration for digital nomads 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 iPads and smartphones for distraction.

Check for Smoke

Smoking indoors is legal and 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.

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.”

Sometimes the welcome drinks are sugary, purple concoctions more appreciated by the average 8-year-old. The same applies to the “one free drink at happy hour” vouchers given out.

Tip: Arak, a low-cost local spirit, has been responsible for numerous deaths on Bali — steer clear.

Rules Are Rules

Indonesia has a reputation as one of the friendliest places in Southeast Asia. The staff working in hotels around Bali are almost always overwhelming polite and friendly. Knowing how to say hello in Bahasa Indonesia will certainly get you some smiles. But you’ll also find that they value their jobs and rigidly adhere to hotel policies and training, more so than hotel staff in the West. 

In this case, the customer isn’t always right — the finances-minded boss is. If breakfast ends at 10 a.m., don’t turn up at 10:15 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 is actually a romantic notion, but it’s there for a reason. If your room has a mosquito net, use it. Keep the net closed during the day as well.

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.