9 Essential Health Tips for Travelers to Bali

A tourist at a Bali market stall bargaining with shop attendant

 Frank Carter / Getty Images

Despite Bali’s headlong rush into modernity, some parts of this Indonesian island can still be dangerous to your health. The digestive difficulty known as “Bali Belly” (traveler’s diarrhea) can be the least of your worries. Trouble can come from anywhere – monkey attack, sunburn, and bad tattoos, to count just a few.

Fortunately, these troubles are mostly avoidable.

Follow the tips listed below to make sure you complete your Bali vacation in the pink of health.

Drink a Lot of Water but Don’t Drink From the Tap

The tap water in Bali is of uncertain quality, and is often pegged as the cause of many a tourist’s case of “Bali belly”. When in Bali, stick to canned drinks or bottled water. The ice in Bali is safe – the island’s ice supply is quality-controlled by the local government.

Try not to be without a ready supply of water handy, as the weather in Bali is often sunny; heatstroke can occur if you allow yourself to go without water for longer than is healthy.

Don’t Eat Just Anywhere

Most middle- to high-end hotels and restaurants are perfectly safe for tourists, but exercise caution when sitting down to an unknown restaurant.

Stick to dining at places where a high turnover of customers is apparent; this indicates fresh food and a good reputation for safety (local customers would never return to a restaurant with an iffy reputation for hygiene).

Wash your hands regularly, to eliminate any diarrhea-causing bacteria you may have inadvertently picked up. Carry hand sanitizer for this purpose, as you’re not likely to find soap in every bathroom you encounter in Bali.

Avoid Arak

The locally distilled rice spirit called arak is extremely available around Bali – you can purchase bottles of the stuff at the airport or at most grocery stores – but badly-made arak is deadly. An error in the distillation process can add toxic methanol to the brew, and an adulterated drink is indistinguishable from the good stuff until it kills someone.

Several tourists have been killed by bad arak over the past few years, the worst case occurring in 2009 when 25 people died from a single bad batch. In 2011, 29-year-old New Zealander Michael Denton died after drinking bad arak. In the same week, 25-year-old Australian Jamie Johnston suffered kidney failure, facial paralysis, and brain damage after drinking a methanol-laced arak cocktail.

As quality control is hard to do in Bali – especially with bars that don’t necessarily advertise where they get their arak from – it may be advisable to avoid any drinks containing arak altogether. There are plenty of other alcoholic beverages in Bali, anyway.

Avoid Sketchy Tattoo Shops

Despite the popularity of getting tattoos in Bali, the high standards you expect for tattoo parlors stateside do not universally apply to all tattoo shops in Bali. There is at least one known case of HIV being transmitted via infected needles in Bali.

Before getting a tattoo in Bali, make sure the tattoo shop meets certain minimum requirements; it should have a proper autoclave for sterilizing tattoo needles, among other things. 

Avoid Black-Henna Tattoos

A henna-stain “tattoo” is a common souvenir for a Bali trip. But some Bali tourists have reported getting an adverse allergic reaction from “black henna” tattoos they got on the island.

Black henna is a type of hair dye that was never meant to be applied to the skin in the first place. Its black color makes it appealing to some customers who prefer black henna’s darker shade to the natural henna’s reddish-brown tinge; it also sets faster, making it an easier sell to tourists who don’t know any better. 

Unlike natural henna, though, black henna contains the additive known as paraphenylenediamine (PPD), which may cause an allergic reaction. Reactions range from simple itching to blisters, severe itching, and long-lasting scars. The allergic reaction may begin between a day to three weeks after the black henna stain was applied.

Before getting a henna tattoo, ask for natural henna instead. If you’re offered black henna tattoos, say no. A long-lasting scar is not the kind of Bali souvenir you want to take home.

Keep Your Distance From the Macaque Monkeys

Macaque monkeys positively overrun some parts of Bali. (They’re one of the main attractions in Ubud, Bali.) Though they may be fun to watch from afar, they’re not as much fun when they try to steal your stuff or attack you.

If an encounter is unavoidable, avoid doing any the following: smiling, as macaques perceive a show of teeth as a sign of aggression; grabbing something they’re holding, as tourists usually end up being bitten after trying to stop a macaque from stealing one of their personal items; and showing fear.

Wear Plenty of Sunblock

Don’t let sunburn ruin your Bali vacation. Apply plenty of high-SPF sunscreen frequently, preferably sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of no lower than 40.

At the same time, try to minimize the time you spend in the sun. Avoid being in direct sunlight when the sun reaches the highest point in the sky between 10 am and 3 pm. Even shaded areas can be treacherous; find shelter where the sun isn’t reflected up from the sand or the water, as ultraviolet radiation is also reflected up from these surfaces.

Doing Dangerous Sports in Bali? Keep Your Travel Insurance Current

Surfing and bicycling are among the many sports in Bali that can be positively dangerous. We’re not suggesting you avoid them, but you should take the right precautions and keep your travel insurance policy current if you plan to push through. Check your policy to make sure that accidents are covered.

Know Where to Find the Closest Hospital in Your Area

Bali’s medical infrastructure is very advanced, with air ambulances, multilingual staff, and specialists in difficult emergency disciplines all represented on the island. Emergency services can be reached from anywhere on Bali via a couple of emergency numbers: 118 for ambulance services, and 112 for operator-assisted general emergency services.

The primary hospital on Bali is the government facility at Sanglah, Denpasar, which handles the island’s most difficult cases. Some clinics provide emergency and primary health services at more remote areas of Bali.

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