Planning Your Trip
Itineraries & Day Trips
Things to Do
What to Eat & Drink
Bali is in Southeast Asia, but sometimes this Indonesian island feels like another world. You can take a taxi straight from the airport to your ultra-modern resort in Kuta, then cross vast expanses of rice fields to visit the art galleries at Ubud or the dizzying clifftop heights of Pura Luhur Uluwatu.
In a Muslim-majority country, Bali is culturally Hindu, with traditions and festivities celebrated nowhere else in the region. The local culture sits in an uneasy truce with encroaching modernity in the form of resorts, golf courses, and malls sprouting up all over. Bali's beaches and other natural wonders are in fierce competition with the constant development going on throughout the island.
Planning Your Trip to Bali
If a Bali trip is on your radar, consider these tips before you plan your trip.
- Best Time to Visit: Come during the summer months of June, July, and August, when the island’s weather is driest and the days are generally sunny. Unfortunately you’ll also be competing with a surge of Australian tourists who take the short hop to Bali to escape the southern hemisphere’s winter months. Any time of the year is a good time to visit, though—Bali doesn’t suffer weather extremes like typhoons.
- Language: Most of the Balinese you’ll encounter might speak enough English to get by with their work. However, the great majority will be more fluent in either Bahasa Indonesian (the official language of Indonesia) or Balinese (the island’s indigenous language).
- Currency: Indonesia’s legal tender—and thus that of Bali, too—is the rupiah (IDR, or RP). Due to decades of inflation, Indonesian rupiah have plenty of zeroes (one US dollar gets you IDR 14,900). So paper notes come in denominations of IDR 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000, while the less-circulated coins come in denominations of 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000.
- Getting Around: Metered taxis can be found in the southern end of Bali, especially around the tourist areas of Kuta, Tuban, and Denpasar. If you want to go further afield, you can take a private tourist shuttle bus, rent a car (with or without driver) or ride a motorbike. If you choose to drive yourself (either by car or by motorbike), consider that Bali is an incredibly challenging place to drive.
- Travel Tip: Bali can be sweltering if you come during the high season, high in both heat and humidity. To avoid heatstroke, drink plenty of water—just don’t get your drink from the tap, else you might risk getting a case of “Bali belly”. Stick to canned drinks or bottled water. (Read our Bali health tips for more.)
Things to Do in Bali
Bali has long been known for its beaches and culture, but the growing tourist infrastructure means that new opportunities for fun and entertainment are opening wide. And given Bali’s small size, no attraction is more than a few hours’ drive away! While the tourist scene changes as we speak, the following consistently stay on the top of the island’s tourist to-do lists:
- Hit the beach. The most touristy beaches can be found in South Bali; Kuta and Seminyak’s beaches are great for both surfing in the day and partying at night. Jimbaran Beach, on the other hand, is ideal for a romantic evening al fresco. On the opposite coast, you’ll find Bali’s watersports capital Tanjung Benoa. Head to East Bali for the island’s most popular dive spot, the wreck of the USAT Liberty.
- Visit a local temple. With over 20,000 Pura (Balinese for temple) in Bali, you’ll find a sacred space on almost every corner. These range from simple family temples to grand community temples to the Mother Temple on Gunung Agung, Pura Besakih.
- Go on a shopping spree. Bali’s shopping districts are good for buying international brands, but they’re great for Balinese arts and crafts, like silverworks, wood carvings and jewelry. The shopping scene in South Bali favors Western-style malls and crafts-filled shopping outlets. You’ll need to go further afield for more artisanal shopping, particularly the crafts villages around Ubud and Central Bali. If you can stop over at only one place in Ubud, make it the Art Market in the town center.
What to Eat and Drink in Bali
To understand Balinese food, you need to understand the outsize role that spices play in Indonesian cooking. Basa gede forms the basis of Balinese cuisine—it’s a spice mix combining shallots, chili, candlenuts, coconut oil, cloves, turmeric, ginger, garlic, and other seeds and roots used as needed.
Bali is an exception to Muslim-majority Indonesia: its Hindu population doesn’t shun alcohol or pork. So you’ll find both in heavy supply: pork dishes on almost every menu, beer on almost every drinks list. The influx of Western tourists means you’ll also find almost every world cuisine represented in Bali’s major tourism areas, like South Bali and Ubud.
Where to Stay
Bali offers an incredible range of accommodation options–from dirt-cheap hostels to $1,000 villas. The majority of accommodations follows the tourist crowd to the beaches around South Bali: budget travelers tend to stay in or around Kuta, good mid-range and family options can be found in Tuban, and the most expensive beach resorts are mostly in Nusa Dua.
The cultural hotbed of Ubud offers a glimpse of Bali’s inland beauty, with high-end resorts overlooking rice paddies or river ravines.
If you're like most visitors to Bali, you'll see it first from an airplane touching down at Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS; official site). Ngurah Rai is reachable from almost every major hub in the region, Australia included.
Other travelers reach Bali by sea. From the island of Java west of Bali, you can cross over from Banyuwangi to Gilimanuk, a port city some three hours’ drive from Bali’s capital Denpasar. On the eastern side of Bali, Benoa is the main port of call for cruise ships; Padangbai Port is the Balinese stop for ferries cruising to the Gili Islands and Lombok.
Culture and Customs in Bali
As the only surviving fragment of a once-mighty Hindu empire, Bali can be a magical place to visit. Paradoxically, the same tourist trade drawn by the local culture threatens to damage it as well. As just one of many, many tourists visiting this culturally-rich island, it’s incumbent on you to pay the proper respect to locals. Follow these tips to stay on their good side:
- Dress and act modestly. Balinese locals frown on skimpy clothing and public displays of affection; while they tolerate these in the main tourist areas, they will take offense at either of these in their temples. When in or near Balinese temples or rural settlements, keep things low-key.
- Don’t step on offerings (canang sari) in the street. Offered to the Creator by locals first thing in the morning, canang sari can be found everywhere in Bali, even on the sidewalk. When you see these little packages of woven palm leaf, flowers and herbs, sidestep them.
- Pay proper respect at Balinese festivals. Balinese festivals like Galungan welcome everyone who can observe proper etiquette. Don’t interrupt any procession, even if it’s causing traffic on the street. On the unique “day of silence”, or Nyepi, Balinese are forbidden to go out onto the street or make any sort of ruckus—they expect visitors to observe these rules, too.
Money Saving Tips
To get the most bang out of your buck in Bali, follow these simple tips:
- Avoid eating at restaurants, eat locally instead. Ask a local about the warung (eateries) in the area, and order there instead. Warung serve great local food at low prices.
- Check into a hostel or budget hotel, which tend to be some distance from the beach, but (if chosen correctly) can have plenty of character to make up for any shortcomings.
- Book your stay in advance; hotels have plenty of competition in Bali, and are always trying to one-up each other with the best value packages.