Traveling to Bali, Indonesia for the first time? You’re at the right spot as we have this handy post on the top 24 things to know before going to Bali.
This island is one of our favorite places to travel in Southeast Asia. From the beautiful sunsets to the non-stop greenery at the rice fields and waterfalls, the reasons to visit Bali is endless. We loved Bali so much that we went here twice within a year! Since we’ve traveled to many parts of the island from North to South, we want to share with you tips on what to expect on your first trip to Bali.
Now, let’s dive into this list of Bali travel tips to help you with your future Bali planning.
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1. Check if you need a visa before arrival.
Before you arrive in Bali, check if you need a visa. Currently, Bali allows tourists from over 160 countries to enter the country visa-free and for a 30 day stay. Visitors from the U.S. do not need a visa. All you need is an empty spot in your passport and you’re able to enter. Don’t overstay your visit or you’ll pay a penalty on departure.
Note: We will continue to monitor the visa process as the rules for tourists entering Indonesia may change.
2. You’ll want to stay in Bali for at least a week or longer.
How long should you stay in Bali? Depending on how much time you’re able to take off from work, you can visit Bali in 4 days to get a taste of the island. One week would be a good amount of time to explore Bali and stay at 2-3 locations. Two weeks in Bali would be even better as you can explore more of the island and visit neighboring islands, such as Gili Islands (Gili Air, Gili Meno, and Gili Trawangan) or Nusa Islands (Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan, and Nusa Ceningan). After visiting the island, you may regret having more time on the island.
3. Figure out your transportation before you leave the airport.
After your long journey to get to Bali, we know that you want to go straight to your accommodations and start relaxing! Before you land at the Ngurah Rai (Denpasar) International Airport, it’s recommended that you figure out how you plan to get to your accommodations. Once you depart the airport, you’ll be swarmed by drivers (unofficial taxi drivers) who will want your service. It’ll get stressful.
You can either hire a driver ahead of time, use an official taxi service such as Bluebird Taxi and make sure that the meter is used, rent a car or motorbike, or use a ride-hailing app such as Grab or Go-Jek. Unfortunately, there isn’t any good public transportation system.
We had a driver for our time in Bali and will highly recommend his services. It was much easier for us to have our driver take us to various places and we didn’t need to worry about traffic and driving rules. If you’re interested in his contact information, send us a message.
If you rent a car, the driver’s seat is on the right-hand side. Remember to bring your international driver’s license.
With Grab, you won’t be able to do a pick-up at the airport so you’ll need to leave the airport area and call it from the streets. As a heads up, the ride-hailing services and taxi industry are rivals. Ride-hailing cars are banned in neighborhoods as we saw a few places that had “No Grab” signs. You may want to use them sparingly.
4. Traffic is horrendous. Driving a motorbike will get you around the island faster.
Around Denpasar and the roads leading to the beaches, you will encounter traffic. Some of the roads in the more remote areas will be 1 lane. Driving a motorbike will allow you the opportunity to squeeze between cars and zip around the traffic. Just remember to wear a helmet when riding a motorbike and to drive cautiously. Motorbike drivers tend to be more aggressive versus drivers in cars.
5. Buy a SIM card.
Before you leave the airport, buy a local SIM card. This will be helpful if you decide to use ride-hailing services or need to use data for GPS. We didn’t find many places with free wifi.
If you’re from the U.S, you can consider changing your cell phone plan to Google Project Fi. We’ve used this service since 2016 and love how you can get data at 200+ international countries. The best news is that you don’t have to pay extra for the data! Click here to learn more and get a $20 credit.
6. Bali is much larger than you expect and explore other areas!
Do not make the mistake of only staying in the beach areas such as Kuta, Seminyak, and Canggu! There are other fascinating places to visit in Bali such as Ubud, Uluwatu, North Bali, East Bali, and West Bali National Park.
We encourage you to explore other areas of Bali and plan your time accordingly in your itinerary. In addition, you’ll need to account for the travel time between locations. For reference, from Kuta Beach to Besakih Temple in East Bali, it’ll take 1 hour and 40 minutes (63 kilometers/39 miles away) one-way by car or motorbike. From Kuta Beach to Lovina Beach in North Bali, it’ll take 2 hours 40 minutes (86 kilometers/53 miles).
Since it’s a vacation, spend a few days in each area so you don’t need to spend your time traveling. We also don’t want you to get burned out!
7. Bali is a cash-based island.
Indonesia uses Indonesian rupiah (IDR) for its currency. The bills come in 1,000 IDR, 2,000 IDR, 5,000 IDR, 10,000 IDR, 20,000 IDR, 50,000 IDR, and 100,000 IDR. The bills are different colors so it’ll be easier to organize in your wallet. There are coins but not as common.
As of June 2020, the exchange rate is $1 USD = 14,088 IDR.
In Bali, many local restaurants and guesthouses only accept cash as payment. The mid-range to higher-end restaurants and hotels accept credit cards. You may need to pay an additional 3-5% service charge for using a credit card.
8. Bali has plenty of ATMs available in tourist areas.
Before you head out on your daily excursions, stop by the ATM to get cash. If you’re heading to more remote areas such as in North and East Bali, you may not find ATMs that accept international ATM cards as readily available.
Tip: Don’t forget to contact your bank about your international travels before heading to Bali.
If you’re from the U.S, we recommend that you get the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account. With this account, your ATM can be used worldwide and your ATM fees are refunded back to you at the end of the month. We’ve used this ATM card for many years and it has helped us save money during our travels.
9. Prepare to pay the tourist prices for everything.
We know, Bali is a touristy place to visit. With that mindset, you’ll need to pay the tourist prices for everything from visiting temples, local attractions, and parking. Sometimes, it’s 2x the cost for the local residents. While the cost isn’t high, it can add up! Here are some prices on what to expect:
- Temple entrance fee: 30,000 IDR-75,000 IDR ($2.00-$5.20)
- Waterfall entrance fee: Starting at 20,000 IDR ($1.30)
- Bali swings: Starting at 100,000 ($6.70)
- Parking: 5,000-10,000 IDR ($.35-$.70)
- Donations (if visiting Tegalalang Rice Fields): Some farmers may ask for a donation to walk in their designated rice field area. You may opt to donate or smile and politely decline.
10. Tipping isn’t necessary.
You’re not required to tip for anything as it’s not the norm. If you do tip, it is a nice gesture to thank someone for their services as wages are low in Indonesia. You can tip between 5-10% of the cost. At the higher end restaurants, some automatically add a 5-10% service fee to the final bill.
11. Watch out for the sidewalks, especially in the dark.
The sidewalks aren’t the greatest on the island. During our stay in Ubud, we’d encountered giant holes on the sidewalks. The hole lead to the sewage or underground pipes so the fall would be significant. Therefore, watch the ground and where you’re stepping. We wouldn’t want you to accidentally go down a hole and injure yourself.
Having travel insurance will be helpful if this occurred on your trip.
12. Dress appropriately when visiting temples.
Leave the beachwear at your hotel and dress conservatively when visiting the temples. Many of the Balinese temples (also referred to as pura) practice Hinduism. All visitors need to cover their shoulders and legs and wear a sarong. If you don’t have a sarong, the temples have them available to rent. You can also buy one for a better investment.
13. Ladies, if you’re on your menstrual cycle, you cannot enter the temples.
This will be disappointing to women who are currently menstruating during their Bali trip. If it’s the time of the month, then they will not be able to enter.
Before entering a temple area, some of the workers will ask women if they are on their cycle. Or, there will be a sign translated to English that addresses menstruation. We know, it’s an invasion of privacy. If you plan to go to the popular Pura Lempuyang in East Bali, women will be asked this question. More information about this rule is here.
14. You may be given a necklace as a “gift” at the temples.
The larger and more touristy temples will have a shopping area to purchase sarongs and other souvenir items. For the smaller temples, there may be hawkers hanging out at the entrance and walking up to you to buy something.
One experience to know about is that you may receive a necklace as a gift from one of the hawkers. We had this happen at Pura Goa Lawah. Remember that nothing is free when you’re in Bali. We smiled, thanked them for the gesture, and returned the necklace. However, in exchange, the hawkers would like you to purchase something equivalent to $1. It’s up to you whether or not you want to purchase something such as postcards or magnets.
15. Use your bargaining skills at the local markets.
Bali has some incredible handicrafts that you can purchase as souvenirs for friends and family. Some of the popular items include rattan purses, wooden handicrafts, sarongs, and more. Since items aren’t marked, you’ll need to use your bargaining skills to get a good deal.
If you don’t plan to buy anything, please do not bargain and walk away. The sellers need to focus on customers who will purchase something. Please be considerate of the sellers’ time and efforts.
16. It’s the perfect place to go on many outdoor adventures!
While Bali has gorgeous beaches, we’re huge fans of spending time outdoors and going on adventures. Here are some recommended outdoor attractions to do in Bali:
- Hike Mount Batur to see the sunrise.
- Experience canyoning at Hidden Canyon.
- Walk along the suspension bridge at Bukit Lemped, also referred to as Houses Tree Hill Lemped.
- Go whitewater rafting.
- Go underwater seawalking.
- Go surfing or learn how to surf.
- Walk through the rice terraces such as Jatiluwih or Tegalalang. Jatiluwih’s subak water system is recognized as a UNESCO site.
17. Bali has tons of waterfalls.
For all the waterfall catchers out there, you must come to Bali to check out the incredible waterfalls! You can visit a new waterfall every day while you’re in Bali as there are several dozens to visit. Check out our post of the best waterfalls to see in Bali. Many of the waterfalls are considered the top waterfalls to visit in Asia. We’re fans of Sekumpul Waterfall and Banyumala Twin Waterfalls.
Tip: Many of the waterfalls require a short hike to get to them. Wear appropriate footwear as the walking paths may be slippery.
18. If you see monkeys, hide everything.
Bali has a few places to see monkeys in their natural habitats such as Ubud’s Monkey Forest (Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary) and Sangeh’s Monkey Forest. You’ll also see them around the temple area and in the mountains. Even though the monkeys are cute, you must hide everything inside your purse or backpack. The monkeys will grab anything new and shiny from sunglasses, cell phones, hats, and even food. Otherwise, you won’t see your stuff ever again.
19. If you need to get away from the mainland, take a speedboat to Nusa Islands.
Nusa Islands are three islands south of the mainland. The islands, Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan, and Nusa Ceningan, are easy to get to from Bali as it’s only 20-30 minutes away by speedboat. You’ll love the fewer crowds and the opportunity to lounge on the beaches, snorkel, and awe at the beautiful landscapes. We suggest that you visit the iconic Kelingking Beach on Nusa Penida for the picturesque spot.
20. Eat the local foods for delicious Indonesian and Balinese food.
Food is affordable if you decide to stick to the small warungs (local cafes and restaurants) for Indonesian and Balinese food. Meals can cost between 20,000-60,000 IDR ($1.40-$4.25) per person. Our favorite foods include nasi campur (rice, peanuts, eggs, and small portions of meat and vegetables), babi guling (suckling pig), and ikan bakar (grilled fish, usually gourami). There are also plenty of vegetarian options available such as tempeh and tofu.
One of the best parts about eating Indonesian food is the side of sambal, a type of chili sauce. The sauce adds a spicy kick to your meal so try a little bit before pouring over your dish.
To find these restaurants, we usually do a quick search on Google Maps for nearby restaurants from our current location and also ask locals for their suggestions.
21. Prepare for hot and humid weather and occasional rain.
Most of the days will be hot and humid between 29-30℃ (84-87℉), so it’s recommended that you wear moisture-wicking and light-weight clothes.
During the rainy season (November-March), you may have heavy rain and downpour. However, the rain will not last all day long. It’ll rain for 30 minutes to an hour and then stop for the rest of the day. Pack an umbrella or a poncho and you’ll be prepared for any rainy day in Bali.
Tip: Stay hydrated so you don’t get heat stroke.
22. Don’t drink the tap water.
We typically don’t drink the tap water. Instead, order fresh juices or young coconuts at restaurants or cafes. They are affordable and oh so delicious! As with ice, we have them in the Indonesian dessert, cendol, from restaurants. Knock on wood, we haven’t had any stomach issues yet.
23. Reduce plastic usage and bring a water bottle.
Plastic is an issue in Bali. With all of the tourists on the island, the amount of plastic bottles, straws, and bags, add up in the landfill or washes up on the beaches.
To lessen your plastic waste, bring a reusable water bottle and ask your guesthouse or restaurant if they have water refills available. You may need to pay a nominal fee of $.25 to refill your bottle. During our visit to Nusa Lembongan, some restaurants offer refill stations and will collect your plastic bottles for recycling. Let’s work together to save Mother Earth!
24. Once a year, Bali celebrates Nyepi (Day of Silence).
Depending on when you’re visiting Bali, the island celebrates Nyepi, also referred to as Day of Silence. It’s celebrated every New Year, according to the Balinese calendar, and happens on the third day of the six-day festival. The island is shut down so people are off from work, restaurants and attractions are closed, and electricity is turned off. You won’t be able to go anywhere. It’s the opportunity to be silent and stay indoors to reflect on the new year. In 2020, Nyepi occurred on March 25.
Now, that’s a wrap! We hope you enjoyed reading more about what to know before going to Bali and how to travel around Bali.
If you have questions about any of these tips, ask a question in the comment below.
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