Bali seems to constantly increase its popularity among tourists and no wonder – whether you are a backpacker looking for cheap stay or if you want to enjoy finer things in life this island has something to offer for everyone. My own history with Bali goes back in 2012 when I did my exchange studies here and lived on the island for four months. I visited the island again last August for a month long holiday. In this guide I'm sharing my tips on how to make a most of your holiday on this beautiful island.
When to go?
Bali has two seasons: rain season and dry season. Usually the rain season starts around November and lasts somewhere around March. Naturally best time to go would be outside the rainy season, but if you don't like sharing the beach with hundreds of other tourists I would also suggest to also to avoid peak tourist season which is from June to August.
How to move around?
There are basically three options in transport: taxis
, personal drivers
. Traffic jams in busier areas can be really bad so the fastest way to move around is with scooter. There are scooter rentals everywhere around tourist areas so just ask around and test drive few different options before you decide. Longer term rentals are usually cheaper. The traffic may look very chaotic but it actually isn't that bad as it seems, just follow the locals and always wear a helmet! Taxis are also really cheap option for transportation. The only problem with the taxies is that the traffic which may be really bad sometimes so it can take a long time to travel even the shortest distance. The most reliable taxi company is Blue Bird Taxis which are light blue in color. Always tell the driver to put the meter on to get correct price. For longer trips around the island one quite convenient option is to hire a private driver. They usually come with air conditioned 7-seater cars so with bigger groups it's not even very expensive. Sometimes they might also have really good travel tips and take you to some cool places you didn't even know about.
Where to go?
Bukit Peninsula (Southern part of the island)
This is the area where the most beautiful beaches of Bali are located. Reef in the bottom makes the waves break clean which makes Bukit really popular place to surf. It is also home of two most famous surf breaks in Bali – Uluwatu and Padang Padang. My personal favorite is Padang Padang beach which is really beautiful but on the downside it is also quite touristic.
Padang Padang beach
For sightseeing there is the famous Uluwatu Temple located in top of the cliff in Uluwatu. Watch out for the monkeys they can be really sneaky thieves. If you are looking for accommodation from this area there are a lot of home stays on the road that goes from Padang Padang to Uluwatu. In Bali in general the best way to get budget accommodation is just ask around because a lot (probably the most) of the home stays are not online and even if they are you probably get cheaper price on the spot. If you are a friend of seafood a sunset dinner on the beach of Jimbaran is a must! There is a lot of seafood restaurants by the beach where you can choose your fish from the desk and they cook it for you as you prefer. It is not the cheapest option but totally worth it!
This is the main tourist area of the island. This is the place to go if you want to book (cheap) tours or if you want to buy something like clothes, sarong, surfboard, souvenirs etc., or if you are looking for a party. Otherwise I recommend not to stay here. Even though it is a tourist area there is still some decent food to be found especially in small alleyways between Poppies I, II and Jalan Benesari. If you have been a long time away from home and especially if you are Scandinavian, Alleycats serves some pretty good köttbullars (meatballs) in Poppies II. It is also a popular place for pre-drinks so it is usually pretty packed on Friday and Saturday evenings.
This is also tourist area although a bit more poshy and sophisticated than Kuta. Personally I like the area more than Kuta and the beach is also nicer here. In Double Six beach you can just chill on a beanbag with a bottle of Bintang and watch the waves go by. There is also some really good options for food in this area. One highly recommended and definitely a budget option is Nakula Night Market on Jalan Nakula. This is a good place to get authentic local food which is much tastier and cheaper than in tourist areas. For a bit fancier dinner there is a Italian restaurant Ultimo
in Jalan Kayu Aya that has some really tasty food and excellent service. Not the cheapest but a bargain price for what you get. From the same company there is also Rumours
almost next to Ultimo and it is rumoured that the food in here is as delicious as in Ultimo. Reservation is a must since these are really popular.
Double Six beach / Seminyak
A bit further North along the coast there Canggu which constantly increases its popularity among westerners, but still remains to be more peaceful area than Kuta and Seminyak. The building of Deus Ex Machina is definitely one place worth a visit. Located in beautiful area next to rice fields this big complex has a restaurant / cafe, shop, art gallery and a skate ramp only to name a few. For more information check the website of this Temple of Enthusiasm
. For food options in Canggu there is a lot of western style cafes and restaurants but if you want something more authentic the small warungs with cheap Nasi Goreng are always a good option and they are located in almost every street. If you want to have dinner on a beach there is one good BBQ buffet located on Echo beach. There is a lot of affordable home stays in Canggu area especially around Batu Bolong and Berawa beach and it is a nice place to stay especially if you are looking for something more peaceful area to stay from this part of the coast. A bit north from Canggu there is the famous Tanah Lot Temple
, which is located in the ocean. On low tide you can walk down to the reef but there is no tourist access inside the actual temple. Still it is worth a visit and especially beautiful during sunset.
Tanah Lot Temple
This is the part of the island where you can find some really stunning natural attractions such as waterfalls, mountains, rainforest and volcanoes. Also the human build attractions like rice terraces and temples in this area are pretty amazing. Even if you are an Ocean lover and prefer staying close to coast (like yours truly) it is still advisable to visit also this part of the island. Most well known and most popular town among tourists in the central area is Ubud, the cultural centre of the island. This is the place for art, handicrafts, museums, dance performances, yoga, temples and all things alike. Ubud Market is good place to buy handicrafts, sarongs, art or other souvenirs. It is in the culture to bargain from almost anything and especially in the market it is part of the experience to negotiate appropriate price with the seller. Even if you are not that interested in cultural stuff Ubud should still be on your bucket list, the town itself is located in really nice area among rice terraces and rainforest and it is home to Monkey Forest, a sacred nature reserve and temple inhabited by hundreds of monkeys who are much friendlier than in Uluwatu.
Monkey Forest / Ubud
If you are not a vegetarian Babi Guling at Ibu Oka is a must. Babi Guling is traditional Balinese roasted pork dish, where the pig is stuffed, seasoned and cooked for hours on open fire. Although Indonesia is a big Muslim country (so they don't eat pork) in Bali the main religion is Hinduism which allows them to invent some delicious dishes like this. You can find Babi Guling also in other places in Bali but many claim that Ibu Oka is the best and I totally agree. Other places to go in central area include:
- Mount Batur & Lake Batur – an active volcano and a crater lake. Awesome views from the lookout and you can also do a sunrise trekking on top of the the mountain.
- Rice Terraces – Tegalalang being the most famous one but there are many others around.
- Waterfalls – There is a lot of waterfalls in Bali, I have visited Tegenungan and Munduk waterfalls which are quite touristic but still very beautiful.
- Temples – There is a lot of temples especially around Ubud, in some temples you can go inside and in some there is no access for tourists inside the temple. Most of the temples have small entrance fee that includes borrowing a sarong if you wear shorts, as knees must be covered when entering the temple area.
- Buyan Lake & Tamlingan Lake – These are actually located in the north part of the island but the scenery around this area is pretty amazing so it's worth a drive.
Mount Batur & Lake Batur
Gunung Kawi Temple
What to do?
There is some nice reef around Amed
on East coast and also in Menjangan Island
in the North-West corner of the island, although it is a bit more difficult access. If you are into snorkeling I would strongly suggest to visit Gili Islands
since I think the best snorkeling around Bali is in there. You can access to Gilies with either a speed boat or with a ferry through Lombok. If you are not planning to visit Lombok then the speed boat option is faster and much less hassle. You can buy the speed boat trip from various ”travel agencies” in Kuta or other tourist areas. Before buying it is good idea to visit few places and compare the prices since they can vary a lot.
White water rafting is super fun! Especially if it has been raining and there is a lot of water in the river. There are many companies that organize rafting trips and you can buy these from the travel agencies around tourist areas. Wear your swimsuit or board shorts as you will get wet! They have waterproof bags for cameras and phones etc. so you don't have to worry about them.
Bali is propably one of the most popular and easiest place to start surfing as there are good waves around the island and a lot of safe beach breaks for the beginners. You can rent boards from all the beaches there is some waves and there are also several surf schools operating around the island. The best breaks for beginners are Batu Bolong
in Canggu, Beach breaks around Kuta/Seminyak
and Baby Padang
in Pagang Padang. Remember to also learn the surfing etiquette. Even though it is a relatively small island there is still a lot to see and do in Bali and although tourism is constantly developing, there is still a lot of areas in the island that remain relatively unspoilt by tourism. Most important tip from a professor in local University when I studied here was to always smile – and that's what Balinese people do, they smile a lot and that is also my last tip for you – just keep on smiling and exploring!