The first time I visited Bali was in 2008, and that’s when the love affair with Indonesia began. Since then, I’ve visited 8 or so more times, spending a cumulative 4 months in the country. Bali has always been a mainstay for my Southeast Asian adventures, and there are so many delicious reasons why.
But there are some considerations to take in place before you go and while you’re there that can make your trip easier, safer, and better. These are my best Bali tips from almost two decades of visits:
Before You Go to Bali
Before traveling in Bali and Southeast Asia, in general, it’s a good idea to visit a travel doctor and get some immunizations. The standard ones are typhoid and hepatitis A, and tetanus if you need a booster. Your doctor may also recommend the rabies vaccine. If you’re American and this is expensive, I often visit travel doctors abroad for my immunizations. Most recently I got mine in South Africa, but you can get them in Bali, too.
Most nationalities can obtain a visa on arrival at the airport. It’ll be valid for 30 days and costs around $30. You can use USD or most other major currencies to pay for it, or you can pay with a credit card and will be charged a fee.
If you need more time or want to be able to exit and return without buying another visa, you can obtain one ahead of time at an embassy either in your home country, or in the capitol city of any Southeast Asian countries.
Perhaps you use Uber at home to get around. In Southeast Asia, Grab is the similar company to use. You download an app, use a credit card to pay, and order rides just like you would using Uber or Lyft. You can also use it to order food or motorbike rides. I love how this app has simplified getting around Southeast Asia!
Back when I started traveling in Solo in Southeast Asia, Esims were not a thing, and the Wi-Fi was atrocious. These days, you’ll find plenty of high-speed Internet in Bali, but I still always like to be connected with a Sim card. I used to just buy these upon arrival, but Bali Airport is particularly bad with Sim cards. They try to sell cards that have an obscene amount of data on them (think hundreds of gigabytes in some cases) just to jack the price up.
If you have an eSIM compatible phone, you can buy one ahead of time, I like Nomad for this. Or if you need a physical Sim card, I would wait and get one outside of the airport. Most convenience stores sell them.
Although routine healthcare is cheap on Bali, I have been to enough doctors in Indonesia to know that they are often limited with their access to tests and equipment. If you really need intensive care, it might be in your best interest to go to Singapore or your home country.
Many travel cards come with some kind of travel insurance. Just know that these have extremely limited coverage and don’t typically provide anything more than trip cancellation, so your medical bills will be on you. Medical evacuation is often not covered, and there have been some sad stories come out of Bali when tourists didn’t have adequate coverage. Check out Faye, a company I tested on my most recent trip to Japan this winter and had a good experience with. World Nomads is another popular option.
Indonesia can be one of the cheapest places to travel in the world, though out of all of the islands, Bali can be one of the pricier ones. If you’re staying in high-end resorts and eating foreigner food in foreign cafes and restaurants, it can cost just as much as a vacation in Europe.
But if you eat in local warungs, stay in hostels, and take local buses, it doesn’t have to be expensive at all.
Planning Your Trip
Planning Your Bali Itinerary
Bali is huge, and given the traffic, it can take HOURS to get across the island, or even just to get to the airport from Canggu. If you’re short on time, don’t try to do too much. This is always my advice when planning a trip. But if you’re rich in time, then I recommend spending time in Ubud for the hippie vibe and jungly feel, including some of the most famous rice terraces and temples, Canggu if you want to eat instagram food and learn how to surf, and the Nusa Islands, in particular Nusa Penida, for some of the most dreamy landscapes. You can always head to the Gili islands and Lombok from there. Many of the bucket list things to do in Indonesia are on Bali.
Bali is also a great place to SCUBA dive (as are Komodo and Raja Ampat), stay for a while if you’re a digital nomad, and hike volcanoes. There’s truly so much to do there, I can understand why some people just move there!
All of that said, Bali receives more visitors per year than any other island in Indonesia. If you’re looking for private beaches and getting viewpoints and temples all to yourself, that’s not really typically possible in Bali, where queues to take photos at the popular spots are common. Here are some Bali alternatives if you’re looking for smaller crowds.
Where to Stay in Bali
I’ve stayed everywhere from budget backpacker accommodation, to mid-range resorts like Komaneka at Keramas, to the highest end resort in Bali at Capella Ubud. The great thing is, you can find anything to suit your price range and interests. I usually rely on booking.com to find hotels, and Hostelworld is great for shared budget backpacker accommodation.
Bali is also a great destination for retreats, whether it’s yoga, spirituality, or something else. The one I attended was hosted by someone I already followed online prior to going, but you can always rely on Google if you’re unsure where to start with finding one.
Bali Water Safety
There are two important things to consider when we talk about the water safety in Bali – water that you drink and water that you swim in.
On my most recent trip to Bali, I was so delighted to see that there’s a movement against plastic bottles and more restaurants in accommodation are providing purified water rather than plastic bottles. For this reason, I recommend bringing a refillable water bottle with you. You can’t drink the tap water in Bali without it being treated first.
Ocean-wise, don’t underestimate the waves and currents in Bali. Be SURE before you swim that it’s safe to do so, and don’t enter if the water is choppy or full of surf boards. I had a scary experience once, and I’m an ocean-loving freediver who considers herself a strong swimmer.
Bali Animal Safety
I have several friends who have had to cut their trip short because they got bitten by monkeys in Bali and had to return home for some very expensive rabies treatments. The macaques can be extremely aggressive, and I actually had a bad experience when climbing Rinjani on Lombok with one – or at least it could have been bad. My instincts told me to roar and bear my teeth and I managed to scare him away before he bit me.
If you see monkeys in Bali, just give them their space. They are aggressive, and you really don’t want to interact with a baby! The mom will bite. I don’t even have interest in the monkey temple because so many people have been bitten there.
Transport in Bali
I personally love Grab for getting around Bali. It’s so easy and simple to order. But keep in mind that you will need a Sim card to order them on the go. You could consider renting a motorbike and driving yourself, but just remember that traffic in Bali is kind of crazy. Even though I drive motorbikes on other islands, I won’t do it on Bali.
Solo Female Travelers
I’ve been to Indonesia many times as a solo female traveler (and have TONS of resources for Solo Female Travelers on this site!), and find Bali to be one of the easiest, friendliest places to travel alone as a woman in Southeast Asia.
It’s helpful that Bali is very used to tourists, has plenty of tourism infrastructure, and their own religion that doesn’t require as much covering up from women. Overall I found it much easier to travel alone there than in East Java, which was my toughest solo experience in Indonesia.
Although Bali feels safe, it’s always important to use lockers in hostels, be aware of your surroundings, don’t be flashy, and don’t get too intoxicated.
I am generally happy to travel in Southeast Asia in the rainy season. It’s cheaper, less crowded, greener, and although buggier, the waterfalls are pumping and I like not having to share the beaches and waterfalls with as many people.
That said, Bali can be VERY rainy. If visiting in December or January, it might rain every day. If you’re traveling long-term, Bali’s rainy season is the opposite of Thailand, for example (read my Thailand vs. Indonesia comparison). Try to time things better so you don’t get rained out on both.
Packing for Bali
My general Southeast Asia packing list is light clothing like tank tops, flowing skirts, or light pants and shorts. I also like light dresses for some coverage from the sun and at temples. Thankfully modesty isn’t as required in Bali.
When You Arrive
Navigating the Airport
I can’t think of many major airports in Southeast Asia where there isn’t some kind of scam or at least overpriced item. When withdrawing money from an ATM, make sure that you don’t agree to whatever their rate is if they were to translate it to your home country currency. Accept the local currency and let your bank set the rate.
As mentioned earlier, I would avoid buying any SIM cards at the airport because they are over priced and have way too much data on them.
Bali’s airport used to be the worst place to deal with transportation, but it’s gotten better. A private car to most destinations like Uber or Canggu will probably cost around 400-500k IDR. It used to be that Uber operated on Bali and you could get super cheap rides on it, but now Grab has its own waiting area outside of the airport and in a bid to agree with the local taxis, the prices aren’t as cheap as they use to be.
If you’re really looking to get a cheap ride, you can leave the airport and walk for a bit and then order a grab taxi. Otherwise, wait in the Grab area or get an official taxi from the airport. Avoid unmarked cars or bartering – the price will be crazy.
Bali Cultural Considerations
Bali has one of the most unique cultures in the world. There are frequent celebrations and holidays, and when visiting, it’s important to be a respectful tourist.
Be careful not to visit temples without at least your legs covered. Don’t touch or move any offerings in the temples. If they’re on the ground and it’s unavoidable to step over them, chances are they’ve already been used for a blessing and will be swept away later that day or the next.
Use your right hand to shake hands or give or take things in Bali.
Also, you’ll notice Balinese people are typically calm and friendly. It’s best to reflect this back to them, as outward expressions of anger are generally looked upon unfavorably. Isn’t this the case almost anywhere?
When it comes to your Bali vacation, there’s so much to do and such a unique style and culture, that it’s easy to fall in love with. There’s nowhere quite like it in the world.