Bali Travel Guide: Essential Tips for First-Time Visitors to the Indonesian Paradise
Over the past few decades, Bali has become an incredibly popular destination for tourists around the world—and with good reason! Crystal blue waters, spectacular temples, great surfing, and friendly locals make the Indonesian island a true paradise. If you’re planning your first trip to Bali—or if you’ve already been and are just looking for a refresher—here are my tips on how to make your trip truly (wait for it) un-Bali-vable.
First-time visitors to Bali, you’re in for a real treat! Bali is one of Indonesia’s 17,000+ islands and is home to about four million people. Here are a few things to know before you hop on your flight:
- Visitors from most countries can enter Indonesia without a visa for up to 30 days. Confirm your country is on this list (major countries like the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the UK are included), and, if not, you will need to apply for a tourist visa.
- Bali’s popularity can be a bit off-putting to those looking for something a little more off-the-beaten-path, so if you’re seeking peace and solitude, consider visiting during a quieter season (avoid major holidays and Australian school holidays) or staying away from the main cities.
- Indonesia’s currency is the Rupiah. The current exchange rate is about 1 U.S. dollar to 15,000 Rupiah, so download a currency converter app or make sure your math skills are up to snuff before you arrive.
- Locals speak Balinese (and also sometimes Indonesian), but many have learned English to be able to communicate with travelers. Check out this article for a few key phrases in Balinese if you want to impress.
- Expect hot and humid weather throughout the year!
- Indonesia is primarily Muslim, but the majority of Balinese people practice Hinduism. You’ll find Hindu temples everywhere you go. Pay attention to local customs and be respectful wherever you go on the island.
Where to Stay in Bali
Bali’s popularity as a tourist destination means you’ll have no problem finding a place to stay while you’re there. Hotels, resorts, and backpacker hostels abound across the island. There are few places in the world, though, where you’ll be able to rent an entire villa pretty much no matter what budget you’re on, so private villas are a fantastic option for visitors to the Indonesian paradise. Check out Bali Villas to explore options across the island hand-picked by an expert.
Wondering which part of Bali to stay in during your visit? It’s a fairly big island, with quite a variety of places to book your accommodation. You’ll find villas nearly everywhere, but here’s a sampling of Bali’s major destinations:
- Kuta – Kuta’s proximity to the airport makes it a popular first stop for visitors. Here you’ll find plenty of nightlife, lots of shops, surfing opportunities, and no shortage of Australians. If you’re looking for a party or an active city, it’s a good place to start, but there’s plenty to see beyond it.
- Seminyak – Just beyond Kuta, Seminyak is a little quieter and more upscale. Here, you’ll find plenty of villas and resorts and can enjoy some beach time and sunsets over the ocean.
- Canggu – Canggu is located just about twenty minutes from Seminyak and is even quieter and more relaxed. If you’re into health and fitness, look to Canggu for yoga, pilates, gyms, and healthy cafes alongside its black sand beaches.
- Ubud – Ubud was popularized by the book (and later film) Eat, Pray, Love, but regardless of how much eating, praying, or loving you plan to do in Bali, Ubud offers gorgeous jungle landscapes, a monkey forest, fascinating temples, and tons of cafes and boutiques.
- Jimbaran – On the south tip of the island, also convenient to the airport, you can find less overcrowded beaches and more upscale villas and resorts. From here, you can also make a quick trip to the coastal, clifftop Uluwatu Temple.
- Denpasar – Bali’s largest city is geared more toward locals than tourists, but if you do find yourself stumbling into Denpasar, you’ll discover a variety of temples, palaces, and museums.
- Gili Islands – Though these are actually off the coast of Gili’s neighboring island, Lombok, the Gili Islands—Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air—are popular destinations for visitors to Bali. Hop on a ferry from Bali to explore these tiny islands surrounded by turquoise water, go snorkeling, or experience the nightlife.
What to Eat in Bali
Bali’s popularity with tourists means you’ll find all sorts of international food—including major fast food chains—around the island. However, I’d recommend embracing Indonesian culture and trying some of the most popular dishes. Nasi goreng (fried rice) and mie goreng (fried noodles) can be found pretty much everywhere. Nasi champur (steamed rice, vegetables, and meat) is another popular dish. Check out this article for other Balinese cuisine favorites.
Restaurant prices vary depending on how much they cater to tourists, but most places offer dishes for just a few U.S. dollars. Pair it with a popular local lager like Bintang or Bali Hai or freshly squeezed fruit juice. And don’t be surprised if sales tax and a service charge are added to your bill.
Getting Around Bali
Public transportation is not common in Bali, although you can find shuttle buses through companies like Perama. Taxis are a common way to get around the island, but be sure to negotiate the price or ensure the meter is turned on to avoid getting ripped off. Uber is also available in Bali if you have access to wifi and prefer a fixed price.
If you’re looking to see a lot in one day, hiring a local guide is your best bet. Many operate by word-of-mouth and will escort you around the island in a private car for a reasonable price. I used Jack Yadnya as my tour guide for my visit and would recommend him to anyone looking to explore Bali’s diverse beauty. His preferred mode of contact is through Facebook; you can message him on his profile here.
Whether you’re traversing Southeast Asia, celebrating a special occasion in paradise, or enjoying a getaway from everyday life, Bali is a stunning place, and it offers a little something for everyone. Longstanding traditions and culture combine with luxury and relaxation to make for an ideal vacation destination. Enjoy your stay!