There are a lot of Bali travel guide blogs online that give you a good idea about the best places to visit, the best places to eat, etc. However, while doing my own Bali travel research, I had several questions to which I couldn’t find easy directions.
For example, I wanted a quick and simple answer regarding the Visa process, or regarding currency exchange, being connected to the internet, etc. I didn’t find a consolidated Bali travel guide that answered those questions together. To find answers, I had to trawl through a number of convoluted and often contradicting TripAdvisor forums that often left me more confused than enlightened.
If you’re traveling to Bali for the first time, and if you’re not already a pro-traveler, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed. I totally get that feeling. However, to be perfectly honest, even if you don’t read this Bali travel guide blog, or any blog, you’ll be alright. But going through this Bali travel guide will at least make things simpler, and perhaps set your mind at ease.
Table of Contents
I can’t possibly start a Bali travel guide for first timers with anything other than the Visa process.
You might have read online that Bali has a Visa-on-Arrival system. If you’ve never used a Visa-on-Arrival before, you might be wondering, “so I just walk over, get a Visa, and enter the country?”
When I first went to Bali, I was sweating through my shirt and my palm grew clammy as I waited in queue for the Bali Visa because I kept imagining that the whole process seemed too easy to be true. But it is really that simple, so enjoy it!
You can check whether you’re from one of the 140 lucky countries in the Official Indonesian Visa Site.
For the love of god, don’t carry any contraband or weapons on you. No, not even a pen knife, not even a bit of weed. The Indonesian government is pretty strict about this and they have severe punishments for breaching their laws.
The currency used in Indonesia is called Rupiah (IDR), and it’s shortened to Rp. The first thing you notice about the IDR when you travel to Bali is that it’s insanely devalued. $1 is over Rp 13.000 in value. As such, you’ll very often find yourself dealing in hundreds of thousands and millions of rupiahs.
You can use the XE Currency Converter to determine the current conversion rates.
A few days before going to Bali I figured I ought to get myself some IDR in advance, so that I don’t have trouble with currency conversion later. As I learnt upon visiting some currency exchange areas in Delhi, most countries don’t keep IDR because of how unstable and devalued it is. So your only option is to get the currency exchanged in Bali itself. However, it’s really not that difficult.
In this part of my Bali travel guide for first timers I’ll list out all the different means of Indonesian currency exchange.
If you use one of these currencies, you have nothing to worry about. You’ll be able to get your currency exchanged literally anywhere.
While the aforementioned options are great for people with popular currencies, that’s not an avenue open to most others. I couldn’t find a single vendor that exchanged the Indian Rupees (INR). A fellow traveler from Canada found it really difficult to get Canadian Dollars (CAD) exchanged as well. In this case, you can avail of one of the following options:
If you’re traveling to Bali for the first time you’re likely worried about the internet connection.
In this part of my Bali travel guide I’ll show you how to stay connected wherever you go!
Hotels generally have WiFi connection, but a lot of hotels have terrible network. One of the hotels I stayed in, called Vansari, had awful network. And I’m a digital nomad, I need to be connected! So I found myself spending an inordinate amount of money in cafes, ordering food I didn’t need, just so I could use their WiFi and do my work.
To avoid that, and to avoid International Roaming charges, you should get a data pack on your phone. I know, when I first considered this idea, I thought it would be a big endeavor. But it really isn’t.
If you’re visiting Bali as a tourist and you care about a decent internet connection, you should get a Telkomsel sim. They’re the leading network providers in Bali, and they offer the best speed across Bali. However, it’s directed mostly towards tourists and as such it’s also the most expensive sim you can get, though even that is quite affordable.
They have a particular pre-paid sim card meant solely for tourists, and it’s called simPATI. That’s the one you should go for. Depending on how much data you get and whether you also need talk time, you can expect to spend anything between Rp 120.000 to Rp 400.000 ($9 to $30 | ₹600 to ₹2000).
This is the one favored mostly by the residents of Indonesia. You can get 11GB of Data Package for the price of Rp 45.000 ($3 | ₹200). The downside to this is that it’s not very reliable, isn’t available in all parts of Bali, and has weaker network.
There are several online services such as SimJek that you should be wary of. They promise extremely reasonable rates, and they promise that they’ll deliver the Sim to you either at the airport when you land, or at your hotel, or anywhere else. However, upon further digging into their service, I found several tourists complain that they received far less data than they were promised, or that it was too slow, or that the sim wasn’t delivered on time. I eventually didn’t use their service, but as I soon learnt I didn’t need it. Getting the aforementioned simPATI sim card in Bali is super easy!
One can write a complete Bali Travel Guide dealing solely with an in-depth exploration of the different locations in Bali. However, for now I’ll simply give you a very brief idea about where to stay in Bali, especially as someone traveling to Bali for the first time.
This is the vibrant and buzzing shopping hub of Bali. If you’re coming to Bali to explore some of its local culture, this is probably not the ideal location for you. Seminyak is completely gentrified, pretty expensive compared to the rest of Bali, and meant solely for tourists.
You’d be hard-pressed to find local Balinese in Seminyak, other than the shop owners. Having said that, if you want to stay in a location that is central and lavish with adorable boutique stores and roadside cafes, this is definitely the one.
Seminyak is also the prime location from which to explore Bali’s nightlife, clubs, and some of the nicer beaches.
Seminyak is home to one of Bali’s most famous beach clubs, Potato Head Beach Club. If you interact with other tourists while in Bali, you’re sure to find plenty of people raving about it, and for good reason too.
If you’re looking for a gay-friendly place in Bali, look no further. Seminyak has a street that’s lined with gay clubs, bars, and a nightly drag show as well. It also has an exclusively gay clothing optional resort called Spartacvs.
Distance from Airport: Approx. 10km, 30 minutes
If you’re looking for a taste of Bali culture, and if you want to be surrounded by some of the most beautiful beaches in Bali, then Uluwatu is the destination for you. It’s home to sights such as the Uluwatu Temple, and you can take a tour of the Sunset Kecak Dance and Seafood Barbecue as well.
It’s also the best place to be if you want to be surrounded by clean beaches, or if you want to go snorkeling in clear blue oceans. Most places in Bali don’t really have the best beaches. Some of them are simply deplorable. Uluwatu is the exception to that, largely because a lot of the beaches here are privately owned. As such, you have to pay an entrance fee to get in.
One of the best days I spent in Bali was in Sundays Beach Club. I had to pay Rp 300.000 ($23 | ₹1500) as an entrance, but it was totally worth it. I spent an entire day on Beach loungers, went paddle boating on the clearest of waters, enjoyed snorkeling, got a complementary cocktail, and even enjoyed a Bonfire later at night.
Distance from Airport: Approx. 21km, 45 minutes
Ubud is widely considered to be the cultural center of Bali. If you really want to see Bali in its “Island of the Gods” visage, there’s no better place for it. It’s full of temples and retreats for meditation and yoga. There are cultural museums you can visit, and because it’s a tourist hotspot, you can also find several streets flanked by boutique stores and cafes.
If you’re interested in checking out the famous Bali wilderness, you can go to the Botanical Gardens and the Safaris. You should also check out the Waterfalls and the much sought out Tegallalang Rice Terraces. If you’re in Ubud, I highly recommend you visit the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, and allow some monkeys to perch on your head and shoulders while you’re at it! However, if you’re going to Bali for the beaches, stay away from Ubud because it’s entirely inland with no beach anywhere near.
During my trip, I stayed at a charming and extremely reasonable homestay called Agus Pension.
Distance from Airport: Approx. 38km, 1 hour 15 minutes
This is the perfect location for some peace, quiet, and solitude, away from the noise of popular Bali. I only spent three relaxing days at a clothing optional resort in Tejakula called Bali Au Naturel, however those days were pretty perfect.
In North Bali you can find some stunning black sand beaches that are usually entirely empty. If you want some time to your reveries, this is the perfect place for it. Just be careful because I couldn’t see any lifeguards around the beaches.
Distance from Airport: Approx. 100km, 3 hours
To be clear, I haven’t been to Kuta myself. I intended to explore it but for several reasons I had to cut my trip short. However, I’m writing about Kuta here because I feel I’m obligated to, considering it’s one of the most popular destinations in Bali with a certain type of tourists, and it’s the closest to the airport. It also happens to be the perfect place in Bali to learn surfing as a beginner.
Distance from Airport: Approx. 5km, 15 minutes
Even though I haven’t beed to Kuta, I feel obligated to warn you that I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about it. I’ve met plenty of tourists who have been vitriolic in their anger against Kuta’s tourist culture characterized by its blatant disrespect for the local Balinese and a general sense of drunken debauchery. However, not having had the chance to explore it myself I’ll refrain from commenting any further. Instead, you can read from others who have been to Kuta, such as Adventurous Kate, and Wandering Earl.
There’s not really much to say in this part of my Bali travel guide because Bali is pretty awesome all year long.
Bali lies close to the equator and as such it’s hot all year long. However, the best time to visit Bali is between April to September, the “Dry Season”. This is the best time to visit Bali because even though it’s humid, it’s quite pleasant.
I went to Bali in early April, so I was met with some of the transitional season. It rained quite a bit when I first went there, the seas looked a bit stormy as well, but mid-way through April it was all clear skies!
Bali sees a lot of regular festivals and events in which the locals are extremely engaged. In fact, while I was in Bali, my Taxi often had to stop or change routes because certain roads were closed off due to local celebrations.
On the 15th, I was in a remote village in Ubud with fellow tourists. We’d planned to explore the local waterfalls, and the Sacred Monkey Forest. However, we woke up to find ourselves in a Ghost Town. Not kidding. The entire village was deserted. Even the staff of the hotel wasn’t around. The restaurants and cafes were closed. We tried contacting Uber but there weren’t any around.
Finally, after walking for half an hour, I found a lone person on the street. I asked him where I could find a Taxi, he couldn’t speak English but he understood the word “taxi.” He seemed really excited by the word, he asked me to wait, and before I knew it, he pulled up his own car and asked me “where to?”
He was clearly not a professional driver, but being too tired to argue, I threw caution to the wind and fell into his back seat gratefully. He didn’t speak English so I had to mime the waterfall (don’t ask me how), and then I had to mime the Monkeys in the forest (again, don’t ask). Luckily, before I could make a complete fool of myself, he stopped me and said, “Monkey, I know.”
Anyway, my point is, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble if you familiarize yourself with the events happening around the time you’re traveling. It will also give you a lot of opportunities to engage in the local celebrations.
Carry only breathable, breezy clothes. Period.
When I packed for Bali, I made the mistake of “preparing for all situations.” I packed jeans, shorts, swimming trunks, shirts, t-shirts, tank tops, loafers, slip-ins, boots, hell I even packed a friggin’ denim jacket! I put on a neon green tank top, and threw the denim over it, admired myself in the mirror and reasoned that that’s what I’d be wearing in the evenings.
The only clothes I wore throughout my two week stay was 1 t-shirt, 3 tank tops, 2 pairs of shorts, 1 swimming trunk, and a single slip-in. Regardless of the time, regardless of the place. However, be sure to carry plenty of tank tops and shorts because it’s likely you’ll be sweating through several pairs on a daily basis.
If you’re a guy, you might not be allowed to enter nightclubs in a sleeveless. I don’t know whether this is a hard-and-fast rule, or if it’s applicable only in some clubs. But when I tried to enter a club, I was stopped for having a tank top on. They had another guy standing around who offered me a black t-shirt for Rp 150.000 ($12 | ₹750).
Bali is populated by guys roaming around in tank tops, and as such they’d started a mini-business of turning them away from the club, and straight into the arms of the guy selling shitty black t-shirts for a ridiculous price. Anyway, my point is, when you go to a nightclub, just put on a t-shirt and save yourself the trouble. (Women can enter the club in just about anything, even short shorts and bikinis.)
There are several different options you have for Accommodation in Bali. I’ll go into a detailed exploration of all your options in another blogpost, but for now I’ll settle for a quick rundown.
These don’t really need any introduction. They’re hotels, in Bali. There are those that are really expensive and luxurious, like The W Hotel, in Seminyak, and then there are some reasonable alternatives as well. I stayed in Spartacvs for 2 days, and in Vansari for 3 days.
Read: Review of Spartacvs
Private Villas in Bali are really popular. They come in all sizes, but they’re generally quite expensive. I stayed in a resort called Bali au Naturel, which happened to be half-way between a Private Villa, and a Resort.
As the name suggests, these are private apartments and houses. Some of them come equipped with kitchens and other amenities. They don’t offer the kind of service found in Hotels, and they’re not as fancy or expensive as Villas. They’re ideal for long term trips, and if you want more of a homely feel. I usually look for these in Airbnb or MisterB&B. You’re probably already familiar with the former, the latter is for those looking for gay-friendly accommodations.
There are plenty of great traveler’s hostels in Bali where you can find a buzzing and vibrant community of people to hang with. You’ll have to share bathrooms, you won’t have any privacy, you’ll sleep in capsule beds or bunk beds, but you’ll also have more fun than you thought possible.
My trip was entirely transformed when I decided to give traveler’s hostels a shot. These are also insanely cheap and you don’t even need to book them in advance. Just show up.
I stayed in three different hostels during my Bali travels, and my personal favorite was M Boutique Hostel.
You can use HostelWorld to find great traveler’s hostels in Bali.
If you’re interested, you can also read my blogpost on my first time at a backpackers hostel!
Read: Review of M Boutique
Couchsurfing is basically when you stay at other people’s homes (usually their couch), and pay just by being nice company. This is something I can’t personally vouch for as I haven’t tried it. But I’ve heard from other travelers that couch surfing is a great way to explore Bali as a local, and make friends. You can get the Couchsurfing Travel App for both iOS and Android.
Hostels are great, however you also have to be really careful. While traveling in Ubud I found a hostel that cost only Rp 60.000 ($4.50 | ₹290), and also offered a swimming pool. It seemed too good to be true. Turns out, it was too good to be true. We (I was traveling with two girls from Ireland, and one from Canada) found the beds infested with bed bugs. We complained to the manager, who was very apologetic and immediately shifted us to another property of his. In the end, we got a private room with a private swimming pool. However, if we hadn’t noticed the bed bugs (they are awfully tiny), our trip could have gone south real fast.
If you’re traveling to Bali for the first time, you might have trouble with transportation. If you’re looking for heights of efficiency, you won’t find it. I’ve constantly been in the company of other tourists all grunting about issues with transportation. However, you can at least bond over the fact that you’re all mutually battle scarred in regards to transportation.
As I mentioned earlier, Uber drivers are generally frowned upon in Bali because they take business away from the transportation companies. They’re also easy targets because they’re not protected by any group or organization. Some of the Uber drivers are positively terrified of other local taxis. As such, even if you order an Uber and the driver accepts, be discreet about it. Track their location on your phone and note their number. When they come close, get in as if you own the car. Don’t wave at them, and for god’s sake don’t shout out “Uber!”
I did that once and the Uber immediately canceled the trip even though he was right there. I also heard an ear-full from a local Balinese guy I was traveling with because he said I potentially put the driver at risk by being so reckless. Apparently, there have been cases in which Uber drivers have had their vehicles vandalized and their lives threatened for driving in the professional territories.
Also, you might find that the Uber driver starts texting you on WhatsApp. Don’t freak out, stay calm. He’s most likely texting to ask if there are any Taxis around so he knows if it’s safe. In some cases, the Uber drivers may also negotiate a higher price over text. Again, don’t freak out, be respectful. If you don’t want to negotiate, simply cancel the ride.
In this part of the Bali travel guide, I’ll tell you a little bit about the food.
I fell in love with food in Bali.
I fell in love with all the charming breakfast cafes, restaurants, and cheap street food joints in Bali.
If you eat out at restaurants and cafes in the tourist areas, you’re likely to spend the same amount of money that you would spend in any other city around the world. Perhaps a little less.
However, if you go to the local food joints, you can get a nice, filling, and delicious meal for approx. Rp 15.000 ($1.10 | ₹70). This would include a soupy bowl of noodles or fried rice, meatballs, and 2 sausages. Pretty great, right?
Highly Recommended: Try out the Indonesian cuisine, just because. Some of it is really good (though that’s a very subjective claim.)
Even if you want to eat stuff that you’re familiar with, Bali is full of varied restaurants and cafes. If you want to feel at home, hop into a chain joint such as McDonald’s, Burger King, or others.
This is an Indonesian Fried Rice, usually served with fried eggs. It’s quite filling, is rich with flavors, and comes really cheap. I had it for lunch and dinner several days straight until I was sick of it (not literally.)
Organic Cafe, in Seminyak, is one of Bali’s most popular breakfast cafes, and… well, I’m gonna’ let this picture do the rest of the talking.
No Bali travel guide for first timers can be complete without a list of activities. There are a bunch of things to do in Bali. I’ll just write down a brief summation of activities in Bali. I haven’t tried out all the activities in Bali, so I’ll mostly go into details of things I have actually done, while briefly touching upon the others.
Bali is full of beautiful Hindu temples that you might like to visit for their scenic beauty, if nothing else. I didn’t visit any temples because I’ve seen plenty in India. Also, I don’t much care to explore things purely for their aesthetic value, and religion bores me. However, if you’re into temples, go check out The Mother Temple, I’ve heard it’s the most important one.
It would be a pity not to mention water activities amongst the things to do in Bali. There are a lot of different avenues from which you can go engage in water activities such as Scuba Diving, Parasailing, and Snorkeling. Make sure that the waters from which you go snorkeling are clear, otherwise you won’t really see anything at all.
Gilli Islands are a series of three small islands that you have to go to on a boat. I’ve heard they’re really fun but I didn’t get a chance to go there myself.
While selecting a boat, be sure to get it from a reputable company. There have been lots of bad incidents, or so I’ve heard.
Mount Batur is a 1700m active volcano in Bali, and it offers gorgeous views of the island. I didn’t get a chance to embark upon the hike either. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it briefly in my Bali travel guide. A tour guide will cost you Rp 300,000 to 400,000 ($22 to $30 | ₹1500 to ₹2000).
It’s an absolute delight to visit the Sacred Monkey Forest. It’s full of monkeys, most of them exceptionally well behaved. You can even buy bananas to feed them. However, you should know that if you’re holding a banana in plain sight, the monkey will grab for it. You might even find some monkeys climbing on your shoulders. It’s best to let them do that. They really are harmless.
I even saw a monkey pull at a girl’s braid playfully. However, the girl reflexively struck back at the monkey, and the monkey hissed in response. That was the only time I saw a monkey be even remotely aggressive, justifiably so. In case you do get scratched by a monkey, they have medics in place, so there’s nothing to worry about.
I didn’t learn surfing in Bali. However, I met people who had traveled all the way to Bali precisely to learn surfing. Most of the reasonable and great surf schools are in Kuta because the waves in those beaches are ideal. You even get accommodations in hostels where you can stay with other surfers. Sounds pretty cool, I might enroll into a school next time I’m in Bali.
You’re bound to be famished after all the traveling and activities. You’re probably famished just reading this ranting Bali travel guide! Well, there’s no better way to let loose than with a Balinese Massage. It’s a deep, holistic, full body treatment that will leave you feeling like jelly.
It’s impossible to say how much it costs because different Spas have vastly different rates. I went to Coco Grande Spa, a gay-friendly spa in Seminyak, which was quite a lot more expensive than some of the other spas in Bali. It ended up costing me Rp 10.00.000 ($75 | ₹5000), however it was worth it.
Many of the tourists I spoke to were deeply scandalized because they asked for a Body to Body Massage and got a little more than what they’d expected. A “Body to Body Massage” is an erotic massage that, usually, ends with an orgasm, a “happy ending” as they call it. They asked me if I wanted a “Happy Ending”, and naive fool that I am, I said “Yes”. If that’s your thing, great! However, even if it’s not, you have nothing to worry about. The masseuse will, in all likelihood, offer plenty of hints that he/she is straying further into unchartered territories. If you’re not into it, you can just let them know, either with your body language or with your actual words.
Over the course of my Bali travel guide I’ve already laid out several “DO NOTs”. However, this section, in my opinion, is for the most severe MUST NOTs.
Okay, well that’s the end of my Bali Travel Guide for first timers! That’s all I can think of. I hope this Bali travel guide has been comprehensive enough for you. If you’re visiting Bali for the first time, I really envy you. I wish I could experience Bali all over again with fresh eyes.
Below, you can find a brief summary of my expenses while I was in Bali.
Hopefully, this will help you budget your Bali travel plans. Is there anything else you’d like me to add to this Bali Travel Guide? If so, please feel free to let me know down in the comments section!
Days in Bali: 12 days
Total Money Spent: ₹1,25,000 | $1940
Accommodation: ₹40,000 | $620
Round-Trip Flight to Bali from Delhi: ₹30,000 | $460
Activities: ₹25,000 | $400
Shopping + Food: ₹30,000 | $460