Bali Travel Guide: The Good, Bad & The Beautiful
We always thought of Bali as a paradise island and an expensive destination, as this is how it’s portrayed in the West. Well, this is not quite the real picture and now that we have explored the island for a few months, we have discovered some lovely places and some that should be avoided. So here we give you a brief introduction to the island, best time to visit, a breakdown of the towns by region and cost of living.
Bali is known as the island of the gods, with its vibrant, unique and deeply spiritual culture. It’s beautiful landscapes of mountains, hills, rice terraces, waterfalls and endless coastlines with sandy beaches make it a special place to be, so it’s no surprise that so many people are attracted to the island.
Unfortunately, with mass tourism comes change and Bali is not the once paradise it used to be. There are heavily congested areas in the Southwest, such as Kuta, Legian and Seminyak and even Ubud in Central Bali, where most of the tourists tend to stay and some Western and Aussie expats have set up shop.
Many of them are either digital nomads, artists, those with businesses here or others that just use the island as a second home.
As you go to these areas you will immediately find many bars, restaurants, villas and shops that have a European or Australian feel to them, along with the price tag.
This is great news for many tourists and expats that want to have their creature comforts around them, such as enjoying a cocktail at a beach club next to the ocean, shopping at the many chic boutiques, getting hold of familiar products or simply experiencing the varied nightlife that Bali has to offer.
Sadly with this comes overpopulation, as well as too many shops and other buildings that have replaced the beautiful countryside and view of the ocean, not to mention the rubbish found on some of Bali’s beaches.
All this said, Bali is still a beautiful haven where you can find less developed and more tranquil spots away from the crowds.
The best thing about Bali is that it’s still relatively cheap and you don’t have to be rich to enjoy it!
This island has a lot to offer to a varied array of people, including backpackers, flashpackers and those travelling with family, as the cost of living can be low, depending on where you choose to stay.
For those of you lucky enough to have a bigger budget, you can enjoy true luxury at a fraction of the price than it would cost you in your home country.
Best time to visit Bali is in dry season, between May – September, however if you don’t mind a bit of rain the island is accessible all year round. Many Australian tourists will come during the summer months of July and August, New Year’s and Easter holidays, making the island very busy at this time.
Culture & Religion
…Why Bali is so Unique…!
The Balinese people are so friendly, always greeting with a smile and showing their helpful nature. You may soon notice that most Balinese share the same 8 names, which can be confusing.
It’s worth knowing that in Balinese custom name giving is dependent on the order of birth. If you are the firstborn, you are named Gede, Wayan or Putu; the second-born is named Made or Kadek (Made meaning middle and Kadek little brother or sister); the third-born is named Komang or Nyoman, and the fourth is Ketut. If a family happens to have more than four children, then the naming cycle simply repeats itself. Curious and unique, right?
If a Balinese person doesn’t have a name like the ones above, they have either adopted a nickname to be different or they were given a name to denote their caste or clan.
Did you know that Bali is also the only predominantly Hindu Island out of the other 17,000 in Indonesia?
At least 90% of Bali is Hindu, with other minority religions being Christian, Buddhist and Muslim.
Balinese Hinduism, called ‘Agama Hindu Dharma’, originated from Java (a neighbouring Indonesian island) way back when, before that island was conquered by Islam, along with the rest of Indonesia. Due to the Dutch having colonised the Island at the time, Bali remained Hindu.
Agama Hindu Dharma is a blend of Shivaism and Buddhism, which makes it unique. You can see these influences throughout the numerous temples on the island, which are beautiful and some of the best I have seen throughout our travels in Asia, including India.
Remember to take a Sarong with you or hire one at a temple, as both men and women must wrap these around the lower half of their body when entering (like a skirt). Women must not enter temples when menstruating, due to religious beliefs.
No matter where you walk, you will find small shrines decorated with square trays made out of palm leafs that are filled with cooked rice, flowers, cookies, salt, coffee and sometimes even cigarettes! These small colourful trays are complete with burning incense and are also placed on the floor or pavements outside any workplace, shop, restaurant, temple and Balinese home.
This is an offering called ‘Canang Sari’ prepared by Bali Hindus and placed down at least 3 times a day as a form of gratitude to their gods for the peace given to the world (with a purpose of warding off bad spirits) Each colourful flower placed in a certain direction represents each god, which in their beliefs is one in the same; the philosophy behind this offering stems from self-sacrifice, in that they take time and effort to prepare them.
Cost of Living
…What to Expect…!
Food & Drink
A dish at a local Warung (what they call restaurants in Bali) can cost from 22,000 – 45,000 IDR (£1.22 – 2.50 / US$1.65 – 3.38) whereas, more upmarket restaurants will charge from 80,000-200,000 IDR (£4.50-11 / US$6-15) Expect taxes to be added onto your bill in some restaurants – between 15% and 20%
Beer in Bali is cheap; you can buy a Bintang for 22,000 IDR (£1.22 / US$1.65) in a supermarket and from 25,000 IDR (£1.40 / US$1.85) – 40,000 IDR (£2.22 / US$3) in a restaurant.
Wine and spirits are expensive in Bali due to the Indonesian Government placing a 300% tax on imported alcohol, so expect to pay 3 times as much. Best get some duty free on your way to Bali!
Bike hire, Taxi fares & Hiring a driver
A scooter should cost you 50,000 IDR daily (£2.78 / US$3.75) and can cost as little as 700,000 IDR (£39 / US$52) for 1 month. Try to rent a scooter from your accommodation, as less likely to get scammed.
A driver for the day should cost around 500,000 IDR (approx. £28 / US$37)
Uber and Grab do operate in Bali, however in some areas such as East Bali these are frowned upon as it takes away business from the local taxi drivers (mafias) Fares are really cheap; approx. 70,000 IDR (£3.89 / US$5.25) for a 1 hour journey and 150,000 IDR (£8.35 / US$11.30) for a 2 hour journey!
Blue Bird Taxis are metered and trusted, so you can either hail one down or order via the MyBlueBird App. Costs should be double the amount of Uber, but still relatively cheap.
Taxi to and from the Airport
Airport shuttle from a hotel or villa is expensive when compared to a taxi, so it’s best to negotiate with the many drivers in the arrival foyer at the airport. Be aware that they will always hype the price up, so expect them to want at least 300,000 IDR (just over £16 / US$22) for an hour’s journey away, such as Canggu, which you should be getting for 150,000 IDR (£8.34 / US$11.36). If you are adamant on this price they will eventually go for it.
The many villas on offer through Agoda or Airbnb are either shared (usually 2-4 rooms) or private. These offer better value than hotels and will range from £20-£150 / US$26-$198 per night. Taxes tend to be added on by these sites, but if booking directly make sure local tax is included in your quoted price.
Bali by Region Explained
Bali is divided into South, Central, East, West and North. In the South you will find mostly white sand beaches, whereas in the West, East and North these have either golden/brown or black sand due to Bali being a volcanic island. The further north you go, the blacker they get.
There are actually 9 Volcanoes in Bali, mostly as you go north in the central and eastern parts of the Island, with Mount Agung being the largest and Mount Batur the smallest. Small peaks can also be found in the West, near the national park. There are also 4 lakes and many hidden waterfalls, all in Central, East and North Bali. So our advice is when you need a break from the beach, go and explore!
- If you don’t want to stay in each region or just don’t have the time to move around, explore South, Central and East Bali as much as possible
- A good base for exploring Central Bali is Ubud
- Same goes for East Bali, but if you really want to be in the valleys opt for Sidemen
- A good base for exploring South Bali is Canggu (1.5 hours away by bike from Uluwatu in the far south)
Check out this map to see where everything is!
Denpasar, Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, Canggu, Tanah Lot, Jimbaran, Uluwatu, Nusa Dua, Sanur
The South of Bali is the most visited part of the island by far. As mostly beach destinations, these are popular with holiday makers and Surfers alike, especially from nearby Australia.
Bali’s Capital City, doesn’t seem that geared towards tourism, but does have some temples and museums to visit. Denpasar is mainly inland and home to Bali’s airport (Ngurah Rai International Airport) with a runway next to the sea.
Close by to the airport, on the western cost of the island you will find Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, which are all in walking distance to each other, but better explored with a scooter. Expect heavy traffic in this area around Denpasar and neighbouring towns.
Kuta, Legian & Seminyak
These 3 coastal towns are the popular tourist hotspots for many Australian holiday makers. Although, you will also find other nationalities here, all looking for beach time, surfing, shopping and nightlife.
Streets are crowded with shops and their traders calling you to go in and buy. It can get a little annoying, so if you are not interested just be polite and carry on. If you show just a little bit of interest when your intention is not to buy, well that’s it, you will be tangled up for a long time trying to get away. The same goes for massage shops, as ladies sitting outside Spas will shout out “hello massage” a few times at you. At one point, after spending 4 days in this area, I thought my first name was massage!
As you go north from Legian into Seminyak, you can see straight away that it’s slightly more Chic, with many trendy bars, beach front resorts & clubs, vibrant nightlife and many boutique shops. However, still very busy with both people and traffic, so you may want to venture out pretty soon if this is not your thing! Our advice is to carry on north past Seminyak and you will reach Canggu.
- Kuta Beach
- Legian & Double Six Beach
- Seminyak Beach
Where to Stay in Legian & Seminyak (Mid-Range)
- Legian – The Baleka Resort & Spa
- Seminyak – Tijili Seminyak Hotel
Nice Places to Eat & Drink
- Seminyak – Potato Head and Ku De Ta (both Beach Clubs with a pool)
- Legian – Kusnadi Restaurant (best Indonesian food)
Situated between Seminyak and Tanah Lot, Canggu is a more rural spot with beautiful rice fields and villas dotted around a lush landscape. There are many beaches to choose from, as well as beach clubs to hang out in by the ocean. There is also an increase in trendy bars and restaurants, catering for vegetarian and vegans, as well as for those just wanting a healthier option.
This coastal town has a lot to offer and is still by far much quieter than its neighbours further south, although this may not last long as it’s getting more popular (probably due to blogs like mine saying it’s so nice!)
It is also the residential choice for many Bali expats, bringing with it an abundance of villas, which are either used as homes or as fully fledged resorts. In Canggu you will also find a lot of art and graffiti going on, which is nice to see.
The coastline of Canggu comprises many beaches with surf breaks that attract surfers from around the world, especially in Echo Beach. All the beaches have bars and restaurants so you can enjoy the sunsets with a drink.
Canggu is split into these 3 areas: Berawa, Batu Bolong and Echo Beach.
Our favourite place in Bali so far!
- Batu Bolong
- Echo Beach
Where to Stay in Canggu (Budget & Mid-Range)
- Villa Shanti Canggu
- Villa Anggur
- Villa VOC
- Canggu Beach Apartments
Nice Places to Eat & Drink
- Coffee n Oven (Bakery & Cafe in Berawa)
- Milk & Madu (Cafe in Berawa)
- Warung Kicen (local Balinese food in Berawa)
- La Brisa (Beach Club on Echo Beach)
- La Laguna (Restaurant & Bar in Berawa)
- The Lawn (Beach Club on Batu Bolong Beach)
- Old Man’s (Bar on Batu Bolong Beach where the surf crowd hang out)
- Warung Ngon-Ngon (Authentic Vietnamese Food near Berawa Beach)
A beautiful rural area that offers peace and quiet for those that want to retreat away from the noise. Situated just 25 mins north of Canggu by bike, it’s also home to the famous Tanah Lot Temple, which is a must visit as it’s coastal setting is stunning.
Located in the southwest coast as you go towards the narrow piece of land connecting Bali with the Bukhit Peninsula (Uluwatu)
Here you will find many luxury resorts and villas, as well as a gorgeous long white-sandy beach with an array of seafood restaurants on offer. On Jimbaran Beach you can find some secluded areas to relax and unwind for the day. Despite the manic traffic, you can get there from Canggu by bike in 30-40 mins.
Best Place to Eat Seafood on Jimbaran Beach
New Bayang Cafe
Located in the Bukhit Peninsula (southern point of Bali), best known for its clifftop temple. It also offers many hidden beaches overlooking the Indian ocean with stunning sunsets. Here you will find some of the best surf breaks, making it very popular with advanced to expert surfers. If you are looking to stay away from the crowds of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, this would be a good place to be. We found a lovely secluded beach here called Nyang Nyang.
- Dreamland – west coast of Uluwatu
- Bingin – west coast of Uluwatu
- Padang-Padang – west coast of Uluwatu (can get very busy so go early – it became more popular after the film ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ with Julia Roberts)
- Suluban – west coast of Uluwatu
- Balangan – west coast of Uluwatu
- Nyang-Nyang – south coast of Uluwatu, close to the temple. Either go down an unmade trechorous gravely road on-foot or find the hidden stairs near a clifftop restaurant that lead down to the beach.
- Green Bowl – also on the far south coast of Uluwatu
Nice Place to Eat
YumYum Cafe (near Padang-Padang Beach)
A luxury complex with security guards holding fort at the lavish entrance gates into the beach area, which mostly comprises 4* & 5* hotels on a white-sandy beach. As you walk onto the beach you will find a cobbled pavement that walks you from one hotel to the other, each with sunbeds on the beach front. The beach is open to the public, even if you aren’t staying there. Perfect for honeymooners and those that want a bit more luxury within a hotel complex, however we thought it looked tired so you could be better off in Jimbaran Bay.
More of a sleepy fishing village that still holds its charm, with a white-sandy beach and boats that take you to the eastern islands of Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Lombok’s 3 Gili Islands.
The complete opposite side of the spectrum to Kuta. Sanur seems to attract older holiday makers and families, as the area is much more laid back. The perfect choice if you do want to catch a boat to the other islands, rather than going to the busier eastern harbour of Padang Bai.
Where to stay in Sanur (Budget & Mid-Range)
- Puri Maharani Boutique Hotel
- Besakih Beach Hotel
Nice Places to Eat & Drink
- Mades Restaurant (great Indonesian food)
- The Owl (restaurant & cafe)
Home to the famed Ubud, which received a lot more attention after the film ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ with Julia Roberts.
Very picturesque rural town. You can see why so many yogis and artists are attracted to its serene natural beauty and bohemian vibe. The town itself has a main street where you will find many boutique shops and cafes to relax in. However, we found it too busy for our liking, as many tourists make their way here daily.
The town centre is home to a unique looking Monkey Forest Sanctuary, where you will encounter many large and small cheeky monkeys that will stare at you and sometimes jump up on you if you are silly enough to carry food or drink.
Ubud also has a vibrant market selling mostly clothes and food, which is a nice way to pass the time, but it’s best to visit early in the morning before flocks of tourists arrive for the day.
As you leave the main town you quickly realise how big Ubud really is. There are 14 villages surrounding the town and about 25-30 minutes away you will find the also famous rice terraces in Tegallalang. As you drive north from Ubud town there are many artisan shops full of sculptures, paintings and other artistry going on. You can even see some of it in progress. It’s a huge artistic hub in Bali.
Ubud is the most convenient base to travel around Central and East Bali to visit the waterfalls, lakes and mountains.
Where to Stay in Ubud (Budget & Mid Range)
- Putra Homestay
- Three Brothers Guest House
- Rama Satu Homestay
(Tip: Choose from many beautiful low-budget places on Airbnb)
Nice Places to Eat & Drink
- Freak Coffee
- Naughty Nuri’s Warung and Grill
- Cafe Lotus
- Bebek Tepi Sawah
- Taco Casa
- D’Star Bar & Bistro
Karangasem, Amalpura, Padang Bai, Candidasa, Tirta Gangga, Amed, Mount Agung, Besakih, Sidemen, Kintamani, Mount Batur
Laid back coastal villages, lakes, lush mountain landscapes and volcanos, including Mount Batur and Mount Agung.
Karangasem is what they call the district of East Bali, where Amalpura is it’s main city and other towns and villages include Candidasa, Padang Bai and Amed, to name a few.
East Bali is a beautiful area to visit, where you will encounter stunning landscapes, volcanoes, temples and water palaces. It’s worth getting a driver for the day or go by scooter like we did to enjoy the ride and breathtaking views.
At the moment Mount Agung volcano is threatening to erupt, so it’s not safe to visit this area. There has been an exclusion zone within 12km from the volcano and many villages have been evacuated, so check the situation before you travel.
Bali’s main harbour where you can get a ferry or private boat to other nearby islands to the East. This area is really busy and now with mass tourism it’s quite run down. There is a stretch of beach here, but many boats are taking over the waters so it’s not such a nice place to swim, so we recommend to go 10 mins further away to Blue Lagoon.
A quiet coastal town with a very laid back vibe. As you go through the main road you will see some restaurants (‘Warung’ as they are called here) and hotels, as well as a road that leads to White Sand Beach, also referred to as Virgin Beach. Blue Lagoon is a pretty little bay that sits between Candidasa and Padang Bai. Good for snorkelling, however sometimes there is rubbish in the water due to the currents, that also gets washed up on the beach.
Where to Stay in Candidasa (Budget & Mid-Range)
- Crystal Beach Hotel
- Kelapa Mas Homestay
- D’Tunjung Beach Resort
Nice Place to Eat & Drink
New Queen Pub & Restaurant
On the road from Candidasa up to Amed, you will encounter stunning landscapes. You will reach Tirta Gangga Water Palace & Gardens and further north from there, you can get to Pura Lempuyang Luhur Temple, which is known as the ‘Gateway to Heaven’. They are both stunning and worth the trip.
A quiet traditional fishing village north from Candidasa, featuring a volcanic black sand beach and coral reefs for snorkelling and diving. There is an interesting sunken wreck to explore! You won’t see as many tourists here as you will in the South, so it’s a more peaceful alternative. We personally didn’t like the black sand beach so much as it’s quite coarse and hurts your feet as you walk on it.
The highest mountain in Bali and an active volcano, offering spectacular views if you like hiking, and where Besakih, the ‘mother temple’ of Bali is. Check before you travel to see what the updated situation is.
Another stunning rural area to visit or to be based in is Sidemen, located at the foothills of Mount Agung.
You will see a beautiful mountain scenery including Mount Batur volcano, the largest lake in Bali and fruit growing in the fields nearby.
East Bali’s Islands
Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan & Nusa Ceningan
We have not visited all these islands, but those who have say they are equally as beautiful. You can either go there to stay or take a day trip from Sanur or Padang Bai.
Accommodation can be touch and go with tired and damp hotels or villas, so it’s best to check recommendations on Trip Advisor and other sites for a realistic view.
It is also advisable to go on a clear day to truly enjoy snorkelling and exploring the island.
Tour guides such as Trip Nusa Penida usually charge 750,000 IDR (£42.50 / US$55.50) which includes going to 3 beaches (Kelingking Beach, Broken Beach, Angel’s Billabong) and 2 snorkelling spots (Crystal Bay and Gamat Bay) You can ask to be taken to Manta Point instead of Gamat if you’d rather swim with Manta Rays. Alternatively, a beach tour by land (no snorkelling) should cost you 450,000 IDR (£25.50 / US$33.30)
If a tour guide isn’t your thing, go on your own by boat and hire a bike. However, some of the roads are bumpy dirt tracks and the beaches are quite far apart, so expect longer journeys. Beaches have the usual entrance fee of 10,000 IDR (£0.56 / US$0.74)
Negara, Gilimanuk, Medewi Beach, Pemuteran, West Bali National Park, Menjangan Island
Here you can get ferries to Java from Gilimanuk or small boats to Menjangan Island from the Pemuteran village port for snorkelling. Visit Negara village or go to Medewi Beach. If alternatively you are after nature you can visit the West Bali National Park.
A remote small coastal village in one of the least visited areas of Bali. It seems to be a good surfing spot and offers a glimpse of what many parts of Bali used to be like before mass tourism kicked in. A nice relaxing place to visit.
Situated off the Northwest coast of Bali, sometimes Menjangan Island gets a lot of rubbish in the water due to the currents, so for better snorkelling try Amed in the East, the Nusa islands off South East Bali or Gili Islands just off the Northwest coast of Lombok, which are beautiful.
Lovina & Singaraja
Renown for dolphin watching and where you will find the coastal village of Kalibukbuk. It is the most developed village in Lovina, but it just consists of 2 streets with hotels, bars, restaurants and diving shops leading to the long black sandy beach. There are 2 clubs and many bars, but the nightlife is low key.
This town sits east of Lovina and used to be the Dutch colonial capital of the island, serving as the port of arrival for most visitors until the development of the Bukit Peninsula in the south. The name means ‘Lion King’ (from Sanskrit ‘Singha’ and ‘Raja’) We have met many Balinese that work in the south but are from this village.
So that’s Bali for you! Hope you enjoy it one day soon, as much as we have!
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