As I sit in a Bali cafe, writing as the rain comes down, I can see a couple of Aussie women to my right. One has her holiday reading at the ready; it’s a book titled “Bali: Heaven and Hell”. Now, I don’t know what the book is even about, but it’s a pretty good representation of the divisive view people have of Bali; the island holiday destination that draws half a million tourists each year from Australia alone. From the luxury Bali resorts and fine dining in Seminyak to the trendy villas in Canggu and Sanur and the cultural hub of Ubud. Here’s a Bali travel guide for first-timers to get you started with planning your trip to the Island of the Gods.
Bali Travel Guide for First-Timers
Bali conjures up different images for different people. Those that love Bali recognise it as an affordable, accessible, varied and beautiful vacation spot, with great food, bars, restaurants and shopping. Then, there are others who have a fear of Bali. A run of convicted drug smugglers from Australia hasn’t helped, prompting some to assume they are at risk of a Bangkok Hilton scenario playing out before their tanning time can even begin. They may watch television shows that dramatise the Bali experience as that of the schoolies (Spring Breakers) crowd, unleashing their teen energy on drinking, partying and generally running riot in the party district of Kuta. For this group, Bali appears to be a dangerous place.
I am in the former category; the Bali fan club. I was one of the somewhat reckless crowd in my late teens, the slightly more upwardly mobile in my 20s, sipping on cocktails in downtown Seminyak and I got married on the majestic Uluwatu cliffs, just last year. I feel like I understand the diversity of the island and I accept that it’s a destination that can sometimes be dirty, loud and crowded, but with a broad array of areas to choose from, it’s up to you where you invest your time; ‘Same, same but different’, as a local street vendor might say.
Arriving in Bali
- You may need to pay an entry tax of about $US35 per person. The fee has just been scrapped for Australia and 145 other countries. You can check your exemption here. They accept cash or credit cards (with a 3% surcharge).
- You will need to pay a departure tax of Rp 150,000 ($15) when you fly out.
VIP Bali Arrival Service
- If you don’t like lines, you are a nervous traveller or you have kids with you, this service is a great idea. There are many companies that do it. Book online before you leave home. They collect you from the arrival hall, take you to express through the tax queue and passport control. It’s about an additional $US30 per person.
Currency in Bali
- It’s a good idea to bring some IDR (Indonesian Rupiah) with you to Bali. Then you’ll have money to jump straight in a cab.
- There are ATMs all around Bali so cash is easily accessible.
Authorised Money Changers
- There are some dodgy changers around. The authorised changers have a green sticker in their window that reads “PVA Berizin” meaning they are authorised. Always count the money at the window before walking away.
Travelling from the Airport
- Taxis are an easy option from the airport. Book them at the taxi desk which is on the right as you round the corner from customs, heading for the Duty-Free store. The prices are fixed at the desk. It now costs about $AUD15 (Rp150,000) to Seminyak, less to Kuta and more to Jimbaran, Uluwatu or Nusa Dua.
- Most hotels have shuttle services. You need to book it before you leave home. They generally cost more than taxis, depending in where you’re staying, but only by a few dollars. So if you’re more comfortable meeting a driver that’s connected to your hotel, it’s a good option.
The Best Time to Visit Bali
- The dry season in Bali runs from April to September with the busiest months July and August. We often travel to Bali in April and May as it’s still very humid and you may get short tropical afternoon showers, but the resorts, restaurants and beaches aren’t as busy, making it much more pleasant.
- The rainy season is from October to March which is, of course, the cheapest time of year to go. Perfect for backpackers or long term travellers who don’t mind getting a little wet or waiting it out for better weather. It’s during this shoulder you will get some incredible travel packages and flight deals too, so add your alerts for Jetstar, Garuda and Qantas for travel in these dates if you are partial to a deal.
Getting Around Bali
- Taxis are really cheap in Bali with a short trip costing about $AUD 0.70 to $2.00 (7,000 – 20,000 Rp). If you want a metered taxi you need to insist as you get in. Otherwise, they may charge you whatever they like. Don’t be scared to negotiate off the metre, particularly on long trips. You may save money.
- GO-JEK is really popular among ex-pats and visitors to Bali for everything from transport to food delivery.
- Scooters are very common in Bali. Please keep in mind Bali traffic is crazy, the roads aren’t great and insist on helmets if you choose to hire one (see note on Travel Insurance below).
- You’ll notice motorbike taxis around, soliciting your business. My warning: be careful. You generally aren’t given a helmet, you don’t know the driver and they often cost more anyway (depending on how well you bargain)
- Hiring a driver is a great idea if you want to go exploring. It will set you back anywhere from $50 – $100/day, but it’s up to you to negotiate the rate. If you’re short on time it’s a great way to see a lot of Bali. You can set the schedule, rather than booking on a tour with a group and going at their pace.
Safety and Health
Water Safety in Bali
- One of the most important points we hope you take away from this Bali travel guide for first-timers is DO NOT consume the tap water in Bali. Always drink bottled water, even for brushing your teeth. Hotels will provide you with bottled water each day. If you swallow the water, you will get sick. Good bars and restaurants only used boiled and bottled water so don’t be concerned when drinking mixed drinks etc there.
- I always carry a broad-spectrum antibiotic, prescribed by my doctor as well as some Imodium, Buscopan or the like, in case the Bali belly strikes (and it happens to the best of us). It’s better to the safe than sorry – you don’t want to miss more of your holiday than absolutely necessary if you do fall sick.
Travel Insurance for Bali
- I encourage you to take out travel insurance and check with your doctor in case you need any specific vaccinations (particularly if you are going anywhere with monkeys) for Bali. If you plan on riding on or hiring a scooter, check with your insurer that you are covered. In many instances, you won’t be.
Internet and Phone Access in Bali
- Hotels, cafes, restaurants and bars all have wifi these days in populated areas of Bali.
- Prepaid mobile phone cards are a great idea if you need a phone and you don’t want to cover exorbitant roaming costs. They are cheap and you can pick one up at one of the many convenience stores or supermarkets.
Generally, Bali is a really easy holiday destination. English is spoken everywhere, there is a great choice of Indonesian and western food as well as a mix of cultural experiences, modern shopping conveniences and a few Bali quirks.
Related: 10 days in Bali
Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller.
She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health.
As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her appetite for adventure.
Read more about Skye’s story here.