Essential Bali travel tips: what to know before you go
From navigating the crowds to being monkey-savvy, there are a few tricks to getting the best out of a trip to Bali. We’ve rounded up 16 top tips to bank for your next visit to the Island of the Gods.
1. Expect crowds
One of the most touristed islands on earth, Bali isn’t exactly an untouched paradise. But while it can be difficult to escape the throngs in southern Bali and Ubud, determined solitude seekers will be pleased to find loads of secluded corners beyond these primary tourist centres. Tip: head to the central mountains, or Bali’s more chilled-out north and west coasts.
2. Choose your base carefully
It pays to put some thought into your Bali base, as chaotic traffic and hot weather are likely to make you stick close to your hotel or guesthouse rather than wander far on foot or sit in stuffy taxis. If you’re looking for real R&R, Kuta probably isn’t your thing. If you want to shop up a storm and eat more than your body weight in fine food, a week on Nusa Lembongan isn't likely to leave you fully satiated. Find your perfect spot with the help of Lonely Planet's 'first time Bali' guide.
3. Don’t fret about 'Bali belly'
Strict dietary habits are no longer required to prevent spending your Bali break within two steps of a toilet. Once upon a time, salads, cut fruit, ice cubes and most meats were on the danger list, but hygiene standards have improved markedly across the island, and many kitchens offer good quality organic produce. While dodgy prawns will always be out there, by staying hydrated, avoiding notorious local liquor arak and consuming street food with a degree of caution, the dreaded Bali belly should be kept at bay.
You might also like: First time Bali: where to eat, stay and play
4. Dress for the occasion
Beachwear doesn’t always cut it in Bali – many higher-end bars, restaurants and clubs enforce a dress code. If you’re unsure, call ahead to save the potential embarrassment of being turned away.
5. Respect religious customs
Religion rules the roost in Bali. Don’t get your knickers in a knot when a street is blocked off for a ceremony or your driver pulls over mid-trip to make a blessing – this is all part of the magic of the island. Plan accordingly if your travel dates fall on Nyepi when everything in Bali (even the airport) shuts down for the day, and always dress modestly (covering the shoulders and knees) and conduct yourself appropriately when visiting temples and holy sites.
6. Prepare for a mixed bag of price tags
It’s still possible to visit Bali on a shoestring by staying in guesthouses, dining at warungs and shopping at local markets, but you can just as easily blow your life savings as drinks, meals, spa treatments and room rates at high-end establishments are priced similarly to that in Australia, the UK and the US. Look out for online discounts and happy hour deals to keep your bank balance happy.
You might also like: A guide to Bali's best spas and chill-out spots
7. Be cautious of wild and stray animals
Give wild and stray animals a wide berth. They may look cute, but rabies and other diseases are serious risks in Bali and monkeys are notorious for their thieving ways. Bali’s stray dogs are numerous, and often in pretty bad shape. If you’re keen to make a difference, consider making a ‘doggy donation’ to Bali Dog Refuge which helps to rescue and rehabilitate the island’s stray pups.
8. Avoid plastic water bottles
Bali’s heat and humidity call for constant hydration, but consider the environment before purchasing another bottled drink. An estimated three million plastic bottles are discarded in Bali each month; help reduce this figure by investing in a stainless steel bottle that you can refill; most good cafes and restaurants have a water filter available that you can use for free or for a small fee. Earth Café in Seminyak has stainless steel bottles available for purchase.
9. Learn some local lingo
A few basic words of Bahasa Indonesia will take you a long way in Bali. Try selamat pagi (good morning), tolong (please) and terima kasih (thank you), for starters.
You might also like: How I found peace in Bali after a lifetime of solo travel
10. Remember that low season often means rainy season
Be mindful of Bali’s rainy season (January to April and October to November) when planning your trip. Discounts can be great, but if you end up spending your holiday cooped up indoors, you may be left wondering if making the trip was worth it. Fortunately, the rains are often limited to brief afternoon downpours, so your holiday isn't likely to be a total write-off.
11. Get your head around the current visa situation
There are three main visa types for visitors:
Visa in Advance
Visitors can apply for a visa before they arrive in Indonesia. Typically this is a visitor’s visa, which is valid for 30 or 60 days. Details vary by country; contact your nearest Indonesian embassy or consulate to determine processing fees and times. Note: this is the only way to obtain a 60-day visitor visa, even if you qualify for Visa on Arrival (VOA).
Visa on Arrival
Citizens of most countries may apply for a 30-day visa when they arrive at major airports and harbours. The cost is 528,000Rp, payable by cash (no coins) or credit card; other currencies are accepted in amounts equivalent to the fee in Rp. VOA renewals for 30 days are possible.
Citizens of most countries can receive a 30-day visa for free upon arrival. This visa cannot be extended.
If you have obtained one of the coveted 60-day visas in advance, be sure the immigration official at the airport gives you a 60-day tourist card. For further info on Indonesia's visa situation, contact an Indonesian embassy.
12. Be mindful of mother nature
Bali's volcanoes are highly active and can have minor to very serious impacts on flights, hotel stays or movement throughout the country. Keep a close on travel advisories.
You might also like: Top 9 free things to do in Bali
13. Play by the rules
The Indonesian legal system may seem confusing and contradictory, but it's best not argue with police if you are accused of an infringement that may feel unjust, and pay ‘fines’ with good grace. Do not expect any special treatment for being a foreigner, and it goes without saying that having anything to do with drugs is a very bad idea.
14. Bargain respectfully
You can bargain for many items and services in Bali, but do so respectfully and with a smile on your face. You’ll know when the vendor has reached their limit, and at that point don’t push it. When in doubt, walk away – if the seller doesn’t come after you, you can be sure they aren’t prepared to drop their price any lower.
15. Respect the ocean
Even if you’re an avid beach-goer and surf worshipper, Bali's powerful waves, strong currents and exposed rocks can be treacherous, so take care, and don't swim alone unless you are completely confident in doing so. Show equal respect for the beach by not leaving any garbage (including cigarette butts) behind – when the tide comes in, it'll be sucked into the ocean at great cost to the marine ecosystem.
16. Don’t stress
Bali is generally safer than the headlines suggest, but with close to four million tourists hitting its shores every year, it’s statistically natural that some travellers may have problems. Party safe, always wear a helmet when riding a bike or scooter, be respectful, and don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in your home country, and you're on track for the holiday of a lifetime.
Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.
This article was first published in July 2009 and last updated in December 2019.