Bemos are normally a minibus or van with a row of low seats down each side and which carry about 12 people in very cramped conditions. They were once the dominant form of public transport in Bali, but widespread motorbike ownership (which is often cheaper than daily bemo use) has caused the system to wither. Expect to find that getting to many places by bemo is both time-consuming and inconvenient. It's uncommon to see visitors on bemos in Bali.
Bemos operate on a standard route for a set (but unwritten) fare. The minimum is about 5000Rp. If you get into an empty bemo, always make it clear that you do not want to charter it.
Terminals & Routes
Most towns have at least one terminal (terminal bis) for all forms of public transport. There are often several terminals in larger towns. Terminals can be confusing, but most bemos and buses have signs, and if you're in doubt, people will usually help you.
To travel from one part of Bali to another, it is often necessary to go via one or more terminals. For example, to get from Sanur to Ubud by bemo, you go to the Kereneng terminal in Denpasar, transfer to the Batubulan terminal and then take a third bemo to Ubud. This is circuitous and time-consuming, which is why so few visitors take bemos in Bali.
There are no flights between destinations on Bali.
Increasingly, people are touring the island by sepeda (bike) and many visitors are using bikes around towns and for day trips.
There are plenty of bicycles for rent in tourist areas, but many are in poor condition. Ask at your accommodation. Prices are from 30,000Rp per day.
Fast boats linking Bali, Nusa Lembongan, Lombok and the Gili Islands have proliferated, especially as the latter places have become more popular.
Travelling Safely by Boat
Safety regulations are nonexistent and accidents happen regularly. In 2016 two tourists were killed when a fast boat to the Gilis exploded.
Crews on these boats may have little or no training: in one accident, the skipper admitted that he panicked and had no recollection of what happened to his passengers. And rescue is far from assured: a volunteer rescue group in east Bali reported that they had no radio.
Conditions are often rough in the waters off Bali. Although the islands are in close proximity and are easily seen from each other, the ocean between can get more turbulent than is safe for the small speedboats zipping across it.
With these facts in mind, it is essential that you take responsibility for your own safety because no one else will.
Bigger is better It may add half an hour or more to your journey, but a larger boat will simply deal with the open ocean better than the overpowered small speedboats. Also, trips on small boats can be unpleasant because of the ceaseless pounding through the waves and the fumes coming from the screaming outboard motors. Avoid anything under 30 seats except between Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida.
Check for safety equipment Make certain your boat has life preservers and that you know how to locate and use them. In an emergency, don't expect a panicked crew to hand them out. Also, check for lifeboats. Some promotional materials show boats with automatically inflating lifeboats that have later been removed to make room for more passengers.
Avoid overcrowding Some boats leave with more people than seats and with aisles jammed with stacked luggage, to the point where the captain can't see oncoming boats (this resulted in a boat crash off Nusa Penida in 2017 that killed one person and left six more injured). Don't use the boat if it's too full of luggage or passengers.
Look for exits Cabins may have only one narrow entrance, making them death traps in an accident. Sitting at the open back may seem safer but fuel explosions regularly injure passengers at the back of boats.
Avoid fly-by-nighters Taking a fishing boat and jamming too many engines on the rear in order to cash in on booming tourism is a recipe for disaster.
Don't ride on the roof It looks like carefree fun but travellers are regularly bounced off when boats hit swells and crews may be inept at rescue. Rough seas can drench passengers and ruin their belongings.
The ferry isn't safer One of the big Padangbai–Bangsal, Lombok car ferries caught fire and sank in 2014. A Gilimanuk, Bali–Java ferry capsized and sank in 2016.
Use common sense There are good operators on the waters around Bali but the line-up changes constantly. If a service seems sketchy before you board, go with a different operator. Try to get a refund but don't risk your safety for the cost of a ticket.
Distances in Bali are relatively short, so you won't have cause to ride on many large buses unless you are transferring between islands or going from one side to another.
Larger minibuses and full-size buses ply the longer routes, particularly on routes linking Denpasar, Singaraja and Gilimanuk. They operate out of the same terminals as bemos. However, with everybody riding motorbikes, there are long delays waiting for buses to fill up at terminals before departing.
Trans-Sarbagita runs large, air-con commuter buses like you find in major cities the world over. It is suited more to locals due to long wait times and unreliable schedules; however, it’s handy if you’re heading along any of the following four routes: the bypass linking Sanur to Nusa Dua; Denpasar to Jimbaran; Tabanan to Bandara; or Mahendradata to Lebih via Sanur.
Tourist buses are economical and convenient ways to get around. You'll see signs offering services in major tourist areas. Typically a tourist bus is an eight- to 20-passenger vehicle. Service is not as quick as with your own car and driver but it's far easier than trying for public bemos and buses.
Kura-Kura Bus This innovative expat-owned tourist-bus service covers important areas of south Bali and Ubud. Buses have wi-fi and run during daylight and early evening, from every 20 minutes to over two hours. Check schedules online or with the app. There are eight lines and the hub is the DFS Galleria duty-free mall.
Perama The major tourist-bus operator. It has offices or agents in Kuta, Sanur, Ubud, Lovina, Padangbai and Candidasa as well as Gili T and Senggigi on Lombok.
Advantages & Disadvantages
Advantages of tourist buses
- Fares are reasonable (eg Kuta to Lovina is 125,000Rp).
- They have air-con.
- You can meet other travellers.
Disadvantages of tourist buses
- Stops are often outside the centre, requiring another shuttle or taxi.
- Buses may not provide a direct service – stopping, say, at Ubud between Kuta and Padangbai.
- Popular spots such as Bingin and Seminyak are not served.
- Three or more people can hire a car and driver for less.
Car & Motorcycle
Renting a car or motorbike can open up Bali for exploration – and can also leave you counting the minutes until you return it; there can be harrowing driving conditions on the islands at certain times and south Bali traffic is often awful. But it gives you the freedom to explore myriad back roads and lets you set your own schedule.
Most people don't rent a car for their entire visit but rather get one for a few days of meandering.
If you plan to drive a car, you're supposed to have an International Driving Permit (IDP). You can obtain one from your national motoring organisation if you have a normal driving licence. Bring your home licence as well. Without an IDP, add 50,000Rp to any fine you'll have to pay if stopped by the police (although you'll have to pay this fine three times to exceed the cost and hassle of getting the mostly useless IDP).
If you have a motorcycle licence at home, get your IDP endorsed for motorcycles too; with this you will have no problems. Otherwise you have to get a local licence – something of an adventure.
Officially, there's a 2,000,000Rp fine for riding without a proper licence and your motorcycle can be impounded. Unofficially, you may be hit with a substantial 'on-the-spot' payment (50,000Rp seems average) and allowed to continue on your way. Also, if you have an accident without a licence your insurance company might refuse coverage.
To get a local motorcycle licence in Bali (valid for a year), go to the Polresta Denpasar Station (www.polrestadenpasar.org), which is northwest of Kerobokan on the way to Denpasar. Bring your passport, a photocopy of your passport (just the page with your photo on it) and a passport photo. Then take the following steps.
- Ignore the mobbed hall filled with jostling permit seekers.
- Look helpless and ask uniformed officials 'motorcycle licence?'.
- Be directed to cheery English-speaking officials and pay 300,000Rp.
- Take the required written test (in English, with the answers provided on a sample test).
- Get your permit.
Sure it costs more than in the hall of chaos, but who can argue with the service?
Bensin (petrol) is sold by the government-owned Pertamina company and costs a cheap (it's subsidised) 8000Rp per litre. Bali has scads of petrol stations. On Lombok there are stations in major towns. Motorbike fuel is often sold from roadside stands out of Absolut vodka bottles.
Very few agencies in Bali will allow you to take their rental cars or motorcycles to Lombok.
The most popular rental vehicle is a small 4WD – they're compact and well suited to exploring back roads. Automatic transmissions are unheard of.
Rental and travel agencies in tourist centres rent vehicles though prices have gone up recently. A small 4WD starts at around 200,000Rp per day, with unlimited kilometres and very limited insurance. Extra days often cost less than the first day.
There's no reason to book rental cars in advance or with a tour package; doing so will almost certainly cost more than arranging it locally. Any place you stay can set you up with a car, as can the ever-present touts in the street.
Motorbikes are a popular way of getting around – locals ride pillion almost from birth. A family of five all riding cheerfully along on one motorbike is called a Bali minivan.
Rentals cost around 60,000Rp a day, less by the week. This should include minimal insurance for the motorcycle but not for any other person or property. Some have racks for surfboards.
Think carefully before renting a motorbike. It is dangerous and every year visitors go home with lasting damage – this is no place to learn to ride. Helmet use is mandatory.
Rental agencies and owners usually insist that the vehicle itself is insured, and minimal insurance should be included in the basic rental deal – often with an excess of as much as US$100 for a motorcycle and US$500 for a car (ie the customer pays the first US$100/500 of any claim).
Check to see what your own vehicle, health and travel insurance covers, especially if you are renting a motorbike.
Bali traffic can be horrendous in the south, up to Ubud, and as far as Padangbai to the east and Gilimanuk to the west. Finding your way around the main tourist sites can be a challenge because roads are only sometimes signposted, maps are unreliable and lots of streets are one-way, particularly in Ubud. Off the main routes, roads can be rough but they are usually surfaced.
Avoid driving at night or at dusk. Many bicycles, carts and vehicles do not have proper lights, and street lighting is limited.
Visiting drivers commonly complain about crazy Balinese drivers, but often it's because the visitors don't understand the local conventions of road use. For instance, the constant use of horns doesn't mean 'Get the @£*&% out of my way!'; rather, it is a very Balinese way of saying 'Hi, I'm here'.
- Watch your front – it's your responsibility to avoid anything that gets in front of your vehicle. In effect, a car, motorcycle or anything else pulling out in front of you has right of way.
- Often drivers won't even look to see what's coming when they turn left at a junction – they listen for the horn.
- Use your horn to warn anything in front that you're there, especially if you're about to overtake.
- Drive on the left side of the road.
Some police will stop drivers on very slender pretexts. If a cop sees your front wheel half an inch over the faded line at a stop sign, if the chin-strap of your helmet isn't fastened, or if you don't observe one of the ever-changing and poorly signposted one-way traffic restrictions, you may be waved down.
The cop will ask to see your licence and the vehicle's registration papers, and they'll also tell you what a serious offence you've committed. Stay cool and don't argue. Don't offer a bribe. Eventually they'll suggest that you can pay them some amount of money to deal with the matter. If it's a very large amount, tell them politely that you don't have that much. These matters can be settled for something between 10,000Rp and 100,000Rp, although it will be more if you argue.
Hiring a Vehicle & Driver
An excellent way to travel anywhere around Bali is by hired vehicle, allowing you to leave the driving and inherent frustrations to others. If you're part of a group, it can make sound economic sense as well. This is also possible on Lombok but less common.
It's easy to arrange a charter: just listen for one of the frequent offers of 'transport?' in the streets around the tourist centres. Approach a driver yourself or ask at your hotel, which is often a good method, because it increases accountability. Also consider the following:
- Although great drivers are everywhere, it helps to talk with a few.
- Get recommendations from other travellers.
- You should like the driver and their English should be sufficient for you to communicate your wishes.
- Costs for a full day should average 500,000Rp to 800,000Rp.
- The vehicle, usually a late-model Toyota Kijang seating up to seven, should be clean.
- Agree on a route beforehand.
- Make it clear if you want to avoid tourist-trap restaurants and shops (smart drivers understand that tips depend on following your wishes).
- On the road, buy the driver lunch (they'll want to eat elsewhere, so give them 20,000Rp) and offer snacks and drinks.
- Many drivers find ways to make your day delightful in unexpected ways. Tip accordingly.
Bali's Toll Road
The Bali Madara Toll Road avoids the worst of the traffic in and around Kuta. Some 12.7km in length, it runs from the bypass near Denpasar over the mangroves to a point near Nusa Dua with a branch to Ngurah Rai International Airport. It has good views of the threatened mangroves and Benoa Harbour as you sail along.
The toll for a motorbike/car is 4500/11,000Rp. It definitely saves time going south, especially to Nusa Dua. But going north you will get in the traffic-clogged intersection with the Jl Ngurah Rai Bypass.
Hitchhiking is almost unseen on Bali, and as it can never be entirely safe, we do not recommend it. Travellers who hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. Instead, consider taking an ojek (a motorcycle that takes passengers).
Small dokar (pony carts) are still seen in parts of Denpasar and Kuta, but they're uncommon. Treatment of the horses is a major concern and there is no good reason to go for an expensive tourist ride.
Around towns and along roads, you can always get a lift by ojek (a motorcycle or motorbike that takes a paying passenger). Formal ojek are less common now that anyone with a motorbike can be a freelance ojek (stand by the side of the road, look like you need a ride and people will stop and offer). They're OK on quiet country roads, but a risky option in the big towns. Ojek are more common on Lombok.
Fares are negotiable, but about 30,000Rp for 5km is fairly standard.
In heavily developed parts of Bali, Go-Jek is a popular mobile application that allows you to order on-demand motorcycle rides (in addition to just about anything you'd like delivered to you). Note that you must have an Indonesian SIM card, and it may be hard to get picked up or dropped off in heavily touristed areas due to territory rivalries between local drivers.
Metered taxis are common in south Bali and Denpasar (but not Ubud). They are essential for getting around and you can usually flag one down in busy areas. They're often a lot less hassle than haggling with drivers offering 'transport!'
- The best taxi company by far is Blue Bird Taxi, which uses blue vehicles with a light on the roof bearing a stylised bluebird. Drivers speak reasonable English and use the meter at all times. Many expats will use no other firm. Blue Bird has a slick app that summons a taxi to your location just like Uber. Watch out for fakes – there are many. Look for 'Blue Bird' over the windscreen and the phone number.
- Taxis are fairly cheap: Kuta to Seminyak can be 80,000Rp.
- Avoid any taxis where the driver won't use a meter, even after dark when they claim that only fixed fares apply.
- Other taxi scams include lack of change, 'broken' meter, fare-raising detours and offers for tours, massages, prostitutes etc.
There are no trains on Bali.