In recent years, travel to Bali has become synonymous with seeking the ultimate in relaxation. However, this eco-friendly escape is not just about yoga on the beach and tantric spas — there’s so much more to experience on this diverse island. As our #2 Trending Destination for 2019, here are our tips on when to book, where to go, what to see and more.
What’s In This Guide
- Plan Your Trip
- Booking Advice
- Local Lingo
- Where to Go & What to Do
- 10 Instagrammable Spots
- Set the Mood
Plan Your Trip
Flights & Hotels
Check out personalized insights from your home airport to Bali, such as median airfare, when to book a flight and what qualifies as a good deal.
When to visit
Summer is definitely the most popular time to visit Bali. Between June and August is the island’s dry season (less rainfall, low humidity), making the forest heat a bit more bearable. However, you’ll also see much higher airfares and, in July and August, hotel prices are on the rise. Plan to visit at the end of summer in September when median airfare ($856) and median hotel rates ($127/night) drop, but you’ll still experience excellent weather.
How to get to the city from the airport
Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS) in Denpasar is the major entry point for visitors to Bali. To get around Bali, most people either rent motorbikes or use taxis — which are generally very reliable and affordable. However, if you plan to rent a car or motorbike and drive around the island, you’ll need an international driver’s license. You’ll also need to drive on the left side of the road (like in England).
Good to know
- Don’t fret about “Bali belly.” While tap water on the island is not drinkable, hygiene habits across the island have improved in recent years — meaning most kitchens only serve organic produce and most bars use ice cubes with clean drinking water. Still, beware of street food and locally-made liquors.
- Dress appropriately. While Bali may be a beach town, some higher-end bars and restaurants will turn you away if not dressed to their standards. Call ahead if you’re unsure.
- Respect religious customs. Both a sarong and sash are required to enter most temples. Don’t have one? Most local markets sell them.
- Just don’t do it. The penalty for buying and/or selling drugs is death. Take it seriously.
- Pack cash. As you may have limited access to ATMs and money changers while traveling throughout Bali, it’s probably best to order currency ahead of time (like, through your bank) and bring it with you.
- Tip because you can. While tipping is not expected, even a little can go a long way. So exercise generosity.
- Nyepi. For one day every year in Bali, everything shuts down to observe a “Day of Silence” (aka Nyepi). And we do mean everything. Even the airport remains closed. So before you go, make sure you know what day it falls on so you’re not stuck.
- Watch your step. Every day, Hindus in Bali will place small offerings on the sidewalks outside of residences, shops and restaurants. These small gifts (called Canang Sari and usually placed in small palm-leaf “boats”) are part of an important daily ritual. Be sure you don’t step on them, as it’s considered disrespectful.
While getting to Bali can cost a pretty penny (you are going halfway around the world, after all), once you get there you can live like royalty on a dime. The current exchange rate will make you feel like a millionaire ($100 USD = 1.3 million Rupiah). Keep this in mind when haggling with local artisans or tipping.
Based on median airfare, if you’re looking to find a flight deal year-round — November sees the lowest median airfare ($693). December is the most expensive month to fly to Bali ($1,164) and when you’ll pay the most for a hotel room (median: $192/night). For summer travel, we recommend you book at least 5 months in advance (so, now) for the best deal on airfare.
*Median airfare by month based on coach, round-trip flights with travel dates 03/01/2017 – 02/28/18 and search dates 10/25/2016 – 10/24/2017. Our when to book recommendation was based on median airfare as a function of months before departure for travel dates 05/28/2018 -09/03/2018 and search dates 04/01/2017 – 03/31/2018.
Hai, apa kabar? (Hi, AH-pah kha-BAR): Hello, how are you?
Sampai jumpa. (SAM-pai JOOM-par): Goodbye.
Terima kasih. (Teh-RI-mah car-SEE): Thank you.
Berapa? (Beh-RA-pah): How much/many?
Persmisi (Per-MEH-see): Excuse me
Nama saya… (NAH-mah SAY-ah): My name is…
Ayo makan. (AH-yo MAH-kahn): Let’s eat.
There’s a whole language around eating that you should know if you’re looking for a particular ambiance or cuisine.
- Warung: Small, family-owned restaurant or cafe that is set up and then disassembled at the end of each day. Typically only have one or two dishes available.
- Warteg: A more permanent warung with a wide variety of cheap dishes. Likely the best spot to find vegetarian food.
- Bakul and Pikulan: Two different types of “street cooks” that carry around food and can produce a full meal on request.
- Kaki-Lima: Literally meaning “five legs,” this is another “street cook” with a cart. They typically have a permanent location that they sell food at each day.
- Lesehan: Usually found “warung lesehan” which basically means a small restaurant where you sit on floor mats to eat.
- Rumah Makan: A permanent restaurant with various dishes that are set out so you can see the selection before ordering.
- Rumah Makan Padang: A Padang restaurant, characterized by cuisine cooked to withstand a lack of refrigeration, no menu and most importantly that you do NOT order. They place food on your table upon arrival and you only pay for what you eat.
Where to Go & What to Do
Note: Check out this map of the island.
Bali is a series of volcanic islands in Indonesia. The main island is Bali, with its smaller islands (most notably Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan) forming the Bali province. For the last few decades, it’s increasingly become a center of eco-tourism and wellness retreats, and is home to one of the highest concentrations of spas in the world. Whether you’re headed to Bali to find yourself or just a better (i.e. vacation) version of you, here are some of our picks on where to go and what to do.
*Note: In the interest of time (ours and yours) we are focusing on only a few places in Bali. So, this is really only a snapshot of all the amazing things to do on the island. Did we leave your favorite place off our list? Snap a pic, post a tip and use #KAYAKTravelHacker on Instagram for us to find it. You may score a feature on our blog or social media.
Summer in Bali means the island comes alive with festivals celebrating Balinese culture, art and performance. The Bali Arts Festival runs from June to July at the Taman Wedhi Budaya arts center in Denpasar. Here you can see everything from traditional fire dancing to contemporary performance art. Plus, most events are free. Bali’s other major festival, the Bali Kite Festival, draws people from around the world come to fly traditional Balinese kites. This event celebrates the craftsmanship behind some of the region’s most iconic designs with events running through July, August and even into October. There’s also Indonesia’s Independence Day on August 17. Unlike our firework-fueled celebrations in the US and Canada, this day is usually a bit more sedate in Bali. Clubs, restaurants and hotels will sometimes host special parties or events — so check with your hotel to see what’s planned. Bali is also host to plenty of music festivals like the EDM-focused Sunny Side Up Tropical Festival (July) and the Ubud Village Jazz Festival (August) — both drawing international talent.
Home to Bali’s capital city, Denpasar, South Bali is generally where travelers begin their journey. Like many Southeast Asian cities, the capital has an energy that’s all its own. Even in laid-back Bali, Denpasar manages to pack in the action. Stay here if you want to be treated to wild nightlife, energetic markets and world-class restaurants. Stroll through Puputan Square on your way to the Bali Museum, which puts the island’s rich history on display. If you’re going to shop, visit the Pasar Badung, Bali’s largest open air market. Grab a snack, some souvenirs and watch the locals make handicrafts. At the end of the day, you’ll need to refuel. We recommend trying Kilo Bali, a modern Asian-fusion restaurant that is close to the water, making it perfect for post-sunset cocktails.
Tanah Lot Temple
West of Denpasar, this ancient Hindu temple on the ocean is an important pilgrimage site that also offers unspeakably stunning views. It’s built on an offshore rock formation and at high tide looks almost as if the temple is floating on the water. For less than USD$2, you can walk through this sanctuary. And trust us, go late in the afternoon. You’ll want to be there when the sun begins to set.
Just outside Denpasar is the seaside village of Sanur. Calmer and greener than the city, this charming town is a place to visit galleries, ride a bike and take photographs of the colorful fishing boats dotting the coastline. With its shallow waters, it’s also a great place to hit the beach. Generally less crowded than Bali’s more popular surfing beaches, you can spend a day here sitting on the sand, reading a few chapters and relaxing. Visit the Bali Orchid Garden to roam among the exotic flowers or take in the artwork and vistas from the former home of Belgian artist Adrien Jean le Mayeur, now the Le Mayeur Museum. Looking for a bit more excitement? Sanur is home to SOS From the Deep, an escape-room style underwater adventure that also seeks to educate tourists about the necessary conservation efforts locals are making to preserve the ocean.
South of Denpasar in Bualu, Bumbu Bali is building a culinary empire. Known for being at the forefront of Balinese cuisine, this restaurant/cooking school/night market hybrid is the perfect place to spend a day. You can take an all-day cooking class in Balinese cuisine and learn how to make dishes like Ayam Betutu (chicken in banana leaves) and Bubuh Injin (black rice pudding). The class is only $85, and for an extra $10 they’ll take you into the morning markets so you can learn what to look for in your ingredients. Bumbu Bali also operates Pasar Malam, a modern take on traditional Balinese night markets. Here, you can eat in one of the food stalls, shop for gifts and watch ceremonial performances. If you just want to eat, Bumbu Bali 1 and 2 both serve traditional Balinese dishes with amazing flair. No matter which you choose, you can’t go wrong.
This town in the Gianyar Regency is known for its Art Market where you can find basically any and every handcrafted Balinese souvenir you can imagine. Colorful and verdant, Sukawati is a great place to visit to explore Bali’s natural beauty. Visit the Bali Zoo where you can book a breakfast eating among the orangutans or a dinner with “the Great Elephant.” If you want to get into nature — instead of just watching it — check out the network of hidden waterfalls and canyons dotted throughout the region.
Ubud is one of the most popular destinations in Bali. The area is known for its lush rainforest, picturesque rice paddies, ancient holy sites and abundance of yoga retreats. Ubud is usually the place people think of when they think of Bali — that is, if you’re outside the center of the city. Downtown Ubud is a busy place, both hectic and gritty. Staying just outside of the city center means you’re treated to expansive views of rice paddies, tree-lined walkways and private pools. Walk the Campuhan Ridge Walk, known for its stunning views. Eat at the internationally-known Locavore, an intimate restaurant focused on sustainability and sourcing its ingredients primarily from the local area. Visit the “Elephant Cave” (Goa Gajah) an intricately carved sanctuary and holy site. And of course, you can’t miss the Ubud Monkey Forest where, for about USD$4, you can hike through ancient ruins and commune with our not-so-distant relatives. Plus, if you can’t deal with the day until you’ve had your coffee, Seniman Coffee Studio in Ubud is known as one of the best coffee shops on the island.
One of the main draws of East Bali is Mount Batur, an active volcano and sacred mountain. The volcano rises over Danau Batur, a crescent-shaped lake to its east and offers some of the most spectacular views on Bali. Those in the know say the best way to experience Batur is to hike up the mountain for the sunrise (it can usually be summited in 2 hours by amateur hikers). On the way down, relax in the natural hot springs and pay for a foot massage. Totally worth it.
Visitors to Padangbai are usually keen to hop the ferry to Lombok, Bali’s neighboring island. But stick around this ocean town and you’ll get to experience some iconic Balinese moments. Explore its small fishing village looking for handicrafts and meals made from whatever was freshly caught that morning. Go diving off the coast to see some of the ocean’s marvels up close. You can even visit Blue Lagoon Beach, which is perfect for families as its surf is gentle enough for amateur swimmers and surfers.
Sidemen is one of the few Bali towns that remains virtually untouched by tourism (though there are certainly plenty of tourists to the area). You can look for houses posting “ikat demo” outside to wander in and view local craftspeople weave Indonesia’s famous ikat fabric. Or, explore the village’s rice paddies that surround the town and use it as an opportunity to witness daily Balinese life. Just be sure to start (or end) your day in one of the small warungs to sample traditional Balinese sweets.
Top 10 Most Instagrammable Places in Bali
- Tegenungan Waterfall
- Tegalalang Rice Fields
- Nusa Penida (island)
- Banyumala Twin Waterfalls
- “Doors of Heaven” at Pura Lempuyang
- Penglipuran Bamboo Forest in Bangli
- Pura Ulun Danu Bratan (water temple)
- Pura Tanah Lot Temple
- Bedugul Temple
- La Laguna Bali (beach bar)
Set the Mood
Bali is the backdrop of some of the most amazing action and drama flicks. Get a taste of the city before you experience the real thing by watching these films.
- Legong, Dance of the Virgins (1935)
- Incontro d’amore (1970)
- Endless Summer II (1994)
- Ring of Fire: An Indonesian Odyssey (1999)
- The Fall (2006)
- Toute La Beauté du Monde (2006)
- Eat, Pray, Love (2010)
- Alex Cross (2012)
- Bali Is My Life (2012)
- The More Things Change (2017)
Feeling that Bali vibe? Here’s a playlist of tunes for planning your trip, taking a long walk around the city, or getting ready for a night out.