Indonesia, and more specifically Bali, has become a major hotspot for international tourism! If you've been glued to any major social media channels in recent years like me, then you've probably seen videos of people swinging above the beautiful rice terraces, swimming with and feeding elephants, bathing in the spiritual waters of Hindu temples, and lounging along the shorelines and beaches.
I know when I watched those videos, I felt the urge to book a flight to Bali and experience this island for myself - and that's exactly what I did!
I decided to stay in Bali for about a month and see what the hype was about. Impulsive? Yes, but I don't regret it at all. Bali is truly a magical place that invites you to question your beliefs, your way of life and how you treat other people.
Bali is THE destination for a perfect blend of culture, religious experiences, wellness and outdoor adventures. This combination makes a trip here unforgettable with the potential to create lifelong memories.
This travel guide will give you an outline of recommendations for a culture-filled, adventurous trip to Bali, with a hint of relaxation. Hopefully this guide can be a resource to help you plan for your trip to Bali!
Airlines & Arrival
Ngurah Rai International Airport, located in Denpasar, Bali, is the only airport located on the island of Bali.
This airport is the 2nd busiest airport in all of Indonesia, so it's pretty large and bustling with travelers every day. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the busiest travel month in Bali saw almost 700,000 passengers flying into Ngurah Rai. Numbers are steadily climbing back up with an average of 300,000 passengers per month in 2022.
You will need to fill out Customs and Temporary Visa forms on arrival, and the visa costs about $30USD. All you need for these forms are your passport information, your hotel information, and how long you're staying in the country. It should be a quick process unless there's a long line of arrivals.
Once you've exited the airport, there will be lots of taxi drivers waiting to take you to your destination. I recommend organizing a driver in advance, so that you don't get scammed or get an unlicensed driver.
If you're not staying in Denpasar, you'll have at least a 30 minute car ride ahead of you! For example, Ubud, a popular destination for tourists, is 1 hour 30 minutes from the airport with minimum traffic.
Top Cities To Visit
Here is my list of top cities I recommend you visit for an adventurous and culture-filled experience. These places do experience more tourism than not, but it all depends on what time of day and month you visit these cities. If you visit Bali during the rainy season or the edge of the dry season, you won't see as many tourists.
Dry season in Bali is May-September and wet season is October-April. I visited in late October and only experienced heavy rain inland. The shoreline gets minimal rain in October.
Known for spas and wellness activities, art & shopping
What I Did Here: shop at the Art Markets, watch a traditional Kecak Dance/Musical Performance, eat at Aperitif Michelin Star Restaurant, visit temples, and get a $10 60-minute massage every day (my favorite massage spot is this one)
Known for colorful beach umbrella sitting areas, resorts, affordable shopping, and Americanized restaurants
What I Did Here: watch the sunset, chill at lounges and smoke hookah, sit on the beach and drink cocktails, work from a beach resort I wasn't a guest at
Known for hiking and trekking, coffee, views of the volcano
What I Did Here: climb to the top of Mount Batur volcano at sunset, stargaze and see the Milky Way
Known for waterfalls, dense jungles, beautiful temples, wildlife, rice terraces, Sacred Monkey Forest
What I Did Here: explore the jungle on 4-wheeler rides, visit nature reserves, visit the Monkey Forest Sanctuary (pictured below), swing over rice terraces
There is no public transportation in Bali, so you will need to have a driver on-call or rent a moped to get around this island. If you stay in a busier city, you can get away with walking around. However, Bali is extremely mountainous and can be dangerous to walk if you're not physically fit enough or have the right footwear.
I used my friend Bobby as my driver for most of my stay in Bali, so if you need a trustworthy guy to take you around, I recommend using him! His Instagram page is linked here.
My Recommendation for Scooters/Mopeds: If you are a tourist, I don't recommend renting a moped or scooter for many reasons.
There's no way to know the condition of the bike before rental
It is illegal to drive a moped in Bali without a license and the Balinese government is enforcing this rule, if caught you will have to pay a fine & could spend time in jail
The roads are very unpredictable and dangerous if you're unfamiliar with them
Most mopeds don't come with helmets
If you want the moped experience, you can rent one. Having your own moped means you can have access to transportation freely, which is a plus. I suggest finding a driver who uses a moped and riding with them because they know the area, most likely have a license and helmets. Ultimately, the choice is yours!
Balinese culture is quite different from the rest of Indonesia because about 80% of the population on this island practices Hindu faith. Overall, Indonesia is a melting pot of over 300 ethnic groups and histories, so each island is unique from the next. Majority of the people in Indonesia are of Muslim faith, meaning they have a different lifestyle and set of expectations than those who practice Balinese Hindu faith.
One thing you'll see everywhere in Bali are the offerings residents give to the Hindu dieties. This usually looks like a small plate of flowers and snacks sitting on the ground, on a table, or at the foot of a temple statue. Do not touch these offerings, but if you disturb one on accident simply apologize gracefully and keep moving.
Temples are by the thousands in Bali, and each temple has its own specific use. Temples can be for the family only, village only, city only, or for public use. A Bali local told me there are probably over 20,000 temples in Bali, but since they are constantly being built, the actual number is unknown.
Above all else, it is extremely important to respect the Balinese people and their cultural etiquette while visiting here. You may not think how you act or talk is disrespectful back home, but it can have very different affects in a new country. Therefore, it is always important to be a responsible traveler and do some research on how the local population conducts themselves.
The people are very happy in Bali, even though the poverty rate is higher than most western countries. Because of their positive spirits, you will see locals smiling and talking to you even if you don't make eye contact. Don't respond bitterly. In fact if you're open to conversation, I highly recommend you talk to them and learn about their life. They will surely ask about yours. If you're not interested in conversation, politely decline any conversations with a smile.
This happy demeanor also applies when you're experiencing bad service or something unpleasant. If you react negatively by shouting, cursing or showing outward anger to a situation or person, the Balinese people will not take kindly to that. They may think you have bad energy and avoid coming near you again. They may not even serve you if you're at a restaurant. So it's best to keep a cool, calm head in any situation in Bali.
It is important to cover your legs and arms when entering temples, for both men and women. You can purchase a sarong on the street to use as a removable cover up, but recently tourists have been less proactive with this custom.
It's more acceptable to not cover up at a public temple, but if you're invited to a family or village temple, you need to dress appropriately and cover yourself.
My favorite Balinese dishes were Nasi Goreng (pictured below) and Chicken Satay. There are some very unique spice combinations in Balinese food with most of the dishes being mild in heat and high in flavor. Some of the most common ingredients are garlic, ginger, lime, turmeric, peanuts, chicken or tofu for protein, eggs, and rice.
The great thing about eating Balinese food in Bali is that you can easily find authentic cuisine without paying a lot of money. Meals in Bali can range from $3-$12 dollars per person, so it's very affordable! Here are some restaurants I recommend you try for a taste of Balinese cuisine.
If you're not a fan of Balinese food, you can find lots of restaurants that serve Italian, Japanese, and American food here as well. There a more international restaurant in the tourist cities like Denpasar, Kuta, and Ubud. And if you're truly an American girl/guy... they have Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Burger King, KFC and McDonalds.
For a special night of high-quality courses and balanced flavors, make a reservation at Aperitif in Ubud. Thank me later!
If you're someone looking for an outdoor adventure, this is the place to do it! Bali is known for a variety of adventurous activities like swimming in waterfalls, riding 4-wheelers through the jungle, interacting with wild animals, hiking up mountains, zip-lining through the trees, and soooo much more.
Below is a list of all the adventure activities I did while in Bali along with links to the companies I used. I recommend all the companies linked, both for their quality of service and prices.
Mount Batur Sunset Hike with Ayem Zexebrenx
4-Wheeler Jungle Tour with Abiansila Adventures
Feed & Ride Elephants with the Bali Zoo
Sacred Monkey Forest Tour (Self-led)
Rice Terraces Swings with Aloha Ubud Swings
Share this guide with your friends who keep saying they want to go to Bali and tell me in the comments what most excites you about Bali. Talk soon!