Bali is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world… This alone, for a long time, was enough to put me off from visiting! But I am oh so glad that I finally did visit Bali because this island is awesome.
I’ve been to Bali twice over the last year and the second time I spent four months exploring and living on the island – next year, I plan to spend another four months in Bali; I truly fell in love with this magical place.
Initially, I was really unsure I would EVER visiting Bali. My instincts told me that Bali was going to be an overrun island full of tourist traps. I was hesitant to go to Bali at first, but I ended up traveling there anyway and man! – Was I glad that I went backpacking in Bali!
There are still a lot of potential bumps in the road when you travel around Bali (like choosing the right area to stay – they are all VERY different).
Thankfully, we’ve provided you with this travel guide for Bali to help you sort through the good and bad! Here, we’ll cover topics ranging from “dos and don’ts in Bali” to “backpacking Bali on a budget.” Everything and then some is covered in this guide; with it, you’ll be more than prepared for this amazing island.
Table of Contents
- Where to Go Backpacking in Bali
- Best Itineraries and Routes for Backpacking Bali
- Backpacking Bali 3 Day Itinerary
- Backpacking Bali 7 Day Itinerary
- Backpacking Bali 10 Day Itinerary
- Backpacking Bali 2-Week Itinerary
- Places to Visit in Bali
- Backpacker Accommodation in Bali
- Top Things to Do in Bali
- Bali Travel Tips
- Staying Safe in Bali
- What to Pack for Bali
- Bali Travel Guide to Getting Around
- Costs for Backpacking Bali
- Must Try Experiences in Bali
Where to Go Backpacking in Bali
Bali has a lot more to do than most islands of its size. Here you can eat, drink, lounge, surf, explore, relax, hike, dive, and much, much more all within the course of a week or two.
There is so much to do and see on Bali that trying to take part in all of it may seem overwhelming at first. Luckily, this travel guide to Bali is here to help you sort through everything and get that dream itinerary going.
Prepare to rock out amigos, I’ll show you my favourite places to chill, party, eat and explore in Bali 🙂
First, allow me to introduce you to our travel itineraries for Bali covering the best places to visit in Bali Each one is specially drafted to give you the best possible experience depending on what it is you’re looking for.
Afterward, we’re going jump into the meat of the article – the destinations – and then follow up with more specific information e.g. Costs, Food, Diving, etc.
By the end of this guide, you’ll be equipped with all of the necessary tools to go backpacking around Bali on a budget!
Below is a list of four travel itineraries for your backpacking trip to Bali. They cover the regions of The Big 3, The North, The East Coast, and a Grand Tour. the itineraries vary from 3 days to 1 month in length and cover the majority of the top attractions in Bali.
Backpacking Bali 3 Day Itinerary
3 Days in Bali: The Big 3
Only have a few days to travel in Bali? No problem! With this 3-day itinerary for Bali, you’ll sample the best of the island without having to travel too far from the airport.
A lot of backpackers end up in Kuta, but, frankly, I fucking hate Kuta. It’s tacky, busy and basically just a 18-21 Aussie drinking area.
Seminyak is cool… if you just want endless rows of restaurants.
The best place to hang out is definitely Canggu and this is where I based myself on both my trips to Bali.
Lounge on the beach, drink bintangs at the shacks, and watch the waves roll up to the shore. If you need to get out, try visiting Tanah Lot to the north of Canggu.
Looking for a little more? The Bukit Peninsula is still very accessible from the Western beaches and makes for a great day trip. Visit Uluwatu Temple or one of the many surf spots for some killer waves.
Backpacking Bali 7 Day Itinerary
7 Days in Bali: The Highlands and the North
Many travelers argue that backpacking Ubud and the lush mountains of the north requires its own separate itinerary and for good reason – there’s so much to do here! Go rambling in the rice paddies; visit the many volcanoes; have a spa day in one of the many jungle retreats… there are a lot of options.
Ubud is often referred to as the spiritual capital of Bali and certainly, this is where many dreadlocked posers seem to end up 🙂
I spent time in Ubud recently and whilst the surrounding area is chill and beautiful, I found the town to be insanely crowded; then again, it was high season.
Ubud’s days as a chill mecca are kind of over… Saying that, if you can find a place to stay just outside of Ubud town, it is a cool area to explore.
One thing I will note is that if you’re not confident driving a scooter you may want to give Ubud a miss – the traffic is AWFUL and a taxi will take forever to get anywhere.
For this 7 day itinerary for Northern Bali, Ubud will be your primary base of operation. Ubud offers a lot of amenities in addition to attractions. The guesthouses here are out of this world and among some of the best places to stay in Bali – lots of them have chill rice paddy views.
If you want to get away from the tourists, try visiting one of the smaller mountain villages of Bedugul or Kintamani as both offer spectacular scenery.
Backpacking Bali 10 Day Itinerary
10 Days in Bali: D(r)ive the East Coast
On this 10-day itinerary for Bali, make the journey all the way up the eastern coast for some of the best diving on Bali.
Start in Sanur – or the Bukit Peninsula if you want – and just follow the east coast as far north as you can. Be sure to visit Padang Bai along the way.
If you have time, definitely take a few days to visit Nusa Lembongan and Penida to see some of the most beautiful beaches in Bali, in addition to some gnarly coastline.
I spent a week driving around Penida and it was a real highlight of my trip… the roads range from gorgeous paved curves sliding through the jungle to some of the worst dirt roads I’ve ever come across – both are fun to tackle!
Once you hit Amed, you have two choices: 1) stay here for some more amazing diving or 2) keep going!
Rounding the northeastern corner of the island, you’ll start heading west and eventually hit Lovina. You’ll have more opportunities to go diving e.g. Menjangan Island on this backpacking Bali route but there is a lot more to see and do! See the previous itinerary for some ideas on what to do around Lovina.
Backpacking Bali 2-Week Itinerary
2 Weeks in Bali: The Grand Tour
Go for an adventure and see as many of the best places that Bali has to offer! Over the course of this 2-week itinerary for backpacking Bali, very little is excluded; you’ll see the jungles, volcanoes, temples, beaches, dive bars, everything you can imagine!
This itinerary is definitely the right way to travel in Bali and I personally recommend spending at least a couple of weeks (a month or more is better) in Bali – there is a LOT to see and if you’re an online entrepreneur, it’s a good place to base yourself for a bit. The work life balance in Bali is sweet.
You can start your 2-week journey in many ways. Fly into Denpasar and then spend a few days exploring the surrounding coastal communities. Canggu, Sanur, Uluwatu; the choice is yours!
From there, escape north towards Ubud for some downtime. This part of Bali is traditionally much more relaxed and there are several ways to decompress here. Maybe some yoga? Or perhaps a ramble in the jungles? Just note you have to make the effort to get out of the main Ubud town.
From Ubud, head east towards Amed for some of the best diving in Bali. You’ll have more opportunities to dive as you drive along the coast westward to the lovely black-sand beaches of Lovina. Be sure to get out and explore the waterfalls outside of Lovina as well.
After Lovina, you’re heading back inland towards Ubud but making a quick stop in Bedugul first. Here you’ll get to see the awesome Pura Ulun Danu Beratan temple and the many mountain lakes of Bedugul. Upon finishing Bedugul, you’ll be returning to Ubud to wrap up your trip.
Now it’s time to cover the best places to visit in Bali more in-depth, so you know exactly what to do during your trip. From the most popular destinations to some off the beaten track locales, this is where to go backpacking when exploring Bali.
Denpasar is Bali’s fast-paced and densely inhabited capital. Most who are backpacking around Bali just pass through here on their way to somewhere else and don’t see much of the city.
Since these people only see the facade of Denpasar, which appears as a massive cluster of taxis and pedestrians, few express remorses for missing it. This is somewhat of a shame as Denpasar offers a lot in the way of attractions.
Denpasar is centrally located between the beaches of Kuta/Legian/etc and Sanur. As such, it doesn’t offer anything in the way of beach activities. What it lacks in beaches, however, it more than makes for in cultural offerings. In Denpasar, there are many temples, museums, and cultural centers to visit.
Lapangan Puputan Margarana is probably the most prominent and important landmark in the area. At the center is a large monument that commemorates Balinese independence through the celebration of the puputans – the original Balinese fighters who committed suicide to combat the Dutch.
Near the Puputan is the Bali Museum, which has a great collection of Balinese artefacts. Though the Bali Museum is perhaps the largest, there are several others that one can visit in Denpasar, including the Sidik Jari Museum, the Wedhi Budaya Cultural Centre, and the Interactive Art Museum.
Also worth seeing is the Taman Budaya Art Center – this building has a large amphitheater that hosts many performances including dancing and music. This site is also the center of the Bali Arts Festival.
Finally, there are a few noteworthy temples around Denpasar. Pura Sakenan, Pura Agung Jagatnata, and Pura Maospahit are all charming little shrines. The old Palace of Satria, once a royal residence, now serves as a holy place as well.
Located west of Denpasar is one the longest and most developed areas on the entire island. Consisting of Kuta, Legian, and Seminyak (more on Seiminyak later), these buzzing neighborhoods offer not only lots to do but some of the best places to stay in Bali if you’re young and wanna drink a lot. Here you’ll find the bulk of shops and restaurants on the island as well as some of the most popular beaches.
Kuta definitely has a reputation for being pretty debaucherous and grimy. All of Kuta’s neighbourhoods streets here are lined with countless dive bars, and by night wasted drinkers stumble around, vaguely trying to fend off predatory ladyboys. Some of Kuta’s party hostels have a better vibe than others.
If you’re looking for the best parties in Bali, you’ll find many of them here in Kuta. Kuta isn’t really my cup of coffee though so I don’t have a huge amount to add.
It’s hard to say which bars are the best bars in Kuta. The beach bars are numerous and somewhat generic, though Sam’s Bar and the Capil Beach Bar do stand out. In the interior of the neighbourhood, you have classic establishments like Paddy’s Pub, Deejay Club, VH Bali, and the Hard Rock that are generally the go-to spots.
As mentioned before, nearly all of Kuta’s bars will have a certain seediness to them whether you like that kind of thing or not – there are a lot of working girls around, try not to be a dick and if you’re going to interact, treat these ladies of the night kindly.
Kuta also has a number of spas and yoga studios in addition to an impressive beach. Visiting any one of these makes for a good way to weather the massive hangovers. The beach itself is long and actually very nice although crowded. Kuta Beach still remains one of the best places to surf in Bali so long as you don’t mind sharing the beach.
Backpacking Seminyak and Legian
Seminyak is the most upscale area on the western beach stretch that includes Kuta and Legian. This neighbourhood is by far the most orderly of the three and has the most luxurious accommodations and restaurants, however, you’ll stil find some cheaper backpacker accommodation in Seminyak. The beach here is still top quality but not so good for surfing. Prices here are consequently the highest of the three as well. Wherever you stay in Seminyak, accomoation standards are pretty good.
Seminyak’s bars are well known for being very chique places where people like to go and be seen. Among the most famous establishments are Ku De Ta, Potato Head, Woo Bar, and La Favela, though there are many, many more worth mentioning (if we had more time!)
Be sure to dress nicely as it’s a bit fancier here than Kuta – I was turned away from one place on account of a tank top.
If you’re finding Seminyak a bit to bougie for your tastes, try heading a little south to the neighborhood of Legian. Legian is great because it has a little bit of everything: some shopping here, some bars there, and plenty of beach in between. The vibes are not too extreme and the energy here feels much more stable.
The beaches of Legian are well kept and somewhat laidback. They are definitely more like Kuta than Seminyak though, with lots of shacks and happy hour offerings.
The shopping in Legian is diverse and you can find just about anything here. There are plenty of boutiques that sell more than just the usual Bintang shirts and phallic souvenirs though you can still find plenty of those latter items in Legian. Overall, prices in Legian are only slightly higher than those Kuta but less than Seminyak.
Bar-wise, Legian almost blends seemingly into Kuta as they’re very close to one another. Zanzibar Beach Front, Bounty Discotheque, Engine Room, and Sky Garden all worth visiting.
Canggu is my FAVOURITE place in Bali! It’s a quieter, more chill part of Bali’s western beaches. Located 20 mins north of Seminyak, it feels worlds away from the chaotic, congested streets of Kuta and Legian. Between yoga studios, vegan restaurants, a great surf beach, awesome nightlife, the famous Crossfit Wanderlust box… I fucking love it here. There’s just so much to do in Canggu!
Canggu has many beaches that have become popular for their surf as well as sunsets. Echo Beach is the most famous of these, but Batu Bolong and Berawa Beach are good as well. Be sure to visit one of the many beach bars around for a beer at sunset!
My favourite bars in Canggu include The Lawn (best spot to catch a sunset cocktail), Old Mans (everybody ends up here), and Pretty Poison (A bar with a skate park inside it!). Many hostels in Canggu also have decent on site bars.
My favourite restaurants are the INCREDIBLE Motion Cafe, Bali Buda, Nude, Savage Kitchen, and Shady Shack – Bali is the easiest place in the world to eat healthy food that’s actually tasty!
Of local infamy is a road called “The Shortcut.” This elevated road, which connects Berawa to Batu Bolong, can be dangerous as it’s narrow and there are no guardrails. Vehicles fall of this road all the time, so much so that the locals have started making a scrapbook of all the accidents!
The other benefit of visiting Canggu is its close proximity to the stunning Pura Tanah Lot, which is one of the best things to do in Bali! This site, located on small, rocky outcropping on the coast, is one of the most beautiful temples in Bali.
Be sure to check out our comprehensive Canggu travel guide to learn more about this amazing place!
Sanur is one of the oldest resort areas in Bali and maintains a pretty relaxed atmosphere. As such, Sanur is more popular with the middle-aged crowd and/or those with families who are just trying to avoid dealing with the madness of the western beaches.
Like any beachside resort worth two shits, Sanur has some great beaches to chill on. These beaches are notably devoid of the bars that litter the western shores, and are instead replaced by a well-maintained promenade.
This paved path is great for early morning jogs as well as bike rides with the family. Watersports – in particular, kitesurfing – are very popular activities in Sanur. Note that because it faces the east, sunrises are better than sunsets in Sanur.
There are a couple of non-beach related activities around Sanur worth checking out. The La Mayeur Museum is a lovely gallery (and former residence) that exhibits the works of Belgian impressionist Adrien Jean La Mayeur. There is a beautiful Orchid Garden in Sanur as well as the Pura Blanjong, which is home to the extremely important Prasati Blanjong stone pillar.
Thanks in part to its central location on the east coast, Sanur is a great place to organize dive trips. If you choose to organize dives in Sanur, you’ll probably end up traveling a fair bit though as the diving around Sanur specifically isn’t all that great. That said, many of the islands top dive instructors are in this area, so it still makes sense to organize dives here.
Sanur is also the gateway to Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida, both of which are among the best places in Bali! The dive sites around the islands are world class and the coastline is some of the most awe-inspiring that you’ll see anywhere.
Backpacking Uluwatu & the Bukit Peninsula
Uluwatu is a surfer mecca! Located on the southern tip of the island, which is referred to as the Bukit Peninsula, Uluwatu has legendary surf, gorgeous temples, and some of the best beaches in Bali. Uluwatu is, for lack of better terms, simply stunning and just really fucking cool.
The landscape of the Bukit Peninsula is distinctly more rugged and arid than the rest of Bali. Here you will find epic coastal cliffs and hidden coves that are just waiting to be explored. Some of the best beaches in Uluwatu include Nyang Nyang Beach, Balangan Beach, Bingin, Padang-Padang, and Suluban Beach, among others.
The surf in Uluwatu is probably some of the best in not only Bali but the entire world. The waves here are mighty if not terrifying to behold and prove to be irresistible to big wave surfers. To make myself clear, waves are not at all for beginners and should only be attempted by pros.
One of the best things to see in Uluwatu is definitely area of the villas on the western edge of the peninsula – an area that is referred to locally as “Blue Point.” Built among the cliffs overlooking the sea, the hotels here are a pretty awesome sight. Grabbing a drink and watching the surfers catch waves as the sun sets is one of the best things to do in Bali as night approaches. If you can’t afford to rent a villa, then there are plenty of cheaper backpacker hostels in Uluwatu.
Also, you can’t miss Pura Uluwatu. This complex, perched precariously on the edge of a cliff, is one of the most impressive temples in Bali. Often times, kecak dance ceremonies will be held here and these are just wild to see.
On the eastern side of the Bukit Peninsula is the ultra-exclusive Nusa Dua area. It’s a gated community and pretty much a fuckin’ boring place to be honest. Skipping Nusa Dua wouldn’t be a tragedy in the least.
Ubud is the primary base for backpackers to explore the highlands of Bali. It’s a very lush and beautiful place, full of rice paddies, hidden temples, waterfalls, and mountains.
Ubud itself is a collection of a dozen or so villages and all of them come together to form a decent sized community. Central Ubud is perhaps the closest thing to a downtown and packed full of shops, restaurants, and all of the usual urban amenities.
Be sure to visit the Neka Art Gallery, Setiadarma House, Ubud Palace, and the Agung Rai Museum for some prime culture.
Ubud is absolutely jam-packed with temples that come in all shapes and sizes. Nowhere else in Bali can you find so many religious sites and in such great propensity.
You have the epic Goa Gajah, Pura Kehen, the humble Yeh Pulu, and the Tirta Emplus, which has been the setting for many an Instagram snap. My real favorite is Gunung Kawi, mostly for its expansiveness but also for it’s ambiance.
Ubud’s Monkey Forest is very popular to visit for very obvious reasons – here, monkeys run freely among the wooded grounds and play with visitors. Be careful though: monkeys are fuckers – true story.
If your itinerary in Ubud is relatively humble, then you could get around just by walking and maybe taking the occasional Gojek. Indeed, many of the best hostels in Ubud are in walking distance of the central areas.
Wandering around the countryside, especially around Tegallalang and the Campuhan ridge, among the tropical groves, migrating herons, and rice paddies is a truly lovely experience. If your itinerary is a bit loftier though, consider renting a bike, either of the motorized or human-powered sorts, to get around Ubud.
Backpacking Padang Bai
Padang Bai is a pretty little beach town that is primarily visited for its port, which offers ferries to and from the Gili Islands in Lombok. Most people just end up passing through Padang Bai on their way to the Gilis or beyond – their loss though! Padang Bai is a really sweet town that has lots of hidden gems for those willing to go looking.
Padang Bai has several small beaches that are great for diving and sunbathing. The Blue Lagoon is noteworthy because there’s a coral reef that comes very close to the shore. Due to its proximity, the reef of the Blue Lagoon is one of the best places in Bali to go snorkelling! Note that wading into this lagoon can be a bit painful as the reef will cut your feet and legs.
The main beach in Padang Bai is the eponymous Padangbai Beach. It’s a long but overall unimpressive strip of sand that gets a bit of rubbish washed ashore from all of the ferries.
Much better is Bias Tugal (White Sand) Beach, located to the south of the port. The sand of this beach, as the name implies, is a brilliant white that looks gorgeous when set against the cerulean waters of the sea. Try to find this diamond in the rough yourself.
Other than the beaches, there are only a few other attractions in Padang Bai. Salt farming is one of the main industries here and watching the workers around Kusamba Beach can be a fascinating experience. Travelers can, otherwise, visit one of the many temples around Padang Bai, most impressive of which are Pura Silayukti and Pura Penataran Agung.
Once one of the sleepiest, most impoverished fishing villages in Bali, Amed is now becoming one of the most popular diving destinations on the island! Set against the inspiring Mt. Agung, Amed has some of the best diving in Bali in addition to some stunning scenery.
Amed’s main tourist attractions are all dive oriented. Between Amed and the local community of Tulambed, there are a plethora of dive sites to visit. There are several dive operators within either town that can organize trips out to the sites easily and affordably.
The USS Liberty wreck is one of the most desirable dive sites in the area as it has become a menagerie for aquatic life. There’s another popular wreck in Lipah Bay and a contemporary “underwater gallery” in Jemeluk Bay among many, many more dive locations.
For more information on diving refer to the Diving in Bali section of this article. Be sure to also consider learning free diving in Amed as it is one of the best places in Southeast Asia to do so.
The scenery around Amed is some of the best in Bali. Views of Mt. Agung are plentiful especially around Jemeluk Bay. There’s a place in Jemeluk that is particularly exposed to the mountain and it’s become popular with locals for its great sunset views. It’s name is (not surprisingly) Sunset Point. You can see the sunset from a stand-up paddleboard in the bay or sip on a Bintang at the local bar (seats fill up quick!).
If you’re feeling invigorated by Mt. Agung, why not considered visiting or even climbing it?! Mt. Agung is only within an hour’s drive of Amed. The holiest temple on the island, Pura Besakih, is also located at the base of the mighty mountain.
Located on the far northern shores of Bali, Lovina is perhaps the most laidback of all beach destinations on the island. Once a singular resort, named Lovina by a king, the term Lovina has come to refer to a greater collection of villages that have all become popular with travelers.
Here are some of the most peaceful beaches in Bali as well as some awesome natural attractions.
The black-sand beaches around Lovina are very calm, both in terms of crowds and tides, when compared to the more southern beaches. Because of the calm sea, diving and snorkeling are also popular activities.
Dolphin sightings are frequent in these waters as well, so much so that these animals have become a mascot of sorts in town. The famous Dolphin Statue crowns the central village of Lovina, which is officially called Kalibukbuk.
What really sets Lovina apart from the rest of Bali are the local waterfalls. These cascades are the best on the island and exploring them is one of the most fun things to do in Bali. Popular falls include Gitgit, Aling-Aling, Singsing, Sekumpul, and Blahmantung; that last one, in particular, is my favorite. Go for a dip or go canyoneering at one of these for an amazing time.
Some other attractions around Lovina are the Air Panas Banjar hot springs and Brahmavihara-Arama Buddhist temple.
Back into the hills we go! From Amed, the mountainous commune of Bedugul is only a short drive away. In addition to being a convenient place to see the aforementioned waterfalls around Amed, Bedugul itself offers a lot in the way of scenery.
Much like Ubud, Bedugul is very pastoral and feels like an alternate of sorts to the former village. Those looking for something different in Bali will enjoy Bedugul very much.
The first thing that you must do while in Bedugul is visit the Pura Ulun Danu Beratan. Set against Lake Beratan, this temple is one of the most beautiful in Bali.
Bedugul, in fact, has 3 lakes altogether – the others being Tamblingan and Buyan, and all of them make for great photo ops. Each lake has several more temples to visit but none are as impressive as the Pura Ulun Danu Beratan.
For some pastoral majesty, visit the rice terraces of Jatiluwih. Lying in the shadow of Mt. Batukaru, this area appears very similar to the fields of Ubud but far less touristy. Stop by one of the many cafes while wandering for some local produce including the famous strawberries.
As mentioned before, you can still visit many waterfalls from Bedugul. Aside from the ones close to Amed, there’s also Banyumala and Munduk waterfalls that are very close to the town. These receive far fewer tourists than most Balinese waterfalls. Trekking in and around the forests that hide these falls is a very enjoyable activity as well.
East of Bedugul is another mountainous destination that is great for adrenaline junkies: Kintamani. Tucked away at the shores of Mt. Batur and Lake Batur, there’s no end to the number of outdoor activities here.
The most popular activity and perhaps Kintamani’s claim to fame is climbing Mount Batur for sunrise. This 1700 meter peak is modest by many standards and makes for a relatively straightforward trek.
Be careful when climbing this mountain in the dark as many trails deviate to nowhere. Also be aware of the weather, which usually worsens later in the day. Mount Batur is still an active volcano – you can actually cook eggs near some of the lava vents.
The problem with climbing Mt Batur is how damned crowded it is. The ascent is NOT fun. Then there is the joy of dealing with the local guides. You will be pressured to hire a guide from the get-go. They are neither necessary, nor particuarly good company. Should you choose to not enlist a guide, you will be harassed, aggressively, insistently, and perpetually until you may not even want to climb anymore.
Many potential guides will claim that fees exist because it’s a UNESCO site or that they are for the sake of religious offerings but really the local mafia just wants their cut. In the end, you can go up Mt. Batur on your own but you’d better be a damn sneaky hiker. The views from the top are worth it though, and the hike down is a lot more joyful.
Outside of Mt. Batur, there’s plenty more to do and see in Kintamani. Various outdoor activities like mountain biking, ATVing, and kayaking are all possible around the village. Check here for a list of activities and local operators and note that many will register themselves as being in Ubud.
Be sure to visit the Pura Ulan Danu Batur, which is one of the most important temples in Bali as well as the Penulisan Temple.
Off the Beaten Path Travel in Bali
Between all of the traffic, resorts, and developments, there are definitely moments where Bali can feel less chilled than you expected. Thankfully, there are still parts of the island that are relatively untouched by mass tourism; places where you can really unwind and let your feet roam wherever they want. If you want to do something different in Bali, try visiting one of these off the beaten path destinations.
Backpacking Nusa Lembongan, Ceningan, and Penida
For those looking to get away from the madness of mainland Bali, to find an island escape from a bigger island escape if you will, the Nusa Islands make for an awesome respite.
The Nusa Archipelago is composed of three islands: Lembongan, Penida, and Ceningan. Each one has different sorts of attractions and varying levels of development – Lembongan has the most infrastructure while Penida has the least; Ceningan is connected to Lembongan by a bridge and is practically an extension of the island.
Each of the islands has a similar ultra-rugged topography; think Uluwatu but more rough and epic. Rising prominently from the sea, these islands are protected by sheer, sometimes crazy coastal cliffs that are awe-inspiring to see. What few beaches there are usually hidden away from sight and are totally pristine. Finally, the water surrounding the islands is probably the deepest cerulean that I’ve ever seen.
To reach the islands from Bali, catch a fast ferry at Sanur or Padang Bai, which will drop you off at either Lembongan or Penida. Upon arriving at the ports you can usually rent a motorbike, which I highly recommend for these islands.
There are a couple of settlements spread throughout the islands that are like more down-tempo versions of Bali’s touristy areas. In these, you’ll find the usual joints like beach bars, organic cafes, and yoga studios.
You can start exploring the islands and visiting popular locations like the Devil’s Tear on Lembongan or the Blue Lagoon on Ceningan but be sure to blaze your own trail sometimes.
Being a much larger island, Nusa Penida has way more to see than its neighbours. There’s too much to write about in this section but I will say that the entire southern coast of Penida is stunning and that the beaches of Atuh, Suwehan, Panadan, and Kelingking Beach are all worth seeing. My personal favourite was Diamond Beach.
Best Airbnb in Kuta – Kuta Airbnb
This newly built, private bungalow is located between Kuta and Legian Beaches, tucked away down a quiet road. It’s a great place to stay for a couple who want to be near the action but feel like they’re worlds away.
The room overlooks a well-kept swimming pool and fragrant garden.
If you want to learn more about these amazing islands, then be sure to check out these epic guides!
- Best Hostels in Nusa Penida
- Ultimate Guide for Visiting Nusa Penida
- Insider’s Guide to Visiting Nusa Lembongan
Bali is expensive by Southeast Asia backpacking standards but still very affordable compared to Europe or the USA.
Private villas are the best places to stay in Bali as they are usually very well maintained, comfortable and well serviced. You can get private villas that share a pool, and include a decent garden and reception area etc.
You can also book a bungalow in the middle of the jungle that has next to nothing except for good views and vibes! Either way, whilst accommodation is not super cheap it IS super good value and you can stay somewhere amazing for a decent price. AirBnB is a good place to look for a villa if you’re not going to stay in a hostel. I stayed in True Love Yoga Villa for 3 months – absolutely loved it.
Hostels in Bali can be a very, very good time depending on what you want. The ones around Kuta will obviously be more party-centric while those in Ubud will be more laid-back. There are a couple of hostels located off the beaten track that will be very low-key and finding these are half the fun! My favourite hostels are all in Canggu… Tipsy Gypsy / The Farm / Temple Hostel are all solid choices that I have stayed at in 2018.
In the table below, we’ve highlighted some of the best backpacker hostels in Bali!
Where to Stay in Bali
- Free breakfast
- Free daily yoga class
|Location||Accommodation||Why Stay Here?!|
|Denpasar||Lokal Bali Hostel||Hostel w/ hotel-like amenities. Spa and pool onsite.|
|Kuta||Pudak Sari Unizou Hostel||Lots of different room varieties that all lead to central pool. Friendly staff as well.|
|Seminyak||Kosta Hostel||New hostel that is a little away from the main tourist areas. Very boutique feel.|
|Canggu||The Tipsy Gypsy||Small hostel w/ a lot of personality. Chilled out and very intimate here.|
|Sanur||Cafe Locca Homestay||Conveniently located near the beach. Has restaurant onsite that serves both Indonesian and Western fairs.|
|Uluwatu||Bookit Backpacker Hostel||Located a bit away from the beaches but still on the Bukit Peninsula. For visa runners: this hostel will help you with your extensions!|
|Ubud||Puri Garden Hotel and Hostel||Not only the best hostel in Ubud but the best hostel in Bali! Free breakfast. Free yoga. All-you-can-eat dinners. Lots of social events. Just awesome.|
|Padang Bai||Bamboo Paradise||A quiet hostel for a quiet town. Located very close to the White Sand Beach.|
|Amed||Ocean Prana||Beautiful hostel built w/ traditional Balinese architecture in mind. Located in Jemeluk Bay.|
|Lovina||FunkyPlace||Quirky hostel that features live music almost every night. Located very close to the beach and even has tree houses!|
|Bedugul||Pondok Nyoman||A guesthouse (not a hostel) that has lots of amenities. Continental breakfasts. Bit pricier.|
|Kintamani||Bunbulan Hill Hostel||The only hostel in the region. Convenient and comfortable base.|
|Nusa Lembongan||Nyuh Gading Home Stay||Very nice hostel that offers both shared and private rooms. Has a pool onsite and is, otherwise, very close to the beach. Located on the northwestern part of the island.|
Top Things to Do in Bali
Below are 10 of the coolest things to do in Bali for tourists, backpackers, and adventurous travelers alike.
1. Find your happy place
Whether you find your inner zen at a beach bar or in a yoga studio, Bali has no shortage of ways to relax. Visit one of the aforementioned locations in addition to spas, hot springs, and more to unwind and just simply get away from it all. If you happen to make it to Nusa Lembongan, we highly reccommend that you check out our favorite yoga studio in Bali at the Santosha Institute!
2. Go surfing or watch the pros
Bali has some of the best surf in the entire world and so attracts some of the greatest talent. Take a shot at riding some truly tubular waves or, if you’re not feeling up to it, just kick back and watch the pros while you sip your cocktail.
3. Get Fit!
Without a doubt, Bali is one of the best places in the world to get fit. With plenty of tasty, healthy eating options, yoga centres, world class gyms and the best Crossfit Box in Asia – Crossfit Wanderlust – it’s truly my favourite place in the world to settle down and get fit.
If fitness is high on your wish list consider visiting Bali with my amigo Will Henke – he organises epic fitness holidays in Bali.
4. Visit one of the many temples
Bali is home to dozens of temples and each one has something unique to offer. Be sure to visit at least a few while staying on the island. Many travelers have even taken it upon themselves to see them all (on a pilgrimage of sorts) while backpacking in Bali.
There is no shortage of great dive sites around Bali! Wanna see manta rays? Check. Whale sharks? Check. Rare, funky-looking fish? Check, check. There’s something for every diver in Bali.
6. Chase waterfalls near Lovina
The waterfalls near Lovina are some of the best places in Bali to go for an adventure! They are great for cooling off and, of course, you can join the millions of other people who have the same identical photo #getoffyourfuckingphone
7. Watch the sunset at Canggu or Uluwatu
The western beaches of Bali are renowned for offering some of the best sunset views in Southeast Asia. Whatever you may be doing, be it lounging at a beach bar or hanging out on a surfboard, be sure to stop what you’re doing and tune into the setting sun.
8. Explore the Nusa Archipelago
The Nusa Islands are like a whole world away from Bali as they are far more wild and underdeveloped. Grab a ferry to one of them and go exploring on a scooter. You’ll stumble upon many hidden coves and remote beaches along the way. Nusa Penida is one of my favourite islands to explore.
9. Walk through the hills and rice paddies
There’s something enchanting about the highlands of Ubud. The way the morning light reflects in the rice paddies, the occasional mist that settles in the trees, the ethereal sounds that jungle emits; few places in the world can imitate these aspects of Bali. Just go for a walk around and feel the magic.
10. Immerse yourself in Balinese culture!
As a Hindu island in the middle of Muslim dominated Indonesia, Bali is a bit of a cultural microcosm. Its religion, stories and history are truly some of the most fascinating in the world.
Take part in a festival – there always seems to be one going on – or just start conversing with locals to get to grips with this unique island.
Below is a guide to everything you need to know before backpacking Bali, including costs and how to travel on a budget, how to get around, and information on Bali’s best surfing and diving spots.
Books to Read while Traveling in Bali
These are some of my favourite travel reads and books set in Bali, which you should consider picking up before you begin your backpacking adventure…
The Backpacker Bible – Get it for free! Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. To inspire and help the next generation of Broke Backpackers, you can now grab ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day’ for free! Get your copy here.
Snowing in Bali – A look into the drug trade and the empires it’s created in Bali
A House in Bali – One of the great novels about Bali told through music and the obsession a composer has with an exotic land.
Love and Death in Bali – A fictional novel taking place during the puputan, an event defined by the mass suicides of Balinese royal families during the Dutch colonization.
Eat, Pray, Love – Love it or hate it, this travel novel, taking place over the course of several continents (including Bali, Indonesia), has become a worldwide sensation.
Fragrant Rice: My Continued Love Affair With Bali – A memoir and cookbook! An entertaining but more importantly an educational read about Balinese culture.
A Little Bit One O’Clock: Living with a Balinese Family – A whimsical account of one American’s experience living with locals in Ubud. Easy to read and well written.
Bali Soul Journals – A look into the lives of the local Balinese people using journal entries and photographs.
Island of Bali – Arguably the most complete text about the history, culture, and status of the island of Bali. Written from an educated, Western perspective.
Lonely Planet Bali & Lombok – It’s sometimes worth traveling with a guidebook. Despite Lonely Planet’s history of selling out and writing about places they haven’t been to, they’ve done a good job with these Indonesian islands.
Balinese Travel Phrases
Bahasa Indonesia is the official language of Indonesia and is universally understood throughout the country, including Bali. Those who have been traveling in Indonesia who already and know a word or two will be well off in Bali.
For a refresher on Bahasa Indonesia, refer to the Indonesian Travel Phrases section of our bacpacking Indonesia travel guide. Many Balinese speak good English.
Did you know that Bali has its own traditional language called Balinese? This fascinating language is very distinct from Bahasa Indonesia and the two are actually unintelligible to each other. Traditional Balinese isn’t used as much these days as the standardized Bahasa Indonesia is the dominant language these. In fact, the script is becoming so uncommon in day-to-day life that most can only speak Balinese.
English is widely understood in Bali thanks in part to the hyper-developed tourism infrastructure and the inflated presence of Westerners. If you can’t manage any Balinese or Bahasa Indonesia at all, you’ll still get by while solely speaking English.
As always, it definitely helps to know a local phrase or two when traveling in a foreign country. Even if you know a basic amount, the locals will still receive your attempts very well and will open up much easier.
For your benefit, I’ve included a list of pronunciations for a few helpful Balinese phrases with English translations. Note that, for the sake of variety, these phrases are Balinese and not Bahasa Indonesia. Knowing either will be beneficial, but knowing more of the former will really impress the locals.
Staying Safe in Bali
Bali is one of the most popular places in the world to travel to, and as such suffers from many of the blessings and sins that come from rampant tourism. Though it doesn’t have the type or propensity of crime that some other Southeast Asian countries may have, some cautions should still be addressed. In the end, Bali is safe to travel, and the type of crimes around are the petty or illicit kind.
Scams and theft are the most common form of crime in Bali; both of these are avoidable with common sense. Be sure to keep your personal items close at hand and be alert in dangerous places e.g. dark alleyways and shady businesses.
Since Bali is a predominantly Hindu population, alcohol is not as culturally taboo as the rest of Indonesia. It’s available in greater quantity here and so the risk of alcohol poisoning is more relevant. Refer to our Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll section for more on where and how to safely party in Bali.
In terms of natural hazards, strong oceanic currents and the local monkey population are of special note. The seas around Bali are very strong and can carry you away very quickly – exercise greater caution and look out for warning signs when entering the water around Bali.
In regards to the monkeys, especially those at the famous Monkey Temple, watch out for aggressive primates. Some may become enamoured with a particular object that you are carrying and steal it for no reason other than they like it. Monkeys may bite as well. Thankfully, there’s a first aid station on site at the Monkey Temple.
For more on how to backpack in Bali safely, refer to our dedicated safety guide here – it provides lots of useful tips and talks about things you should avoid. For a more general overview, check out our Backpacker 101 Safety guide.
Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll in Bali
Let’s be frank: Bali is kind of a shitshow at times. Though what do you expect when you throw a bunch of backpackers, Australian holidayers, and overly-welcoming locals on the same island?!
Before you start to think that Bali is Hamsterdam and there are no rules, some things need to be said.
Indonesia, on a federal level, is very, very anti-drug. Do NOT get caught with drugs in Indonesia.
Many have probably already heard this, but there are cases where tourists are incarcerated or even sentenced to death for drug possession. People have been locked up just for having a joint on them, and unlike other Southeast Asian countries the police in Indonesia are not so easy to bribe.
I’ve been smoking marijuana for over ten years. I prefer smoking weed to drinking booze. Bali is a REALLY bad place to get caught with drugs… It’s also very challenging to pick up here, and drugs in Bali are typically expensive and low quality.
I now no longer try to smoke in Bali; it’s too much of a hassle and not worth the risk. If you want to smoke – take a boat to the Gili Islands or track down a reggae bar. Always party responsibly.
Even though drinking alcohol isn’t necessarily culturally accepted in Indonesia – as it’s a Muslim nation – drinking among foreigners is still totally fine. Domestic beer and imported spirits are readily available and safe to drink. Drinking is however pretty expensive in Bali if you want anything other than beer as the government charges insane taxes on spirits.
Special caution should be noted around local moonshine. As the government doesn’t make alcohol production easy on an industrial scale, many local businesses have turned to making their own. These brews aren’t made with the safest standards and may cause serious alcohol poisoning. Take caution if someone hands you something mysterious or if your mixed drink tastes funny.
Travel Insurance for Bali
A wise man once said that if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t really afford to travel – so do consider backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure! Traveling without insurance would be risky. I highly recommend World Nomads.
I have been using World Nomads for some time now and made a few claims over the years. They’re easy to use, offer the widest coverage, and are affordable. Also, this is the only company I know of that lets you buy travel insurance after leaving on a trip.
If there’s one insurance company I trust, it’s World Nomads. Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.
Getting an estimate from World Nomads is simple – just click the button or image below, fill out the necessary info, and you’re on your way!
What to Pack for Bali
Make sure you know what packing to take to Bali! On every adventure, there are six things I never go traveling without:
1. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.
2.Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. AR bottle are tough, lightweight and maintain the temperature of your beverage – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are. For every AR bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an initiative to reduce plastic in our oceans!
3. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
4. Headtorch: Every backpacker should have a head torch! A decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples, or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must. Currently, I’m using the Petzl Actik Core rechargeable headlamp – an awesome piece of kit! Because it’s USB chargeable I never have to buy earth polluting batteries.
5.Hammock: Taking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks) and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere. Right now, I’m rocking an Active Roots parachute hammock – it’s light, colourful and tough.
6. Toiletry Bag: I always travel with a hanging toiletry bag as it’s a super efficient way to organise your bathroom stuff. Well worth having, whether you are hanging it from a tree whilst camping, or a hook in a wall, it helps to have quick access to all your stuff.
For plenty more inspiration on what to pack, check out my full backpacking packing list.
Best Time to Travel to Bali
Bali benefits from a very agreeable climate that remains pleasant year round. Temperatures vary very little from month to month and mean daily temps hover around 82 F year round. Substantial rain only occurs during 4 months of the year from December-March.
The island really has one of the best climates on the planet and, for this reason, can be visited at any time of the year.
Bali only has two distinct seasons: a drier one from April to November and a wetter one from December-March. During the rainy season, Bali is subject to the West Monsoon and rain and humidity can be plentiful. Being a tropical rain though, most of it builds up and falls in the afternoons, which leaves the mornings for sunbathing.
As mentioned before, temperatures barely fluctuate throughout the year but they can feel higher when it’s more humid.
Bali’s meteorological consistently is very apparent on a macro level e.g. the whole island is subject to the same lovely weather. On a micro level though there are some unique weather conditions in Bali.
The highlands of Bali (i.e. the regions around Ubud and Bedugul) can receive rain at any time of the year. Conversely, the southern reaches of the Bukit Peninsula receive markedly less rain than the rest of the island and can feel quite arid.
In conclusion, Bali is a world unto itself both culturally and meteorologically.
Apps to Download Before Traveling to Bali
Maps.Me – Prone to getting lost or taking that ‘shortcut’ that adds another few hours onto a simple walk? This app is one of the best travel apps, but it’s especially convenient in Bali. Download your map before you get here to keep you on track while backpacking Bali.
XE Currency – I used this a lot when backpacking Bali. It is a great help while calculating expenses.
HIDE.ME – I always have a VPN ready to go on both my phone and laptop, I personally use Hide Me which is one of the fastest and most reliable options out there. This particular VPN allows for up to five connections which is handy for keeping all your devices connected without having to purchase multiple VPN packages.
Bali Travel Guide to Getting Around
Those who wish to go backpacking in Bali have several means of reaching the island by air or sea. Those arriving internationally will have to arrive by plane, passing through customs in either Ngurah Rai International Airport or another Indonesian airport. Those arriving by sea will have slightly more options and flexibility.
Most people backpacking Bali will arrive directly at Ngurah Rai Airport in Denpasar via an international destination. Upon arriving, travelers will have to pass through customs and acquire an Indonesian visa if they haven’t already done so. Visas on arrival are available for most nationalities.
Since Bali is only served by domestic maritime routes, you’ll obviously already have a visa granted when getting on/off the ferry. Boats ply the waters between Java, Lombok, and Bali frequently via individual ports. Note that punctuality and to some extent safety are questionable standards on these boats.
See our Onwards Travel section for more on these destinations.
Entry Requirements for Bali
Since 2016, Bali is now among one of the Indonesian ports of entry that dispenses free visas upon arrival for tourists. These visas are available to more than 100 nationalities and have certain requirements – the most important being that the traveler must only be visiting for tourism purposes and cannot stay longer than 30 days. Extensions are not possible with free VUAs.
Those who wish to go backpacking longer in Bali and Indonesia must apply for a standard visa in advance, which can then be extended. For more information on official visa regulations in Bali, please refer to this website here.
I found that I was able to convert my 2 month tourist visa to a social visa once in the country through a visa agent (cost about $30 for each month) and thus stay for up to six months.
Note, when traveling to Bali no vaccinations are required to enter the country. Check our greater backpacking Indonesia guide for more on this and research your prospective entry.
How to Travel in Bali
Bali can seem like an overly chaotic mess of scooters, taxis, and minibusses at times. Kuta, Denpassar and Ubud have the worst traffic issues in my opinion.
There is a certain method to this madness and I drove extensively around Bali on a scooter… some of the roads are crazy and if you’re not experienced you may come off – so WEAR A HELMET AND PROPER SHOES – if you don’t and then you do come off, don’t bitch about it.
You’ll see plenty of twats driving around without helmets and in flip flops or barefoot… You will also see plenty of people in bandages. Nobody thinks they are going to come off but if you do and you’re not wearing shoes, it can be bad.
As part of a Southeastern Asian nation, the scooter is king when it comes to getting around in Bali. Be prepared for endless tidal waves of moped riders at every traffic light and around every corner.
Those that want to join in the hordes of scooters riders can easily rent their own. Most hotels will have a personal fleet of scooters available to rent; otherwise, there are several shops around. Be sure to negotiate a fair price – you can normally get a scooter for around 70,000 Rupiah a day.
The taxi mafia is in full force here… screw those guys, use Grab instead.
GoJek is the BEST way to get around if you’re one person and don’t want to drive – I absolutely love GoJek – scooter drivers can bring you, or your dinner, pretty much anywhere and usually for less than a dollar. Download the GoJek app – it’ll change your life.
Hitchhiking in Bali
Hitchhiking in Bali and Indonesia uses a different method for hailing a car. No one uses their thumb in Indonesia but instead waves or maybe points there thumb to the ground.
Never use your left hand as, since this is a Muslim nation, it is considered the “unclean” one. Try to learn a bit of Bahasa Indonesia or Balinese as well; doing so will make your life much easier.
These cultural differences aside, hitchhiking is as straightforward in Bali as anywhere else.
As a refresher, remember to avoid finding a ride in the busier areas (for safety reasons) and always clarify that you’re hitchhiking with the driver. Offer them a little cash if you can or make it clear that you have none to offer. For more on proper hitchhiking practices, check our article here.
Onwards Travel from Bali
Bali is one of the most popular destinations in Indonesia and because of this is very well connected with the rest of the country.
Those who want to continue backpacking in Indonesia have many options both near and distant when departing from Bali. Below is a list of common connections that travelers make after backpacking Bali.
Backpacking the Gili Islands
A group of 3 islands off the coast of Lombok that could easily rival Bali in terms of beauty and good times. These islands are one of the most frequented trips from Bali and could be done in a day or a week, depending on your preference. Direct ferries are available from Padang Bai, Bali.
Each island has a different vibe. The main island is Gili Trawangan, known as the party island; as such, it’s the most popular among backpackers. Gili Meno is the laid-back island more popular with families and couples.
Gili Air is my personal favourite and I spent three weeks here; it is a chill island where you can snorkel, find shrooms and weed, and walk around the whole island with ease; there is a pretty happening hostel with a mushroom shaped pool…
This medium-sized island off the east coast of Bali that is more arid and undeveloped. Direct ferries are available but flights between Denpasar and Mataram are usually cheap enough to be worthwhile.
In addition to the Gili Islands, the main island of Lombok has many attractions. Mount Rinjani is a gorgeous volcano and makes for a great multi-day trek. Kuta (not to be confused with Kuta, Bali) is an awesome little surfer village in the south with amazing beaches. Finally, there are many waterfalls all around the base of Rinjani.
Beyond Lombok is the Flores, which is even wilder and more sparsely populated than Lombok. It contains some of the most beautiful places in Indonesia including Komodo Island, Kelimutu, and Bajawa. This archipelago is definitely worth the trip if you have time.
Flores can be reached by plane or long-distance ferry. There are organized tours and, though they can be an amazing time, breakdowns and even sinkages are common. Be wary.
The most populated island in Indonesia is Java, easily accessed from Bali. Backpackers can catch a direct bus at Ubung terminal in Denpasar, which includes the ferry across the narrow strait and arrives in Surabaya.
Travelers can also stop short in Gilimanuk to visit the West Bali National Park or Probolinggo for Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park; the latter is highly recommended. Several companies offer organized tours from Bali to Java, stopping midway at Bromo, and these may or not be more convenient for backpackers.
How much does it cost to travel in Bali? For the average backpacker, a comfortable daily budget for backpacking Bali would be around $30-$40 per day. This will get you a dorm bed, food, transport, and plenty for beer and attractions.
Personally, though, I spent quite a lot more in Bali because I was eating in awesome healthy restaurants and well... partying.
Aside from couchsurfing or camping, backpacker hostels in Bali are the cheapest form of accommodation. For less than $10/day, you can stay at a good hostel in Bali; paying anything more than this could land you in some pretty spectacular digs.
Local food is fairly inexpensive in Bali as well if you are eating in local restaurants or "Warungs". If you eat in Western restaurants, expect to pay a whole lot more.
I highly recommend eating out while backpacking in Bali. Good food at either a small cafe or food cart should cost no more than $3. Though more expensive than the cars, going out to a nice restaurant will be comparatively cheaper by western standards.
A beer in most restaurants will be around $1-$2 as well depending on where and when you go - happy hour is observed in Bali so hunt it down!
Price for transport can vary widely depending on how you want to travel. For more on transport in Bali, please review the How to Travel in Bali section.
Money in Bali
The official currency of Bali is the Indonesian Rupiah. As of September 2018, the exchange rate of the Rupiah is 1 USD=14,916 Rupiah; yes, for just a hundred USD, you could be an Indonesian millionaire!
Due to huge economic inflation in the past, the Indonesia Rupiah has lost value over the years and as such is now printed in the thousands. Most Indonesians completely disregard the last 3 zeroes anyway; often you’ll just end up bartering as if those the last 3 didn’t exist.
For example, if you offer someone 10 for a hotel room, they’ll understand that you mean 10,000 and vice versa.
ATMs are widely available in Bali, especially in the busier areas. Many people have reported fraudulent charges though after using a random ATM. When withdrawing cash, it’s usually best use the ATMs inside banks.
If you’re traveling outside of urban areas to somewhere remote, like Nusa Penida, you may have trouble finding an ATM. If you think you’re going somewhere pretty remote, it’s definitely best to take out cash in the city beforehand.
Money changers are ubiquitous in the urban areas and offer different rates. Walk around and find the best rates for your particular currency. Be mindful of shady dealers who don’t post their rates. Also, note that older USD bills are no longer accepted.
If you’re in a pinch and can’t get your hands on any Rupiahs, some vendors will accept US or Australian dollars. Most of the time these currencies are only accepted for large transactions, so don’t try to buy a pack of smokes with a hundred dollar bill.
Bali Travel Tips and Advice for Broke Backpackers
Camp: With plenty of gorgeous places, Bali can be a great place to camp in rural areas. Check out this post for a breakdown of the best tents to take backpacking. Or, if you’re feeling really adventurous and want to save some cash, consider picking up a backpacking hammock.
Cook your own food: If you are on a tight budget, you can save money by cooking your own food. I recommend bringing a portable backpacking stove.
Book your transportation early: Both plane and bus tickets are much cheaper if you purchase them in advance.
Couchsurf: Balinese are awesome, and I am so grateful I was able to explore its cities with local friends. Check out couchsurfing to make some real friendships and see this country from the perspective of locals.
Pack a travel water bottle and save money every day!
To learn how to travel the world on $10 a day, check out the backpacker’s bible.
Volunteering in Bali
Long term travel is awesome. Giving back is awesome too. For backpackers looking to travel long-term on a budget in Bali whilst making a real impact on local communities, look no further than World Packers. World Packers is an excellent platform connecting travelers with meaningful volunteer positions throughout the world.
In exchange for a few hours of work each day, your room and board are covered.
Backpackers can spend long periods of time volunteering in an awesome place without spending any money. Meaningful life and travel experiences are rooted in stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world of a purposeful project.
Worldpackers opens the doors for work opportunities in hostels, homestays, NGOs, and eco-projects around the world. We’ve tried and approved them ourselves - check out our Worldpackers in-depth review here.
If you’re ready to create a life-changing travel experience and give back to the community, join the Worldpacker community now. As a Broke Backpacker reader, you’ll get a special discount of $20. Just use the discount code BROKEBACKPACKER and your membership is discounted from $49 a year to only $29.
Travel Bali for Free
Are you a native English speaker looking to earn cash whilst traveling the world? You should dig into English teaching a bit! Teaching English in Bali is a way to stay on the island long-term and make a bit of money while you're here - though I can't promise it'll be much money.
Teaching English online is a great way to earn a consistent income—from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection. Depending on your qualifications (or your motivation to obtain qualifications like a TEFL certificate) you can teach English remotely from your laptop, save some cash for your next adventure, and make a positive impact on the world by improving another person’s language skills! It’s a win-win! Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know to start teaching English online.
In addition to giving you the qualifications to teach English online, TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Broke Backpacker readers get a 35% discount on TEFL courses with MyTEFL (simply enter the code BACKPKR), to find out more, please read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Whether you are keen to teach English online or looking to take your teaching game a step further by finding a job teaching English in a foreign country, getting your TEFL certificate is absolutely a step in the right direction.
Internet in Bali
Bali is one of the most popular places to go backpacking in Indonesia and so has some of the best internet networks in the country. Most hotels and guesthouses will have WiFi available to guests. Many restaurants and cafes will have WiFi available to paying customers as well.
Between these and the public hotspot or two in urban areas (if they’re working), those backpacking Bali should have little problem staying connected.
Finding WiFi outside of urban areas may prove more challenging. For those who need to stay connected, regardless of their location, consider investing in a local SIM card to have access to data.
There are several affordable telecommunications companies in Indonesia. Indosat and Telkomsel are two of the most common ones but 3 is reportedly the best; 3 offers good performance at a good price. You can find SIM cards and packages in many convenience stores or franchises around Bali.
Must Try Experiences in Bali
People in Bali
Balinese culture is a very distinct demographic within Indonesia that places great emphasis on religion, community, and tradition.
Due in part to their sense of the collective whole and to the doctrines of their religion, Balinese people are an extremely friendly and modest people. Those backpacking through Bali will find locals are gentle and very helpful. I made some good Balinese friends during my time there.
There is a very strong sense of community in Bali, and the origins of which can be traced back to simpler times. In the early days of the island, Balinese communities ended up forming subaks - kind of like co-ops - in order to coordinate and regulate rice paddy yields, which in turn raised the quality of life for the local population. These days, this sense of cooperation manifests itself in other more contemporary ways.
Balinese people are very serious about their culture and go through great pains to make sure it’s preserved. Festivals are regularly organized to excite locals and tourists alike. The arts are highly valued in Balinese society as well, mostly because of their historical significance but also because creativity is actually seen as pious in the eyes of the gods.
No other aspect of this unique culture is more valued than religion. The gods are still all-powerful in Bali and the people pray to them very frequently. You’ll see little offerings on doors steps and at special altars every morning.
Religion plays a part even in agriculture as the temples are traditionally the center of the subak and ration the water, which is considered the holiest substance in Balinese religion.
In summation, Bali is a wonderful and fascinating place full of equally wonderful people. Balinese culture really is like no other; anyone interested in learning more will not be wasting their time.
Food in Bali
With a liberal use of spices and ingredients, Balinese food is hugely varied and somewhat unique. The cuisine is similar to that found in the rest of Indonesia and, in some ways, Hindi cooking albeit with a few caveats.
In Bali, you’ll see pork on the menu quite often, which is unheard of in the rest of Indonesia. Likewise, you’ll see that Balinese cuisine is very meat-centric, which is somewhat converse to many Hindi culinary traditions.
In summation, like it’s culture, Balinese cooking is a synthesis of many styles that forms its own culinary gestalt.
Most restaurants in Bali will have a diverse selection of dishes to choose from. When backpacking in Bali, we wholeheartedly suggest staying away from the touristy restaurants and eating at the local spots, which are referred to as warungs. The food will be more authentic and less expensive.
Rice (nasi) is the most ubiquitous ingredient in Balinese cooking and most dishes will include it.
Food carts base most of their dishes around rice and will serve them in paper cones. You'll easily recognize the food carts trolling around the beaches and streets by their appearance. Referred to as kaki lima, or “five legs,” the food carts will have 3 legs/wheels in addition to the owner’s own 2 legs.
Below is a list of some the best Balinese dishes:
Babi Guling - slow-roasted pig
Satay - grilled meat skewers
Betutu - stuffed duck or chicken
Nasi Ayam/Campur - fried rice
Lawar - minced meat and veggies w/ coconut
Urab - mixed vegetables
Tum - mixed ingredients prepared in banana leaves
Nasi Goreng - fried noodles
Tempe - fried tofu
Seafood - all of it!
Festivals in Bali
Bali has all sorts of festivals ranging from musical to cultural. Below is a list of some of Bali’s greatest and most entertaining celebrations!
Bali Spirit Festival (March) - Yoga-centric festival offering trainings, workshops, communal yoga sessions, and more.
Nyepi (March/April) - Celebrates the New Year and expulsion of evil spirits. On the eve of the festival, there is a parade of colorful, paper mache giants, an event referred to as the Ogoh-Ogoh. On the actual day of the new year, everyone is silent and remains in their home as a means of escaping the evil spirits. All businesses are closed everyone is asked to stay inside until the day’s end.
Air Festival (March/April) - Alternative festival that offers music, workshops, and a space for higher consciousnesses. Think (a smaller) Burning Man. Actually held at Gili Air in Lombok.
Bali Kite Festival (June-August) - One of the most fun things to do in Bali! Watch the locals come out and compete for the best homemade kite. The sky is absolutely filled with the kites. Weather dependent. Centered around Padang Galak.
Bali Arts Festival (June-July) - Giant celebration of all things cultural in Bali. Held in Denpasar.
Sanur Village Festival (August) - Open air festival featuring food stalls, fashion, sports, and yoga.
Ubud Village Jazz Festival (August) - International jazz festival. Brainchild of Yuri Mahatma. Run entirely by volunteers.
Ultra Bali (September) - The biggest music festival in Bali. Features famous EDM acts and DJs. Held at Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak.
Nusa Dua Fiesta (October/November) - Art and crafts festival in one of Bali’s most exclusive areas.
Galungan - Festival dedicated to the triumph of good over evil. Celebrated with locals installing elaborate bamboo flags on the streets. Follows Balinese calendar (Pawukon), which is 210 days long. As such, the dates of this festival change constantly.
Practicing Yoga in Bali
It’s no secret that Bali is one of the most famous and romanticized places on the planet to study yoga. If you haven’t already discovered this fact before visiting Bali, then you will quickly catch on once you see the myriad of yoga studios here.
Whilst there are yoga studios everywhere in Bali, there are places where they’re more concentrated than average. Ubud is often considered ground-zero for everything yoga in Bali and there are sessions being held in every corner of the city, from high end resorts to parks to cafes. If this sounds like a bit much, it is - Ubud is crawling with wannabes and can sometimes feel overrun.
All of the usual suspects in Bali i.e. Canggu, Uluwatu, Amed, Kuta, etc also have plenty of yoga studios where you can attend classes and maybe even find a YTT (Yoga Teaching Course).
But since this is Bali and since Bali’s yoga retreats ought to be superlative, you need to be mindful of where you go training.
Surfing in Bali
Bali is a mecca for surfers. The seas around Bali offer some of the longest, largest, and most consistent waves in the world, and these prove to be irresistible to most. Whether you’re a pro or a beginner, surfing is one of the most fun things to do in Bali, and a must try activity.
Most of the best surf is in the south of the island around the Bukit Peninsula. Many of Bali’s most popular and famous surfing beaches are located here. The waves of the Bukit Peninsula can also be some of the most dangerous - the swells here are mighty and not for the inexperienced.
If you’re a novice at surfing, there are still plenty of easy surfing beaches to visit in Bali. Many of these beaches are conveniently located along the developed central-western coastline as well.
If you want to learn how to surf, Bali would be a great place to start because there are plenty of great schools around, both formal and relaxed (there are a lot of surfers offering informal lessons on the beach).
Below is a list Bali’s best surfing spots. They range in difficulty from novice to professional.
Best Surf Spots in Bali
Kuta - The original “surfer’s paradise” on Bali. Relatively gentle waves. Busy as fuck.
Canggu - Offers waves for all skill levels. Barrels can be intense.
Padang Padang - Located between Bingin and Uluwatu. Famous for its long, consistent barrels. More for experienced surfers but there are some gentle breaks.
Uluwatu - Not only some of the greatest waves in Bali but some of the best scenery as well!
Dreamland - Long stretches of sand that are great for surfers and bathers. Usually large waves, but gentle conditions can be good for beginners.
Bingin - Some hazardous surfing conditions - reefs, big waves - and inaccessibility make this surf spot one of the quietest ones in Bali.
Impossibles - Like Bingin but even more difficult to access. A thrill for pro surfers and pro surfers only.
Suluban - Near Uluwatu with Uluwatu-like conditions. More inaccessible as you have to navigate a narrow sea cave to reach the beach.
Medewi - Some of the longest waves in Bali and a great spot for beginners.
Nusa Lembongan - A bit of a trek but some truly epics waves!
Diving in Bali
Bali, in addition much of Indonesia, is a part of the greater Coral Triangle of the East Indies, which is one of the most ecologically diverse places on the entire planet. For this reason, the diving in Bali is world-class and will stun even the most seasoned of dive masters.
For divers, the waters around Bali are popular for their warmth and plethora of marine biology. Common sightings while diving in Bali include parrotfish, several varieties of shark, turtle, stingrays, moray eels, and the elusive mola-mola.
Many of the island’s most popular dive sites are on the eastern part of the island around Amed. Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida, and Menjangan Island also offer great diving opportunities.
The sea currents around Bali can be very strong. If you’re thinking about going diving in Bali, be sure to check ocean conditions. Snorkeling is still an option around many places in Bali.
If you're thinking about learning to dive, Bali is a great place to start. There are lots of affordable, world-class dive schools around the island that offer lots of introductory courses.
Below is a list of some of Bali’s best dive sites. For more information though, be sure to visit our comprehensive scuba diving guide for Bali as well!
Best Dive Spots in Bali
Amed - Ground Zero for Bali’s diving culture. Offers a wide range of marine biology, conditions, and topography. Appropriate for all skill levels.
Tulamben - Famous for the many shipwrecks that have now become marine menageries. Lots of coral. Good for snorkelers as well.
Nusa Penida - A layover for several species of migrating marine life. Schools of manta rays and mola-mola are seen here. Careful: there are strong currents here.
Menjangan Island - Renown for crystal clear water and ease of access. Lots of beautiful reefs and marine life.
Padang Bai - Calm dive site with good visibility and marine diversity. Great snorkeling at the Blue Lagoon.
Brief History of Bali
The first mentions of the island of “Bali” date back to around the end of the first millennium AD when the name Bali Dwipa appeared in various inscriptions including the Blanjong pillar.
Archeological evidence places its origins at much early dates; all the way back to the Neolithic era when the various Austronesian peoples of the Pacific began to migrate in great numbers. Many nomads from now modern Taiwan, the Philippines, and South China settled in Bali at this time. Their tools, found in Bali, are a testament to this.
Following the Bronze Age, Bali developed into a respectable kingdom near the turn of the first millennia. It was during this time that it was introduced to the Buddhist and Hindu religions. The latter in particular was the after effect of Bali’s relationship with the much larger Majapahit Empire, which, at the time, controlled Java and would establish a Hindu colony on Bali.
It was also during this time that many of the prevailing Balinese traditions that we know of today were established. Subaks were formed and Hinduism became the dominant religion.
When the Majapahit Empire collapsed at the end of the 15th century, much of the Javanese Hindu community fled to Bali, thus solidifying the religion.
During the mid-19th century, following the race to colonize the East Indies, the Dutch set their eyes on Bali. Using false pretenses, the Dutch harassed the Balinese and eventually laid siege to the island at the turn of century.
Facing their inevitable doom at the hands of the powerful Europeans, the Balinese royalty committed mass suicide in an act known as the puputan. To this day, the puputan is one of Bali’s proudest moments.
In the following years, Bali’s history echoed much of that of Indonesia. It came under occupation by the Japanese during WWII, thus ending Dutch colonialism, and following the war fought for its independence again.
This chapter of Indonesia is somewhat long and I suggest that interested parties refer to the History section of our backpacking Indonesia guide for greater detail.
Being a Responsible Backpacker in Bali
Reduce your plastic footprint: Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill or in the ocean. Instead, pack a tough travel water bottle.
Go and watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix – it’ll change how you view the plastic problem in the world; you need to understand what we are up against. If you think it doesn’t matter, get off my fucking site.
Don’t pick up single use plastic bags, you’re a backpacker – take your daypack if you need to go to the shop or run errands.
Bear in mind, that many animal products in countries you travel through will not be ethically farmed and won’t be of the highest quality. I’m a carnivore but when I’m on the road, I only eat chicken. Mass-farming of cows etc leads to the rainforest being cut down – which is obviously a huge problem.
Recently, my gear-venture, Active Roots has started to sell water bottles. For every Active Roots water bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an awesome initiative aimed at educating people on the risk of single use plastic and helping to clean up our oceans. Help save the planet, whether you take an Active Roots bottle or not – TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for your plastic footprint, don’t be a dick.
Need more guidance? – Check out our post on how to be a responsible backpacker.
There are a couple of customs that should be respected while backpacking in Bali. Some are subtle and others are just plain common sense. Adhering to a few broad rules in Bali will ensure that locals are more cooperative with you, which in turn will make your trip more enjoyable.
If you’re planning to visit any temple in Bali, it is important to avoid revealing clothing. Skimpy swimsuits or bare chests are very frowned upon in any sort of religious place, and displaying either will be a quick way to alienate yourself. Save these fashion statements for the beaches.
Instead, wear modest clothing when visiting religious sites. Sarongs in particular are viewed as respectful garb in temples and are often handed out to visitors (which will have to be returned). Try to have your own sarong on you just in case.
If you plan on partying in Bali, please remember to be somewhat in control and respectful of the locals. Bules (westerners) already have a bit of reputation, and it’d be a shame if a few wankers made the rest of us look even worse.
Since Indonesia is a nation that places heavy emphasis on reputation, embarrassing yourself may prove too deep a hole to get out of.
A few other important things to remember: never use your left (unclean) hand when interacting with Indonesians, avoid PDA or immodest behavior, and to try to remain calm and respectful in all situations - the Balinese don’t respect anger, ever.
There are many working girls in Bali, something I came across several times when out partying. Don't be a wanker, respect all humans.
I miss Bali very much. I shall return for at least four months next year and then I shall finally get to see Chimigi, a puppy I found on the beach and raised - I fucking love that dog.
Enjoy Bali! I’ll live vicariously through you as you sip Bintangs at Blue Point and go on all of your epic scooter adventures. Even though I’ve already been there, I still envy all of those who go to Bali.
No matter where your backpacking route through Bali goes, it’ll be an epic journey. With this travel guide for Bali in hand, you’ll have everything that you could possibly need to craft the perfect trip. Study it well and have a great time, amigos!
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Writer and entrepreneur. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will has been on the road for thirteen years, travelling to far-flung lands on a budget. Today, he runs a number of online ventures, including The Broke Backpacker – the world’s largest budget travel blog. He is passionate about solving the plastic problem and cleaning up the oceans. Currently, Will is based in Bali where he plans to open his first Tribal Hostel in 2020.