I traveled to Bali in January with my family and stayed for 10 days. I wanted to make the most out of those 10 days so decided to do my own research in advance and also share all of my best findings with everyone after my trip.
First, you need to figure out what you want to do and then that will determine where it makes to stay. There are great things to be seen around the island so it does make sense to stay in accommodation in the correct region to avoid lots of travel time.
Is Bali a safe travel destination
We felt very safe traveling in Bali as a family. The people are very friendly and we didn’t have any issues. I would be more concerned with the risk of getting the flu or diarrhea than the risk of other safety concerns.
The general advice for Indonesia from the Australian government is “Exercise a high degree of caution in Indonesia overall due to the high threat of terrorist attack and violence.” If you read all of the safety warnings one does get the feeling that it’s really unsafe. That’s kind of similar to many other countries. Many of the warnings are not for Bali and more for other parts of Indonesia but sure it’s good to be aware before you travel.
Also, consider that Bali does have an active volcano and it has erupted in recent years causing some flights to be canceled.
When to travel to Bali – weather
Bali has a rainy season and a dry season. The rainy season is typically from October to March and the dry season is from April to September. It’s hot enough around the year but the amount of sunshine does vary.
The high season is in July and August and around Christmas. Many recommend traveling before and after the high season in April, May, June or in September. This is because it’s still dry season but the prices for accommodation are clearly lower than in the high season.
Traveling during the rainy season as we did in January can also be done. Sure it did rain during many days of our trip but rain often came in the afternoon or at night so it’s not that disturbing. One advantage of having more cloud cover is that it’s not so super hot as with direct sunshine.
Where to stay in Bali
In order to make the most out of the 10 days we have on Bali, I think the best approach is to book accommodation in around 3 locations. You get to experience different areas and when doing day trips you will not need to travel that far. Staying each night in a different location can be stressful since you need to pack and checkout so with 3 nights per location you get a nice balance.
Writing this after returning I think the balance of 3 days per location was perfect. Also when switching from one accommodation to another it was a perfect chance to combine sightseeing to the trip.
When selecting the locations where to stay you first need to know what you want to do and what is located in each area.
I would highly recommend staying in Ubud since that provides a massive opportunity to see and experience a variety of things. If you like snorkeling, the beach and nature in a more quiet surrounding I would also stay in the Amed region. Read more below about the different regions and my reasoning behind the above recommendation.
Sanur is Bali’s oldest upscale resort area and is a mature beach-side town. Despite the abundance of restaurants and accommodation, it has a quiet and relaxed feel to it. In general terms, it is more expensive than Kuta but cheaper than Seminyak.
If you want to do a trip to swim with Manta Rays at Nusa Penida then Sanur is a good location since the fast boats to Nusa Penida leave from Sanur.
I’m including Kuta on the list even though it’s more of an area for partying than for families.
We ended up staying in Kuta for the last few days of our trip since we did find a nice resort for a good price there. It’s handy in the sense that it’s close to the airport when you are leaving. We stayed at Bintang Bali Resort and paid 102 USD per night including breakfast for 2 adults and a child.
Kuta is the best-known tourist area on Bali and offers a decent surfing beach, despite being chronically overdeveloped. Visitors who feel overwhelmed by aggressive hawkers, American fast food and traffic jams should base themselves further along the coast towards nearby Seminyak. Kuta is still a fun destination for bar and club-hopping.
Personally I don’t think Kuta has anything special to offer unless you want to surf or enjoy the nightlife. I enjoyed Amed and Ubud much more since there one is closer to nature. My daughter did enjoy the big pool and the beach though.
The next town north of Legian, Seminyak is more upmarket. The atmosphere is much more laid-back than Kuta, and the beach, in particular, is quieter during the day. Seminyak is also the spa and boutique shopping capital of Bali.
Nusa Dua is a peninsula in South Bali, well known as an enclave of high-end hotels. This is a resort area and to me, it seems it’s a bit far from everything so it might be tricky to find restaurants that are not part of a resort. Also please note that especially in the south there is a lot of traffic so most likely you will not be taking a taxi to go to restaurants in Kuta or Seminyak.
Ubud is the center of art and dance in the center of Bali, with an interesting small palace, monkey forest, and lots of arts and crafts shops.
It’s about a 50 minutes drive from the airport according to google maps, but it can easily take quite a bit longer due to traffic.
The second location during our Bali trip was in Ubud. We stayed at the Best Western Premier Agung Resort in Ubud. We paid 75 USD per night including breakfast for two adults and a child. It was a manageable 1km or 10-minute walk to the center of Ubud. We were very glad we didn’t stay in the center of Ubud since it’s really very busy and with the 1km distance one did feel much more relaxed and it’s still kind of in nature. I would say this was my favorite hotel of the trip and also my favorite location.
Ubud has very much to offer. The Monkey forest is absolutely beautiful. Sure it’s great to see the Monkeys but actually the walk in the beautiful Jungle was for me the best part. The trees are huge there and the area is very well maintained. My daughter enjoyed seeing the Monkeys and it’s absolutely worth a visit.
The Ubud center area is full of restaurants and also some interesting things to see like the Saraswati Temple, Ubud Art Market, and Campuhan Ridge Walk. We only had time for the Ubud Art Market which was interesting but compared to other markets we have seen in China it’s similar in some sense so it wasn’t that special for us. Outside of Ubud, there is a wood carving village where there are many places they show you how they are doing the wood carving and they also have a showroom with small and large items. We visited Dewa Malen Wood Carving and it was a pleasant surprise.
The Ubud region has very many things to offer. We enjoyed seeing the Tegallalang Rice Terraces and also the coffee tasting at Bali Pulina. There are very many places with Bali swings which my wife and daughter both tried and thoroughly enjoyed at Bali Pulina. My daughter was too small for the adult swing but there was a swing for kids which was somewhat smaller but with the same safety features as the bigger swing.
We also visited the Tegenungan Waterfall which is a bit touristy in my opinion so perhaps I would recommend trying some other one in the region since there are plenty to choose from. I love waterfalls so I did enjoy the waterfall visit although there were many people there.
Tegenungan is also quite big and you can swim if you like.
Amed is an area of peaceful, traditional fishing villages featuring black sand beaches, coral reefs, and excellent freediving/diving.
Amed refers to a long stretch of coast running from the village of Culik about 14 km eastwards incorporating the seven villages of Amed, Jemeluk, Bunutan, Lipah, Selang, Banyuning and Aas. The pace of life here is slow and the coastal scenery is quite stunning making Amed the perfect place for a relaxed holiday in Bali.
Amed is about a 2 hour 15 minutes drive from the airport.
Several companies offer a fast boat service to the Gili Islands: Pacha Express, Kuda Hitam, Free Bird, and Amed Sea Express. Please note that currently, the regular service to Gili Islands is just offering a drop of at Gili and then the boat goes back to Amed. So if you want to go snorkeling at Gili it does require you to stay the night at one of the Gili islands.
The first stop of our Bali vacation was in Amed because we wanted to go snorkeling. We stayed at Hidden Paradise Cottages at Lipah Beach for 3 nights paying 89 USD per night for 2 adults and 1 child including an extra bed and breakfast.
Weather-wise north Bali is drier than the south. Days of sunshine are the norm year-round. The only real variation is when you venture back into the hills; mornings can be cool.
Lovina has quiet coastal villages with black sand beaches and coral reefs.
Diving, snorkeling fishing dolphin watching, diving on coral reefs are the main activities, but perhaps above all else, this is an area in which to relax and take in a very slow, traditional pace of life. Lovina is ideal for family groups with young children or older adventurers who want to kick back and quickly become part of the community. It can get a little crowded in July and August, but outside that peak season, this is a quiet part of the island.
How to get awesome hotel deals
I found the below video about how to find great hotel discounts via Hotwire. I checked some prices for Bali and it seems there are great deals. I wish I had found this earlier. I will definitely try it out next time I travel.
What to do in Bali
Based on my initial research I formulated a list of some things we want to experience in Bali:
- Waterfalls and lush tropical rainforest
- Rice terraces
- Monkey forest
- Beach and swimming
- Local food
Bali has a huge amount of waterfalls. Some are very small but there are also larger ones. If you are staying in the Ubud region there are many waterfalls close by.
Based on my research one of the more interesting waterfalls is the Sekumpull Waterfall in the north. It has been called the most beautiful waterfall in Bali. The twin falls have a height of 80 meters and are best viewed from a distance.
It’s quite far from Ubud since it’s almost a 2-hour drive. If you are staying in Lovina it’s only a 1-hour drive. Once you get close you still need some effort to hike to the falls.
A good guide to the Sekumpull Waterfall can be found at thecommonwanderer.com.
Based on my reading Bali beaches in the south are good for surfers and sun-seekers. The most popular tourist areas like Kuta, Jimbaran, Seminyak, Sanur, and Nusa Dua have nice and wide sand beaches.
Beaches in the Southwest of Bali like Padang Padang, Dreamland and Uluwatu are favored by surfers since they have big waves but often also strong current.
You can use the AirBnB experiences to book day trips.
For snorkeling, the best beaches on Bali are on the East, Northeast and West side of the island.
If you want to see Manta Ray’s then the Nusa Penida Manta snorkeling trip is a good choice.
Amed – Northwest Bali
In Amed, a good place to spot sea turtles is the Kembali Beach Bungalows Reef. The sea should be calm and free of currents so it’s a good spot for snorkeling with kids as well.
Amed is definitely the best region for snorkeling in Bali. You find here healthy reefs, shipwrecks and rich sea life including rays as well as turtles. Uniquely, the black sandy bottom gives a magical tone to the corals making colors more sharp and vibrant.snorkelaroundtheworld.com
Jemeluk Bay is recommended for snorkelers due to its calm sea thanks to the bay’s half-moon shape. The bay has a rich marine life and an interesting underwater temple.
Tulamben – Northwest Bali
Wreck of the USAT Liberty and The Coral Garden in Tulamben is probably the most famous destination among divers in Bali. The USAT Liberty was torpedoed during WWII and sits now close to the shore.
Nusa Islands – Southeast Bali
The Nusa Islands consist of three islands: Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Penida which are around 20 km off the southeast coast of Bali. The islands feature gorgeous views and great beaches as well as some of the best snorkeling of Bali. The most visited of the islands is Nusa Lembongan. Many still recommend staying rather on Nusa Penida since you have easier access to the manta ray snorkeling trips and there are vibrant coral reefs around the island.
Manta Point is the only place in Bali where huge reef manta rays are sighted on a regular basis.
The Best snorkeling places around Nusa Penida
- Crystal Bay
- Gamat Bay
- The Wall Point
- Buddha Temple
- Manta Bay
Gili Islands – Northwest from Bali near Lombok
The Gili Islands consist of three islands: Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air. On the Gilis you can relax on sandy beaches, swim with turtles and snorkel with fish in the crystal clear waters.
Menjangan – Northeast from Bali
Menjangan is an island and a great dive destination however it’s quite far from the southern part of Bali. It’s a 3h+ drive from Denpasar airport to get to Pemuteran. From Pemuteran you can take a dive or snorkel tour to Menjangan.
Considered the most pristine dive destination in Bali, Menjangan is located off the coast of the beautiful Bali Barat National Park. Only visited by a fraction of Bali’s tourists, it boasts a superb variety of uncrowded reefs. The most spectacular of which is Pos Dua, famous for having incredible visibility of 40m or more at times.tripcanvas.co
How to get around in Bali
Getting around the island
Many recommend you to hire a scooter costing 4-5$ per day. Surely that would work if you are traveling alone or with a friend. Since we are traveling as a family of three using a scooter isn’t really a good option. I wouldn’t either feel safe riding a scooter with my 8-year-old daughter.
Taxi and Taxi apps
Using a taxi is certainly an option. I see many recommending the BlueBird taxis with the meter. However, you need to make sure they put the meter on.
Uber isn’t available on Bali but you can get a very similar service with Gojek and Grab taxi. The good part of these services is that you have all the tracking systems so you see where your taxi is while you are waiting for it.
The taxi app options are:
- Blue Bird
Please note that in some parts of Bali, Go-Jek and Grab drivers are banned. The drivers can drop off guests but are not allowed to pick up new passengers.
Shared carrier vans with around max 15 people are a cheap option to travel longer distances.
Tour buses do also exist but you are grouped in a bigger group and the busses have a harder time maneuvering the roads with a lot of traffic.
Getting a private car with a driver/tour guide is one of the best options if you want to get some guidance during your trip.
The cost of hiring a car with a driver for 10 hours is 540.000 IDR at balihiredriver.com. The car is for max 7 people but recommended for 4. They also have larger cars if you are a bigger group. Balicab.com has cars with drivers for 10 hours for 550.000 IDR.
It seems that many of the companies are located in the south so if you want a driver further away like in Amed then you need to pay an extra 20 USD for the driver to stay the night in your area (anyhow that’s what it says on baliislandcarrental.com).
- Moyo – Amed region
- Tulamben Bali Transport
- Amed Taxi
- Bali Explorers
Getting from the airport to your hotel
The airport taxis are rather expensive for longer routes. According to topbali.com a taxi to Amed is 700.000 IDR and to Ubud 300.000 IDR. Shorter distances can be only 70.000 IDR to Kuta or 150.000 IDR to Sanur.
Baliholidaysecrets.com doesn’t recommend using Grab or other apps to get a ride from the airport due to the drivers not being allowed to enter the airport area. I have seen some saying you can walk out of the airport to an area where you can use Go-Jek or Grab.
Instead of the ride apps, you can get a private transfer arranged for example via your accommodation or via a booking service.
Calling & Getting internet on your smartphone
Roaming prices for the operator in your home country can be really expensive. In my case calling from Indonesia to my home country costs 2,49€ per minute and receiving calls is 1,79€ per minute. Sending an SMS is 0,29€ and using data is crazy expensive at 0,99€ per MegaByte.
So we really recommend getting a prepaid SIM card for local calls and for the internet.
There are two main companies XL & TELKOMSEL which are recommended. You can get for 8$ around 12GB of internet data. This doesn’t include calling and texting. It’s important to get a pre-registered SIM card since if it’s not pre-registered you will need to go somewhere to get it registered.
Baliholidaysecrets.com recommends getting a Telkomsel SIM at the airport. On your way out past the row of taxi drivers, there are a couple of telco kiosks selling local SIM cards. Expect to pay around 120.000 IDR for a 20 Gigabyte data package.
When we arrived at the airport I purchased a sim card from Telkomsel for 120k IDR and got a 10 Gigabyte data package and some call time. The Telkomsel seller was very fast in installing the SIM card and allowed me to test it and the transaction was very smooth. The 10 Gigabyte package lasted me for the whole 10-day trip so I was very happy with it.
Currency and Money Exchange
The cheapest way to pay in Bali
The next chapters go into more detail but here is a quick list of payment options from cheapest to most expensive compared to the interbank exchange rate.
- Cash exchanged in Bali for best rates – 1,1% lost on exchange
- Credit card / Debit card payment – 2-3% lost on exchange rate
- ATM money withdrawal – 7,5% lost on exchange rate and fees
- Cash exchanged in home country – 9,7% lost on exchange rate
Money changers in Bali will exchange all major currencies. In most cases, there is no need to bring any other currency other than your own.
You will get a much better exchange rate in Bali than in your home country. In my home country, the rate for 1€ is 14 068,66 IDR while the interbank rate is 15 569,9 IDR at the time of writing. This is 9,7% worse than the interbank rate.
The money changers at the airport have a worse exchange rate than those outside the airport in the different districts of Bali. It makes sense to change only a little money at the airport to get you through the first 12-24 hours until you can get to a changer with a better rate.
On TripAdvisor there was a recommendation of http://www.balibestrate.com/ having good rates. The good part is that they post the rates online so you can check.
At the time of writing the local rates in Bali are 15 400,00 IDR for 1€ so this is 1,1% worse than the interbank rate. So this is a huge difference compared to the local rates I can get in my country saving a total of 8,6%. For example, if you change 600€ the difference is 51,6€ which is quite remarkable.
Well rated money exchanges chains in Bali are
Credit Cards and ATM’s
Credit cards are accepted at hotels, department stores, and larger restaurants. Still check in advance because credit cards are are not accepted as widely as in western countries.
ATMs are common in the southern areas and also in Ubud. Other areas like Amed or eve more remote areas currently have no ATM’s. ATM’s have often a withdrawal limit of either 1.500.000 or 3.000.000 IDR. Note that 1M IDR is only around 65€ so the withdrawal limit is quite small.
The recommended approach is to use ATMs attached to a local bank or on public spot so that the risk of the ATM being tampered with is smaller. Banks with many locations in Bali include BNI, BRI, BCA, CIMB Niaga, and Bank Mandiri.
Most ATMs in Indonesia charge fees. These usually range from 2 to 5 USD, though standalone machines in shops and tourist areas can be even higher.
In addition your local countries bank usually charges a fee, for example, my local bank MasterCard charges a fee of 2€ + 3% per transaction and my local bank’s visa debit card has a fee of 2€ + 2,5% per transaction. In addition, there is a 1,95-2,25% markup on the exchange rate compared to the interbank rate.
So if you are withdrawing the maximum of 3M IDR which equals around 200€ the fees will be to the home countries bank 2€ + 2,5% = 5€ and let’s say 4€ to the Indonesian ATM operator. This is a total of 11€ in fees which is 5,5% from the total 200€ withdrawn. So compared to the interbank rate you lose 5,5% + 2% on the exchange rate which is a total of 7,5%.
A very interesting card is the Transferwise debit Mastercard which allows you to withdraw money without any fees up to 200€ and after that with a 2% fee.