Updated on May 17, 2019
WHEN TO GO
Please be aware that Indonesia, unlike most of Southeast Asia, is in the southern hemisphere, not in the northern. This means that although the climate remains the same, rainy and dry seasons are opposite: the best time to go to most of Indonesia is just the worst to go to Thailand, the Philippines or Vietnam. Bali is one of the southern islands in Indonesia, so how opposite the seasons are is even more obvious:
- Low season is the rainy season; the worst months are December, January and February. Rain is usually not continuous but daily, normally torrential downpours that last from minutes to hours.
- High season is the dry season, from June to September. Rains are present several days per month, but are rare. Temperatures are somewhat higher. Prices are much higher since it coincides with the summer holidays in the northern hemisphere. It’s also high season Christmas and New Year.
- Shoulder: from mid-March to May and October to November. It’s probably the best time to go.
Regardless of the rain, temperatures are similar every day of the year, hovering around 32°C (90ºF) maximum and 24ºC (75ºC) minimum.
- Plugs are of two round pins, similar to European ones.
- Bring mosquito repellent and sunscreen, both are necessary and at the same time expensive on the island.
- Tips: they are not obligatory, but a good service should be compensated with a 10% or 5000 Rp tip.
Everyone who comes would be a millionaire here, as € 100 are over one million Indonesian Rupiah.
- Change currency: official exchange houses are the most recommended; they offer the best rates, are generally reliable and give receipts. In an unofficial one, the possibilities you pay more than agreed, or that one of your bank notes disappears are higher. If still you don’t feel confortable, banks are a safer option, although the rates are usually worse.
- Credit cards are accepted at the most expensive establishments, but a 3% commission is usually applied.
- If you are going to get money from the ATM, it is recommended you always do it inside the bank during opening hours, as the scam where the card get stuck in the slot of the ATM is widespread, especially in the Mandiri Bank, but otherwise, ATMs are widespread and it is a common way to get money. They do not usually give more than 2.5 million Rp per transaction.
Most establishments offer WiFi, but to not depend on them, it is more advisable to buy SIM cards with data to navigate 3G, and less frequent 4G. The most remote areas of the island have poor coverage, but in the south and Ubud there should be no problems. Telkomsel is one of the most extended operators and has a stand at the airport.
HOW TO GET TO BALI
Apart from cruises, it is the only way to get there from a foreign country. Tourists from 169 countries only need a passport with more than 6 months validity and a ticket to leave the country, since the 30-day visa is free from March 2016 and is processed upon arrival (Visa on Arrival).
Called International Bali Ngurah Rai Denpasar Airport, is not actually in Denpasar but near the tourist area between Kuta and Jimbaran. Considering how touristic Bali is, I found it pretty depressing in 2012; I had dinner here and in my restaurant the biggest rat I’ve ever seen was happily moving around. However, it was renovated in 2013 and apparently is now more modern and less dirty, I hope so… but there is talk of long lines and high prices in shops and restaurants.
How to go from Bali airport to the cities? The prices refer to a trip to Kuta, which is the closest:
- Most hotels offer shuttle service to and from the airport; it is the simplest, but usually the least cheap option.
- Official taxis have a flat rate depending on the destination. The counter is in the arrivals hall. It is paid in cash to the driver upon arrival at the destination. 70,000 Rp (about € 7). To put another example, Ubud costs 300,000 Rp. Better not mess with an unofficial taxi…
- Blue Bird taxis, metered, have good reputation. They can be taken out of the airport, and depending on the destination may be cheaper than the official ones. It should cost Rp 40,000.
- The cheapest: leaving the airport to the main road there bemos, typical shared minivans, same as in many other countries. It will cost only around Rp 4,000, but they are uncomfortable, normally full, often very hot and do not stop you in your hotel.
- Although recently a bus line has been implemented that goes through Nusa Dua, Jimbaran, Kuta and reaches Sanur, of Trans Sarbagita. It costs 3,500 Rp, they are blue, with air conditioning. There is no designated stop, you have to exit at the roundabout to the left of the airport exit.
- For the adventurous, outside the airport there are also motorcycle taxis for Rp 20,000.
A short transfer by ferry from Java, which is included in the price of the bus ticket, is required. It takes just 30 minutes, leaving every 15 minutes. Unless you are coming from a nearby area in Java, it makes little sense to use this transport as a flight to Jakarta or another remote town will cost about the same and will save between 15 and 24 hours by bus.
Buses stop at Mengwi Bus Terminal, 12 km northwest of Denpasar.
Unless you are one of the few backpackers who come from Java, the vast majority of tourists arriving (or leaving) by sea come from Lombok, the Gilis or Nusa Lembongan. If going Lombok, is not worth it, you can find low-cost flights from $ 20 one way purchasing them just 2 or 3 days in advance.
In addition, some of these boats, which would be common in other areas of Southeast Asia, are very poor for Bali’ standard, especially those going to Nusa Lembongan, because the trip is shorter and less dependent on environmental inclemencies, so they invest less in security, boats are worse, and crew has little training nor interest in the welfare of customers in the event of an accident or shipwreck, which continues to occur once every two years, the last in 2014 and 2016.
- From Padangbai port, northeast of Denpasar:
- The official and slower ferry runs every hour, takes about 4 hours to reach Lembar in Lombok. Rp 50,000. It’s kind of basic.
- There are also fast boats that take 90 minutes, cost between 300.000 and 500.000 Rp (30 $ and 50 $) to Lombok each way, depending on what time you choose. It should be booked at least one day in advance. Going to the Gilis costs more.
- To Nusa Lembongan costs between 200.000 and 300.000 Rp (20 and 30 $). The cheapest boats going to Nusa Lembongan are just like large bangcas (traditional Filipino boat). There are 8 companies, in total there are more than 12 boats per day.
- From Benoa port in Kuta there fast boats and catamarans bound Lombok, Nusa Lembongan and Gilis. Prices are similar than in Padangbai, but being farther away, take about twice.
GETTING AROUND IN BALI
BETWEEN TOWNS OR TO THE PORTS
- Taxis. Blue Bird is the most recommended company. Taxi drivers use the taximeter, they speak decent English and there is even an App to request them. In Bali is mandatory to use the meter, although many taxi drivers often refuse. In that case you have to find another taxi or negotiate a price; you should write it down on paper and show it to the taxi driver, so when you arrive at your destination he does not have chance to say a higher price claiming he said that price but there was mistake beacuse he does not speak English properly. There are many illegal taxis that imitate Blue Bird ones, you have to pay attention about this. The minimum fare is Rp 7,000 for two km, then up Rp 5,000 per km. Further north of Denpasar almost all taxis require negotiate the price.
- Uber has recently started in Bali, but for once, its services are now less reliable than those of taxis, at least those of Blue Bird.
- Bemos: the everlasting minivans of many developing countries, which usually are filled to the brim, are the cheapest transport. There ask the price and the destination that goes before boarding.
- Public buses: the government company is the most recommended, Trans-Sarbagita. Runs south through Bali’s main tourist destinations. It costs Rp 3,500 per trip. Cheaper ones often do not start until full and usually do not have air conditioning. They leav from terminals which in many cases can not be considered bus stations, basically they are squares where buses, bemos and motorcycles huddle.
- Tourist buses. Perama is the leading company. Newer, comfortable and air conditioned, and therefore more expensive, but the prices are more than reasonable, cross the island from north to south will cost you just $ 10. Its main drawback is they usually stop on the outskirts of the towns, you you’ll need a taxi to get to your hotel.
GOING TO THE TOURIST SPOTS
- The most common and easiest option is to book an excursion. Any hotel, travel agency or in the official tourism offices (which in my experience, were the best option), will offer day trips that combine several major temples with other points of interest, such as rice terraces, the Botanical Garden and others.
- Renting a vehicle, with or without driver:
- If you do not want to drive, it can be an official taxi or through an agency or hotel.
- Same as throughout Southeast Asia, I especially advise against the widespread practice of renting a scooter: the roads are bad and the locals drive like car thieves. I do not know how many backpackers I’ve seen with bandages and bruises from falling off motorcycles driving while wearing flip flops and bathing suit.
- In both cases, you need an international driving license; a very common scam is to rent a vehicle to a tourist who does not have it, then from the car rental business they call the police telling them who are the tourists driving without international driving license, but do not worry that you will not lose driving license points, the fine never gets to the administration because the money is shared between the police and the vehicle owner.
- I also include the bicycle; if the day is not too hot, it can be a great experience.
WHERE TO SLEEP AND EAT: HOW TO CHOOSE A BASE CITY
Although there are accommodations throughout the island, the vast majority of visitors stay in southern Bali, the most developed part of the island by far, because the best beaches are here. The farther you go from the south, the more real Indonesia you’ll find, but on the other hand, those who want to explore the real Indonesia, may better go to another island. Even being extremely touristy, you can find good quality accommodation for the same price as in many other places in Southeast Asia.
- Denpasar. It is the administrative center of the island, but there’s nothing for tourists.
- Kuta and Seminyak. This area is ideal for those who want to be in the middle of the action. They are the equivalent to Phuket and Koh Samui in Thailand or Torremolinos and Benidorm in Spain. There are all types and prices of restaurants, bars and hotels. These are the areas with more services and therefore greater agglomeration. The beach is excellent but charmless being full of kiosks and hammocks. Is often packed with backpackers looking to party and organized groups on lower budgets.
- Sanur and Jimbaran. These two villages have all kinds of hotels and restaurants, but the atmosphere is much quieter. Ideal for families or couples who do not want to be in the center of the party. Both beaches are ordinary, but with fewer umbrellas and sunbeds. Jimbaran is famous for its (not cheap) fish restaurants, and from the beach because you can see the sunset. We stayed 2 noghts in Sanur and 5 nights in Jimbaran. We stayed 2 days in Sanur and 5 in Jimbaran.
- Nusa Dua. In this area there are all-inclusive 4 and 5 star resorts. The beach is one of the best in Bali.
- Ubud. No beach, but no one should miss staying in Ubud at least for a few days; we stayed a week. It also has all kinds of hotels and culinary offer is very wide. It is also probably the best place to visit central and northern Bali:
- It is by far the most charming village.
- It has the Monkey Forest.
- And it is within a reasonable distance of many of the best temples and rice terraces.