Bali Travel Guide
As magical destinations go, Bali is definitely up there. There are the awe-inspiring temples in the tens of thousands — literally — and near-daily ceremonies: vivid, multi-sensory and loud, accompanied by chanting and clanging gamelan. Add to that endless beaches trimmed in aquamarine surf, pulsing with relentlessly curling waves topped with dancing surfers. There are miles and miles of verdant rice paddies, terraced so immaculately they've become iconic. Plus saturated emerald jungles alive with monkeys and waterfalls. Dreamy, highly Instagrammable private villas and hotels are everywhere (often quite affordable), fulfilling major #goals. And don't forget canang sari, the prolific flower-laden offerings blessed and placed seemingly everywhere daily on the so-called "Island of Gods."
Bali has an energy about it that acts as a siren song to woo-woo wellness practitioners, design buffs and carousing Gen Z-ers in equal numbers, along with stoked surfers, spiritual pilgrims, yogis, beach lovers, plus plenty of celebrities and influencers to boot. The near-constant rush hour on streets swarming with locals on motorbikes and air-conditioned cars filled with travelers does nothing to dispel the magic.
Whereas the majority of Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, the Balinese are deeply devoted to Hinduism. There is an innate reverence for nature that is impossible for travelers not to feel. Expect to spend more time outside and in fresh air than you thought was ever possible. Blue skies, sea breezes, and coconut palms dominate the environment, with plenty of color added by frangipani blooms and bougainvillea.
The most fulfilling and thrilling Bali holidays include a few locations, so don't stress about picking just one vibe or scene—it's best to combine a few, two if you're short on time. There's no sense in rushing through temple tours and tastes, yoga sessions, shopping, and Balinese massages. Enjoy island time and the locals who are overwhelmingly generous, sweet, and genuine. All factors considered, it's nearly impossible not to leave Bali feeling far better—happier, healthier, and definitely more tan — than when you landed.
WITA (Indonesia Central Time Zone) GMT + 8:00
Best Time to Go
Bali is busiest during America's summer holiday and festive season, while low season falls over the rainy months of November to March. Because Bali, unlike the rest of Indonesia, is predominantly Hindu, Ramadan does not affect tourism much. The biggest holiday of the year is Nyepi, which involves fantastical parades of men and boys hauling ogoh-ogoh (huge handmade demon dolls) the night before a 24-hour silent day, on which even the airport falls quiet and planes don't take off or land, and the use of electricity and vehicles is forbidden. For that period, tourists must stay on the grounds of their accommodations, but it's a beautiful opportunity to experience Balinese culture as well as epic stargazing. Surfers will find the best waves on the west coast of Bali from May to October, at which point the winds shift and it improves on the eastern side.
Things to Know
The Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) is the local currency and it takes a lot of them to equal one U.S. dollar—around 14,000 give or take (check the current exchange rate here). Locals almost all speak Bahasa Indonesia, while many also speak Balinese.
A few simple phrases that the Balinese people will give you lots of credit for attempting:
Good morning: Selamat pagi
Balinese greeting (always paired with prayer hands): Om swastiastu
Thank you: Terima kasih
You're welcome: Sama-sama
Where is the toilet: Di mana toilet?
Tourist or foreigner: Bule (pronounced bulay)
The country code is +62, and the capital city, Denpasar, is home to the island's sole international airport.
How to Get Around
Bali does not have a public transit system in the Western sense (there are some buses, but not reliable or advised). Instead, the ubiquitous motorbikes that flood every street—and sometimes sidewalk—are the primary mode of transportation. If the idea of riding one stresses you out (and it should a bit, the experience is not for the timid) there are plentiful taxis for hire. There are also abundant private cars with gracious Balinese drivers who will happily be on call to ferry you around the island, many who double as casual tour guides. Rental cars are available, too.
Things to Do
Neighborhoods to Know
Seminyak: This is Bali's most known beach 'hood, and without a doubt its busiest. There are literally countless places to shop, eat, and drink along its vibrant, crowded streets, not to mention hundreds of deluxe villas and many luxury hotels. Partying isn't contained to after-dark hours—beach clubs like Potato Head and Ku De Ta are popular at all times of day and night.
Canggu: Think of Canggu as the newer Seminyak—super hip and, in recent years, where a burst of development has occurred, bringing this seaside beach town plenty of cool little boutiques. Plus, loads of eateries and bars helmed by chefs from around the world bringing not only international flavors but aesthetics. There's quite a significant nightlife scene, too, with DJs spinning in at least a few places each night.
Ubud: Ever since Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat Pray Love" threw Ubud (pronounced oo-bood) into the spotlight, it's become almost every tourist's definition of Bali. That's ironic considering the island is known for its beaches, and this busy, sprawling town full of yoga studios, vegan cafes, shops, spas, and markets is a 30-minute motorbike ride from the nearest stretch of sand. Still, it's probably the most popular stop in Bali, a great jumping-off point for temple visits, hikes (Mt. Batur is lovely at sunrise), visits with healers, coffee (kopi) tastings, and a serious dose of culture.
Uluwatu: If you surf you've already heard of Uluwatu, but if you don't the name probably doesn't ring any bells. Besides its epic waves, the southwestern-most tip of Bali is famed for Pura Uluwatu, the clifftop Hindu temple where monkeys cause mischief as sarong-clad visitors take in panoramic sunsets. Uluwatu and its neighboring surf towns of Padang Padang and Bingin are lower key than Canggu, with more dramatically beautiful beaches (most of which require a decent number of steps to access) and a laid back but luscious restaurant and cafe scene.
Nusa Dua: Over the last couple decades, many luxury hotels and resorts have sprung up in this town on the eastern part of the southern tip of Bali known as the Bukit Peninsula. There are long stretches of lovely beaches that don't require walking down cliff fronts, and some good surfing, too.
Nusa Lembongan: This tiny island off the southeastern coast is technically part of Bali (along with the even teenier Nusa Ceningan and much larger but less developed Nusa Penida), but is about 20 years behind developmentally, which means it's a bit closer to the storied Bali of yore. Still, there are already plenty of Instagrammable hotels and eateries here, so if you're keen for some scuba diving, snorkeling, or more surf, it makes for a fun few-day spinoff (the fast boat from Sanur or Serangan takes about 30 minutes).
Situated just above the equator, Bali doesn't experience four seasons in the same way we do. Instead there are just two: rainy and dry. When it rains it really pours, but there can also be beautiful days during that humid period, November to March. April to October tends to be far drier and equally hot, though nights can feel quite cool. Daytime temperatures hover in the high 70s and 80s Fahrenheit year round. (And don't pay attention to your iPhone's Weather app, it predicts rain almost daily in Bali and quite often wrong.)