Bali is a stunning place to visit, but there are a few things that you should really know before you get there for the first time.
Other the last several years, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Bali a couple of times. So I’ve picked a few tips and suggestions that will definitely make things a bit easier for you as a first-time traveller to the beautiful Indonesia island.
Arriving at Ngurah Rai International Airport
The first thing you need to know about arriving in Bali is that some nationalities will need to pay for a Visa On Arrival. In the past, it was $35 USD for Australians. But on my last visit, I found out that Aussies no longer need a visa for stays less than 30 days.
That said, on my three different trips to Bali, the visa rules have changed three different times so it’s always best to check with your local Indonesian embassy to make sure. For up to date information for Australian travellers head to – https://www.kbri-canberra.go.id/en/menu-visa-service/free-visa-for-short-visit
Another thing to watch out for at the airport is porters grabbing your bags. Since the introduction of the new airport terminal in 2014, it really seems to be less of an issue, but it still pays to be wary of porters grabbing your bags for you. All they trying to do is make some quick money out of naive tourists and offering to help you organise taxis at exorbitant rates. It’s just better to grab your own bags and be responsible for them yourself. Saves you any hassle later.
Getting From The Airport To Kuta, Seminyak or Canggu
In my experience, the best thing to do is to have a driver organised in advance to pick you up from the airport and drop you at your accommodation.
I’ve got one that I use every time I go to Bali, but you no doubt if you’ve got a friend or family member who has been to Bali before they’ll be able to recommend one as well and put you in touch before you head on over.
That said drivers might have other customers already booked in or you can’t organise a driver in advance, then you’ll need to take a Taxi. In that instance walk past the “taxi drivers” haggling for your business at the exit to the airport and walk straight over to the Taxi rank.
Look for a Bluebird Taxi and ask the driver to use the meter. Bluebird Taxi’s are the only official authorised and reputable Taxi company on the island of Bali and all their Taxi’s are fitted with working meters.
Drivers will try to haggle a price first (usually double the meter cost) or tell you the meter is broken. Insist on the meter as it almost always cheaper.
Savvy travellers can negotiate with the other taxi drivers if they feel up to the task. I would recommend that you try to avoid this if it is your first time travelling to Bali. That said the going rate for a Taxi to the Kuta/Seminyak area is about 120,000 to 150,000IDR (Indonesian Rupiah). To get to Canggu is usually between 250,000 and 300,000IDR depending on your negotiation skills (and if they use the shortcut).
Getting Around Bali
For the brave or foolish (possibly both), the best way to get around in Bali is to rent a scooter. They are definitely the most convenient way to get around Bali at your own pace. However, I’ve seen plenty of accidents in Bali and if you’re not 100% confident with your riding skills then the chaotic roads of Bali, particularly around the tourist hubs of Kuta/Seminyak and Ubud are not the places to try and learn.
Ridesharing is available in Bali. Uber, Grab and GoJek are all ride-sharing services available which are a lot more prevalent around the tourist hubs. GoJek being the biggest and most easily recognisable and accessible. Also with the widest range of services. Just keep in mind that the cheapest options tend to be riding on the back of scooter which is not for the faint of heart.
That said, the local taxi drivers are not happy about those services at all, and in some villages have tried to ban then and can be quite vocal about them not operating on their streets. So you might find it easier to walk to the main road to use ride-sharing services.
Again Bluebird Taxi’s are also a good option, particularly during the wet season. But again just make sure they use the meter.
For longer, further afield trips what I do is organise a driver for the day. As I mentioned previously, I’ve got a driver I was introduced to on my first trip to Bali and he always charges reasonable prices and is really easy to deal with. If it’s your first time you can easily find drivers in the main tourist hubs offering their services for tours of the island. Many regular tours that they do, but you can talk to them and customise the day to suit you. For a full day, you’d be looking to pay a driver 500,000 to 600,000IDR, plus a small tip. Once you split that amongst a couple of people makes it a really cheap way to get around.
Money In Bali
As I’ve mentioned a few times here, the currency of Bali is the Indonesia Rupiah. As a very vague and generalised conversion rate, 100,000IDR is roughly $10AUD. Obviously that fluctuates, but that will give you a pretty good benchmark when evaluating prices.
I tend to use cash when I’m travelling in Bali. In the past getting scammed with credit and debit cards was quite common. Nowadays it much better, but I still find that cash is more readily accepted, particularly once you get outside of the big tourist hubs. It’s also easier for you to mentally manage conversion rates.
What I do is covert a small amount of cash to IDR, maybe $100AUD, to cover me when I first arrive in Bali (and so I can claim I’m a millionaire before I leave). Then I look for reputable branded ATM’s to get more cash out for the rest of my trip. Check which brand your local bank at home has an affiliation with and use their ATM’s to same of bank and conversion fees.
Tipping, while not mandatory, is recommended in some parts of Bali. The locals are paid extremely low wages so I tend to factor in a 10% tip for service staff like drivers, waiters and bar staff etc. Depending on the level of service. That said there are some places that specifically do not allow tipping so just keep that in mind.
One last tip when it comes to money, don’t use street-side vendors to exchange cash. The rates they offer look much better, but if its too good to be true, there’s probably an underling’s scam.
Where To Find Food
It doesn’t matter where you are, you’ll find all sorts of food options around Bali. You can get a fantastic local meal for as little 20,000-50,000 IDR from a family-run restaurant while the big westernised restaurants and chains in the larger tourist areas will be cheap by Australian standards, will still quite expensive by Bali standards.
A personal favourite of mine is Nasi Goreng, an Indonesia fried rice often served with an egg and chicken satay sticks. Something you can find all over the island.
Kuta has a concentration of fast-food restaurants that you’ll recognise, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC etc… But where Bali comes into its own is the many restaurants, cafes and bars that you’ll find scattered around. Obviously, price and quality vary dramatically but if you see a lot of people there, that usually a pretty good indication that its a decent enough spot for a feed.
Where To Stay around Bali
My recommendation for first-timers to Bali is that you look to stay around the Kuta and Seminyak area. They are the biggest tourist areas for a reason, and terms of convenience, accessibility and variety its the best spot to base yourself while you discover the island for the first time.
If you are looking to split your time between different locations then for the second half of your trip, then I’d recommend either Canggu or Ubud. Still touristy but much closer to the authentic Balinese experience, if thats what you are looking.
A couple of places I’ve stayed that I would recommend to start out with:
Mercure Kuta Bali – Centrally located directly across the road from Kuta Beach and a short 5-minute walk to Kuta Square and Beachwalk. The Mecure is in the middle of the price range that you’ll find for Kuta, there are definitely cheaper options around, as well as more expensive ones, but watching the sunsets from the rooftop pool make this one stand out from some of the other options around.
The Stones Hotel Legian, Autograph Collection – If you are really looking to splurge and embrace that holiday life, then this brand new hotel at the Legian end of Kuta Beach is just something else.
La Villais Kamojang Villa Seminyak – Chasing that Bali Villa experience? Then this Villa with private pool in Seminyak has all the privacy you’d expect, but still only a 10-15 minute walk from Seminyak Square and Sunset Road and all the other conveniences that Seminyak has to offer.
Keeping Healthy in Bali
If you haven’t already, check out my keeping healthy while travelling overseas post, so some more general tips.
For Bali, specifically, the first thing to know is that you can’t drink the tap water. Most hotels provide bottled water daily, but its also sound advice to just buy a couple of bottles of water to have with you. Particularly given the tropical climate. There are numerous convenience stores and supermarkets around so bottled water is really easy to access, plus it’s really cheap. Also make sure you use bottled water for brushing your teeth.
Another tip I have for keeping healthy in Bali is to take a probiotic and multi-vitamins before you go. While most places are, not everywhere in Bali is up to the same standards of hygiene and food preparation as what you’d expect from at home. So a probiotic and some extra vitamins will just help you build up your immune system before you get there.
Bali Belly has become more rare, but it still happens and will knock you around for a few days. Just something to keep in mind.
Keeping Safe in Bali
Bali is great but they don’t have the same safety precautions that most developed nations take for granted. When you get there you just need to keep in mind that it’s a different country and just take a little bit of extra care with simple things that you may not concern yourself with at home.
Watching where you step, and where you place your hands so you don’t accidentally fall in a hole, find something sharp or exposed electrical wires. It might seem obvious to some, but I have seen tourists on more than one occasion fall or trip in an exposed drain.
Also be on the watch out for scooters, they tend to ride where ever they feel like, roads, footpaths, beaches, it doesn’t really matter they just seem to go everywhere.
I mentioned this previously, but be on the lookout for scammers, they aren’t usually dangerous, they are more looking to make easy money off naive tourists. Although people offering drugs and other questionable items should be avoided, chances are they are working with the police and you’ll end up in a world of issues.
Another one to be careful of is cheap drinks, often drinks that are ridiculously cheap contain cheaper some locally produced alcohol alternatives that are likely arak or methanol. Neither of these are much good for you, and can put you in hospital or worse. If it looks too cheap try something else or go to another venue. Bottled Bintang is always a safe bet.
All in all, Bali is a fairly safe place to visit with thousands of tourists each year, but make you get travel insurance just to be on the safe side. I almost always use Cover-More as the odd time I’ve had to make a claim in the past I haven’t had any issues.
What to do in Bali
I’ve put together a whole separate post on my pick of things to do in Bali, which you can read here.
You use to have to pay a Departure Tax when you went through migration at the airport. Nowadays its included in your airline ticket so you don’t have to worry about this.
The new Ngurah Rai International Airport terminal is fantastic. A huge improvement on the old one (which happens to be the domestic terminal now). Just take note of your check-in times before you head out to the airport, there are a couple of restaurants and shops at the front of the terminal before you proceed to the check-in but they won’t let you proceed through the first security checkpoint to the check-in desks until they open for your particular flight.
Once you get through there are a tonne more restaurants and plenty of shopping options to grab those last-minute souvenirs while waiting for your flight.
All in all, Bali is a really fantastic place to visit but can also be a little bit of a culture shock if you are not sure what to expect, particularly outside the main tourist areas. These tips will definitely allow you to hit the ground running, so to speak.
If you’d like to know more about what you can do when you get there, I’ve also put together my picks for the things you must do when you get to Bali.
And just to help to give you a little more motivation to book that trip, here are some of my photos from a recent trip to Bali to help inspire you.
For more travel tips, make sure you check out the rest of my blog posts as well.