The island home to approximately 4 million people is approximately 144 kilometres from east to west and 80 kilometres north to south.
The islands varied landscape of hills and mountains, rugged coastlines and sandy beaches, lush rice terraces and barren volcanic hillsides provide a picturesque backdrop to the colourful and deeply spiritual culture of this 'Island of The Gods'.
The word paradise is used a lot in Bali, and not without reason. The combination of friendly, hospitable people, a magnificently visual culture infused with spirituality and (not least) spectacular beaches with great surfing and diving have made Bali Indonesia's unparalleled number one tourist attraction. Eighty percent of international visitors to Indonesia visit Bali and Bali alone.
The popularity is not without its flip sides — once paradisaical Kuta has degenerated into a congested warren of concrete, touts and scammers live on overcharging tourists, and the island's visibility has even drawn the unwanted attention of terrorists in 2002 and 2005 — but Bali has managed to retain its magic. Bali is a wonderful destination with something for everyone, and though heavily travelled, it is still easy to find some peace and quiet if you like.
The first Hindus arrived on Bali as early as 100 BC, so it's easy to understand why the island has had some time to develop its own culture. Divided among a number of ruling rajas, occasionally batting off invaders from Java to the west and making forays to conquer Lombok to the east, the north island was finally captured by the Dutch in a series of brutal wars from 1846 to 1849. Southern Bali (Denpasar area) was not conquered until 1906 and eastern Bali (Klungkung) did not surrender until 1908. In both 1906 and 1908 many Balinese chose death over disgrace and fought en masse until the bitter end, often walking straight into Dutch cannons and gunfire. This "fight to the death" is known as puputan. Victory was bittersweet as the images of the puputan highly tarnished the Dutch in the international community. Perhaps to make up for this, the Dutch did not make the Balinese enter into a forced cultivation system as had in Java, and instead tried to promote Balinese culture through their policy of Baliseering or the "Balinization of Bali".
Bali joined the new republic of Indonesia in 1948. In 1965, after the failed 1965 coup d'etat, allegedly backed by the Communist Party (PKI), state-instigated, anti-communist violence spread across Indonesia. In Bali it has been said that the rivers ran red with the reprisal killings of suspected Communists — estimates of toll vary from 50,000 to 200,000. Most estimates say 80,000 - or 5-8% of the population at the time.
The current chapter in Bali's history began in the seventies when intrepid hippies and surfers discovered Bali's beaches and waves, and tourism soon became the biggest income earner. Despite the shocks of the terrorist attacks in 2002 and 2005, the magical island continues to draw crowds and Bali's culture remains as spectacular as ever.
Unlike any other island in largely Muslim Indonesia, Bali is a pocket of Hindu religion and culture. Every aspect of Balinese life is suffused with religion, but the most visible signs are the tiny offerings (sesajen) of flowers, glutinous rice and salt in little bamboo leaf trays, found in every Balinese house, restaurant, souvenir stall and airport check-in desk. They are set out and sprinkled with holy water no less then three times a day, before every meal.
Balinese dance and music are also justly famous. As on Java, the gamelan orchestra and wayang kulit shadow puppet theater predominate. Dances include:
There are an estimated 20,000 temples (pura) on the island, each of which holds festivals (odalan) at least twice a year and there are many other auspicious days throughout the year, meaning that there are always festivities going on.
There are some large festivals celebrated islandwide, but their dates are determined by two local calendars. The 210-day wuku or Pawukon calendar is completely out of sync with the Western calendar, meaning that it rotates wildly throughout the year.The lunar saka (caka) calendar roughly follows the Western year.
Nyepi is a very special day to the Balinese as this is the day that they have to fool all evil spirits that no-one is actually on Bali - hence the need for silence. If this can be achieved, then it is believed that the evil spirits will go looking elsewhere for their prey and leave Bali island alone for another year. Balinese people are very religious and life is full of ritual - Nyepi is one of the most important days in their calendar. Police and security are on hand to make sure that everyone abides by this rule.
Nyepi also serves to remind the Balinese of the need for tolerance and understanding in their everyday life. In fact, Hinduism on Bali is unique because it is woven into and around the original Balinese animistic religion. The two now have become one for the Balinese - a true sign of tolerance and acceptance!
All national public holidays covered in Indonesia also apply, although Ramadan is naturally a much smaller event here than in the country's Muslim regions.
Bali is always warm, humid and tropical, remaining around 30C to 35C all year round. The April-October dry season and November-March rainy seasons are only relative, with plenty of rainfall around the year, but the Balinese winter is cloudier, more humid and with a higher chance of thunderstorms.
A more important consideration is the tourist season, as Bali can get packed in July-August and again around Christmas and New Year's. Australians also visit during school holidays in early April, late June and late September, while Indonesians visit during national holidays. Outside these peaks, Bali can be surprisingly quiet and good discounts on accommodation are often available.
Electricity is supplied at 220V 50Hz. Outlets are the European standard CEE-7/7 "Schukostecker" or "Schuko" or the compatible, but non-grounded, CEE-7/16 "Europlug" types. Generally speaking, U.S. and Canadian travellers should pack an adapter for these outlets if they plan to use North American electrical equipment.
Balinese is linguistically distinct from Bahasa Indonesia, although the Indonesian lingua franca is spoken by practically everybody. In touristy regions English and some other foreign languages are widely spoken.
See also: Indonesian phrasebook
Most visitors will arrive at Denpasar's Ngurah Rai international airport (IATA: DPS) . Despite the misleading name, the airport is actually located between Kuta and Jimbaran, roughly 30 mins away from Denpasar.
In the low-cost carrier set:
Note that if you are flying internationally into Ngurah Rai, most nationalities are now required to purchase an Entry Visa (US$25 or EUR20 or Rp 250,000 in cash for 30 days); see the main Indonesia article for details. Few other currencies are accepted so it's a good idea to play safe and have the required dollars on hand. Flying internationally out of Bali you are subject to the airport tax (150,000 Rupiah effective from 1st November 2007) which you would need to pay for in Rupiah so save some bills for the trip out. The domestic departure tax is Rp. 30,000.
ATM machines are available at Airport Departure Lobby which accept Cirrus and Plus cards for withdrawals.
Some hotels organize free transfers from the airport but there are plenty of other taxis also available. Approximate price for getting from Ngurah Rai to Legian is Rp. 40,000. If coming from the airport ignore touts offering rides. After years of abuse the airport and legitimate taxi companies dictated that fixed prices be offered. There is a dedicated booth at the airport for arranging rides to town (and any other location on the island). This is on the right just through the arrival doors for international.
Since the second bombing, security at the airport has increased considerably and be prepared for rigorous scrutiny of luggage, including carry-on items.
There are direct bus services to Bali from all major cities on Java as well as Lombok, which use the ferries to cross over. These are cheap and easy, but slow.
A number of speedboats and catamarans operate from Benoa Harbor near Kuta (~2 hours) and Padangbai (80 min) to the Gili Islands of Lombok. These are expensive (~US$60 one way) but convenient, see the Gili Islands article for details.
Bali's a fairly big island and you'll need a method to get around if you plan on exploring more than the hotel pool. The traffic is chaotic. There is a daily traffic jam in Denpasar, Kuta, and major tourist centres. Driving is on the left side.
For different excursions around the island sometimes it is common to buy a trip via a hotel or at one of the street agencies (they are seen everywhere in special tents marked "Tourist Information").
Once you arrive at your destination you may encounter difficult walking conditions if you need to walk along streets. Sidewalks in much of Bali are simply the covered tops of open ditches and in many places only 2 ft wide. This makes for extremely uncomfortable single-file walking next to traffic. Often the sidewalk is blocked with a motorbike or caved-in section, necessitating dangerous darting into traffic. Many of island's conventional streets are simply not pedestrian-friendly. Beach areas and major tourist areas are easier to walk around -- Sanur in particular has a wide beachfront pathway with many cafes and bars.
Metered taxis are very common in southern Bali up to Denpasar but not available elsewhere. The starting fee is Rp 5,000 for the first two km and the meter ticks up Rp 5,000 per kilometer afterwards. Waiting time is Rp 20,000 per hour. Trips outside southern Bali will incur an extra charge of 30%, as the driver has to go back empty — if day-tripping, it's often cheaper and more convenient to arrange for your driver to wait and take you back.
You may also rent a car with a driver for half a day or for the whole day in order to travel around the island. You pay appr. Rp. 375 000 for the whole day and tell him what you want to see. The price is fixed and to be discussed before your trip. Do not pay until the end of the day.
Bemos, basically minivans which serve as a flexible bus service, are Bali's "traditional" form of transportation, but they have largely given way to metered taxis in the south. Fares on shared bemos can be very cheap, but drivers will often insist that foreign tourists charter the entire vehicle, in which case they'll usually ask for taxi prices or more.
By car or motorbike
Car and motorbike rental is available, but may not be safe for drivers used to more formal traffic rules. Consider hiring a car and driver as you can relax, be safe, and not get lost. If you rent a vehicle, good bargaining skills should allow you to rent a car for about Rp. 80 - 120,000 per day, depending on the length of the rental and the type of car. Newer, large cars will cost more, but are of dubious value on Bali's narrow roads. Motorcycles, typically 125cc, some with automatic transmissions, rent for Rp. 30 - 35,000 per day. A proper-fitting helmet should be included, and its use is compulsory in Bali. Guide books state that Bali is no place to learn to ride a motorbike, and this is good advice. In areas outside of the tourist enclaves of south Bali, a motorbike is a wonderful way to see the island, but in south Bali, with its crush of traffic, the chances of an accident are greatly increased. An International Driving Permit is required for vehicle rental, with motorcycle endorsement if renting a motorbike. The IDP is seldom requested by the person renting you the vehicle, but will be required (along with the vehicle's registration papers) if stopped by the police (Typically a 50,000Rp "fine" will allow you to keep driving). An IDP is easily available from motoring clubs in your home country (AAA in the United States provides them for $10) and it is valid for one year.
Travel by bicycle is quite possible, and provides a very different cultural experience to other means of transport. You should bring your own touring bike, or buy locally – there is at least one well stocked bike shop in Denpasar, but with a racing/mountain bike focus. While traffic conditions may appear challenging at first, you can acclimatise after a few days, especially once you escape the chaotic heavy traffic of southern Bali.
By rental car
Rental car services owned by individuals or companies are easy to find in Bali. For the first timers, it's better to hire a rental car with drivers including gasoline. Using rental cars is for sure cheaper than taxi, and more efficient than using other public transportations. The drivers are usually English speakers, and they can also act as a tourist guide who will recommend you some good tourist destinations and good restaurants. Using rental cars from rental car companies is more expensive, but you can hire a cheaper rental car owned by individuals. You can ask a hotel staff or a security officer to recommend you a good individually owned rental car. Price is Rp. 400,000 - 500,000 for 1 day (10 hours) depending on your negotiation. Make sure the price already included gasoline and driver. Petrol costs, with the removal of some government subsidies in recent years have escalted dramitically, distance will be a factor in total costs. Entrance tickets of tourist destination and parking fee will be charged to guests. To visit most of the entire tourist destinations in Bali, you will need about 3 days.
Bali's best-known attractions are its countless Hindu temples. Even the smallest villages usually have at least three, but the nine directional temples (kayangan jagat) are the largest and most important. Uluwatu, at the southern tip of Bali, is easily accessed and hence the most popular, with Tanah Lot a close second. However, for the Balinese themselves, the "mother temple" of Besakih on the slopes of Mount Agung is the most important of all.
Hot springs — There are several hot springs to be discovered in Bali. One of them, along the northern coast of the island, near Lovina, is Air Panjar where stone mouth carvings allow hot water to pass between pools which are set among a lush garden.
Spa — Bali is paradise for spa lovers and all sorts of treatments are widely available, but the Balinese lulur body scrub with herbs and spices — traditionally performed before a wedding ceremony — is particularly popular. Balinese massage is usually done with oil and involves long, Swedish-style strokes. In steep contrast to exorbitant Western massage fees, Balinese massage is an incredible value, and visitors should definitely avail themselves this luxury. In local salons, a one-hour full body massage will cost between Rp. 40 - 60,000, and the two-hour mandi lulur, which incorporates a body scrub and hydrating yoghurt body mask in addition to the massage, will cost about Rp. 100,000. The curiously named creambath is a relaxing scalp and shoulder massage, usually lasting 45 minutes, in which a thick conditioning cream is worked through the hair and into the scalp. A creambath typically costs about Rp. 40,000. Note that these same services in an upscale hotel will cost many times more.
Weddings — Balinese wedding getting popular in recent years. The exotic tradition, ceremonies, music and costumes has a special attraction among western people. Many couples who are already legally married to each other choose Bali as the perfect place to renew their vows. Full wedding services are widely available in Bali such as: ceremony arrangements, photography, videography, flowers, musicians, dancers, caterers etc. There are about ten wedding chapels available in Bali today (largely in luxury hotels) and the number is growing. You can find many professional wedding organizer to handle your wedding in Bali through the internet. Destination weddings, featuring all types of religious and presentation arrangements, are becoming increasingly popular with private villas being one of the island's many offerings for venues.
Voluntary work An excellent way to get to know and understand more of the country is to do some voluntary work. There are some organizations that arrange work for international volunteers in Bali and other places in the region.
Waterbom— Opposite the new huge Discovery Shopping Mall. This is an excellent day out for all the family with a fantastic kids area, great water slides and fun going round on the lazy river. The cost of food and drinks inside the park is also reasonable and for a family of 5 we paid total of approx US$30 for lunch.(Sept 2008)
Bali has a huge variety of cafes and restaurants, serving both Indonesian and international food; see Indonesia for a menu reader. For better or worse, some American chains have established a presence here, although almost exclusively confined to the southern tourist areas. You'll see KFC, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, and Starbuck's Coffee. Interestingly, the menus are often highly adapted to the local tastes. The menu at Pizza Hut looks nothing like one you'll find in the U.S. Try the smaller local restaurants rather than touristy ones, the food is better — and cheaper. Be sure to try the ubiquitous Indonesian dishes nasi goreng (fried rice) and mie goreng (fried noodles). These dishes should rarely cost more than Rp 25,000 (sometimes a bit more if you add chicken — ayam — or shrimp — udang), so their cost on a menu can be a good indicator of a restaurant's relative cost and value.
Some of the most authentic food can be found from roving vendors called kaki lima, which means "five legs." This comprises the three legs of the food cart and the vendor's own two legs. Go to the beaches of Seminyak at sunset and find steaming hot bakso, a delightful meatball and noodle soup, served up fresh for a very inexpensive Rp 5,000. You can season it yourself, but be forewarned: Indonesian spices can be ferociously hot. Go easy until you find your heat tolerance level!
Actual Balinese food is common on the island, but it has made few inroads in the rest of the country due to its emphasis on pork, which is anathema to the largely Muslim population in the rest of the country. Notable dishes include:
There are plenty of options for vegetarians in Bali - from indigenous Indonesian fare to international cuisine. A word of caution: the Indonesian spice paste "Sambal" is a hot paste of ground red chillies, spices and shrimp paste. Always check to see if the Sambal being served to you contains shrimp paste. You can even get Sambal without the shrimp paste at a few places. Additionally, kerupuk crackers with a spongy appearance, including those always served with nasi goreng, contain shrimp or fish. (Those that resemble potato chips, on the other hand, are usually fine.)
A meal in a tourist-oriented restaurant will be around Rp. 20-40k per person. In a local restoran the same meal might be about Rp. 15k or less. On the road,and even in Kuta, simple warungs sell "nasi bungkus", a pyramid shaped parcel of about 400gm of rice with several tasty extras for as little as Rp. 3-5k. One very reliable option is nasi campur ( rice with several options, chosen by the purchaser) for about Rp. 10k or so. Note that rice is often served at ambient temperature.
Not being Muslim, the Balinese have nothing against a drink and alcohol is widely available.
Indonesia's most popular beer Bintang is ubiquitous, but local brand Bali Hai is nearly as popular. Bintang is a fairly highly regarded classic light Asian beer, but Bal Hai is a rather bland lager. Also available is the Bali-brewed microbrew Storm, available in several different flavors. Beer is, however, relatively expensive, though still cheap by Western standards: at Rp. 10,000 and up, a small bottle costs at least the same as a full meal in a “local” eatery. In tourist centres, happy hours are widely available before and after sunset, with regular bottles of beer going for Rp. 7,000 and the giant sizes for around Rp. 12,000.
Bali produces its own wines, with Hatten being the most popular brand, available in white, red, rose (most popular) and sparkling varieties. Quality can be inconsistent, but the red is usually OK and at least it's cheaper than imported wines, which can easily top Rp. 100,000 per bottle. Wine aficionados are better off bringing their own bottle in from Singapore or other countries from which they fly into Indonesia. Imported wines are readily available in Bali, but are very expensive relative to everything else. Nicer restaurants will let you bring your own bottle; some will charge a (very modest) corkage fee. Smaller establishments likely won't mind, but neither will they have a corkscrew!
Bali's traditional drinks are arak, a clear distilled spirit that packs a 40° punch, and brem, a fermented rice wine sold in gift shops in attractive clay bottles that are much nicer than the taste of the stuff inside.
Tap water on Bali is not drinkable, but bottled water is universally available and extremely inexpensive (Rp. 3000 or so per 1.5L bottle) and restaurants usually use purified water for cooking. "Filtered" water shops are also common, providing on-site treatment of the mains water to a potable standard. These shops are much cheaper than retail outlets, selling water for about Rp 5000 per 11-litre reusable container, and avoid the waste created by plastic bottles.
Very cheap (Rp. 10,000) are fresh juices or their mixes (it can be watermelon, melon, papaya, orange, lime, banana or any other possible juice). In Bali, avocado (alpukat) is used as a dessert fruit. Blended with sugar and ice — and sometimes chocolate — this is a beverage you can rarely get in any other locales!
If you do not consume alcohol, Bali's fresh juices and creative combinations of fruits will please you to no end. Almost all restaurant menus have a section devoted to various non alcoholic fruit based beverages.
Bali has, without a doubt, the best range of accommodation in Indonesia, from the $3-a-night losmens on Poppies Lane in Kuta to the $4,300-a-night residences at the Begawan Giri in Ubud. Backpackers tend to head for Kuta, which has the cheapest if also dingiest digs on the island, while many (but not all) five-star resorts are clustered in Nusa Dua. Seminyak, Sanur and Jimbaran offer a fairly happy compromise if you want beaches, nightlife and some quiet, while Ubud's hotels and resorts cater to those who prefer spas and cultural pursuits over surfing and booze. Legian is situated between Kuta and Seminyak and offers good range of accommodations. Further north on the west coast, and mid way between Seminyak and Ubud is the district of Canggu, which offers many traditional villages set among undulating ricefields. For rest and revitalization visit Amed, a peaceful fishing village on the East Coast with some good hotels and restaurants.
Thanks to Bali's balmy climate, many villas and bungalows offer open-air bathrooms, often set in a lush garden. They look amazing and are definitely a very Balinese experience, but may also shelter little uninvited guests and are best avoided if you have low tolerance for critters.
One accommodation option for which the island is becoming increasingly famous for is private villas complete with staff, although not every place sold as a "villa" actually fits the bill. Prices vary widely: some operators claim to go as low as $30/night, but realistically you'll be looking at upwards of $200/night for anything with a decent location and a private pool, and at the top of range nightly rents can easily go north of $1,000/night.
Villas in Bali mostly found around the greater Seminyak area on the west coast (Seminyak, Umalas, Canggu), on the east coast around Sanur and in the inner regions such as the hill town of Ubud and rarely found in the Nusa Dua area (peninsula) which is more famous for hi-end resort complex of international chain hotels, but other portions of the bukit, such as Uluwatu are seeing more and more villas come on line. Sanur has a number of villa-resorts that keep on expanding, adding facilities like full-range spas.
For long-term stays, it's worth considering long-term rentals, which can be as low as US$4,000/year including a driver. Restaurants and bars frequented by Bali's sizable expatriate community, particularly in Sanur and Ubud, are good places to find information about long-term rentals. Look for a bulletin board with properties' advertisements tacked up, or pick up a copy of the expat's local publication, The Bali Advertiser . It's not hard to find a nice house in the $350-450 range for a month's stay.
Bali has been the scene of lethal terrorist bombings in 2002 and 2005, both waves of attacks targeting nightclubs and restaurants popular among foreign visitors. Security is consequently tight in obvious targets, but it is of course impossible to protect fully against terrorism. If it is any reassurance, the Balinese themselves — who depend on tourism for their livelihood — deplore the bombings and the terrorists behind them for the terrible suffering they have caused on this peaceful island. As a visitor, it is important to put the risk in perspective: the sad fact is that Bali's roads are, statistically, far more dangerous than even the deadliest bomb. It is still prudent to avoid high profile western hang-outs, especially those without security measures, and the paranoid or just security-conscious may wish to head out of the tourist enclaves of south Bali to elsewhere on the island.
Bali is increasingly enforcing Indonesia's harsh penalties against importation, exportation, trafficking and possession of illegal drugs, including marijuana, ecstasy and heroin. Several high profile arrests of Westerners have taken place in Bali since 2004, and a number have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms or execution. Even the possession of a small amount of drugs for personal use puts you at risk of a trial and prison sentence if searched. Watch out for seemingly harmless street vendors looking to sell you drugs (marijuana, cocaine, etc.). More often than not they are undercover police and will try to sell you drugs so that they can then get uniformed officers onto you and demand a bribe (anything from Rp200,000-1,000,000) to let you go.
The unfortunate people who are caught and processed will suddenly find there is no distinction between personal use and dealing in the eyes of the Indonesian legal system. 'Expedition Fees', monies paid to shorten jail or prison time, can easily run between 20-70,000 USD.
In Bali if you see a red flag planted in the sand, do not swim there: they are a warning for dangerous rip currents. These currents can pull you out to sea with alarming speed, and even the strongest swimmers cannot swim against them — the thing to do is to stay calm and swim sideways (along the shore) until out of it, then head for the shore. The ocean is not to be trifled with in Bali, hundreds of people, some experienced some not, die by drowning every year.
Petty scams are not uncommon, although they can usually be avoided with a modicum of common sense. If approached on the street by anybody offering a deal on souvenirs, transport, etc, you can rest assured that you'll pay more if you follow your newfound friend. Guard your bags, especially at transport terminals and ferry terminals: in addition to the risk of them being stolen, self-appointed porters like to grab them without warning and then insist on ridiculous prices for their "services".
Last but not least, be wary around the monkeys that infest many temples (most notably Uluwatu and Ubud's Monkey Forest). They are experts at stealing possessions like glasses, small cameras and even handbags, and have been known to attack people carrying food. Feeding them is just asking for trouble.
The midday sun in Bali will fry the unwary traveller to a crisp, so slap on plenty of suntan lotion and drink lots of fluids. However, don't carry liters of water as you can buy a bottle virtually anywhere. The locals tend to stay away from the beaches until about two hours before sunset, when most of the fierceness has gone out of the sun.
Boat services run regularly to Lombok, Flores, and islands further east. Combined bus and ferry service will take you to Java destinations such as Yogyakarta, though the trip can be long on winding jungle lined roads.
International phone operators: 101. International Direct Dialing prefix: 001, 007, or 008.
Tourist information centre:
Hospitals with 24 hours emergency room (ER):
Embassies and Consulates
Some countries have set up consulates in Bali, and these are their addresses: