Why Go To Bali
Shangri-La, Elysium, Arcadia, Utopia and Bali are all synonymous with “heaven.” The only difference between them is that you can actually visit Bali. Many travelers have never been to this Indonesian island. Yet, the word “Bali” conjures daydreams of the most fantastical landscape: towering volcanoes wrapped in a deep green canopy, sandy shores that fade into turquoise waters and curving coastlines crowned with staggered pagodas. And believe it or not, Bali rarely disappoints.
You’ll be amazed at how many different types of visitors revel in this paradise. The ordinary traveler simply stays at the palatial oceanfront resort and indulges in luxurious spa treatments, decadent cuisine and lazy sunbathing. But the historian will find his or her delights at the island’s many temples while the adventurer will discover new paths up an active volcano in Kintamani. Plus, the town of Kuta boasts more riotous pleasures for those inclined to late nights. Bali is a dream come true, so wake up and book your ticket.
Best Months to Visit
The best time to visit Bali is between April and October, the island’s dry season. Bali experiences only two seasons: the rainy season and the dry season. Throughout the year, the daytime temps hover between the mid-80s and low 90s, with only the humidity and precipitation patterns changing. The lack of rain during the summer season makes Bali more comfortable for beachgoers.
Culture & Customs
Bali is a part of Indonesia; for this reason, the official (and dominant) language is Indonesian. However, you’ll still hear Balinese (a Malayo-Polynesian language) being spoken by some locals. Because international tourism plays a key role in Bali’s economy, English is widely spoken in larger towns and cities. That means you shouldn’t have a problem getting around, purchasing souvenirs or ordering food.
The currency in Bali is the Indonesian rupiah. Since the rupiah to U.S. dollar exchange rate fluctuates, be sure to check what the current exchange rate is before you go. Also, keep in mind that because the large numerical difference can be confusing for foreigners, locals sometimes ask for unreasonable prices and can trick travelers into coughing up more cash than they need to. For reference, $1 is equal to approximately 14,330 rupiah.
In terms of religion, Bali is unique among the Indonesian islands, which are mostly Islamic. Hinduism is the predominant religion in Bali. Most of the temples found here are sacred Hindu sites, so be respectful of the customs you’ll witness, such as praying in pools of water. To get a sense for the island’s unique religion, don’t miss a visit to Bali’s temples.
What to Eat
Bali’s cuisine scene is heavily Indonesian, with Chinese and Indian influences. Most dishes include rice, vegetables, meat and fish – and plenty of spice. Many meals feature base gede – a spice paste that usually consists of garlic, red chili peppers, shallots, nutmeg, turmeric, coriander, ginger, shrimp paste, coconut oil and bay leaves. With that many ingredients, you can be sure that dishes featuring this spice blend are flavorful. Fish, chicken and pork are often rubbed or stuffed with the spice paste, cooked with coconut milk and served with rice and veggies.
There are several standout dishes that travelers should sample. Order babi guling (turning pig) and you’ll get a plate of tender roasted meat that’s also crispy and caramelized. Bebek betutu is a spice-rubbed, slow-roasted duck often cooked in banana leaves. The satay (or sate) in Bali includes strips of chicken, pork, fish or tofu placed on skewers and grilled over a hot flame; accompanying sauces vary, but peanut and shrimp paste-based sauces are common. When it comes to restaurants, experts and travelers recommend trying a variety. Many of the resorts feature upscale dining, the markets throughout Bali offer up fresh, local fare and the eateries along the coast dish out casual meals (with beautiful beach views).
There are hundreds of thousands of dining establishments spread across the island, in which travelers can sample the local cuisine, along with other cuisines from around the world. In Ubud, Abe Do earns high marks from travelers for its fresh juices and raw, organic plates. For a fine dining experience, consider Lamak Restaurant & Bar, a hit with past visitors for its steak dinners and inventive martinis. Another splurge-worthy restaurant in Ubud, Mozaic is an award-winning Asian restaurant with tasting menus that highlight the region’s best ingredients, such as Indian Ocean octopus and Javanese pigeon, along with a bevy of local fruits, vegetables and herbs. Outside of Ubud, Warung Padang Kecag in Candidasa is popular for its seafood dishes while the trendy Mamasan in Kerobokan is a hit for its blend of Asian cuisines and stunning decor.
Getting Around Bali
The best way to get around Bali is with a hired car and driver. This option gives you the freedom of roaming around the country without the hassle of having to drive yourself. Biking is another option, just be prepared to weave through chaotic traffic. Boats are a great way to get to neighboring islands, but they are not frequently used to get around Bali.
Most travelers arrive through Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS), which is located between Kuta and Jimbaran on the island’s southern tip. To reach your hotel, check in advance to see if there is a complimentary resort shuttle available. Some hotels also provide private transportation for a fee. Though it can be pricey, some visitors say it’s worth the cost (especially if you’re arriving at night) as the driver will know exactly where to drop you off – a convenience some say is worth the extra rupiahs. If you plan to take a taxi, you’ll prepay your fare at the airport’s taxi counter. Fares range widely depending on your destination, from 45,000 rupiahs (around $3) to 315,000 rupiahs (about $22).
For short distances, bikes are a cheap, fun way to easily explore outside of your hotel. Bikes can also be a faster option in traffic-congested towns. You can rent bikes through many of the resorts and small shops in tourist towns, such as Kuta. Rental prices vary by company and bike type, but can cost between 60,000 rupiahs (less than $5) to 350,000 rupiahs (around $24) per day. Bali Bike Rental, Bali Rides and Bali Eco Cycling receive favorable reviews from past visitors.
Due to the unstable nature of some of Bali’s roads, you’ll want to avoid biking in congested areas like Denpasar and Kuta.
Hired Car and Driver
This mode of transportation may seem like an extravagant route, but you’ll find that this option can be cost-effective and worth every penny. You can usually arrange a car and driver through your hotel; however, there are numerous agencies, like Bali Island Car Rental, that offer the service. Expect to negotiate a price (unless it has been prearranged) and to pay for the driver’s food, drink and accommodations if you’ve hired him for a multiday trip. A day’s hire should cost about $50. For the price, you’ll have a worry-free means of getting around and potentially a local tour guide. For more information, consult your hotel’s concierge – your hotel may offer a similar service (for a fee).
Renting a car is easy and affordable, but driving around Bali is difficult with its traffic, its drivers and unclear signage. By law, you are required to have an international driver’s permit or a locally issued one. Rental agencies, such as Hertz, Sixt, Avis and Budget, are located in many resort towns and at Ngurah Rai International Airport.
Travelers have had a mixed bag of fortunes with taxis. Drivers can be unreliable and some can try to be sneaky. Luckily, most are fair and friendly to tourists. Some taxis run on negotiated prices while others go according to a meter. Fares typically start at around 5,000 to 7,000 Indonesian rupiahs (about $0.50), with each additional kilometer costing 4,000 rupiahs (about $0.25). You can hail cabs from the street in larger towns like Denpasar, or you can call for one. Blue Bird Group is one the most reliable taxi operators, according to travelers. The company even offers a smartphone app to finding an available cab easy.
Whether you’re riding with Blue Bird Group or any of the island’s other companies, you’ll want to keep a few safety precautions in mind. Always make sure the driver turns on their meter so you’re charged the proper fare and take a look at a map to make sure your driver isn’t taking the long route.
Public and private tour buses are an affordable way to explore the island. That said, they don’t allow the freedom to explore off the beaten path and can take a very long time to reach their destinations. Bali’s most popular private bus tours are organized by Perama Tour & Travel.
Bali’s public buses go between major towns but routes, costs and departure and arrival times can be hard to track down. Reviews have been favorable for the newer Kura-Kura public shuttle bus, which operates five lines around Bali’s major tourist hubs, including Kuta, Seminyak and Ubud. Buses are equipped with free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, audio-visual announcement systems and luggage racks, though they do not run very frequently; some routes depart every two hours. Fixed fares range between 20,000 and 80,000 rupiah (about $1.50 to $5.50) for single journeys. Look for green and yellow buses with cartoon turtles painted on them.
Travelers occasionally use boats and ferries to reach Bali’s neighboring islands. This option is not only scenic, but also affordable. While public ferries can be cheaper, commercial boat services – like those operated by Perama Tour & Travel and Blue Water Express – offer speedy and direct transport to the surrounding islands. Still, travelers should note that many of the boat operators may have little to no training and that safety regulations are nonexistent. Keep in mind that bigger boats are generally more safe, and travelers should also check for safety equipment before boarding boats.
Entry & Exit Requirements
Your U.S. passport must be valid for at least six months from when you enter the country and have at least two blank passport pages. You must obtain a visa exemption or a 30-day visitor visa upon arrival at the airport in Bali for $35. The visa exemption allows tourists in the country for up to 30 days (and absolutely no longer); the temporary visa applies to tourist and short business trips only and can be extended if necessary. If you are coming to Bali for more than 30 days, you must apply for a special visa prior to arrival. For more information, check out the U.S. Department of State’s website.
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