Bali travel guide & tips for first timers
Unless you’re an experienced traveler, visiting Bali for the first time can be both exciting and scary. Everything feels and looks so different from what you’re used to. If you haven’t been to Asia before, you probably have questions like: Do they speak English there?; Is it safe?; and Will I have to use a squat toilet?.
Keep reading on to have those questions answered and to find out more on Bali for first timers.
Please note some links in this article are affiliate links which means at no extra cost to you, I earn a small commission. As always, I only recommend products which I’ve used myself and all opinions expressed are my own.
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Overview of Bali
Since Bali is a popular tourist destination, most of the locals you’ll encounter will speak English fairly well. So your communication and getting around will be relatively easy.
The question of safety is also generally a non-issue. While recent news about the Zika virus and attacks in Indonesia might make Bali seem like an unsafe place, the truth is that news often portrays things worse than they actually are. As long as you’re smart about traveling (i.e not walking alone in a dark street, late at night, texting on your iPhone), you will be ok. The people of Bali are friendly, so as long as you’re respectful and exercise some common sense as you would in any place, you will have a safe and wonderful time.
Lastly, while there may very well be some squatting toilets if you’re up for some rural exploring, Jugo and I never saw any. Places with tourists will have the same old toilet you like back home.
Bali may be far to get to (unless you’re from Australia) but it’s totally worth the trip.
The Bali Climate
You can expect tropical weather all year round and two seasons for Bali’s climate. May to September is the dry season and the most touristy time while October to April is the wet months.
We chose to go in February because it was low season which meant far less tourists, costs being cut in half, and more flexibility with our plans since we didn’t need to book much in advance. If we really liked a particular place, we could usually extend for extra nights. We were worried that there would be a lot of rain but when it did rain, it was a quick shower and the sun would be out for the rest of the day
Make sure to book an appointment to get your travel vaccinations at least 4 weeks in advance. In Canada and the UK, many of the vaccinations may be covered for free. Moreover, if you have to go to a travel clinic you are probably going to have to shell out some cash if your insurance doesn’t cover it.
For most travelers to Bali, the recommended vaccines include Hep A, Tetanus and Typhoid however you should speak with your doctor about your specific travel plans. You can also find out more details on the government travel health website.
The Rupiah is the currency used in Indonesia. Like other Asian countries, costs are cheaper compared to North America and Europe. As of July 2017, a comparison of costs between Bali, Indonesia, and Ottawa, Canada on Numbeo are:
- Meal at an inexpensive restaurant: Bali $2.43 VS Ottawa $18
- McDonald’s combo meal Bali $5.73 VS Ottawa $9
- 330 ml bottle of water: Bali 65¢ VS Ottawa $1.65
- Local transport one-way ticket: Bali 33¢ VS Ottawa $3.52
When Jugo and I travel, we like to have a little cash on hand around $300-$500 for 3 weeks for budget-mid range travel for two people. ATMs and currency exchange places are readily available. Many of the popular restaurants you find on trip advisor and attractions will accept credit card which is my preferred method. You can find credit cards like the American Express gold card (what we have) which will have no international transaction fees. You can also get pre-paid credit cards which is a good option.
For more information on costs, check out Lonely Planet.
* Make sure your cash is in smaller bills since many places will not accept the larger bills.
** If you are exchanging money, never do it at the airport since they will always have more expensive fees.
What to Pack for Bali
Get the full break down in my Essential Packing Guide.
Also, it’s great to have the Lonely Planet Bali & Lombok Travel Guide (small and easy to pack) which has great information about places to stay, eat, do along with itineraries for trip planning.
Getting Around Bali
Catch a cab from Bali Ngurah Rai Airport. The cost to Denpasar will be around 70,000-90,000 IDR (~$6.60-$8.60) and 195,000 IDR ($18) to Ubud.
The easiest way to get around the city is by scooter. You can rent them from all over for as little as $6/day. We really enjoyed the scooter since it allowed us to easily travel around and see the rice paddies.
If you don’t want to brave the scooter you can take a taxi. If you are going to take a taxi, the recommended company is Blue Bird Taxi.
Avoid black cabs and always make sure the meter is running.
Getting to other islands is cheap and easy. You can catch a ferry (if you are staying in a hotel, they can arrange transportation for you) or by air. We only paid $15 for two to go from Gili Air to Kuta Lombok.
Or if you prefer the easy way of having your transportation organized, check out these options.
Where to stay in Ubud – Royal Villa Jepun
If you are wondering where to stay in Ubud, a good choice is the Royal Villa Jepun which we stayed at for 4 nights and really enjoyed. Highlights of the Royal Villa Jepun:
- It’s just outside the crowded main touristy area so it feels very peaceful and relaxing but still close to everything
- There are some good restaurants to eat at down the street, a few corner stores to buy snacks and drinks, and a great spa just next door
- The villas are decorated in Balinese style with rooftop canopies on the bed and the Deluxe rooms come with an outdoor shower which is refreshing
- A good breakfast is included with fresh fruit juices and crepes
- Best of all is the pool which is perfect to cool off in after spending the day out exploring in the heat
Where to stay in Seminyak – Villa Marjens
This is one of our favourite places to stay. We booked via Airbnb and got our own private luxury villa with a semi-outdoor living room and private pool. There are two bedrooms, a full functioning kitchen, and large satellite tv. The only negative we have to say for this place is that it’s hard to explore Bali when the place is so nice that you just want to spend all your time there. Total cost came to $75/night.
***If it’s your first time booking through Airbnb try our promo code and get $40 CAD in travel credit.***
There are many places to choose from for where to eat in Bali but my favourite spot was Naughty Nuri’s. A one minute walk from Royal Villa Jepun, you will find Naughty Nuri’s which is a no fuss kinda joint that focuses on creating the world’s best ribs (seriously, these are the best). Just thinking about those tender cooked, succulent, saucy ribs makes my mouth water and we would seriously go back to Indonesia just for these ribs! In a large pot, the ribs are marinated in a secret mind-blowing sauce and then cooked to perfection over an open grill flame. We loved it there so much we went back the next night.
Warung Pulau Kelapa
Warung Pulau Kelapa is a tasty restaurant that serves Indonesian style cuisine garden to table. At the back of the restaurant, they have an enormous garden where you can actually pick the vegetables and herbs yourself and have their chef whip up a dish for you with those ingredients. We really enjoyed their satays and Sup Buntut (beef oxtail soup).
*Everywhere in Ubud you will find wheatgrass shots. Give it a try! It tastes better than it looks and is super healthy.
Kober Mie Setan
On our last night in Bali, we really wanted to find a place the locals like to eat at. We hopped on a scooter and drove around Bali looking for spots full of locals and came to Kober Mie Setan.
The place was a bustling, outdoor seating joint that had a line of around 30 locals waiting to get inside so we knew this was going to be a good place. As we joined the line, two local girls invited us to join them. They told us that this was the spot locals went for cheap eats. Service runs speedy there and within 10 minutes we were at our own with our new friends. We left the ordering in their hands and once the food came we were not disappointed. We all got plates of tasty spicy noodles and some appetizers that look very similar to the Chinese dim sum (bite-size portions) that were in bamboo baskets. All in all, it was a tasty meal to end our trip on.
This is a dish, not a place. We thought we’d mention it here though because like the Icecream Man who travels to neighborhoods in North America with his ice cream truck and catchy tune that signals he is close by, so too does the Bakso Man in Bali.
Bakso is a delicious, comforting meatball soup with noodles topped off with a fried wonton and some onions. Every day around lunch we’d hear the bakso jingle and find the Baksoman with his soup cart outside my villa. Now that’s fast food!
Snorkeling and Beach
Head to Balangan beach which is not overcrowded like other beaches in Bali. It’s a bit rustic and has amazing views especially from the cliff side which is great for some instagrammable photos.
The water level drops quite quickly and you are surrounded by beautiful coral reefs and an array of fish including Nemo-like clownfish. This beach is also known for good surfing. There are a few restaurants that offer basic food but we recommend packing your own picnic by the beach.
*There are sun chairs available to sit on which you will have to pay. If you are comfortable, we’d recommend not accepting the first price they offer as a general rule and negotiating a bit. In touristy places like this, they typically tend to charge foreigners higher if they can get away with it, so don’t give in right away. We were personally fine with our towels.
If you rather go on an organized tour check out these options.
Paon Bali Cooking Class
One thing we always love to do in new countries we visit is to take a cooking class. We went with Paon Bali Cooking Class which cost 350,000 IDR ($35) per person. Wayan (the tour guide) will come to your hotel to pick you up and start the class by visiting a local market to learn about the ingredients.
At the market, you will find the greatest fruit in the world. It’s called mangosteen. On the outside, it doesn’t look like much with its hard dark purple rind. To eat, you need to peel the skin off like an orange. Inside the fruit is white, tender, and sweet. This is the part you eat and tastes like no other fruit you’ve had before!
After the market, we went to Wayan’s home in Laplapan Village. We were introduced to Wayan’s wife Puspa who was going to teach us how to cook traditional Balinese food. Puspa is full of energy and a great teacher.
Some of the dishes we learned how to cook included a Balinese soup, sates (meat on stick), Tempe (boiled and fermented soybeans), Gado Gado (a salad with a peanut sauce and tofu), Opor Ayum (chicken coconut curry), and a fried banana dessert just to name a few. Everything tastes really good and even Jugo who isn’t into cooking enjoyed the class so we think it’s an Ubud must see!
Other foodie things to do…
Massages, Massages, Massages
Right next to the Royal Villa Jepun (literally a 30-second walk), there’s Putri Bali Spa a great place to relax and treat yo self! It’s a no frills kind of place which offers great value for massages and other treatments. As soon as you step in, you are greeted with a cup of tea and some fresh papaya, while you choose your oils. They can book you the day of so no need for advance reservations. I went for the 90-minute Balinese massage which cost 170,000 IDR (around $15) and then came back the next day to do it again!
Bring Out Your Inner Yogi
Although doing yoga in Indonesia is a cliche, I couldn’t help myself to give it a try at Yoga Barn when I saw they had Acro Yoga and convinced Jugo to come.
Yoga Barn is a mega yoga center offering different kinds of classes at various levels, with retreats, workshops, accommodation, healing treatments and a restaurant to eat as well. They have 5 large yoga studios with one that’s actually up in a tree. The cost for a single class starts at 130,000 IDR ($12) but if you are planning to attend a few, you can buy class cards which start at 3 for 330,000 IDR ($31).
Acro yoga involves working with partners and groups. Where we warmed up by doing cartwheels and ended the class by lifting each other up in the air with our feet. It was a fun experience but if you want to do yoga that’s more spiritual, focused on self-awareness and go deeper into your being, I’d go with the Hatha yoga which I absolutely loved. First, the instructor was Balinese and had been practicing yoga all his life. Second, the instructor really helped you throughout the class, focusing on self-awareness and paying attention to your breath. To top it off, we moved to the sounds of pouring rain in our open-air studio, overlooking the rice fields.
Other fun things to do in Bali
Phew! You’ve made it through the entire Bali guide for first time visitors, now it’s time to book your trip! 🙂