Now that we’ve made it our home away from home, we figured we’d treat you with an Ultimate guide to Bali! Whether you’re looking for a relaxing vacation or an adventure filled getaway, Bali is ALWAYS a good idea. We’ve been getting lots of questions on what our must-see places in Bali are and what tips we have for first-time visitors. Hopefully this guide helps you make the most out of your time in Bali!
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Tips for first-timers:
1) Things take more time than you’d expect!
A common misconception for first-timers in Bali is that everything is really close and that it takes less than an hour to get from one area to the other. Due to roads being very narrow and winding as well as a crazy amount of traffic pretty much all over the developed areas, travel time in Bali can be up to 3 to 4 times what you’d expect, especially when travelling in a car/taxi/uber/grab. For example, getting from Canggu to Uluwatu can take 1h on a scooter on a good day, but can also take 3h30 in a taxi if you’re unlucky (true story), so plan accordingly!
2) Learning to drive a scooter is key for the best experience
Whether you’re exploring the beaches of the Bukit Peninsula, chasing waterfalls in Northern Bali or simply wanting to discover the rice fields around Ubud, riding a scooter is definitely the way to go! Not only is it a lot cheaper than taking private transportation every time you want to go do anything, it’s a fun way to really immerse yourself in the Balinese life.
Riding a scooter allows you to stop in the most random places and see the scenery in such a different way, and also saves you so much time! Do be warned that traffic can be crazy and chaotic so it does take some getting used to, but anyone can do it! Scooter rentals vary anywhere between 50K to 80K IDR daily. We recommend booking with your accommodation as there can be many very sketchy rental shops, and NEVER leave your passport with any of them, this shouldn’t be required in Bali. Also always check the breaks as you wouldn’t want them to stop working while you’re going down a very steep hill 2 hours away from where you rented the scooter (again, true story).
3) Location is Everything
During the three months we spent in Bali, we tried to avoid the most touristy places as much as possible. For example, we opted for Canggu instead of Kuta/Semyniak, Gili Air over Gili T, Nusa Penida over Nusa Lembongan. We believe this is one of the main factors that made our whole experience in Bali great. Then again, there’s something out there for everyone. Some people love being surrounded by bus loads of tour groups and boutiques and restaurants, we don’t 😉
4) There are options to suit every budget
From 8$ hostels with no A/C to 10 000$ / night luxury villas and everything in between. There really is something for every budget in Bali. It all depends on which area you’re in and how close to the beach you want to be. On average, we paid between 170K and 350K IDR per night for a private room in a basic guesthouse. This usually includes hot shower, wifi and a pool. For us, being centrally located usually isn’t a must because we tend to always have a scooter and don’t mind driving 5 to 10 minutes to get to the main action. This usually allows us to get much better bang for our buck!
5) Don’t try to cram to much into your time there
We did quite a lot while we were on the island, but keep in mind we spent a total of almost 3 months there. If you only have 1 to 2 weeks and are planning to see Ubud, Canggu, Uluwatu, the Gilis, the Nusas as well as 3 waterfalls, 2 temples, some monkeys and a volcano, you’re biting off more than you can chew.
As mentioned in #1, everything is farther apart than you’d imagine. You’re much better off keeping some days available to relax by the pool or at a nearby beach and not overextending yourself. This will also help you appreciate the adventures you do go on that much more. Keep in mind that the best waterfalls are between 1 to 2 hours from any of the main touristic areas and the islands can take quite a while to get to because of the speedboats being unreliable and the ports being quite far away from the main cities.
6) Flying a drone
With drones becoming more and more accessible, we often get asked if we had any problems while flying ours in the destinations we visit. You will most likely see many people in Bali with drones and we never had any issues flying ours. Do know that in certain crowded tourist attractions as well as in the temples, drones are banned (there are clear signs at the entrance to these temples).
We also did not have any issues while entering Indonesia, or any other country in South East Asia with our drone. However, this is not a guarantee that you won’t run into problems concerning your drone. The police are known to be corrupt in Bali so just use common sense and don’t attract unwarranted attention.
Now that you’ve read our tips and that you know what you’re getting into, it’s time to start planning what you want to make time to do during your time in Bali! Here’s a breakdown of the main areas we visited and the highlights you might want to squeeze in.
Where to go + what to do!
There’s something special about Canggu that we can’t really put into words but that keeps us coming back. We’re happy to say that it’s now our permanent base in Asia. We’re not sure if it’s the laid back atmosphere, the proximity to the beach or the unlimited food options but we just can’t seem to stay away from Canggu! There aren’t really any tourist attractions in Canggu, which makes it a great place to sit back, relax and enjoy life! Our top things to do in Canggu :
- Indulge in some great food : Canggu is honestly a foodie’s paradise. We compiled a full guide to Canggu’s food that you can read right here.
- Chill by the pool : When looking for accommodation in Canggu, we recommend booking a guesthouse with a pool. There are tons of budget friendly options available and it will definitely help you make the most out of your time in Canggu! The best value we found was at Cempaka Mas Guesthouse, a bit of a ride outside of the main hub, which allows you to admire the rice fields on your way there!
- Take a surf lesson : Batu Bolong beach is internationally known as a great place to learn to surf. Head to the beach and book yourself a 2 hour private lesson with one of the many local surf instructors available for 350K IDR/person. If you already know how to surf and don’t need a lesson, you can simply rent a board for 2 hours and jump in the water with everyone else!
- Get lost on a scooter through the rice fields : This is certainly one of our favorite things to do in Canggu. Just hop on a scooter, pick a side street and see what you can find! As soon as you get off the main streets (Batu Bolong/Berawa), you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a whole different world! We always suggest renting a scooter directly from your accommodation as it makes things a bit easier and hassle-free, but if your accommodation doesn’t offer rentals, we really enjoyed the service at J&D Bike Rental.
- Head to Old Man’s for happy hour : Being one of the most famous and popular bars in Canggu, we think Old Man’s lives up to it’s reputation! From 5 to 6pm every day, they offer 2/1 on all alcoholic beverages. 2 bintangs for 25K IDR seems like a pretty good deal to us! It’s also conveniently located right on the beach which means as soon as happy hour is over, you can catch the sunset on the beach!
- Sunset at Batu Bolong beach or Echo Beach : One of the main things that draws people to Canggu is the beach. Although it’s not the most picturesque beach you’ve been to, it does offer pretty amazing sunsets! On weekends, Batu Bolong beach has a live band playing which really adds to the ambiance. We also love catching sunset at Echo Beach, especially when the tide is low as the sand makes for really great reflections!
- Breakfast at Crate : If you follow us on Instagram, you surely know that Crate is our favorite breakfast spot ever! People go for the food but they stay for the atmosphere. You simply need to try it out for yourself. On Saturdays there’s even a live DJ and a free photo booth!
Known as the cultural heart of Bali, Ubud will most likely not be as you imagined it from watching Eat, Pray, Love, but still has a lot to offer! Ubud’s crazy mix of Hindu temples, art shops, yoga studios, vegan cafes, bustling streets, intense traffic and beautiful rice fields makes it a mandatory stop for anyone visiting Bali for the first time. Although it is a little too crazy for us and the vibe isn’t our favorite, we do think it’s definitely worth spending at least 2 days in Ubud. Some things you shouldn’t miss out on:
- Campuhan Ridge Walk : The Campuhan Ridge Walk is a beautiful nature walk with amazing scenery. It’s an awesome photo spot just a few minutes from the center of Ubud. To make the most out of the ridge walk, go very early in the morning and enjoy the beautiful morning golden hour here, as it does get very busy during the day and there’s no shade so it also gets very very hot!
- Jungle Fish Pool : A stay in Ubud wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Jungle Fish pool. This pool feels like it came straight out of our wildest dreams. It’s the perfect place to chill for a few hours on a hot Bali day. Because we have been travelling on a backpacker’s budget, we sadly can’t afford to stay there for a night but thankfully, the pool is open to everyone! The 75K IDR / person entrance fee is well worth it if you ask us! We definitely recommend going before noon on a weekday because it gets quite busy in the afternoon and on weekends. UPDATE : Someone notified us that the price has recently gone up from 75K to 150K per person, which is a big disappointment! If you’re on a very tight budget, you may want to reconsider your visit but if your budget is not an issue, we do think Jungle Fish is still worth a visit!
- Ubud Art Market : If you want to get some bargain shopping done, this is definitely the place to do it! The Ubud Art Market is a great place to find cheap clothes, souvenirs, household items, etc. Do practice your bargaining skills as the prices quoted can often be cut in 3!
- Tegalalang Rice fields : Although the Tegalalang rice fields have very much become a tourist attraction and are not in any way representative of authentic Balinese rice fields, they are worth a visit! If you go early enough, you might even get the whole place to yourselves. Located about a 20 minute drive outside Ubud, this is definitely one of the most famous photo spots in the area. There is no entrance fee but you will pass a few spots where the locals ask for “donations” that are actually mandatory if you want to go through.
- Yoga : One of our favorite things we did in Ubud is a 3 day yoga retreat with Light & Bliss at the end of last year. To read about our experience at the retreat, click here. There’s just something about Ubud that makes it the perfect place to practice yoga. Whether you’re an experienced yogi or a total beginner like us, you will surely be able to find a yoga class that suits you!
There are so many waterfalls in Bali that even if we wanted to name all of them, we couldn’t! If you’re up for a bit of an adventure, check out our article about our top waterfalls in Bali, hop on a scooter and go out and explore! You’ll notice that we didn’t include the most popular waterfall in Bali, Tegenungan, and that is simply because we think there are so many other less visited ones that are more worth your time and effort!
If you came to Bali hoping for white sand beaches and turquoise water, you’ll definitely want to spend a few days in Uluwatu! Known as Bali’s surf destination, Uluwatu is part of the Bukit Peninsula, which is the southern tip of the island. Do be warned that often times, the waves tend to be a bit too big for casual swimming and you’ll find mostly experienced surfers in the water. The whole coast of the Bukit Peninsula offers breathtaking views. Here are some of our favorite things to do in Uluwatu :
- Beach hopping : Everyone loves a good beach, and Uluwatu has many! One of the most picturesque beaches in Bali is Nyang Nyang, a long stretch golden sand where it’s very probable you’ll have some space to yourself! We also enjoyed Dreamland, Greenbowl, Suluban, Balangan and Uluwatu beaches.
- Grab breakfast/lunch/dinner at Suka Espresso : This spot was recommended to us by one of our friends (thanks Joe!) and boy are we glad he recommended it! We went to Uluwatu twice and ended up eating almost all our meals here, so much so that it became an inside joke with our friends (SUKAAAAA!!). Their food is delicious, coffee is perfect, staff is extremely kind and welcoming (they offered all clients towels to dry off during a rain storm… I mean!!) and…. basically just go see for yourself and you’ll understand what the rave is about!
- Catch a sunset overlooking the sea : Uluwatu has some of the best sunsets we’ve ever experienced. There’s something about watching the sun set over the horizon from the top of a cliff that just takes our breath away every single time. Our top sunset spot was at Balangan Beach, right before making your way down to the sand, continue to the right of the parking lot. There are dozens of couples taking wedding pictures there every single day but if you can look passed that, you’re in for a treat!
If you only have two weeks in Bali, you might want to Skip Lombok but for trips longer than that, we definitely think Lombok is worth a visit! If you’re up for an adventure, you’ll quickly discover that Lombok has so much to offer, from waterfalls to volcanoes and white sand beaches to green hills that will transport you to Scotland for a moment.
Indonesia has hundreds of volcanoes, many of them active. The most popular volcanoes people hike in and around Bali are Batur and Rinjani.
However, we decided to travel to Bali’s neighbouring island of Java to hike two other volcanoes we had mostly seen on Instagram. Although getting to both of these from Bali can be quite a challenging and frustrating experience (we’re talking 12 hour days in public transport with no A/C and people smoking in the seat next to you), if you are an adventurous soul and love challenging yourself, we highly recommend checking them out!
- Kawah Ijen : To this day, seeing the sun rise from the top of the Kawah Ijen crater is one of the most memorable moments of our time in Bali. Words can’t begin to describe the beauty we experienced, and we’d definitely do it again next time we’re in Java! We wrote a blog post about why you need to hike Kawah Ijen, click here to read it!
- Bromo : We had seen so many pictures of Mount Bromo on Instagram and decided we need to check it out for ourselves! Honestly, after doing Ijen, we were a tad underwhelmed by Bromo but we have to admit Instagram ruined it for us. We do still think if you’re in the area, Bromo is worth a visit but do be warned there will be about 2401834098 other tourists sitting there waiting for the sun to rise. We weren’t so lucky with the conditions and didn’t get an awesome colorful sky on the morning we were there but if you go during dry season, you might just get lucky and see the most amazing sunrise of your life!
Ahhhhh the Nusa Islands! To our greatest pleasure, the Nusas aren’t quite as popular as the Gili Islands (Yet), where most people tend to go spend a few days during their time in Bali. We’re suckers for travelling off the beaten track and trying to get away from the masses of tourists as much as possible so Nusa Penida was a dream for us! If you have a few extra days and want to get away from the hustle & bustle of Bali, the Nusa islands make for a perfect little getaway.
- Nusa Penida : Our favorite of the three Nusa islands, Nusa Penida is still quite under developed compared to its neighbouring islands. Think insane views, white sand beaches, turquoise water, palm trees and very bumpy roads! Nusa Penida is a great place for you if you’re up for a real adventure. If you prefer comfort, then maybe choose Nusa Lembongan or Ceningan and you’ll enjoy your time a bit more! To read our guide on what to do in 48 hours on Nusa Penida, click here!
- Nusa Ceningan & Lembongan : Picture-perfect calm blue water, laid-back island vibe and lots of choices for food & accommodation, Nusa Ceningan and Lembongan are what we imagine the Gili Islands to be a few years ago. Being a lot smaller and much more developed than Penida, these two islands do get their fair share more tourists (think truck loads of Chinese tour groups crowding the roads and tourist attractions) but are gorgeous nonetheless. If it’s laying on the beach with a cocktail in hand that you’re looking for, these are the perfect islands for you
The Gili Islands
Most people who head to Bali plan to spend a few days on the Gili Islands. The most popular and most developed of the three islands is Gili Trawangan. It is known as a party island where backpackers head to drink the night away and meet fellow backpackers.
We chose to stay on Gili Air, which we had heard was a good island for a relaxing getaway away from all the party. We were expecting beautiful white sand beaches and amazing snorkelling but instead found beaches that were full of broken coral, water that was almost too hot to bathe in and coral reefs that were in very poor condition.
Needless to say there weren’t many fish in the water right off the shore because of the damaged state of the coral. Nevertheless, we did manage to see some turtles on our snorkelling tour and ate some delicious food while we were at it! If you’re planning on going to Gili Air, here are some things we think you shouldn’t miss out on :
- Snorkeling tour : You can book a snorkelling tour from basically anyone on the island, and they pretty much all go on the same boats and do the same spots. The tour was between 100K and 150K IDR per person for a full day tour excluding lunch. We really enjoyed our tour as it took us to some good spots where we got to swim with sea turtles and we saw quite a few different species of fish. If you want to spot some sea turtles, a snorkelling tour is your best bet as the guide will help you find turtles and bring you to exactly the right spots.
- Catch a sunset : The Gilis are famous for their sunsets! A number of resorts have installed swings in the water where you can sit and enjoy the view (and the crowds!). We mostly loved the view from the South-western tip of Gili Air.
- Bike around the islands : After the hustle and bustle of Bali, the Gilis offer a nice break from the constant noise. Motorised vehicles are banned from the islands which leaves you with a few options : walk, bike or horse-drawn carriage! As the horses are really mistreated, we decided to walk and bike our way around the island which proved to be the best way to explore!
- Have dinner at Ruby’s Kitchen : Delicious food, affordable prices, extremely kind staff and nice atmosphere. The menu is short and sweet which allows them to execute each dish perfectly. We absolutely loved the burger! Need we say more?
- Eat a Lombok Burrito at Warung Sunny : The best burrito we’ve ever had, period. Go there. Order two of them. You won’t regret it. You’re welcome.
- Have coffee at Coffee & Thyme : Coffee & Thyme is the only real cafe we found on Gili air, and it was fantastic! Their sweets and coffee make for a perfect afternoon pick me up.
Famous Instagram spots
If you’ve read this far, here’s a little treat for you! An ultimate guide to Bali wouldn’t be complete without a list of the top Instagrammable spots here. Keep in mind that the most gorgeous photos you see on your favorite Instagrammer’s feed have all been meticulously planned and were likely taken very early in the morning. If you’re hoping to get a picture with no one else in it, we suggest you get up before the sun and hit up these places before anyone else. Click on each item of the list to get the exact location :
- The Famous Bali Gate : The entrance to the Handara Golf & Resort has become one of the most photographed places in Bali, so much so that it has officially become a tourist attraction as of early 2018. The entrance fee is 20K IDR per person.
- Pura Danau Bratan : You know that beautiful temple on a lake with a colourful sky in the background? That is Pura Danau Bratan at sunrise. You can rent a boat and paddle out on the lake for that dreamy shot that’s perfectly alined with no one else in it. The entrance ticket to the temple is 50K per person and you can negotiate a rowboat for another 50K.
- Pura Lempuyang Luhur : If you’ve seen those insane shots of the beautiful balinese gates with Mt. Agung in the background (made famous by the very talented @josiahwg), they were taken at this beautiful temple. It’s quite a long ride from the main areas of Canggu and Ubud, but if you get lucky and go on a clear day, the journey is worth the effort!
- Tegalalang and the Love Bali sign : The famous Love Bali swing is actually located at the entrance of the Tegalalang rice fields. You have surely seen photos of these beautiful rice terraces located right outside Ubud.
- Sekumpul Waterfall : If you ask us, Sekumpul is Bali’s most impressive waterfall. It takes a bit of effort to get there (think 4 hours sitting on a scooter through winding Balinese roads) but the reward is so so worth it!
- Twin Lakes views & Bali Swing : The most famous Bali Swing that you see everywhere on Instagram is located in Ubud and costs 35 USD per person. We were obviously not going to pay 35 USD each to sit on a swing for 3 minutes and take a few pictures so we found a great alternative for this! Located up in the hills in northern Bali is a viewpoint on the twin lakes where you will find a beautiful swing built by a very nice Balinese man. For just 10K IDR each, he let us swing for as long as we’d like and take pictures from every possible angle. The view on the lakes was jaw dropping and it felt as if we were swinging in the clouds.
- Kelingking (T-Rex) : Although Kelingking is technically not on Bali, in recent years, it has become one of Bali’s most famous viewpoints. No matter how many photos you’ve seen of the T-Rex, seeing it in person will surely blow your mind. If you’re daring enough, make your way down the treacherous path to walk on one of the most beautiful beaches you’ll ever see!
We received many questions on what to do during your time in Bali so hopefully you find this ultimate guide to Bali helpful! Let us know in the comments if you have any other questions!