Bali, the famed Island of the Gods, with its varied landscape of hills and mountains, rugged coastlines and sandy beaches, lush rice terraces and barren volcanic hillsides all providing a picturesque backdrop to its colourful, deeply spiritual and unique culture, stakes a serious claim to be paradise on earth.
Bali is an island and province of Indonesia. It is located at the westernmost end of the Lesser Sunda Islands, between Java to the west and Lombok to the east. Its capital, Denpasar, is located in the southern part of the island. with world-class surfing and diving, a large number of cultural, historical and archaeological attractions, and an enormous range of accommodations, this is one of the world’s most popular island destinations and one which consistently wins travel awards. Bali has something to offer a very broad market of visitors from young back-packers right through to the super-rich.
South Bali :The most visited part of the island by far, with Kuta Beach and chic Seminyak.
Central Bali: The cultural heart of Bali and the central mountain range.
West Bali: Ferries to Java and the West Bali National Park.
North Bali: Quiet black sand beaches and the old capital city.
East Bali: Laid back coastal villages, an active volcano and the mighty Mount Agung.
Southeastern Islands: Quiet offshore islands in the southeast, popular for diving activities.
Short History, Culture and Climate
The first Hindus arrived in Bali as early as 100 BC, but the unique culture which is so apparent to any current day visitor to Bali hails largely from neighbouring Java, with some influence from Bali’s distant animist past. The Javanese Majapahit Empire’s rule over Bali became complete in the 14th century when Gajah Mada, Prime Minister of the Javanese king, defeated the Balinese king at Bedulu.
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 (canang sari, or sesajen) found in every Balinese house, work place, restaurant, souvenir stall and airport check-in desk. These leaf trays are made daily and can contain an enormous range of offering items: flowers, glutinous rice, cookies, salt, and even cigarettes and coffee! They are set out with burning incense sticks and sprinkled with holy water no less than three times a day, before every meal. Don’t worry if you step on one, as they are placed on the ground for this very purpose and will be swept away anyway (But you better not step on one on purpose, because – as Balinese believe – it’ll give you bad luck!).
Daytime temperatures are pleasant, varying between 20-33⁰ C (68-93⁰ F) year-round. From December to March, the west monsoon can bring heavy showers and high humidity, but days are still often sunny with the rains starting in the late afternoon or evening and passing quickly. From June to September, the humidity is low and it can be quite cool in the evenings. At this time of the year there is hardly any rain in the lowland coastal areas.
Get from the airport: In terms of transportation from the airport, Ngurah Rai is not too bad, but is also far from being perfect. Some hotels organise free transfers from the airport, but plenty of public taxis are also available: go to the ticketing booth. Just after you x-ray your bag, you’ll enter a concourse. You can go left or right and all the waiting hotel drivers will on the other side of a wall from you. Head left and the (tiny) ticketing booth will be on your right, just before the air-conditioned duty free area. Here you can buy a fixed-fare ticket and a driver will be assigned to you trouble-free. However, the ticketing booth closes after the last flight arrival for the day and re-opens at 8 am, so anyone wanting an airport taxi during this period should be prepared to haggle or seek the alternatives described below.
Get around: Bali is a fairly large island and you will need a method to get around if you plan on exploring more than the hotel pool. Rapid, seemingly uncontrolled development and an aging infrastructure, mean that the roads struggle to cope. In major tourist areas the traffic is chaotic, and there are daily jams. Particular blackspots are Ubud, Kuta, Seminyak and Denpasar.
By bus: The Perama bus company serves the budget traveller well in Bali and beyond, and they have offices in several major tourist destinations on the island. There are other scheduled shuttle buses between many of Bali’s most popular destinations, and these are cheap and reliable. Check locally advertised services (you cannot miss them) and book one day in advance.
By taxi: Metered taxis are very common in southern Bali as far north as Denpasar but few and far between elsewhere. The starting flagfall charge is on the first two kilometres and the meter ticks up for per km after that. Waiting time is charged at as per hour. Trips outside southern Bali will incur an extra charge of 30%, as the driver has to go back empty.
By bemo: Bemos are minivans which serve as a flexible bus service (also known as “Shuttle Bus”) and are Bali’s “traditional” form of transportation. However 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 will usually ask for a price equivalent to a taxi or even more.
By self-drive car or motorbike: Driving in Bali is on the left-hand side. Car and motorbike rentals are widely available but you should think very carefully about your ability to handle driving in Bali with its lack of formal traffic rules. Consider hiring a car and driver as you can relax, be safe and not get lost. If you rent a car to drive yourself, a modern four door Toyota Avanza or Daihatsu Xenia should cost as per day. If on a tighter budget, you should be able to get an old, rough Suzuki Jimny.
Renting motorcycles or scooters can be a frightening yet fascinating experience. They are typically 125cc, some with automatic transmissions, and rent for between Rp 40,000 and 100,000 per day (for a week or more, cheaper price can be bargained). 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. Bali is no place to learn to ride a motorbike.
An International Driving Permit (IDP) is required for vehicle rental, with a 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 Rp 50,000 “fine” will allow you to keep driving and if they ask more write his name down to stop it).
You can rent your car or bike before your arrival at Bali on plenty of websites such as Balibikerental, Baliguider or Balicarfinder with competitive prices and communicative staff with online assistance.
By rental car with a driver: Rental car services owned by individuals or companies are easy to find in Bali and this is the best option for first time visitors. Using a rental car with a driver is certainly cheaper than taxis and far more efficient than using other public transportation. The drivers are usually English-speaking and they can also act as informal tourist guides recommending good destinations and restaurants. Choosing to rent from a large car company is naturally more expensive than sourcing from a private individual. Ask hotel staff to recommend a good individually owned rental car with a knowledgeable driver.
By bicycle: Travel by bicycle is quite possible and provides a very different experience than 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.
Places to visit and see
Balinese temple design: is an involved subject and one which baffles many visitors. Local geography has a fundamental effect on design, and two temples are rarely the same. Everything you see, be it decorative or structural, has a specific, well-considered function which may be of an earthly or spiritual nature. There are, though, general elements which are common to the vast majority of temples, which are always split into three courtyards: jaba (outer courtyard) ,jaba tengah (middle courtyard) and jeroan (inner courtyard). Each of these courtyards contains various structures and/or shrines of differing levels of importance.
Kuta Beach: Kuta Beach is located on the western side of the island’s narrow isthmus and is considered Bali’s most famous beach resort destination. Kuta Beach is also minutes away from the Ngurah Rai International Airport in Tuban. The nearby resorts of Tuban, Legian and Seminyak are all within close walking distance.
Once a simple, rustic and quiet fishing village, Kuta Beach has witnessed a transformation over the past years due to the rise of various accommodations, dining and shopping options. The rapid growth owes much to visitors, beachcombers and art lovers from nearby Australia. Expatriates also helped pioneer surfing in Kuta, as well.
Although a rather frenzied traffic scene has become commonplace here, Kuta Beach continues to attract thousands of visitors every year with its unique charm. During the peak season from July to August and the holiday season for Christmas and New Year, Kuta Beach is regularly fully-booked by travellers looking forward to a pleasant and affordable Bali escape.
Seminyak Beach: Seminyak is Bali’s most fashionable beach, home to among the island’s luxurious resorts and host to a number of fine restaurants and boutiques. Fashion stores and top dining spots with international chefs cooking up world-class cuisine line the streets, from Jalan Petitenget to Jalan Kayu Aya.
Seminyak’s Petitenget Beach offers a more secluded ambiance compared to its sister strands of Kuta and Legian to the south. However, after sunset a livelier nightlife scene takes over. Chic hotels such as the W Retreat & Spa, or premier dining and entertainment venues such as Ku De Ta and the Potato Head Beach Club, have all garnered an international following.
Legian Beach: Legian Beach is probably the second most popular area with visitors after Kuta because of its close association with beach life and its parties. Indeed, one of Legian’s main attractions is its extravagant nightlife. Another attraction is the white sandy beach filled with tanned wannabe celebrities.
For first timers, Legian is just like another Kuta but give yourself a day, and an evening walk along the famous Double Six Beach, and a night in a cosy club, then you decide what you’ll do with the rest of your vacation. As its name suggests, literally ‘sweet’ in Balinese, Legian promises sweet memories of a Bali holiday.
Ubud, Bali: Ubud is considered in many ways Bali’s cultural heart. Located in the cool mountains, just one hour’s drive north of the airport and the resorts of southern Bali, this traditional country town is home of one of Bali’s royal families. Ubud is also a flourishing crafts centre.
Around Ubud the surrounding villages like Campuhan, Penestanan, Peliatan and Batuan specialise in crafts and woodcarving which are sold all over the island. There are hundreds of shops selling antiques, woodcarvings, crafts, textiles, paintings and jewellery as well as some of the best art museums in the country, dozens of art studios, an excellent local craft market and galleries.
Jimbaran Beach: Jimbaran beach and the famous Jimbaran Bay are located on Bali’s southwestern coast of the narrow isthmus connecting the Bali mainland and the Bukit Peninsula. The beach and the bay of Jimbaran offers small secluded areas, where tranquility and peace are the perfect antidote to a stressful world.
The land gently slopes away from the beach revealing exclusive celebrity haunts hidden under a canopy of leafy tropical forests. Jimbaran is the realm of luxury hotels, the likes of the Four Seasons Resort at Jimbaran Bay and the InterContinental Bali Resort & Spa. You can find your own Jimbaran hotel or dining preference, list of attractions and others below.
Nusa Dua Beach: Nusa Dua, was designed to be an ‘all-inclusive’ type of tourist destination. The pristine Bali Tourism Development Centre’s (BTDC’s) complex of world-class hotels, an up-market shopping complex with well-maintained facilities, a luxurious 18-hole golf course, white-golden sandy beaches and much more.
The name Nusa Dua is derived from the two small islands to the east. Though it’s the most developed area in Bali, it still houses many temples, a museum, and lots of other attractions. The enclave is an idyllic place for honeymooners and for those who bring the entire family.
Sanur Beach: Sanur Beach, Bali’s earliest beach resort, features a relaxed coastal ambiance. Located on the eastern side of the island’s isthmus, it is the opposite of Kuta, both in characteristics and nuance. The former fishing village maintains most of its charm and continues to attract repeat visitors, mostly from Europe.
Among Bali’s first hotels and beachfront retreats, together with an eclectic mix of restaurants, shops and bars and an assortment of innovative and modern entertainment venues share the Sanur Beach coastline. Known for its laidback atmosphere, Sanur Beach maintains its wealth in arts and culture, making it an ideal destination to enjoy the best of both eras, classic and contemporary.
Tanjung Benoa: Tanjung Benoa, like many other beachside destinations in Bali, used to be a fishing village and an old dock. The development of the peninsula has been very significant as most of the shore-side properties are now hotels, resorts and water sports operators.
The remaining mangrove marsh still lies at the western side of the entrance. Tanjung Benoa is located 15 kilometres from the international airport but if you are already staying within the Nusa Dua cluster, it is just few steps away from the west gate.
Foods in Bali
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 will see KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Starbucks. Interestingly, the menus are often highly adapted to the local tastes. The menu at Pizza Hut looks nothing like one you find in western countries.
Balinese food: 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:
- Babi guling — roast suckling pig. A large ceremonial dish served with rice that is usually ordered several days in advance, but also often available at night market stalls and selected restaurants.
- Bebek betutu — literally “darkened duck”, topped with a herb paste and roasted in banana leaves over charcoal. The same method can also be used for chicken, resulting in ayam betutu.
- Lawar — covers a range of Balinese salads, usually involving thinly chopped vegetables, minced meat, coconut and spices. Traditionally, blood is mixed into this dish but it is often omitted for the more delicate constitutions of visitors. Green beans and chicken are a particularly common combination.
- Sate lilit — minced seafood satay, served wrapped around a twig of lemongrass.
- Urutan — Balinese spicy sausage, made from pork.
Hotels and Stay:
Bali has, without a doubt, the best range of accommodation in Indonesia, from Rp60,000 per night ($6) losmens to US$4,000 per night super-homes.
The backpackers tend to head for Kuta, which has the cheapest digs on the island. However, if the accommodation is located near a night club they can be noisy at night. One quiet and clean place in the cheaper category is Hotel Oka in Jalan Padma in Legian, only a kilometre from the night clubs of Kuta and walking distance from the beach.
Many of the numerous five-star resorts are clustered in Nusa Dua, Seminyak and Ubud. Sanurand Jimbaran offer a fairly happy compromise if you want beaches and some quiet. 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 a good range of accommodation. The newest area to start offering a wide range of accommodation is Uluwatu which now boasts everything from surfer bungalows to the opulent Bulgari Hotel. Further north on the west coast is the district of Canggu, which offers many traditional villages set among undulating rice fields and a good range of accommodation. For rest and revitalisation, visit Amed, an area of peaceful fishing villages on the east coast with some good hotels and restaurants, or head for the sparsely populated areas of West Bali.
Thanks to Bali’s balmy climate, many hotels, bungalows and villas offer open-air bathrooms, often set in a lush garden. They look amazing and are definitely a very Balinese experience, but they may also shelter little uninvited guests and are best avoided if you have a low tolerance for critters.
It is important to understand the tax and service charge that hotels are obliged to levy by Indonesian law. All high-end and mid-range (and a fair proportion of budget) hotels will levy a 21% tax and service charge on the room rate (the so-called “plus plus”). When you make a booking, you should always ask whether the rate quoted includes or excludes this. Simple budget homestays/losmen and informal accommodation are not obliged to levy these charges. The 21% consists of 11% sales tax which goes to the government and a 10% service charge which goes into a pool shared between the staff.
About the budget
A meal in a basic tourist-oriented restaurant will be around Rp 20,000-50,000/person. In a local restoran or warung the same meal might be about Rp 15,000 or less. Simple warungs sell nasi bungkus (a pyramid shaped paper-wrapped parcel of about 400 g of rice with several tasty extras-to take away) for as little as Rp 3,000-5,000. One very reliable option is nasi campur (rice with several options, chosen by the purchaser) for about Rp 10,000-15,000. Note that rice is often served at ambient temperature with the accompanying food much hotter, this is common practice in Indonesia.
At the other end of the scale, Bali is home to number of truly world-class fine-dining restaurants. Seminyak is home to many of the trendy independent options, and elsewhere on the island, the better five-star resorts have their own very high quality in-house restaurants with prices to match.
At all but the cheapest local restaurants, it is normal for 10% government sales tax and 5% service charge to be added to your bill. Some restaurants include this in the price, but most expressly state these plus plus terms.
Few Emergency Phone Numbers:
- Ambulance: ☎ 118.
- Indonesian Red Cross (PMI), free ambulance service. ☎ +62 361 480282.
- Police: ☎ 110.
- Search & Rescue team: ☎ 115 or 151, +62 361 751111.
- Tourist Police: ☎ +62 361 754599 or +62 361 763753
- Bali Police HQ: Jl WR Supratman, Denpasar. ☎ +62 361 227711 .
- Badung Police HQ: Jl Gunung Sanghyang, Denpasar. ☎ +62 361 424245.
- Police stations:
- Denpasar: Jl Ahmad Yani. ☎ +62 361 225456.
- Sanur: Jl By Pass Ngurah Rai. ☎ +62 361 288597.
- Kuta: Jl Raya Tuban. ☎ +62 361 751598.
- Nusa Dua: Jl By Pass Nusa Dua. ☎ +62 361 772110.