Say ‘Bali’ to most people and they’ll immediately picture a sun-drenched beach with bamboo huts and hammocks lining the palm fringed coastline, chilled locals supping on fresh coconuts as they meander by. While there is absolutely no doubt that if you want it, you can wile away weeks or months living this postcard-perfect lifestyle, there is also so much more to be discovered on Bali if you’re feeling adventurous…

Surfing baliSurfing Kuta Beach for which Bali is famous all over the world

BaliThe quieter side to Bali: countryside surrounding Ubud, the beach at Padangbai and local monkeys

Places To Stay:


Kuta is the ultimate backpacker hangout. Think surfing, bars, cheap booze, fast-food restaurants – great for a party but get out fast if you want to experience the real Bali. It is however, where you will find the cheapest backpacker digs.

Kuta Beach BaliKuta Beach


Sanur is Kuta’s next door neighbor and a much sleepier place to stay… often nicknamed ‘Snore’ or ‘Sanbore’ in contrast to Kuta’s pumping nightlife. Sanur a good selection of warungs (family owned business), a long beach (although not great for swimming) and a nightmarket for cheap, tasty street foods. It’s also a good jumping off point for Nusa Lembongan and The Gili Islands.

Eat – Babli Guling, a celebration dish  of roast pig, rice & sambal. A very good warung is opposite macdonalds at the entry to Sanur beach road.

Stay – Little pond homestay has very well priced rooms and a small swmming pool.

Beach Sanur BaliThe beach at Sanur


Further up the coast Seminyak is also a lively place, a favorite amongst expats with trendy bars, restaurants and resorts.


Padangbai offers a chilled out small seaside town with some lively backpackers’ places and a small but pleasant beach (the only downside is the sand is pretty course). It also has the advantage of being the main port for boats heading to other islands in Indonesia.

Stay – at Topi Inn, situated at the furthest end of the beachfront road. A typically colorful bar and restaurant area downstairs, upstairs there are a selection of private rooms and ‘dorm’ beds- comfortable mattresses under mozzie-nets on the covered upper terrace, which are a great budget option. The boys working behind the bar are great fun- order an Amak cocktail (the local spirit) and challenge them to a game of chess or Connect 4. Staff can also arrange boat tickets on to other islands for just about the cheapest price going.

Amed and Tulemban

Head for the east coast for laid back lifestyle, diving and black sand beaches. Amed and Tulemban, along the north of the island, are quiet old-fishing villages, catering to travellers and holiday makers alike. There are plenty of cheap digs and cheap eats, plus a few slightly larger hotels that appeal to an older and more family-orientated crowd.

Do – Diving. Many companies work in the area and all will take you to the superb U.S.A.T Liberty  as well as many other local dive sites.Local sealife includes turtles, reef sharks and fantastic hard & soft corals as well as healthy Anemones. Snorkellers also have plenty of areas to visit, including the liberty at low tide.

Eat – check out the beachside warungs for fresh fish cooked Bali style over coconut shells

Stay – Geri Giria Shanti – (you almost certainly will need to book in advance!) An absolute haven of a guest house, run by the beautiful and oh-so-helpful Lise, Geri Giria offers beautiful bungalows with free breakfast, and free tea and coffee all day. Lise and her partner David also run Adventure Divers on the same site, if you’re feeling adventurous. Bungalows with private bathrooms start at 20 Euros a night for a double bed, but they’re happy to add an extra mattress if you ask to make the room a triple.

Three Brothers (Bobby’s Villas)- beach front bungalows and great service from the staff, plus a beautiful pool overlooking the beach- drink a cold beer in the pool while the sun sets over the ocean and locals play guitar on the beach! Double room is around $18 a night depending on the time of year, the family bungalows (sleeps up to four people) is approx. $30.


Ubud, away from the coast and up in the mountains, is a beautiful and artistic town, with a thriving tourism industry. There are plenty of cheap eats alongside the touristy restaurants, and the landscape is stunning. A must-see for fans of the novel ‘Eat, Pray, Love’.

The centre is very congested with taxis touting for business and nose to tail tour buses, but don’t let that put you off as you can walk ten minutes away from the central area and be in the countryside amongst beautiful rice terraced landscapes.

Stay – There are plenty of homestays and cheap guesthouses just off Monkey Forest Road, as well as more expensive hotels. Ubud Terrace is a decent middle-budget option, for $20 a night you get a family room (sleeps up to four people if you ask for an extra mattress) free breakfast and they have a pool set in beautiful leafy grounds.

Do – heading west from the palace and turning off at Hotel Ibah will take you to the Campuhan Ridge Walk. An easy walk for all fitness levels with great views of the valleys, farmers and countryside which after a few kilometres turns into a village. Carry on further and be rewarded with rice fields and a mountain backdrop. Postcard perfect and without the masses of tours at the well known rice terraces.  Bring sunscreen & mosquito repellent and head out early.

Traditional farming in BaliTraditional farming in the Ubud countryside, Bali

Monkey Forest – Get up and close with hundreds of monkeys and a few picturesque temples. These furry little critters will steal anything including hats and sunglasses. Lock up your bags as they can apparently open the zips. Leave your bag at the gate if you have any food with you. A good way to spend an hour and if you’re lucky you may see a religious ceremony at one of the temples. 20’000rp.

Ubud is home to several museums, with important and historical Balinese artworks. All are around 50’000rupiah entry.

Eat – choose from the many warungs on Jl’s (jalan) Goutama and Karna near the palace. Warung Né is tasty and the slightly more expensive Warung Bernadette offers Javanese meals. Good rendang!

Ubud BaliOut walking the back lanes of Ubud

Nusa Lembongan (island off Bali)

Nusa Lembongan is one of the small, quieter islands just off Bali’s mainland, a beautiful, quiet island, with serene beaches as well as the famous ‘Manta Point’ dive site and great breaks on the north of the island, if you feel like getting wet. A great place to get away from the traffic and business of southern Bali.

Do – Snorkel. Boats can be chartered for the day (bargain hard) to go to two, or three popular spots. A cheaper option is to head to Mangrove point and wade into the water from outside Bobo’s Warung. Swim a few hundred metres to the reef where the fish are abundant and friendly. Bobo’s will also rent snorkelling equipment,  sell drinks and lunch.

Dive – diving can be completed at Mangrove point, and also several sites on Nusa Penida.Manta Rays and Mola Molas can be seen at certain times of the year, but conditions can be very challenging.

Surf – For those bored of the crowds at Kuta head to Nusa Lembongan for the breaks ominously named shipwreck, Lacerations and playground. Not for beginners.

Stay – at Secret Garden Villas, a series of cute bungalows hidden amongst the trees. It has its own pool and yoga centre on site, as well as being home to Big Fish Diving.

Getting to Nusa Lembongan: There are many options to travel the sixty minute journey from Bali for all budgets. We have travelled with a company called Perama for 190’000 IND return and found them to run on time, have friendly staff and lifejackets on board. They also run connections to the Gili Islands and Lombok. Always make sure the boats provide lifejackets. Safety is often not the priority in Indonesia.

More Things To Do

  • Volcano Climbing: Gunung Agung (the highest and holiest volcano on Bali standing at 3,142 meters and taking 5-7 hours to climb) or Gunung Batur (more popular and easier trek, 1717 metres or two hours climb) can both be climbed by backpackers with a relative degree of fitness. Treks can be arranged from a travel agency taking in the must-see sunrise views and temple stops along route – due to the fact that both volcanoes are sacred in Balinese, Hindu culture. The Gunuung Agung Trek begins from Besakih temple. Be warned you will have to rise very early to get the sunrise views!
  • Padangbai: Although there are lots of dive shops here, save your diving for elsewhere! Instead, try out one of the cultural classes or courses on offer- learn to batik, create silver jewelry, dance to traditional music or play the drums like a local. (Topi Inn can help arrange most cultural classes)
  • Amed and Tulemban: Dive the famous Liberty Wreck, a US cargo ship sunk during the Second World War. Set your alarms and go for an early morning dive (most dive shops will be happy to arrange a 6.30am dive) to avoid the crowds and see the huge family of bump head fish that swim through the remains.
  • Ubud: Lots to do, although Ubud is extremely touristy and popular with families, so be prepared. Visit the Monkey Forest for an hour or two wandering through the trees and trying to avoid being pickpocketed by the furry critters, or check out a ‘traditional’ dance performance, on every evening at about 7.30pm- there are a couple of venues that host these, all near the football field at the top of Monkey Forest Road. If you want to indulge, there are plenty of good-but-cheap spas offering massages, reflexology and various body scrub treatments. Rent a motorbike or bicycle and enjoy the countryside surrounding the town center- it takes only minutes to get away from the tourist attractions and lost amongst rice paddies and rolling mountainsides.

Cheeky monkey in BaliCheeky monkeys at Ubud Monkey Forest – Watch your belongings!

  • Nusa Lembongan: Go diving off Nusa Lembongan and you will almost certainly see huge Manta rays. Big Fish Diving offer competitive rates. It is also possible to surf on the island, although some of the more popular beaches for surfing suit experienced surfers best.

Food and Drink

You are spoilt for choice in most places on Bali when it comes to food. From local rice and satay dishes at markets, to foods (cooked well) from all over the world, you should find something to suit all taste buds.

As should be expected, western-style dishes and established restaurants are more expensive than eating in markets or warungs (local restaurants). If you eat locally, you can usually ask for dishes like Nasi Goran (a spicy fried rice) to come at the price you want- tell them you want a 15000IR (roughly $1.50) meal and they should be able to make it for you!

Eat – Babli Guling, a celebration dish  of roast pig, rice & sambal. A very good warung is opposite macdonalds at the entry to Sanur beach road.

Getting Around the Island

Although Bali is small, transport can be hard without your own wheels. There is a very limited public transport infrastructure & Perama offer a service aimed at travellers to get to some of the more popular locations (minimum 2pax to travel, usually) If you don’t hire a car you can hire a driver on a daily rate and negotiate transport to a location and include some sightseeing en route. Prices are relatively expensive compared with other areas of Indonesia and South East Asia. Also, the unrelenting Australian tourism on Bali has increased the price of many services from transport to leisure activities.

If you do hire a car or motorbike, be very cautious and make sure your insurance covers you to drive as accidents and fatalities are around eight times higher than Europe, North America or Australia.

Getting There

Getting to and from Bali can be cheap from almost anywhere in South East Asia and Australia as several budget carriers serve the only airport on Bali, Depasar (DPS) airport, which is in the town of Denpensar. At the airport, there are fixed rate taxis to just about anywhere on Bali you want to go.

From other islands nearby in Indonesia, you can arrange a boat to Bali (most landing in Amed or Padangbai).

Where To Go Next?

The Gili Islands: When you’ve had enough of mainland Bali, hop on one of the fast boats from Padangbai or Amed and make the trip out to the Gili Islands, where ‘something for everyone’ couldn’t be more accurate. Check out our guide to Gili Trawangan now. 

The fast boat takes around 2 hours, and you shouldn’t pay more than 250000IR (most places start the bargaining at 600,000 IR for a single trip- please don’t be fooled, the agencies only pay 200,000 IR themselves, anything above this is commission)

Lombok: Or head over to Lombok, roughly 1 ½ by fast boat from Bali, ticket prices the same.

Agencies also offer ‘slow boat’ tickets for approximately 100000IR, but the journey to Lombok takes 4-5 hours from Padangbai and the total journey to the Gili Islands, about 8 hours, including an hour bus journey from the ferry terminal in Lombok to the fast boat that will take you the final part of the crossing. It’s definitely worth the additional cost (roughly $15) to go direct from Bali to Lombok/ the Gilis.

‘Don’t Forget’ Tip: Ferry prices generally have a big mark up via agencies, barter hard.

Words by Laura Richards & photos by Simon Rogers
Latest Update – Ben Turland of Hungry Backpackers

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