Bali, Indonesia – Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Bali

A temple by a lake in Bali, Indonesia.  

Updated May 2nd, 2018.

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 look hard enough, you can still find it, Bali is not the peaceful tropical island that you imagine it to be.

The island is big for starters (it would take around 12 hours to drive around the whole island) and there can be serious traffic jams, from whizzing motorbikes to fancy sports cars in the queue. Like many of the most popular islands in Southeast Asia, Bali suffers from pollution problems, with exhaust fumes and litter-strewn beaches.

The south of the island gets the majority of tourists and splaying out from the city of Denpasar (the location of the airport), the beach resorts of Kuta, Seminyak and Sanur are overly developed with many shopping malls, restaurants and big highways.

But don’t let us ruin the image of this island paradise for you! (The island of Bali still came in eighth place in our 50 Best Islands in Southeast Asia Poll!)

Despite the crowds (which mainly descend on the island all in one go during high season!) there is a hell of a lot to be discovered on Bali if you’re feeling adventurous… The north and west regions are a far-cry from the tourist-clad beaches of the south and the offshore islands of Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan remain natural havens with little tourist infrastructure.

As Bali is such a big island with an abundance of activities to try such as surfing, yoga, cooking classes, motorbike adventures, diving, snorkelling, island hopping and much more… this guide to backpacking in Bali is intended as an overview only. (Give us a break – its already 7,000 words!)

We will give a short summary of each of the most popular places to base yourself during your stay in Bali and the experiences on offer! If you have any additional tips for travellers to Bali, please share them in the comments below!

A girl looks out from her balcony at Uluwatu, whilst backpacking Bali.
A girl looks out from her balcony at Uluwatu, whilst backpacking Bali.

When to visit Bali?

High season in Bali corresponds with school holidays and public holidays in the West with July-August, Easter and Christmas/New Year being particularly busy times to visit. For backpackers, the best times to visit Bali are April, May, June and September when the weather is dry and less humid and activities and accommodation can be heavily discounted sometimes up to 50% off!

For divers and snorkelers, these months are also the best time to visit as visibility in the ocean is at its best. Manta Rays can be spotted in Bali from March – June, while the Mola Mola, the unusual looking ocanic sun-fish is most likely to be swimming around Balinese waters from mid-June to early October, with July and August being the best months.

The rainy season begins in October, although it doesn’t really kick in until November when rainfall is at its highest. The monsoon lasts until March, although it shouldn’t put you off visiting as many days are sunny with afternoon downpours and the island can still be enjoyed – with much fewer crowds!

(The rainy season in Bali is actually opposite to many other parts of Southeast Asia who have their high season between October – March.)

Read this article about why we love low season here!

Food and drink in Bali

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 Goreng (a spicy fried rice) or Mei Goreng (fried noodles) to come at the price you want – tell them you want a 15’000IR (roughly $1.50) meal and they should be able to make it for you!

Bali’s most expensive drink (one of the world’s most expensive beverages!) is Kopi Luwak (or cat poop coffee). The coffee beans are first ingested by a civet cat and then pooped out to create a unique flavour that has long been thought of as an exotic delicacy sold all over the world in stores such as Harrods as a premium product.

Recently, however, the kopi-producing industry has come under scrutiny as its battery farms have been criticised for animal cruelty. Read more in this Guardian article.

WARNING: Be careful about drinking homemade arak (the local spirit) in Bali, the Gili Islands or elsewhere in Indonesia as the drink can contain methanol, the purest form of alcohol (ethanol) yet a far more dangerous version. There have also been rumours of toxic substances such as mosquito repellant being added to the brew.

There have been several deaths of backpackers in recent years after drinking arak in Bali and the Gili Islands. (We actually know someone who died – this is a real warning) Our advice? Avoid altogether!

Top Experiences in Bali:

Bali, Indonesia – Nicknamed “Island of the Gods!”

Places To Stay & Things to do in Bali: (South to North!)

SOUTH BALI:

Kuta – For Party Animals & Newbie Surfers

  • Go if: You’re not offended by T-shirts that read “What part of deep throat don’t you understand.”
  • Avoid if: You’re not looking for a Balinese version of Magaluf (or Cancun for our American friends.)
The busy streets of Kuta, Bali.
The busy streets of Kuta, Bali.

Kuta (not to be confused with Kuta in Lombok) is Bali’s original tourist hotspot and still to this day attracts hoards of tourists from all over the world. It’s the first stop in Bali for many due to its close proximity to the airport. Many travellers come to seek out Kuta’s notorious party scene (don’t say we didn’t warn you!).

During the day, bars, spas and discount stalls selling knock-off goods and t-shirts with tacky slogans will greet you as you step onto the busy streets of Kuta… At night, you’ll find yourself surrounded by drunken holiday-makers and, unfortunately, litter-strewn beaches. (Sadly, Kuta was voted the 5th worse place to visit in the whole of Southeast Asia in a recent Readers Poll.)

But what the beaches and tourists of Kuta lack, the Balinese locals certainly make up for in their kind and friendly welcomes… Plus, Kuta Beach is actually one the best (and cheapest) places on the island if you’re wanting to learn how to surf!

Things to do in Kuta, Bali:

Surfs Up! The long waves that crash on to Kuta beach are perfect for surfing, so it’s no surprise that pretty much every other shop sells surfboards or is a surf school. The beach can be pretty overbearing with beginner surfers but it’s a cheap place to learn, and you’ll receive the best type of teaching from locals, who know the waves and Kuta Beach like the back of their hand.

Check out these cheap accommodation + surf packages on our website – Organised by local company Stoked Surf, these surf and accommodation packages are great for beginners and budget backpackers. The surf school is located in the heart of Kuta and packages can also include yoga classes if you fancy it.

They also offer really cool ‘surfing safaris’ where you get to explore the best surfing spots on the island with local knowledgeable guides. (For beginners or more advanced surfers.)

If you’re just looking for a taster, you can book yourself a 2-hour surf lesson with GetYourGuide here.

Learning to surf in Bali, Indonesia.
Learning to surf with Stoked Surf in Bali, Indonesia.

Escape the crowds of Kuta Beach: If you’re after a quiet sunbathe then Kuta beach is definitely not for you. Instead, head to Pandawa Beach or ‘Secret Beach’ as the locals originally dubbed it (sadly it’s not so secret these days!).

Concealed behind impressive limestone cliffs, it’s crystal clear waters and white sandy beach are perfect for those looking to spend a peaceful day sunbathing or enjoying the exotic view. Rent a kayak to explore the ocean further or relax with a fresh coconut from the local vendors.

Cool off at a water park: Whilst it might not score too highly on the cultural ratings, Waterbom is a highly rated water park and a must visit if you’re a fan of waterslides and rides. A great way to cool off from the often stifling Bali heat, you’re guaranteed a day packed full of fun and thrills.

And if getting soaked on their 22 rides isn’t your thing, they have a relaxing swim up bar which is the perfect spot for some people watching. Get the Instant Access Ticket ($26.25) or the Express Entry Ticket for access to all areas of the park and all rides, plus 100,000 rupiahs to spend inside the park ($42 USD).

Turn your life Upside Down: This kooky activity will provide you with some Instagram-worthy photos as Upside Down World compromises of seven rooms where, as you guessed it, everything is upside down. The furniture and décor have been purposefully designed to be the wrong way up so that you when you take a photo you look as though you have superhuman powers and can defy gravity! (Worth a visit for the Instagrams!)

Rafting in Bali
Rafting in Bali makes for a fun day out!

Go Rafting! White Water Rafting adventures on the Ayung River can be organised from Kuta. This rafting day trip with GetYourGuide costs just $30 USD and includes free pick-up and an Indonesian buffet lunch.

Visit Tanah Lot Temple (pictured at the top of this page): From Kuta, it’s less than an hour’s drive to one of Bali’s most iconic sights, Tanah Lot Temple. You can take a tour like this one to visit all of Bali’s UNESCO World Heritage sites in one day.

Although we do recommend exploring independently if you have time. If you’re on a tight time schedule and want to see as many cultural sights as you can in one day, this is a good option, especially as you get to skip the queues that form outside Bali’s temples.

Places To Stay in Kuta:

As Kuta’s popularity continues to grow so does the number of hostels sprouting up each year. With so many to choose from, start by deciding whether you would rather be in amongst the hustle and bustle or opt for a quieter place just a few minutes out of town.

Dorm rooms start from as little as 70,000 IDR ($5 USD) but if you fancy some privacy or just want a night of sleep undisturbed by snoring or drunken roommates returning in the early hours, many offer private rooms for not much more.

OUR PICK! Nau Here: Just a ten-minute walk from the main streets of Kuta, Nau Here is a bright and modern hostel offering dorms and private rooms to backpackers. From fresh towels, to free shampoo and shower gel in the showers, Nau Here provides everything you need for a smooth stay in Kuta. A favourite on the Bali backpacking route! Read a full review of Nau Here.

Find Cheap Hotel Deals in Kuta: Search 490 properties in Kuta on Booking.com.

Food and Drink in Kuta:

Wonderful Warungs: After spending no less than half an hour on Indonesian soil you’ll have probably already walked passed 20 Warungs (restaurants). Typically family owned, a Warung is a traditional small restaurant that serves up authentic Indonesian food and is normally really cheap.

When staying in Kuta be sure to check out Warung Hati, a favourite amongst returning tourists. They serve up a mean Mei Goreng (Indonesian style noodles) and can tailor each and every dish to their customer’s spice tolerance!

Budget Breaker: After a night out on Kuta’s tiles, treat yourself to an amazing breakfast at Crumb & Coaster. A lovely café serving vegetarian and vegan-friendly dishes as well as the finest coffee in town, your day is set to be a good one after a breakfast treat here. Their thick shakes and all day breakfasts will leave you planning your next visit!

Party time: We couldn’t write a guide to Kuta without giving the partyscene a mention. Sky Garden is probably the most famous bar in Kuta, if not the whole of Bali. It has played host to many top DJs and often puts on big events, but don’t go there if you’re looking for a tasteful night out! Expect cheesy music and cheap drinks but with free entry and a prime location, it’s just one of those places you have go at least once, right?

Sanur – For Chilled Out Travellers

  • Go if: You’re looking for a pleasant and quiet beach resort town with a local feel.
  • Avoid if: You’re looking for any excitement. For those dreamy tropical beaches – look elsewhere.
Sanur Beach, Bali
A more local feel at Sanur Beach, Bali.

Sanur is Kuta’s next door neighbour. Often nicknamed ‘Snore’ or ‘Sanbore’ in contrast to Kuta’s pumping nightlife, Sanur is home to many expats and attracts an older, less party-mad crowd than Kuta.

Although the long sandy beach is not great for swimming, Sanur does provide a much more chilled out places to stay with a decidedly more local feel… (For a great accommodation option, Little Pond Homestay has very well priced rooms and a small swimming pool.)

For food in Sanur, there’s an excellent selection of warungs (family-owned restaurants) and a night market for cheap, tasty street foods. Make sure you try Babli Guling, a celebration dish of roast pig, rice & sambal. (A very good warung is opposite MacDonalds at the entry to Sanur beach road.) For food lovers, check out this 4-hour Foodie Cycling Tour in Sanur.

Taman Festival, Bali’s Abandoned Water Park: 4 km north of Sanur, you’ll find one of Bali’s strangest attractions; an abandoned water park. (After the discovery of Hue’s Thuy Tien Lake, they’re becoming quite a thing amongst backpackers in Southeast Asia!) With its disused slides and impressive artwork, it’s an urban explorer’s dream. If you’re an Urbex fan you’ll want to check out our spooky archives here.

Sanur is also a good jumping off point for Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida and The Gili Islands!

Find Cheap Hotel Deals in Sanur: Search 480 properties in Sanur on Booking.com.

Seminyak – For Flashpackers and Expats

  • Go if: You’re looking for a posh hotel, expensive cocktails and trendy bars.
  • Avoid if: You don’t want to blow your entire budget for Southeast Asia on one week in Seminyak!
Travellers lounge on trendy Seminyak Beach, Bali.

Just a little further north up the coast from Kuta, Seminyak is a lively place, with trendy bars, restaurants and resorts. It’s considered to be more stylish than Kuta and is a big hit with flashpackers and wealthier tourists as it’s home to the island’s luxury hotels and upmarket five-star beach resorts. It’s one of the most expensive places to stay on the island.

There are also some fancy restaurants and boutique fashion stores lining Seminyak’s streets that are a stark contrast to Kuta’s backpacker grunge. Seminyak is a favourite amongst expats In Bali who have opened businesses here and spend their days looking cool in the cafés and beaches. However, those of you wanting to backpack Bali on a budget should look elsewhere…

Find Hotel Deals in Seminyak: Search 1485 properties in Seminyak on Booking.com.

Canggu – For Surfers and Digital Nomads

  • Go if: You’re a digital nomad hipster looking for the best place in Bali to base yourself long-term.
  • Avoid if: You hate hipsters.
Canggu Beach, Bali
The quieter Canggu Beach, Bali.

Close to the beach with a hipster vibe, chilled out Canggu, 20 minutes north of Seminyak, has become popular recently with long-term travellers and digital nomads who get themselves a cheap apartment with a sea view and set up a tropical base for a few months in paradise! Check out this guide by our pals Goats on the Road to Canngu for digital nomads.

Canggu is a great place to while away a few days, take a yoga class or treat yourself to a massage (or two!), and it’s perfectly placed to visit many of the island’s sights while staying away from the noise of Kuta.

With much quieter beaches than Kuta and Seminyak and decent waves, surfing is a popular activity in Canggu, as well as yoga, with plenty good value for money yoga centres. For a yoga retreat within your backpacker budget, check out Serenity Eco Yoga Guesthouse who offer a 6-day yoga retreat with accommodation and food from $415 USD all in.

Find Cheap Hotels in Canngu: Search 1018 properties in Canngu on Booking.com.

SOUTHEAST BALI 

Padangbai – For Budget Backpackers and Divers

  • Go if: You’re a backpacker looking for cheap accommodation and a diving scene with easy access to the Gili Islands.
  • Avoid if: Plastic on the beach upsets you. (Not always the case as efforts to control Bali’s plastic waste are ongoing!)
Dive Boat - AquaMarine Bali
A dive boat heads out for a day’s diving from Padangbai, Bali.

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

Places to stay in Padangbai, Bali:

OUR PICK! A good place to stay in Padangbai is Topi Inn, situated at the furthest end of the beachfront road. A typically colourful bar and restaurant area downstairs, upstairs there is 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 a cocktail 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.

Topi Inn can also help to arrange for you one of the cultural classes or courses on offer in Padangbai – learn to batik, create silver jewellery, dance to traditional music or learn to play the drums like a local!

Find Cheap Hotels in Padangbai: Search 33 properties in Padangbai on Booking.com.

Diving in Padangbai, Bali:

There are lots of dive shops in Padangbai that will get you kitted out for a 3-day Open Water Diver Course. We work with AquaMarine Diving located in Padangbai who offer dive courses, fun dives and dive safaris. For beginners, there are many shallow dive sites around this area that have colourful corals and calm waters teeming with underwater life, perfect for beginners.

It’s no surprise that with prices in Bali often being higher for food and accommodation than elsewhere in SE Asia, the PADI Open Water Diver Course is also more expensive. The cheapest we’ve found on the island is the course with AquaMarine Diving, Bali at $495 USD.

You will need a buddy to do the course with though as there’s a minimum of two people per course, or you can make friends when you arrive and do the course together!

Padangbai is also a major port for the public ferry from Bali to Lombok and many of the fast boats to the Gilis. This speed boat service will get you there in 2.5 hours and pick you up from your hotel.

EAST BALI

Amed and Tulemban – For Divers and Laid-Back Travellers

  • Go if: Snorkeling and SCUBA diving are your thing.
  • Avoid if: You want Instagram-worthy white sandy beach shots.
The black sands of Amed Beach, Bali.
The black sands of Amed Beach, Bali.

Head for the east coast for laid-back lifestyle, diving and black sand beaches. Amed and Tulemban, along the north east coast of the island, are quiet, old fishing villages, catering to relaxed travellers and holidaymakers 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. Check out the beachside warungs for fresh fish cooked Bali style over coconut shells.

One of the most popular places to stay in Amed is 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.

OUR PICK! Three Brothers (Bobby’s Villas) offers beachfront bungalows and includes 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 their guitars on the beach! Double rooms are around $18 USD a night depending on the time of year, the family bungalows (sleeps up to four people) is approx. $30 USD.

Find Cheap Hotels in Amed: Search 212 properties in Amed on Booking.com.

Diving and more in Amed, Bali:

Amed is also popular for its diving, in particular, the awesome wreck dive that lies just offshore, the U.S.A.T Liberty Wreck. The famous Liberty Wreck is 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. Find out more about the wreck dive here.

Local underwater life also includes turtles, reef sharks and fantastic hard & soft corals as well as healthy Anemones. Check out more dive trips with AquaMarine Diving that take you to the shipwreck and other awesome dive sites across the island.

Mola Mola, Oceanic Sunfish in Bali
The mola-mola (or oceanic sunfish) is a seasonal visitor to Bali’s waters. Best spotted July-August.

If you’re not a diver and prefer snorkelling, snorkelers also have plenty of areas to visit, including the liberty shipwreck at low tide.

Oh, and while you’re in East Bali, why not visit the weird Bat Cave of Goa Lawah Temple on this day trip!

CENTRAL BALI

Ubud – For Hippies and Yogis

  • Go if: You like café latte, vegan brownies and Kundalini yoga classes.
  • Avoid if: You don’t want to spend a week’s worth of accommodation on café latte, vegan brownies and Kundalini yoga classes.
Ubud, Bali – the perfect place to strike the ridiculous ‘I’m a local’ traveller pose!

Ubud, away from the coast and up in the mountains, is a beautiful and artistic town, with a thriving tourism industry and stunning landscapes. (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.

You can also rent a motorbike or bicycle and enjoy the countryside surrounding the town centre – it takes only minutes to get away from the tourist attractions and get lost amongst rice paddies and rolling hillsides!

Recently, Ubud has become a centre for yoga, meditation and the holistic arts. The popular Yoga Barn has a variety of excellent, but rather expensive yoga classes, everything from Kundalini to Yin yoga.

In addition, the annual Bali Spirit Festival draws yogis and musician every year to enjoy a celebration of yoga, music, arts and general hippie stuff! It’s well worth it if you happen to be in Ubud in March/April. (See more below).

Read more about Yoga & Meditation in Bali and Southeast Asia here.

Rice fields -Depa-House-Ubud
The rice terraces of Ubud, Bali.

Places to stay in Ubud:

There are plenty of home-stays and cheap guesthouses just off Monkey Forest Road, as well as more expensive luxury hotels with swimming pools and decadent views looking over the rice fields. Ubud Terrace is a decent middle-budget option, for $20 USD 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.

OUR PICK! Depa House is a lovely, sociable place to stay nestled right in the heart of Ubud. It was voted best hostel in the whole of Indonesia on Hostel World in 2016! Spacious private rooms with free delicious breakfast and friendly staff who will help you to arrange any trips and tours that you like, it’s great value for money for budget travellers who are looking for a little more comfort.

Find Cheap Hotels in Ubud: Search 1,872 properties in Ubud on Booking.com. (1,872 properties! Can you believe there are that many places to stay in such a small place?)

Things to do in Ubud:

Monkey Forest in Ubud: Get up and close with hundreds of monkeys and a few picturesque temples at Monkey Forest in Ubud. Be warned though, as 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. Price – 20,000 IR.

The Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali.
The Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali.

Campuhan Ridge Walk: 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 before the sun gets fierce.

Tegallalang Rice Terraces: The most famous rice terraces to visit in the whole of Bali are the Tegallang Rice Terraces, just north of Ubud, which you can visit on a group tour from the town, or hire a motorbike and make your own way there. Or, why not reach them by electric bike!

Take a Cooking Class: Being the cultural heart of Bali, there are many cooking classes that will show you how to make authentic Balinese food in a local setting, most of them included a trip to the market, visit to a local house or temple and cost around $30 USD or under.

Check out Subak Cooking Class and Jambangan Bali Cooking Class. Or, this one at $30 USD at an organic farm in Ubud. All classes normally involve pick-up and of course you get to eat all of the delicious food that you cook!

Museums in Ubud: Ubud is also home to several museums, with important and historical Balinese artworks. All are around 50,000 IR entry.

Take a day trip to Taro village to see a natural firefly show: A unique tour from Ubud where you’ll be taken to a local village to watch the fireflies dance over the rice fields.

Treat Yourself: If you want to indulge a little in this beautiful place, there are plenty of good-but-cheap spas offering massages, reflexology and various body scrub treatments.

Spiritual Cleansing and Shamanic Healing: With Ubud being a magnet for spiritual seekers, local companies are starting to offer tourists the chance to meet locally famous magic men for shamanic counselling and healing. From Ubud, a visit to the 11th century Goa Gajah Temple is also included (entrance fee separate) as well as a spiritual cleansing at Bali’s Holy Spring Temple.

These tours are becoming more and more popular and they get great reviews. It costs around $85 USD for an intense 8-hour experience. Find out more and book here.

Bali's Holy Spring Temple
Bali’s Holy Spring Temple visited during a spiritual cleaning and shamanic healing tour from Ubud.

Eat like a local! There are plenty of cheap eats alongside the touristy restaurants, Choose from the many warungs (restaurants) on Jl’s (Jalan) Goutama and Karna near the palace. Warung Né is tasty and the slightly more expensive Warung Bernadette offers Javanese meals. Be sure to try the rendang!

Read our Article: Eating Your Way Through Ubud: A Self Guided Food Walking Tour.

If you’re short on time, check out this Best of Ubud Tour where you’ll visit a waterfall, the most beautiful rice terraces and monkey forest all in a day.

NORTH BALI – For second-time Bali visitors

  • Go if: You’ve had enough of the touristy south and want to find the ‘real Bali’.
  • Avoid if: You want to watch the sunset without getting asked to go on a dolphin tour 56 times.
Dolphin spotting in Lovina Bali
Dolphin spotting in Lovina, Northern Bali.

Much less visited than Bali’s centre and southern coast, rural and rugged Northern Bali feels like a completely different island. The atmosphere is decidedly more local and accommodation is much cheaper. The main beach resorts are Pemuteran and Lovina – both fishing villages that are developing rapidly to cater for a growing number of tourists who venture from the over-saturated southern region. Most people choose to stay in Lovina.

Despite the fewer tourists, which is nice, it does mean that the touts have fewer people to pester and so ironically, you are likely to get hassled more often here than in the south. You can’t sit on the beach for 5 minutes in Lovina without being offered a dolphin tour!

Also in northern Bali, you’ll find the old island capital of Singaraja, the second largest town of Bali (after Denpasar) that nobody seems to mention, let alone visit! (Singa = lion. Raja = King. Lion King town!)

The city was founded in 1604 and taken over by the Dutch colonials in 1848 while it was used as a harbour for their ships in and around other parts of Asia. (In 1958 the capital was moved to Denpasar.) Its tree-lined streets and surviving Dutch colonial buildings are worth exploring for a few hours, but not much longer than that!

By far the best thing to do in northern Balli is to hire a motorbike and explore the wild countryside of the north dotted with waterfalls, crater lakes and picturesque villages…

Don’t miss Sekumpul Waterfall, located about one hour inland from Lovina. Widely regarded as Bali’s most beautiful waterfall, it can be visited on a private tour or independently by hiring a motorbike. Gitgit Waterfall is also close by, about 40 minutes drive from Lovina and is definitely worth the journey.

If you haven’t got time to stay in Northern Bali, you could always take a day tour to see the highlights!

Find Cheap Hotels in Lovina: Search 185 properties in Lovina on Booking.com.

WEST BALI – For the Adventurous!

  • Go if: You’re looking for off-the-beaten-track Bali. (And you want to help fill in this very short description.)
  • Avoid if: You don’t do windy roads.

Visited by even fewer tourists, we’re really getting off the beaten track here in Western Bali – the least visited and least populated region of the island. The West of the island is home to West Bali National Park (Bali’s only one) and a large protected nature reserve, both of which are uninhabited and originally founded in 1917 to protect Bali’s endemic bird, the Bali Starling. To enter the National Park foreigners must have a guide. The cost is about 200,000 IDR per person for a 2-hour hike.

For adventure lovers, the diving and snorkelling at Pulau Menjangan, the small island located 8 kilometres of Bali’s North Western shores are spectacular and much less crowded than Bali’s southern dive sites.

The quiet roads of West Bali make for a great road trip along mountainous terrain stopping to photograph coconut plantations, untouched beaches and sleepy fishing villages. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can hire a campervan with Indo Campervan and explore West Bali with some travel buddies!

If you don’t want to go solo on your road trip, why not tour the West in style in a vintage cabriolet VW jeep on this unique trip! The beaches in the West are made up of black volcanic sand and are often deserted. (Balian Beach is a good spot for more advanced surfers!)

BALI’S OFFSHORE ISLANDS – SOUTHEAST

Nusa Lembongan – For Surfers and Snorkelers

  • Go if: You’re a surfer looking for less crowded breaks or a diver looking for Manta Rays.
  • Avoid if: You’re looking for a cheap surf shack – Nusa Lembongan just got expensive!
Coral Reef, Nusa Lembongan
The colourful coral reef at Nusa Lembongan – abundant with sea life.

Nusa Lembongan is the second largest of the smaller, quieter islands just off the south-east coast of Bali. (The others are Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan). The 8km square Nusa Lembongan is a beautiful, quiet island, with serene beaches as well as the famous ‘Manta Point’ dive site and great surf breaks on the north of the island.

All in all, Nusa Lembongan is a great place to get away from the traffic and business of Southern Bali! (The island came 46th in our readers poll of the best islands in Southeast Asia!)

For surfers who are bored of the crowds at Kuta head to Nusa Lembongan for the breaks ominously named ‘Shipwreck’, ‘Lacerations’ and ‘Playground’ (not for beginners.)

Snorkelling is a popular activity in Nusa Lembongan. Boats can be chartered for the day (bargain hard) to go to two, or three celebrated 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.

Diving can be completed at Mangrove point, and also several sites on Nusa Penida (see below). Manta Rays and Mola Molas can be seen at certain times of the year, but conditions can be challenging.

OUR PICK! If you’re looking for a laid-back place to stay, Secret Garden Villas is 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.

Find Cheap Hotels in Lembongan: Search 317 properties in Lembongan on Booking.com.

Getting to Nusa Lembongan:

There are many options to travel the 60-minute journey from Bali to Nusa Lembongan 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.

If you’re interested in visiting Nusa Lembongan just for the day to see its treasures, check out this snorkelling trip from Bali to Nusa Lembongan on GetYourGuide.

Nusa Penida – For Nature Lovers

  • Go if: You’re looking to get away from it all and find some peace and bloody quiet! (Great to explore by motorbike!)
  • Avoid if: You want luxury or half-decent beach-front accommodation.
Nusa Penida Bali
The rugged coast of Nusa Penida, Bali.

Nusa Penida is the largest of the three islands which lie off Bali’s south-east coast and is the least known and least visited of all three islands. There is less infrastructure here and a much more natural vibe as the island is home to a bird sanctuary, seaweed farming and just a few places to stay. (The island was voted 16th in our 50 best islands in Southeast Asia poll.)

The island is also famous for the nearby Manta Point which is a Manta Ray cleaning station and one of the best places in Southeast Asia to spot these amazing creatures (best season March – June). You can take a diving trip or a snorkelling trip such as this one which includes pick-up from your hotel in Bali, lunch and a visit to the beautiful Crystal Bay included.

A huge Manta Ray - Diving with AquaMarine Bali
The enormous Manta Rays of Manta Point, Bali.

The wild and rugged beauty of Nusa Penida offers plenty for the adventurous traveller with trekking, birdwatching, biking, snorkelling and diving. There is a virgin rainforest in the centre of the island, which is called the Tembeling Forest, home to many wildlife and bird species.

The north and the north-west coast is home to many deserted white sandy beaches while the south coast has spectacular white limestone cliffs – a stark contrast to Southern Bali’s crowded shores! You can rent a motorbike for around 60’000 IR/day to explore the island (200 square km) but be careful as the roads can get very bumpy, especially in the rainy season!

Find Cheap Hotels in Nusa Penida: Search 132 properties in Lembongan on Booking.com.

Bali’s Volcanoes – Gunung Agung and Gunung Batur

  • Climb if: You’re up for a challenge!
  • Avoid if: You like your lie-ins.

Gunung Agung is the highest and holiest volcano on Bali standing at 3,142 meters. If you’ve been thinking of travelling to Bali, you will have probably heard much about this volcano in the news lately as it last erupted on 27th November 2017 causing the evacuation of many people from the island and many flight delays.

Before the volcano began to bubble, backpackers were able to climb the volcano which took 5-7 hours up and down. (The Gunung Agung Trek began from Besakih Temple.)

Gunung Batur, standing at 1717 metres, located in the north-east of the island, is actually Bali’s most active volcano. It is a popular trek amongst backpackers and takes about 2-3 hours to the summit by those with a relative degree of fitness. Check out this Mount Batur sunrise trek with breakfast atop!

This Mount Batur sunrise tour includes a trip to the hot spring afterwards!

Mount Batur, Bali.
Mount Batur, Bali.

Treks to Bali’s volcanoes can be arranged from most travel agencies taking in the must-see sunrise views and temple stops en route – due to the fact that both volcanoes are sacred in Balinese, Hindu culture. Be warned you will have to rise very early to get those sunrise views!

If you’re worried about getting out of bed on time, you can also book a 2-day camping trip to Mount Batur where your guide will wake you up right on time for a spectacular mountain sunrise!

It is also possible to climb Mount Batur without a guide, check out this blog for info.

Festivals and Events in Bali

MARCH-APRIL – Nyepi

Nyepi is the start of the Hindu New Year and Bali’s unique ‘Day of Silence’ which takes place every year for a full 24 hours, starting at 6 am. It’s a very unusual time to visit Bali as you’ll see the islands busy streets and beaches become empty as everyone adheres to the restrictions of this holy day.

For one day only, talking, travelling, working and eating are restricted. Tourists are expected to respect the day with bars, restaurants and the airport closing.

MARCH: APRIL – The Annual Bali Spirit Festival

The Bali Spirit Festival takes place every March/April in the cultural heart of Ubud, Bali, drawing thousands of Yogis, musicians and hippies from across Asia. The Festival is a collaboration of yoga, music, singing, dance, meditation and workshops dealing with healing and holistic therapies.

The venue is stunning, surrounded by rice fields and palm trees and there’s a mix of local and internationally renowned musicians who play the festival every year. Definitely, check it out if you’re there!

International celebration of Yoga, Dance and Music
The Bali Spirit Festival – An International celebration of Yoga, Dance and Music.

MAY – Usaba Sambah

Bali’s ‘fighting festival’ takes place every year in the walled village of Tenganan. It’s a must for culture vultures with mock fights, performances and dancing.

JUNE – Bali Arts Festival

Across the island, during the month of June, you’ll see various cultural performances and art installations. The festival is a proud celebration of Balinese culture and it’s a great time to visit!

Discover more festivals and events in Southeast Asia here.

Getting around the Island

Although Bali is relatively small, transport can be hard without your own wheels, be it a car or a motorbike. There is a very limited public transport infrastructure, although Perama offers 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 Southeast Asia due to higher tourism on the island. (Although motorbikes cost around $5 USD a day to hire which is comparable to Thailand and Vietnam.)

If you do hire a car or motorbike, be very cautious and make sure your travel insurance covers you to drive as accidents and fatalities are around eight times higher than Europe, North America or Australia. If you’re not confident enough to hire a motorbike alone, you can also take private motorbike tours like this one.

Getting to Bali

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, Denpasar (DPS) Airport, which is in the town of Denpasar in the south of the island. At the airport, there are fixed rate taxis to just about anywhere on Bali you want to go. From other islands nearby in Indonesia, such as Lombok, you can arrange a boat to Bali (most landing in Amed or Padangbai).

Find cheap flights to Bali: We always search for flights via the websites Skyscanner, or Momondo, to see which gives us the best price! Budget airline AirAsia will likely have the cheapest deals from elsewhere in Southeast Asia, but it’s good to compare.

Awesome Group Tours to Bali and Beyond

For first timers to Bali or for those who want to meet other backpackers and travel in a group, we’d recommend the following tours by our partners Tru Travels:

10 Day Bali Experience – On this group tour you’ll visit Kuta Ubud and the Gili Islands. At $755 USD it’s great value for money for a 10-day adventure with all accommodation and activities included (cooking class, surf lesson, boat trip, all transfers including airport pick-up.

18 Day Bali and BeyondFor a more in-depth Bali experience, this 18-day trip will take you from Canggu to Ubud and the Gili Islands, as well as the island of Lombok and some of the lesser explored islands of Komodo National Park. It’s $1,745 USD for 18 days all accommodation and activities included.

Waterfall in Bali, Indonesia.
Explore the delights of Bali in a group on this adventure-packed 18-day island tour!

9 Day Komodo Island Hopper – This tour is for those travellers who have already explored Bali and want to travel around some of the nearby islands in a group. You’ll visit Lombok, Sumbawa, Santonda Island, Flores and more off the beaten track islands on this island hopping adventure!

3-7 Day Bali Surfing Tours (with Stoked Surf Bali) – Suitable for total beginners or more advanced surfers, these cool surfing safaris mean that you can explore Bali’s beautiful beaches while having a local guide show you the best waves! From more popular surfing spots to off the beaten track bays, this is a great way to discover Bali. Accommodation, transport and guide included for a very reasonable price!

For more group adventures and experiences in Bali and Indonesia, check out all of the trips on our website here.

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. The fast boat takes around 2 hours, and you shouldn’t pay more than 250,000 IR (most places start the bargaining at 600,000 IR for a single trip.

Don’t be fooled, the agencies only pay 200,000 IR themselves, anything above this is commission!) There are three Gili Islands which you can check out our guides for here: Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno. (Gili Trawangan is the backpacker’s favourite!)

If you want to book online beforehand, many agencies online will sell you tickets at an inflated price… If you want to book online beforehand, many agencies online will sell you tickets at an inflated price…

Have you heard of Gili Gede? This ‘secret Gili’ is actually closer to Lombok’s shores and is much less visited than the three Gili’s above! You can book boat tickets directly from Bali to Gili Gede and then hop over to Lombok to continue your adventure there! Find accommodation on little Gili Gede here.

Lombok:

Head over to Lombok, roughly 1½ hours by fast boat from Bali, the ticket price is the same. Again, prices online are inflated so it’s best to go to a travel agency while you’re in Bali and barter hard! Bali to Lombok boat tickets online are listed at, yep, you guessed it $52.60!

Agencies also offer ‘slow boat’ tickets for approximately 100,000 IR, 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 directly from Bali to Lombok or the Gili Islands. Read our guide to Lombok here.

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The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Bali

Contributors to the Bali Guide: Laura Richards, Simon Rogers, Ben Turland, Georgia Wilkinson & John Reed. If you have anything to add to help people explore Bali, please comment below!

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