K.C. DERMODY / Jun 24

Travel Guide to Bali

K.C. DERMODY / Jun 24

Bali is the most visited of the 17,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago, often described as a nirvana, with diverse landscapes that include beautiful beaches, lush green rice fields, sparkling lakes, and emerald mountains laced with magnificent waterfalls. There are ancient temples to explore, exotic wildlife to marvel at, delicious cuisine like babi guling (pig roasted over a fire) to indulge in, and lots of friendly, smiling locals. Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling Eat, Pray, Love and the subsequent film inspired hordes of tourists seeking inner peace or spiritual enlightenment to visit, but all types of travelers will enjoy it here. 

Having visited multiple times, including in March 2020 when COVID disruptions unexpectedly extended my trip making it difficult to leave (not the I’m complaining!), I’ve put together this Bali travel guide to help you make the most of the experience. Discover when to visit, where to stay, the best things to do in Bali, and more. 

Good to Know

One of the most important aspects of any travel guide is a discussion of safety at the given destination. Bali is generally quite safe with few visitors encountering serious issues but it’s always a good idea to take common sense precautions. Like any tourist-centric place, pickpocketing and other types of thievery can occur. When walking on roadways, drivers on scooters occasionally try to swipe bags so don’t wear a loose handbag on your shoulder, it’s best kept in your hotel. Hold wallets, purses, phones, and other valuables tight or hidden on your person when in crowded areas like ferry and other transportation terminals.

Bali is officially malaria-free but dengue fever is a risk which means it’s a must to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites. Be sure to pack mosquito repellant, ideally labeled “Tropical Strength” as it will have the highest concentration of DEET, an ingredient that’s critical to have when visiting the island. Be aware that tap water cannot be used for drinking or brushing your teeth unless specifically labeled as safe to do so in Bali. One of the best items to have in your luggage is the LARQ water bottle. You’ll want two accessories as well: the PureVis™ UV-C light to purify the water and the LARQ Filtered Cap that you’ll drink through to ensure clean water for hydration.

When to Visit Bali

When you start planning your trip to Bali, you’ll want to consider the best time to visit. It’s easy to avoid the crowds by traveling to one of the island’s more remote regions, which means weather is the most important factor. The island experiences two seasons, the rainy and the dry season with July through August the peak of the busier dry season which runs from April to October. At this time of year, you can expect calm seas and little rain. Avoid the peak of the tourist season by visiting between mid-April and June and you can still enjoy pleasant weather along with potentially cheaper accommodation rates and fewer crowds. 

November through March is the rainy season, a time when there are even fewer tourists, and you’re even more likely to find discounts on accommodation and airfare too. That said, there can be a lot of water, with rainfall averaging between 6 and 12 inches, which means some interior roads might flood, making them inaccessible. In between the rain, however, is usually plenty of sunshine.

Where to Stay

You’ll want to consider the type of setting, your budget, and what you plan to do to choose the best base for staying in Bali. Many book a stay at resorts along the south coast, with happening beach clubs and postcard-perfect beaches, particularly Nusa Dua, Kuta, and Seminyak, but there are excellent accommodation options throughout Bali. Ubud is a hotspot for meditation and yoga with hotels and resorts focused on wellness and culture with verdant rice fields and many waterfalls in the surrounding area. The western, eastern, and northern coasts are where you’ll find some of the most remote resorts, some with luxurious amenities.

Things to Do in Bali

Spend Time on Nusa Dua

Ariel view of Nusa Dua Beach with white sand and clear water
Photo by Dennis van Dalen on Unsplash

Indonesia is home to some idyllic beaches with Nusa Dua Beach one of the top spots for spending time on pristine white sands that edge calm waves. Surprisingly, it remains wonderfully uncrowded. A barrier reef protects the shore from the rough waves of the Indian Ocean making swimming and snorkeling ideal. You’ll see local fishermen heading out from here in their traditional wooden boats – visitors can take advantage of fishing excursions and glass-bottom boat rides.

Hike Mount Batur 

man admiring view on Mount Agung in Bali
Photo by Frankie Spontelli on Unsplash

Mount Batur is an active volcano in the eastern region of Bali that provides one of the most popular places to hike. While those looking for a serious challenge will want to climb Mount Agung, the island’s highest point at over 9,800 feet above sea level, most can easily tackle Batur. I highly recommend that adventurous travelers hit the trail well before dawn to experience the breathtaking sunrise view from over 5,500 feet above sea level. The easy-to-moderate two-hour trek rewards early risers with one of Bali’s best panoramic vistas. Plus, the views along the way are impressive too.

Soak in the Toya Bungkah Hot Springs

wide shot of someone in a boat with mountain and open water in the background
Photo by Robin Canfield on Unsplash

After a hike or any time you want to relax, the Toya Bungkah hot springs are ideal for a soak. Located next to Bali’s largest lake, the crater of Mount Batur, it’s part of a series of hot springs spread around the volcano. You’ll have to endure a bumpy ride into the crater but once there you’ll find the soothing springs and serene mineral pools in temperatures of about 104 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Run by the local community, there’s a lakeside pier for unwinding with majestic views of the lake and the peaks of Batur and Abang in the backdrop. You’ll also find an eatery that serves local fare, including grilled freshwater fish. Your admission fee includes showers, lockers, towels, unlimited use of the pools, and drinks.

Walk Through the Sacred Monkey Forest

Monkey hanging out in tree in Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud
Photo by Khamkéo Vilaysing on Unsplash

The famous Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud offers a unique once-in-a-lifetime experience to get up close to curious Balinese long-tailed monkeys. In this sanctuary with their natural habitat, over a thousand monkeys roam freely, climbing up banyan trees, and all around some magnificent temples. Visitors stroll the paths that wind through the lush rainforest, encountering the animals, including lots of babies that hitch a ride on their mother’s backs and occasionally leap onto the shoulders of passersby. 

Note, you should never walk through with food or attempt to feed them as you will end up with monkeys crawling all over you which is not a pleasant experience.

Explore the Temples

Sculpture in temple in Bali
Photo by Rahim Sof on Unsplash

There are many temples in Bali worth visiting, including Tirta Empul in the Ubud region near the town of Tampaksiring. It’s renowned for its holy spring water that draws Balinese Hindus to take part in a purification ritual known as Meluk. A vast walled courtyard will welcome you to the pools where you can bathe. The complex, built circa 960 AD, also features Hindu temples and gardens. 

Pura Luhur Uluwatu, or Uluwatu Temple, dates back to the 11th century and boasts a spectacular cliffside location on the Buki Peninsula with the waves crashing 200 feet below. It’s one of the best places to watch one of Bali’s famously colorful sunsets. Pura Lempuyang is one of Bali’s most important temples, a direction temple known for maintaining the balance of the universe and protecting the island from evil spirits. The ancient shrine dates back to the 11th century AD and is located in East Bali.

Experience the Tegalalang Rice Terraces

wide view of rice terrace in Bali with sunset
Photo by Sua Truong on Unsplash

Bali’s rice terraces are stunning and a visit to the Tegalalang Rice Terraces is one of the top things to do while you’re here. Visitors can walk through the rice paddies where rice farmers in their woven hats tend to the landscape with dramatic slopes, soaring trees, and endless lush greenery. There are also attractions here, including a zipline and a jungle swing. Capturing a selfie with a “Love Bali” sign, dotted throughout, has become a must for Instagram feeds. As the terraces are always open, plan to arrive just before dawn to capture the early morning rays of the sun before all the tourists arrive.

A Day Trip to Nusa Penida

Ariel shot of Nunsa Penida
Photo by Sneha Chandrashekar on Unsplash

Nusa Penida is a relatively undeveloped island southeast of mainland Bali, easily reached via boat tour from Sanur. A 45-minute ride will reward you with unspoiled white, powdery sand beaches like Kelinghking, a secluded stretch. One of the most photogenic, it lies along the southwest coast in Bunga village, framed by cobalt blue waters and dramatic cliffs. 

Snorkel in an Underwater Paradise

man snorkeling in Bali
Photo by David Henrichs on Unsplash

Bali offers outstanding snorkeling with Manjengan Island near West Bali National Park often ranked among the world’s best. Shared and private boat excursions are available to bring you to this underwater paradise with coral gardens, reef walls, and an abundance of marine life. Everything from reef sharks, pygmy seahorses, and schools of snapper to colorful tropical fish and sea fans can be witnessed here. Plus, the turquoise water is calm and remarkably clear, perfect for everyone from beginners to the advanced.