Planning a trip to Bali for the first time is not an easy task, so first let’s get you in “Bali mood” with this playlist and let’s get to it. Hopefully this guide will make planning easy and fun for you.
They say that the best things come in small packages and this whimsical little island is pack with things to do and filled with happy kindhearted people. Delicious food is everywhere, the beaches are decadent and the culture is vibrant and colorful. Oh, and did I mention, it’s incredibly affordable? Bali is by far my favorite destination and all that I can think about since I left is going back.
Although it’s not big in size, there’s a lot to see and there’s something for everyone. Seminyak’s seaside is one of Bali’s most popular areas. It has some of the best luxury hotels on the island, relaxing and beautifully designed beach clubs, as well as high-end restaurants, spas and shops. North of Seminyak, Ubud is the perfect yogi retreat. Uluwatu’s gorgeous beaches call surfers, divers and beach bums alike. The most adventurous souls will climb, surf and discover Nusa Penida & Nusa Lembogian. Gypsetters & surfers feel attracted to Canggu’s laid-back vibe. Gili T is a party town with flocks of beer drinking spring breakers while Gili Air is the perfect romantic getaway.
So, whether you want to lay back at a beautiful beach or spa for a day of relaxation, go shopping, explore the jungle and its waterfalls, or practice surfing, diving, snorkeling, chances are you can find it all in Bali!
Planning A Trip To Bali: Transportation, Accomodations, Restaurants, Landmarks and Instagrammable places.
Download this map to your phone to access the locations of every single place mentioned in this guide and some that aren’t 😉
WHEN TO VISIT BALI
I recommend traveling in April, right at the end of the rainy season. The rain is minimal, the weather is not crazy hot and there aren’t an excessive amount of tourists. April is considered low season for Bali, so you’ll have more chances of finding a great deal on plane tickets, too.
About nine months before my trip in April ‘17, I found a ticket leaving from JFK to Denpasar for $600 USD round-trip. A considerably cheaper airfare than the average which ranges between $1,500 – $2,500 dollars for a round-trip to Bali from the United States. So keep an eye out for sales by using websites like Momondo or Hipmunk, or apps like Hitlist to monitor prices, or try a travel search from April through the end of May for best pricing. It’s a small window, but its worth the try. Read this article for ways to save in airfare.
GETTING AROUND BALI
Although I am a strong believer that the best way to explore a place is by driving, for a first time visitor not used to driving on the opposite side of the street, I strongly recommend hiring a driver to cover big distances. Otherwise, you can get away with a scooter for about $4.00 to $10.00 dollars a day to get around town.
Uber is inconvenient, as is not legal pick up times take too long and Taxis are the most expensive form of transportation. However, if you prefer using a cab service download the Blue Bird app to order a cab, instead of hailing it on the street.
Because Bali doesn’t have “real” traffic regulations and traffic lights often seem like mere suggestions, traffic can get overwhelming almost immediately as you pull out of the driveway. So, in my opinion, hiring a driver is totally worth the investment. It’s safer, comfortable, affordable and you’ll be able to enjoy your vacation to the maximum without stressing stressing out everyday about the chaotic traffic. Besides, when visiting a place that sparks spontaneity and has so many great bars, it’s good to have a designated driver to take you home. 😉
Just make sure to do your research ahead of time to find a driver that will pick you up at the airport and take care of you during your stay. Drivers are available all over Bali for about $50.00 dollars per day. This rate includes an 8 to 10 hour-day, a car with A/C, fuel and some even include parking costs.
ProTip: Download WhatsApp to stay in contact with your driver. Almost all the businesses run on this platform.
However, there are a couple of downsides to hiring just any driver: One is the language barrier. Most of them speak minimal English, and when you have a thick accent like mine (imagine trying to have a conversation with Sofia Vergara) it can be like playing charades. So, sometimes it’s easy to have a misunderstanding and end up in the opposite side of town.
True, but it won’t help you with anything else. 🤦🏻♀️
ProTip: Use Google Maps to calculate distances and alternative routes to help you communicate to your driver your expectations for the day.
Another downside is that these guys are hooked up with all the tourist trap gift shops in Bali. They work on commission, getting paid for each tourist they bring in, so if you’re not careful, they’ll try to take you out of your way to visit all of them. This won’t allow you to make the most out of your day because all those stops are time consuming. So, nicely ask the driver you hire to take you directly to your points of interest without any stops. Be very specific with him on how you’d like to spend your day.
ProTip: Provide your driver with an exact address and time of arrival. This can help avoid detours. You wouldn’t want to miss a reservation, a show or the sunset due to a gift shops pit stop.
- Tip your driver at the end of the day as a “thank you” for skipping the gift shops. This can keep him from trying to get a different customer. After all, they are all trying to make a little extra income.
Finding a driver is easy. You can make a quick search online, they’re easy to find on Instagram and most of them will approach you offering their services right outside of the airport. However, if I’ve learned anything on my travels it’s “If I can’t do it on my own, always go with a professional company” – Hiring a charter company is not only safer than getting in the back of a stranger’s car, but the difference in price is minimal. In fact, its often cheaper because they’ll allow you to choose the type and size of the car. Some of the terms vary with charter companies, but the communication is easy and they are more reliable than “freelance drivers.” Plus, for about $10 USD more you can choose to have a fluent English-speaking driver.
A great company to try is The Bali Guideline. They offer a great selection of cars ranging from $38 to $87 USD per day, plus they also offer great tours and have super friendly, professional staff. Plus, they are a one stop shop, offering great guides and tours to the coolest, must-see places in all of Bali. So, be sure to check them out! They’re the best!
Located in South Bali, and about 30 to 40 minutes from the Denpasar Airport, Seminyak is the perfect place to start your trip. It was the first place I visited in Bali and I loved every minute of it. Definitely my favorite area for long-term stays because there’s a little bit of everything and its great for meeting people. Its ambiance is lively and interesting, with visitors and expats from all over the world, but it manages to keep its Balinese identity. It’s definitely geared more toward tourists, but that’s kind of part of its charm.
WHERE TO STAY IN SEMINYAK
Jl. Petitenget, Kerobokan, Kuta Utara, Kerobokan Kelod, Badung, Kabupaten Badung, Bali, Indonesia
(+62 361) 4738917
There are plenty of places to stay in Seminyak, but if you are looking for a budget-friendly, centrally located comfortable and beautiful hotel, I recommend Tony’s Villas. Its located in the heart of Seminyak, across the Potato Head Beach Club and the W hotel. Restaurants, shops and bars are within walking distance and it’s pretty safe to walk at night. For the price I wasn’t expecting it to be much, but it definitely exceeded my expectations.
I stayed in a beautiful villa with a/c, outdoor bathroom, private pool and room service in a great area for about $100.00 a night. I can’t even get a decent room in Fort Lauderdale for less than $180.00, so an entire villa for $100.00 is a pretty good deal. That’s why I thought when I got there it would be falling apart, but no. It was absolutely beautiful, clean, comfortable, with delicious food and friendly staff.
RESTAURANTS IN SEMINYAK
One of the things I enjoyed the most about Seminyak was the restaurant scene. It’s easy to find a beautifully designed restaurant with a cool ambiance and a creative menu. There’s something for everyone, from Babi Guling (Bali’s famous suckling pork) to delicious vegetarian options.
22 Jalan Kayu Aya Seminyak, Bali.
+62 361 738667
Probably one of the most Instagramable restaurants in Seminyak. It has a light and colorful menu, is perfect for brunch and has fruity, refreshing cocktails. Passion fruit & vanilla mojitos, anyone? 🙋🏻
It’s a small place and gets pretty crowded for brunch, so try to get there early or make a reservation.
JI Kayu Jati No 9X Seminyak, Bali, Indonesia 80361
+62 361 736688
Around the block from Sea Circus, there’s Motel Mexicola. A Mexican fiesta in South East Asia!
A taqueria and tequileria with amazing margaritas, tasty Mexican food and music.
Jalan Mesari Beach, Seminyak
+62 878 6141-6310
It does not get more chill than La Plancha. It has a pretty laid back vibe, good service, food and music. Perfect for watching the sunset!
Jl. Kayu Aya No.9, Seminyak, Bali – Indonesia 80361
+60 361 736969
A beach club with all night parties by the pool and a great menu. It has everything you could crave.
Jl. Petitenget No. 77X, Seminyak – Bali, Indonesia
+62 361 8974007
Right next to Tony’s Villas, there’s Saigon Street, a small and colorful restaurant with a lusty Vietnamese street food menu and refreshing cocktails. The menu is pretty simple but the dishes are not. Saigon takes street food to another level.
Jl. Petitenget 99x Seminyak Bali
+62 821 464 89669
Perfect for breakfast and a light lunch, Cafe Organic offers health conscious dishes and plenty of vegetarian options. The smoothie bowls are delicious, the coffee is strong and smooth, and all the dishes are prepared with organic, locally farmed produce. Plus, the vibe is very rustic and tropical, perfect for Instagram pictures! It gets somewhat crowded for breakfast, so try to make a reservation if you don’t like waiting in line.
If you like pork, you are going to love Naughty Nuri’s. Pork satay, succulent pork ribs, crispy fish wings and cold beer! An inexpensive, delicious joint to pig out and forget the silverware.
WHERE TO SHOP IN SEMINYAK
Jl. Laksamana Basangkasa No.55
Super colorful and quirky boutique, the clothes are perfect for tropical weather with bold colors and prints.
ACTIVITITES IN SEMINYAK
Spa Day at Body Works
Jalan Kayu Jati No 2, Petitenget, Bali, Indonesia
+62 (0)361 733317, 735058
This spa is wonderful, a bit more expensive than the average, but the facilities are pristine and beautiful! And for those of us spending in US dollars it’s still quite affordable. A one and a half hour full body massage with a flower bath is $26.00 dollars.
Jalan Petitenget No. Denpasar – Bali 80361
At the W hotel, every Sunday starting at 12:00 p.m. for $50.00 dollars, you can enjoy a delicious, five star buffet with cold-sparkling mimosas, and a wide selection of wines, cocktails, champagne. Mouthwatering signature creations like the W’s amazing beef carpaccio, delicious crispy oysters with shaved scallions that will convert the nonbelievers, and super crispy duck breast smoked with green tea and rice.
Balinese Cooking Class
Get closer to the Balinese culture by learning how to create traditional Balinese dishes in a super fun cooking class!
Visit some of Bali’s most delicious restaurants and taste some of the most exotic, delicious dishes.
Ubud is a one hour drive away from Denpasar airport and Seminyak, and is the perfect place for a meditation retreat. A popular Balinese destination for its beautiful temples, spiritual living, healthy lifestyle, lush green rice paddies, monkeys, and Balinese crafts. And who could forget Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love novel? Ubud is known as the spiritual centre of Bali and heaven on Earth for artists, yogis and vegans alike.
Ubud’s center consists of a single, one-way street called JI. Raya Ubud. It’s a short but entertaining walk. Temples, restaurants, yoga studios and bars saturate the sidewalks on both sides of the street. The famous Ubud Market is always crowded by tourists and locals alike haggling for crafts and produce.
The massages are also a bit cheaper than in Seminyak, and there’s a Spa every 100 Ft. Not that I’m complaining. If there’s a place to overindulge in massages, mani-pedis and spa treatments, it’s Bali.
WHERE TO STAY IN UBUD
Due to its popularity Ubud, offers all sorts of accommodations from budget hotels, Airbnb, high end hotels and local rentals or even a stay with a family. Whatever your preference may be you’ll find some good choices.
PROTIP: The best way to choose where to stay is by basing it on your budget, length of stay and the type of trip you have in mind.
In my case, I had planned to stay in Ubud for four days for exploring and relaxing. I didn’t want anything too adventurous. After all, I was preparing myself for a week of island hopping, trekking and hiking. So, I was looking forward to a quiet hotel close to Ubud’s center that would make me feel pampered. I hit the jackpot on this one.
I stayed at the minimalistic and modern Origin Ubud. The hotel is beautifully designed, the attention to detail is impressive and the hospitality is as close as it gets to visiting grandma’s house. With a different menu for every day of the week, midnight snacks, shopping baskets, arranged tours and a staff that will go above and beyond to make your dreams come true, I can’t think of another hotel that would compare to the service, kindness and warmth of Origin.
So, I had seen a picture of a floating breakfast on another hotel’s Instagram account and I asked the staff at Origin if the offered them. They said they were very sorry, that they didn’t, but they could set up a nice breakfast next to our pool area. The next day they showed up with a handmade floating tray. They had Googled it and spent the entire night make it and testing it so that it wouldn’t tip over. I mean who does that? I was floored by their care and effort. I can’t wait to visit them again. 💜
RESTAURANTS IN UBUD
In general, food in Bali is pretty delicious, but, in my opinion, the food in Ubud is particularly good. Ah, and just so comforting!
Jl. Sri Wedari No.5,
Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia
+62 361 8493092
The food at Hujan feels cozy, upscale and creative. With delectable creamy, tangy and spicy combinations and a farm to table concept, Hujan Local is my favorite restaurant in Ubud.
Jalan Penestanan Kelod No.75, Sayan, Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia
+62 361 971981
A vegan’s heaven and a delicious cafe and raw bar. Fresh, crisp salads, sweet fruits and creamy smoothies make Alchemy a yummy and healthy option. (Especially revitalizing after a couple of days of eating street food)
10B Jalan Dewi Sita, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
+62(0) 361 977733
Deliciously conscious. Locavore makes it a point to work with local producers, runs on solar energy and is committed to Bali’s environmental sustainability. If you’re in the mood for unique sea food dishes, visit Locavore.
13 Jl. Gootama, Ubud 80571, Indonesia
A small restaurant with a simple and inexpensive menu, and even simpler decor, but the food is nothing short of extraordinary. The food is so good that it’s best to make a reservation a couple of days ahead of time. Finding a table at the Melting Wok is harder than finding a needle in a haystack. It’s that good! However, don’t expect anything fancy. It’s basically Balinese comfort food.
Try the Ubud’s Babi Guling (Sucking Pig)
ACTIVITIES IN UBUD
The temple was founded in 926 A.D. and was dedicated to the Hindu God of Water, Vishu. The complex is big and beautiful, and has sort of mystical vibe to it. People come from all over the world to bathe in the enchanted waters of the temple and complete the purification ritual. The waters are believed to have magical healing powers for the body, the mind and the soul.
When I visited, I thought only locals and Hindus were allowed to bathe, so I didn’t come prepared. I recommend wearing your bathing suit under your clothes, bringing a water resistant bag for your phone and camera equipment, and a towel. At the entrance to the temple you’ll be provided the sarong required to enter all temples in Bali, and you must wear it at all times while you’re inside. You’ll also be able to store your clothes in a locker room while you bathe in Tirta Empul’s magical waters.
PROTIP: Visit the temple early in the morning, preferably at sunrise when the temple is quiet and there aren’t tourists and worshipers around. You’ll enjoy your experience more and you can take as much time as you like bathing under the water spouts.
Tegalalang Rice Terraces
20 minutes from Ubud, the Tegalalang is almost an obligatory stop for every traveler, so it can get quite crowded which may ruin your pictures. I recommend visiting the terraces early in the morning or late in the afternoon when it’s cooler. A midday walk can get pretty suffocating and is peak time for tourists.
Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
I have to admit I was a bit nervous about going to the sanctuary. It’s a big touristy destination and I did not want to find overworked, malnourished monkeys. Plus, I’ve read all sorts of horror stories about tourists being bitten by the monkeys. But once I got there, it was like being in a little enchanted forest with big, beautiful, lush green trees, temples, ponds, and hundreds of little monkeys jumping around.
I recommend dedicating a couple of hours at least because it’s a big complex, there’s tons to see and those little guys can be absolutely adorable and you may want to stop every two minutes to take a picture. Also, be mindful of what you bring with you as these monkeys are furry thieves. They’ll open backpacks, steal phones, sun glasses, water bottles, anything that is not secured. The monkeys love to jump on people too, so if a monkey happens to land on you, don’t lose your cool. You’ll scare it and he may bite you. Also, keep a safe distance and don’t surround them with a big group of people as it makes them uncomfortable and they could attack you. So, use your common sense when you visit, secure your belongings and enjoy your day at the sanctuary. It is definitely worth the trip.
It can feel a little ways from Ubud, but it’s only a 25 minute drive from Ubud’s center. It’s a popular place for people to splash around and swim. Personally, I was excited about seeing the waterfall because I’d imagined it to be a secluded little spot in the middle of the jungle, but that was not the case. As soon as we pulled over, a wave of locals selling parking spots and snacks came flooding the street. To make it to the waterfall you have to walk through a passage filled with restaurants, gelato stores and grilled corn posts. So, it didn’t turn out to be as magical as I had pictured it. Nevertheless, I decided to make the most of it. I decided not to take a dip after all, because it was too crowded in the waterfall. Instead, I chose a small joint with a view and fresh coconuts, to sit, drink and rest for a little while. It’s still a beautiful waterfall, so I still enjoyed the view.
Try Balinese Coffee at Seniman Coffee.
alan Sriwedari No. 5, Banjar Taman Kelod, Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80561, Indonesia
I’m a huge coffee addict, and when I found out that Bali produces great coffee that is a staple of Balinese culture I made it my mission to try it. You can ask your driver or any local to guide you, there are many tasting houses where you can learn about their coffee making process from seed to brewing. A cool coffee shop to try is Seniman Coffee Studio that is said to serve the best cup of coffee on the island. That’s quite a title. The coffee is strong but smooth so if you love coffee is definitely worth the try.
PROTIP: Say no to Kopi Luwak
Some locals, and even your driver, will guide you to try Kopi Luwak, which is probably Bali’s most famous coffee and one of the higher priced in the world. The big buzz about it is the process by which it is made. It’s believed that Asian Civets feed only on the “best” coffee beans, and once the animal has pooped, is collected, cleaned and roasted. Quite a picking process, huh? A small bag goes for about $50 dollars.
But as interesting and fancy as it may sound, there’s a lot of cruelty in this coffee industry. The civets are kept in captivity, in very small cages and are forced to eat a diet that only consists of coffee beans, which makes them weak. This method is to produce as much Kopi Luwak as possible in the shortest amount of time.
Peta has produced an entire video about it and you can read more about civets captured for coffee here. So, feel free to politely decline the offer. It’s for a good cause.
ANGIE’S UBUD BUCKET LIST
When planning a trip to Bali it’s easy to keep adding activities and places to visit to the list, but in practice things happen and time just isn’t enough.
There’s so much more to explore, see and try in Ubud. Sadly, during my stay I caught one of those in-bed-all-day flus and my tourism was cut short. Real short. So, I still have some places I’d like to visit next time that I’m in Ubud. But, even though I didn’t get to go to the following, I still did my research before visiting, so I’m going to list them below. If you get to visit these places, let me know how it went!
Hujan Cooking Class
Yes, the same chefs at Hujan Locale offer an experience unlike any other. Cycle through Ubud collecting produce, learning about the locals and traditional crafts. Then head back to the kitchen for a fun cooking class, have your fresh made lunch and end enjoy a traditional spa treatment. It has to be good for digestion.
Also called Elephant Cave, this is a must-see UNESCO world heritage site. The entrance of the cave is fully carved in intricate balinese designs, is said to go back as early as the 9th Century and was built as a place for meditation. The entrance fee is $1 dollar and is only a short 10 minute drive from Ubud.
Jatiluwih Rice Terraces
Another UNESCO world heritage site, a little ways from Ubud, close to an hour and half drive, it’s the largest area of rice paddies in Bali.
Located in the Bukit peninsula, on the south coast of Bali, approximately an hour ride away from the airport. Uluwatu is a laid back heaven for surfers! The crowd is young, tan & mostly Australian. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) The beaches are cleaner and brighter than Seminyak and Kuta, and even though I don’t know how to surf I was able to enjoy my stay. Uluwatu is like a little paradise inside a paradise. Just hop on a scooter and drive around.
PROTIP: Speaking of driving around in a scooter… Don’t try to walk. If you don’t feel like hiring a driver during your stay in Uluwatu, rent a scooter. Nothing is within walking distance.
WHERE TO STAY IN ULUWATU
Uluwatu has the most chic and gypsy-vibe hotels on the island. I got to stay at Gravity hotel, which is run by this guy, Ricky, and his family from Portugal, but all the staff is Balinese and they all make sure everything is always clean, food is prepared promptly and that the service is impeccable.
Staying at Gravity is enjoyable in every sense of the word. I didn’t leave the hotel for an entire day, I felt like I didn’t have to. The hotel is an experience and a vacation on its own. I didn’t even feel bad for what I was “missing out” on, because I had my own fun. I had deliciously salty margaritas, the sun and an infinity pool! What else could I ask for?
However, one of the best things about the hotel is that they only have 9 rooms, so there are only so many people and almost everyone hangs by the pool. Is easy to meet other travelers over breakfast or tanning and end the day with an improvised party at the pool. If you’re lucky you’ll meet and spend some time with Ricky, his wife and his two handsome boys during your stay. Plus, it’s super Instagramable.
BEST RESTAURANTS IN ULUWATU
Jl. Labuansait No.63, Pecatu, Kuta Sel., Kabupaten Badung, Bali 80361, Indonesia
Nalu has a great atmosphere. The place is rustic, fresh and overlooks the water. The smoothie bowls are delicious and healthy and are great option for breakfast or a fresh snack after a day surfing or tanning.
Labuan Sait, Jl. Labuansait, Pecatu, Pecatu, Bali, Kabupaten Badung, Bali 80361, Indonesia
A stone’s throw from Nalu bowls, you can find Bukit Cafe. Simple, inexpensive food. Fast and delicious. The schnitzel wrap is to die for.
You’ll hear about this place at least a couple of times during your stay, as someone is always trying to sell it as a destination. One of my taxi drivers wouldn’t shut up about it. It has a great view and the sunset is the main attraction. However, Jimbaran is a little too touristic for my taste. Along the beach there are plenty of places to serve you dinner and drinks, but these can be a little overpriced.
AYANA Resort and Spa, BALI, Jl. Karang Mas Sejahtera, Jimbaran, Badung, Bali 80364, Indonesia
Speaking of sunsets & drinks on the beach, Rock Bar is definitely the one to try. The view is incredible and although it’s not crazy cheap in comparison to other bars in Bali, the vibe, food and drinks are completely worth it.
It’s just one of those beaches where you want to spend the whole day. Just sit, have a few beers and relax. Sometimes there are food trucks near by, plus they have a public restroom that they keep really clean, and plenty of bars to choose from along the beach.
Pantai Suluban, Jl. Labuan Sait, Pecatu, Uluwatu, Kuta Selatan, Pecatu, Kuta Sel., Kabupaten Badung, Bali, Indonesia
This is my kind of place! If Fantasy Island had a dive bar, this would be it. Cheap beer, cheap pizza, a pretty cool view of the Uluwatu beach, live music and chill enough to meet travelers, locals and expats alike.
Although Bali is a small island, this post doesn’t do it justice. It may look long, but the list of stuff to do in Bali is even longer. I have it in my plans to return to this island for at least three months the next time around because there is no way to check everything out in just a couple of weeks. Bali is definitely a place to discover.
Hopefully planning a trip to Bali no longer seems like a daunting task!
Thanks for reading and please feel free to leave your comments or suggestions below! I’d love to hear your thoughts.