If you are looking to take an amazing vacation, odds are, a Bali Island trip is already on your list. And the truth is, Bali can be a fascinating place and valuable experience both in culture and luxury travel if you do it the right way.
Whether you are starting your Bali island trip from the US or Europe you have two options to get here. The first and usually more expensive option is to go straight to Denpasar, the airport located right on the island.
The second is to go to a major hub, the closest one is Jakarta and then transfer via a short plane ride to Bali by a bargain airline (AirAsia is one)- you’d book this separately from the rest of your ticket. As a traveler who loves a great bargain, I opted for the much less expensive trip via Jakarta.
Once you arrive, consider spending the night in the Indonesian capital before continuing with your Bali Island travel. A high-quality hotel near the airport in Jakarta is about $30 and will give you a chance to rest before the next transfer.
If you decide to stay in the capital for a night, and your hotel doesn’t offer a shuttle (many do, so ask first) be careful when leaving the terminal. You will be bombarded by taxicab companies, workers and even airport employees all eager to get you a cab for a “low” flat rate.
Don’t agree – either insist on a using a meter cab and then monitor the driver with google maps, or request an Uber. Like a local taxi, Uber can be a bit of a challenge because not everyone speaks English, making it difficult to communicate with your driver but very much worth it.
The price I paid for Uber was 5 times less than the lowest taxi quote I got (250,000 quoted vs. 49,000 for Uber). If your driver cancels on you, which seems common here because some drivers don’t speak English and can’t communicate with you, request another. Be patient, and an English speaking driver will come along.
Quick tip: Be sure to have your hotel number handy at all times during your Bali Island travel! Drivers tend to get lost and the GPS signal on the Bali island isn’t great. If you get lost ask your driver to call and ask for directions instead of driving around aimlessly as I noticed they do sometimes.
Bali Island Tour Suggested Stop #1: Canggu Beach
Days needed: For non-surfers, 1 full day will cover it but I suggest adding more if surfing is your thing.
This famous fishing village/surfing town is my first recommended stop on your Bali island trip. Like many places in Indonesia, this village has gone from a sleepy island hamlet to tourist central in fairly short time.
The open waters here bring with them wild waves and winds. However, it is unfortunate that this beach is also notoriously dirty with rubbish all over the place. Because of this, if you are a beach bum Canggu may not be the stop for you.
But, if you’d like to try a surfing lesson or are looking for a great after hours beach party, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re planning to stay for more than the day, take notice of the many hostels, hotels and restaurants lining the streets to the water.
The most convenient place to stay in Canggu is on one of these streets and as close to the beach as possible. The town itself is quite spread out and depending on your hotel choice, your walk to the beach can take an hour or more.
Most tourists rent a scooter but don’t rent one unless you’ve had experience because the traffic here is pretty aggressive.
What to do in Canggu: Pick from a plethora of restaurants for breakfast. Then, take a surfing lesson (about $20) before you rest up with a traditional massage or maybe spend a relaxing afternoon in a local coffee shop with a good book.
After dinner at any of the many restaurants in the area, make your way back to the beach for one of Canggu’s famously infamous beach parties. Old Man’s beach club is highly recommended by those who enjoy a great party.
Bali Island Tour Suggested Stop #2: Sanur, Bali
Days needed: At least 2, one to spend at Sanur and one to take a boat over to Nusa Lembongan. More days recommended if beach bumming is your thing.
Located on the east coast of the island almost directly opposite Canggu beach, is Sanur the grown up and cleaner version of Canggu.
If you are looking for traditional Bali island travel on a budget this is a great stop or destination. This low key, clean beach is famous for the traditional boats and grown-up atmosphere.
While many hotels line the beach, it’s just as easy to stay a short walk away in a homestay for far less money.
On your first day be sure to plan ahead by booking your trip to Nusa Lembongan, a small island about half hour away by boat.
There are many places to book boat rides through the town but you can walk on the beach, all the way to the left, to the Sri Rejeki express counter (where the actual speedboats are) and book directly from the boat operator.
If you book in town a round trip will cost you 500k to 550k (you can negotiate a little) while a direct booking would cost around 350k. Try to get it done first thing in the morning, as the boats do get booked up quickly.
After breakfast in one of the many restaurants, walk the short distance via quiet street to the beach. Here you can rent a beach chair for an entire day complete with a towel for just 50,000k (about $3.50 US).
Alternatively, pay $22 at the Byrdhouse beach club where you can use their facilities all day and order food and drinks for free until you reach the $22 amount.
If you are looking for a beautiful pool, comfy spot in the shade and service, this is a great deal for a very low price. Enjoy lunch in one of many lounges and restaurants before choosing a bar to spend the evening in.
The night scene here is more mature but you can certainly party until early hours of the morning if you so desire.
Next day make your way over to the boat you reserved and enjoy the half hour ride to the island. Although I did Lembongan as a day trip, you can stay here for several days without growing bored.
Bali Island Tour Suggested Stop #3: Lembongan, Bali
Days needed: 1 as a day trip, 2 as an overnight stop.
This small island is located half an hour speedboat ride from Sanur. Lembongan sports dreamy beaches and lovely hotels but it does get fairly crowded with tourists when the boats come in.
You’ll land on the main beach but don’t stay here too long as there are lots of beautiful spots to check out on this island. One stop for great pictures and a drink surrounded by a view you can’t beat is the Dream Beach, about 20 minutes from the landing strip.
Visit the Blue Lagoon, which is Bali as you’ve seen it in pictures. Go for a snorkel in Crystal Bay.
Bali Island Tour Suggested Stop #4: Nusa Penida
Days needed: 1 to 3 based on your preferences
This gem of an island is located only half an hour away from Sanur and luckily is not yet with packed with tourists. There are spots here that are downright virgin Bali if you just know where to look. While on your Bali Island trip arrange for a boat ride the same way you would to get to Lembongan.
Nusa Penida is significantly larger than Lembongan so if you decide to come here, this island is worth staying on for a few days. I’d recommend creating a base for yourself in a hotel close to where the boats come in and take day trips through the island.
Start with the Goa Giri Putri temple in a cave then check out Angel’s Billabong, a natural pool framed by a rock cliff. Spend some time on Broken Beach and snorkel in the beautiful blue Crystal Bay waters.
Bali Island Tour Suggested Stop #5: Eastern Bali
Days needed: Day trip
If you want to see Bali as it used to be, I suggest taking a ride out to East Bali. Here you will find virtually no tourists (I didn’t run into one in the entire day) and many locals.
Tell your driver you want to see how people in eastern Bali live but be prepared for the driver to be surprised. He will likely offer to take you to Monkey Jungle instead.
This is the area around Mount Agung, the now exploding volcano – but most of this area is totally safe. Because so few tourists venture here you’ll likely be an attraction yourself and have the opportunity to hang out with the locals and take pictures of their lives.
It’s also a great time to take a look (and picture)of the mountain from relatively up close. Afterwards, stop by the Tirta Gangga Water Palace, a beautiful stop just a bit south of the mountain.
Bali Island Tour suggested stop #5: Hard Rock Hotel and Kuta
Days needed: At least 3, up to 7 if you are traveling with kids
One of the things Bali is best known for is luxury hotels. There is no shortage of them here, and Hard Rock Hotel Bali is no exception. Everything you’d expect from a five-star hotel you’ll find here – one of the largest pools on the island, beach cabanas, incredible staff and delicious food just to name a few.
But, one thing that makes Hard Rock stand out is that it offers all of that at a great value and is very family friendly. It’s a place many families stay in for their entire trip only to venture out for day trips around the island.
Even if you are not staying here for the entire trip, be sure to schedule a couple of days to sip a mojito in your cabana, while enjoying the sounds of running water and the great music that is essential to the Hard Rock brand.
Hard Rock is located in the heart of Kuta beach, which is a worthwhile destination as well. Stroll the streets and check out the many local shops surrounding you or walk along the beach which is great for surfers and much cleaner than Canggu. If you are up to it and skipped it in Canggu, grab a paddle board or take a surfing lesson for some beach fun.
Bali Island Tour suggested stop #6: Ubud
Days needed: at least 2, 3 is recommended
This famous tourist destination offers much for the traveler. The streets are very walkable and for Bali, the traffic is very manageable.
The shopkeepers are far less aggressive here than in Kuta so this is a great place to get some souvenir shopping done.
In addition to being a pleasant place to spend a few days, Ubud offers some outstanding attractions that are absolute must visits.
The first attraction to visit in Ubud is the Monkey Forest, located right in town. This magical temple forest complex takes a few hours to walk through.
It is home to hundreds of monkeys all of whom are docile and quite content to have their picture taken and are comfortable in close proximity to humans.
Keep careful watch over your food because they are very fast! After the Monkey Forest make a stop to Ibu Susu, a hip restaurant in town (located right outside the forest) serving Balinese dishes with a modern twist.
The next day, hire a driver to take you on a trip to the rice fields. Although the rice fields have now become a tourist attraction, they are still working fields and many local residents make their living here.
For your next stop in Ubud, we suggest the Water Temple. There are many temples to visit in Bali but this one is special because of the Holy Water baths used for religious cleansing, visited by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims a year.
The ritual is fascinating to watch and the temple is unusual but must-see stop on your trip. Don’t forget to stop by the Bali Swings for a great shot over the rice fields and an invigorating twist on a childhood favorite.