In recent years, the number of travelers jetting off to Bali has skyrocketed. It’s unsurprising, given that the island paradise is home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, lush rainforests, and unique traditions. But, as with any place, visiting without proper preparation may result in unexpected challenges. Before you book your flight or pack your bags, here’s what you should know about Bali.
Before you depart for the island’s beautiful shores, check your passport! Entry to Bali requires a visa unless you hail from one of these 140 countries, in which case, you’ll be able to enter the country fee-free on a 30-day arrival stamp. In the not-so-unlikely chance that you fall under Bali’s spell and want to stay longer, you can renew your stay for another 30 days for a small fee — usually around 950,000 IDR (that’s just under $70 USD).
If you’re planning on visiting the Indonesian paradise for an extended period of time, there may be some health precautions you want to consider before setting off. Though it’s wise to check with a healthcare provider, the CDC strongly recommends that all travelers to Bali vaccinate against hepatitis A, typhoid, hepatitis B, and Japanese encephalitis. They also suggest taking precautions against malaria, and rabies. If you can, find a travel clinic that can evaluate your medical history and make informed suggestions about what vaccinations you should get. If the bill ends up looking a little too steep, some savvy travelers fly into a major Southeast Asian hub city (such as Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur) first to seek out an English-speaking clinic for vaccines at a fraction of the price they’d pay in the U.S.
When you make your first withdrawal on Balinese soil, chances are that you’ll feel like a millionaire — after all, the conversion rate of 1 USD to 13,990 Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) is extremely favorable for American (and Western) visitors. Because most services and vendors on the island still adhere to cash-based systems, it’s wise to withdraw large amounts at a time to refrain from multiple ATM fees and transactions.
As a rule of thumb, keep your cash in a secure and secret location and be wary of ATMs on the side of the road — always withdraw inside a bank or other financial institution. Before making a withdrawal, check for hidden mirrors and card skimming devices and cover your pin code. It’s not uncommon for tourists withdrawing cash at small or local ATMs to have important card information stolen. In addition, it’s wise to keep a 50,000 IDR note on hand (yet separate from your other cash) in case you get stopped by the Balinese police unnecessarily and need to get out of a sticky situation while keeping the rest of your funds secure.
If you’ve ever visited Southeast Asia before, you’re familiar with the ubiquity of bottled water there. Although it can be frustrating to continually stock up, nobody in Bali drinks from the tap, and we discourage you from even trying. Fortunately, street corner markets that sell large bottles of purified water are a dime a dozen, and you could even consider bringing along a water sanitizer if you’re traveling to particularly remote areas. We can’t caution enough — waterborne illness is a fantastic way to get sick quick, so if you can, avoid swallowing unfiltered water at any cost, even while brushing your teeth, showering, or swimming.
Aspiring travelers to Bali may notice an airfare price drop during certain seasons — but beware. As tantalizing as this may be, Bali’s extreme and tropical climate makes certain months inhospitable, especially for visitors imagining trekking through gorgeous jungles or surfing soft ocean swells. As a general rule, avoid Bali’s rainy monsoon season, which runs from October to April. During these months, visitors will experience sunny skies punctuated by intense and erratic downpours that make sightseeing, planning, and driving extremely difficult. May to September is a much better time to visit, with temperatures fluctuating between 72°F and 88°F (22°C and 31°C). However, if the idea of a wet visit to Bali doesn’t phase you, we’ve compiled a list of activities for when the weather isn’t cooperative.
There are over 2.5 million mopeds on the island of Bali — and it shows. They’re everywhere, anywhere, and they can be a huge source of annoyance. But, because public transport is lacking in many Balinese cities and is non-existent in rural areas, visitors should be prepared to rent a moped upon arrival, which will open up sights and experiences beyond the limited access of a city bus or Bluebird taxi.
Before you book, research and compare rental prices, and be aware of driver’s license regulations. While you don’t need an international driver’s license to rent in Bali, many shops across the island may require a local driver’s license (which will involve traveling to a police department, haggling over the price of a local card, and only possibly receiving one). Long story short, do yourself a favor and invest in an international driver’s license before your trip. In addition, familiarize yourself with any important restrictions: in Bali, for instance, even though many drivers don’t wear helmets, as a tourist, you’ll be easily pegged for wrong-doing by the police if you don’t wear one. So always wear your helmet — you may end up with a hefty ticket, not to mention a cracked skull, if you don’t.
Bali’s laid-back city of Ubud is as synonymous with monkeys as it is with Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir “Eat, Pray, Love,” the soul-searching epic that put this modest city on the tourist map. But Ubud isn’t Bali’s only animal hotspot. The island as a whole is home to myriad interesting creatures: raucous monkeys, suspicious street pups, and unassuming river iguanas. There is a right way to deal with the wildlife, and that’s to keep to yourself. Sure, taking a photo with a monkey at Ubud’s Monkey Forest is cool, but being bitten by one isn’t. Yes, that Bali dog may be adorable… but not if it’s chasing you two blocks back to your guesthouse. So, overall, avoid petting, feeding, teasing, or antagonizing wildlife on the island. Treat the animals with respect, and if you must photograph them, use a zoom lens.
Bali’s cultural landscape is distinctly unique from the rest of mainland Indonesia, and if you stop in a city like Jakarta beforehand, you’ll see why. While Indonesia hosts the largest Muslim population in the world, the island of Bali is predominantly Hindu because of its relative isolation during various religious waves in the 1400s.
The religion has influenced the architectural and cultural feel of the island — when you visit, you’ll notice a multitude of ornate temples, daily offerings of flowers and incense in its streets and in front of statues, and an abundance of holy days for which the island powers down. Balinese Hinduism is unique in its traditions, holy celebrations, and even deities, so visiting unlocks access to a way of life found nowhere else in the world.
Have any other tips for first-time travelers to Bali? Share them in the comments below!