10 things I wish I knew before visiting Bali

Bali was an impromptu solo trip plan and it is very uncharacteristic of me to make plans last minute and that too, all by myself. I had an opportunity and I took it, booked myself a flight, did some quick research before visiting Bali on things to do and I was off! Although I usually advocate spending time on planning and reading up about a place before visiting it, there is a certain charm about landing up there and learning your own lessons.

One thing that I haven't done enough of in my past travels and have newly learned how amazing it is to do, is to speak to the locals. Get over your apprehensions, put on a smile and get talking to the local people because there's a wealth of knowledge that you can get from there, which you won't find online. Having said that, there are always things you wish you knew before travelling to a place so that you could manage your time better and not miss out on some very cool experiences. This post is about 10 things I wish I knew before visiting Bali.

#1 Rent a scooter

It is definitely better to rent a scooter rather than a car. The roads in Bali are so narrow, you’re like to be stuck in traffic jams if you’re in a car, allowing you to cover lesser ground than you would on a scooter. If you’re not a confident scooter rider, you can rent a scooter taxi for the full day (10-hours) for a customized tour of the island, for as less as USD 15.

You might come across a lot of posts advising you against it but I didn't see anything that worried me. Yes, there are a lot of scooters on the road but as long as you're a safe driver (make sure you're wearing helmets) and do not try to show off your skills, you are good to go! I had arranged to rent a car for a day before visiting Bali but once I was there, I immediately switched to a scooter.

Pandawa Beach
Pandawa Beach

#2 Spend a night in Ubud

While Ubud can be covered as a day-trip from Kuta or Seminyak, do consider spending 1-2 nights here. There are beautiful temples, parks, rice fields and other sites to be explored from here and the lush green town is a stunning and serene contrast to the mainland. It is the spiritual heart and soul of Bali.

Pura Gunung Kawi Sebatu Ubud

#3 Download the app Go-JEK

Go-JEK is the Uber of Bali. Be it calling a car or a scooter taxi, Go-JEK is the best application. It is cheap, easy to use, responsive, trackable and is sure to provide you much better prices than the public taxi. I literally paid $1 for a taxi from my hotel in Kuta to the airport. The drivers are polite, follow instructions and are absolutely safe (scooter drivers also bring along helmets for the passengers and ensure you wear them before they start). I downloaded this app before visiting Bali and realised how useful it was once I was there.

Tanah Lot Temple
Tanah Lot Temple

#4 Distances are longer than they seem

Although the island is fairly small and the distances seem quite less, it takes a lot of time to go from one place to another. This is because of the terrain, the narrow roads, and the traffic. Keep buffer while making plans for the day. Traffic jams are not uncommon.

Looking for a place to stay? Click here to read Where to stay in Bali.

#5 Shell out a few extra bucks for 'Luxury'

Consider shelling out a few extra bucks for some very luxurious hotels and resorts or even villas with private pools, Jacuzzi and massage rooms. If you’re a group of people, renting a villa with its own private pool is a much better (and a reasonably priced) option than staying at a hotel and will not burn your pockets. You can get villas on Booking.com or Airbnb for as less as $150 per night, for a 3-bedroom private home offering pool, daily cleaning services, and all facilities you require. My favourite area for some of the most well-located luxurious villas is Seminyak. I stayed at a decent hotel because I was a solo traveller but if I had known how cheap some of these villas are, before visiting Bali, I might have treated myself to a luxurious stay!

#6 The touristy beach clubs are expensive!

Bali is fairly cheap overall but if you’re planning to go partying or drinking at one of the popular bars and beach clubs which are very touristy (such as Rock Bar, Potato Head Beach Club, Ku De Ta), be prepared to spend $30+ just for a drink and snack!

Potato Head Beach Club
Potato Head Beach Club

#7 Visiting the gorgeous Gili Islands can be painful

Although I definitely recommend a trip to one of the Gili Islands (click here to see how to choose your Gili Island), be prepared to face a lot of delays and chaos at the ferry boarding. There are several companies offering fast boats but most of them are subject to unprecedented delays in departures, long wait times and lack of communication from the staff. It might take you a whole day for the journey, so keep a buffer in your plans with that expectation. I did read up on the various companies that offer this service, before visiting Bali, however, the company I used was extremely horrible in its services so please avoid using Semaya One fast boat at all costs!

Gili Trawangan
Gili Trawangan

#8 Do not forget to haggle while shopping

I absolutely loved the colourful clothes, accessories, and souvenirs on the streets in Seminyak, Kuta and Ubud Art Market. From fragrant soaps, essential and massage oils, to beachwear clothing and embellishments, you will find an inexpensive and beautiful collection. However, remember to always haggle. You’ll be surprised to see them agree to 70% lesser price than they initially quoted!

Sanur Beach Street Market

#9 Beach clubs are nice but the street nightlife is even better!

Although many of the beach clubs and bars are amazing, do not forget to try those in Kuta or Seminyak Square. Many of them have live music, happy hours until late night and a very lively ambiance. I fell in love with La Favella located on Seminyak Square because of its romantic vintage interiors decorated with antiques and art pieces, with a very Rio vibe. Once you're inside the restaurant, you will feel like you're in a garden with artificial waterfalls, ponds, and trees. A beautiful setting! Many such amazing bars and restaurants can be found on the Seminyak Square.

#10 Visit the remote & underrated beaches

One of the most underrated beaches in Bali is Karma Beach. It is in the South-most part of the island and is absolutely stunning! One of the best ways to enjoy the views is to take a full-day access to Karma Kandara Hotel’s facilities (for USD 50, it is a cover charge) which will allow you to enjoy dining at their restaurant with amazing views from the cliff’s edge, an infinity pool, a lift to go down to the beach (else you will have to take more than 100 steps to get there) and lovely sea-facing spa treatment rooms. The beach is one of the most remote ones and hence, not as crowded as Kuta, Seminyak, Sanur or Nusa Dua.

Karma Beach Bali
Karma Beach Bali


87 thoughts on “10 things I wish I knew before visiting Bali”

  1. Go-JEK is indeed very useful. It is actually available all over Indonesia, not only in Bali 🙂 Glad that you enjoyed your solo trip to Bali. Hope you have another chance to enjoy Bali (again) or other beautiful islands in my country Indonesia 🙂

    1. I haven’t travelled around in Indonesia and it is good to know that the app is available everywhere 🙂 I do hope to return to your beautiful country sometime!

  2. I would add watch evening performances in Ubud Bali – that is like soaking in the culture of Bali. Have a lot of patience while haggling, especially with the bike taxi guys and taxi guys. Always carry water – the place is so humid, it dehydrates quickly.

  3. I love when places have their own version of Uber and haven’t let Uber take over their taxi business.

    I am not surprised that travel can take a long time on a small island. All those small winding roads make the perfect storm for slow speeds and traffic jams.

  4. Not planning anything ahead (or only the minimum) and talking to locals wherever we go to are actually parts of our travel lifestyle! 🙂 I’m so glad you got to experience this way of traveling in Bali! 🙂 We’ve heard a lot of awesome things about Ubud, and knowing how lush green it is really makes us want to go there too! Also, it’s good to know about the Go-JEK. We use Uber quite often when we travel, so we would definitely want to use Go-JEK when we go to Bali, especially if distances are longer than what they seem! And thanks for telling us about the Karma Beach too, it looks so beautiful and clean!

    1. There’s a beautiful beach club with an infinity pool, spa and restaurant overlooking Karma beach. It’s an amazing place to spend the day, at a cost of course but it’s worth it.

  5. Bali has been on my list for ages, I might book a last minute trip like you did! I admit I would be nervous about hiring a scooter, but with your reassurance I might give it a go, it does seem like the best way to get around. I’d definitely seek out the quieter beaches too!

  6. Thanks for all the relevant advice, especially about exploring offbeat beaches. If they are anything like the picture of the Karma Beach which you have included, it would be heaven. I believe Bali is losing its magic with all the over-crowding.

    1. I agree it can get super crowded at most places but there are still so many hidden and remote places to explore. Avoid the usual Kuta and Seminyak which are the most touristy places and you’ll be fine.

  7. This is a super helpful guide as I’ve never been to Bali. I have ridden a scooter around in the Caribbean – once in Bermuda and once in Grand Turk. I hope that I’d be fine riding one around Bali, too! I would love to spend time at the beautiful beaches…but also exploring around the towns and such, too! Looks like a great trip

  8. That is a great and different post on Bali. I liked the tips you have shared with us especially the one on downloading the app, renting a scooter and going to the underrated beaches. I have heard a lot about Gilli Island, so would love to check them out once in person. Cool pictures too Medha.

  9. these are such great tips and I couldn’t agree more! My trip to Gili Air was so terrible I wrote an entire blog post about it, lol! And the distances are SO much longer than you’d think! Before we got to Bali we thought, hey Ubud and Uluwatu are only 30km apart, they must be close – nope! It took us 3 hours to travel!

  10. I’ve never been to Bali, but it’s great to hear about the lessons you learnt, in particular the issues getting across to the Gili islands as they are somewhere I’d personally want to go! I’m not sure I’d feel brave enough to rent a scooter, but its a good tip!

    1. You can always rent a scooter with a driver, that’s no expensive either. That’s what I did on day 2, after realizing the car had really slowed me down on day 1.

  11. Totally Agree that there’s a certain sense of adventure and charm in a spontaneous trip where you learn your lessons along the way. More of a journey than when everything is planned, that’s for sure! Thanks for the tip to rent a scooter instead of a car – we’re big car rental people, but if it’s safer and easier to road trip around on a scooter, we’ll do that.

    Glad you got out to some of the more remote & underrated beaches – I enjoy exploring off the beaten path to escape the crowds, and you usually find some of the best hidden gems this way!

    Overall sounds like a pretty good trip to Bali!

  12. I personally did not like Bali but I agree with you on all your tips, especially #2! Ubud is not only about sightseeing, it is a cool place to hang around for a while. A pity that I did not visit any Gili Island (I went to Nusa Lembongan). I need to read your tips for my next visit in the area. Nice post and pictures!

  13. That go-JEK app sounds incredibly helpful. I think when I was in Bali I mostly walked when I was in towns, or took tourist mini buses between towns. They weren’t too expensive, but I can only imagine that prices have been rising since 2013! I’ve also heard nightmare stories about transport to the Gili Islands. I hope that your trip wasn’t too dangerous, because I know that the captains of the fast boats can be extremely reckless. If you ever go back to Bali, I really recommend breaking away from the South and visiting the centre of the island around Munduk, and up to the northern coast at Pemuteran for incredible snorkelling/scuba diving.

  14. The main problems I’ve heard about scooters involve thieves ripping your backpack off your back as they pass in the opposite direction. But as long as you don’t take one or keep it on the front I can’t see a problem with it. We got to spend a day in Bali a year ago and Ubud was my favourite place. It was so exotic and lush that the colours hardly seemed real.

    1. Oh I didn’t hear of thieves pulling backpacks off but yea, I guess that’s manageable if you keep it in the front instead of hanging it at the back. Ubud sure is lush and exotic 🙂

  15. these are some great tips! I visited about a year ago but did not know about the Go-JEK app – that would have been really helpful! I cannot agree more about how horrific the trip to the Gilis can be… this is the one time I thought I would die on a boat ride!

    1. GO-JEK was super helpful and the charges were cheaper than the public taxis. I literally paid $1 for a trip from Kuta to the airport!

  16. I’ve never visited Bali, but thank goodness I have now read this, as I can avoid some of the things you mentioned, and do more of the good stuff you recommended. Especially Ubud, it looks beautiful, and a different vibe from the beaches. I’m a fan of the more secluded beaches, and the luxury villas sound like a great idea. Thanks for putting together such a great list!

  17. I love the idea of renting a scooter but having never ridden one, I’m nervous at how difficult it would be. Would you think it’s easy to pick up? I just read a post about the beautiful rice terraces of Ubud and would love to spend a night here exploring the temples, market and town. And given that the luxury hotels seem to be pretty good value compared to some destinations, I’d take your suggestion to do that in Bali for sure. As for haggling, I’m apparently a natural, so that sounds like great fun!

    1. I don’t know how to ride a scooter either and that is why I found a company that rented me a scooter with a driver/ tour guide for the day! It was the best idea 🙂 Their app, Go-JEK is also pretty cool, you can call for a car or even scooter taxi, just like with Uber.

  18. These are also the exact things I wish I knew before I visited Bali last year! We skipped renting a scooter coz we’ve read some horror stories about foreigners being caught just so police could get a few bucks. We opted to rent a private car with driver and it’s actually nice and quite affordable too! Great post! <3

  19. Crikey things have definitely changed. The first time I went to Bali, $30 would have paid for drinks and dinner for two in a fabulous restaurant, and I mean all day drinks. Things were a little less commercialised then but you have some great tips here

    1. Yes the touristy bars and lounges have become really expensive, although the rest of Bali is still quite cheap, relatively.

  20. I loved this post! It’s nice to know that a solo trip to Bali is something that is really manageable. Great tip on the Uber like app for Bali and also about renting a scooter. It’s also really nice to know about the lesser traveled beaches. I prefer not to be in the crowds to enjoy the landscape more.

  21. Beautiful write up. I am commenting as of today October 5, 2017. Mt. Agung in Bali has been really active lately and there is a possibility that it’s gonna erupt anytime or maybe in awhile. Who knows? Please beware of the current condition if you’re planning to visit Bali in the near future.

  22. Thanks for your tips. I’m looking forward to visit Bali next year, your guide is much helpful to me.
    I’m eyeing to spend a week at Ubud.

  23. I love posts like these, because there are always things that I wish I knew before I headed out. For instance, I just left the Netherlands, and there were a few things I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on. So, these tips a perfect for anyone visiting Bali.

  24. I agreed with every point on here, having lived and worked in Bali for 9 months for the first time I didn’t have to be a ‘budget traveler’ I got to experience the luxury side of traveling and you’re right places like Potato head and Ku De Ta can rack up. I once spent 4 million Rupiah in the Champagne lounge on shots called Ice Ice baby (there was 5 of us not just me) And Also totally agree on how painful getting out to the Gillis can be – We did that boat trip a lot but personally I preferred going to Gilli Air than Gilli T 😀

  25. I liked your ‘visit’ very much Medha. Loads of helpful information and enticing photos of many places to see. I’m also impressed by the presentation of your blog. It makes me feel, I’ve still got a lot of work to do.

  26. Very useful post as I’m planning to visit Bali with my boyfriend! I don’t know about renting a scooter though as I’ve never tried going on one before. We are used to renting a car every time we travel somewhere, and have done it last time we went to Malaysia. But great point!

    1. If you’re not confident riding a scooter then it’s probably not a great idea. But renting a car inside the city can be painful because of the narrow roads and traffic jams.

  27. I’ve been two times now to Bali, and it’s always good to read others experiences. It’s good that they now have their own uber, that’s good to know! Karma Beach sounds wonderful, and less touristy too.

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