Bali is an Indonesian island known for its forested volcanic mountains, iconic rice paddies, beaches and coral reefs. The mere mention of Bali evokes thoughts of a paradise. It's more than a place; it's a mood, an aspiration, a tropical state of mind, and of course one of the exotic destinations from author Elizabeth Gilbert's hit novel "Eat, Pray, Love." People looking for a zen getaway have the 'Island of the Gods' at the top of their list, but where does one even begin to plan a trip to such an exotic destination. Right here, of course! This guide will give you the basics of what you need to take Bali from vision board goal to reality.
The local currency is Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) and while credit cards are accepted in many places, having a few local dollars on hand never hurts, especially in small shops. The exchange rate is roughly 1 USD = 13,728.48 IDR, which means your hard earned coins can go a long way. Exchange a few dollars at your bank or take some out at the ATM when you arrive and you'll be set. Pro Tip: Sign up for a Charles Schwab debit card to avoid ATM and international transaction fees.
There's never really a bad time to visit Bali. July, August and December is high season on the island which means rates at hotels and activity prices can get sky high. Shoulder season is generally May, June and September when the temperatures are at their best. Low season, January through April and October and November, is rainy season in Bali, but it is possible to still go and enjoy great weather since it never rains all day and lodging prices are still fairly low. For the most part, U.S. passport holders visiting Indonesia do not require visas for stays of 30 days or less. Check visa requirements for your specific passport before your travel.
Before You Go
Bali is a destination for every traveler regardless of budget. The favorable exchange rate means you can make your cheap as inexpensive or luxurious as you want. You definitely want to narrow down where on the island you want to set up as home base first before you do anything. Bali can be a traffic nightmare no matter where you stay, but depending on the vibe you're looking for and activities, certain neighborhoods will be more ideal than others.
- Kuta is where the party action is, but is overrun with people trying to sell you packages and blah beaches. Personally, I'd avoid it like the plague.
- Seminyak is the trendy side of town known for great shopping, restaurants and high octane parties. Because of this its also crowded and jam packed with traffic. Petitenget, on the other side of Seminyak is less overrun and just as stylish.
- Canggu is not as trendy, but if you're a surfer of have the soul of a bohemian goddess, it's perfect. There are green rice paddies, great beach life, spas, restaurants and a decent party scene.
- Nusa Dua is the island's maximum security 5-star hotel enclave. You will definitely be able to luxe here, but don't expect a local vibe.
- Jimbaran Bay is a seafood lovers paradise and one of the few places you can still see a working fishing village. This area has the best sandy beaches with clear, calm waters perfect for swimming.
- Uluwatu has IG worthy views for days. Its further south on the island, but still full of charm and okay beaches.
- Ubud is the cultural hub of Bali and is located 2 hours away from the other areas. Here you'll find backpackers, luxe lovers, yoga centers, spas, traditional eats and everything in between.
Culture-wisee, Indonesia is not the one to play with when it comes to drugs, so don't. Remember Buddha is sacred (even Buddha tattoos are a no-no) and wearing a sarong and sash are a must when visiting temples, and you should be okay.
The main airport for Bali is Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS). Though there are no direct flights to Bali from the U.S., most, if not all, major airlines fly there with at least one stop. Deal sites like The Flight Deal, Secret Flying and Airfarewatchdog sometimes have flight deals for well under $1000, you just have to keep an eye out.
Things are pretty spread out on the island and Uber is a no go. Find a driver, either through a friend who has visited or through your hotel, and negotiate with them on rates to drive you around during your stay.
Where to Stay
Bali has no shortage of amazing places to stay and soak up up the vibes, but these three locations are perfect for living out your Balinese dreams.
For the Lovers
Whether your loving up on a potential bae, your new partner for life or yourself, Bulgari Resort Bali is where you need to be. Located on a picturesque cliffside in Uluwatu, the Bulgari Resort Bali is an all villa property that seamlessly blends Balinese and Italian designs.
Blessed both by sunrise and spectacular sunset views, the resort enjoys private access to a pristine stretch of beach, cabana filled infinity pool, 4 restaurants and a spa that is the embodiment of a holistic healing centre, featuring private treatment rooms that overlook the Indian Ocean.
For the Culture Buffs
As I mentioned, Ubud is where the heart of Bali is, so if you're looking for a little luxe with your culture, let me introduce you to Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve. Mandapa is the place to stay in Ubud, especially if you're looking for a place that fully immerses itself into its surroundings, enveloping you in lush greenery and decor that captures both the magic of Bali and the serenity of seclusion.
Rice paddies and the Ayung River flow past the the resort's 60 villas and suites (Fun Fact: Guests can whitewater raft the river directly from the resort) and provide a stunning backdrop for dining at Mandapa's 5 restaurants and bars or relaxing in the spa.
Learn to grow rice at the in-house rice field or explore local temples, waterfalls and IG famous sights on the exclusive Volkswagen Vintage Tour.
For the IG Stars
Search for Bali on Instagram and one resort is sure to pop up time and time again. Ayana Resort and Spa is an iconic Bali resort set on acres of prime cliff-top land perched above Jimbaran Bay. To start your photo journey, book one of Ayana's luxurious villas and have an in pool brunch before heading to the IG famous River Pool for a photoshoot.
If hanging by one of the 12 pools isn't enough, make your way to Kubu Beach before having sunset cocktails, dinner, and of course photos, at the iconic and chic Rock Bar - one of 19 restaurants on the property.
And if you need a spa moment to round out your social media stunt-cation, make an appointment at Spa on the Rocks for their Diamond Miracle treatment that includes a rose-petal filled bath with champagne and endless views of the Indian Ocean.
What to Do
Bali is one destination where you can't possibly get bored. Kuta is where you need to be if you want to party until the sun comes up. Head to Ubud to explore the famous Tegalalang Rice Terrace and fly high on the Bali Swing. Play with monkeys and take in the views at Uluwatu Temple and wash your spirit in blessings at Tirta Empul Tampak Siring water temple. Catch the best brunch in Bali at the W Bali's Star Fish Bloo Restaurant or make your way to the lively poolside brunch at Mrs. Sippy. Eat your weight in seafood pretty much anywhere in Jimbaran or head to Naughty Nuri's for killer ribs and twisted martinis. People watch at Seminyak staples Ku De Ta or Potato Head Beach Club or catch an instagrammable sunset at La Brisa or La Laguna.
Looking for a day trip? Catch the speedboat at Padang Bai and head to Lombok or Gili T for some relaxing beach time and exploring, or for breathtaking sights, take a tour of nearby Nusa Penida. Need more for your itinerary? Viator puts everything from food tours to white water rafting at your fingertips.
There you have it, the ultimate guide to traveling to Bali. With these tips you should be ready to eat, pray and slay your way around this island paradise!