Home to lush green cliff faces, sacred temples and majestic waterfalls, Bali is an island paradise with a rich and compelling culture at its core. Whether you want to explore ancient architecture, swim in crystal-blue seas or get lost in lush green forestscapes, Bali offers both nature and history lovers the opportunity to indulge in Indonesia’s divine heritage and cultural treasures.
With so much to see and explore in Bali, we asked several travel bloggers for their top tips for making the most of this spellbinding destination when visiting for the first time.
First-time tips for visiting Bali
Rent a scooter and go exploring
German Backpacker blogger Patrick told us why Bali is one of Asia’s most popular tourist destinations and gave some advice for experiencing the real Bali. “I lived in Bali for more than three months and explored the island extensively. It’s important to realise that Bali is no longer a secluded and remote island, but in fact very congested and populated in many parts. If you’d like to head off the beaten track, I’d recommend renting a scooter and exploring the island independently. This is certainly the best way to see Bali while giving you flexibility and freedom.”
Travel blogger Jonny Melon also recommends exploring outside of the more populated areas of Bali. “I urge anyone and everyone travelling to Bali to venture out of the Canggu, Seminyak or Kuta vortex and explore the more untouched areas that the ‘Island of Gods’ has to offer. Rent a scooter or hire a driver and head north to Munduk Hills or head east to Amed and discover the real Bali that you probably never knew existed.”
Hayley from Hayley On Holiday also agrees that there is so much more to uncover outside of the main tourist areas. "On your first visit to Bali, definitely step outside the Kuta bubble. There's so much more to discover away from this busy and overly saturated area. Head to Uluwatu or Tanah Lot Temple, go on a day trip to Nusa Penida or visit the Ubud Art Market. It will give you a sense of the ‘real’ Bali.”
Take part in a cooking class
Travel blogger Morry from Morry Travels believes the best way to experience the culture’s amazing cuisine is through an Indonesian cooking class. “It's a great way to learn some new Indonesian dishes and also try out different food at the same time!” You can read more about Morry’s experience with cooking classes in Bali here.
Get a ferry to the island of Nusa Penida
As well as visiting the more untouched places in the north and east of Bali, travel bloggers Mark and Mim from The Common Wanderer recommend getting the ferry across to the neighbouring Nusa Penida island just off the coast. “We highly recommend a day trip (or longer!) to the island of Nusa Penida, just off Bali. It feels almost untouched by the mass tourism of mainland Bali, and the scenery is like nowhere else on earth - think epic cliffs, bright white beaches and beautiful jungles.”
Travel blogger Darren from Wild & Away also recommends visiting this breathtaking island. “I would recommend every new visitor visits Nusa Penida and stays on the island for a few days if they can rather than taking a day trip. In my opinion, a day trip to Nusa Penida is not enough time to experience the best attractions on the island - there is so much to do there that you just can’t fit into a day trip!”
Visit the rice terraces and temples in Ubud
For an authentic Bali experience, Dan from Dan Flying Solo recommends visiting Ubud. “The joy of Bali is that it’s relatively easy and affordable to get around, so be sure to explore and find your own favourite place. For me, that was exploring inland beyond Ubud, where a walk through the rice terraces and the temples provides a completely different feeling to the coast and is a fantastic introduction to Bali’s more authentic side.”
Things to know before visiting Bali
Bali is not as quiet and remote as you might think
In fact, Bali is far from it, says Jonny. “Bali has endless amounts of things to experience including the deeply spiritual culture, volcanic landscapes, countless waterfalls, rugged cliff faces, sandy beaches, world-class surf breaks, iconic rice terraces and elephant sanctuaries.
“As well as that, you can also expect to find more tourist-led attractions such as 5-star resorts, yoga retreats, buzzing nightlife, health cafés, water parks and much, much more!”
Expect rugged coastline and cliffs rather than white sand beaches
Bali has stunning waterfalls, rice fields, jungles and temples, but when it comes to beaches, Patrick says some people can be disappointed. “Bali does not have those white sand beaches with crystal clear water you might know from Thailand or the Maldives, but rather a rough coastline with cliffs, surf-perfect waves and even black sand on some parts of the island!”
Bring proof of a return/ongoing flight
Jonny has one important tip to remember if you’re planning to set sail on a cruise or flying to Bali for a trip. “Before heading to Bali, I wish I had known I needed to show proof of a return flight or ongoing flight before departing. This could have saved me a lot of money had I organised this before arriving at the airport on the day of my flight to Bali. I had to book a flight right then and there before the airport staff would even let me check in. Definitely something to be aware of when travelling to Indonesia.”
Take care on the roads
Several of the bloggers we spoke to all said the same thing: the roads in Bali can be a bit hectic.
“For such a small island, Bali has a large population (over 4 million people!), so traffic on the island can be manic,” says Mark and Mim. “In addition to this, the roads are often narrow and windy, meaning travel times can often be long. Also, if you're going to hire a scooter - make sure you know how to drive one and always wear a helmet!”
Refuse single-use plastics
"Bali is actually pretty good at plastic management compared to a lot of places," says Dan, "it even has a straw and plastic bag ban in place that quite a lot of places adhere to. In fact, a lot of the bars invest heavily in bamboo straws and #NotPlastic products."
Although Bali is working towards better waste management, plastic from other sources still washes up on Bali's shores. “Don't be part of the problem - be part of the solution,” say Mark and Mim. “Always refuse single-use plastics such as water bottles, plastic bags and straws. Most accommodation, cafés and bars in Bali offer water filtration systems, making it easy to fill up your water bottle before setting off for the day. And if you think you’ll need a bag, bring a tote with you.”
Be careful about how you use ride-sharing apps
Ride-sharing apps are perfectly safe to use in Bali, but Morry recommends being careful about using them openly in front of local taxi drivers. “If you are planning to call a driver using a ride-sharing app like Grab, be very careful not to call them in front of the taxi drivers.” As with many places around the world, ride-sharing apps are disliked by local taxi drivers and it can cause some aggravation. Morry explains: “This happened to me when I was there and I had to walk 10 minutes away in order for my Grab driver to loop around and pick me up. I've also heard multiple stories of it happening to other people, so I would be very cautious using them.”
Bali is more than just an Instagrammable island
Although it offers a picture-perfect backdrop for social media, Bali offers so much more in the way of culture and unique experiences. “I wish I had known just how friendly and welcoming the Balinese are, as I might have visited a lot sooner!” says Hayley. “Bali is more than just an Instagram-famous island - it's full of lovely people, excellent (and cheap!) food and beautiful scenery. I hope you enjoy Bali as much as I do - in fact, I'm returning in less than a month!"
Although it may seem like a distant paradise on the other side of the world, Bali is actually one of many fantastic destinations you can visit on a cruise from Southampton. For more information about visiting Bali, get in touch with our cruise specialists today.