So you’ve heard how amazing Bali is, seen your friend’s amazing Instagram photos, and watched Julia Roberts live happily ever after in Eat, Pray, Love. Well now it’s your turn! You’ve booked your flight and now it’s time to plan where to go, what to eat, and what to do. You’ve come to the right place! In this guide to Bali, I’ll provide everything you need in order to have an unforgettable trip.
A First Timer’s Guide to Bali
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What Towns to Visit in Bali
Bali may be a small island, but it has plenty of places to choose from. Whether you want to relax in a secluded villa, ride the surf, or check out the wildlife, there’s something here for everyone.
You may recognize this as the town that Julia Roberts made famous in her movie Eat, Pray, Love. If you watched the movie or read the book, I shouldn’t have to do much to convince you to go here. This is a beautiful little town with so much to see and do. You can’t come to Bali without making a stop in Ubud.
One of the many great things about Bali is that everything here is very cheap. I used Airbnb to stay in a private secluded villa and it only cost me $40 a night! How insane is that? I woke up every morning (which was around 4:30am thanks to jet lag) to a personal terrace and koi pond outside my door and an amazing view overlooking a vast green hilltop. Breakfast was included and I can’t begin to describe how delicious the fresh fruit smoothies were. This particular Airbnb also provided a free shuttle service into the center of town dropping off and picking up at whatever time I asked. Talk about first class service!
Villa in Ubud
Ubud is known for it’s yoga and meditation practices. If you are looking for a relaxing and spiritual retreat, I highly recommend taking an outdoor yoga class or visiting with a traditional Balinese Healer. If you want something that requires less physical and mental effort, there are a ton of spas in town to get any time of treatment you could hope for. I opted for a 6 hour spa day (because it was only $100 and that’s what I would normally pay for a 1 hour massage in the U.S.!) which included multiple massages, a mani-pedi, a flower petal bath, a facial, and a snack of fresh, local fruit.
The town center is bustling with tourists and locals alike. You won’t have a problem finding something to here. Wandering up and down the main streets you’ll find tons of handcrafted gift shops, art galleries, and restaurants. The Ubud Palace in the center of town puts on nightly dance performance which you can buy tickets to right up until show time. There will be people selling tickets right in front of the palace. They can be pushy so don’t be afraid to say no!
You absolutely must visit the Ubud Monkey Forest. There are hundreds of little monkeys running around freely here so keep a tight hold on your camera or they’ll snatch it out of your hand! The surrounding rice paddies a must-see as well. They are expansive fields of bright green ridges and are definitely insta-worthy.
Sacred Monkey Forest, Ubud
Tegallalang Rice Terrace
2. Kuta & Seminyak
Now it’s time to head to the beach. Depending on what you’re looking for I’d recommend either Kuta or Seminyak.
Kuta is full of young party-goers and lots of Aussies. It’s backpacker friendly and the nightlife here is crazy. If you’ve ever thought about learning to surf, do it here! You can book a professional surf lesson for as cheap as $40 a person if you choose the small group option. Or you can find a local Balinese guy on the beach who you will charge you $15 for a one-on-one. You won’t need to search too hard, these guys are all over the beach offering their services. The waves in Kuta are beginner friendly, meaning you won’t exhaust yourself from paddling out because the water level is so low that you can literally walk out and stand there waiting for a wave. And they are very small waves so you won’t be terrified of getting swallowed up and swept away.
Be aware that there a TON of women on the beach who will try to sell you jewelry, crafts, or manicures. It gets a bit ridiculous so you have to learn to not be too nice and say no firmly or simply ignore them. (I made the mistake of being nice and they wouldn’t leave me alone).
Seminyak is a much different vibe. It’s a high end resort area where you’ll find fine dining, beach clubs, and bars with much higher prices. This is the place to go if shopping is part of your vacation ritual.
Visiting the Balinese temples is a wonderful experience if you’re looking for something unique to do. There are a ton (and I mean a TON) of temples to visit. Most of them require you to wear a sarong, so if you can bring one from home or purchase one as a souvenir that would be your best bet. Otherwise a lot of temples let you borrow one for free so that’s always an option too. There are plenty of temples surrounding the Ubud area, including the Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave). Uluwatu is a popular temple to visit down on the very southernmost tip of Bali, south of Kuta. It’s perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean.
Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave)
Getting Around Bali
Coming out of the Denpasar airport, I was able to get a taxi from the arrivals hall directly to my villa in Ubud. The driver was very friendly and spoke good English. He offered his personal driving services for the tour I had purchased the next day as well as driving me from Ubud down to my next destination, Kuta. He went above and beyond by offering to take me to different temples, the rice paddies, and even to a free coffee and tea tasting!
It was cheaper than if I had pre-booked my transportation, but everything is so cheap here so it wouldn’t hurt to book and confirm a driver online before your trip. This will ensure you have someone waiting at the airport for you and can take you between your destinations. Make sure to tip! Most pre-booked tours offer transportation to and from your accommodation, so be sure to book it when you’re purchasing online.
What to Eat in Bali
If you like Asian food, you’ll like Balinese food. Nasi Goreng and Mie Goreng are basically fried rice and fried noodles. These were my favorites because they were very similar to Chinese fried rice and lo mein. The local fruits are delicious and Bali is known for their amazing fruit smoothies. YOU HAVE TO TRY A FRUIT SMOOTHIE!! With the recent boom in tourism here, a lot of western style restaurants have popped up. So if you’re craving pizza or just aren’t feeling brave, you’ll have no problem finding somewhere to eat that reminds you of home.
The Balinese cuisine is delicious but you have to be careful and do your research. “Bali Belly” is a real thing here…basically food poisoning. Usually from bad meat. Look at yelp when deciding on where to eat because you’ll have a good idea of which places have good reputations. The fine dining and resort restaurants are likely to be safe, many of the cheaper places are too but always double check on Yelp. Also ask locals. They know the best places to eat cheaply and stay safe from the dreaded Bali Belly.
Now on to the drinks. I’d say the two most important drinks in life are coffee and alcohol, so that’s what I’m going to talk about! At my coffee and tea tasting, I was able to try a wide variety of drinks, most of which were delicious. I’ve never been a huge coffee drinker but this coffee was delicious! Bali is known for a special kind of coffee commonly referred to as Luwak Coffee. Luwak Coffee is known as one of the most expensive coffees in the world and made in a not so pleasant process. The luwak (a raccoon type animal) eats coffee cherries, partially digests them, and excretes them. These are then used to make the coffee. Yuck! I wasn’t brave enough to try it but I bought some for my family to try.
Coffee and Tea Tasting
While you’re in Bali you have to try a local beer. Bintang can be found at most restaurants and bars and of course is super cheap. I’ve never enjoyed beers that much but it was actually pretty tasty!
I hope I’ve either inspired you to book a trip to Bali or helped to plan your trip. If you have any questions or suggestions from your own experience, comment below I’d love to hear from you! If you’d like help finding a cheap flight to Bali, contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m happy to offer my consulting services free of charge! Learn more about my consulting services on my Work with Me page.