Bali 101: Here’s what you need to know

Bali — the most famous destination in Indonesia — has long been a paradise for travelers
Bali — the most famous destination in Indonesia — has long been a paradise for travelers
Feb 24, 2023

You probably already know that Bali offers the best of many worlds: out-of-a-dream beaches, near-magical jungles and a rich and unique culture. Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning a trip to the Island of the Gods.

Ubud is the island's cultural center.

The great beaches of Kuta and Seminyak may be what put Bali on the map, but the inland city of Ubud is the island's main hub for traditional Balinese arts, like fire dancing and shadow puppetry. Both performances tell traditional Hindu and Balinese stories and should be considered a "must do." Fire dancing performances typically occur around sunset by a troupe of about 80 people, mostly men. It's a spectacular event, with nearly nonstop chanting and dancing. Shadow puppet shows are much more quiet and intimate—they’re essentially a one-man show with the puppeteer playing different characters. 

While Ubud's center is packed with people, markets, temples and shops, walk in any direction and you'll come across the quiet, soothing and very green rice-field scenery for which Bali is known. This is also one of the best areas to experience a Balinese massage and for a fraction of the price you might expect — a 60-minute treatment can cost less than the equivalent of $10 USD. For a splurge (but still a steal by U.S. standards), try Taksu Spa, a wellness oasis tucked into the jungle.

Luxury is surprisingly affordable in Bali.

Airfare to Bali may be expensive, but once you touch down, you'll find the island is almost shockingly affordable, from shopping and dining, spas and transit — and yes, even hotels. If you opt for the Viceroy, Raffles, or another luxe Bali outpost from a famous international luxury brand, the rates will be appropriately high. But search for independent, Balinese-owned properties, and you'll be surprised by just how far your dollar will stretch. This is because decades of inflation have greatly depreciated the value of the Indonesian rupiah (IDR). Combine this with a huge influx of tourists, rampant development to accommodate those tourists and subsequently fierce competition, and you're left with prices that seem too good to be true (but don't worry, they're real). Truly, the biggest expense of your Bali trip will be the flight.

What about this new law regarding unmarried couples in Bali?

In late 2022, Indonesia announced sweeping legal changes, set to go into effect in three years. These include the outlawing of sex outside of marriage, which may give pause to unmarried travelers wishing to visit the country (and share a hotel room together). However, the Indonesian government has stressed that tourists in Bali are excluded from this new law. Indonesia consists of many, very different islands. While the main religion of its population is Muslim, Bali is over 85% Hindu with rather different rules than the rest of the country. If you're thinking of going, here are some news articles to check out.

Bali is generally considered very safe for tourists.

Bali is consistently ranked as one of the safest places to travel in Indonesia. Bag-snatching and other crimes against tourists are quite rare, though travelers should always exercise common sense. One of the biggest safety issues in Bali isn't crime, but poor infrastructure. Sidewalks in Ubud and Seminyak are so narrow that walking side by side may be a challenge, plus uneven surfaces, unmarked holes and deep irrigation trenches are everywhere. American travelers would do best to take taxis or hire a driver for the duration of the trip, and not attempt driving or motorbiking on the winding, traffic-choked and left-driving roads.

There are no direct flights from the U.S.

There are currently no direct flights to Bali (Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar, airport code: DPS), so getting there is half the adventure. Some major carriers include Emirates (with stops in Dubai), Qatar Airways (stops in Doha), Singapore Airlines (stops in Singapore) and Eva Air (stops in Taipei), so depending on the length of your connection, you can visit other destinations in the Middle East and Southeast Asia on your way to or from Bali. For example, you might be able to find a flight with a 24-hour or 36-hour connection in Seoul on Korean Air, making your trip to Bali feel a bit like a two-in-one.

When is the best time to visit Bali?

The summer months make up the dry season, so June, July, and August are your safest bet for dry weather and sunny days. However, these months coincide with the Southern Hemisphere winter, so you'll find yourself sharing the island with large crowds of Australian tourists. The shoulder-season months of May and September are generally dry and sunny, but with lighter crowds — these months have our vote for when to go.

And even if you travel to Bali during the wet season (November through March), it simply means swapping beach activities for 30 minutes to an hour every day for temple tours, spa time, yoga classes (Ubud Yoga House is the holy grail for visiting yogis) and rice-field trekking. But, even in winter, you'll have mostly sunny days with plenty of time to enjoy Bali's extraordinary beaches.

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