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The Ultimate Backpacking Guide To Bali

Rice terrace in Bali
Rice terrace in Bali | jamie_fenn © |Unsplash
The island of Bali evokes tropical party vibes together with many opportunities for adventures through its pristine beaches and lush forests. The country’s timeless tradition and welcoming culture make it an ideal doorway to start your Southeast Asian backpacker trail. Here some tips to help you make the most of your backpacking mission in Bali.

The backpacker scene

Bali summons backpackers from all over the world. They love Bali. It offers everything: cheap accommodation, food, parties, easy transport, surf, hikes and mesmerizing natural wonders. Being a very popular destination, with an established tourism infrastructure, high season months like July, August and December can be busy, but that won’t take the charm out of the dreamy island. Instead, it will increase the chances of making more friends along the route.

Bali meets all tastes and needs. Here, wave-riders can find the best surfing spots in the world; soul-seeking travelers can experience the timeless traditions and spirituality of the villages in the central highlands; avid hikers can climb 3,000-meter-high volcanic peaks; and waterfall-chasers can find bliss in the deep tropical forests. Plus, there’s also the parties. Bali is home to some of the coolest bars in Asia and hosts epic music festivals throughout the year. You’ll be spoiled for choice.

Making the most of it

Learn how to drive a scooter – safely

Roads are small in Bali and getting around by scooter will give you freedom to move around. It’s cheaper than getting a driver, and it’s faster. Normal daily rent is around 50.000 Indonesian rupiah, so don’t get yourself fooled – bargain if you must. If you’ve never ridden before, ask your rental guy to give you a quick lesson and always, always, always wear a helmet. It looks exotic to ride with hair in the air, but it’s neither safe nor smart. Get out of the main roads and drive around remote country roads. The breeze, the scents and the views will make you feel ecstatic.

Rent a scooter to get the most out of Bali Brian Roberts © | Flickr

Explore off the beaten track

Bali is bigger than people think. The northern part of the island, which is more difficult to reach as it’s far from central towns, usually remains unexplored. So for the avid off-the-beaten-track adventurers, that’s the perfect place to go. If you feel confident enough, you can travel all around the island by scooter only. Make sure to pack warm and wet-weather clothes; it can get chilly up there, but it holds the most outstanding secrets of the island.

Don’t limit your diet to banana pancakes and fried rice

Who hasn’t thought of Bali without thinking of banana pancakes, Bintang (the local beer) and nasi goreng (fried rice)? Well, Balinese cuisine is so mouth-watering and vast that it deserves more attention. Find a local warung (restaurant) and try their bakso or meatball soup, their nasi lawar or a salad of chopped jackfruit, as well as coconut and local spices or babi guling (suckling pig).

Try out babi guling when in Bali momo © | Flickr

Safety

Balinese economy is almost totally based on tourism, which makes it a very safe place to travel too. Locals are welcoming and warm. However, the common sense rule applies here. In hostels, always put your bags in your locker or take them with you. Do not leave unattended belongings in the car with drivers and hide your bags – or wear cross shoulder bags or backpacks – when driving your scooter. Always wear a helmet and be careful when crossing the streets – there are no zebra lines and even if there were, no one would stop. In parties and crowded areas – maybe after one too many beers – be aware of your belongings and of possible, although unlikely, scams. Bali is a safe destination for solo female travelers but again, common sense safety applies here.

Food and accommodation

They say that frying makes everything taste good. And there are lot of goreng or fried dishes in Bali ready to please your avid tastebuds – and for cheap too. There is everything from nasi (rice) goreng, mie (noodles ) goreng, ayam (chicken) goreng, and to pisang (banana) goreng. For backpackers on a detox, the tropical fruits here are the juiciest and cheapest you’ll ever try. The local warungs will make your stomach and wallet happy and full. And if the infamous Bali-belly happens, drink some good coconut water and go to the pharmacy.

Hostels are everywhere on the island. For a cheap price of 100.000 Indonesian rupiahs a night, you can get a bunk in an air-conditioned dorm, including a simple breakfast in the morning. Juice, coffee and yes, banana pancakes. Some hostels even have a pool (bring on the beers!). Local homestays in a family compound are cheap too, and ideal if you have a friend to share a room with. They usually charge 200.000 Indonesian rupiahs with a fan, and a bit more with air-con. A perfect accommodation to experience the local culture in a more authentic way.

Making friends

The best part of a backpacking adventure is the friends you’ll make on the road, and Bali will welcome you with so many new precious friendship and connections. From the local owners of your hostel or homestay to the people you’ll meet in the bus or while surfing and hiking. But the most fun bonding activities are the adventurous ones. Book a hike to Mount Batur, or a raft down a river gorge, or a spiritual visit to a temple for some unique memories. Speaking a little bit of the local language can also help along the way. Here some of the must-know phrases in Indonesian – the Balinese speak a local dialect as well.

Sunset on the beach with friends in Bali Farley Roland Endeman © | Flickr

Money, money, money

Currency

Welcome to the Indonesian rupiah kingdom, where, as in most of the Southeast Asian countries, you can be a millionaire with only $70. Bali is cash-based, but credit and debit cards are accepted in most places and ATMs are everywhere. Tip: always withdraw money at an ATM attached to a bank. It’s not uncommon for people to get their card skimmed, so be careful.

Costs

1 meal ($1-$7USD)

1 beer ($2-$5). Bintang and Bali Hai are the cheapest.

1 night at a backpacker hostel ($7-$14)

1 cheap mode of transport for inner-city travel ($3.5-$7)

1 hygiene/medical essential (at a local shop) ($2 – $7)

1 affordable experience (e.g. average entry to visit a temple) (1$ – $10)

Indonesian rupiah is the currency used in Bali and Indonesia Farhan Perdana (Blek) © | Flickr

Where to go

Seminyak

If you are looking for parties, avoid Kuta (way too overrated and busy) and head to Seminyak instead. Located only 30 minutes’ drive from Bali International Airport depending on traffic, it’s the perfect initiation for your backpacking journey in Bali. Some of the best beach clubs and bars on the island are here. Indulge on some good beats and mojitos, but in moderation!

Canggu

Head here for a dreamy surf and magical sunset on the beach. Some pretty cool spots like Pretty Poison, which is a bar/skate park, and Old Man’s are also in the area – the perfect mix of nature and fiesta for all tastes and needs. Canggu is only 20 minutes’ drive from Seminyak on the same coastline.

Ubud

Located on the central Balinese highlands, Ubud is the cultural and spiritual heart of the island. Home to golden temples, monkey forests and infinity pools overlooking the lush jungle, it’s an ideal spot to relax and dive deeper into timeless local traditions.

Uluwatu

Surf, cliffs and rock bars. Uluwatu is on the tipping point of the southern Bukit peninsula, and is a prime wave spotting location. The sunsets from here are pretty magical and the parties are few but lit. Do not miss the Sunday sesh at Single Fin bar.

North

If you like off-the-beaten-track adventures, North Bali is the place to go. On the East coast, visit the fishing village of Amed (the snorkeling is gold here). Same as Pemutaran on the North-west coast. The road leading to those shores hides waterfalls and jungle treks, so do stop and have a ball in the tropical wilderness.

The mesmerizing cliffs in Uluwatu, Bali. Juan Antonio Segal © | Flickr

Bucket list experiences

Go for a sunrise hike on Mount Batur

Mount Batur is a volcano in East Bali and one of the most popular destinations for sunrise chasing. It’s gonna be busy up there, but watching the sun rising on your sweaty skin after a tough hike up will probably be something you’ll never forget all your life.

Enjoy the sunrise on Mount Batur with friends Melanie van Leeuwen / © Culture Trip

Surf!

Surfer or not, you cannot go to Bali without jumping on a board at least once. Renting an average board is easy and for first-timers, every board rental includes a lesson. Don’t forget to put cream on your precious back, bottom and legs and enjoy the ride.

Go waterfall-chasing in Git-Git

If you have time to venture up North, do visit the area around Git-Git, which is pure deep jungle adventure. Make sure to pack warm and wet weather clothes because it can get chilly up there. Yes, even in the tropics.

Bonus articles about Bali

Before you leave, here are some more articles to help you out.