The rumors are true. Bali is an absolutely remarkable destination. And despite its relatively tiny size, the abundance of things to do, places to stay, cuisines to sample, and beaches to lounge around on will astound you!
But Bali isn’t just about beautiful beaches and lush green rice terraces. There’s a lot you should know about Bali’s culture, customs, and what you can expect when you’re there. Let’s chat logistics!
Read on for my top 10 tips you should know before your first time visiting Bali!
10 Tips To Know Before Visiting Bali
1. Languages Spoken in Bali
In Bali, the main languages spoken are Balinese, Indonesian, and English. Balinese (Bahasa Bali) is unique to the island of Bali and different from the national language spoken in Indonesia. That said, Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia) is also predominantly used, and many conversational phrases locals might teach you are actually Indonesian. For instance:
Good Morning: Selamat Pagi
Good Afternoon: Selamat Siang
Good Evening: Selamat Malam
Welcome: Selamat Datang
Thank You: Terima Kasih
How Much: Berapa?
I Do Not Understand: Saya Tidak Mengerti
The only word I was actually taught in Balinese was ‘thank you,’ which is suksma. However, locals will usually be more than happy to share other common Balinese phrases with you if you ask!
Because Bali is such a popular destination for international tourism, there is actually a tourism requirement of many Balinese that they must speak at least a basic level of English. Many Balinese who have been in tourism for years actually speak pretty impeccable English because of this. So, you’ll be fine using your English to get around most places in Bali.
2. Currency in Bali
Bali uses Indonesian Rupiah. 1 Indonesian Rupiah is equivalent to $0.000064 USD. Because most prices appear quite large in Bali due to the value of the rupiah, you might frequently see the ‘thousand’ implied rather than listed out in full. So, if you see that a beer costs you ‘20 Rp,’ this more than likely means 20,000 rupiahs ($1.28 USD).
You’ll likely want to bring cash to Bali as it’s easier to use in most places. For food, activities, and transportation, I’d recommend budgeting around $30 – $60 USD/day per person, not including the cost of your accommodation. There are plenty of ATMs in Bali, especially in the tourist hubs like Ubud and Canggu, so you shouldn’t have any issues getting more cash if you need it.
All that said, most accommodations and restaurants (with the exception of warungs and street food) should be able to take card. So, you can reserve the cash you bring for miscellaneous purchases, activities, entrances to attractions, and payment for any private drivers or taxis you utilize while in Bali, and use your card for everything else.
3. Weather in Bali
Bali is close to the equator, so you can expect tropical heat and humidity year-round. Like the rest of Southeast Asia, Bali has a wet season and a dry season. Bali’s wet season is roughly November to April, and dry season is from May to October. However, I went to Bali in November, at the tail end of the dry season, and I had no issues with rainy weather. If you want to find some cheaper prices and avoid the most crowded season, you might want to look into the weeks before and after the dry season officially begins! Regardless of rainfall, the average temperature in Bali during the day is 80ºF (26.7ºC).
4. Balinese Religion & Social Structures
Indonesia is home to the largest Muslim population in the world, which makes Bali’s Hindu culture and belief systems that much more remarkable. Being the only surviving Hindu island in all of Indonesia, Bali’s culture is well-celebrated and proudly displayed. Balinese Hinduism supports the belief in Trimurti, a triple deity of Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer). But, along with this trinity, Balinese Hindus worship a wide range of gods and goddesses, with temples and holy sites dedicated to different deities throughout the island.
The Balinese also follow a caste system, not unlike the caste system you’ve probably heard of in India.
5. Balinese Culture & Etiquette
Balinese people generally don’t travel outside of Bali themselves (it’s highly cost-prohibitive for many unless they’ve worked in tourism and traveled for their jobs). However, the Balinese people are generally incredibly tolerant of and kind towards other cultures. As long as you have a positive attitude, you’ll make local friends quickly and effortlessly while in Bali.
Speaking of attitude, confrontation and angry emotions are not typically accepted forms of communication in Bali. Balinese people are calm, cool, and collected, and if you lose your temper in public you might lose respect as someone who ‘can’t keep it together.’ Being the person who complains about a meal at a restaurant will not get you very far here. So, it’s best to remain in high spirits as much as possible!
Though Bali is relatively wealthy compared to other Indonesian islands, the general public does not make a ‘liveable wage’ by any western standard. Keeping modest about money in public spaces and not flaunting wealth unless you’re at a nice restaurant or hotel will probably be greatly appreciated by locals.
Balinese people love to smile! Here, you can smile as often as you like. It is entirely acceptable and shouldn’t get you into any trouble, as it is a common greeting for locals and visitors alike. But, speaking of body language, pointing is considered disrespectful. So try to avoid this when you can, especially when referencing another person.
Last but not least, Balinese people are known for being incredibly hospitable (did I say this already?)! Many hotels, spas, and homestays will welcome you with tea, coffee, and/or cookies.
6. Clothing & Attire To Bring With You to Bali
Sandals and slippers/flip flops are very common footwear in Bali. Before entering a home, and even certain restaurants, you will need to take your shoes off.
When you visit a Balinese temple or other religious landmarks, you will be required to wear clothes that cover your legs (and sometimes even your shoulders, too). You can bring long skirts and pants with you to Bali, but it’s also good to know that most temples will allow you to borrow or rent a sarong before entering, too.
7. Transportation & Getting Around Bali
There are a couple of different ways to get around in Bali:
Renting a Scooter: This will cost you just $5 – 7 USD per day, depending on the length of your rental. However, you should only do this if you’re confident on a scooter and really good at navigating crazy traffic combined with windy, unpredictable roads. Helmets in Bali are a legal requirement!
Ride-Hailing Apps: Currently, the two apps used in Bali are Grab and Gojek. Locals are not a big fan of Grab, so many might tell you it’s illegal. It’s not. You can request both cars and scooters on Grab, and you can even rent drivers in multi-hour blocks in case you want to explore the island! Gojek is super easy to use especially if you need someone on a scooter to quickly take you from point A to point B. Gojek also does food delivery.
Hiring a Taxi: Bluebird Taxis (will have the word ‘Bluebird’ written on them) are the most popular, and go by the meter which means you have a much lower chance of getting ripped off. Your hotel should be able to help you get a taxi easily.
Hiring a Private Guide or Driver: There are so many private guides and drivers that make a living taking travelers around Bali. You can hire a private driver for around $15 – 40 USD for a full day, which is a great deal if you want to do a lot of sightseeing without having to worry about parking, traffic, or directions. You can hire a private driver on Grab, on Klook, on TripAdvisor, or through word-of-mouth (odds are, if you have a friend who’s been to Bali recently, they might have a guide they can recommend!). My guide, Jun, was a highlight from my trip. Check out his TripAdvisor reviews here.
Taking Public Transportation: There is a local shuttle bus that traverses all over the main tourist areas in Bali. It’s incredibly cheap, it just takes longer than it would if you traveled by car or scooter. For a full list of routes, see here.
As a general rule of thumb, drivers in Bali honk before each bend in the road to warn potential drivers around the corner that they’re coming. Don’t be alarmed if your driver honks frequently, they’re just utilizing this ‘alert’ system since many roads are narrow and can only fit two-way traffic when both drivers cooperate. If you’re driving, it’d be a good idea to also adopt this practice and honk to alert other drivers that you’re coming!
8. Food & Tipping in Bali
Balinese cuisine is complex and ingredient-intensive. Here, you’ll find lots of fragrant spices, chiles, fish paste, coconut milk, and curries providing the foundation for local Balinese dishes. For a local, inexpensive meal, head to a warung – a small, roadside, family-owned cafe which you can find all over Bali. Try to stick to warungs with good reviews or that have been recommended to you by a trusted local. This way, you can know whether the food is being prepared in a way that will be gentle on your stomach especially if you’re not used to eating a lot of street food. As my guide told me while I was in Bali, ‘western stomachs and Balinese stomachs have different strengths. Some food that I eat, you just aren’t ready for yet.’
Tipping in Bali is not necessary, but it is slowly becoming an appreciated form of gratitude. I’d say, feel free to tip if you feel inclined, unless you’re in a restaurant that politely asks you not to. 5 – 20% of the bill, rounded to the nearest 10K rupiah, is generally very acceptable.
9. Geography & Places to Visit On the Island
While you might think Bali is a tiny island, the different regions in Bali are so diverse and differentiated that once you’re here, the possibilities really do seem endless.
South Bali is generally the most geared towards, and familiar with, travelers as it’s where the international airport is located. Nusa Dua has a laidback, resort feel to it, while Kuta and Legian offer more of a party-goer- and surfer-laden scene. Uluwatu also has surfing and some of the most incredible coastal views. Seminyak and Canggu offer nice beaches, a bit of a calmer pace than Kuta and Legian, and an unbeatable food scene.
Central Bali is the home to Ubud, Bali’s cultural capital. Here, you’ll find lots of temples, waterfalls, and shops to immerse yourself in.
West and North Bali generally see less tourism, and therefore, offer fewer attractions. But, that’s not to say they aren’t worth a visit if you’re really looking to get away from it all. North Bali in particular offers dark sand beaches and incredible resorts.
East Bali is another region with a laidback, less crowded vibe. There’s tourism here, but it’s not as overwhelming. This is a destination that will allow you to enjoy Bali at your own pace, while still being close enough to other popular regions in Bali.
10. Travel Insurance For Bali
Bali is incredibly safe. However, I can’t stress travel insurance enough, especially if you plan on renting a scooter, hiking down to a waterfall, surfing, or swimming… which encompasses pretty much anyone visiting Bali. Some great travel insurance companies you can pick up a policy from before you go include:
I hope these tips help make your first trip to Bali absolutely unforgettable. Drop any lingering questions you have about traveling to Bali below in the comments!