Before I traveled 9,400 miles to visit Bali for two weeks, you would think I would do a lot of research. There were so many different blog posts and articles about where to go, where to eat, what to do, and they all left me feeling extremely overwhelmed. In the end, the extent of my planning was buying my plane ticket and booking where I was staying the first night. I was told by a family friend who lives there to do my trip “the Balinese way” and go with the flow, so booking the rest of my trip happened day-by-day.
There were definitely pros and cons to traveling this way, which is 100% possible in Bali. I would say not planning accommodations worked out great because we got locals perspectives on what areas to visit and where not to visit (and even got discounted rates for booking last minute). But now that I’ve spent some time there, I’m going to address the information online that left me confused before I went to Bali so hopefully you feel more prepared than I did!
Don’t: Spend all your time in Canggu
When you see pictures of Bali on your Instagram feed of luxurious brunches, cafes full of aesthetically pleasing walls, and Instagrammable spots galore, you’re probably looking at places in Canggu. Canggu is a very chill part of the island, full of great food, surfing, and relaxing on the beach. There’s also great nightlife and bars to check out in the evening! If eating delicious, organic food is your priority, then you will love Canggu! If you want to experience the culture of Bali, Canggu is not necessarily the place. For me, Canggu wasn’t necessarily my favorite because it is overrun with ‘grammable restaurants and not a lot of culture.
I would recommend staying in Canggu the first two-three days you’re in Bali because it was a great place to be to help curb that jet lag and have some of the best meals of the trip. The downside: you will be paying Westernized prices. Each meal for us in Canggu was about $15-$25 a person, which is not very expensive in perspective, but compared to other parts of the island, you can eat for $5 or less a meal.
Favorite Canggu spot: La Cabina for floating brunch - I got the brekky bowl and it was unreal!
Do: Spend more time in Ubud
Ubud is considered the “cultural capital” of Bali, and in hindsight I wish we could’ve used one of the days we spent in Canggu and stayed an extra day in Ubud instead! Some of my favorite things we did:
Tirta Empul: Tirta Empul is a temple just outside of Ubud where Balinese people go to cleanse their spirits from sin before prayer.
Campuhan Ridge Walk: This uphill walk is absolutely beautiful and you get views of rice paddies and terraces throughout the walk.
Monkey Forest: This is exactly what it sounds like- for a small entry fee, you can walk throughout the monkey forest, and even interact with them if you want to. We saw several people bring in bananas or coconut for the monkeys, but we also saw a young boy get bit by a monkey because he tricked it with which hand the banana he had was in. Just don’t mess with those monkeys, they can, and will, be mean!
Waterfalls! We visited several waterfalls while staying in Ubud, and it’s definitely something you don’t want to miss out on! The best one hands down was Sekumpul Waterfall, it was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. It’s a bit of a hike down and up, so make sure you are with someone that knows the way. Don’t forget to bring a change of clothing and good shoes!
Tegalalang Rice Terrace: head over to this beautiful rice field for stunning views!
Don't: Feel like you need to rent scooters every day
So there’s two main ways to get around Bali: you can either rent a scooter and drive yourself or hire a driver for the day! The roads are really congested and somewhat dangerous, and we saw at least five tourists with casts on their foot/leg/arm on our trip (and I’m assuming it was from scooter accidents). I think a great way to see the area at first is to hire a driver and have them show you around! Hiring a driver is basically when you hire someone for the entire day to take you places and it’s like having your own personal tour guide! After you get familiar with the traffic and roads, you could consider renting a scooter, but we became such good friends with our driver, Made that we used him for the rest of our trip!
Cost of renting a scooter per day: 30,000-50,000 Rupiah or $2.50-$4 USD. (1-2 people on a scooter)
Cost of hiring a driver per day: 400k - 500k ($28-$35) (4 people in car)
Do: Hire a Driver
I cannot say enough good things about my day with Made and Gede from Tridatu Bali Tour! When we asked Made and Gede to pick us up, we gave them an idea of what we wanted to see but had no plans & no destination. After sharing we wanted to see some waterfalls, they drove us to Sekumpul and led us on a hike to the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. On the way back from the waterfalls, Made and Gede went out of their way to show us temples, the most stunning views from the side of the road, and other places along the way. We ended the day with a great meal at the cutest local restaurant with the sweetest owners I have ever met. It’s the days like this that make me want to travel, getting to meet and experience this beautiful place with the most genuine and good hearted people. I will never forget this adventure of a day or the people who made it so great. Thank you Made and Gede, you gave us the best day in Bali and I wish we would have found you two earlier on in our trip!
We hired Made for 12 hours (he took us everywhere, like basically around the entire island) for 550,000, $40.
Don't: Plan every place you’ll stay
As I said before, there is beauty in living “the Balinese way” and going with the flow when planning where you’re going to stay. We really enjoyed talking to locals our first day to get their opinions on where we should visit, and this was how we traveled during our trip! The only spots we had booked in advance was the night we got in, and three days on the Gili Islands. Additionally, there were a few times where we decided to ball out on beautiful villas, and there were times we decided to save money and stay in a simpler location. Both are equally great, and I recommend staying at a beautiful Airbnb or villa during your trip, but we also found a great hotel in Ubud that was only $30 a night, and had all the necessities we needed (wifi included). We were barely in our hotel rooms, so that’s something to consider if you want to save money!
Do: Book your first hotel (and close to the airport if late flight in)
Our flight arrived in Bali at 1am, so we chose to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn right next to the airport. This was perfect for us because not only was it affordable, but we were able to pass out right when we got to Bali after an exhausting 2 days of travel. The breakfast was delicious and filling, and then we were able to head to Canggu that next morning! Also plan out how much your taxi will cost you, and don’t pay any more than that. We think we may have been ripped off by our taxi driver because we had no idea going rates for taxis (and our brains weren’t functioning after all the travels) so have that prepared!
Don't: Go with the cheapest boat ride company
Something I regret not doing ahead of time was to plan the boat rides to the Gili Islands. We booked our accommodations there in advance, but decided to figure out the boat ride later. The worst experience of our entire trip was the ride to and from Bali to Gili T because the boat company was such a pain to work with. We went with the cheapest company and bought our tickets the day before (Meranti Express - unbeknownst to us, a quick Google search advises against this company) and our bags ended up getting soaked with ocean water and our clothes smelled horrible. I would recommend booking a reputable boat company ahead of time and paying the extra money, because our boat ride was hot, overpacked and terribly ran.
Do: Plan time for Gili Trawangan or Gili Meno!
The Gili Islands are one place that I recommend everyone visit! We absolutely loved Gili Trawangan for it’s food, relaxing beach life and unreal snorkeling. Gili Meno was also beautiful, but it is definitely a quieter vibe. Most of the time we walked around Gili Meno we were alone, there was barely anyone there. The photos speak for itself on these two.
Don’t: Chase after Instagram pictures
Now I am about to call myself out and say that yes, there were absolutely times on my trip where I wanted to visit somewhere because I saw it on Instagram (no one is perfect). But what I will say is that some of the most beautiful spots we saw were ones that I’ve never seen on Instagram before, and that’s the beauty of hiring a local driver (thanks Made) and going with the flow. He took us to several beautiful spots that were not on my radar and I’m so grateful for that. Additionally, the Balinese are very self-aware about the fact that their tourists love beautiful Instagrams, so there are tons of “selfie spots” on the sides of the road where you can sit in a nest or on a swing for 10k-50k, or $0.70-$4 USD for a picture. Those famous Bali swing pictures you see? Yeah they aren’t free, you will pay about $40 USD for one of those bad boys. That’s something we decided to skip and use to hire a driver (that’s 1-2 days worth of money to explore the entire island) but whatever floats your boat!
Do: Live in the moment!!!
As I’ve said a million times this post, any day you spend in Bali is going to be amazing! You will visit Bali several times and never feel like you have enough time to do it all, so enjoy the current moment and all will go well! The possibilities are endless!