12 things to know before going to Bali

The Indonesian island of Bali is a sun-soaked paradise that attracts every type of traveler, from budget-conscious backpackers to luxury jet-setters.

But – as with any destination – the vast majority of travelers (especially first-timers) will have a number of questions, whether it’s “Can unmarried couples stay together in Bali?” (an increasingly common one in the light of recently-introduced new rules for tourists in Bali, which we’ll get to later) or “What should I wear?”

Thankfully, Bali is one of the easiest destinations to explore, although its size – the island covers 5776 sq km (2230 sq miles) – means travelers should take the time to think about what they want to see and do relatively early on. For example, places such as Seminyak, with its beach clubs and five-star hotels, tend to become somewhat crowded during peak season, while more rural destinations, such as Ubud, might well require a longer taxi journey but are absolutely worth the effort, especially for those keen to avoid the crowds.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that Bali is one of Asia’s safest destinations. As with any holiday hot spot, there are always going to be certain things we can do to ensure we stay safe while traveling, but crackdowns on petty theft and bad behavior have all helped transform the island into a wonderfully family-friendly destination.

Here are our top tips for anyone heading to Bali.

A farmer in a terraced field
Bali is a low-risk destination for malaria, but you will still want some bug spray © Yavuz Sariyildiz / Shutterstock

1. Check your vaccinations are up-to-date before traveling to Indonesia

There are no mandatory vaccinations for visitors to Bali (barring the need for travelers arriving from countries with a high yellow fever transmission risk to carry a yellow fever vaccination certificate), although Hepatitis A, typhoid and tetanus are often recommended. Bali falls into the “low to no risk” category when it comes to malaria.

Rabies remains a big problem in Indonesia, and although it claims fewer lives in Bali than elsewhere (according to the World Health Organization, 11 people died from rabies in the first half of 2023), it still exists, and the rabies vaccination is worth considering. Working out what vaccinations you need for a holiday to Bali is mostly a personal choice, but if you have concerns, contact your local physician for the latest guidance.

2. Bring a reusable bottle

One of the most asked questions by tourists: “Is Bali’s tap water safe to drink?” The short answer is “no.” Stick to bottled water or, better still, bring a bottle with a built-in water filtering membrane. Purchasing bottled water – especially in restaurants – can quickly become expensive, which is another reason we’re fans of reusable filtered ones, such as Larq and Lifestraw. These are also handy when it comes to purifying water used for cleaning fruits and vegetables. Additionally, try to steer clear of ice and use bottled water to brush your teeth.

Huge dark clouds out at sea contrasting with the light elsewhere. A small row boat is in the foreground on the beach
There are significant discounts in the wet season, and it doesn’t rain constantly © Bento Fotography / Getty Images

3. Don’t write off the rainy season

Having a rough idea of when dry and rainy seasons fall is undoubtedly something that is useful to know before heading to Indonesia. But bear with us – Bali’s rainy season, which takes place between October and April, is a great time to visit. It’s typified by short, sharp showers that often only last a few minutes. And in addition to the fact that prices for everything – from regional airfares to hotels – plummet, the island becomes wonderfully lush, the weather is still warm (typically hovering between 24°C/75°F and 29°C/85°F), and the main tourist attractions are blissfully crowd-free. You’ll also find it easier to snap up places on excursions, such as snorkeling tours and guided hikes.

4. Buy some bug spray

To be clear, Bali doesn’t have a major mosquito problem, but like anywhere in Southeast Asia, these pesky biting bugs love the occasional bloodsucking session – in the case of Bali, particularly during the rainy season between November and April. Lighten the load on your wallet by purchasing your repellent in Bali and opting for bug sprays made in Asia. Popular (and much cheaper) Asian brands you’ll find throughout Indonesia include Soffell (snap up the surprisingly pleasant floral-scented version if you can).

5. Avoid traveling during peak times

Traffic in Bali can be horrendous – especially around busier spots such as Denpasar and Kuta – and estimated journey times on apps like Google Maps or Grab are notoriously unreliable. Peak times tend to be 6am to 8am (but roads often remain busy until 10am when day-trippers head out) and 4pm to 7pm. Allow plenty of time to get from A to B, especially when heading to the airport.

A pathway between lily-covered ponds leads to a temple building
When you visit temples and other religious sites, wear clothes that cover shoulders and upper legs © Maciej Matlak / Shutterstock

6. Pack clothes that will cover you up for when you’re not on the beach

In Bali, skimpy swimwear is fine for the beach, but definitely not for trips to a supermarket or restaurant.

Men and women need to ensure their shoulders and upper legs are covered when visiting religious sites, although most of these places will have sarongs for visitors to borrow. Pack like a pro by taking a light cotton scarf that can double as a sarong if you visit a temple or other religious site, and a pair of light cotton trousers (bonus points if they’ve got a built-in mosquito repellent), which will protect you from bites while also providing enough coverage at sites where tiny denim shorts or a vest just won’t cut it.

7. Behave respectfully

Various media reports might give the impression it’s easy to get into trouble in Bali, but it’s not. In reality, you just need to be sensible: don’t do drugs (being caught with under a gram of cannabis will land you in prison), be respectful and dress appropriately at religious sites, don’t ride a motorbike or moped without a helmet (Bali’s police have recently started cracking down especially hard on foreign moped drivers), and treat locals with respect.

8. Locals will be keen to share their knowledge with you

Staying at a hotel with a concierge or a friendly receptionist? Feel free to grill them about the best local bar, beach or restaurant. The Balinese are incredibly proud of their island  – don’t be surprised if the bartender at your favorite beach bar ends up inviting you to their home for dinner with their family – and love nothing more than telling visitors about their favorite beach, nature walk or temple.

A popular Balinese meal of rice with a variety of vegetables in a wooden bowl
Support Bali’s economy by eating local dishes in independent establishments © Ariyani Tedjo / Shutterstock

9. Eat, drink, stay and shop locally

Don’t be afraid to go local, whether this means eating at tiny family-run restaurants or opting for local drink brands. You’ll pay less and enjoy delicious local dishes, and you’ll be contributing directly to the local economy, too. These days, even the smallest restaurants, bars and independent hotels will be listed on online review sites such as Zomato (especially popular in Asia), and a quick glance should tell you whether the business in question is reputable or not.

10. Carry some loose change

Many businesses in Bali will take payment by card, but there are still plenty of places that only take cash. These include temples, smaller souvenir shops and beachfront masseuses (which, by the way, offer some of the best massages going). ATMs on the island can be unreliable and are also few and far between in some areas. Additionally, don’t assume you’ll always have the mobile data you’ll need to book a ride-share taxi. If you need to hail a tuk-tuk or taxi from the side of the road, it’s highly likely you’ll need to pay in cash.

When using ATMs, opt for ones connected with major banks (in Indonesia, these include BNI, Bank Mandiri, BCA and CIMB Niaga) to avoid withdrawal fees and remember that Indonesian ATMs issue the cash first, so don’t forget to wait for your card to appear.

11. Get around by moped (but always wear a helmet)

Mopeds are the cheapest way to get around Bali and often – especially during rush hour in places such as Kuta – the quickest, too. They’re also offered as a mode of transport by Grab and Gojek (Bali’s most popular ride-sharing apps), and prices for journeys via mopeds are significantly cheaper than those made by car. Just remember to check the reviews of your chosen driver and always wear a helmet (the driver will typically provide one). Avoid hailing scooter taxis on the street – you won’t be able to check their credentials, and, in reality, Grab and Gojek have so many scooter drivers (both identifiable for their bright green jackets) that there’s simply no need.

12. There is a no-sex-before-marriage law

In December 2022, the Indonesian government brought in a new law that forbids sex outside of marriage. Technically, this law applies to visitors as well as locals.

At the time, it was announced that the legislation won’t be introduced until late 2025. Since then, Bali’s governor has said that the law – dubbed by some newspapers as the “Bali bonk ban”– won’t apply to tourists and, additionally, guilty parties can only be reported by spouses, parents or children. In summary, the law represents a worrying development for human rights in Indonesia, but it’s not one that is likely to affect tourists.

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