Indonesia has never been on our radar until a friend invited us to their destination wedding in Bali. We love this island so much and are delighted to share our experience.
This is a quick guide for first time travellers to Bali, like us, and information we wish we knew prior to landing on the Island of the Gods.
In this guide we will be giving you information on:
- The Airport and Immigration
- Local currency / your money
- Local cuisine and
- 3 Apps you need to download before you land
Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport, also known as Denpasar International Airport, is located in southern Bali, 13 km south of Denpasar.
It is Indonesia’s second-busiest international airport.
Expect a long wait at immigration on arrival. For us it seemed that a lot of flights arrived at the same time as ours. Once we got off the airplane we made a dash for immigration. We were glad we didn’t waste a lot of time as the queue behind us grew very quickly and we soon realised the need for such a cavernous international arrivals terminal. We had a 90 minute wait but considered ourselves lucky to be far up in the waiting queue.
If your stay is less than 30 days, you can get a visa on arrival if you are from one of the countries on the extensive visa waiver list.
You can book a fast track and VIP service for approximately €22 if time is of the essence. If we had known in advance, we would have booked this. After travelling for 21 hours and crossing time zones, we realised we have been awake for 24 hours, did not expect the long wait and just wanted to get to our hotel.
Unaware of the reliability of the Grab app before we arrived, we had booked a driver before travelling. We reached out to one of our Instagram contacts and got a number for a reliable driver arranging everything through WhatsApp. Our feeling in dealing with people from Bali was one of trustworthiness and genuine to a fault!
Departure was a different story and everything was fairly efficient.
Note the airport does not allow you to carry selfie sticks and camera tripods in your carryon luggage on departure which we found unusual.
Currency / Your Money
The currency in Bali is the Indonesian Rupiah. 1 Euro equals- 16,000 Indonesian Rupiah.
In many parts cash is still king but Visa and Mastercard, credit and debit cards are widely accept albeit an extra charge is added to you overall transaction.
On arrival at the airport, a quick tip is to pass the firsts set of ATMs in the arrival hall. The queue is quite long here, because visitors don’t realise that there is another ATM further down, near the main exit, with far shorter queues.
ATMs can be unreliable and some will have a maximum amount of 3,000,000 Rupiah (€185) per transaction. ATMs are completely safe to use but some areas are prone to run out of cash regularly.
Your money really travels far in Bali. Some of the notes look quite similar and dealing in thousands takes a bit of getting used too. Many businesses drop the last ‘000 on price lists and something that is 100,000 INDRP becomes 100, on a menu for example.
We didn’t bring cash with us. So we didn’t use money changing offices. If you need to exchange currency to local, use reputable offices. Beware of the smaller kiosks that look dodgy and offer no commission etc. Remember if it sounds too good to be true it most likely is.
Tipping is not the culture and service is included unless stated. Obviously use your own discretion. We tipped when we received excellent service but note, it is not expected.
One of our concerns prior to travelling to Bali was how we were going to navigate the Island. We needn’t have worried as there are numerous and inexpensive options to choose from.
The scooter is king on the road and this is evident when you first arrive and see every age, tourist and resident alike manoeuvring their way through quite heavy traffic. We have never rode a scooter/moped before and it was not an option for us. We are on the adventurous side but taking inexperience, insurance and safety into consideration we opted against.
However, if we were on an extended visit to Bali we would have taken the time to learn the basics and utilised this mode of getting around.
We really utilised the Grab App. Uber which was initially banned in Bali has sold its Indonesian presence to the Malaysian based company Grab. We used grab to great effect and it is up 75% cheaper than local transport. There are a few things to note, though:
- Download the app before you arrive in Bali.
- The fare is decided prior to you and the driver accepting the journey.
- You pay via the App and not the driver directly which rules out haggling and overcharging. There is also a facility to pay by cash if you wish.
- You book in just 2 taps, Grab “grabs” the nearest available driver and you can track your driver in real time on the map. Simples.
A word of caution! Grab is not welcomed by the established taxi drivers in Bali and although it is fully legal, there are certain areas and even hotels that will not allow pick up and drop offs.
We had first hand experienced of the “Taxi-Mafia” in Ulawatu who tried to prevent us from entering a Grab car that we booked. We stood our ground and after some time and as a scene had been created, the local taxi driver eventually gave in. This was not the nicest of experiences but we learned that the use of Grab should be discreet.
It is not going to go away but the established taxi drivers need the time to adapt to their new competitor. We paid around €2 for some of our fares which were about 30 minute journeys.
To hire your own driver for a half day or full day is extremely cheap. Many companies provide this and are even bookable on Viator. This is a brilliant way to explore the island on your own time and if you are lucky your driver will be an excellent tour guide.
We booked a driver for a half day from our Hotel in Ubud and we can honestly say that Agun’s insights into the many attractions we visited was invaluable. In particular, his local knowledge on the water temple we visited, really added to the experience. €25 approx half day. It goes without saying, he was an excellent photographer who captured precious moments during this experience.
We didn’t use this company but they are metered cabs and the official taxi company on the island, come highly recommended and are still extremely cheap. Outside of Grab and Bluebird beware of unofficial drivers who are unscrupulous in their behaviour and are out to scam the uninitiated traveller.
Similar to Grab, this is an online App where you can hire a scooter. This company has evolved and now provides a courier service – Go Send, Meal delivery service – GoFood, GoMassage – massage therapists travel to you. Among others.
As part of our visit to Bali we hopped over to the Gili Islands, namely Gili air. The best company in our opinion is Bluewater Express. It is a more pricier option than some of the other providers. Paying the extra is justified with a pick up from your accommodation and drop off on return, air conditioning, bottled water and comfortable waiting area at the port provided. They even offer sea sickness tablets. Travelling early-ish in the morning we had a smooth crossing and even got some shut eye!
Gili Islands Transport
If you are including one or all three Gili Islands as part of your itinerary, it is worth mentioning that there are no motorised transportation allowed on the islands. Cycling is absolute bliss. Horse and carte is another way to navigate around the islands.
Bali has an abundance of accommodation to suit any and all budgets from basic accommodation to high-end resorts. As this is just a quick guide to give you a taste of Bali, subscribe to our mailing list to be notified when we post our full guide.
The level of service in most establishments we visited, was impeccable.
We found Booking.com and Airbnb reliable and mixed it up with the different types of accommodation. To infinity pools and beyond the choice of unique and boutique options is endless
Keep an eye on location as some properties can be isolated and we always like to stay fairly central unless the wilderness is what we are looking for. You really do not want to spend your time battling with Bali’s traffic that can be extremely heavy a lot of the time.
Beware the differing standards in accommodation and yes, check review sites as we found reviews of our Bali accommodation quite accurate.
Fresh, local produce is the order of the day in Bali. We have not had a bad experience and savoured every smoothie bowl. With up to 5 million tourists welcomed each year from all parts of the world, you’ll have no difficulty in having your palate met – especially if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. 85 Percent of the Balinese culture is Hindu and follow vegetarian diets.
Warung and street food is extremely popular. Warung is a local, family owned restaurant serving traditional and authentic dishes from around the archipelago, making you feel at the heart of the Balinese family.
If you have very specific dietary requirements, it is worth letting your hotel know. The Balinese do not always understand the difference between vegan and vegetarian. It was often seen as the same thing.
Try Nasi Goreng as the local Indonesian cuisine. It is absolutely delicious.
Must Have Apps for Bali
- Grab: Our number 1 recommendation, we were surprised at the reliability, convenience and functionality of this ride hailing App.
- Maps me: The old reliable Google Maps is not so reliable in Indonesia. Download maps me, an offline map with navigation and directions. This really helped us as we didn’t purchase an Indonesian sim card and didn’t use the very expensive cellular data on our mobile phones.
- WhatsApp It seems everyone uses this messaging service in Bali- From you hotel concierge to your new found driver friend. This is the quickest and convenient way to book your driver, contact the hotel reception and keep in touch in WiFi areas!