Stepping onto the Island of the Gods, your first time in Bali will be nothing short of magical. With its lush landscapes and vibrant culture, this Indonesian paradise beckons travelers seeking both adventure in Bali and tranquility.
In this article, I’ll share my personal insights and tips to help you navigate Bali’s rich tapestry of beaches, temples, and rice terraces. Whether you’re here to surf Indian Ocean waves, partake in Bali’s world-renowned nightlife, or meditate in a peaceful sanctuary during a silent retreat, I’ve got you covered.
Join me as I unravel the essentials for any first-timer in Bali, from must-visit spots among Bali’s endless attractions to cultural faux pas to avoid. Get ready to embark on a journey that promises to enchant your senses and leave you looking forward to experiencing it yourself! Oh, and don’t for get your travel insurance!
Best Places To Stay In Bali For First-Timers
When planning your first Bali trip, one of your most critical decisions after selecting the right Indonesian visa for your Bali visit will be picking the right accommodation. Bali offers an endless range of lodging options, from luxury resorts to budget hostels, each providing a unique experience suited to different kinds of travelers from solo travelers to whole families.
Seminyak is my top recommendation if you’re searching for upscale shopping, high-end restaurants, and hip nightlife. Of course, I’ve had a base here for almost 20 years, so I’m biased! Still, the sheer number of visitors Seminyak attracts probably backs me up, and why not?
The beach in Seminyak is long and flat, ideal for a sunset stroll or an early morning run. With the new sidewalk installed on the sand from Seminyak to Kuta in 2023, it’s become even more of a fun scene than it was when you were limited to the casual beach-side restaurants like La Plancha, north of Doublesix Road. And, since the beach is west-facing the sunsets here are breathtaking. In Seminyak you have literally hundreds of accommodation options within just a few hundred yards/meters from the sand and this new, more vibrant beach scene. You’ll also find transportation to be less of a problem than you would in more remote corners of the island.
If you’re a first-time visitor in Bali looking to immerse yourself in Bali’s rich culture, Ubud is also a place to consider. Nestled among rice paddies and surrounded by lush forests, Ubud offers a serene retreat from the coastal crowds. For accommodation, you’ll find many quaint homestays near Monkey Forest Rd. that provide a glimpse into the Balinese way of life. If you find central Ubud a bit busy for your tastes, simply venture a little way outside the town for a far slower pace of life, and even cheaper accommodation costs.
Canggu has become a big favorite, especially among digital nomads and surfers. You’ll see complaints about Canggu traffic and general busyness on social media, but there must be a reason why so many people like it, after all. Again prices here vary hugely, but for people who are interested in meeting other foreigners and expats, and enjoying first-rate restaurants and cafés (by any standard in the world) Canggu is often an ideal choice.
In contrast, Kuta has a reputation for its boisterous atmosphere, and it truly lives up to it. For travelers looking for Bali first-time advice, I’d say Kuta is an excellent spot if you want to be in the heart of a vibrant nightlife scene. The accommodations here range from hostels to mid-range hotels, with easy access to the beach and nightlife. Now, it must be said: Kuta has been a little slow to recover from the pandemic, but especially with the new sidewalk on the sand, as I mentioned above, the rejuvenation is ongoing and by the time you read this will probably be back to normal.
Finally, Nusa Dua is synonymous with luxury. This enclave of high-end hotels offers a more secluded ambiance. If you have more money than time, or simply wish to indulge in world-class comfort and relaxation, consider Nusa Dua. Be aware that you’ll be pretty far from the nightlife of Seminyak and points north, but for some people that won’t be a problem.
Each area in Bali exudes its own charisma, offering accommodations that cater to every preference and travel budget. I’ll say it again: aside from there being no five-star accommodations in Kuta, you’ll find accommodation at every price point in all of the other places I mentioned. No matter where you decide to stay, you’re bound to find a place that will not just suit your needs but also enhance your Bali introduction.
Best Places To Visit In Bali For First-Timers
Exploring Bali’s Stunning Beaches
If you’re planning your first trip to Bali, you know the island’s beaches will be a highlight. As a first-timer in Bali, you’ll quickly learn that each beach has a unique vibe, making it essential to add a few different spots to your itinerary to fully appreciate the variety Bali offers. Even if you don’t really consider yourself a ‘beach person’, know that Bali beaches aren’t just for kids. Lots of socializing happens on the beach too, with people from all over the world and all over Indonesia too!
Your first stop might be the renowned Kuta Beach, known for its lively atmosphere and perfect for those looking to dive into a bustling beach scene. With its long stretch of sand and consistent waves, Kuta is ideal for attempting to surf or simply soaking up the sun with a refreshing drink in hand. It’s especially great for people-watching and experiencing Bali’s energetic side.
Moving south away from the hustle and bustle, you’ll find respite at Jimbaran Bay, where a more relaxed ambiance awaits you. Jimbaran has a long row of casual seafood restaurants right on the sand, and the calm waters and breathtaking sunsets are a tranquil contrast to Kuta’s exuberance. This beach is often recommended for those experiencing Bali for the first time, as it reflects the island’s picturesque tranquility. It still is one of the best places on the island to enjoy a sunset, especially with your toes in the sand, while being served grilled fish!
Next on your list might be Padang Padang Beach, tucked away behind a dramatic entrance through a narrow rock corridor. Known for its appearance in the movie “Eat Pray Love”, this small yet captivating beach offers crystal-clear waters and opportunities for novice snorkelers.
For first-time advice for Bali explorers, do not miss Nusa Dua Beach. With its impeccably maintained stretches of white sand and luxurious resorts backing onto the beach, it embodies the opulence Bali is capable of offering. Water sports enthusiasts and beachgoers seeking a more upscale environment will feel right at home in Nusa Dua.
Lastly, I’d recommend venturing to the famous Echo Beach in Canggu, where the laid-back vibe and hip cafes create a haven for digital nomads, surfers and expats from around the world. Whether you’re grabbing a bite at one of the beachfront eateries or watching surfers ride the waves, Echo Beach’s cool atmosphere provides the perfect backdrop for memorable seaside experiences. Also, especially post-pandemic, the nightlife around Canggu has really taken off. Nowadays there’s no need to come back down to Seminyak for a night out.
Discovering the Cultural Heritage of Bali
Experiencing Bali’s culture on your first trip is nothing short of magical. The soul of a destination often lies in its cultural heritage, but in many places around the world, cultural history has been obscured by modernity. Despite the modern world’s influences, Bali is still world-renowned for having a visible, still-living culture that visitors can easily observe. In Bali you’ll see it in every corner, from the majestic temples to the intricate dance performances to the small puras scattered literally every 15 yards/meters or so.
Temples and Spiritual Sites
Even if you don’t think of yourself as someone who needs to be steeped in the local culture during your holiday or first visit, set aside some time to see Bali’s ancient temples, and architectural marvels that give you a glimpse into the island’s spiritual essence. Pura Besakih, known as the ‘Mother Temple’, is perched on the slopes of Mount Agung and offers an awe-inspiring view alongside a profound cultural experience. Other notable temples worthy of your time include:
- Tanah Lot Temple, an iconic pilgrimage site sitting on a rock formation in the sea
- Uluwatu Temple, which boasts stunning cliff-top views and traditional Kecak fire dances at sunset. (I take virtually all friends and family who come to visit Bali to this Kecak dance btw)
- Tirta Empul Temple, not too far from Ubud, where locals partake in purification rituals in the holy spring waters
These sites stand as a testament to Bali’s rich religious traditions and architectural prowess.
Cultural and Artistic Traditions
Balinese culture goes beyond spiritual sites. The island is a thriving hub for traditional arts and crafts. Attend a Balinese dance performance, where you’ll witness the elaborate costumes and expressive movements that tell ancient Hindu epics and local folklore.
In Ubud, often referred to as the cultural heart of Bali, art galleries and crafts markets showcase the creativity of local artisans. Handmade goods, including batik textiles, wood carvings, and silver jewelry, reveal the meticulous skills passed down through generations. Again, a still living culture, and a real break from the modern world.
When planning first-time advice for Bali, I’d definitely recommend diving into the local customs and attending a cultural workshop. Whether it’s learning the basics of Balinese dance, trying your hand at batik painting, or observing skilled artisans at work, these experiences provide a deeper appreciation for Bali’s artistic heritage. For travelers on their first Bali trip, such immersive activities are unforgettable ways to connect with the island’s culture.
Chasing Waterfalls in Bali
Beyond the temples and the vibrant arts scene, your first Bali trip won’t be complete without exploring the island’s stunning waterfalls. Nestled within lush rainforests and hidden away from the bustling beach crowds, these natural spectacles are a true testament to Bali’s diverse landscape.
When I advise those embarking on their first-time in Bali, I always suggest putting the iconic Gitgit Waterfall on their itinerary. Plunging from a height of 35 meters, it’s not just a sight to behold but also provides a cool, refreshing escape from the tropical heat. Another not-to-miss cascade is the Sekumpul Waterfall — known as the ‘Niagara of Bali’ — which is a series of about seven falls, majestically threading through the jungle. And yes, it is a walk through the jungle to get to this waterfall but if you look at the walk itself as part of the attraction, you might not mind all the sweating! Take a bottle or two of Aqua water.
Here are some of my top picks for waterfall adventures:
- Tegenungan Waterfall near Ubud, ideal for a quick dip or some fabulous photo ops
- Nungnung Waterfall for a less crowded experience, about 900 meters above sea level
- Tukad Cepung Waterfall, where sun rays create a truly magical atmosphere as they pierce through the top of the falls
Each waterfall offers a unique encounter with nature, and most of them are accessible through a hike. While on these trails, I’ve often rubbed shoulders with local wildlife and discovered flora that’s as enchanting as Bali’s cultural tapestry. As I say, the trek to these hidden treasures is as rewarding as the falls themselves, providing panoramic views and a deeper connection with the island’s natural beauty.
As part of your Bali introduction, it’s important to pack appropriately for these adventures; sturdy footwear, swimwear, and a dose of adventure spirit are essentials. I’ve found that visiting in the morning helps avoid the crowds and allows for a more serene experience. Remember to respect the natural surroundings — it’s this pristine condition that makes the waterfalls of Bali truly remarkable.
Waterfalls in Bali aren’t just captivating; they’re a blend of adventure and tranquility. It’s an experience that encapsulates the island’s essence, a must for anyone wanting a Bali overview that goes beyond the conventional. Whether you’re lounging at the foot of a fall, feeling the mist on your skin, or capturing the raw power of water carving through the rock, the waterfall chase in Bali is an unforgettable journey.
Indulging in Balinese Cuisine
Bali’s culinary landscape is as diverse and inviting as its scenic vistas. On my first trip to the island, I realized that food in Bali is a celebration of culture, infused with a rich array of local spices and flavors. First-time travelers in Bali are in for a treat, as Balinese and Indonesian cuisine offer a unique taste experience that’s both exotic and comforting. So many Indonesians have come from elsewhere to Bali, bringing their local cuisines with them so that Bali is a true culinary melting pot.
When I ventured into the world of Balinese food, Nasi Goreng or fried rice, a local take on one of Indonesia’s national dishes, became an instant favorite. Garnished with everything from chicken to prawns, and accompanied by the ubiquitous sambal, it’s a dish that satisfies at any time of day. I also couldn’t get enough of Satay, skewers of marinated meat grilled over coals, which are a perfect example of the island’s street food delights.
For those new to the island, here’s a piece of Bali first-time advice: Don’t miss trying Bebek Betutu, a dish that encapsulates the island’s spirit. It’s a slow-cooked duck, seasoned with intricate Balinese spices, making it tender and flavorful. Pair it with some Luwak Coffee, one of the most unique brews worldwide—its production involves a surprising step through the digestive system of the civet cat. While you might be initially skeptical, its rich flavor might just win you over.
Here’s a quick list of must-try Balinese dishes:
- Babi Guling: a succulent, spit-roast pork dish flavored with local herbs. If you eat pork this is a must-try. None other than Anthony Bourdain said it was his favorite pork dish in the whole world!
- Lawar: a traditional mix containing fine chopped meat, vegetables, grated coconut, and spices.
- Ayam Betutu: chicken marinated in a wealth of spices and herbs, then wrapped in banana leaves and slow-cooked to perfection.
Moreover, exploring the local markets or pasars can give a Bali overview of the freshness and variety of ingredients used in everyday cooking, which is a learning experience in itself. Remember, balancing the plethora of Balinese dishes might be a challenge, but it’s an integral part of understanding and appreciating this fascinating culture.
Must-Visit Temples in Bali
When planning your first Bali trip, setting aside time to visit the island’s spiritual landmarks is essential. As part of a broader Bali introduction, it’s vital to understand that temples aren’t just tourist spots; they’re active centers of worship and cultural ceremony. With a rich history and stunning architecture, these temples offer a glimpse into the heart of Balinese culture. Here are a few that should top your list.
Tanah Lot stands as one of Bali’s most iconic temples. Perched on a rocky outcrop amidst crashing waves, it’s a sight to behold, especially at sunset. When I visited, the blend of natural beauty and spiritual aura was simply mesmerizing. Ensure you check the tide schedule to walk across to the temple when possible.
Uluwatu Temple, set dramatically on a cliff edge, offers breathtaking ocean vistas. It’s not just the location that’s impressive — the Kecak fire dance performed here at dusk is spellbinding, merging art, spirituality, and tradition in a performance you won’t forget.
Moving inland, the tranquility of Besakih Temple, known as the ‘Mother Temple,’ sits over 1,000 meters high on the slopes of Mount Agung. It’s a complex of 86 temples that hosts countless shrines and is a pinnacle of Balinese Hinduism. When I stepped into Besakih, the sheer scale and spirituality felt like I was walking back in time.
Remember these etiquette tips for visiting Balinese temples:
- Dress respectfully, covering shoulders and legs; sarongs are often provided at the entrance.
- Never enter a temple during a prayer session unless invited.
- Don’t use flash photography inside the temples.
- Always walk around shrine areas in a clockwise direction.
Exploring these sacred spaces provides valuable insight into the Balinese way of life and complements your culinary experiences. Witnessing the serene and elaborate rituals, you’ll feel the profound connection the Balinese have with their gods and ancestors. Every temple offers a new perspective, a piece of history, and a chance to reflect amidst stunning settings. My first-time advice when in Bali? Approach these sites with reverence, and you’ll take away more than just pictures — you’ll carry a piece of Bali’s soul with you.
Exploring Bali’s Rice Terraces
During your first time in Bali, you’ll quickly learn that no Bali trip is complete without witnessing the iconic rice terraces. These staggering works of agricultural art are as much a part of the island’s identity as its temples and traditions.
The Tegallalang Rice Terraces in Ubud are perhaps the most famous and photogenic, drenched in varying shades of green and lined with palm trees. The vistas here are postcard-perfect, offering a soothing counterpart to the bustling beach scenes or temple tours. Walking along the paddies, I observed farmers tending to their crops, preserving techniques that have been passed down through generations. Their intricate irrigation system, known as subak, is a UNESCO recognized legacy and a primary reason Bali’s rice terraces are so fertile and picturesque.
Besides Tegallalang, the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces present an equally breathtaking experience. Spread over 600 hectares, these terraces are less crowded, allowing for a more intimate connection with nature. You could spend hours simply soaking in the expansive views and pure, fresh air.
For those visiting Bali for the first time, here are a few tips to make the most out of your visit to the rice terraces:
- Go Early or Late: Capture soft lighting for photographs and avoid the heat of midday.
- Wear Appropriate Footwear: The paths can be slippery, so shoes with good grip are a must.
- Support the Local Community: Visit the local warungs (cafés) and shops to enjoy authentic Balinese treats and crafts.
As I explored these rural masterpieces, I couldn’t help but feel a deep respect for the Balinese and their dedication to the land. It’s an aspect of the Bali overview that’s as essential as it is enchanting – a true testament to the island’s dedication to harmony and balance. Whether it’s your first Bali trip or you’ve visited before, the endless beauty of Bali’s rice terraces never fails to leave a lasting impression.
Remember, a Bali first-time advice I’d give is to incorporate the peacefulness of the rice terraces into your itinerary to fully appreciate the breadth of Bali’s diverse landscapes.
Adventures in Bali
As you do your research on visiting Bali for the first time, you’ll know that the island’s beauty extends far beyond its serene temples and breathtaking rice terraces. Adventure seekers also find a haven here, with activities that push the limits and offer unique experiences amidst stunning backdrops, without compromising safety.
For starters, mountain biking through the volcanic landscape of Mount Batur provides an adrenaline rush with panoramic views. The trails challenge even seasoned cyclists but also cater to novices. Renting a bike and gear is easy, and local guides are always ready to show you the ropes.
Then there’s white-water rafting on the Ayung River – a thrilling ride that will have your heart pumping as you navigate the rapids, all while being surrounded by the lush Balinese jungle. There are various package deals for rafters of all skill levels, which typically include return transfers and a savory lunch.
Scuba diving in Bali is another must-do activity if you’re inclined. The waters around the island are teeming with vibrant marine life, and dive spots like Tulamben’s USS Liberty shipwreck, not far at all from the beach, are accessible to both beginners and advanced divers. I’ll never forget the surreal experience of swimming alongside sea turtles and exploring the underwater wonders Bali has to offer.
Whether it’s your first Bali trip or you’re returning for more adventures, the island caters to every kind of traveler. My Bali first-time advice? Don’t skip these unforgettable experiences, each offering a different perspective of Bali’s diverse landscape. For those seeking to understand the Bali overview, including its adventurous side, these activities are essential.
To enhance the adventure, make sure to connect with local guides. They not only help with navigation and safety but also share insights about the island’s culture and traditions. It’s a way to respect and learn from the Balinese people while indulging in the thrills that Bali has in store.
Tips for First-Time Travelers to Bali
Embarking on your first Bali trip can be as thrilling as it is daunting. With a vibrant culture and lush landscapes, the island beckons adventurers and tranquility-seekers alike. But fear not—I’ve got some essential tips to share that’ll make your introduction to Bali as smooth as it is memorable.
Respect Local Customs
Bali is not just a tropical paradise; it’s a land steeped in tradition and spirituality. Always dress modestly when visiting temples and participate in local ceremonies if you’re invited—it’s a rare glimpse into Balinese culture that’s not to be missed. Be aware of local customs such as offering ‘canang sari,’ small offering baskets, to thank the gods.
Health and Safety
Stay hydrated and protect yourself from the tropical sun; at just eight degrees South latitude, the Bali heat can be more intense than what you might be used to. Pack a good-quality sunscreen and a hat. Moreover, ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance; unforeseen incidents like scooter accidents or monkey bites are not entirely uncommon, and it’s best to be prepared.
Renting a scooter is part of the authentic Bali experience, but if you’re not confident on two wheels, opt for a private driver or the local taxis. They’re affordable and much safer, especially for Bali first-time advice seekers who might not be familiar with the local traffic customs. Also, a good option nowadays is Gojak or Grab, apps through which you can order a car or motorbike, food, a massage, and many other things! Pro-tip: with both Gojak and Grab, paying in cash is no problem so there is nothing to set up or register beforehand.
In markets, bargaining is expected—it’s part of the fun! But do it respectfully. Aim for a price that’s fair for both you and the seller. A rule of thumb is to start at about 50% of the asking price and negotiate from there.
Stay connected with a local SIM card. Wi-Fi might be ubiquitous in tourist spots, but having your own data ensures you can always access maps, translations, and Bali overview guides when you need them. The process is a little complicated, but look for kiosks that will not only sell you the Sim card, but also get it registered for you. If you’re staying for more than a week or two, this is a must-do.
Enjoy The Cuisine
Indulge in the local cuisine with gusto. From the famed ‘Babi Guling’ to the simple delight of ‘nasi goreng’, Balinese dishes are a tapestry of flavors that you’ll reminisce about long after your vacation ends.
Venturing to Bali for the first time can be a transformative experience if you’re well-prepared. Remember to embrace the island’s rich culture with an open heart and respect its traditions. Prioritize your well-being by staying safe under the sun and keep your health in check. Navigating the island can be a breeze with the right transport choices, and a local SIM card will ensure you’re always in the loop. Dive into the vibrant market scene but do so with savvy negotiation skills. Above all, let your taste buds revel in the exquisite local flavors. Bali is waiting to enchant you with its unique blend of serenity and adventure—go forth and create memories that’ll last a lifetime!
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I wear when visiting temples in Bali?
Dress modestly when visiting temples in Bali. Cover your shoulders and knees, and consider bringing a sarong to respect the local customs.
Are there specific health precautions I should take when traveling to Bali?
Yes, stay hydrated, use sunscreen liberally, and have comprehensive travel insurance. Be cautious of food and water hygiene to prevent illness.
What transportation options are available in Bali?
In Bali, you can rent a scooter for convenience, hire a private driver for comfort, or use public transportation like taxis and bemos (minivans). Transportation apps like Gojak and Grab are often the best option.
Is it acceptable to bargain in Balinese markets?
Bargaining is a part of the shopping experience in Bali’s markets. Do so respectfully, and remember that a fair price allows for mutual satisfaction.
How can I stay connected with internet service in Bali?
Purchasing a local SIM card for your phone is the best way to stay connected reliably and affordably during your trip to Bali. Before you purchase it, make sure they can help you get set up. You’ll pay more to do this at the airport than you will after you exit, but it might be worth it.
What are some must-try foods for first-time visitors to Bali?
Indulge in local Balinese cuisine such as Babi Guling (suckling pig), Bebek Betutu (slow-cooked duck), and Lawar (traditional mix containing fine chopped meat, vegetables, grated coconut and spices).