You have read about Bali, the island to full-fill many different dreams, and are looking forward to time on the endless beaches, exploring the historic sights or enjoying rest and relaxation in the rice paddies of Ubud? But it seems like a world away and just too hard to do? Don’t worry, it’s one of the easiest dream destinations to get to – and one of the least expensive, too! Read on to find out how to get there and around the island!
Getting There: Bali is blessed with many non-stop flights to all the major airports in the region, allowing you to get there easily from Europe, North America, the Middle-East or anywhere in Asia. What makes it even better is that all the regional low-cost carrier fly there, with bargain flights from Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok on AirAsia, from Manila on Cebu Pacific, from Singapore on Tiger Airways or from Australia on Jetstar or Virgin Australia! While flights marketed to Bali can be expensive, an insider tip is to buy a cheap ticket to one of the many main hubs – and an even cheaper onward ticket to Bali! For a flight I purchased recently, the fare difference pays for several nights of hotel stays, so it’s worth a try! If you have time to buy your ticket, you should sign up for the promotional emails of these budget carriers – they have frequent sales and the tickets sell out quickly! If you are planning a trip on miles, you are in luck – all the major alliances have multiple flight options there, so you shouldn’t have a hard time to find availability!
The main airport on Bali is Ngurah Rai International Airport, Denpasar (DPS), in the South of Bali, a short drive to the many beaches and about 1h to Ubud. The new international terminal opened in 2013 – and it is gorgeous! There are plenty of shops and restaurants and a great lounge!
From/To the airport: Your airport transfer can be the last hassle you experience on Bali – the airport touts are out en masse and can be intimidating for the first-time visitor. But fear not, it’s easy to get through that with a little preparation:
If you are going on to Lombok or Gilli Islands, you should book your speed boat transfer online and email the company to pick you up at the airport – many of them include that service! If you are staying on Bali and want a hassle-free experience, you can ask your hotel to pick you up: While that’s a little more expensive than a regular taxi, a driver will wait for you at the exit with a sign and guide you through the crowds unmolested!
If you want to save some money, you can use the official airport taxi. They have a counter outside arrivals and have a big board with the fixed fees. Ignore anyone offering help on your way out and go straight to the counter! Unfortunately, even though they are “official” and the fares are fixed, they are not above a little scam and will try to charge the higher fare for a more distant zone than your destination is. Check the fares on this list or on the board near the counter, find the location of your hotel (or ask the hotel) and write down the fare. Ask for a ticket (if they quote you a higher fare, don’t get upset, just smile, point to the board and quote the right fare) and go with the driver to the assigned car. I’ve had drivers try to intercept me and take me to a different car, despite having the ticket, so ignore every taxi other than your assigned one! And off you go. Because it’s a fixed fare, they’ll take the shortest way there, so don’t worry when you end up in some narrow, dark alley – you will be fine!
Getting Around: If you are planning to explore the many sights of Bali, like Lake Batur, Pura Besakih or Pura Ulun Danu Beratan (and you really should!), I recommend to hire a driver. A car & driver for an 8h day will start at around $35. You’ll most frequently find a Toyota Avanza (see photo), good for up to 4 passengers. You’ll pay more for larger or nicer cars or a longer day! It allows you to go wherever you want, whenever you want, and the drivers know most of the frequently visited sites and have GPS systems for the not-so-well-known ones! You can reach most of the major sites within 2h from South Bali or Ubud, so you can see a lot in a day!
If you just have a specific destination in mind, a taxi is your best bet. They will be cheaper than a driver (because he’d have to come from home and go back) and there are plenty of them. There is one taxi company and only one that I’d recommend for Bali and that’s Bluebird! They have developed a reputation for being reliable, safe and honest, always using the meter and not overcharging! They look like the one in the picture. Unfortunately, there are many dishonest drivers for other companies who are charging 2-5 times the metered fare! They will refuse to use the meter and demand a fixed fee. If that happens to you, just get out and get another taxi! They all know about Bluebird’s stellar reputation – and are shamelessly copying their design, so now most taxis on Bali are blue, have a bird in the logo and “Bali Taxi” on the side. Your best bet is to look for the “Bluebird Group” on the front windshield. Or, you can download their app and order a taxi directly. Similar to uber or other taxi apps, you can see the taxi on a map and know their arrival and license plate. I used it and loved it!
If you want to rely on mass transportation instead, your best bet is the Kura Kura bus – it’s connecting the major tourist spots along the beaches in South Bali and Ubud. They charge a fixed fee of under $2 for a ride along the beach, $4 to Nusa Dua or $7 to Ubud. They are mini buses, air conditioned and even have wifi on board. While you can connect between the different lines, the traffic in South Bali is pretty crazy, so I wouldn’t rely on their published schedule to much. Take your time – or stick with simple routes without connections. You can find out more about them here!
The traditional mass transport, Bemos (mini vans or buses with benches down the side), are becoming less frequent, are not very comfortable and are harder to use. Ask your hotel or locals for help and make sure you know where you are going and where to get off. They run on defined routes and have fixed (but unpublished) fares, so ask locals for what you should pay. If you are the only one onboard, make sure the driver understands that you are not chartering the van for a private ride – or you’ll pay a small fortune! They’ll pick up and drop off passengers along the way, so it will take a while. Perama operates a number of scheduled buses, for example to Ubud. The maintenance and features vary greatly, so you might want to buy your ticket at the station after seeing the bus! It’s very cheap – and you pretty much get what you paid for!
You can also rent your own car and drive yourself – and that’s a whole experience on it’s own. Cars drive on the left side of the road, the roads are narrow and there are few signs. While rumors persists that there are traffic rules, nobody cares, so the biggest truck/bus/car has the right of way and everybody pretty much does what they want. Thankfully, most drivers pay attention, so if you do, too, you will be fine! You can read this advice for a better understanding of what to expect. I’d recommend to stick with a car & driver – it’s much more relaxing for little extra pay and you get to enjoy your journey from the moment you get in!
If you don’t mind traveling in a tourist group, you can of course also sign up for one of the many tours sold all-over Bali. They go to all the major sights every day. You will be going in a large group, most likely on the same schedule as the other groups, putting you into the sights at the same time as lots of other people. You’ll also have stops at some shop along the way – all of which takes away from the relaxing, beautiful place Bali truly is. I’d only recommend that if you are traveling solo and on a budget – for everybody else, hiring a car & driver is a much better way to see Bali! If you try to save money, try to put the key sites into one day, find somebody to share the ride with and get a driver together! You’ll have a lot more fun for about the same amount of money!
Now that you know how to get to Bali and around the island, you should check out my travel tips where to stay and what to do:
Travel Made Easy: Bali – Where to Stay (coming soon)
Travel Made Easy: Bali – Things to See & Do (coming soon)
Sounds great – but you just don’t have time to do all the preparations? Let me help you with my Travel Made Easy – Services!