Backpackers guide to Bali - Matthew Walker
Padang and beyond

A Backpackers guide to Bali, Indonesia - Part One 

By Matt Walker –

Bali basics

Located in Indonesia, Bali is an ever-growing tourist and surf destination that boasts tropical temperatures, beautiful golden sand beaches and vibrant culture that never gets old. Facing the Indian Ocean on the majority of the Islands coastline, means that a pleasant 27-30c degree sea temperature will be there to greet you at any time of the year. Coupled with the ultra-consistent tropical climate, Bali is literally a paradise all year round!

With an average yearly temperature of 28c and around 75% humidity, the heat is not for everyone. It is considerably cooler in the dry season and if you are someone that struggles with constant heat and humidity, then the dry season probably would be a better time for a holiday (see ‘When to go’ below for more info on seasons).

If you are unexperienced with Southeast-Asia, negotiating is the way of life for anything and everything, from food to clothing. I would say that the first price they give you is almost always double or even triple the actual price they would sell the item for. 90% of the time unless it's a marked price, you can knock 30-50% off of it with some determination. It's just one of those things about travelling to places like Bali, until you've experienced it, you won’t know, but don't be afraid to negotiate!

Visa on arrival is the standard procedure in Bali and each visa lasts for 1 month, prices were $30USD / $50 AUD last time I visited and for most people a 1 month visa is adequate. However, if you are looking to stay for longer than a month, then you can get a visa extension, which you can apply for at the immigration bureau in Kuta. Any longer than a 1 month extension means you either pay extra 'under the table' or fly out (Singapore recommended) and back into the country to repeat the process.

Renting a Scooter is a must in my opinion, if you want to really explore what Bali has to offer then you must get one, a wise Indonesian man once said “without two wheels in Indonesia you are nothing” and he was right!. Scooters can be rented from almost anywhere in Bali and with good negotiation skills, will cost around $50-85 AUD per month / 40-60 USD/ 25-40 GBP.

Uluwatu Temple Residents

Corn on the Cliff

Flights to Bali

Depending on where you are flying from and in which season you intend to visit Bali, flight prices can vary quite considerably. From the UK, I have recently booked a one-way flight to Bali for £275 GBP, about $420 USD, departing January, return is about $150 extra providing you shop around on websites like If I was to book the same flight in the dry season, June-September, it would likely cost $750-1000 return from the UK.

Flying from Los Angeles (LAX) in January, booking at least 2 months in advance you’re looking at $750 USD return. Whereas in July, from LAX you are probably going to pay around $1000-1200 return.

One little trick I found was if your flying from Europe, try to fly to Singapore or Malaysia as they are central flight hubs for almost any long-haul flight and prices can be considerably cheaper. Of course, this depends on whether you want the extra hassle of having multiple flight changeovers before you reach Bali, but if you shop around you can find some real bargains!

When to go

The 'Wet season' is great for families or couples looking for a more relaxed holiday and is a great time for beginner surfers looking to improve. This season spans technically from November-Feb/March although the best time to go is January-March, as the rain has stopped (for the most part) and the crowds are definitely at a low during these months. Avoid Christmas time if you want a more relaxed holiday as well, because that time of year is very popular with Australian holidaymakers. Swells are also very consistently 2-5feet in the wet season which is perfect for not-ridiculously-big waves. This season is best surfed on the East-Coast of Bali, as the winds are almost always Easterly blowing. This is definitely the season to come and get less-crowded waves and a lot of practice on good quality waves but if you’re after the waves of your lives, I recommend the dry season.

The 'Dry season' which runs from May-September is the 'real deal' when it comes to Bali. From July-September there are consistently 4-7ft swells rolling in week after week, it is rare that you will have a flat period for more than a few days. And when you do have a flat period, it's quite often followed by a big swell. 'Dry season' meaning no rain, big swells and ultra-consistent westerly blowing winds of 10-20mph all add up to world class waves for months on end.

Be sure to check  for the weekly forecast.

Where to stay

Staying in Bali can be as chaotic or as peaceful as you wish, it all depends on where you are staying, but don’t threat, I’m here to help.

If you are after a relaxed, sight-seeing, lie on the beach all day type of holiday, then you can’t go wrong with Ubud, Nusa Dua or some parts of Northern Seminyak. These are very popular destinations among many of Bali’s tourists and for good reason. They are centrally located (except maybe Nusa Dua) and you can reach almost all of the Islands most famous sights in under an hour with scooter/taxi or car. But these kinds of places are packed with package-holiday goers and if you want to experience the true Bali, I would highly urge you to stay outside of these areas.

If you are more of a party animal then you definitely have to visit Kuta for at least a week of your stay in Bali. This place is completely mental and parties in the dry season will run every single day, without fail. But Kuta isn’t all about the party, it has the biggest range of shopping centres and western restaurants in all of Bali and has a very nice beach that is great for your first surf lesson.

Despite Kuta being very ‘beginner friendly’ to those who are on their first Bali trip, I think unless you are a very lazy backpacker or purely want to get drunk daily, then it is not the place to stay for longer than a week.


Places to stay for surfers

Canggu - practically the home of new-age hippie surfers and yoga jedi’s. But if you can put up with the streets being filled with young wannabe Body’s trying to get a role in the new Point Break then you will be rewarded with a unique Balinese surf experience and quality nightlife/ restaurants. Perfect for young people or couples.

Uluwatu – the home of surfing in Bali, this place oozes beauty and will not disappoint the keen surfer looking to get barrelled in a tropical paradise daily. It is mellower down here, but if you are still after some nightlife, then Wednesday and Sunday nights at Single Fin up on the cliff are not to be missed in the dry season. There is also a lot less shopping and ‘home comforts’ down here so girls beware, you can’t go shopping for handbags as easily but you will be amazed at the sights nonetheless.

Balangan – this is the most relaxed place to stay in my opinion, and somewhere I have personally stayed for more than three months. It is situated slightly up the coast from Uluwatu and is even more tranquil. Balangan is the only beach on the island that has dodged major development from Western hotel chains and this really shows when you get sunsets like the one at the top of this page.

Thanks for reading the first part of my Backpackers Guide to Bali, I will be posting the second part shortly and this will cover things to do, price guides and a complete surfers guide to Bali.

Written by Matt Walker,

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