Bali is an extremely popular island in Indonesia known for its forested volcanic mountains, rice paddies, surf culture and wellness community. You’ve probably seen photos of your favorite influencers posing with their smoothie bowls and yoga mats inside cream-colored boho cafes or bright colored murals. Platforms like Instagram have caused a huge spike in tourism to Bali, so you may feel like everyone you know is suddenly hopping on a 20 hour flight half way across the world.
If you’ve recently booked your first trip to Bali, keep reading for all my tips and insights for how to do Bali right as a first timer.
Seminyak / Canggu
Seminyak and Canggu are popular beachside neighborhoods on the west side of Bali. While many people skip the Bali beach towns entirely and head straight to Ubud, I do think it’s worth it to spend a few days on the front half of your trip in this area. Many people compare Seminyak to the Hamptons of Bali, and I’d have to agree. It was definitely much nicer, cleaner and bustling than the other coastal areas we are visited. Canggu is known for its health and wellness scene. It’s definitely a bit more low-key than Seminyak.
How To Get Around:
BlueBird Taxi – If NYC yellow taxis and Uber had a baby, and it was blue, it would be BlueBird. Before we left for Bali, I was told just to use Uber, but when we arrived on the island no Ubers were pulling up for us. BlueBird operates just how cabs do – you can hail them as they drive by. Or, you can also order one via their mobile app. If you use the app you can also upload a credit card to charge rides to so you don’t need to worry about carrying cash. If you hail a taxi, it’s a bit hit or miss as to whether or not the driver will take credit cards or accept USD if you haven’t had a chance to convert more cash. Overall though, it’s pretty seamless and easy.
Rent A Scooter – A scooter can definitely get you around town faster than a car can, but my opinion is that you ride at your own risk. You’ll see once you get to Bali that it’s pretty lawless when it comes to rules of the road. The beach areas tend to be very crowded and the streets get busy with the scooters splitting lanes and weaving in and out of traffic chaotically. I wasn’t brave enough to scooter around this area of Bali. I’d recommend saving the scooter adventures for Ubud. But, to each their own. Take note though, if you do choose to scoot around, in Bali you drive on the left side of the street.
Walk – We ended up walking a lot more than I thought we would to get to and from places. If it’s daytime, you can likely walk the beach, which will be a straight shot. But, if we were staying in the same neighborhood, we really didn’t walk more than 30 minutes or so at time to get from let’s say the hotel to dinner. It’s when you can to go from Seminyak to Canggu or vice versa that you’ll need to plan for some engine support.
Where To Stay:
I’d definitely recommend staying in Seminyak over Canggu. There just seems to be more outside your door and within walking distance in Seminyak. Plus, as I mentioned, it’s quite a bit nicer than Canggu (IMO).
Hotel Indigo Seminyak – We stayed here while in Seminyak and I was SO glad we did. The hotel and grounds are absolutely beautiful with restaurants, bars and many different pools. The hotel staff is excellent. And the best part – it’s a beachfront property so you can step outside the hotel and be right on the beach or boardwalk. There is plenty of separation though between the boardwalk and hotel so once you swap your key card to get behind the gates, you feel removed from the hustle and in complete privacy. The hotel also has substantial security at the main entrances so you also feel very safe while staying here.
W Hotel Seminyak – While in Bali, Brian and I went to the W for sunset cocktails and after walking through the hotel and property, I was quite impressed. It’s a lot of what you’d expect from a W property – chic and artistic with a party vibe. The W Seminyak is also beach front and has amble security.
Other properties I’ve heard good things about that you may want to check out:
Where To Eat:
Where To Drink:
Where To Workout:
What To See:
What To Do:
Surf – Bali has some the world’s best surf spot for beginners and experts alike! If you’re a beginner, take a lesson or rent a board in Seminyak or Kuta.
Party – The coastal areas of Bali definitely have more of eat, drink and play type of vibe, so if you’re looking to stay out and have fun Seminyak/Canggu are going to be where you want to be.
Spa – Since the Dollar stretches so far in Indonesia, spa services and packages become amazingly affordable. Here are some spots to check out: The Canopy Spa at Lloyd’s Inn, The Cottage Beauty House, Spring Spa, and GOLDUST Beauty Lounge.
Shop – If you’re looking to do some shopping, head to Seminyak. There are lots of cute boutiques (in addition to larger global brands you’ll surely recognize) with beachy, boho apparel, perfect for your Balinese vacation.
In my opinion, when you think of Bali, you think of Ubud, the capital city. It’s a lush, spiritual little town located in the center of island famous for its relaxing jungle escapes and wellness retreats. Ubud is about 90-120 minutes away from the airport, depending on the traffic and how aggressive your driver is. Between the coastal neighborhoods and Ubud, Ubud was definitely my favorite. There’s far less traffic, a lot more culture and history and an overall more relaxing, gentler pace to the place. If you plan on following my Bali itinerary or visiting Bali, I would definitely recommend you visit Seminyak/Canggu first before settling into Ubud.
How To Get Around:
Rent a Scooter – With less congested streets, Brian and I felt much more comfortable renting a scooter to jet around town and the attractions outside of Ubud. There are a few placed right in town that rent scooters with plenty of availability. We booked ours day of and didn’t have an advance reservation, but if you know you’ll definitely want to scoot around, a reservation would be helpful so you have your pick of the litter when it comes to the scooters. My favorite days in Bali were the days we had the scooter. It provided us a real sense of freedom, adventuring through the countryside and backroads. It gave me a much deeper sense of appreciation for the beauty of Bali. One thing that’s important to note, you drive on the left hand side of the road in Bali!
Walk – If you’re staying near the town center, most things you’ll want to do are within a 30-40 minute walk. Walking is especially useful near sundown and into the night as the streets get much busier and if you’re in a car or on a scooter, you’ll spend a lot of time sitting in traffic.
Take a Local Taxi – Uber and BlueBird Taxi are extremely frowned upon in Ubud, so if you need to get somewhere by car there are plenty of transportation services or businesses available. You could also ask you hotel to recommend a company or to help coordinate car services for you. While in Bali, you’ll also notice that there are a lot of locals sitting on street corners promoting themselves as taxis with their scooters. It’s definitely personal prefer if you feel comfortable enough hopping on the back of a stranger’s scooter who may not speak your language well – we didn’t. Also, I’m not sure how three people on a scooter would have worked out.
Where To Stay:
11 on Kajeng – We loved our stay at 11 on Kajeng. It definitely had a MUCH more intimate feel than where we stayed in Seminyak, Hotel Indigo. At 11 on Kajeng there are only five private, detached villas. The grounds were very beautiful, with a private pool in the center of the courtyard. It’s the type of place where you get to know the staff intimately since there are only a small handful of people who work there. We also loved that while it was close to the main road in Ubud (10 minute walk), it was far enough removed that you didn’t feel as if you were in the middle of the chaos. If you’re looking for a hotel with a less corporate feel, I would definitely recommend 11 on Kajeng!
Other places to check out:
Where To Eat:
Where To Drink:
Truthfully, the impression I got from Ubud is that it’s not really a late night drinks kind of place. It has more of an afternoon cocktail or 1-2 drinks after dinner kind of vibe. Most places close by 11pm as Ubud is really better enjoyed during the day.
Where To Workout:
Ubud is ALL ABOUT yoga! People travel from all over the world to do yoga, teach yoga, take teacher trainings, attend yoga retreats, etc. So even if you aren’t that into yoga, it’s definitely worth taking at least one class.
What To See:
What To Do:
Walk the Campuhan Ridge Walk – this is a relatively easy 3 mile out and back ridge walk in the middle of Ubud. The beginning is a little bit steep, but after the initial climb, it levels out.
Spa – Ubud is truly all about self-care and relaxation. There are so many incredible spas to choose from ranging in more Western style spas to wellness centers with Ayurvedic treatments. I recommend booking a service with a flower bath because they are just so beautiful. Here are a few spas to get you started: Spa at Maya Ubud, Taksu Spa, and Kaveri Spa at The Udaya.
See a healer / energy worker – Again, many people travel to Bali for self-inquire and healing. There are many incredible healers and energy workers in Ubud, so if you’re looking to do some inner work, do some research and find someone well trained and recommended.
Relax – Of course there’s a lot to do and see while in Ubud, but, you’ll see once you get here that there’s a very low-key vibe to the city. Make sure to work some downtime into your schedule so you can read a book or nap by the pool.
What Else You Should Know
Random things that didn’t really fit in any other section…
Cell Service – cell services and data while traveling internationally can always be a bit tricky to figure out. Thankfully in Bali, there are a lot of wireless providers that sell SIM cards with data plans pretty cheap. Their kiosks are located right outside customs at the airport on the way to baggage claim, so it’s pretty hard to miss. Just pick a provider, review the plan options and they’ll help get everything set up for you right there on the spot. We went with Telkomsel and had full 4G everywhere on the island and never had to worry about running out of data. It was also super convenient for things like using GoogleMaps on our adventures or being able to stay in touch (and safe) if we ever split up.
Safety – Bali is a relatively safe place, but as with traveling to any international city there are a few things you should be aware of. Make sure to be aware of your purse/bag/backpack. We saw many signs warning tourists of bag snatchers who drive by on their scooters and scoop of your bag. Wear your bag to the front of your body or across your body for added safety. I’m also very mindful of how many valuables I carry on me. If you hotel room has a safe, make sure to keep things like your passport, extra cash, fine jewelry and laptops safely stored away. Lastly, I do have a friend who was roofied while in Seminyak. If you decide to go out and party, make sure you can still keep your wits about you as you just never know – this is a personal choice in how much you decide to partake, but personally, I never want to be in a foreign country and not be able to know what’s going on or where I am.
Nusa Islands – The Nusa Islands are located off the southeast coast of Bali. If you have the time in your trip, it could be worth taking the ferry and staying overnight.
Gili Islands – The Gili Islands were highly recommended to us before our trip, but unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to fit in. From the research I did though, it looks SO beautiful, and I’m kind of bummed we weren’t able to visit. The impression I got was that the Gili Islands have a very tropical Nantucket vibe. Limited motor vehicles – you get around by biking or walking. A quiet, quaint beach town.