Bali has been at the top of my list for quite a while and was a must see destination for me on this trip. We loved it and can't wait to go back when we have more money to spend! For a backpackers budget, it wasn't my favorite place. We didn't do much research beforehand and decided to just get an Airbnb near the beach. I do regret not doing more research, as I would have planned our trip a bit differently. Sorry Bali, but I have to be a bit tough on you. Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly from our experience.
In general, you can visit Bali any time of year. The dry season is from April to September and the wetter months are from October to March. We did a quick check of the weather and most people say that it doesn't rain that much and you can get lucky with hardly any rain at all. It actually worked out nicely for us. Most of the time, it rained at night or there was a quick shower in the morning or late afternoon. It was partly cloudy most of the time with a few sunny days. We actually preferred it this way! At 9am, it was already 90 degrees and very humid. It was unbearable to be in the direct sun for more than 10 minutes. And with the cloud cover, we didn't have as much of a risk for a sunburn.
For the most part, our Airbnb was amazing! It was in the heart of Kuta (the main backpacker hub) and a quick 5 minute walk to the beach. For $33 a night, it was super large with a separate bedroom and living room, two balconies, 2 TV's with cable, a kitchenette, and a decent bathroom. We had a fridge, a microwave, a toaster, and a kettle. They provided beach towels and a book of things to do on the island. In the building next door, we had free access to the rooftop pool. It was almost always empty and we had it to ourselves for swimming and laying out.
Our only real complaint about the unit was the wifi. We usually increase our budget for Airbnb's because we save money in the long run. We can cook meals at home and we don't have to go to cafe's to use the wifi. We make our own coffee and relax while we work on the blog and do other stuff that involves the internet. (Food and coffee are two of our biggest expenses!) The condo we stayed in didn't have it's own wifi, and instead relied on the building next door. The connection was terrible, unless you were out on the balcony or in fact in the building next door. Bummer....
We stayed in Kuta, as a quick google search told us this was the main backpacker hub on the island. I'm glad we saw what Kuta was all about, but it definitely wasn't the place for us. There are tons of cheap shops, restaurants, and malls. There was a Starbucks and a McDonalds on the corner. It was very touristy and filled with taxi drivers and shopkeepers trying to get your business. Just 3 miles north is the Seminyak area which in my opinion has a nicer vibe with more boutiques, cute cafe's and charming restaurants. I would have loved to stay in that area for a few nights.
Our Airbnb was a 5 minute walk from Kuta Beach. It's one of the most popular beaches on the island and great for surfing. We hated it! Yes, you read that correctly. We emerged onto the beach and were greeted with vendors trying to sell us anything from drinks to lounge chairs to surfboard rentals. You couldn't avoid them, no matter which way you turned. And don't stand in one place for too long, or you will be swarmed. We took a look at the ocean and were immediately disappointed. The waves were massive, yes great for surfing, but we don't surf! And on top of that, there were red flags up which meant you aren't supposed to be swimming at all.
So that's the good and the bad. Now the ugly. There was trash EVERYWHERE! If you're following our blog, you remember how we talked about the trash on the beach in Jordan. This was 20 times worse. We were wildly disappointed after walking down the beach for about 10 minutes on our first day and decided to give up and go to our rooftop pool.
I read that further up the beach, towards Seminyak, the beach gets much nicer. So we decided to try the beach again the next day. We walked exactly 3.3 miles on the beach, waiting for it to get better. Still, trash EVERYWHERE! They were trying to clean up some of the beach but it was so bad that there are bits of plastic and other particles that they just can't rake up. I googled the trash problem and it seems to be an ongoing issue. There are other beaches on the island that are less touristy so I will seek one of those out in the future. Or if you stay at a resort, I'm sure the private beach is cleaned more regularly.
Our 3.3 mile walk up the beach got us to Potato Head Beach Club (our backup plan).
Apparently these places are a thing in Bali, especially on the southwest side of the island. I assume because of the trash and the extreme surfing waves. The term "beach club" is a bit deceiving as many of these clubs aren't even right on the beach. Most of them have a pool with lounge chairs to rent and endless cocktails and food to order. Potato Head is one of the most popular clubs on the island. It is in fact on the beach, but most people stick near the pool. We paid about $35-40 for a lounge bed with an umbrella and it was ours for the day. The deposit goes towards anything you order so we had lunch and some drinks. They played great music and it didn't rain until we were ready to leave around 5pm. We had a blast!
We really wanted to check out Sundays Beach Club but the cab ride would have been too expensive, as it was on the far south side of the island. It's located on a private beach in a cove, so the waves aren't big and it's great for swimming. They have sea kayaks, snorkel gear, and stand up paddle boards that come with the entrance fee.
Bali is a lot bigger than we thought and it can take quite a while to get around! Traffic is pretty dense, especially during certain times of the day. To go 3 miles can take 30 minutes. If you want to get to the Ubud, in the middle of the island, it's only about 30 miles but can take 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Most people take cabs, hire a driver or rent a motorbike.
We tried to cut our transportation costs by staying in Kuta, but I really wish we had stayed on another part of the island for at least a few days. Each coast is different and has different things to see. We ended up getting a driver to take us around for a day. It was about $35. He picked us up at 8:45am and we didn't get back until 5:30. This is well worth the money if you ever visit Bali. Or, if you have your motorbike license, it's super cheap to rent one and drive around yourself! They do drive on the other side, so be prepared for that.
There are endless things to do in Bali and I can't wait to go back and experience more of the culture and scenery! We barely scratched the surface for what the island has to offer.
During our day trip, we saw a traditional Balinese dance called Barong. It's a story-telling dance about good and evil. The costumes and makeup are amazing and the crowd we were with really got into it. It was a huge outdoor auditorium filled with locals and several student groups.
After the dance, we visited a coffee farm that produces Luwak Coffee and several kinds of tea. Luwak coffee is the most expensive coffee in the world. We were shocked to learn about the process! Coffee cherries are eaten and partially digested by the Asian Palm Civet (a cat like animal). They use the beans from the feces to make the coffee. We got a free tasting of the various tea's and coffee's and paid a few dollars to try the special luwak coffee.
After the coffee farm, we drove through rice terraces, local farms, dense jungle, and made it to a scenic viewing area of Mt. Batur, an active volcano. We had lunch over-looking the volcano and lake. On another trip, I'd love to hike up the volcano.
We made our way back down and our driver stopped at a very muddy waterfall. We opted not to go swimming. We continued to our last stop of the day, a traditional Balinese temple.
We'll be back, Bali! We know there are more temples to see, beaches to lay on, jungles and volcanoes to trek, islands to visit, coffee to drink, and cities to explore. We want to see the other sides of your island and immerse ourselves in the culture. Until then...