Planning a trip to Bali can be a little overwhelming. As a much-loved destination for travellers, business in Bali is booming, which means there are a lot of destinations, hotels, restaurants and activities to consider. With so many options, you may be struggling with how to make sense of it all and where to start. To help, I’ve put together this guide on how to plan the epic Bali holiday of your dreams, sharing everything from must-see destinations and different accommodation types to how long to spend in each spot and how to plan your meals! If there’s anything I’ve missed, be sure to ask in the questions below and I’ll do my best to answer.
Cash in on sale airfares
It’s true Bali is a tourist haven and each year it seems to get busier. At first glance that may seem like a negative, but with so many people keen to visit, it also means airlines are able to offer great rates on sale fares. When we’re planning a trip to Bali we first decide on a window of time we’d like to be there, it could be two weeks or even a whole month. Then, we sign up for sale fare notifications either directly through the airline or through a comparison site. If you’re up for the challenge, you’ll find many airlines offer even cheaper fares for carry-on only!
Choose your must-see destinations
You’ve booked your flights and you know your travel dates, now it’s time to plan your time and decide where to go. This is the hard part! Where should you visit in Bali? How do you decide which spots are must-see and which ones are overhyped? Don’t worry, I’ve got you sorted. Here are my tips on the absolute best spots in Bali and a little insight into why they should make your itinerary.
If you’re looking for a jungle escape, Ubud is the perfect destination. I love the lush green rainforest and earthy, laid-back vibe of Ubud. You’ll find an abundance of healthy, organic and natural food options so it’s ideal for vegetarians and vegans. If you’re a meat-eater, don’t worry, there’s still plenty of great food on offer for you too. Ubud is a hub for artists so you’ll find plenty of amazing woodworkers and jewellers, painters, potters and creators. Think yoga in the morning, art classes, meditation and relaxation, jungle escapes and an earthy adventure. If you’re more into adventure activities, Ubud offers white water rafting, exploring rice paddies, whizzing around on a scooter, jungle treks and more. Read my guide to ‘Everything you need to know about visiting Ubud.’
Seminyak is home to a myriad of sprawling beach resorts, gorgeous hotels and cool little boutique spots and homestays too. It’s the perfect spot to still be in the action of Bali, but take a bit of the over-the-top party edge off it. I’d probably recommend it for people who still want to be social, go out to dinner and bars, catch gorgeous beach sunsets and mingle with other travellers, but not get so drunk their shirt gets ripped off in a nightclub each night.You’ll find this area home to a huge range of boutique shops and really great bars and restaurants too. You’ll probably recognise names like Ku De Ta, Cocoon and Potato Head. It offers a great mix of relaxation and luxury, with fun and excitement too. You’ll also find a good mix of accommodation to suit all budgets, from luxe right through to less. Read about ‘My amazing stay at a private villa in Seminyak.’
Canggu is the sort-of-new-kid-on-the-block. It’s yet to be tainted by tourists and serves as more a hipster meets surfer escape. We’re talking very cool, low-key beachfront bars with great music playing as the sunsets, sweet little family-run homestays and some amazing food. I’d recommend this spot as being perfect for the chilled out traveller. If you love to visit a place and just keep it real, but still have some great meals and sunset drinks, this is the spot for you. It’s great for surfers, you’ll find a tonne rolling the streets on scooters and running by, boards tucked under their arms. My tip on the way to experience it best is to immerse yourself in this low-key vibe, think homestays, lazy days and plenty of beach time! Read my guide to ’12 Great places to eat and drink in Canggu.’
If you’re dreaming of spending your holiday unwinding at an incredible beachfront resort, Nusa Dua is the spot for you. Far away from the hustle and bustle of spots like Kuta and Seminyak, you can hole up in a super resort and bliss out in total luxury and comfort. There’s still plenty to do as you can take day trips from Nusa Dua or head out from your resort and explore the local area, which has a more chilled out approach to street stalls than somewhere like Kuta. I would recommend making sure you find a resort that offers a taste of Bali, through its spa offerings, activities, restaurants and accommodation fit-out, otherwise, you might feel like you could be anywhere in the world. Read my guide to ‘Everything you need to know about visiting Nusa Dua.’
Need an island escape but don’t have too much time to spare? Nusa Lembongan has fast become a popular spot for Bali visitors due to its close proximity to the mainland, ease of access and gorgeous, island lifestyle. We visited just before the boom and fell in love with how you felt like you were away from it all, without having to go too far. The snorkelling here is great so it’s a top spot for beach lovers (me!). I loved zipping around the island on the back of a scooter, discovering new spots, visiting different cafes and restaurants, finding hidden beaches and totally and completely unwinding.
The Gili Islands
If you have a little more time to spare and love your island time, pop The Gili Islands on your list. There are three islands, each offering something different – Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan. You’ll find Gili Trawangan a tourist fave as it’s the party island, offering fun times and plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars to enjoy. Gili Meno offers a quieter experience and is probably best suited to couples looking for a romantic escape – the beaches are insane! Gili Air is the laid-back spot, where you’ll find plenty of restaurants and diving schools, hippy vibes, acoustic music and chilled-out bars.
Decide how long to spend at each place
Now you’ve probably got a good idea of which destinations do and don’t appeal to your travel style and what you want from your holiday. It’s time to work out how long you should spend at each destination. Here are my thoughts:
- Ubud – 2-3 Nights. It takes a couple of hours to get from Kuta to Ubud so you may find a one night stay too quick. A two or three-night stay in Ubud should be enough as you start to crave the beach again after being in the jungle for so long.
- Seminyak – 3 Nights. With its sprawling beach resorts, a never-ending list of restaurants and bars and gorgeous beach sunsets, you can easily do three nights in Seminyak.
- Canggu – 2-3 Nights. You’ll probably find two or three nights in Canggu are enough as you’ll be nice and relaxed by then and ready to get out and see a different side of Bali.
- Nusa Dua – 4-5 Nights. If you’re visiting Nusa Dua you’re probably there to make the most of one of the super resorts, so you’ll have no trouble sinking back into a four-night stay and getting into a routine of buffet, swim, sleep, repeat.
- Nusa Lembongan – 3 Nights. Given you have to catch a boat to get there, a two-night stay would most likely be too short. I’d recommend spending three or four nights on Nusa Lembongan, exploring all its hidden corners and spending days in the water.
- The Gili Islands – 4 Nights. How long you spend in the Gilis will depend on what you’re going for and whether or not you’re doing an island crawl. For anyone looking for a romantic escape, four nights is a good amount of time. Those on the party trail might like to do one or two nights on each.
Work out what type of accommodation you want
So you know where you’re going and how long you want to spend at each place, now it’s onto accommodation types. There is a whole range of different accommodation options in Bali and it’s important to consider which one is going to work for you! Things to take into consideration include how many people you’re travelling with, what you’re travelling for (i.e. honeymoon, romantic escape or family vacay) if you’ll have little ones with you and what type of holiday you’re after (luxe, budget or mid-range).
You might like to consider an all-inclusive resort if you’re looking to totally unwind and de-stress. These resorts really take the guesswork out of meal times and you really don’t have to worry about anything at any time. Families or groups of friends might like to look into a private villa. They’re surprisingly affordable, especially when the cost is shared. You’ll love having your own space away from it all and the privacy it affords. Of course, you can’t go wrong with a fantastic beachfront resort where you spend all day sipping watermelon or coconut cocktails, lazing by the pool, catching up on your reading. Finally, don’t overlook the option of a homestay. We’ve stayed in homestays in Ubud and Canggu and found them to be great for those budget stays! Need some hotel reviews or accommodation recommendations? Peep the Indonesia section of Little Grey Box here.
Check the visa requirements
Be sure to check the visa requirements before you set off. While on our most recent visit we weren’t required to purchase a visa, you just never know when things might change so make sure you do your research. In the past, we’ve been required to purchase a visa on arrival and needed to have a certain amount of money in US Dollars or Indonesian Rupiah.
Plan your activities
With your itinerary starting to come together I’d recommend you start thinking about the type of activities you’d like to do while you’re in Bali. Your activities will also depend on which spots you find yourself visiting. There’s a lot to see, do and experience in Bali so consider whether you’d up for more adventure activities, chilled out days, watersports, cultural experiences or just spending the whole time by the pool. You can definitely book things once you’ve arrived so don’t feel too pressured to get everything planned, booked and paid for before you arrive. We quite often sign ourselves up for stuff when we’re there. Read my guide to ’22 Awesome things you absolutely must do in Ubud.’
Find your must-try food experiences
Bali is a food haven and, if you’re like me, you’ll be keen to spend just as much time eating as you do relaxing and exploring. I’ve found the best way to tackle the Bali food scene is to go for a mix of cuisines, I also tend to stay away from street food (except the guy who sells freshly BBQ’d corn cobs). I’d recommend visiting a few authentic Balinese restaurants then mixing it up with other spots. Some of the best Italian food I’ve had has been in Bali and I had an incredible degustation that blew my mind! While there are plenty of great cheap eats on offer, it’s well worth visiting a few fancy spots too because the food is excellent. You might like to read my guide to 5 of the best places to eat in Ubud.
Prepare a packing list
Have a think about what you might like to pack then peep my guide to what to pack for a trip to Indonesia. Figure out any gaps, take into consideration the activities you have planned and do any necessary shopping. You’ll most likely do a fair bit of shopping (and haggling) in Bali so don’t pack too much. You might like to read my guide on ‘How to haggle like a professional in Bali.’
Research any ‘know before you go’s’
As with any new destination, it’s important to brush up on anything you absolutely must know before you go! I’m biased, obviously, but you might like to read my guide to 23 Things to know before you visit Bali.
Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.