Backpacking Bali Itinerary for First Timers
Table of contents
Bali’s been having a moment for about three years now. It’s been a popular destination for decades, due to its tropical climate, easy going lifestyle and rich culture; but tourism on the island has been booming recently – with people seeking its idyllic beaches, spectacular lookouts from sky-high volcanoes and unique Balinese culture.
Last year I spent five weeks exploring the Indonesian island – diving under the crystal waters of the Gili Islands (which are technically on Lombok island, BTW – I’ve included them in this Bali itinerary because they are commonly visited on the same trip), hiking up Mount Batur, wandering around temples and eating a preposterous amount of $1 nasi goreng (fried rice).
There’s something in Bali for everybody; whether you travel for the natural beauty, culture, or beach lifestyle, you’ll love exploring this gorgeous island. This Bali itinerary is perfect for the traveller who wants to see it all – both meet other tourists over an ice cold Bintang (local beer) and explore the endless rice paddies of the island.
Travelling Bali Respectfully
Bali has an incredibly rich culture, which mass tourism has somewhat overlooked. I really want Bali to be seen as a destination that offers more than just beaches and cheap alcohol, so this Bali itinerary focuses more on cultural and local experiences than beach clubs and nightlife.
There are some touristy attractions included: such as the Sky Garden in Kuta, because sometimes home comforts are well appreciated when backpacking, but when travelling in Bali, please don’t forget the beautiful culture that the Balinese follow to this day, and do what you can to support it.
Quite often, supporting the locals is cheaper as well! Opting for local warungs (Balinese restaurants), staying in Balinese run hotels and using products from Bali is a great way to travel sustainably.
Bali Itinerary: How long should it take?
How much time you’ll need in Bali largely depends on your budget, what you want to do and how quick you like to travel. I spent five weeks travelling in Bali, but spent a lot of time working in a co-working space in Canggu called Dojos. I’d say three weeks in Bali is a great time to see all of the attractions, not feel too rushed and account for the odd lazy/ hangover day.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s get stuck into the highlights of Bali itinerary!
Suggested time = 2 days
You’ll probably be entering Bali from Denpasar airport, which makes Kuta a perfect starting point for your Bali itinerary. There’s not a huge amount to do in Kuta – it’s somewhat a party place for young Aussies – but it’s a great place to adjust to Bali life.
Things to do in Kuta
- Surf lessons on Kuta beach
- Browse the Kuta markets
- Waterbom park – which is supposedly the best attraction in Indonesia!
- A beautiful sunset and bintangs on Kuta beach
- All you can eat and drink for 110,000 rupiah every night from 5pm – 9pm at Sky Garden Bali
Where to stay in Kuta
I highly recommend The Ratna Hotel. For 250,000 rupiah you can have a lovely room for two with a huge bed, en suite bathroom and included breakfast. The staff are an absolute delight too. We enjoyed this place so much that we returned twice! (And Kuta’s not generally the kind of place you return to twice…). For rates and to book, click here.
Suggested time – 2-3 days
Seminyak is known as ‘Kuta’s classier cousin’. With various bars, lovely restaurants and beach clubs, it’s where a lot of holidayers first head to. It’s a great place to enjoy the beach, accustom yourself to Balinese life and get some yummy food – but it’s not somewhere I’d stay in for too long. 3 days is perfect.
Things to do in Seminyak include:
- A beach walk along the coast
- Surf lessons off the main beach
- A night out at La Favela
- Mexican food and drinks at Motel Mexicola
- A smoothie bowl and healthy breakfast at Shelter bar
- Shopping at the Seminyak markets
Where to stay in Seminyak?
We stayed at Capsule Hotel New Seminyak. It’s a fantastic social hostel, with a party atmosphere and friendly staff. There’s an attached bar and they serve food until late. The dorms are in the pod style, with each bed being in a cubbyhole of its own and having its own plug and light. There’s also a separate lounge area and pool. Prices are from around 130,000 per night.
Suggested time – 2-3 days
Entering into Canggu, you’ll feel like the surroundings are distinctively more Indonesian. Rice paddies envelop you, and the town is a lot less mad than Seminyak’s hustle and bustle. That’s not to say that Canggu is not touristy – it’s a bit of a hipster haven, with lots of quirky shops and cafes. But if you take a closer look, there’s lots in Canggu that gives off an air of ‘older Bali’.
Things to do in Canggu
- Surf lessons on Echo Beach
- Yoga and meditation at Serenity Guesthouse – or one of the many other yoga schools in town
- A cheaper than chips buffet dinner at Warung Varuna
- Take a trip out to the Tanah Lot Temple, which is one of Bali’s most famous places of worship. Set on an off shore rock, the beautiful temple was created in the 16th century by Dany Hyang Nirartha. See more temples in Bali here.
- Stroll around the rice paddies and the beaches of the town
- Laze on the black sand beach with a plate of nasi goreng and an ice cold bintang
Where to stay in Canggu
There’s nowhere better than Serenity Eco Guesthouse. This fabulous guesthouse is also a yoga studio, and the entire complex has an organic, healthy living feel to it – there’s no alcohol inside, a restaurant with mostly vegan food and tranquil music and serene water features.
It’s the place to go if you’re looking for a spot to detox and catch up on sleep for a few days – I really struggle sleeping in hostel dorms, but in the eight bed room I was in I managed to get a fantastic sleep every night, due to the quietness of the property and lack of drunk guests stumbling in at all hours of the night. If dorms really aren’t your thing, don’t worry – you can check into a private room as well! Click here for rates and to book.
Suggested time – 3-4 days
You can’t visit Bali without going to Ubud. The cultural heart of the island, it’s crazy busy but is the best spot within Bali that showcases the natural beauty, diversity and culture of the area.
Things to do in Ubud
- Hike up to the summit of Mount Batur to catch a breathtaking sunrise
- Stroll around Ubud’s many temples to learn about Balinese spirituality
- Hike through gorgeous Tegalalang rice fields
- Visit some of the many waterfalls in the area
- Go to a Balinese cooking class
- Watch a traditional dance show
- Soar high above the jungle at Bali swing
In Ubud, it’s likely you’ll need a driver for your Ubud tour. Here’s the facebook page of the fantastic guide we used, who I highly recommend. He’s happy to take you to any place of interest or recommend some spots, depending on your wishes!
Where to stay in Ubud
There’s a range of accommodation options, but if you’re visiting Bali on a budget and are keen to keep costs down, I loved Taman Dewangga House which is a crazily cheap price. At 40,000 rupiah per night (which includes breakfast!) it’s obviously not 5* luxury, but it’s really not bad at all. The rooms were relatively clean, there was a nice atmosphere and the staff were friendly. At its price, I really couldn’t knock it! Click here for rates and to book.
If you’re seeking something a bit more luxurious, check out The Runik Ubud. Located in a deluxe villa-style setting, The Runik enjoys the solitude of Balinese nature while still being walking distance from all the main attractions. Guests enjoy a delicious included breakfast, a glamorous swimming pool and fast free wifi. Click through for rates and to book!
Suggested time – 4 days
Gili Trawangan is the largest of the Gili islands and it’s where most backpackers head. While you may find more serene beauty and a peaceful atmosphere on neighbouring Gili Air or Meno, Gili T definitely has the most to do and the best social scene.
Things to do in Gili T
- Dive in the Indonesian reef – at 490,000 rupiah for certified divers and around 900,000 for non certified, you can’t really go wrong!
- A snorkelling trip around the three islands
- Snorkel straight from the shore of the main beach – watching out for colourful fish and turtles out in the ocean
- Walk around the islands through the backstreets – a great chance to meet friendly locals
- Dine at the Gili T night market
- Enjoy a cocktail during sunset at one of the beach bars
- Snap a photo of one of the three beautiful mosques on the island
Where to stay in Gili T
I stayed at a few homestays on the island, and Woodstock Homestay was definitely the best. The rustic cabins are so cute, the staff amazingly accommodating and the whole place is colourful and charming. And I haven’t got started on the breakfast – it’s huge. They fed me a vegetarian fry up and a fruit platter, with a coffee and a smoothie – because just one portion and drink just wouldn’t be enough now, would it? This made it fantastic value for money! Click for rates and to book.
Being Respectful on the Gili Islands
A word when visiting Gili Trawangan and the other islands – it’s important to remember that it’s different to Bali. The Gili Islands are technically part of Lombok, which means that it is a Muslim island – Bali is the only Indonesian island which main religion is Hinduism. Dressing conservatively around mosques is a must, and it’s much more respectful to keep your bikini to the beach and cover up when going into shops and restaurants.
The drinking culture on Gili Trawangan is a bit overwhelming, especially when you consider that alcohol isn’t a part of Muslim culture. I’m not saying go teetotal on the Gili Islands, but do pay a bit of respect to the Muslim population that call the island home by keeping the drinking to bars or your accomodation and not acting loud and rowdy in residential areas.
Suggested time – 2 days
You can take a fast boat from the Gili Islands to the Nusa Islands, which are considered a part of Bali; but are a million miles away from both the Gilis and mainland Bali in terms of way of life. The Nusa Islands move at a lot slower pace, with much less traffic (although do be careful on the windy rural roads – I got hit by a car on one but luckily was fine!) and see significantly less tourists.
The majority of visitors to the Nusa Islands first go to Nusa Lembongan.
Best things to do on Nusa Lembongan
- Go diving with Manta Rays
- Marvel at Devil’s Tear, where the waves crash crazily on the shoreline – definitely one to admire from afar!
- Laze in the sun at Dream Beach
- Snap a picture of Mushroom Bay
- Cross the bridge over to Nusa Ceniganan
Suggested time = 1 day
You’re definitely saving the best until (nearly!) last. Nusa Penida is a forgotten paradise, a wonderful spot to get off the beaten track and see some real Indonesian beauty. Check out this blog post for things you should know before visiting Nusa Penida.
Lots of people rent scooters to explore Nusa Penida, but I’m not sure if I’d recommend this – they’ve caused a lot of tourist accidents and even deaths over the last few years. If you really want to explore at your own pace, get some experience before coming out and for christ’s sake wear a helmet. The amount of tourists I saw without one was RIIIIIDICULOUS.
Things to do in Nusa Penida
If you’re not wanting to rent out scooters then you’ll be needing a driver to take you around. Drop me a message if you do – I can most probably get you in contact with one!
Your driver will take you to see some of the best parts of the island. The best Nusa Penida experiences include:
- Get a picture perfect shot at Angel’s Billabong
- Climb down to Kelingkling Beach
- See the impossibly high palm trees at Crystal Bay
- Go snorkelling just a few meters out from the shore
- Experience the quiet, rural ‘island life’ of this slow paced part of Bali
Where to stay in Nusa Penida
Dragonfly Inn was one of my favourite places to stay in Bali. The adorable couple running the place are so welcoming and lovely, each room is its own cabin and has an amazing outdoor shower, and they provide a delicious free breakfast and even offer drop offs to the fast boat port! Don’t stay anywhere else on the island! Click here for rates and to book.
Before leaving the island, check out the southern gem of Uluwatu. Famed for its surf spots, temples, and beautiful sunsets, this is the place to head for some relaxation and rejuvenation.
Things to do in Uluwatu
- Catch a spectacular sunrise and sunset
- Surf some of the legendary waves
- Check out the blissful Uluwatu Temple
- Enjoy a night out, if you’re visiting on the weekend
Where to stay in Uluwatu
Tregge Surf Camp Uluwatu is in an ideal location for those wanting to stay in the town centre. The staff are lovely, and you can choose between a twin or a double room. All rooms have terraces and private bathrooms, and the property enjoys fast wifi. Click here for rates and to book.
Other Places to Visit in Bali
If you’re in Bali for longer, if you’ve been before or are just tempted to see some parts of Bali that aren’t as tourist-trodden, there’s lots of spots on the island that are great to get away from it all. Check out some of these for that blissful Balinese solitude you’ve been craving…
- Pemuteran – this area, in Bali’s northwest, is right by the Taman Nasional Bali Barat, which is the only national park on the island. It’s also perfect for diving and snorkelling, as well as finding abandoned beaches.
- Padangbai – perfect for the divers among us, Padangbai has diving directly offshore and is a great springboard for other dive sites in Bali’s east and north. (It’s also where you’ll take the ferry from to get to Nusa Lembongan!)
- Tirta Gangga – this is home to one of one of Bali’s most famous temples, which is busy during the day – but away from the main temple, there are local villages, hiking opportunities and rice fields.
- Sideman – a quieter Ubud, Sideman is loated near to Gunung Agung, and offers some astounding natural beauty in the local area.
I hope you enjoyed this 2 to 3 week Bali itinerary! If you have any comments or questions, let me know over on Facebook!
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