Bali on a Budget: Tips for Cheap Travel to Indonesia
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Beautiful Bali, one of the must-visit places in Indonesia, has been in the headlines a lot over the last few years. It’s become not just a destination for travelers, but has started to attract holidaymakers from Australia, Europe and beyond. Because of this, authentic Bali is a little harder to find (although by no means impossible) and prices have started to rise. But Bali on a budget is indeed possible; it’s just about knowing the right Bali budget tips!
Bali’s a complex place to visit; the story of the island goes way deeper than most tourists realise. I’m still researching and reading about the intricate (and at some points devastating) history of this unique island, but I’ll report back with all my findings when I finally feel like I’ve got a grasp of it.
The long and short is that a huge rise in tourism has not only caused some people to not want to return to the island, but a lot of Bali’s businesses are foreign-owned and don’t really benefit locals. These Bali budget tips bear this in mind, and I always encourage tourists to Bali (or anywhere) to stay in local properties, eat at family run restaurants and use local products. This is one way that sustainable travel and budget travel mix together, and I generally find one of the best Bali budget tips to be: act local.
All prices are in Indonesian Rupiah. 10,000 rupiah = 0.75 USD, 0.95 AUD, 0.56 GBP or 0.63 EUR (all approximate and may change).
The Best Bali Budget Tips
I love local transport when I’m travelling – I find it a great way to see how the locals travel and really experience the country. I spent probably a whole week of my seven weeks in China on trains, and I thought it was an amazing part of my experience.
Sadly, in Bali there’s not really any local transport options. Locals use scooters, and these can be rented out for very reasonable prices – 40,000 rupiah for a day. Some of us (aka me) are waaaay to chicken for this kind of transport too – especially in chaotic Seminyak or Ubud.
So what other options are there? To be honest, I walked a lot. I actually ran from Canggu to Seminyak a few times instead of paying for a taxi, and I would always walk within towns.
There’s lots of people offering transport in the form of the back of one of their scooters. I’m sure that 99% of these scooter drivers are safe, but getting on the back of a random guy’s scooter does unnerve me a little. Scooters can also be organized through the scooter function on Grab or the GoJek app. I’m not saying I would never get on the back of a scooter (as long as I had a helmet!), but I didn’t quite rack up the courage to during this trip to Bali!
Taxis are the only other feasible option – and these can range hugely in prices. Grab or Uber are in use and are cheapest, although they are technically illegal. A lot of drivers I met were very concerned about the illegality of their job, but told me that there wasn’t really any other feasible option for them. On a couple of occasions I was actually asked if I would cancel the Grab and pay them in cash, so they got full commission – something that I was more than happy to do.
Bluebird taxis are metered cabs and are the next cheapest option. Because they’re costed on the meter, they can range hugely (from Canggu to Seminyak I paid between 40,000 and 135,000 rupiah) but the price is normally fair considering how much traffic there is on the roads.
Beware of fake bluebird taxis – which look like the originals, but are darker in colour and typically say something different to ‘BLUE BIRD TAXI’ on the top (some say ‘BLUE BIRO TAXI’ for instance!). I mistakenly got in one of these and was quoted double the amount of an official taxi, and was then locked in so I couldn’t get out. I didn’t feel necessarily unsafe – it was the middle of the day and I was sure I was only locked in because he didn’t want to lose my custom – but it was enough to put me off hailing one of these taxis on the street.
Taxis organized by a hostel, hotel or specific company are often much pricier. They’re a flat rate, but will typically only work out cheaper than a bluebird if there’s a crazy amount of traffic. You’re better off using Grab or Uber or downloading the Bluebird app, or just trying to hail a legit bluebird taxi on the street.
If you’re wanting to visit a few attractions in one area, and want transport between all of them, organizing a driver might be your best option. These prices are often negotiable but remember – this is their living, and they have to pay for petrol and car maintenance out of the money you give them. I used a day long driver on Nusa Penida and in Ubud, and as a ballpark, paid 450,000 rupiah (between 2 people) for Nusa Penida and 600,000 rupiah (between 6 people) in Nusa Penida.
To reach the Gili Islands or Nusa Islands, you’ll need to take a boat from Padangbai (for Gili Islands) or Sanur (for Nusa Islands). You can either book a package including transfers, or organise transfers and boats separately. Don’t pay any more than 400,000 rupiah each for a package to the Gilis, and factor in how much a taxi would cost (depending on your initial destination and group size) to see if you could end up spending less by organizing the taxi and boat individually. Check out this link for information on the cheapest way to get to Nusa Lembongan.
If you want to organize your Gili Island transportation separately, head down to Padangbai early on. My friend paid 200,000 for a boat return with return transport (but as this was only organized on at the port, she had already paid for transport there). She did, however, have to spend 70,000 on accommodation in Padangbai for the night because the boat wasn’t leaving until the next day. If you go down early and are prepared to shop around, you might get on one that day – it depends on the day and business.
I’d recommend organizing the Nusa islands separately – not with a package. This is because it works out a bit cheaper and it makes sense to travel to one first and then return from the other. We paid about 130,000 rupiah for a taxi from Kuta to Sanur, then 130,000 again for the boat over to Nusa Lembongan. The boat between Lembongan and Penida was 75,000 and the return boat from Nusa Penida was 100,000. It’s difficult to arrange cheap transport from the other end, but if you have Grab, Uber or the Bluebird app you should be able to find wifi and book a taxi.
Extra budget tip: buying a local SIM is a small investment for a lot of data and means that you can quickly book taxis and find out information such as price conversions etc. It does make a lot of difference – and saves you having to buy drinks etc to use restaurants’ wifi!
Food and Drink
Warungs are cheap, small and often family run restaurants. They’re the cheapest places to eat in Bali by far – just try to eat at the authentic ones, not the touristy ‘warungs’!
Indonesian dishes, such as Nasi or Mie Goreng, Gado Gado or Cap Cay should cost between 10,000 and 20,000 rupiah at one of these warungs, and fresh juices can cost as little as 10,000 at some of the best warungs.
A lot of these warungs are tiny and many of them have similar names, so it’s difficult to recommend many. But one I highly recommend (that I ate at nearly every day while in Canggu!) is Warung Varuna. They do buffet – style food for mega cheap – I always had a very heavy plate of food for 16,000 – 25,000 rupiah.
And I have to mention Gili T’s night market; for just 20,000 rupiah (or less!) we dined like queens on some of the tastiest Indonesian food. I didn’t have the chance to get to any of the other food markets, but I’ve heard that they’re just as good and definitely one of the best ways to enjoy Bali on a budget!
Bali’s quite famous for smoothie bowls and health food, but in reality this is actually quite expensive. Shelter in Seminyak does amazing bowls and great food, and is a really cute tree house setting, but it will set you back a few too many rupiah – not ideal if you’re exploring Bali on a budget!
For water and soft drinks, take a walk off of the main street. 1.5 liter bottles of water can be found for 5,000 rupiah and cans of coke for 6-7,000 – or even cheaper. Bintang is the cheapest local beer – expect to pay around 20,000 in a shop for a bintang and more in a bar or restaurant.
Wine is catastrophically expensive, and spirits in Indonesia have a bit of a bad name. My friends drunk shop bought ones and were fine, I drunk spirits out and was fine, but there have been scary stories of people who have gone blind or even died from spirits mixed with methanol in Indonesia. Do your research and try them at your own risk.
If you want some cheap western food and drinks in Bali, I recommend heading to Sky Garden in Kuta. It’s not local at all, but it’s good for cheap (safe!) drinks and budget western food; and sometimes some home comforts are exactly what you need. For just 115,000 rupiah you can chow down on an unlimited buffet and bottomless drinks – which include beer, cocktails and spirits and mixers.
If you’re wondering where to stay in Bali on a budget, you’re in luck – there’s ample of accomodation opportunities that won’t break your bank.
There’s quite a lot of couchsurfing opportunities in Bali, for anyone who has a profile on the accommodation website. This is also a great way to engage in local culture!
There are also some great Airbnb listings in Bali with prices to match all budgets. I didn’t personally stay in any of these while on the island, but it’s well worth seeing what the offerings are – especially if you’re travelling in a group!
There are lots of homestays in Bali; these are small hotels that are often family run. They can be booked on websites like booking.com and normally include breakfast. If two of you are travelling together, these can be really good value.
My favourite homestays were:
Woodstock Homestay in Gili T
My only regret here was that we only had one night! This place is set off the Main Street of Gili T, in a very relaxing setting. It has a pool and each room is in its own seperate building. We had two rooms which were rustically decorated and had a semi-outdoor shower! The breakfast here was the best I had in Bali – we dined like queens. I had an omelette, toast, hash browns, a fruit platter, juice and coffee – and it was all included in the cheap room price! To check rates and to book, click here.
Dragonfly on Nusa Penida
This place was the cutest. We’d been told that there wasn’t much good accomodation on Nusa Penida so I felt very lucky to have found this guesthouse, where each room was a little cabin. It came complete with a tropical outdoor shower and very peaceful surroundings- and included breakfast in the morning! To check rates and to book, click here.
I stayed in a couple of hotels, which are reasonably priced especially if there’s a few of you travelling together. While homestays are more authentic, in the busier areas they’re not so common and local hotels are a good alternative.
My favourite hotels were:
The Ratna in Kuta
The staff here were an absolute delight. It’s a family run hotel, run by an older couple and their son and wife. The older couple are absolutely adorable (the woman insists everyone calls her mama!) and their daughter in law is lovely to chat to – I’m actually still in contact with her now. Plus the rooms are huge, with king size beds, and the price (which includes breakfast!) is amazingly cheap. We stayed here twice because it was so lovely! For rates and to book, click here.
Putu Guest House 2 in Canggu
When we walked into Putu, we actually wondered if we’d booked the right place. For 25,000 each for 2 nights we had a room in a lovely hotel room which was complete with no less than three double beds! It also had a fantastic pool and the most amazing shower I’ve had since I left home. For rates and to book, click here.
Hostels are expensive for South East Asian standards, but some of them are really very nice. They’re great to meet other travelers and some of them include breakfast at super low rates.
My favourite hostels were…
Capsule Hotel in Seminyak
It’s a party place, no doubt about it. But the dorms are so lovely – each guest has their own pod, complete with lights and plug sockets, a lit up headboard and super comfy mattress, the atmosphere is great, and the staff are wonderful! It’s a great hostel to stay in in your first few nights in Bali. For rates and to book, click here.
Taman Dewangga House in Ubud
I was a bit skeptical about booking this place, as the reviews weren’t the best, but for 45,000 rupiah a night I was so impressed. It was really peaceful downstairs, with water features and buddha statues, and the dorms were spacious and clean. It also included breakfast, such a bargain at this amazing price! For rates and to book, click here.
Eco Serenity Guesthouse and Yoga in Canggu
This wasn’t the cheapest, and if you really want to explore Bali on a budget, you might have to try some other options. But for any yoga fans or people just wanting a little P&Q, I highly recommend Serenity. I stayed in a dorm for 180,000 rupiah per night, and it was lovely and peaceful – lights out at 9:30pm were what I really wanted for my time in Canggu, as I was working hard every day on this blog and my freelance work. The included vegan breakfast is amazing, the staff are absolutely lovely and the atmosphere is so tranquil and peaceful. It’s a place very into holistic medicine and natural therapy, and, as the name suggests, there’s yoga almost every waking hour. I couldn’t recommend Serenity higher and really advise any Bali budget travellers to splurge a little for a few nights here. For rates and to book, click here.
Here’s some of the best hostels in Canggu if you’re searching for other accomodation in the town.
Villas don’t actually break the bank in Bali – they’re ideal if you’re looking for a bit of affordable luxury. Check out this list of the best Bali villas for under $100 for some great places you could stay if you’re travelling with a group.
And of course, if you want to save a night’s accommodation ,you could always do what I did and sleep in the airport the night after your flight… not the classiest, but worth it to save some dollar!
Of course, all of the beaches in Bali are free and wonderful. Head to Canggu and Seminyak for crazy waves, Kuta for ultimate ‘beers on a beach’ setting, Uluwatu for amazing sunsets and Gili T for crystal clear blue waters. And if you’re wanting to go off the beaten path, Nusa Penida has unreal snorkeling and palm trees as high as the sky…
If you have your own snorkel and mask, the marine life off the coast of Gili T and Nusa Penida is as good as you’ll see on any tour. If you don’t have one, renting one out is inexpensive and a great way to see Bali’s underwater creatures! Gili T do offer very cheap snorkeling tours at about 80,000 rupiah for 5 hours with three stops, but I’m not sure I’d recommend them. About 50 of us were squeezed into a boat and I couldn’t help but worry about the impact of the fish and turtles. It also kind of ruins the experience when you can see 5 times the amount of humans as fish in the water!
The towns of Kuta, Seminyak, Canggu and Ubud (and many more!) are charismatic in their own way and are enjoyable to explore, especially if you’re not used to Asian culture. There’s lots of markets – of course any purchases will cost, but you can window shop for free!
Potato Head Beach Club and similar ones are free to enter; but drinks are expensive and you aren’t allowed to take any food or drink in. Still, it’s a scenic place to see and enjoy if only for a short while before seeking out cheaper drinks elsewhere!
Ubud’s rice paddies are free to hike in and explore at your leisure – and they’re one of the top things to do in Bali. You can just dip in and out of the terraces, or follow marked trails. The rice terraces are gorgeous and very Balinese: a fantastic authentic thing to do in Bali! If you have a driver, he may also take you to waterfalls, which are free or very cheap to enter. Check out this Bali waterfall guide for some inspiration!
Staying in the Ubud area, a lot of temples are free to explore. Some, like Ubud Palace, are near to the centre but others need a driver to get to. The driver can add include a trip to the temples as part of an Ubud tour – don’t forget to ask me if you want a driver recommendation!
There are lots of traditional dances which require tourists to buy a ticket for in Ubud. A free alternative, if you’re visiting on a Sunday, is watching one of the children’s dance shows. It’s very authentic – they’re made up and dressed in the most traditional wear imaginable – and as it’s a dance show, it’s free to watch – there’s always way more Balinese than foriegners in the audience.
Paid activities that are worth spending your money on
You’ll be told that the only way to do Mount Batur sunrise trek is with a tour guide, and this is semi true. It is possible to find a willing driver to take you to the base or scooter there yourself, but you and the driver might get in a lot of trouble for it. The Mount Batur tours cost between 300,000 and 400,000 rupiah and include transport, some food (not the best things I’ve eaten in Bali – read banana pancakes, another banana, a hard boiled egg and two slices of bread!) and water, and a guide.
The guide made it for us – he was really lovely and helpful. Although I’m sure I could have climbed the volcano without him, and would have if it was a feasible option, it was nice to have him there!
Mount Batur is touristy, but it is really worth it – seeing the sunrise over Bali is nothing short of magical. Mount Agung is a pricier, longer option, which I would have done if I had more time or money, but Mount Batur is a great option for those limited on funds.
Surfing lessons are pretty pricey – from 200,000 for a 2 hour lesson in Kuta, Seminyak or Canggu. I chose not to spend my money on it, as I have managed to surf (not well) a few times in Australia for free, but for visitors to Bali who don’t have the same options, it’s a good introduction to surfing at cheaper prices than a lot of other countries. You could also try and find some friends with a surfboard – people do travel with them – and convince them that you’re not just making friends with them for the surfboard, and then borrow it and take to the waves yourself!
Yoga classes – I paid 110,000 rupiah for a 90 minute yoga class at Serenity Guesthouse in Canggu – quite expensive and it was difficult, but I couldn’t leave Bali without doing yoga! There’s free yoga on Kuta beach – although I’m not sure when and exactly where – and lots of options in Ubud.
Scuba Diving in Gili T is a fantastic price for what you get – certified divers pay just 450,000 rupiah for an hour maximum dive, and uncertified pay 950,000 rupiah for a morning’s worth of training and a dive in the afternoon. I was the only certified diver out of my friends, and got to just join them for the actual dive. This was great for me, as we had one more instructor than normal, and despite being certified I’m still not the most confident diver! This is a crazily cheap price and although Gili T is very touristy above and under the water, if you’re not going to be able to dive elsewhere in the near future, I highly recommend diving on Gili T.
Products that will help you budget in Bali
If you want to be really savvy before you arrive in Bali, it’s a great idea to make use of some fantastic products to help you budget. These products are an investment, can be used time and time again and will save you money in the long run!
Firstly, something I always recommend to travellers visiting places where you can’t drink the tap water is a water to go bottle. You can refill these bottles with water from any source (apart from the sea) and it’s safe to drink, due to the clever filter fixed to the top. This is also so much more eco friendly and one of my most important green travel products.
Tupperware serve a similar purpose. If you’ve ordered a huge meal and just can’t eat all of it, pop some in this tupperware and as long as you have a fridge, it’ll do for tomorrow’s lunch as well. Also if you’re going out for the day, you could chop up some fruit and take it in the tupperware, meaning that you’ll save money on snacks out. I use this Amazon collapsible tupperware – use this link to buy the same!
When it comes to technology, make sure you have support for your devices in case they break! I’m talking a life proof case for your phone and a strap and floatation device for your go pro, if you have one. Bali’s a fantastic go pro destination – but don’t make the mistake I did on the Ningaloo Reef and enter the water without one (my go pro is with the whale sharks now, sob).
I highly recommend a Lonely Planet guidebook to help you get around in Bali and be able to plan exactly what you want to do when. There’s often recommendations for the best budget restaurants and hotels there too. And lastly, people will love you if you try and speak a bit of Indonesian, so take along an Indonesian phrasebook. If you act savvy with a few keywords and phrases, you’ll make more friends and earn people’s respect.
Bali on a budget is definitely possible, although it isn’t the cheapest Asian destination. I was pretty content with my Bali experience; and feel like I spent money when I needed to while saving in other places. The true heart of Bali can be uncovered through budget travel; it’s just about being savvy, knowing where to spend money and eating local.
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Where’s your favourite budget travel destination? Any Bali on a budget tips I missed out? Let me know in the comments!