The mere mention of Bali evokes images of lush, tropical rainforests, expansive beaches and beautiful Javanese architecture. While it's easy to assume that a vacation to Bali will cost a small fortune, this beloved Indonesian island offers some of the best values of any tropical paradise on the planet.
There are plenty of budget accommodations, food and local transportation are affordable, and even the spas offer massages and treatments at value prices. In fact, the most expensive part of your Bali vacation will probably be spent on airfare. All that said, you can easily spend a week or two in Bali for under $2,000, without having to sleep on the beach. Here are a few things to consider when planning Bali on a budget.
What is the best time to visit Bali on a budget?
If you're on a budget, consider visiting Bali during the lower, wetter season, which runs from October through March. The crowds will be fewer and both hotel rates and flights from abroad are often cheaper, except during the holiday period between mid-December and early January, when crowds swell (particularly with Australian visitors).
The only trade-off for the lower prices is the wet season isn't always ideal for sunbathing and serious rainfall can make outdoor activities such as whitewater rafting and visiting waterfalls and rice terraces less than appealing.
That said, even during rainy season it doesn't usually rain all day long, and you might not end up seeing much rainfall at all. Expect bursts of sunshine between the storms.
How can I find cheap flights to Bali?
If you're flexible with your departure dates and willing to put up with long layovers, you can get some pretty reasonably priced tickets to Bali (check Airfare Watchdog to compare deals). If you're flying from the United States, note that it's not unusual to find fares for under $700 from West Coast destinations such as L.A. and San Francisco, even on major carriers. Flights from other major hubs such as New York and Chicago often don't often cost much more, especially if you book well in advance.
If you're having a hard time finding a fare within your budget for the dates that you want, you could also consider flying into a major Southeast Asian hub such as Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur and then switching to an Asian budget carrier for the last leg of your trip. Regional budget options include Air Asia, Lion Air, and Scoot. If you're coming from Australia, JetStar is a reliable low-cost option. However, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to transfer and be aware of any luggage restrictions that may make your flight cost a fair bit more.
What is the cheapest way to get around Bali?
The absolute cheapest way to get around Bali on a budget is by local bus, but it can take a long time. There are also tourist busses, including hop-on, hop-off options, that travel between different hubs across the island. Bali is well-served by taxis, both of the car and motorbike variety, and the prices tend to be affordable by international standards. Most drivers will offer you a fixed rate for full-day hires or to get from point A to point B, rather than using a meter. Remember to bargain; doing so is particularly easy when a driver is on his own rather than at a taxi stand. Note that taxi unions are strong in Bali, and the use of ride-sharing apps is banned in certain areas, such as Ubud. However, people still use these apps on the sly (notably, Grab); you just might have to be discreet. If you plan to be doing a lot of short-distance traveling, you may also want to consider renting a motor scooter — just be prepared to drive on the left!
How much does food cost in Bali?
Like anywhere, how much you spend on food depends greatly on where you choose to dine. If you're into fine dining at luxury hotels, you can end up spending a large chunk of your budget on food, and even meals at some of Ubud's numerous health food restaurants can cost as much as they would back home. Meals at the average restaurant geared toward tourists are the best way to eat in Bali on a budget. A good meal should cost you around 100,000 rupiah (around $7), but if you're willing to subsist mostly off of local specialties such as nasi goreng (fried rice) and eat at local restaurants (warungs), you can expect to pay around 30,000 rupiah ($2) to get fed. Best of all, most hotels and guest houses in Bali come with free breakfast, and many offer heavier options of noodles and meat that may keep you full until a late lunch.
What are the best budget-friendly itineraries in Bali?
Lots of Bali budget visitors spend their entire time right in Ubud, a laid-back village surrounded by lush rice paddies and ancient temples in the lush interior heart of the island. This budget tourist-friendly town is considered the cultural hub of Bali. Ubud and its surrounding villages are home to myriad artisans, from painters and sculptors to silversmiths. Ubud also has a ton of inexpensive restaurants and guest houses in and around town, and most destinations, like The Yoga Barn and Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary are within walking distance, meaning you won't have to rely on taxis too much. If you're good at bargaining, you can get great deals on everything from silk dressing gowns to big bags of mangosteens at Ubud Traditional Art Market.
If beaches are the main thing drawing you to Bali, consider spending a mix of your time on the mainland and on the nearby island of Nusa Lembongan, which offers better swimming conditions than the main island. Popular beach destinations on Bali include Sanur and Nusa Dua on the southeastern part of the island and Kuta and Seminyak on the western shores. All four destinations are relatively convenient if you want to stay in one place and do day trips. Kuta, in particular, offers a high concentration of budget-friendly bars and restaurants and is a good place to stay if you want to party. If you want something a bit quieter and more bohemian, Canggu is a great choice. Popular with aspiring surfers and digital nomads, this small community is a bit further up the coast from Kuta (about half an hour without traffic) and has a ton of fun places to stay and eat on the cheap.
While it might make sense to just stick to one beach town and then take day trips, you could also consider a few days on the west coast, followed by a few days on the east coast. End your trip in Nusa Lembongan (easily accessible by speedboat from Sanur). If you've got time left over, you may want to consider also checking out the Gilli Islands, which are popular for short trips from Bali, but are technically under the administration of neighboring Lombok).
Best of Bali on a budget
If you want to experience a bit of everything, pack light and consider changing your base a few times throughout your trip. One way to do this is to start on one of the mainland beach destinations outlined above for a few days, followed by a few days in Nusa Lembongan. Then head back to the mainland to get spa treatments and do yoga in Ubud, finishing your trip off with a few days on one of the quieter northern parts of the island's scenic beaches, such as Lovina Beach.