Bali is in the middle of a tourism boom. New hotels are opening, visitors are arriving in near-record numbers — and prices are rising faster than kites in a cloudless afternoon sky.
If you’re considering visiting Bali soon, you need to know one important thing: It’s a different place than before the pandemic.
For example, take the up-and-coming area of Canggu, where I’m renting a home. Just three years ago, the area around my house was rice paddies. Today, it is filled with upscale shops, money changers and local restaurants called stalls.
“The island is awash with tourists,” says Isaac Halas, a tour operator and frequent visitor to Bali.
There’s also been a shift in the types of tourists coming to Bali. Hoteliers tell me they saw fewer Chinese visitors and more Americans and Australians. And they often book their Bali vacations at the last minute rather than planning them months ahead.
So what do you need to know about visiting Bali now? What else has changed since the pandemic? And how do you plan a perfect Bali getaway?
This is the first part of a two-part series on tourism in Bali. Part two will explore Bali’s seemingly endless supply of luxury hotels.
What has changed in Bali?
Bali has nearly recovered from the pandemic in terms of foreign visitor arrivals. From January to April, 1.4 million foreign nationals visited the island, according to Bali Central Statistics. That compares to 1.8 million visitors during the same period in 2019.
New hotels have opened, and more are planned. Among the new entrants: AYANA Segara Bali, a luxury hotel overlooking Jimbaran Bay; Kimpton Naranta Bali in Nusa Dua; and Gdas Bali Health And Wellness Resort in trendy Ubud. Some properties, like Soulshine Bali, have expanded by adding new rooms. And more are on the horizon. The highly anticipated Anantara Ubud Bali is scheduled to open in the first quarter of next year.
Bali is straining under the number of new arrivals, some of whom have not behaved well. Earlier this summer, a German visitor defiled a temple by roaming through it without a stitch of clothes. This month, Indonesia temporarily suspended visa-free travel for 159 countries because of what it called “disease concerns.” There are also rumors that Bali may triple its $33 visa-on-arrival fee soon.
Bali hotel prices are rising
Bali is less of a value destination than before the pandemic. The island is now home to the most expensive hotel in Southeast Asia, the ultra-high-end Bulgari Resort Bali. The hotel doubled its room rates after the pandemic— they now start at $1,620 per night.
There are numerous reports of rising hotel occupancy and prices in Bali. In speaking with hotel operators, it’s clear that the days of dirt-cheap hotel rooms on the island are history and will probably never come back.
“But it’s still an incredibly affordable destination in comparison to most anywhere in the world,” notes Andrew Williams, a Bali expert at OvationNetwork.
He says you can secure five-star accommodations for as little as $150 per night. And if you avoid the high season (midsummer and end of the year) then you can usually find a special package that will allow you to save money on accommodations.
Still, the overall trend is that hotel rates continue to rise, and, and it will almost certainly stay that way for the foreseeable future, say observers.
Bali is bursting at the seams
Bali sometimes feels like an enormous construction site. The land that was undeveloped only a few months ago is now filled with brand-new villas and with trendy stores selling overpriced swimwear to tourists.
“Bali has changed drastically in the past decade,” says Karim Bel Hadj Soulami, an expert on remote work who frequently visits Bali. “It feels like new hotels and villas are popping up every day. They fill up very quickly.”
Traffic is dreadful. If you have a business near the provincial capital of Denpasar, you have to get an early start, when traffic is still moving. In the afternoon, the tiny two-lane roads became practically impassable to cars. Only the mopeds could weave in and out of traffic.
At some of Bali’s luxury hotels, the hottest amenity is a helipad.
At the Viceroy Bali, one of the only hotels in Ubud where a helicopter can land, officials say landing fees are a “significant” source of revenue. With good reason. After more than 20 hours on a plane, the last the thing a luxury hotel guest wants is to be stuck in traffic for hours.
The Balinese seem to take these problems in stride. After all, tourism is a billion-dollar industry, which connects almost everyone on the island. However, if you’re coming from a Western country where well-maintained roads and a reliable transportation infrastructure are taken for granted, you may be in for a shock.
How to plan your next Bali vacation
Bali is still irresistible to Western visitors. It is remote (it takes about a day to get to Indonesia, and there are no nonstop flights from the United States), and it has a legendary service culture. But if you’re thinking of visiting, here are a few things you need to know.
Set realistic expectations
Bali is not what most people think it is, says Henley Vazquez, co-founder of the travel agency Fora. “What you picture as Bali might not be what it is,” he said. “Yes, there are picturesque rice fields. Yes, there is great surfing. But it isn’t just tranquil, white-sand beaches. There is traffic, and it can be busy and sometimes feel overbuilt.” All the more reason to carefully select your destination and your accommodations in Bali.
Do your research carefully
“Throughly research the hotel you plan to stay in,” advises Tim Alexander, who runs an AI company and is a frequent visitor to Bali. “With so many new hotels popping up, it’s essential to check the hotel’s reputation, read reviews, and ensure that it meets your expectations.” Indeed, there are many smaller, locally owned hotels in Bali that are an excellent value for the money. And here’s an insider tip: Make sure your hotel is close to a main road so that you have easy access to the rest of the island. Or make sure it has a helipad.
Avoid high seasons
There’s a crush of visitors at the end of the year, with hotels experiencing their highest occupancy in late November and December. But there are also small surges in tourist arrivals in early summer (late June and early July). You won’t find as many hotel bargains, but the worst part may be the crowded streets, restaurants and beaches. It adds to the stress of travel.
Advice for Bali visitors
Bali can be a rewarding place to visit, but it’s not for everyone. It takes a day to get to Indonesia by plane, and there’s a mind-bending 12-hour time difference from the East Coast of the United States. That means unless you stay for a few weeks, you may spend most of your vacation recovering from the trip and adjusting to the time difference.
Also, Bali looks nothing like the stunning images you see online or in travel magazines. Yes, those places exist, but to get there you have to spend hours sitting in traffic, dodging swarms of mopeds and seeing a less-developed side of the island. In my neighborhood in Canggu, people burn trash everyday. The small fires fill the streets with thick white smoke. The tap water is undrinkable and the sewer system is so fragile that you can’t flush toilet paper down the toilets.
Even so, Bali should be a contender for your bucket list. Balinese are deeply spiritual and among the friendliest people I’ve ever met. And once you get past the built-up villages and trashed fires, you are rewarded with spectacular views of the Indian Ocean and tropical foliage in a thousand shades of green. It is something you should see at least once in your lifetime.