Budget Travel in Bali

Sunset on Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia (photo by I Aksamit)

Sunset on Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia (photo by I Aksamit)

Bali, Indonesia manages to retain its place as a tourist mecca, despite the hordes attempting to love it to death, by showing off its natural beauty—the sun soaked beaches, clear, blue water and lofty volcanic peaks. Combined with the untrampled spirit of the Balinese it’s easy to see why 2.75 million visitors are expected to descend upon the shores of this tiny island, about half the size of the Big Island of Hawaii, in 2011. Though all the adoration comes at a price, rumors of the death of budget travel in Bali are simply incorrect if you know where to look and are willing to adjust your expectations.


A couple of decades ago, when I spent idyllic summers in a relatively unknown Bali, rooms could be had for less than $10 a day. A typical family run losmen (homestay) offered a basic room with primitive plumbing, cold water and no air conditioning, but included a black rice pudding, unlimited tiny, sweet bananas and large mugs of steaming, sweetened tea for breakfast. After hearing about the massive expansion of five star hotels lining Kuta and Legian Beaches and pushing relentlessly north to Seminyak, I despaired of finding a deal.

To my delight, I found that budget travel is alive and well in the warrens of Kuta and Legian. The quality isn’t even that different, though black rice pudding seems to have disappeared, and the expectations of many travellers have risen, leading to some misunderstandings as evidenced by some of the scathing reviews on Trip Advisor.

Pool at AP Inn, Bali, Indonesia (I Aksamit)

Pool at AP Inn, Bali, Indonesia (I Aksamit)

Two useful websites are Agoda, an Asia-based hotel booking site that was acquired by Priceline in 2007, and Bali Hotels-Budget, a Bali-based website. Both sites yield ample examples of budget lodging to get started. Once on the ground even less expensive options may be discovered by visiting properties that look intriguing.

Visiting at a non-peak time (October) I was able to find lodging at the Bali Sani Padma in Legian, one block off the beach for IDR 286,000 (US $32) through Bali Hotels-Budget, compared to the walk-up rate of US $60. A medium sized complex with a pool, full restaurant & bar, air conditioning and hot water (though the sink didn’t work in one room), the Bali Sani Padma included a substantial buffet breakfast. We stayed several times and were consistently able to get the same low rate through the internet. A cottage ran US $41, with a larger room and better quality bathroom. I secured a room at the AP Inn in the heart of Kuta on Poppies I Lane for a similar rate of US $31 through Agoda for a standard room with the same amenities, but with a skimpier set breakfast. Staying in the more popular Kuta meant that many services that were free in Legian, like baggage storage, or an additional beverage at breakfast, were charged extra.

I traveled to Padang Bai on the other side of the island to check out the excellent snorkeling at Blue Lagoon without a hotel reservation. The first place I checked had a room for $60 and upon seeing my hesitation the clerk directed me next door for a less expensive place. I was charmed by the rice-house style room (picture a large rowboat upended—the building has a prow roof, with sleeping room on the top floor with balcony, and bath below with patio), for the bargain price of US $12, with cold water and fan, and breakfast (banana pancake and tea only). The only downside of the room was the heat, rendering the lack of hot water a non-issue.

Traditional Indonesian "mandi" bath (I Aksamit)

Traditional Indonesian "mandi" bath (I Aksamit)

The consistent downfall I noticed in budget hotels in Bali and elsewhere in SE Asia is that you have to overlook some failings in the bathrooms, as it’s not a major area of focus. The rooms themselves are usually clean, though plainly appointed, but the bathrooms may not be spotless, the tub might be chipped, mold may be visible the corners of the shower and the plumbing might be spotty. My husband and I actually grew to appreciate the simpler bathrooms that were just one big room with a shower head stuck in the wall and a floor drain at one end of the room. It is easier to keep clean and has fewer things to malfunction. We even had one room that featured a traditional Indonisian mandi, which looks like an oddly shaped tiled tub or sink, being narrower and higher than a western tub, where you use a small plastic bucket to scoop water from the mandi over your body while standing next to it. The water in the mandi always stays clean so bodies and clothes are washed outside of it.

Some of the included breakfasts might feature rice or noodles, eggs fried within an inch of their lives, or a limited selection of pancakes (more like a crepe) and jaffles, with tea, and perhaps fruit. It’s free, so if it were edible and filling we were satisfied.


Balisani Padma Hotel

Balisani Padma Hotel

Walking as a form of transportation is often all you need around the small communities of Bali. Getting around the island to other communities requires some form of motorized locomotion. Though traffic is daunting many Western tourists rent motorbikes (and helmets) to get around for about US $7/day. An international driver’s license is recommended.

One company, Perama, offers convenient, scheduled shuttle service, as well as tours, around the island to commonly visited locations, including Ubud, Sanur, Kuta, Lovina, Padang Bai, the airport and many others. For example, the shuttle from Kuta to Ubud costs IDR 50,000 (US $5.50). They offer pickup at your hotel for an extra charge of IDR10,000 (US $1.10) or you can make your way to their small, storefront stations.

Budget Travel

Bali offers a multitude of activities (see related article) for the budget traveller, so once you have a place to stay and figure out how you want to get around your biggest decision could range from deciding whether you’re going to the beach or pool, or whether some sightseeing is in order.

Budget travel is alive and well in Bali, and if tourists traveling on a shoestring can overlook some failings in the bathrooms they’ll likely be pleased with the range of inexpensive accommodations available to them.

See related article: Exploring Bali in two days.



Getting There:

Several airlines provide air service from the U.S. to Bali, including Qantas, Cathay Pacific and KLM. Prices for airlines departing from San Francisco International Airport were running from $1,300-1700 with one or two stops, and takes about 21 hours.  Check Skyscanner for more information.

A visa is required for citizens of the U.S. and a 30-day visa can be purchased upon arrival at the airport for US $25/person. Look for the kiosks before you get to customs. Indonesia, like many other countries, requires that your passport be valid for at least 6 months when you enter the country.