Before booking a hotel in Bali, there are a few caveats to keep in mind, especially if you buy accommodation online while at home.
Traditional hotel or guest house? Homestay or Airbnb? A wide variety of options cater to more than 4 million guests who come to the island throughout the year. Hotels range from luxurious and secluded to shacks that cost less than $ 10 a night.
Bali is a top destination in Asia. In fact, it is the most visited of Indonesia’s 922 inhabited islands. Don’t risk your dream vacation by getting stuck in a place you don’t enjoy.
Best place to stay in Bali
There are many places to stay in Bali, but certain areas tend to attract specific types of travelers and budgets.
That said, choosing an area does not mean that you are stuck there. Bali shared bemos are becoming a thing of the past; Travelers use taxis, ride-sharing services, or tour buses (Perama is a popular choice) to get between places.
Grab, a ride-sharing app similar to Uber and Lyft, is a popular option on the island. If you are comfortable driving in heavy traffic, Bali is a great place to rent a motorbike (scooter).
Thanks to nearly five kilometers of wide beaches and proximity to the airport, Kuta is where the action is, for better or for worse. Most visitors spend at least a little time in southern Bali before heading to quieter places further afield.
Although it is not exhaustive, these are some of the most popular places to stay in Bali:
- Kuta Beach: Kuta attracts most surfers and backpackers, so there are plenty of noisy and inexpensive accommodation options at the epicenter of Poppies I and II. Parallel to the beach, Jalan Pantai (Beach Road) in Kuta is quite well the main obstacle for Bali. Jalan Legian (the stretch of Kuta) is a busy strip of nightclubs, restaurants and shops. Life generally gets quieter the further north you get from Kuta Beach.
- North of Kuta Beach: Just above Kuta Beach, you’ll find Legian, a bit quieter apart from the sports bars packed with Balinese regulars. North of Legian is Seminyak, where hotel and restaurant options are considerably more exclusive compared to its southern neighbors.
- Ubud: Verdant Ubud is famous for drawing a yoga crowd, but it has an abundance of cafes, organic restaurants, artisans, and culture to make up for the lack of a beach.
- South of the airport: Jimbaran and Uluwatu are famous for world-class surfing. Rocky beaches and big waves keep many families away, but great deals for boutique hotels and homestays can be found in the area.
- Sanur: Sanur, on the west coast, just across from Kuta and Denpasar, is home to the oldest luxury hotel in Bali. The strip tends to attract older and more “sophisticated” travelers than Kuta. The beach is quiet, but like anywhere, you can still find a bit of nightlife.
- The Northeast: Ahmed, in the northeast corner of the island, is fast becoming a hotspot for diving. Many of the small hotels along the black sand beach are not found online.
Should you book in advance or in person?
The age-old conundrum of whether to book the length of a stay or just the first few nights before arriving is a real challenge in Bali.
Although booking a hotel in Bali before you arrive does wonders for your peace of mind, you can pay for it in more ways than one. Finding out that there is a much better / quieter / friendlier hotel next door with discounted rates is frustrating, especially when you are already locked in a reserved property from home. Finding out that there is a noisy construction project and that your room is non-refundable is even more frustrating!
Unfortunately, hotel photos can be modified to make them look more appealing to people who are making reservations from thousands of miles away. Adjusting reviews online is a common practice in Bali; don’t believe everything you see or read.
Assuming you are not one of the many honeymooners who travel to Bali each year and are willing to take a little risk, you can book just the first night or two and then switch hotels if necessary. Ask the front desk to expand if the venue meets expectations. Obviously this is a dangerous strategy during peak hours. Please confirm that you will receive the original online price offered if you decide to extend it; this is not always the case.
Traveling during peak season in Bali makes waiting to book your hotel a bit more expensive, but you will still be able to find a room.
Tip: You will need the name and address of a hotel when you leave the airport. If you don’t book in advance, at least do your research enough to know where to start. Never take the taxi driver’s recommendation for a hotel in Bali.
Not all hotels are online
Not all hotels and guesthouses have an online list. Don’t be put off by prices or unavailability based on what you see on the booking sites.
For every hotel you find available on popular travel sites, there are probably three more independently owned budget hotels nearby that aren’t set up for online reservations.
Also, not all rooms in each hotel are listed as available for booking sites. In fact, hotels can only open a handful of their many rooms for online reservations. Just because a booking site indicates that a hotel is full does not always mean there are no rooms available.
Doesn’t that guarantee that smart deals can be found online for hotels in Bali? Yes, but some lack the knowledge; others don’t want to lose the 15 percent or so kept as commission by travel sites. Their great location could mean they get enough business and hardly bother with online listings.
The reception may ask you to book online
Inexplicably, Bali is one of the few places in Southeast Asia where hotel management sometimes prefers that you reserve your room online rather than at the front desk. Walk-in and online prices can differ greatly due to intense competition between hotels on travel sites.
Rather than match the price of a room listed online, management will sometimes prefer to pay commission and request that guests sitting at the front desk just steps from the front desk reserve their own rooms!
Tip: The price to extend your room can be significantly higher than what you booked online. You will often be asked to pay the admission price or fight Bali’s notoriously slow Wi-Fi to extend your stay online.
Comments are not always honest
As is the case with almost all online reviews, be a bit skeptical about what you read. Criticism is blatantly watched in Bali.
Guest houses regularly remove bad reviews or engage online “influencers” to leave lots of positive reviews. Friends and family are also involved in the game. One way to tell is that these types of reviews are often so bright that they artificially stand out from the rest.
The oldest trick in the book? Leave a comment on a competitor’s page about bed bugs. Although not a serious problem in Bali and probably just someone’s puncture at the hotel, you should know how to check for bed bugs in your room immediately after checking in.
Airbnb works well in Bali
Airbnb has exploded in popularity in Bali. The many expatriate residents who settled in Bali travel frequently or return to their home countries. Some of these residents choose to rent their houses and condos while they are away. Others can simply rent an extra room while they live on site.
If you’re having trouble finding a hotel in Bali, prefer to have a kitchen, or want to stay in a more residential area, consider looking for an Airbnb. Many Airbnb options are just outside the tourist area. For more mobility, look for locations within easy reach of KL’s extensive rail network.
Noise can be a problem
Noise problems come and go in hotels in Bali. If you’re staying in backpacker guesthouses in Kuta, where the parties come late, or near the southern end of Jalan Legian, the liveliest strip for nightlife, expect to hear the thud of electronic music all night long.
But even strategically selecting where to stay in Bali can mean dealing with the noise. In the shoulder season months of March and April, hotels can be in a rush to finish renovations and construction projects before the peak season begins in the summer. The beats of the early hours may come from a contractor’s hammer rather than a DJ’s techno track.
Traffic is a serious problem on the island, and drivers are really inclined to use their horns. If given the option, always ask for a room that does not face the street. Paying the difference for a “garden view” room can be worth the difference. Besides the annual Day of Silence, the buzz of motorcycles never stops on Bali’s main roads.
Choose hotel locations carefully
Before committing to a hotel simply because a booking site listed it as “.04 miles to the beach,” open Google Maps and plot the route as a pedestrian with legs instead of wings. You can even take a Street View walk from the address to the beach.
Many budget hotels in Bali are located in dark and narrow alleys and inconvenient places to walk. Sometimes easy access to the beach is blocked by luxury hotel properties that don’t allow non-guests to break through. Security is generally posted.
Although crime is quite low in Bali, walking the lighted corridors back to the hotel after sunset could be intimidating. Don’t just rely on the geographic distances listed which are often in a straight line.
Not all homestays are ideal
Family host families are popular in Bali. Sometimes the word ‘homestay’ is used interchangeably with ‘guest house’ or ‘hostel’, so breakfast may or may not be included. You can be sure that booking a “homestay” does not mean that you will be staying in a high-rise hotel.
Although homestay should theoretically provide a better opportunity for a scenic and cultural experience, they are not always the most comfortable option. Many homestays are run by families, so employees forced to “earn a living” may be less enthusiastic about cleaning or responding to complaints. For obvious reasons, homestays are often older properties with more problems. The language barrier can be a problem when there are no English speaking staff members.
Beware of the best selections
Homestays and guesthouses that earned the coveted first-choice list in popular Asian guides also sometimes suffer from a lack of energy. The so-called “guiding effect” ensures that they will receive a constant stream of customers no matter the effort. An overworked staff becomes less friendly when business quadruples but salaries remain the same. Tipping is not a common practice in Indonesia.
Although choosing among the most popular hotels on the island seems like a safe bet, it depends on the administration. You will certainly have a harder time negotiating a room discount when you stick to the best options.
Tip: When negotiating a room rate, offer to forgo free breakfast. Doing so is a concession and allows management to save face.
Test Wi-Fi Before You Commit
If Wi-Fi is very important to you (for example, you will be working or making a lot of internet calls while at the hotel), you will definitely want to verify that it is working well before taking a room. Even large luxury hotels are plagued by slow Wi-Fi connections, a source of frustration all too familiar to digital nomads in Bali.
Try asking the front desk for a room closer to the access point, although this might not make a difference at night and on rainy days when more guests turn to laptops and smartphones for entertainment.
Check for a smoke smell
Smoking indoors is common in Bali. Even if you booked a non-smoking room, it is possible that a room was made ‘non-smoking’ just before your arrival. Sometimes smoke from the common areas of the hotel can enter the rooms.
If you are sensitive to cigarette smoke, check the room before committing. Moving to an odor-free room may not be an option if smoke is still coming out of the lobby.
Not all welcome drinks are the same
Don’t get too excited if your reservation description includes a welcome drink while you check in. Many newlyweds have learned the hard way that “welcome drink” does not always mean “cocktail.”
Sometimes the welcome drinks are sugary, purple concoctions most prized by the average 8-year-old. The same applies to the coupons for “a free drink at happy hour” issued. Even welcome drinks that contain alcohol can be made with arak because it is the cheapest option.
Tip: Arak , a low-cost local energy saving gas , has been responsible for numerous deaths in Bali due to methanol poisoning, stay away
Rules are rules
Indonesia is reputed to be one of the friendliest places in Southeast Asia. The hotel staff is almost always overwhelmingly courteous and tries to accommodate needs.
Knowing how to say hello in Bahasa Indonesia correctly will give you some smiles in the guesthouse. But you will also find that staff members value their jobs and rigidly adhere to hotel policies and protocols, more than hotel staff in the West.
In this case, the client is not always right, but the boss who controls the finances is always right. If breakfast ends at 10 am, don’t show up at 10:10 am and expect more than a sweet smile and “I’m sorry.”
Use the network
No internet, the mosquito net! Sleeping under a mosquito net is not just a romantic notion; If your room has one, it’s there for a reason. Use it. Keep the net closed during the day or the biters may get trapped inside.
The open-air bungalows and rooms with balconies are part of the charm of an exotic island with a tropical climate, but Bali has a sizeable population of mosquitoes that are hungry at night.