Bali (Photo:Khoroshunova Olga/Shutterstock)
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Bali

Bali is a small island -- measuring just 153 kilometres wide by 112 kilometres long -- but it offers a variety of landscapes and a wealth of experiences to appeal to many tastes.

While rampant development over the past 40 years has seen this once quiet rice-growing and fishing community become Indonesia's tourism success story, attracting around 3.2 million visitors a year, there are still many paddy fields and pockets of traditional Balinese life to explore, as well as secluded beaches.

Known as the Island of the Gods, Bali has more than 10,000 temples, most of which host at least two festivals every year. Despite the tourism that has spawned hundreds of hotels and thousands of restaurants and bars, the island's inhabitants remain deeply religious, with 84 percent of its almost four million residents practising their own distinct brand of Hinduism. Tiny offerings called canang sari (flowers and sometimes sweets in a palm leaf tray) are made every day to the gods and are found everywhere, even on the beach and on footpaths, while statues of gods and sacred animals adorn every street.

Southern Bali is the most developed especially the budget beach resort of Kuta and its more sophisticated northern neighbour Seminyak. The high-end tourist enclaves of Jimbaran and Nusa Dua are just a few kilometres south of Kuta.

The artists' hub of Ubud in central Bali, known for its many galleries and artisan workshops is, in fact, a collection of 14 separate villages, often separated by rice terraces. Dance is central to the Balinese culture along with the music of the gamelan -- an ensemble of percussion instruments much like xylophones -- and drums.

For an authentic slice of Balinese life, it's best to head to the regions to the north and east of Ubud, where folks live in organised communal villages and still wear traditional dress such, as kebayas (traditional Indonesian blouses) and sarongs, and where there are many opportunities to see women carrying baskets of flowers and fruit on their heads to the temple. Another ceremony likely to be encountered in rural areas is the cremation procession where a huge bamboo funeral pyre fashioned in the shape of a bull is carried through the streets.

Two areas where culture and tourism combine beautifully are cuisine and massage. The Balinese give the best massages, be they on the beach or in a luxurious spa, while cooking schools, many of which are in private homes, have also sprung up across the island.

Shore Excursions

About Bali


Pro

Offers unassuming temples, romantic rice paddies and beautiful stretches of bustling beaches

Con

The popular tourist areas of Bali are 30 minutes by taxi from the Benoa port

Bottom Line

Passengers can fall in love with the warm and welcoming Balinese culture


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Where You're Docked

Ships dock at the Port of Benoa, which is located on the tiny little blob of land at the south of Bali, which is connected to the rest of the island by a narrow isthmus. From here, it's only a short drive to the airport just to the west (on the other side of the isthmus) and a little further north to the beach resorts of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak. The upmarket tourist enclave of Nusa Dua (with a dozen or so five-star hotels) is just a 10-minute drive away to the south. Big ships anchor in Benoa Harbour and passengers are tendered into shore to a small Balinese-style pavilion terminal building.

Port Facilities

The small cruise terminal is in a two-storey Balinese-style pavilion. Passengers are greeted with a cultural dance, while stalls are set up to showcase artisans and their wares, which may include batik painters, wood carvers and puppeteers. There are sometimes exotic fruits to taste, and there's also a cafe and bar in the terminal building. A tourist information centre dispenses maps and offers a place to book tours, along with money changers and free Wi-Fi. It's a five-minute walk to the nearest ATM, so if you don't have any cash, ask your taxi driver, or hire car driver to take you to the ATM. Outside the terminal, there are plenty of taxis, bemos (open-air mini-buses) and drivers touting for your business. Blue Bird taxis are said to be the most reliable and are metered if you just wish to go from A to B. If you're after a daytrip and you know where you want to go, it's best to negotiate with a driver for a half-day or full-day tour. Expect to pay around A$50 for his services for the day (and add a tip). As there's nothing to do at the port itself, it's best to get on your tour or in your taxi once you're stocked up with cash and maps.

Good to Know

It seems like almost the entire 4 million population of Bali has a motorbike, so expect them to be everywhere. Traffic jams are notorious around the southern area of Bali -- from the airport to Kuta, around Kuta, Legian and Seminyak and en route to the main temples of Uluwatu and Tanah Lot. Always allow extra time for your trip.

Getting Around

On Foot: As there's nothing at the port or in the nearby area, you must take a taxi or hire car to get to the main attractions.

By Taxi: Taxis are everywhere, but those in the know recommend the Blue Bird variety. These are metered, and fares are relatively cheap. It should cost about A$10 or thereabouts to get into Kuta or Nusa Dua, as these resort areas are only about 10 kilometres and 5 kilometres away, respectively. For those flying out that day, the airport is also about 10 kilometres away (to the west of the port), and the taxi fare is also cheap.

By Rental Car: It's possible to negotiate with a driver for your own personalised shore excursion; just know where you want to go, and be open to a bit of flexibility. One of the nearest attractions is the wonderful Uluwatu Temple, built into the cliff at the very southwest point of the island. A visit to Uluwatu and some time in Kuta, Legian or Seminyak, along with lunch, make for a good day-tour.

Bemos: These mini-buses are popular with the locals and tourists with an independent streak and sense of adventure. Remember to know where you want to get off, and expect to pay a higher price than the locals do.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Prices will be quoted in the thousands and will often have a K after them. For example, something that costs 65,000 will be written either as 65 or 65K, so be alert. ATMs are everywhere, and money-changers are at the airport and the port. Credit cards are taken at hotels and good restaurants, although local drivers, taxi drivers, small restaurants and shopkeepers, and traders want local currency. As wages are low, it's good to tip the equivalent of a few dollars or perhaps A$10 to your driver for the day.

Language

English is widely spoken in the major tourist areas although it is mainly of the basic variety. Drivers will know how to get you around and understand typical requests, but conversations at any deeper level should not be expected. English is likely to be of a higher standard in the more upmarket resorts and hotels.

One interesting facet of the Balinese language is the way children are named. Only four names (and a few nicknames) are used for the first four males. If there is a fifth child, he takes the first name but with the added word balik which means 'again'. The names from first to fourth are Wayan (or nicknames Gede and Putu), Made (or Kadek), Nyoman (or Koman) and Ketut (or Tut). You'll meet a lot of Mades and Putus in your travels.

Food and Drink

A classic Balinese dish is babi guling (suckling pig), and devotees love to argue about which restaurant makes the best version. A meal of babi guling consists of slices of spit-roasted pig on a bed of rice, served with pork crackling, long beans and sambal (spicy chili sauce).

Seminyak, the 'village' a couple of kilometres north of Kuta, has morphed into Bali's 'foodie central' and is said to have the lion's share of tasty (and trendy) restaurants, many of which are manned by Australian expats.

On an island with so many choices, it can often be a case of going where the 'in' crowds are dining or striking out and wandering until you find a little place that appeals. Prices tend to be cheap, although a top-notch meal in a swanky restaurant in Seminyak can cost as much as a meal in Australia but with that exotic touch of a balmy night.

Yogi's Paradise & Grill: This place in Kuta has a big fan club that has followed the affable Yogi and wife Nexus from one venue to the next -- the latest being on popular Jalan Legian, just near the junction with Jalan Padma. Cold hand towels and extra frosty beer await patrons. Dishes include the usual Balinese specials such as sates along with snapper cooked in coconut and ginger and wrapped in a banana leaf; the ribs are said to be legendary. (Near the corner of Jalan Legian and Jalan Padma, Kuta; +62 813 3827 6781)

Cafe Degan: Some of the upmarket restaurants and resort dining rooms have a celebrity chef rattling the pans. Some are overseas chefs, and others are local culinary heroes, such as Degan Septoadiji Suprijadi, who was a judge on "Masterchef Indonesia" and runs Cafe Degan. It opened five years ago with an array of Balinese, Javanese (where Degan was born) and Thai dishes. Located in Kerobokan on the fringe of stylish Seminyak, it's a casual relaxed cafe, where patrons rave about the steamed whole fish, the papaya salad and the gulai kabing (lamb curry). (Jalan Petitenget No. 9, Kerobokan; +62 813 3728 1281)

Warung Pak Dobiel: Often crowded with locals and visitors from other parts of Indonesia, Warung Pak Dobiel is said to be one of the best places for babi guling (spit-roast pork) on the island. There's nothing else on the menu and they also do takeaways. Located just near the gate to Nusa Dua, it's an easy walk from the hotels in that five-star enclave. (Jalan Srikandi No. 9, Nusa Dua; +62 361 771633)

Merah Putih: When you're after stunning good looks and fine food, it's hard to go past Merah Putih in trendy Seminyak. Diners sit under an enormous illuminated cathedral ceiling, so high that the indoor palm trees seem to brush against it, supported by eight translucent columns. Clever design features allow light into the 110-seat dining space to sustain the lovely indoor trees but keep the heat out. Seen by day or night, the restaurant, with separate split-level areas for cocktails and pre-dinner drinks, is stunning. The menu is classic Indonesian, with small and large plates designed to be shared, such as softshell crab, grilled tiger prawns and rendang duck curry. (Jalan Petitenget No. 100x, Seminyak; +62 361 8465950)

Potato Head Beach Club: Beach clubs are all the rage in Bali, and Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak is the place to chill out with cool music by the pool on a rented sun lounge. If you've done the temple visits and shopping, then lie back or sit at the bar, watch the beautiful people (and average tourists), and try dishes from one of the three restaurants. The architecture alone is worth a look especially the hundreds of 18th century teak shutter windows that have been hammered together to form a circular wall. The sunsets are as famous as the client list, which has, of course, included Paris Hilton. (Jalan Petitenget No. 51B, Kerobokan; +62 361 4737979)

Shopping

Batik fabric and paintings, wood carvings, masks and gold and silver jewellery can all be good buys in Bali. For easy-to-carry items, fabric and kebayas make for pretty and useful souvenirs. Very few tourists head to Denpasar City, but if fabric is your weakness Jalan Sulawesi (Sulawesi Street) has shop after shop selling wonderful items at bargain prices. Ubud is the artistic heart of Bali, so head to this central hill town to peruse the many galleries and the Ubud Art Market.

Best Cocktail

The local brew of Bintang beer is the drink in Bali. It's light, refreshing and inexpensive. Those in the know say cocktails are watered down, but if beer isn't your style and you find a good bar in stylish Seminyak, do order a lychee martini. Imported wine (mostly from Australia) is expensive and rarely sold by the glass. There are a handful of local winemakers; Hatten Wines is the original Bali winery and has been making a drinkable drop since the 1990s.