How to Do Bali on the Cheap


Bali has long been a fixture on the Southeast Asia backpacker tour, but it has gotten exponentially more popular since I first landed on the island in the mid-1990s—and prices have risen with the crowds. To give us the scoop on what current prices are like for travelers, I turned to a guy who actually lives there and is is tapped into the scene: Stuart McDonald of the top Southeast Asia travel resource site, Take it away Stuart!

It’s a common lament that a holiday to Bali costs far more than it used to. Hell, with luxurious digs going for thousands of dollars a night, it can be downright expensive. But unless you’re set on a private pool villa with clifftop views, Bali needn’t be a complete budget bust. Here’s a rundown on what things cost and how to save. At current rates, one U.S. dollar equals around 9,000 rupiah.

Bali Transport

Unlike other popular destinations in Southeast Asia, Bali doesn’t have an overly tourist-friendly public transport system. Sure, there are bemos and local buses, but while their pricing is often rock bottom, the routes, timings, and connections are dictated by local needs rather than those of tourists. Want to travel from the airport to Ubud by non-chartered bemo? That will be around four connections and at least as many hours. You may have to suck it up and find someone to share a taxi with.

Yes, Perama run a pretty good (and affordable) bus and boat service to some of the more popular spots but if you want to get off the beaten track, the best method is either hired motorbike (20,000 to 40,000 rupiah per day) or car (200,000 to 450,000 rupiah per day) — both prices vary somewhat on type of bike/car and period of hire.

Note you will need an international license to drive or ride legally in Indonesia. If you’re picked up without one, 50,000 rupiah on the spot is a pretty standard, umm, gratuity.

For onwards transport to Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida, Lombok, or the Gili Islands, remember ALL boat fares quoted by travel agents are negotiable.


Outside of the main tourist areas, a simple room in a homestay should be able to be found for around 50,000 to 70,000 per night (under US/Canadian/Australian $10). For that expect a very basic room with a fan and a (perhaps shared) cold water bathroom.

For a more comfortable standard, say air-con, hot water and a larger room, add about 100,000 rupiah to the above. Want a swimming pool? Add another 100,000.

In popular areas like Ubud, Kuta and Seminyak, expect to pay roughly double each of the above for something commensurate in standard and location. If you want to stick around, the cost of living in Bali goes down quite a bit if you avoid these areas too.

Bear in mind that guesthouses in Bali often have a tremendous range of options available, often not clearly tied to a change in standard. For example the place we normally stay at in central Ubud which has a lovely swimming pool with paddy views has fan-cooled rooms for 300,000 and air-con for 600,000 rupiah — but the fan rooms are actually better appointed than (and almost the same size as) the air-con ones.

Bali meal

Food in Bali

Local restaurants and streetside cafes in Indonesia are called warungs and the food is both good and cheap. A simple noodle soup can go for as little as 5,000 rupiah, a simple rice and meat dish say 12,000 to 20,000 rupiah and a more solid, multi-dish meal 20,000 to 30,000 rupiah. This is even the case in tourist hotspots, while you can expect to pay five to ten times these costs in the tourist-orientated restaurant 50 metres down the road.

Where we currently live in Seminyak, I can get a simple noodle soup in the local warung for 5,000 rupiah. In the “tourist warung” 100 metres away it is 15,000 and in the tourist restaurant, 30,000 rupiah. Yes, six times the price for essentially the same meal (though the tourist restaurant dish will come with a carved tomato on the side).

Indonesian (and Balinese) food is very accessible and easy to order and it is often displayed in display cases so even without a word of the local language it is simple to point and pick — you may even discover something new.


If you’re on a budget, don’t drink alcohol! A small Bintang will cost anything from 12,000 to 30,000 rupiah, a large one 24,000 to 40,000. While these costs may still seem affordable compared to grabbing a swift beer in your home country, they’re disproportionally expensive compared to the cost of food and accommodation. Have a large Bintang with that rendang and you’ll more than double the cost of dinner.

Wine and imported spirits are extremely heavily taxed and, for those on a budget, best avoided. Expect a mixed drink or cocktail to cost 50,000 to 120,000 rupiah and a glass of imported wine slightly more. Local wine isn’t all that good (the Hatten rose if you must is alright) and the local spirit (arak) can be of very, very variable quality.

Western-style cafes are common and popular, offering everything from a latte to a decaf, double shot, vanilla soy milk flat white with a twist on ice. Prices vary tremendously, but our local in Seminyak kicks off at around 25,000 rupiah for a standard latte. Local coffee (Bali kopi) while admittedly an acquired taste, is a fraction of the cost: in a local warung, perhaps 3,000 to 5,000 rupiah. When you’re drinking three coffees a day, the savings accummulate quickly.

Bali Activities

A wealth of activities can be tackled on Bali. Climb a volcano, go white-water rafting, bungy jump, learn to surf, go bird-watching or ricefield bike riding, snorkel or dive the waters, and visit cultural villages and temples. All of these are expensive compared to the day to day cost of travelling in Bali, so those on a tight budget should research to find the sometimes cheaper alternatives.

Learning to surf for example can be done through a proper school (costing up to $100 for three hours of one-on-one tuition) or approach one of the life savers lounging around (they’re almost all also surfers) and they’ll probably give you just as good a lesson for a few hours for 100,000 rupiah or so.

While some of the ricefield bike tours are an excellent experience, it’s often just as easy to hire a bicycle through your guesthouse or homestay and go exploring — and save yourself $40 in the process.

Some options, such as climbing a volcano, rafting or diving, are more set in their fees due to the need for guides and equipment, but there is a wide range of operators who can charge different prices for more or less the same trip: a day of rafting for example ranges from around $40 to $100+ for the same trip, on the same river, in the same type of boat. Most importantly, when you’re going from streetside travel agent to agent, bear in mind that ALL fees are negotiable and the agent will have a commission that they can discount off.

Destinations on the Island of Bali

This is the easiest way to save money.

Surfers should skip Kuta and Legian and instead head to Balangan, Padang Padang, Bingin or Uluwatu (all on the Bukit) or Balian or Medewi in West Bali. Accommodation and food are cheaper — and the surf is far better for those who already know how to surf.

Those looking for mountain scenery and rice paddy views should leave Ubud to the traffic and yoga-mat wielding Eat Pray Lovers and instead head to Sidemen in East Bali or Munduk to the west.

Divers and snorkellers should pack their bags and head out to Candi Dasa, Amed or Pemuteran rather than basing themselves in Sanur or Nusa Dua.

Even by practicing all of the above, you’ll still be spending more than you would on neighbouring Java or Lombok, but you needn’t be spending so much that you’ll be cutting your time short. 

Bali is a very special place and the more effort you put into it — without getting your wallet out — the better.

Further reading
Travelfish on Bali

Guest post written by Stuart McDonald, who is a resident of Bali. For more information, see their Bali blog or download their Bali app for iPhone.

[Top Flickr photo by YXO, second by CaptainCinema.]



  1. Joan


    First time reader and I really like what you are doing here. Yesterday I quit my job, my lease is up in 3 months and I want to live and work overseas where it is safe for me and my family of four. I have a residual income of about $3K and I want to find somewhere safe for Americans (wife and kids are filipino/american). I’m looking for suggestions on cheap, beautiful and safe places to take at least a year off for an improved quality of live for my family and I and it seems you might be a great resource for this. Bali looks wonderful but based on the aforementioned maybe it is or is not a good idea? What are your thoughts?


    • tim

      Honestly, the only way you’ll know if a place is right for you is to go there and check it out (after doing plenty of book/ebook/message board research, of course). Indonesia’s not the easiest place around to establish residency though and the tourist visa window is really short. Latin America is much more expat-friendly.

  2. 4od

    I`m going there for my honeymoon! Thanks for this post it was really helpful!

  3. Shamis

    Great article. Bali is actually a place that I would love to visit in the future so this helps me on a few things that I needed to know. Thanks a Bunch!

  4. kat

    hi! can you recommend the best place for honeymooners on a budget? thanks!

    • tim

      No, but there are a lot of good travel agents out there who can since this is how they make their living.

  5. Ado

    If you can tolerate local foods then you’ll sure save a lot more. The trick to find good places to eat is, of course, always go where the locals go.. have fun!

  6. Kaye


    Around July I plan to come down to Bali for studies.
    Could you recommend me some clean cheap place to stay near below school location ?
    Im fine sleeping in a Hostel or home stay as long its safe and a saver as well.

    Jamu Spa School
    Jalan Raya Siligita I, No. 1 Nusa Dua, Bali – Indonesia

    • Tim Leffel

      Try and from there you can search Agoda, which has the best selection.

  7. Kat


    my best friend and I are taking a girls trip in April to Bali, we haven’t got a clue to what or where we want to go but we do have some bucket list items we want to hit… (elephant ride, biking, yoga, etc) I keep hearing about 4-5 destinations that all seem wonderful is there an itinerary where we could hit all in about 12 days? Rice fields, beach, adventure, peaceful. We both are big yogi’s but always want a variety. Thank you so much!! K~

    • Tim Leffel

      It’s not a real big island, so 12 days should be plenty. Just understand there’s a lot of traffic there now, so staying close to where you want to explore is better than trying to do it all from one or two bases. Most of the beach hotels are not good for exploring the island—too far, too congested.

  8. Debi

    All you can eat breakfast in kuta is 3 doors up from water bomb park only $5.00 US each great selections of Asian and’s open front is warm and we

  9. robert

    you absolutely must do surfing in Bali. Bali is one of the unique location for this activity. In addition to being the location of a tourist destination, Bali also provides a lot of interesting activities, festivals and a variety of accommodation to spoil the visitors. I really like what you say. you give a good overview of Bali. especially the tourist activity and all accommodation. nice post.

  10. Parth maiyad

    Thank you …..
    This article is very helpful

  11. lauren

    If you are looking for cheap Bali accommodation visit
    They are local site that lists plenty accommodation from house, villa & apartment. You can contact the accommodation owner directly because they are not agency so they will send you the owner contact if you are interests on one of the accommodation listed.

  12. Meldive

    This is good information for us who will go to Bali. So we know how to spend our money there. Some people do not know the price of accommodation there and about the food. It makes them feel wrong, because a lot of people there are ignorant. I understand that having us as guests there. I was there a few months ago when my wedding invitations. I was there visiting tourist areas of Bali. Very fortunate to be in Bali, get to know their culture and enjoy their typical food. Sunbathing on the beach, swim, enjoy the sunset, cycling. That’s the very thing I take while in Bali. Saw some people there learn surfing and surfing. I was thinking to learn it, because I see a woman who surf. I asked what it was like when surfing to a Balinese man there. It was fun she said, and once we can it will make us addicted. I also find some information about the surfing for you all, this is good for the guys who want to know about surfing. Check out this site to find out more.

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