Luxury in Bali at backpacker prices: How to live it up on a budget
Bali used to be the place to go for a cheap holiday but as its popularity has grown, so too have the prices. In recent years, after Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts hit the movie theatres, tourists flocked to Ubud in Bali to experience their own journey of healing and peace.
Higher footfall has equated to higher prices and Bali is no longer one of the cheapest places for tourists in South East Asia.
Don’t let this put you off though. Bali is still a beautiful island, full of kind people and stunning beaches, mountains and scenery. It’s the perfect spot for a holiday – whether it’s a family getaway or a honeymoon – and it is still possible to find luxurious places to stay, delicious meals to eat and interesting things to do at affordable prices. You just have to do your research… or let me do it for you!
I’ve been living in Bali for a few months now, and I’ve sourced the best restaurants, hotels and activities that will make you feel like a king (or queen) and won’t have you flying home with an empty bank account.
Dining out in Bali
The food on this Indonesian island is five star. I’ve been here for weeks and I’ve yet to have a disappointing meal.
There are lots of street food options to sample, but if it’s more luxurious fare you’re after, you won’t be disappointed. There is certainly extremely high end restaurants, like Mozaic Restaurant in Ubud that has been named Indonesia’s best restaurant. A meal here can set you back US$150 per person – which is extremely expensive for the island although perhaps worth it for a seven course tasting meal paired with wine.
If you’d like the gourmet deliciousness without the hefty prices, you can try Locavore in Ubud which costs about US$50 per person, plus tax, for a seven course meal. If you want to sample Locavore without paying that much (and I’d highly recommend you do) you can drop by their Locavore to Go restaurant. Having only opened in May, this small dining space is open for breakfast and lunch and sells more casual fare than the fine dining restaurant, and for a fraction of the price.
But if you’d rather dine for less, tasty meals on a low budget can be easily found. Take Alchemy in Ubud, for example, a raw food and health café where you pay US$3.80 for a create-your-own salad which includes all the expensive health foods you’d find in the US for a fraction of the price. We ate the salads for lunch and they filled us up so much that we weren’t even hungry come dinnertime.
In Seminyak, Rumours Restaurant is a hit, where you can eat delicious pasta for just US$2 a plate.
If it’s a peaceful setting and ambiance you’re after, look no further than Café Pomegranate, set in the beautiful surroundings of a rice paddy field in Ubud. Meals here start from US$3.
Escape the monkeys in Ubud by walking up the road from the Monkey Forest and into the peaceful garden of Café Wayan, a restaurant that’s gained a strong reputation over its near-30 year history. Here you can find traditional Indonesian food for as little as US$3.
Or lounge in a cabana at Kori Restaurant and Bar in Legian, where you can watch the fish swim in the ponds around you as you feast on scrumptious dishes as cheap as US$6 a pop.
If Sanur is your location of choice in Bali, check out Massimo where you can eat delicious Italian food, including homemade ice cream and cheese. Or for healthy food, check out Manik Organik for delicious smoothies and vegan food.
Entertainment while you eat
Sometimes you want more than just a meal when you’re travelling – you want to be entertained too. There’s a plethora of options of which to eat and enjoy some entertainment while you do it. Drink delicious 2-4-1 cocktails at Siam Sally in Ubud during happy hour(s) from 5pm – 7pm before watching a live band play.
Café Havana, also in Ubud, has live music seven nights a week. Stepping into the restaurant is like walking into a bar in Cuba, with margaritas on the menu and a Cuban band playing while people salsa around you.
Or experience horror cabaret at Frankenstein’s Laboratory in Seminyak. The show is on three times a night and is free when you order a meal.
Also in Seminyak, Ku De Ta has DJs frequently spinning decks, and you can lounge by the beach and soak up the sun and the music simultaneously. At US$20 for a luxurious main dinner dish, the price is a far cry from similar setups in other parts of the world, like Ibiza.
Nearby in Kuta, Made’s Warung has daily entertainment, with everything from Balinese dance to acoustic guitar performances. The food is reasonably priced here too.
Luxury accommodation without breaking the bank balance
I remember that when I first came to Bali ten years ago, I stayed with my family in a five star resort for the fraction of the price it would’ve cost us back home in Australia. Today, the hotels are still cheaper than they would be in the west, but it’s not unheard of to see rooms and villas listed for more than $500 a night – hardly budget prices.
But fear not – it is still possible to find reasonably places hotels that scream luxury, without having to significantly deplete your wallet.
Many hotels in Ubud back on to jungle, and some of the best swimming pools in the world can be found here. Although possibly out of your price range, both Hanging Gardens and Bisma Eight hotels have stunning infinity pools overlooking the jungle. You might not be able to afford a room for the night, but you can pay to use the pools for the day or around US$10 – something I’d highly recommend if you want a touch of luxury.
When we first arrived in Ubud, we stayed at Ubud View Bungalows for less than US$10 per person, per night. Featuring a lovely pool, we ate a delicious Indonesian breakfast (included in the price) every morning on our balcony. The staff were very friendly and although the bathrooms weren’t exactly luxurious, it is a very well-priced hotel for the centre of Ubud.
Other accommodation options in Ubud include Nyoman Karsa Bungalows, a hotel that has a beautiful pool and a deluxe room that you can book for little as US$20 a night.
Alam Puri Villa is a little way out of Ubud in the serene settings of the rice paddy fields. You can stay here for just over US$20 a night. Also an art space, this hotel will leave you feeling inspired.
Being where the airport is located, you might want to start or end your holiday in Denpasar. If this is the case, B Bali Hotel and Spa is a must stay. For as little as US$20 per person, per night, you can stay in a luxurious hotel that has a pool, fitness centre, and a free shuttle bus to all the surrounding areas.
A five or so minute walk to the beach, Yulia Guest House in Sanur is a budget find at around US$15 a night, but a beautiful guest house. The accommodation is in a lush tropical garden full of flowering bushes and fruit trees, and is run by a local Sanur family.
In Seminyak, Summerhome Umasari is an intimate hotel with just 11 rooms and impressive décor. All the rooms face on to a beautiful pool, and the hotel also features a restaurant. Prices here start from just US$12 per person, per night.
In Kuta, DeKuta is a good option, and the boutique often gives away offers from as low at US$15 a night. You can spend your savings on cocktails by the pool.
Cheap but comfortable transport in Bali
In your home country, you might shudder at the thought of the cost of hiring a driver for a day, but in Bali it is completely doable on a low budget. You can expect to pay between US$45 – US$55 a day (eight hours) for a driver who will take you to most places around the island.
This is a good option if you want to explore multiple locations, like beaches, temples and the mountains all in the space of eight hours.
Uber just came to Bali and it’s a great way to get comfortable transport at a fraction of the price of the taxis in the towns. Rather than the usual US$25 to get between Ubud and Seminyak, we paid just $13 with Uber.
There are more budget options, like comfortable air-conditioned shuttle busses called the Kura-Kura Bus, which travels to Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, Sanur, Nusa Dua, Jimbaran, and even all the way to Ubud, for as little as US$1.50 a trip. Before you dismiss this option as not being luxurious enough, keep in mind that you can also get free wi-fi on board – who would’ve thought?!
If you’d rather be in control of your own transport, bike rental is about US$2.50 a day and scooter rental starts for a little more. Be careful riding a scooter though – make sure your travel insurance will cover any insurance and ensure you have either an international license or a local Balinese license when driving around. (A Balinese license can be picked up in Denpasar for a small fee.) ALWAYS wear a helmet.
You can also rent a car for as little as US$20 a day – but I think it’s worth paying a bit extra and hiring a driver, without having to have the stress of driving yourself around. The traffic in Bali can be quite crazy!
So many things to do, not enough time
Many dismiss Bali as just a beach destination, but it’s so much more than that. From art to cooking classes, markets to massages, Bali has it all.
Here are some of my favourite things to do whilst in Bali:
Silvery jewelery making – You can buy silver for bargain price all over Bali, but why buy a souvenir when you can make it? I went to a four hour class with WS Art class in Ubud and made a beautiful ring for only around US$30. Other options in Ubud include Chez Monique and Studio Perak – although they are a little bit more expensive.
Art classes – In Ubud, the cultural capital of Bali, there are loads of art classes to keep you busy. From batik to traditional painting, basket to offering making – there’s no chance you’ll get bored. You can even learn fruit carving to impress your friends with fancy garnishes at your next dinner party.
Cooking classes – Indonesian cuisine is to die for, and if you want to be able to keep eating it when you return home, why not learn how to cook it? Casa Luna in Ubud has been voted one of the best cooking schools in the world, and is a great place to start. In Nusa Dua, a popular cooking school is Bumbu Bali where you can visit the Jimbaran fish market and cook what you catch.
Relax at a spa – My husband and I get a massage in Bali every week, because at just US$7.50 for a full hour, who can blame us? Some of our favourite luxurious yet affordable spas are the Sedona Spa and Venezia Spa in Ubud. Slightly more expensive but a tad more luxurious is Bodyworks Spa in Seminyak.
Other relaxation options – If massages aren’t really your thing, you can always pay US$5.50 and visit Dragonfly Village where you have the chance to unwind in its herbal steam sauna using natural herbs three nights of the week. Another popular place to visit is Taksu in Ubud where you can partake in yoga classes and meditation for as little as US$5 a class. Radiantly Alive and The Yoga Barn are also popular places for yoga classes.
Dance your socks off… or watch others do it – There are lots of places to get your dance on in Bali. You can lose your inhibitions at Ecstatic Dance at the Yoga Barn, watch traditional Balinese dance at Ubud Palace, go to the Echo Beach Sunday session in Canggu, or hit the dance floor at this unique bar in Seminyak.
Exploring the temples – Nearly 85% of the Balinese population are Hindu, and therefore you have a huge array of temples to explore. Some of our favourites include the water purification temple, or Tirta Empul as it’s known locally. It’s thought that by swimming in the waters around here can bring you good fortune and health. Another interesting religious site is the Elephant Cave, or Goa Gajah, a carved rock face whose entrance is a large open mouth.
Get ready to book your Balinese trip
So have I tempted you to go to Bali yet? Don’t underestimate this island destination – it has a whole lot more to see and do than many people give it credit for. And although prices have risen in recent years, it is still possible to live a life of luxury on an inexpensive budget.
And I hope this post has given you some good tips to make the most of your holiday!
Did I miss anything? Please tell me in the comments below!
By Carmen Allan-Petale
Carmen is one half of the couple behind Double-Barrelled Travel, a travel blog focused on vlogging. Carmen married Dave two years ago and they quit their journalism careers in mid-2013 for a life on the road.