Staying safe in Bali
With lush rainforests, serene rice paddies, vibrant beaches and towering volcanoes, it’s no surprise that Bali is one of New Zealand’s favourite international holiday destinations.
Beyond its natural beauty lies a captivating cultural history, a famously welcoming local population and an abundance of attractions for travellers young and old. But as with any international holiday, it’s best to familiarise yourself with local dangers so you can enjoy your holiday to the fullest.
Let’s dive into some risks and dangers in Bali, local laws, travel tips and strategies to stay safe on your Indonesian adventure.
Natural disasters in Bali
Bali’s natural landscape is one of its main attractions, however as the saying goes: every rose has its thorn. Indonesia sits on the “Pacific Ring of Fire”, making the region prone to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis.
Mount Agung is Bali’s highest point and an active volcano, which has been known to disrupt air travel with frequent eruptions. In fact, regular eruptions between 2017 and 2019 caused tens of thousands of residents to evacuate, closed multiple airports across Indonesia due to ash, and threw the travel plans of countless tourists into chaos.
If you’re in Bali during a natural event, your accommodation should have information about emergency procedures and guide you to safety. You may also see street signs directing you to higher ground or evacuation points in case of an emergency.
We recommend keeping up-to-date with local Bali weather warnings or advisories during your trip and checking the Safe Travel website before booking any travel plans.
- Although Bali is a beautiful and popular holiday destination, petty criminals have been known to target tourists. We recommend a few simple precautions to help keep yourself safe:
- Pay extra attention to your belongings when travelling in crowded areas, such as outside the airport, in markets and on busy streets.
- Don’t carry a lot of cash on you at one time. Distribute it between the hotel safe, your wallet and a pocket or under-clothes money belt.
- When checking into your accommodation, ask the front desk if there are any areas you should avoid.
- Don’t leave your valuables on the beach when cooling off in the water. If you can’t leave your valuables in the hotel safe, many of Bali’s busier beaches have nearby lockers available for hire.
Tourist scams in Bali
Scammers are an unfortunate reality in most overseas holiday destinations and often view tourists as an easy target. While the Balinese are regarded as incredibly friendly and welcoming to visitors, that doesn’t mean that the island doesn’t have a few bad eggs waiting to spoil your holiday.
Here are seven common tourist scams to watch out for in Bali:
- Buy my wares. Being overly pressured into buying cheap goods while browsing at market stalls is common across Indonesia. A polite but firm “Tidak”, which means “No” in Bhasa Indonesian, will get your point across.
- Being overcharged for taxis. Grab is the Uber equivalent in Bali and takes passenger safety very seriously, which can help you to avoid unlicensed taxis.
- Phony temple entrance fees. Scammers have been known to exploit tourists at Bali’s many temples, by collecting entrance fees without having any association with the religious site. Always pay your entrance fees at the ticket window if one exists.
- Unwanted temple guide. Likewise, beware of anyone who latches onto you pressuring their guiding services at temples. They’ll expect a fee even if you ignore the information they’re providing.
- Currency exchange rip-offs. Bustling tourist areas like Kuta have many currency exchanges, although some have been known to shortchange notes or inflate exchange rates. Exchanges at the international airport may not have the best rates around but are more reliable.
- ATM skimming. Some of Bali’s ATMs in destinations like Canggu, Kuta and Uluwatu have reported cases of card skimming. If you use an ATM, check your account’s transaction history to monitor any fraudulent activity.
- Pre-existing rental damage. Scooter rental is popular in Bali, but not all providers are trustworthy. Thoroughly screen for pre-existing damage when renting, take photos and only choose licensed rental agencies. Remember, your travel insurance may not cover you if you don’t rent the vehicle from a licensed rental vehicle agency.
One taxi ride from the airport to your accommodation and you’ll quickly see why Bali’s roads can be dangerous. Swarms of motorbikes and scooters weave erratically between long traffic jams that snake through narrow streets with confusing intersections. However, renting a scooter remains a popular option for tourists.
Is it safe to rent a scooter in Bali?
If you’re thinking about renting a scooter in Bali, remember these tips:
- You must hold an International Drivers Permit to drive in Bali.
- If it’s just as easy to get a taxi to your destination, this is a safer option.
- The bustling roads around Kuta, Jimbaran, Canggu and Ubud are particularly dangerous.
- Only ever rent a vehicle from a licensed rental vehicle agency and pay close attention to pre-existing damage.
- Wear protective gear while riding, including sturdy enclosed shoes, a helmet and long clothing.
Surfing tips in Bali
Many surfers travel to Bali in search of its famous waves and tropical waters. If you’re planning a trip to surf Bali’s breaks, here are a few tips:
- Bali’s popular surfing regions have two distinct seasons: wet and dry. Some surf spots, like the famous Uluwatu and Padang Padang on the Bukit peninsula, favour the dry season. Others, like the volcanic-sand beach of Keramas, are considered wet season waves. Research your surfing destinations before booking your trip to avoid disappointment!
- The majority of surf spots in Bali are better suited to advanced surfers than first-timers. If you’re a beginner surfer, research some of the surf schools around Kuta that will guide you safely through gentler surf.
- If you’re a skilled surfer, remember to pack a few essential items in your board bag. A first-aid kit and disinfectant can keep reef cuts clean, or better yet, protect yourself with a long-sleeved rash shirt and reef boots.
- Some beaches are marked by flags or signs as being especially dangerous, so as with all warnings, pay attention and remember the golden rule: if in doubt, don’t go out.
- Most beaches in Bali aren’t staffed by lifeguards.
- Reef cuts need proper medical attention, so don’t leave them and risk infection. See a doctor as soon as possible.
Staying safe around monkeys in Bali
There are some incredible creatures to be found in Bali, from elephants and monkeys to exotic birds and rich sea life. Bali even has its own turtle rehabilitation centre!
Bali is well known for its wild monkeys that can be found throughout the island, particularly at the Ubud monkey forest and at temples along the Bukit Peninsula. While they might be cute, there are a few things to keep in mind around monkeys:
- Don’t smile at them. Showing teeth is a sign of aggression in primates and can be seen as a threat.
- Playing tug of war might seem like a game, but if a monkey grabs something of yours, don’t try and pull it back out of their grasp. You’re far better off replacing your sunglasses than risking an attack.
- Keep any valuables securely zipped in your bag or avoid taking them with you if you’re planning to visit monkeys. These little primates have very sticky fingers!
- Don’t offer them food, keep your hands out of reach and avoid any unnecessary contact.
- Monkeys can carry rabies and they do bite. If you get a nip, seek medical attention immediately. Don’t risk infection by leaving the bite untreated.
We’re no stranger to monkey-related claims here at Southern Cross Travel Insurance. We had one unlucky traveller who left their bag on the beach in Bali while they went snorkelling, and in that time, a monkey came along, unzipped their bag and stole their iPhone 11! The monkey then climbed up a tree with the phone, played with it for a while, and then dropped it to the ground where it landed on a bed of rocks, subsequently damaging the phone.
The moral of the story here is to not leave your bags unattended while swimming and always be careful with your belongings around those mischievous monkeys.
Other animals and insects
When walking in rural areas or at night, always wear closed in footwear in case you encounter some of the island’s less pleasant fauna. There are poisonous snakes in Bali and bites can happen if you accidentally step on one, so carry a torch and wear covered shoes. As with monkey bites, if you receive a snake bite seek medical attention immediately.
Bali has a tropical climate and is home to many insects, including mosquitos that carry diseases like malaria and dengue fever. Use repellent before venturing outdoors and sleep with a mosquito net if you’re keeping windows open.
How to avoid getting sick in Bali
Whether it’s the infamous Bali Belly or even COVID-19, nothing can spoil your Indonesian holiday faster than being struck down by sickness. Here are a few tips to stay fit and healthy while in Bali.
Exercising good hygiene is more important than ever while travelling, so remember to:
- Regularly wash your hands with soap and clean water.
- Use hand sanitiser throughout the day.
- Pay extra care to avoid transmission in densely crowded areas.
- Check local requirements and restrictions.
How to avoid Bali Belly
Bali is home to some incredible cuisine, but it’s not always a good idea to test the waters with both feet. Bali Belly, or an upset stomach, can be caused by bacteria in contaminated food and water. To avoid its unpleasant gastro symptoms, remember to:
- Avoid eating raw and undercooked food.
- Stick to eateries that have good customer reviews and appear clean and sanitary.
- Raw fruits and salads are part of a healthy diet but remember that these may have been prepared with unclean utensils.
- Do not drink tap water in Bali - a filtered water bottle that removes micro bacterial contaminants can be a good option for reducing your plastic footprint.
Some police in Bali have been known to extort unsuspecting tourists, often by demanding bribe money for phony traffic violations.
The best way to avoid paying bribe money is to not give them any reason to stop you. Whether you’re driving, out on the town or in a popular tourist spot, stay on your best behaviour. Follow any local laws or customs and don’t flash the cash – or the attitude.
Enjoying Bali’s nightlife
Bali is a popular party destination with plenty of bars around the island, especially in Kuta. If you’re hitting the town, remember these tips:
- Avoid going out by yourself at night to quiet or unlit areas, especially when you don’t know your way around. If you’re in a group, don’t let yourself become isolated, even on the beach.
- Leave your valuables in your hotel safe if you don’t need them with you.
- Know how to get back to your accommodation. If you’re in a group, take turns staying alert and sober.
- Never leave your drink unattended and don’t accept any food or drink from a stranger, unless you can see the barman pouring it or the waiter serving it.
- Avoid telling people where you’re staying and be cautious of anyone asking for your details without sufficient cause.
- Never drink and drive.
- Avoid a local spirit called Arak, which has occasionally been known to contain methanol that causes severe illness.
Local laws in Bali
There are a few surprising laws and customs in Bali that some foreigners will not be aware of. Here are a few basic rules to follow:
- In many areas of Bali, smoking in public is illegal and can result in harsh penalties.
- The legal drinking age in Bali is 21.
- Public affection is frowned upon and public nudity, including topless sunbathing, is considered unacceptable.
- Gambling is illegal and carries harsh penalties if you partake. There are known gambling rings operating in Bali, many of which have deals with police for turning in foreigners.
- Indonesian law doesn’t have a set blood alcohol limit for driving, but police are known to be harsh on foreign traffic offenders.
- It’s illegal to drive without an International Drivers Permit, which must be carried on your person anytime you’re driving.
- Drug laws in Indonesia are extremely strict and can carry penalties of life imprisonment or even death. Police are known to raid popular tourist clubs in search of drugs.
- Some prescription drugs that you purchased at home could be illegal in Bali. If you need to take medicine into Bali with you, bring your prescription note from your doctor and a letter explaining why you need the medication.
Common insurance claims from travellers to Bali
Volcanoes and earthquakes have resulted in some travellers being stuck in Bali for longer than planned or even being unable to reach the island at all. You can prepare for this type of disaster by purchasing travel insurance as soon as you book your flights.
If your travel is interrupted for more than 12 hours and you’re stuck overseas as a result of an unexpected event, we can reimburse you for your accommodation and other expenses to enable you to continue your original planned journey.
Animal bites are common in Bali, mostly from stray dogs, wild monkeys and occasionally snakes. Dogs and monkeys are known to have rabies and their bites can become infected quickly, so any bites need to be treated immediately. Remember, don’t get too close to any wild animals overseas and don’t make contact, no matter how cute they are.
We see many claims for items that have been pickpocketed from travellers’ bags. When you’re out in public, keep your eyes peeled and ensure your valuables are zipped into your bag. Don’t let your valuables out of sight and whenever possible, wear them across your body within eyesight. That means backpacks should be worn on the front in crowded areas and satchels are safer across your body, not over one shoulder where they can be easily lifted.
Lost and damaged valuables
Whether it’s a laptop in the pool or a misplaced handbag, we often see claims from travellers who’ve had their valuable items lost and damaged. Chances are your Balinese holiday will involve plenty of time around the water and exploring the outdoors, so take extra care with your belongings outside of the hotel.
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