The best of Bali backpacking itinerary

Sweet surf, lush landscapes, and vegan vibes make Bali a detoxing dream. For years this achingly beautiful Indonesian island has been THE holiday destination for weary travellers and exhausted nine to fivers hungry for a laid back lifestyle.

Hoards of young spring breakers and gap yearers are also drawn to Bali’s more vibrant and mischievous alter ego. The chaotic Kuta and Seminyak beach resorts are a pleasure-seeker’s paradise with cheap drinks, social hostels, and electric nightlife. Chuck in a rich history, vibrant culture and diverse marine life, and this little dot on the map has something for everyone.

Rice fields, Canggu

When I first arrived at Ngurah Rai Airport I felt a whirlpool of excitement and anxiety. For months I’d been told how amazing Bali was from fellow travellers and now I had to put their stories to the test. Would it live up to all the hype? How the hell am I going to see everything worth seeing? And am I going to look like a dick surfing? were some of the questions doing a rodeo in my mind. But eventually I found my rhythm and relaxed.

Bali is ‘a mood, an aspiration, a tropical state of mind’ (Lonely Planet)

To help take the stress away from planning your trip to the Island of Gods, here’s a detailed itinerary and breakdown of the best bits…

  • Airport advice
  • Seminyak and Legian
  • Canggu
  • Ubud
  • Tulamben
  • Gili T
  • Nusa Lembongan and Ceningan
  • Nusa Penida
  • Uluwatu

    Airport advice

    When you arrive at the airport and exit the gate prepare to be bombarded with taxi drivers all vying for your cash. We landed quite late at around 11.30pm, and there were still swarms of people urging us to get in their cars. We decided to get out some cash from the ATM at the airport (there are three by the exit), and order an Uber. The pick-up point is opposite the gate in the car park, but your driver should explain where to go when you book. It cost us 47,500 rp for a 25 minute trip to the hotel (£2.50).

    Tip: A lot of ATM’s in Indonesia didn’t accept our chip and PIN Monzo cards at first, but all we had to do was activate the mag-stripe on the app and hey presto!

    Click here to learn more about the benefits of having a Monzo card while travelling. 

    We found out during the journey that Uber is actually prohibited in the area, as well as a lot of other places across Bali. Grab is operational though, and you can also download the Go-Jek app to hire a moped taxi. Another local firm with a good reputation is the light blue Bluebird Taxis. The key thing is to check for a valid registration certificate and agree a price before getting in a vehicle. Drop your hostel or hotel an email before arriving too, to check how much it should cost.

    Go-Kek driver, Canggu

    WiFi is hard to get at the airport, and if you order an Uber or Grab it’s kind of crucial. Luckily, there are two stands that sell internet data sims by the exit. Joe picked up one for 70,000 rp (£3.50), which gave him 4G access for one month. I’d strongly recommend getting a tourist sim as it can be a life-saver if you’re out exploring. You can also pick these up at small tech vendors and local convenience stores.

    Seminyak and Legian, 1-2 days

    Seminyak and Legian is a flash beach resort in the south of Bali about a 30-45 minute taxi ride from Ngurah Rai Airport. The area is home to many island expats and has a wealth of restaurants and bars all catered to the tourism trade.

    Raya Legian Street, Legian

    If you’re craving authentic Balinese culture you’ll struggle to find much here, but there are some lovely Hindu temples and shrines hidden down small alleyways and crammed within bustling touristy streets. It’s also a good first stop after a long journey. Some people opt to stay in Kuta, which is closer to the airport, however, we heard it’s very brash and hectic so we decided to venture a bit further along the coast.

    Kuta, Bali

    On your first day get your bearings by wandering around the plethora of shops, trendy cafes and restaurants. There’s a great road for souvenirs called Raya Legian where you could spend the morning bartering with vendors, and remember in Bali the price is always negotiable 😉. A nice little cafe off Legian street is called The Caffeine Coffee Shop, where the owners have the cutest dogs!

    The Caffeine Coffee Shop, Legian Street

    In the late afternoon at low tide head to Seminyak beach. If you’re a fan of surfing you can easily rent a board or just stick to sunbathing. We had a surf lesson in nearby Echo Beach, Canggu, but you could also do that in Seminyak or at Kuta beach. If you want a good view of the sunset with an ice-cold Bintang (local beer), try the stretch near Pura Petitenget. This temple is free to visit, and one of many along the coast. The name translates to ‘magic box’, as it was a treasured belonging to the famous 16th century priest Nirartha.

    There are a lot of international chefs in the area, so you won’t have any trouble finding variety. A great place we ate at was Sawasdeekha Thai Restaurant & Bar. Nook was my favourite place to eat lunch and dinner though, as it had a beautiful view of the rice fields. It’s halfway between Seminyak and Canggu in an area called Kerobokan but is well worth searching out!

    Nook restaurant, Kerobokan

    Tip: Most restaurants, cafes and bars will add a 10% tax and 6% service charge so remember it’ll cost more than face value.

    People also flock to the area for the nightlife. Although Seminyak is tamer than its chaotic cousin Kuta, there are still plenty of bars and clubs to see you through. We ended up at a place called Sendok Emas one evening, which has a drag show most nights. It wasn’t the coolest of vibes but we had a good laugh over some cheap house cocktails!

    Sendok Emas, Seminyak

    Where to stay: The Island Hotel Bali hostel (walking distance from most things and has dorms) or try Semimpi Hotel Bali (would need a moped or taxi to get to places but it’s very nice!)

    Semimpi Hotel, £14 a night for double with en suite

    Canggu, 2-3 days

    Canggu was gnarly dude!’ 😎 This fast-growing region is a hipster’s paradise. Imagine if John Lennon and Bob Marley had a love child and Instagram was the midwife. The area lures in a new wave of young, trendy, digital nomads and surfers every day. Despite its recent surge in popularity and development, Canggu’s shores remain relatively untouched and its landscape is dusted with beautiful rice fields and picturesque farms.

    Echo Beach road, Canggu

    Day one hire a moped for around 70,000 rp a day and head to Echo Beach to book in a surf lesson (if I did one, you have to too!) We decided not to book online as we’d heard from fellow travellers that it’s cheaper in person. When you arrive at the car park by Old Man’s restaurant you’ll see a group of guys hanging out by surf boards. You can hire one for 50,000 rp (£2.50) or get a two hour lesson for 300,000-350,000 rp (£19).

    Old Man’s restaurant and bar, Echo Beach

    My instructor was a local who had been surfing for 20 years, so I felt in safe hands. They’ll advise on the best time for the lesson, which is usually late afternoon at low tide or early the following morning. I won’t lie, it was one of the scariest things I’ve done. I felt sorry for clothes in a washing machine at the end of the lesson, but I was proud I gave it a go!

    Before our surf lesson at Echo Beach, Canggu

    While you wait for your lesson you can chill out on the beach, wander along the main shopping street Batu Bolong and check out a great vintage store called One Love, or take a drive around the nearby rice fields and farms. There are some great places to eat in the area too. We loved Crate Cafe, Motion Cafe, Hungry Bird Coffee and Metta Cafe. The last was my personal favourite because it was less crowded and the food was top-notch 👌 (try the brownies smoothie bowl for £3).

    Brownies smoothie bowl, Metta Cafe, Canggu

    Tip: Driving in Canggu and Seminyak can be a right pain in the arse. The is one main road which gets majorly grid-locked everyday so unless you’re a competent driver on a moped I wouldn’t risk it. Joe has a motorcycle licence and even he felt on edge when we hit traffic like this…

    Canggu traffic

    In the evening it’s time to check out one of the MANY awesome restaurants. We ate two great places, La Mexicana to get our burrito on, and MyWarung, which has a couple of cafes/bars all over Bali. Their Indonesian food was delicious and well priced, and I loved the quirky interior (especially the post-it notes bathroom 😂).

    Nasi Goreng, MyWarung Canggu

    Day two is for exploring around Canggu by bicycle or moped. We headed to the Tanah Lot Temple, which is about a 35 minute drive from the main town. It’s a 16th century building located on a rock just off shore. When it’s low tide you can walk to it but you won’t be able to enter certain parts unless you’re from Bali. In all honesty i wasn’t blown away, and it felt like a tourist trap. It also cost 60,000 rp per adult (£3) to enter the area.

    Tanah Lot Temple

    In the afternoon cool off with a relaxing yoga or meditation class at one of the many schools. We were told Serenity Eco Guesthouse is a good choice, but unfortunately didn’t get around to trying it out! In the evening find a nice spot along Echo Beach to wait the sunset. Old Man’s is popular and lively, but there’s also The Lawn, which is a little further along the coast.

    Where to stay: Our accommodation was a short moped ride out of the village in a hidden little gem called Kampung Canggu, which overlooked a rice field. For just £14 a night we had a massive double room with an en-suite and our own terrace that backed out onto the pool area. Oh did I mention breakfast is included?! This peaceful paradise might not be in the thick of things, but it was perfect for us. If you want to be closer to the action, try FRii Hotel.

    Kampung Canggu pool area

    Ubud, 3-4 days

    Ubud is a refreshing change of pace from the sensory overload south. This vivacious town in the uplands of Bali is surrounded by one of the island’s most famous and admired landscapes, with jaw-dropping rice paddies dotted with beautiful moss-covered stone shrines and temples. It lures thousands of natural beauty purged travellers every week. It’s about a 45 minute to one hour drive from Canggu, and the best way is usually by taxi. We hired a Grab, and it cost around 170,000 rp (£7).

    Rice terrace Ubud

    Day one, get up early at about 7am and go waterfall hunting woop woop! We visited Tibumana Waterfall and Kanto Lampo Waterfall as they were quite close together and only 30 minutes outside of the town centre. Because we’d arrived when they opened we had the entire run of the place 👍.

    Tibumana Waterfall, Ubud

    You can also check out Tegenungan Waterfall, which is the most popular in Ubud but gets quite crowded, and Nungnung Waterfall. Entrance is 20,000 rp per person at most of these.

    Tegenungan Waterfall, Ubud

    After a wistful morning doing your best Peter Andre impressions, it’s time to brave the Sacred Monkey Forest (fun fact: Eat, Pray, Love was filmed there). It costs 50,000 rp per adult, so around £2.50. Before or after going in, walk across the road to Habitat Cafe where you get 10% off with your ticket. The food is reasonably priced anyway and it has a really good menu.

    Avacardo poached egg, The Habitat, Ubud

    Tip: Make sure you keep your valuables close to hand and don’t carry in food, even in your backpack. These little guys aren’t afraid to go rooting through your stuff. I’d feel safer walking through Portsmouth at 3am covered in diamonds than walk with a packet of crisps through the sanctuary!

    Sacred Monkey Forest, Ubud

    If you have some time to kill after that, wander around Ubud centre for some shopping, or head back to the hotel to relax. In the evening try Warung Makan Bu Rus, our favourite Indonesian restaurant. After eating, head to the Ubud Palace which is around the corner and catch a nightly dance show. Entrance is 80,000 rp (£4.50). Nearby the Palace is a beautiful place called Pura Taman Saraswati that’s well worth a visit.

    Pura Taman Saraswati, Ubud

    Day two book on for the Ring a Bike Tour. It takes you on a wonderful ride through the heartland of Bali, passing rice terraces, fields and homes. It includes a spectacular buffet breakfast overlooking Mount Batur (best view I’ve ever seen), a coffee tasting at a plantation, tour around a traditional Balinese house, and delicious lunch. It’ll only set you back £23 per person, and we were lucky enough to have the guide Jack all to ourselves.

    View of Mount Batur from Ring a Bike breakfast

    In the evening check out a French restaurant called Kebun Bistro. It’s pricey, but you know those meals where you start off with one course then it’s so freakin good you end up ordering three just because you don’t want it to end? Well this is that! A great street for finding tasty, reasonably priced grub is Jl. Gootama in the centre of Ubud 👌. A brilliantly cheap bar a 10 minute walk away is called Chill Out lounge. It’s happy hour until 9pm, with drinks only 60,000 rp (£3).

    Chill Out Lounge, Ubud

    Day three is a do anything you want day. We visited the Tegalalang Rice Terrace early to avoid the crowds, then headed to the Bali Bird Park.

    Bali Bird Park, Ubud

    In the afternoon we relaxed at the Jungle Fish Bali pool bar. It’s 150,000 rp entry for an adult but the view is worth it. A nice cafe overlooking the terraces is called Surya Terrace Cekingan.

    Surya Terrace Cekingan, Ubud

    Tip: It’s free to wander around the rice terraces, but some farmers may request a donation. One woman aggressively demanded money from me to cross a bridge. I refused and while we were talking others were walking past freely. Another farmer was politely asking, so I paid him instead and walked through his instead. Just bear this in mind when you visit!

    Tegalalang Rice Terraces, Ubud

    Other things you could do is the Mount Batur sunrise hike,  seek out the Bali Swing for that perfect Instagram snap, drive an hour to Bangli and seek out the Jungle Viewpoint, hike the Campuhan Ridge Walk, and wander around Ubud Art Market.

    Ubud Market

    Where to stay: Bubu Inn is a homestay about a 15 minutes moped ride from Ubud town centre. It’s basic, but the rooms are very clean and comfortable and it costs just 200,000 rp (£10) for a double en-suite room with breakfast. The Mama running things is also infectiously kind.

    Bubu Inn, Ubud

    When we came back to Ubud we decided to spend a bit more to be in the town centre! The first place, Umah San Guesthouse, was still a five minute moped ride, but lovely, clean and basic with a nice pool (£20 a night).

    Umah San Guesthouse, Ubud

    The last hotel was lovely and worth paying the extra. Narasoma Guesthouse is right in Ubud Centre, a 2 minute walk to the Palace. It has an epic pool, on site spa, and really comfy rooms. It was £25 a night breakfast included. You’ll have to book through their website though as you won’t find them on

    Taman Dewangga House, central Ubud

    A cheap hostel I’ve heard about in town is called Taman Dewangga House. It costs around 40,000 rp per night for a bunk and 165,000 rp for a twin private.

    Tulamben, 1 day

    On your way to the Gili Islands you have the option of doing one of the coolest excursions I did throughout my whole travels; the WW2 USAT Liberty wreck dive. Picture yourself floating amongst colourful, inquisitive shoals, in their sun-lit, coral covered habitat. Sounds like heaven right?

    USAT Liberty Shipwreck, Tulamben

    Read a detailed itinerary of our dive, including prices and company names, here.

    Gili Trawangan, 2-3 days

    The Gili Islands off the coast of Lombok have been accommodating tourists for decades, after becoming a backpacker mecca in the 80’s and 90’s. These three tiny dots on the map are famous for their bustling coral reefs and white sandy shores. We stayed on Gili Trawangan (aka Gili T), the largest and busiest island, but also took a day trip to Gili Air and explored off the coast of Gili Meno.

    Sunset Beach, Gili T

    To get to the Gili T from Ubud, a cheap and quick option is to get a ferry from Amed, which is on the East coast of Bali. The only company running a boat is the FreeBird Express, and it leaves at 9.30am so It’s better to spend a night in the area to avoid a super early start. They also offer free pick-ups from nearby hotels. It cost us 375,000 rp per person (£19.50).

    Tip: Book your tickets for the ferry at least two days in advance as they fill up quick.

    FreeBird Express ferry, Amed

    You’ll arrive in the afternoon, so a good first activity is hiring a bicycle for 50,000 rp (£2.50) and taking a leisurely ride around the island. It should take around 2 hours and there are some great spots for photos, including the instafamous swings…

    Aston, Gili T

    Day two is for diving or snorkelling! We opted for the cheaper option, and booked an excursion through our accommodation. The trip was only 150,000 rp (£7.50) through a comnany called Lucky Boat Tours, whose HQ you can find along the beach front in the main town. It also included two more stops, starting at the underwater art piece NEST by Jason DeCaires Taylor, and ending at Gili Air for lunch.

    NEST, Gili Meno

    The main town still has a vibrant nightlife, but there are more chilled out cocktail bars than hedonistic clubs and a refreshing mish-mash of backpackers, honeymooners and families. We loved eating and drinking at the Fat Cats restaurant, which has a beautiful tea-light lit section of beach. Another favourite of ours was the Sama-Sama Reggae Bar, where you can watch a live band play Bob Marley and sip a tasty margarita for 60,000 rp (£3). For great coffee and a nice brunch, head to the Banyan Tree or Kayu Cafe.

    Fat Cats, Gili T

    On your final day find a nice spot to sit back and relax (Frankie said so 😉). On the other side of the island, the beach is fringed with laid-back sunset shacks where you can enjoy a breathtaking, unobstructed view of the horizon. We spent a few hours at Casa Vintage soaking up the sun with an iced coffee in hand, and in the evening caught this picture perfect moment at the Malibu Beach Club, which has Happy Hour between 6-8pm.

    Malibu Beach Club, Gili T

    Where to stay: Coconut Dream Bungalows. For around £16 a night, you can retreat to a comfortable, clean double room with an en-suite and air con. The best part was having breakfast on our own private terrace which overlooked the pool.

    Coconut Dream Bungalows, Gili 

    Read more about the Gili Islands here.

    Nusa Lembongan and Ceningan, 3 days

    The Nusas Islands are fast becoming a must-do on a Bali break. Similarly to the Gilis, travellers are drawn to this tropical trio off the coast of Bali for their beautiful beaches and vibrant marine life. However, it’s their dramatic coastal landscapes and untouched beauty spots that really define them. The Nusas have recently been thrown under the social media spotlight after appearing on a number of popular Instagram pages, so these once hidden gems are now on full display.

    Nusa Lembongan bay

    Most people start off on the island closest to mainland Bali, Nusa Lembongan, which is conveniently attached to Nusa Ceningan by a yellow bridge. These may be the smallest, but they’re easier to navigate around than their big bro Nusa Penida.

    Find out the best way to get to the Nusa Islands here.

    Yellow Bridge, Nusa Lembongan

    We opted to stay close to the bridge so we could bounce between the two. If you want to get away from it all and relax I’d recommend Ceningan, but if you want a more lively scene then Lembongan’s West coast is your place.

    Read this post to find out all the amazing things you can do on Nusa Lembongan and Ceningan.

    Blue Lagoon, Nusa Ceningan

     Nusa Penida, 1-2 days

    Nusa Penida is the big brother to Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan. Despite it being substantially larger than the other islands, it has very little tourist infrastructure. Its hilly terraine and dense forest landscape could be to blame, but travellers still flock there to bask in its untouched beauty.

    Kelingking Beach Viewpoint, Nusa Penida

    The island has a plethora of achingly beautiful views and natural wonders. You might have seen a few of these appearing in popular social media posts over the past few years, especially Kelingking Beach. Who wouldn’t want to see Tyrannosaurus Rex shaped cliffs? This crowd favourite is a big reason why the tourism trade is quickly starting to pick up on the island. Hundreds of people armed with selfie-sticks make the difficult journey there every day.

    Click here to read a detailed guide to Nusa Penida. 

    Angel’s Billabong, Nusa Penida

    Uluwatu, 1-2 days

    We’ve saved the best beaches until last! Uluwatu is a popular area on Bali’s Bukit peninsula, best known for its hilly limestone coast and gnarly surf 🤙. It’s just South of the airport too, so a great place to unwind before that long flight home. We chose to do minimal exploring during our time there as our villa was very cosy, but here’s a few things to tick off while there.

    Nyang Nyang Beach, Uluwatu

    Spend a day riding around by moped, visiting Uluwatu’s namesake cliff-top temple, beach, and popular eating spots. The beach has a small but beautiful access point, which is mainly used by surfers, but well worth seeking out. You can watch people ride some pretty impressive waves from a popular watering hole called Single Fin Bali. This place is great to watch the sunset and gets quite busy at night.

    Uluwatu Beach, Uluwatu

    The area is also home to some of Bali’s most luxury resorts on towering limestone cliffs. If you don’t mind spending some cash, check out One Eighty and its incredible Infinity pool, which gives you a birds eye view of the Indian Ocean. It costs 400,000 rp per person (£20) with 350,000 rp of that to spend on food and drink. Another swanky spot is the Sunday’s Beach Club. For brekkie and lunch stop off at Suka Espresso, Cashew Tree, and Bukit Cafe.

    Bukit Cafe, Uluwatu

    A few good places for dinner are El Merkat, Kelly’s Warung and Cafe La Pasion.

    Cafe La Pasion, Uluwatu

    On your last day in Bali, search for a good stretch of sand and just relax. We ventured out to Nyang Nyang Beach for its silk white coastline and abandoned shipwrecks. It’s a bit of a hike to get there, so wear sensible shoes and bring plenty of food and water!

    Nyang Nyang Beach, Uluwatu

    Where to stay? We stayed at a lovely place called Villa Sesapi Putih. It was only £35 a night, including a delicious homemade breakfast by the couple who owns the property. You also get a free moped to get about.

    Villa Sesapi Putih pool, Uluwatu

    Villa Sesapi Putih, Uluwatu

    If you have any questions please feel free to contact us via the website or on Instagram @journey_bird 😊

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