Bali attracts so many kinds of travelers – backpackers, honeymooners, families, yogis, surfers, Eat, Pray, Love-ers, and more. But no matter who you are or why you’re visiting Bali, it’ll probably end up holding a special place in your heart. Having spent four months there over three separate visits, it certainly does for me.
So, what is The Island of the Gods really like, and what makes it such a sought-after destination for so many people? It’s hard to put into words, but these interesting facts about Bali will give you a peek into what the island is like and what to expect when visiting.
Table of Contents
Basic Facts about Bali, Indonesia
1. Bali is in Indonesia.
Does everyone already know this? I don’t think I did until I started considering my first trip to Southeast Asia, 10 (!) years ago. Bali is not an independent country or a territory – it’s part of Indonesia.
2. Bali is an island – and it’s four islands.
“Bali” usually refers to the island, but it’s also the name of one of Indonesia’s 31 provinces. Bali province includes the main island, plus three tiny islands off the coast: Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan, and Nusa Ceningan. (Some bonus facts on Bali: the word “nusa” means island in Indonesian – but the main island of Bali also has an area called Nusa Dua, which is not an island in itself!)
3. Bali hasn’t had a major independence movement in recent history.
Bali is dramatically different from Indonesia’s thousands of other islands, in many ways (see the section on Bali culture below!). Given its distinct history and cultural heritage, it feels surprising that there isn’t a big movement for independence on the island. There are separatist movements elsewhere in Indonesia – but maybe the way they’ve been treated has deterred the Balinese.
4. It’s always hot in Bali.
Like many tropical destinations, Bali experiences a rainy season and a dry season – but the heat and humidity never go away, especially near the coast. Average high temperatures are in the 80s all year (with overnight lows just 10 degrees cooler), and the humidity makes it feel even hotter. You can get a bit of a respite, though, by heading inland to higher elevations – like Munduk, which was one of our favorite spots!
5. Bali is about the size of Delaware.
This island has a big reputation, but it’s a tiny place. At just 2,232 square miles, Bali is actually a little bit smaller than Delaware (the second-smallest state!). Accounting for the province’s other three islands doesn’t add much either, since the largest one, Nusa Penida, is only 80 square miles.
6. Over 4.4 million people live in Bali.
Compare that to the under 1 million people in Delaware, and you’ll get an idea of how densely populated Bali is. Of Indonesia’s 18,000+ islands, Bali is the sixth most populated.
7. There are two active volcanoes on Bali.
Mt. Batur and Mt. Agung both active volcanoes in northeastern Bali. Mt. Batur most recently erupted in 2000, and a sunrise climb to its crater is one of the top things to do in Bali.
Mt. Agung is far more active: it erupted several times between 2017 and 2019, forcing evacuations of surrounding villages and shutting down the airport in late-2017. The Balinese consider Mt. Agung to be sacred, and it’s home to one of the island’s most important temples, Pura Besakih.
8. Bali has a national park.
One of Indonesia’s 54 national parks, West Bali National Park – or Taman Nasional Bali Barat – is found on the island’s far northwest tip. Despite being a mere 93 square miles in size, the park contains mangroves, forest, savannah, and beaches, plus the small island of Menjangan (a popular dive spot).
9. Bali has a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Bali’s UNESCO World Heritage Site (one of nine in Indonesia) isn’t one particular place, but rather a cultural landscape, or “combined works of nature and humankind [that] express a long and intimate relationship between peoples and their natural environment.”
Bali’s UNESCO-recognized cultural landscape is its unique cooperative system of water management, known as subak, which dates back to the ninth century. Maybe that doesn’t sound too exciting, but it’s what has made Bali such a prolific rice producer, giving the island its iconic rice paddies.
10. Bali is renowned for its arts.
One look at Bali’s traditional architecture and ornate temples, and you get the idea that this is a place rich in artistic tradition. You’ll find distinctively Balinese styles of theatre, opera, painting, woodcarving, batik, and more.
The many varieties of Balinese dance have a long history, not just as entertainment, but also for storytelling, ritual, and religious practice. Bali also shares some unique artistic traditions with neighboring Java, including the gamelan orchestra, made up of gongs and other traditional instruments, and wayang kulit, or shadow puppet plays.
11. The Netherlands colonized Bali (and the rest of Indonesia).
The Dutch began colonizing parts of what is now Indonesia as early as the 1700s, but Bali was one of the last areas to come under colonial control. In fact, it took the Dutch multiple attempts before finally conquering Bali in the early 1900s. Colonization is a minuscule part of Bali history, since Indonesia declared independence from the Netherlands less than 50 years later.
12. The Bali bombings happened over 15 years ago.
In my experience, it’s not all that uncommon to mention visiting Bali, and be met with worries about safety or terrorism – particularly bombings. And that’s because there have been bombings in Bali. But the most recent one was way back in 2005, so it’s really not something to worry much about today.
Facts about Bali Culture & Society
13. Balinese people are predominantly Hindu.
Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, but 85 percent of Balinese people are Hindu. The country was once mostly Hindu, but when Islam began to spread around the 15th century, many Hindus from Java and elsewhere fled to Bali. The island has largely maintained its particular blend of Hindu and animist beliefs ever since.
14. Balinese live by the philosophy of Tri Hita Karana.
Hawaii has aloha, Costa Rica has pura vida, and Bali has Tri Hita Karana. Literally translating to “three causes of well-being,” Tri Hita Karana means harmony with God, harmony with nature, and harmony with the community.
15. The Balinese make daily offerings.
One of the first things you’ll notice in Bali are the canang sari, or offerings, that dot streets and adorn shrines all across the island. Canang sari are tiny woven baskets made of coconut leaves and meticulously filled with flowers, snacks, and burning incense. Most businesses in Bali place a canang sari at the entrance every morning, and families might place a dozen or more around their compound.
16. Balinese is its own language.
Bahasa Indonesia (also called Indonesian) is commonly spoken in Bali, but Balinese is a separate language. People in Bali generally learn Balinese as their first language, but many now use Bahasa Indonesia on a daily basis. Visitors probably won’t be able to distinguish between the two, and learning a few words of either can go a long way.
17. Bali has its own calendar – actually, two calendars.
It’s 2021 in Bali, of course – but it’s also 1943, or maybe there’s no year at all. What?
The Gregorian calendar is widely used in Bali, but like many societies, it also has a lunar-based calendar. The lunar year also has 12 months, but each starts the day after the new moon. It’s 78 years behind the Gregorian calendar, making it 1943 in Bali.
But Bali also uses a third calendar, called the Pawukon calendar. It has just 210 days, so it really doesn’t correspond to the Gregorian or lunar calendar, and it’s nearly impossible for outsiders to understand. Why? Well, the first day of the year is the first day of ten simultaneous weeks of differing lengths. The Pawukon calendar also doesn’t have a year – it’s just a cycle that repeats again and again.
18. “North” Bali might be in the center.
Remember how I said earlier that the Balinese consider Mt. Agung to be sacred? It’s so sacred that people may align themselves more than with the volcano than with cardinal directions. So “north” is sometimes used to mean “toward Mt. Agung,” even if it’s to your south.
19. Balinese New Year is a day of silence.
This is one of the most important things to know about Bali if you’re visiting in March. The Balinese have an unexpected way of celebrating New Year, known as Nyepi (which is set according to the lunar calendar and falls right after the new moon in March).
Nyepi Day is meant to be one of silence, solitude, and reflection. All businesses are closed, the airport is closed, nobody uses any light or electricity, no vehicles are allowed on the roads, and people stay at home. Quite a contrast from New Year’s celebrations anywhere else in the world.
20. Thursdays in Bali are traditional – it’s the law.
Last time we were in Bali, I noticed one day that almost everyone was dressed in traditional Balinese clothing. Apparently, the governor had issued a decree requiring people to wear traditional clothing and speak only Balinese on Thursdays, in an effort to preserve the island’s heritage.
I’ve never been able to find much information about this, and I have no idea if it’s still in effect – but when we were last there, it seemed like many people were adhering at least to the part about traditional dress.
21. Balinese families traditionally have four children.
You might have heard people say that there are only four first names in Bali – and by the time you meet your tenth person named Wayan, it definitely feels that way.
I actually think this is one of the most interesting facts about Bali. Balinese children are named according to the order of their birth, and there aren’t male or female first names for the most part. The Balinese traditionally had four children, so there are four common names: Wayan, Made, Niyoman, and Ketut. Those with bigger families would start over again, naming the fifth child Wayan.
You’ll definitely encounter people with other names, though, since there are a few alternates, and some Balinese people use different names that denote their caste. Still, most people on the island have one of ten or so names, although (no surprise!) many go by nicknames.
Even More Fun Facts about Bali
22. Bali has the world’s most expensive coffee.
The most expensive coffee in the world comes from poop. Yes, really.
In Bali and some other parts of Indonesia, a cat-like critter called the luwak eats coffee cherries and then (of course) excretes them, at which point they’re collected and then roasted, ground, and brewed. Known as kopi luwak, a cup of this special (and supposedly less acidic) coffee can run you $40 or more.
Unfortunately, the kopi luwak industry has created an animal welfare nightmare, with plantations confining these once-wild animals to cages, forcing them against their natural instincts, and overfeeding them coffee beans instead of their regular diet. It’s also given rise to a counterfeit market, so it’s hard to say if you’d be getting the real thing anyway.
23. Barack Obama wrote his first book in Bali.
You never know when you’re going to learn new Bali facts! We were just in the car listening to the audiobook of Michelle Obama’s Becoming (highly recommend it, by the way). When she was talking about her husband’s book, we heard her drop the name “Sanur.” In 1993, Barack Obama spent a month there, on Bali’s east coast, writing the first draft of Dreams from My Father.
24. Over 6 million tourists visit Bali every year.
Of course, that doesn’t apply to this past year. But in the Before Times, Bali got a shocking 6 million or more tourists every year (more than doubling since 2010), and I’m sure it will be that way again soon. It’s hard to overstate the island’s reliance on tourism, the businesses it supports, and the jobs it has created.
But the sheer number of people on such a small island – and the sometimes less-than-conscientious tourists – is creating an environmental disaster. Water is in short supply, heavily used land is eroding, there’s no way to dispose of all the trash, and the list goes on.
25. The Indonesian government is working to create “10 new Balis.”
To ease the strain on Bali and spread the tourism wealth around, Indonesia’s government launched a campaign to develop new tourist destinations on 10 other islands. Infrastructure developments are making these “10 new Balis” more accessible, and targeted marketing campaigns are raising their profile – but I have to wonder if it will be enough to draw people away from the incredible allure of the original Bali.
Bali Travel Tips & Facts for Visitors
26. October to April is the rainy season.
Like I mentioned above, Bali is hot and humid year-round, with two distinct seasons: rainy and dry. Tourists visit Bali all year, but the dry season (May to September) is much busier.
Days are sunnier then, of course, plus conditions for surfing and diving are better, and boat transfers to neighboring islands are smoother. On the other hand, wet season means fewer crowds, lower prices, and lusher landscapes. And if you’re visiting primarily for yoga, it won’t matter much anyway!
28. Hotels also offer transportation and activities.
Accommodations all around the world offer additional services, but in Bali, there’s just a really strong expectation that you’ll use them. I can only imagine the rock-bottom hotel prices are the reason for this – hotels have to lower their prices to stay competitive, and then sell other services to make up for it.
Nearly anywhere on the island, your hotel or guesthouse will probably rent motorcycles, organize transportation, and book activities from cooking classes to dive trips. And you’ll likely feel some pressure to take them up on it instead of booking elsewhere. (I can’t speak from personal experience, but I’ve heard this even comes up at the 5-star hotels in Bali.)
28. Bali has a fierce taxi mafia.
Private taxis (and moto-taxis) are the main way to get around Bali, but it’s usually cheaper and more convenient to use a ride-sharing app like Grab (Southeast Asia’s equivalent of Uber). But, well, use them at your own risk.
Bali’s taxi drivers – and there are a lot of them – are in a fierce battle with ride-sharing apps, and (maybe surprisingly) the drivers are winning. Signs all over the island forbid the apps, Grab drivers often won’t pick up passengers in certain areas, and there are many stories of taxi drivers physically assaulting ride-sharing drivers.
But it’s not just because taxi drivers are greedy. To understand the taxi mafia, you have to understand some other facts on Bali. From what I gather, taxi drivers have historically worked in co-ops according to their village, and they only pick up passengers in their designated area. Ride-sharing drivers bouncing to wherever they’re called disrupts this long-established dynamic. Further, private drivers give 30 percent of their income to their village and 10 percent to the co-op – and hotels also earn a commission for organizing transportation – so they may only take home half the fare.
29. Bali’s drug laws are extremely strict.
These definitely aren’t fun facts about Bali, but travelers should be aware. Bali might have some popular party destinations, but drugs are not something to mess around with anywhere in Indonesia. Even medical marijuana and ayahuasca are strictly illegal, and treated the same as heroin or cocaine.
Possession of any amount of marijuana can be punishable by 12 years in prison and fines of half a million dollars. Penalties for drug production or distribution can include life imprisonment and the death penalty, and these laws are equally applied to foreigners (like the two Australians who were executed by firing squad in 2015).
30. It’s easy to be a vegetarian or vegan in Bali.
Bali is easily one of the most vegetarian-friendly places I’ve ever been. The tourist towns like Ubud and Canggu are brimming with health-conscious cafes serving veggie burgers, smoothie bowls, and all kinds of Western plant-based meals.
But vegetarian Balinese food is easy to come by as well, with many traditional dishes featuring tofu or tempeh and meat-free versions of mie goreng and nasi campur usually on offer. (Just steer clear of the famed babi guling, or suckling pig!)
31. The monkeys can be aggressive (and they will steal from you!).
This is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned traveling in Asia: monkeys are not fun and friendly – they are vicious and manipulative! So, whether you seek them out at Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest or just come across them on the road (an everyday occurrence in some areas), beware.
Don’t approach monkeys quickly or try to pet them (for your safety), and resist the temptation to feed them (for their own health). Keep your bags closed and your belongings close to your body, and be especially cautious if you’re carrying food – they will grab anything they get their alarmingly human-like hands on.
32. Bali is one of the world’s most budget-friendly destinations.
The word Bali might evoke visions of luxury villas and private pools. And while there are plenty of 5-star resorts in Bali for those who want to splash out, the island is actually incredibly affordable. We stayed at lovely guesthouses costing $10-$15 a night, local meals are around $2 (maybe $4-5 for Western meals), and a full day of diving in Bali will run you about $60.
33. Western Bali is well off the beaten path.
Possibly the biggest downside to Bali is the overtourism and the crowds, pollution, and congestion that go along with it. But the entire western side of Bali is none of those things.
Far from the beach clubs of Kuta and even the yoga studios of Ubud, Western Bali is sparsely populated, delightfully quiet, and largely free of commercial overdevelopment. If you want to travel off the beaten path in Bali, head to the west.
34. “Hello” in Balinese is “Om swastiastu.”
“Om” (yes, like might be chanted in a yoga class) is a sacred sound in Hinduism, and “swastiastu” comes from two Sanskrit words meaning safety/well-being and hopefully. More than merely “hello,” the Balinese greeting is sometimes translated to “May God bless you.”
35. Traveling responsibly in Bali is vital.
What good is knowing all these Bali facts if we don’t have a positive impact on the island?
While tourism is crucial to the livelihoods of many Balinese, it’s also, to be frank, destroying the island. Such a small island struggles to support so many people, especially given the relatively limited infrastructure. Add to that the fact that tourists typically use more resources and create more trash than locals, and tourism is creating a serious strain.
On top of the environmental concerns, booming tourism has priced Balinese people out of many areas, and travelers all-too-often disrespect the local culture.
We try to travel ethically wherever we go, but in a place where tourism has already passed a tipping point, it’s especially vital. So when you’re in Bali, follow these tips to travel more responsibly:
- Do what you can to produce less trash.
- Don’t waste water or electricity.
- Walk or share rides when possible.
- Support locally-owned businesses.
- Don’t wear swimsuits outside the beach/pool.
- Cover up when visiting temples.
- Visit off-the-beaten-path spots.
Map of Bali
Click here for an interactive version of the map!
Quick Bali Facts & Figures
Population: ~4.4 million
Area: 2,232 sq. miles
Largest city: Denpasar (pop. ~1.1 million)
Airport: Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS)
Language: Balinese, Bahasa Indonesia
Predominant religion: Hinduism
Government: Representative democracy
Telephone code: +62
Time zone: GMT+8 (same as Western Australia)
Currency: Indonesian rupiah (IDR) – current exchange rate
Nickname: Island of the Gods
Highest point: Mount Agung (9,944 feet)
What other information about Bali do you want to know? Drop your questions in the comments!