As if deciding to move to Bali wasn’t life-changing enough, it’s now time to decide exactly where you should live in Bali. If you’ve been here before and are somewhat familiar with the landscape, layout and major tourist points, you have an advantage in narrowing down the areas you may or may not want to live. If you’re like us, however, and show up in the dark with two checked bags, enough combined jetlag to kill a small pony and zero clue as to where the shit you are, welcome home! This guide is (mainly) for you.
The first thing you need to realize about Bali is that it’s larger than you think, and it takes several hours to get from one coast to the other. We’ve been living here for more than 6 months and still haven’t visited the north coast or entire west side of the island, which are two areas you may in fact want to live. Bali’s population is currently somewhere around the 4.5 million mark, meaning traffic is almost always a constant. If you don’t like the idea of living near other people, you may want to consider moving to a different area of Indonesia altogether.
A major benefit to Bali is that once you’re actually here, it’s extremely easy, budget-friendly and common to move around the island until you find a place you want to live more permanently. There’s a million kind of accommodations for every budget, from fancy luxury villas to bamboo treehouses to small studio rooms for rent by the day, week or month, and since you’re often not required to pay a deposit and the majority of places come furnished, staying for however long you like is as easy as sweating profusely.
On a final note, it’s common to pay for the entirety of your stay upfront, especially when renting by the year (or longer). Doing this of course gives you better prices than paying on a month-to-month basis, though if you ask around you’ll have no problem finding places to rent on a shorter-term basis as well. Anyone who tells you this isn’t possible is lying or doesn’t know any better.
Where You Should Live in Bali
Bali: The Dirty South
Kuta, Legian, Seminyak
As a precursor to this specific area of Bali, you should know that we live in a small homestay in Legian, a very busy town smack dab in the middle of even busier towns of Kuta and Seminyak. Despite the insistence of a few snobby shops, restaurants, foreign business-owners and travelers, there is no separation between Seminyak (home of everything trendy) and Kuta (home of everything not, and clubby) in the eyes of someone who lives here. At most, they’re a 15 minute drive apart, and I refuse to acknowledge that one is much different than the other. If you live in this area, the following information is what you can generally expect. Let’s continue.
Pros: Tons of accommodation options – homestays, hotels, villas, houses, you name it. Short walk, scooter or cab ride to hundreds of restaurants, bars, spas, shops, clubs, cafes, grocery stores, movie theaters, and mostly small (but fun) surf breaks on its long stretch of beach, which has great sunset views (though not great swimming conditions). If you like having access to whatever you need, whether it be dim sum at 4am, same-day laundry service, print studios, custom leather and surfboard shops, and even an award-winning waterpark, this area of the island will not disappoint. Also, since I don’t drive a scooter (I make Peter do the driving), living somewhere I can walk is key, though this is also the easiest area of the island to get a cab, catch a ride on the back of someone’s scooter (Go-Jek), or request an Uber or GrabTaxi (cheaper than taxis, and less of an issue with the local taxi mafia). Tons of young and old travelers of all backgrounds and walks of life.
Cons: Lots of people absolutely hate this area of Bali. And yes, I can see how people think it’s lost its charm and culture, and is just a busy, dirty, crowded cesspool that often looks nothing like the paradise you’ve imagined. Still, I dig it. Take from that what you will. If you’re the kind of person who can’t stand being hassled by pushy street salesmen, this will be your nightmare. The traffic in this area (specifically Jalan Seminyak to Jalan Raya Kuta) is predictably terrible, and the hot weather, concrete, constant barrage of tourists and hectic vibe is too much for a lot of people to handle. There’s more of an established expat crowd in other areas of the island, since the majority of people you meet here are on vacation.
Life here if: You enjoy a huge variety of options for dining, shopping and going out, and want to live in the middle of it all. You don’t mind crowds, loud noises, and like the convenience of big city life, or are planning on opening a business and want to be in an area where the majority of travelers are (though you’ll have your fair share of competition). You like beach life, though not necessarily the laid-back kind of beach life.
Why we like it: It’s got a dirty kind of charm, similar to places like Las Vegas, New Orleans and New York. It takes us 6 minutes to walk to the beach, and we’re tucked in a street far enough away from the clubs of Kuta to be (dare I say) peaceful, while still being close to a ton of things to do. We can walk to hundreds of amazing restaurants, cheap spas, a pimp ass movie theater and funky beach bars, and that’s good enough for me.
Bali: South by Southwest
Canggu to Balian
First off, I should point out that these two areas are nothing alike. Canggu is the less crowded, more hipster-cool extension of Seminyak, whereas Balian is remote, quiet and much less popular (though well-known in the surfer crowd). If you want to live off the beaten path among the locals, head to Balian. If you’re looking for a fun but more chill (than Kuta and Seminyak) place to call home, and still like to go out and meet people, head to Canggu. Since we haven’t personally been to Balian, all of the following info is about living in Canggu.
Pros: Funky coffee shops and cafes, healthy food scene, trendy boutique shops, awesome variety of surf breaks (though still not great swimming conditions), and small-town vibe surrounded by rice fields. Thriving young expat scene, and home to a nice coworking space, Dojo Bali. Delicious seafood and sunset views at Echo Beach. Fun weekly and monthly outdoor markets with clothes, jewelry, art, produce, etc. Great happy hour spot at Old Man’s, and weekly hangouts and live music at Deus Ex Machina and more on the main stretch of road, Batu Bolong. Low-key nightlife, but still there.
Cons: Less accommodation options than Seminyak and Kuta. You will almost guaranteed need a scooter to get around if you live in this area, unless you happen to score a home near the water and don’t need to get out of town all that often. There’s also somewhat of a taxi mafia in the area – Uber and GrabTaxi are currently ‘banned’ here – meaning you’re stuck paying for a more expensive cab or private driver to get you out of town, sans scooter. Not as many options for dining, and just far enough away from Seminyak to not want to drive out of town more often than you need to, especially considering the traffic, construction and poor road quality. Has the distinct possibility of becoming too cool for its own good.
Life here if: You’re a digital nomad who wants to live and work near the beach, and enjoy good restaurants and young Australians. You’re a surfer looking to hook up with aforementioned young Australians. You drive a scooter, a preference for better-than-average cocktails and coffee, and want to live somewhere quiet with enough going on to keep you entertained and loving island life.
Why we like it: Canggu’s great! I love watching live music (and international beer pong) at Old Man’s, and there’s more of an opportunity to meet expats here than almost anywhere else in Bali, except maybe Ubud. It’s still quiet enough to forget you’re near Seminyak, with enough trash fires to remember you’re not in Australia.
Bali: The Super South
Bukit Peninsula – Jimbaran, Nusa Dua, Uluwatu, Ungasan
Alright, so admittedly, the specific towns I’ve listed above may not be exhaustive, and it gets confusing when you’re considering towns versus regions versus bays versus what’s just a damn street name, and so on. Also I have been drinking wine for a while now, so there’s that. Just assume that anything in the Bukit Peninsula, the area directly south of Ngurah Rai International Airport, is covered in this section. Makasih, y’all.
Pros: This area is known for its amazing surf breaks, and also has the most dramatic scenery (opinion) and beautiful beaches (fact) in all of Bali. If you’re serious (meaning experienced to advanced) about riding some waves on the Island of the Gods, this is the area you’ll likely want to live. Each beach is very different and gorgeous, and spots like Uluwatu Beach and Padang Padang will make your jaw drop. Imagine caves, turquoise water, surfers in the distance, and restaurants and temples perched perfectly on the cliffside, and that’s Uluwatu. There’s a good amount of accommodation to choose from, and restaurants for every budget. If you’ve come to Bali to surf and generally enjoy the ocean, move here.
Cons: I’d say the main reason we don’t live here is that it’s still kind of remote, in a lot of ways. You absolutely need a scooter to get around, since the taxi mafia is in full force down here, and there is really no walking from place to place, unless you desire really strong leg muscles and/or want to get hit by a car slash scooter. It’s also really quiet at night (minus Sunday sessions at Single Fin), and doesn’t make for the easiest place to get around. There aren’t many expats we’ve met that live down here full time, and there are less options for dining and entertainment, though seafood sunset dinners at Jimbaran Bay are a must do every now and then.
Life here if: You’re a surfer dude or gal, and want to look like a chiseled, tanned piece of human perfection when you leave Bali (assuming you don’t fall and land on the razor sharp, very shallow reef a whole bunch). You aren’t particularly into the nightlife scene, and are a pro at riding scooters up and down steep inclines. You like the idea of white sand and frequent ocean frolicking (there are calm places to swim too), and don’t mind getting in a little traffic to get there.
Why we like it: I absolutely love this area. It’s seriously gorgeous, and one of the places we always bring our friends and family when they come to visit. Low tide swimming and sunset cocktails at Uluwatu makes for a perfect day, and Nusa Dua and Jimbaran are gorgeous (and calmer, ocean-wise) places to spend an afternoon and evening in the golden sand.
Bali: The Hip Central
Ubud, Gianyar, Tegalalang
Bali might be the only place in the world that hates Julia Roberts. Ever since the movie (and Liz Gilbert’s book) Eat, Pray, Love came out, people from all over the world have been flocking to Ubud in search of beauty, nature, love, Ketut’s spiritual advice, and most likely Javier Bardem, who is sadly shacked up with Penelope Cruz somewhere far, far away. Ubud’s got a lot to offer, as it’s widely considered the creative and artistic center of Bali, and tons of people think it’s absolutely the only place to live. Just don’t forget your yoga pants and over-zealous infatuation of vegan cafes. I’m not even hating, I’m just serious.
Pros: Ubud is beautiful. Or actually, most of the villages and towns directly surrounding Ubud are beautiful. Bright green rice terraces, palm trees, coffee plantations, temples, and kind Balinese locals who are more than happy to point you in the right direction and offer you a hot cup of kopi. There are tons of amazing restaurants, bars, boutique shops, spas, and villas, and quite a few notable events, including the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, Bali Spirit Festival and more. There is a thriving yoga, spiritual, health food and expat scene, and a lovely coworking space, Hubud, for the area’s many digital nomads and remote workers. Amazing artists (local and not) live here, so make sure to take the time to discover their work. If you score accommodation near town, you’re only a short walk or scooter ride from most activities and places of interest.
Cons: Before we arrived, I pictured Ubud as this totally remote village, with 6 cafes and monkeys everywhere and old Balinese men with wrinkly skin, big smiles and a lifetime of stories. Nope. Ubud is still crowded (almost to the same degree as Seminyak, on many of its main streets), touristy, and hot, but still different than the dirty south. Perhaps the biggest bummer of living in Ubud is that you’re at least an hour drive from the ocean. Also, taxis have a serious mafia here, meaning your only option is to pay way above the standard asking price to get anywhere far, assuming you’re not awesome on a scooter. You’re living in the jungle, which means more rain, more spiders, more lizards and more mosquitoes than most coastal towns. Has the distinct possibility of being too hippie slash pretentious for its own good.
Life here if: The ocean isn’t a big draw for you, and you’re more into creating, healing, stretching and meeting likeminded locals and expats. You’re looking for jungle life with the convenience of city life. You are seriously trying to lose weight by walking in the extreme heat along the worst sidewalks in Bali, and up and down rice terraces.
Why we like it: As touristy as it is, Ubud is still a Bali staple, and I wouldn’t mind living a little further out of town. The Monkey Forest is still the best place to consider stealing a baby monkey (and decide against it), and d’Alas Warung and the Bali Purina coffee plantation in Tegalalang are gorgeous and an amazing place for a day trip. Divine Fridays at Bridges Bali with wine, live music and killer views are lovely, and staying in a private jungle bungalow with a pool is always a solid reason to go back.
Bali: The East Coast
Sanur, Padangbai, Candidasa
Pros: Sanur, located only a 30 minute drive from Kuta and Legian, is a hugely popular town for expats, with a slightly older crowd than that of South Bali and Ubud. You can enjoy calm beaches, a lively art scene and lots of local markets. Once you’re in Sanur (and stay there), you likely won’t run into as much traffic as you would in larger towns like Kuta and Jimbaran, and there’s still a good mix of restaurants, cafes and bars to choose from. As you travel up the coast to Padangbai and Candidasa, the scenery gets much more lush and jungle-like, and there are some really beautiful spots off the beaten path (Virgin Beach and the Tenganan villages, for example). Candidasa and Padangbai are charming and laid-back, and great places to live if you like the low key island lifestyle, snorkeling and scuba diving, and want to be in a convenient spot to explore other popular areas of Bali, in addition to Lombok and the Gili Islands.
Cons: Living on Bali’s quieter east coast often means giving up some amenities and smaller luxuries you may be used to having. The beaches aren’t as nice as those in the Bukit Peninsula, and Candidasa in particular doesn’t have much in the way of ‘beach’ after the coral reef was destroyed for construction in the 80’s. As far as living here full time, your choices for dining and entertainment get more limited the further east you go, so make sure you’re not the type to get stir crazy if there’s nothing to do after dark. While you can find cheaper accommodation in these areas, there are fewer options and they may not come with as many amenities or a reliable internet connection.
Life here if: You’re moving to Bali to retire, or relocating your family and want your kids to have a calm, safe place to swim while still enjoying beautiful views. You’re not interested in Bali’s nightlife scene, prefer to do most of your activity in the daytime, and are fine with not having every amenity you would back home. Mother Nature is your homegirl.
Why we like it: I’m not a huge fan of Sanur (though I haven’t spent much time there, to be fair), but I do like Candidasa and its surrounding areas. There’s a real authentic feel to this side of the island, and it’s a good meeting point between the jungle and the ocean. There’s tons of things I want to do here that I haven’t yet, such as visit the Uforia Chocolate Factory, Tirtagangga Water Palace, eat fresh seafood on Virgin Beach, and visit Sidemen, a tiny town more inland that looks perfect for a relaxing getaway. I’m just not sure it’s somewhere I’d want to live long-term.
Bali: The Calm Frontier
Amed, Jemeluk, Bunutan, Lipah, Tulamben
Continue driving north from Candidasa and you’ll soon arrive in Amed, a tiny fishing village whose name often encompasses its surrounding villages, some of which are also listed above.
Pros: If you’ve come to Bali to relax near (or in) the ocean, this is the place to do it. You’ll meet lots of friendly locals, and are in the best spot possible for snorkeling, scuba diving and free diving. There are a couple local reggae bands, and just enough warungs and restaurants to give you a few options outside of Indonesian food. The water is super calm, and you can hire a local fisherman to take you out on an outrigger boat for an early morning sunrise ride anytime you want. The views of Mount Agung and surrounding beaches are stunning, and the town really only gets about 4 “busy” months a year – June, July, August and December – when older European tourists come to hang out in their tiny man-shorts. You can find good deals on accommodation, especially when renting by the year or more.
Cons: It’s quiet. Like, real quiet. Also, if you’ve come to work online, chances are the internet up here might not do the job. If you like to get out of town a lot, it’s a pretty far drive or scooter ride to get anywhere busier, and at least a 2 or 2 1/2 hour journey from the airport. There are little to no waves, so surfers are mostly out of luck (though Keramas isn’t crazy far away). Fewer accommodation options, and little in the way of an expat scene. It’s also very hot and dry on this side, and you’ll likely need a scooter to get around, as the intense hills from village to village make walking a hardcore task.
Life here if: You’re an avid scuba diver or free diver, don’t mind small town life and going to bed before 11pm. You don’t thrive off of social interaction, and are on a relatively tight accommodation budget without being too picky about amenities. You’re ready to experience some extended R&R, and love to swim in the ocean without the possibility of getting destroyed by huge waves.
Why we like it: Personally, I could totally live here for a few months. It’s peaceful, and there’s a ton of outdoor activities to keep you entertained, whether it be snorkeling, hiking, fishing, or dancing to reggae tunes in quaint beach bars. If it weren’t so far from everything, and Peter wasn’t obsessed with surfing, this is probably where we would have ended up, at least for a portion of our time here. Regardless, it’s absolutely worth a visit, and the views are swoon-worthy.
Bali: The Far North
Pemuteran, Banjar, Lovina, Singaraja, Munduk, Bedugul, Kintamani
For those who want to live near the ocean, the towns of Pemuteran, Banjar, Lovina and Singaraja are the best places to live along Bali’s north shore, though Pemuteran is fairly secluded from the others, as it’s located further west near the supposedly amazing scuba diving spot of Menjangan Island. Munduk, Bedugul and Kintamani, on the other hand, are all located more inland near volcanoes and lakes in higher elevation areas of Bali. As I mentioned earlier, I have only ever been to Kintamani, and therefore can’t speak about the specifics of what it’s like to live here full time.
Pros: Kintamani is absolutely gorgeous. The nearby Mt. Agung, Mt. Batur and Lake Batur are magical, and the cooler weather is a welcome break from the intense heat of sea level. Munduk and Singaraja are also near some of Bali’s best waterfalls, most of which can be reached by relatively easy, scenic trails. From what I understand, there’s a fairly large expat scene in Lovina, though I also understand it’s an older crowd, similar to that of Sanur. Living here would definitely give you more of a local experience, and more incentive to work on your Bahasa language skills. Relaxed beach vibe, and cheaper accommodation options than further south. Near natural hot springs and many hiking trails, and home to abundance of fresh fruit and produce.
Cons: I’ve heard the beaches in Lovina aren’t very nice, mostly due to the darker volcanic sand and occasional trash piles sweeping across from other islands. Also, while this area is known for its huge dolphin population and dolphin watching tours, it’s supposedly somewhat cruel how they’re corralled for the sake of the guests’ entertainment. Like I said, I haven’t experienced this myself, but it is something to keep in mind. Also, anywhere on the north coast is at least a 3 hour drive from the airport, so it’s not ideal if you plan on leaving the island often, for visa purposes or otherwise. Singaraja is Bali’s second largest city, so if you’re picturing a quiet escape and hate traffic, you’re better off going to Amed or West Bali.
Life here if: You’re moving to Bali to retire, and plan on leaving the island as little as possible. You love exploring the outdoors, and are comfortable riding a scooter to get there. You want to live as the locals live (or at least have the option to), are looking forward to learning more about Balinese culture, and don’t crave a lively nightlife scene. You want to be one with nature, don’t give two craps about surfing, and like the idea of having volcanoes, lakes and waterfalls in your backyard.
Why we like it: I’ll let you know more after we go there next month, but Pemuteran and Munduk in particular look gorgeous and relaxing, and like the perfect place to call home if you aren’t concerned with wifi connection, getting things done or being indoors.
Bali: The Central Grind
Pros: If you’re on a serious budget, you can find some excellent deals on accommodation, for both long and short term rentals. Since you’re surrounded by tons of businesses, restaurants, shops and offices, it’s an easy place to get things done, especially if you plan on opening a business. Transportation is easily accessible, and there are several local markets worth visiting. Excellent place to live like a local and work on your Bahasa!
Cons: Traffic. Oh, the traffic. Since these areas are so densely populated, you’ll be fighting for a place on the road alongside hundreds of other people, which can be somewhat terrifying and dangerous if you aren’t an experienced bike rider. Also, these areas aren’t known to be particularly beautiful or scenic, at least until you get out into the smaller, less crowded villages. Kerobokan happens to be the location of the hellish Bali prison, where inmates have been known to escape, have brawls in the street, and generally create a fair amount of somewhat regular chaos. Though you’re unlikely to encounter any of this yourself, it’s still something you might want to know, especially if you plan on moving to Bali with kids.
Life here if: You aren’t intimidated by large crowds, both on and off a scooter, and can easily sleep to the sounds of traffic. You’re on a budget and want to live as inexpensively as you can, while still being relatively close to the beach and more popular areas of Seminyak, Legian and Kuta. You plan on traveling a lot between south, central and north Bali and want to be conveniently located in the middle of all of it.
Why we like it: There are some excellent budget restaurants, places to buy electronics, and some cute areas of Kerobokan to find a place to live. Umm… yeah.
Dear holy mother of Bali, that was a long one! I’m sure I didn’t separate areas of the island in a perfect or ideal fashion, but hopefully this gives you a clearer idea of the different sections of Bali, and what you can expect from living in each. Cheers, and pretty please feel free to leave comments if you have suggestions or anything to add about where you should live in Bali.
Thanks for reading, travelers. Happy Bali moving!