One thing that surprised me about Bali was its size. This is no teeny tropical island – like the other Indonesian islands I visited, it’s like a country in its own right. At nearly 100km across you could probably circumnavigate it in a day, but you’d better start early! And if you’re planning a Bali itinerary, count at least 10 days!
Like the other Indonesian islands, Bali is sorely lacking in public transport. The options are limited, routes are non-obvious and schedules, in most cases, simply don’t exist. For the budget backpacker wanting to experience all the cafes in Bali, it represents a quandary – the locals clearly get around somehow, but all you see is adverts for private cars or the (generally) overpriced tourist shuttle buses.
With a little research, however, you will see that it *is* possible to travel on the cheap in Bali. It will probably be long, uncomfortable and confusing – but you don’t have to break the bank to do it.
Before travelling, check out the cost of a private car and shuttle bus. Private cars and taxis are rarely a good option for long-distance travel unless you need to go somewhere *really* out of the way – but there are some hidden gems in Bali that might require that. However – if you’re a group of three or more, a car could be a good option as the per-person cost can compare favourably with the shuttle and the convenience can’t be beaten. If you’re alone or a couple, look at the price of the shuttle bus – on very popular routes it’s hard to beat the shuttle bus price with public transport, and the convenience of a lie-in and hotel pick up can make that extra dollar or two more than worth it. On the longer or less popular routes, expect to get gouged.
If you do take the public bemo and bus system, it pays to start early in the morning. Generally, this is when the locals are travelling to-and-from market and neighbouring towns and options will be more plentiful. You won’t have to wait as long for a bus to fill up before leaving, and you’ll have better leverage when negotiating a price. Expect to get gouged – we could never pay the local prices – but go into it with a smile and try to negotiate a fare that is reasonable for you.
Arriving from Java – Gilimanuk to Legian
Follow the crowd off the ferry and onto the main road, then hang a right and walk a few hundred meters to the public bus station. The locals can direct you if you’re not sure. There is a regular bus to Ubung Terminal in Denpasar – it’s slow, small, cramped and cheaper than a taxi. We paid 50k for the three hour(!) ride – 30k would have been a more reasonable price but Bali bus drivers are tough negotiators.
From Ubung, a public bemo will take you to Tegal Terminal for 10k. From Tegal, another bemo will get you to bemo corner in Kuta for a further 10k. If that’s where you’re headed, great! For Legian, you can hop in a cab – unless, like us, you arrive in the middle of Friday rush hour and no cabbie will take you. In that case, it’s a relatively easy 3km walk.
Legian to Ubud
The shuttle bus will do this for around 60k and that’s tough to beat with public transport, unless you’re a local or have the bargaining skills of one. If you absolutely must do it (we needed to make a stop in Denpasar, so that’s us!) – reverse the directions above to get you back to Ubung Terminal. From Ubung, another 10k bemo ride will get you to Batubulan, where the bemos to Ubud depart from. We ended up paying 35k each, although the local price is closer to 8-10k. Get there early and you’ll have more bargaining power – it’s probably not going at all in the afternoon. Note that the bemo will drop you at Ubud market.
Ubud to Tulamben
To do this one by public transport, reverse the directions below for Amed to Ubud. Start early in the morning and prepare for a long day! Once you get to Culik, there should be a bemo to Tulamben but if not a taxi will set you back around 60-70k. We were just visiting for the day – there’s not much in Tulamben unless you want to beat the crowds and dive the USAT Liberty shipwreck early in the morning – so to save time we took the shuttle bus at 170k each. Worth it to have the wreck to yourself – but try shopping for a car: we were quoted 350k for a private vehicle, and that extra dollar would have got us there twice as fast and a lot more comfortably.
From Tulamben back to Amed – we bagged a free ride with the great folks at Fusion Freediving! Ask your dive shop if they’ll give you a transfer. The shuttle/taxi price for this short hop is stupidly high at 60-70k. We assume there must be a bemo to Culik – again, start early. The bemo drivers round here aren’t too cutthroat so you should be able to get a good price. From Culik to Amed (or any of the villages on the coast here), try getting one of the locals to drive you for a small fee (around 15k is reasonable).
Amed to Ubud
I know, we were a little fidgety! Grab a bemo or get a local to take you to Culik (5-15k per person, depending on where you start from) and, again, start early! From Culik, bemos to Amlapura abound and should cost no more than 20k per person for the 20km journey. From there, get another bemo or bus to Guinyar: these guys bargain hard – make sure you are dealing with the driver and not one of the many ‘fixers’ who want to mediate the negotiation for you. We paid 50k per person for the 90 minute ride – not as cheap as we would have liked, but better than the driver’s 100k opening bid. Guinyar to Ubud market is a short hop and pay no more than 10k per person (when the driver tries his luck for 50k, just smile and politely insist!).
Ubud to Sanur
Shuttle bus all the way. Shop around and you can get this for 50k with hotel pickup. If you must take public transport, grab a bemo at the market and head for Batubulan terminal. From there, you can get the Trans Sarbagita bus (more on this below) to Sanur for a flat 3,500 – it could be a steal depending on how well you negotiated the bemo, or it could be a dollar cheaper than the shuttle and leave you kicking yourself for not opting for the extra couple hours of sleep.
Sanur to Nusa Dua
Coming back into South Bali, we were a little sceptical when we read about the Trans Sarbagita bus service. Concrete information is thin on the ground – but we when we heard of a modern, air-conditioned bus service with actual stops and fixed ticket prices, we had to check it out for ourselves. Their motto is “the passengers wait for the bus, the bus doesn’t wait for the passengers”. Such a novel concept!
From the ferry terminal at the end of Jalan Hang Tuah, walk west to the main road (Jalan Bypass Ngurah Rai) and then take a left. Follow the main road for about 600m (not a very pleasant walk!) and you will come across an actual bus stop! The buses are big, blue and quite regular. Pay the conductor a fixed 3,500 (that’s about 30c!) and ride the bus to Kedonganan. From there, stay in the same bus stop and wait for the big blue bus’s little brother to come along – the large buses are ‘fed’ by minibuses operating on local routes. The little bus will take you to Nusa Dua for another 3,500k or so. Since we saved so much in public transport, we splurged a little when we got there and stayed at the Conrad Bali. Top tip: book with www.traveloka.com and save loads!
Nusa Dua to Kuta
Reverse the directions above, but get off at Kuta Sentral Parkir. Costs are the same.
Sadly, information on the Trans Sarbagita is very thin on the ground. Online route maps are all massively out of date, as are the ones posted inside the bus shelters. It’s very hard to find information on where the stops are located, beyond asking someone and simply stumbling across one. The idea is great and the buses are outstanding – you could easily feel you are in Malaysia or Singapore – and at the time of writing, the routes and feeders are fairly widespread in South Bali. Sadly the system doesn’t run at anywhere near capacity and we suspect that it may be doomed to failure.