Is It Safe to Travel to Bali at the Moment?
I originally wrote this post to answer the question of “Is it safe to travel to Bali at the moment?” because of the earthquakes and volcano eruptions that had been happening around Bali.
UPDATE CORONAVIRUS SAFETY IN BALI: If you’re looking at this post at the moment likelyhood is you’re not actually worrying about general safety in Bali but looking for information on the status regarding Coronavirus there.
Currently Bali is closed for all air and sea travel until June. You can’t travel in to Bali right now no matter how much you might want to.
Regarding how things are in Bali currently before I carry on I should state that I’m not a doctor. The following is my best attempt to share what I have been told and what Bali is like currently.
Official case numbers are low in Bali, and the whole of Indonesia, especially when you consider where they’re located in relation to other highly effected countries.
Transmission should technically be slower there anyway, fewer doors to open, no close quarters commuting, with everyone getting around on scooters, therefore reducing the ease of the viurs spreading.
However it’s also likely that the low case numbers are also a result of the low amount of testing.
When Bali opens its boarders again it’s highly likely they’ll encourage tourism to return asap as that’s the islands main industry.
That’s a strong motivator that could incentivise people to take risks and open sooner than is completely safe. You should therefore make your own judgement call as to the risk level of going once the boarders do open again factoring in things like whether your insurance would cover a hospital stay for you if you got Coronavirus or if you trust the medical care there to treat you for this still relatively new virus if you were to contract it.
And even when they reopen there may be some countries who aren’t allowed in for longer than others, getting themselves a spot on the naughty list for their government’s response to the situation. I imagine my home country England will be firmly on this list.
If you were looking for general information on whether it’s safe to travel to Bali at the moment, continue reading below…
Bali, and the surrounding area, are very susceptible to natural disasters. But that’s not the only safety element that should be taken into consideration when going to Bali. Even the more general question of “Is Bali safe?” can’t just be given a definite yes or no. There are a number of things to take into consideration to make your trip to Bali as safe as possible.
I’ve been staying in Bali for a number of years now therefore below are my top safety tips to cover the range of safety concerns and issues you might face while visiting.
Is It Safe to Travel to Bali At the Moment
Is it safe to travel to Bali?
School of the bleeding obvious here but nowhere is completely safe to travel to. NOWHERE. There are no amount of travel tips I could give you to make anywhere in this world completely safe.
In terms of relative safety overall however, I’d say that in Bali I feel less safe than in Singapore or even England (which is the only place in the world I’ve ever had something stolen from me) but safer than I probably would Thailand or India.
(Please don’t take the above as a slight on your country if you’re low down in this list. There are a lot of factors that determine the safety of a country. As you’ll see below. And whether you’re male or female plays a role too)
I have traveled a lot and therefore I naturally do several things to protect myself on my travels nowadays. And I always pay to my surroundings and potential risks. Being a solo female traveler will do that to you I guess,
But I do also strongly disapprove of fear-mongering (something which the media did an OUTSTANDING job of during the earthquakes and volcano eruptions in Bali!).
Which is why I’ll take each of the main risk factors for safety one-by-one below so you can make your own informed decision based on actual facts and first hand experience.
Petty theft as it’s the most prolific of crimes in Bali. And although it’s “petty” theft so the item that the person is attempting to steal isn’t of great value the effects of those petty thefts going wrong can be devastating, so it’s important you’re aware of all of the risks.
The main targets for petty theft in Bali are handbags and mobile phones.
Sometimes handbags are stolen, or pickpocketed in subtle ways with people grabbing a bag if it’s unattended for a second or sliding their hand in and taking a wallet. Most of the time that’s not how the handbah theft takes place in Bali however.
As in Europe, snatch and grab bag theft is quite prevalent, not just in Bali or Indonesia but in a lot of Asia.
Snatch and grab back theft is where someone goes past you, sometimes on foot, but usually on a motorbike, and grabs your bag off you as they go.
That’s not so bad if the bag is on your shoulder. If you’re wearing a cross-body bag however that can have fatal consequences.
The thieves may try to grab it and when it doesn’t come off continue holding on until the strap breaks thereby pulling you along the floor in the process.
In that instance, a reinforced strap is your worst nightmare. You want that thing to break as quickly as possible.
You are more important than any of your possessions.
I can’t recommend wearing a bumbag while traveling enough to reduce the risk of this, plus you get to look super cool like me if you do as well!
Unfortunately, handbags just are seen as targets in Bali. Doesn’t matter if you’re walking, driving a scooter, on the back of someone else’s scooter. That’s what thieves are looking for.
Always hide your bag if you have one but if possible try to avoid having one in the first place
Phones are the second most popular target of petty theft in Bali with them frequently being stolen out of people’s hands, bikes and pockets.
One of their favorite tricks in Kuta is for a group of people to surround you as you’re leaving a bar offering transport and Viagra and things (I know, Bali!!!) and in the confusion of people grab the phone out of your pocket.
Similarly, if stood at the side of the road, with your phone in hand, someone on a bike may drive up and grab it out of your hand or even when using it for GPS on a motorbike yourself.
Always hide phones in your front pocket, or a bumbag, if you’d like to come home with it after a night out especially in Canggu nowadays.
Please don’t be freaked out by this.
If someone steals your phone or your handbag in Bali, you’re going to be ok.
However if you do end up in a situation where they’re going for it, just give the person whatever you want. It’s not worth the risk of trying to fight back or keep hold of your possessions. They might have a knife, or you might crash in pursuit of the thief.
Pro Tip: If there are other locals around shout “Maling” at the top of your voice. That means thief and, as much as there’s a lot of petty theft in Bali, those who don’t take part in it are incredibly ashamed of the theft that does take place. If there are locals about when you shout that you will have a veritable army at your side in seconds.
Driving Scooters and Motorbikes
The most popular way to get around Bali is to rent a scooter. That’s not because everyone wants to do that even, it’s just that you can’t really get anywhere in Bali unless you rent a scooter. Places are too far apart, in Canngu, for example, there are barely any pavements and walking increases risks of petty theft happening against you.
Driving scooters and motorbikes is in its nature a dangerous activity anyway, however, it’s even more so in the main touristy areas of Bali as people go on holiday, realize they can’t get around without a bike and therefore all start driving without a license.
No judgment here, that’s what I did at first too but it’s dangerous.
Especially driving without a helmet.
If you are going to drive, and I really do understand why you would want to, then please please always wear a helmet, even if only going two seconds around the corner. Just because you’re not far from where you’re staying in Bali it doesn’t make a crash any less likely. And the helmet could save your life.
People talk about bribes or corruption quite a lot in Bali in relation to the police in Bali but that’s really quite unfair as far as I’m concerned.
Most of the bribes paid by tourists in Bali, at least that I’ve heard of, are in fact bribes to get out of paying a legit fine for driving without a license. If that’s the case for you too then the fine is working in your favor.
People get very upset about it still for some reason though; as if they’ve been ripped off by being able pay 50,000 to 100,000 IDR ($3.50 to $7 USD) to get out of a police fine that would otherwise have cost 1,000,000 IDR ($70 USD).
Yes, the police may try to pull tourists over more but that’s simply because they’re the most likely ones not to have the legit paperwork on them, and also the least likely to know the full details of the bribing process, so tourists provide more money.
But it’s still cheaper to pay the bribe than to pay the legit fine.
If you don’t want to have to pay the bribe, or a fine, all you need to do is have a valid international drivers license with you and the registration for your bike. You don’t even need a valid motorbike license back home to get out of paying the fines (that one you just need for insurance!)
Other corruption does take place in Bali, and the surrounding islands too, for example sometimes bike stealing scams are pulled or I had a friend who was threatened if she didn’t pay a higher price than she should have done for her tyre to be fixed on her bike. The guy said he’d slash her tires and get his mafia friends around.
If something gets heated in Bali, or anywhere while traveling really, just pay the extra.
It’s not worth it.
In that example, with my friend, the difference in price was the equivalent of $3. It’s not worth any form of altercation for $3 but it is worth keeping in mind that in places with less hard and fast rules a lot of the time what is a comparatively small amount of money will get you out of the situation.
Pay it, protect yourself and get out of the situation.
Travel Insurance/Medical Cover
If you’re from somewhere, like Australia or the UK, where healthcare is free it’s all too easy to assume that travel insurance is just to projet your belongings if they were lost or stolen and therefore something that you can skip if you can’t be bothered to shell out the extra money.
The reality of the matter, however, is the main reason you should want and need travel insurance, is in case of a medical emergency. That could be because of a scooter accident (as above although almost no policies will cover you unless you have a full valid motorbike license back home). It could be the unfortunate consequence of attempted petty theft. Or it could be sheer bad luck and the result of a medical condition that you never knew about suddenly coming on or a tropical disease that needs urgent care.
If that happens you really want to have travel insurance. Accidents happen, as do sudden illnesses.
Bali is also a small island.
So whilst they have some wonderful (and very expensive hospitals there) there isn’t always the range of expertise on the island that might be needed for your specific case. Having travel insurance that includes medivac could save your life in that instance.
There are two active volcanoes on the island of Bali, Mount Agung and Mount Batur.
I have been in Bali several years now and during that time Mount Agung has been significantly active a number of times.
There has been high enough activity for it to get to level IV, red alert, status and for the surrounding area of Mount Agung to be evacuated.
At the time the media reported the eruptions as if the whole of the island of Bali was being evacuated which is just plainly untrue (I’ll give you that one as #fakenews Trump :-p)
What actually happened was that approximately 75,000 people were evacuated from the area 12km from the volcano’s summit making the evacuation zone about 3-5km from the base of the volcano itself. Although Bali is a realively small tropical island this ain’t no Koh Phi Phi in Thailand where you can walk from one side to the other in 30 minutes.
Bali is 5,780 km². 145km in length.
There’s quite a lot of Bali that isn’t in that 12km zone.
Seminyak, for example, is 75 km from Agung. That doesn’t mean the volcano erupting doesn’t come without risks even if you’re staying further away however. The two main ones being:
1. Risk of getting stuck in Bali
Ash from volcanos does travel long distances however and it is dangerous for air travel.
I have personally experienced Bali airport having been closed four times due to volcanic eruptions, one of which trapped me outside of the island in Timor and two of the others that weren’t even caused by volcanos in Bali (Lombok and Java have their own fair share of rather big volcanos).
That means when deciding to come to Bali at any time, but particularly if there has been recent volcanic activity, it’s worth considering how much of a problem for you it would be if you were to get stuck in Bali.
It is still technically possible to leave Bali if the volcano is errupting, it just involves a very long car ride and short boat over to Java where you can fly from another airport there.
2. Personal Risk From the Ash Cloud Falling
If the volcano erupts while you’re in Bali even if you’re staying as far away as Canggu, Seminyak or Kuta the ash cloud could still end up dropping where you are.
Ash travels along way.
Where it lands would just depend on wind direction.
If the ash cloud falls where you’re staying that would, of course, affect you and come with some personal risk.
There is a great resource here as to what to do in the event of an ash cloud falling where you are . The key things being to wear a carbon filter facemask and cover yourself head to toe if going outside. It is recommended to stay inside where possible whilst the full brunt of the cloud is going strong.
If an ash cloud falls in the area of Bali that you’re staying, therefore, it would likely disrupt your holiday/travels but it’s unlikely to kill you.
Those who have respiratory problems or health conditions would be advised to take extra precautions. If you’re in any doubt as to whether this includes you, go see a medical professional to make sure you’re clear on the facts.
Bali hit the newspaper headlines in recent years when there was an earthquake that caused significant destruction to both Lombok and the Gili islands. There were a number of earthquakes around that time, and there have been a number since.
Bali is on the pacific ring on fire which is an area with significant tectonic and volcanic activity. So actually it should come as no surprise that it is a high-risk area for earthquakes.
Tropical paradise comes with a risk of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes in this part of the world.
The media at the time of the big earthquakes of course misrepresented things as well focusing on the earthquakes in Bali as if there had been significant destruction here. There hadn’t been.
The media was throwing Bali into their headlines because it’s such a popular tourist destination and they wouldn’t be able to create such sensationalist news articles if they just mentioned an island hardly anyone has heard of.
Bali packs a much bigger punch for them.
But those big earthquakes didn’t happen in Bali. The quakes were felt in Bali, a lot, but they didn’t happen here.
There were even some buildings and structures that were damaged here in Bali, like the Galeria shopping mall parking area that’s shown in the image below, but nothing happened that could be described as anything more than “minor damage” here and no one was injured.
That said earthquakes and volcanic eruptions do happen a lot in this part of the world. Since those larger earthquakes in Lombok and Gili Trawangan, there was a large earthquake that caused a devastating tsunami in Sulawesi, Indonesia, and there have been a number of smaller earthquakes in and around Bali as well.
Most tropical climates come with significant risks of adverse weather conditions in one form or another. I can’t tell you that everything will be fine just because there hasn’t been a big earthquake for a while in Bali.
Therefore it’s best to travel aware of the fact that if you’d like to visit this region of the world there is no way to avoid the risk of Earthquakes.
What to do if there is an earthquake
Listen to your intuition if anything does happen and be overally cautious.
In Sulawesi, they raised a Tsunami warning just after the earthquake and then dropped it before the Tsunami hit. If you’re worried about an aftershock or Tsunami just get yourself to safety.
In terms of Bali beaches to avoid if there was a Tsunami warning here, Seminyak has an alarm system as it’s quite high risk. As you head further up north to Canggu and Echo beach they’re deemed to be more naturally protected from Tsumais due to their location in Bali.
On the East Coast, Nusa Dua is also in a high-risk area.
What precautions should you take if earthquakes hit while you’re in Bali?
The first would be to be aware of what type of structure you’re dealing with and therefore know what you should do in the event of another large quake.
Someone who worked for 15 years coordinating fireman in emergencies caused by earthquakes posted in one of the community groups here explaining that most of the buildings in Bali are classed as static buildings since they are made with bricks and have little reinforcement, if any, with things like iron beams.
In most western cities the buildings are instead classed as hyperstatic since they are made with heavy iron beams, have strong load-bearing walls and are usually tall. Some of the large hotels in Bali would possibly classify as those but most smaller buildings fall into this first category of static.
The usual, advice to find a doorway, or a table, to get under is therefore not correct when dealing with buildings like this.
Instead, the aim when dealing with a static building, should be to get outside and into an open space as quickly as possible.
If you’re staying a few stories up in a hotel obviously that’s not possible but, like I said, the larger buildings are more likely to be hyperstatic ones so then the thing to do would be to get under a table or doorframe and protect your head (personally, if I had to do this one, I’d be putting my motorbike helmet on too for extra protection on my head).
But if you’re only a couple of stories up much better to get outside.
If you happen to be in Bali at a time where there is higher tectonic activity then it’s a good idea to keep a small bag by the door with essentials your door ready to go just in case.
This is not fear-mongering but just smart.
Who knows what will happen and there’s no harm in being prepared.
In that backpack it would be advisable to pack:
- Warm clothes
- A torch
- Trainers (closed-toe shoes are advised as the risk of injury from rubble would be greater from flipflops)
- A battery pack for your phone
- Motorbike key (if you have one)
For those of you coming to Bali on holiday or traveling you’re probably looking at this going:
“Oh heeeeeeeeeeeeeell no, I don’t want to be going somewhere that I need to have an emergency backpack by the door”
But the thing is you don’t need to have an emergency bag. You’lll probably never use this backpack at all. But if there have been a couple of earthquakes while you’ve been in Bali already, you might as well have it there “just in case”.
What does being in an earthquake feel like?
If you’ve never been in an earthquake before the Richter scale readings are probably not so helpful. They sound scary and terrifying but don’t actually tell you what it would feel like, and what would happen, if you were there.
When the big earthquakes hit Bali before, the walls of my house literally swayed back and forward as did my bed. It’s a bit disconcerting when the whole of your house moves.
The second big earthquake I was actually just landing back in Bali at the time. Friends who were at their homes said it was by far the worst one they’d ever felt with walls and windows shaking and water literally jumping up out of the pool. The aftershocks then continued to make the ground move for a long while after.
I’ve been driving my scooter going down the motorway before to have the whole of the road start moving from a quake too.
How these feel and the effects would obviously be worse if you were at the epicenter of the earthquakes like when the large one hit Lombok. In Bali buildings shook and it was scary but it was not directly hit and hasn’t been for a long time.
For reference the last earthquake that was felt this strongly and caused damage to Bali was in 2011.
Please note in relation to all of this, I am no volcanologist and neither am I a seismologist. All I am is someone who’s been in Bali a long time and can impart my experience of what these things have been like first hand, without any of the exaggerations of the media, and the precautions I’ve taken.
I’m sorry I know they’re really cute but you should be afraid of monkeys. Yeah, I promised no fear-mongering, but this isn’t. Monkeys’ are properly dangerous.
How dangerous the moneys are to you will depend on where you are. In a lot of places monkeys have quite calm, reserved natures like in Koh Phi Phi in Thailand. But in most of the popular tourist spots in Bali, they have anything but.
The main places to see monkeys in Bali are monkey forest in Ubud, Uluwatu temple, and at most of the beaches around the Bukit area like Green Bowl.
I know people who have been bitten by monkeys at the Ubud Monkey Forest. I’ve personally had a monkey leap-frog across my back to try to steal a friend’s phone then growl at us from a wall and had one in Green Bowl Beach throw a rock at our heads off the cliff!!
Rogue objects flying at you, or even theft of your possessions, isn’t the reason I warn again them though. I warn against them because if you get bitten by a monkey rabies is the least of your worries.
And rabies is already a big deal.
Monkeys can, and frequently do carry a lot more diseases than just rabies though so if you get bitten you will have to have about 6 months to a year’s worth of treatment and if you don’t have travel insurance and medical back home it will cost you thousands.
Bit of a hefty price to pay just to have a monkey try to steal all your stuff.
If you’re from Australia you’ll probably have heard the scare stories of people coming across for Schoolies (that’s end of school holidays at 18 years old to the rest of us) and going blind from drinking spirits in Bali, or even dying.
Unfortunately, these are not just stories made to curb the post-exam teenage boozing of the Aussies. The threat is real.
Import spirits and wine are very expensive in Bali. Given how most spirits are sold it makes it very easy for the original liquids to be swapped out with counterfeit spirits. This is something people are warned of for full moon in Thailand too. Even if you can see a legitimate bottle that doesn’t mean the liquid inside is the original. Terrifyingly the liquid which the spirits are replaced with is sometimes just pure ethanol.
Drinking pure ethanol can kill you and it has made a lot of people over the years go blind or become seriously ill.
There’s no real way to know if the booze you’re drinking in Bali is legit or not, however. I mean the price can give you an indication. If it’s 20,000 IDR ($1.50 USD) for a double and mixer it’s probably not legit but even higher-end establishments have been busted for serving fake liquor over the years.
The only way to really be safe in your alcohol consumption is to drink beer in Bali. Or wine. But wine is pricy for what it is, i.e. to get a bottle that’s just about ok to drink will set you back 250,000 IDR ($18 USD). It ain’t France.
As I mentioned in relation to Monkeys rabies is a serious infection that needs significant treatment if you’re exposed to it.
There are a lot of stray dogs in Bali. And most of them are really cute.
They might still have rabies though, no matter how cute they are. If you are bitten by a stray dog you should seek urgent medical care.
Rabies treatment isn’t cheap, quick or easy to treat even if you’ve had your vaccination. The rabies vaccination basically buys you time. It gives you an extra 24 hours to get the urgent medical care you’ll need if you’ve been infected with the virus. It doesn’t stop you from getting rabies.
The best safety tip for avoiding this one in Bali really, therefore, is to avoid petting stray dogs, as much as is reasonably possible.
I mean if they look like this guy I get it.
But just try.
Try your hardest.
That said you might come across dogs that are injured and need first aid. If you know how to safely administer first aid to dogs go ahead otherwise you’d probably be best calling a local vet to help.
So, It Is or Isn’t Safe To Go To Bali Right Now?
It is just as safe to visit Bali right now, or not, as it always is. If a volcano starts erupting or earthquakes hitting I’ll update this but that won’t actually make it really any more safe or unsafe to visit.
Bali will still be the same.
As touched on above your risk of getting stuck on the island will be higher if Mount Agung is erupting. Therefore, if you have to be back to work on a certain date Bali then wouldn’t be safe for you to visit at that time. It wont mean your life is in danger but your finances might be!
If you were visiting the Gili island and there was another earthquake or even bad weather that makes the waves pick up, that could also cause you to be stuck in Bali.
At least if you were stuck on the main island you could take a boat over to Java and then a coach to Jakarta to fly home from there if you absolutely had to leave by a set date.
If you don’t however, and took my advice to get travel insurance, well enjoy your extended holiday.
Being on the Gili islands if there is a natural disaster, or just adverse weather, is harder as the only way off is via boats that are depended on the conditions of the sea.
If it’s too choppy they can’t go and believe me you don’t want them to go when it’s too choppy.
Those boats rides are bumpy enough as it is on an average day.
With bigs waves, you’re straight up risking your life.
For that reason if you do go to the Gili’s it’s always advised that you return to the bigger island that you will fly out of at least a day or two in advance so as not to risk getting stuck.
Wait, So What Does This Mean for My Trip? Is Bali Safe? Should I Still Go To Bali?
As you can see above it both is and isn’t safe to travel to Bali, at the moment or ever.
There is a higher amount of crime in Bali than there is on a lot of neighboring islands, such as always is the case where there’s a large disparity between wealth in a small area/
When there are people earning 1,000,000 IDR a month living next to people who are spending that and more in a day staying in nice villas and hotels crime is almost always the by-product.
I personally, however, wouldn’t be put off by the crime or the risk of natural disasters.
I have witnessed a lot of both over the years in Bali and if you heed the advice above with regard to yourself and your possessions the former shouldn’t bother you.
I don’t walk down dark roads on my own in Bali, I always cover up on my way home, don’t flash my wealth (that includes phones and bags) or ever forget that at some point someone could be looking at me like a target.
That doesn’t make me immune.
I may still have my possessions stolen at some point, or worse, but the only thing we can really do in this world in be careful and get on with our lives.
Otherwise we’d just stay at home and go nowhere.
You will still be able to have a great time traveling around Bali independently in spite of all of this. I have.
As for natural disasters, how comfortable you are with the risk of natural disasters, earthquakes and tsunamis is a personal decision that you have to make for yourself.
All I will say is that having been here during a number for these happening I’ve never personally myself felt there was enough of a threat to my life in those moments to need to leave.
And if you do go to Bali just after an earthquake or volcano has hit? Take supplies. Take warm clothes for the people who might need them or extra gas masks for people who might be dealing with the ash or hygiene supplies for those excavated.
There’s a lot of good you can do by still continuing with your travels or holiday even directly after such an event.
So, is it safe to travel to Bali right now? It’s no less safe than it usually would be. Don’t let the fear-mongering media put you off.
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