It’s no secret that Bali is paradise. Travelers have been flocking to the Indonesian island for decades, and sadly they’ve left their mark. Last year 7 million foreigners visited the blissful isle. Mass tourism on the Indonesian island has turned Seminyak in Kuta, the southernmost area of Bali, into a westernized beach town that’s easily mistakable for Santa Monica, California, or Ibiza, Spain. Local culture, traditions, cuisine, and small businesses have been pushed out of the area by foreigners. Many travelers I’ve met tell me that it’s impossible to be a responsible traveler in Bali. I wholeheartedly disagree. Instead of being a part of the problem, be a part of the solution. There are so many hidden gems to discover in Bali. Here’s my Bali responsible travel bucket list!
The basic foundation of responsible travel is to encourage visitors to make conscious decisions to conserve the environment, respect cultural norms, comply with local laws, avoid unethical animal experiences, never exploit local people, reduce waste, and support local businesses by being mindful of where you stay, eat, explore, and shop.
To create a customized responsible travel itinerary for Bali I recommend booking a tour with social enterprise, Better Places Travel. The international responsible tourism operator works with local travel experts to craft unique tailor-made journeys that benefit the local community and environment. Unlike other tour operators that claim to be responsible by offering one portion of a trip that benefits locals Better Places Travel is fully ethical in all aspects of their itineraries. There’s no easier way to travel in an authentic way and ensure that your trip is entirely ethical. Their extensive code of conduct explains exactly how they’re about to offer unforgettable trips that are entirely sustainable.
Based on your budget for your Bali adventure Better Places Travel can create an itinerary for you that can help you cross off all of these Bali responsible travel bucket list items. Some of their favorite Bali experiences are spending the night on a remote island, exploring temples in Ubud, learning about local herbs, and exploring the island on a pedal bicycle.
GO SWIMMING WITH WILD SEA TURTLES
Bali and the surrounding islands are located in the Coral Triangle and ripe with lush reef and colorful marine life. Sea turtles live here in abundance and are especially easy to spot in Bali’s Nusa Islands and Lombok’s Gili Islands. They like to feed on the wall of the reef where the island drops off into the sea. Fortunately, the reef wall is usually located within swimming distance from the shore so there’s no need to book a snorkeling tour. Marine tourism has become detrimental in Bali as boats pollute the water, anchors can break vulnerable coral, and large groups of snorkelers can overwhelm wild sea life.
A more responsible way to swim with sea turtles that won’t damage the ecosystem is to grab a snorkel and mask then swim out towards the coral reef gardens. If the water is flat you really won’t need to wear flippers that could damage coral if you accidentally kick it during low tide. Be sure not to touch anything–coral, fish, or turtles. Ultra clear water makes it possible to witness sea turtles from a safe distance. You don’t need to be close to experience the magic of witnessing the grace of a wild sea turtle. Bring an underwater GoPro and an extra long selfie stick so that you won’t disturb the reptile by getting too close as you capture photos and videos. Be sure to only wear mineral sunblock whenever you go in the ocean as most drugstore SPF contains oxybenzone, a toxic chemical which kills coral reef.
LEARN TO COOK BALINESE DISHES
Taking a cooking course while in Bali is an absolute must! To do so in a responsible manner book your lesson with a local family or through a homestay instead of taking a class at a chain hotel. This way you can learn how to prepare mouth-watering Balinese dishes directly from those who use the recipes on a daily basis. What could be more delicious than learning unique family cooking methods directly from the experts? There is an abundance of cooking course in Ubud but I tried my hand at Balinese specialties at Bali Eco Stay and Gili Cooking Classes which were both taught by local chefs and used farm fresh ingredients. My favorite Balinese dish is gado gado (boiled veggies with tempeh and peanut sauce). Other delicious dishes to learn how to make are pepes ikan (banana leaf steamed fish) and bubur injun (coconut cream black rice pudding).
DINE AT RESTAURANTS THAT GIVE BACK
Across Bali there are many restaurants that give back to the community by supporting local charities, pioneering to reduce waste, or giving complimentary hospitality training at-risk children. I adored Bali Eco Deli in Nusa Lembongan–they’re fighting for Bali to be a plastic-free place by collecting plastic bottles and bags as well as providing discounts to customers who recycle plastic at the cafe and free potable water fill-ups for reusable water bottles. Fair Warung Balé is a fantastic cafe in Ubud that’s operated by Fair Future Foundation. The social enterprise gives 100% of profits to the free healthcare project and also trains local young adults between ages 14-22. In Canggu grab a smoothie bowl that’s both healthy and picturesque at Peloton Supershop–the vegan cafe benefits the Leuser Ecosystem through the World Unite foundation.
STAY IN AN ECO-FRIENDLY BUNGALOW
There is an abundance of eco-friendly accommodation options in Bali from the luxurious ALiLa to the Bagus Agro Pelaga farm stay. Better Places Travel loves Bali Eco Stay and I was fortunate enough to stay there for a few days! The BPT Indonesia travel specialist shared with me that “Bali Eco Stay is a lovely place to stay. It’s a real eco-hotel, comfortable enough but not overdone and with a real feel for nature as most rooms are partly open and set in lush greenery.” I couldn’t agree more. Not only is Bali Eco Stay gorgeous but it’s by far the most sustainable place I’ve ever stayed. Better Places Travel also collaborates with Bloo Lagoon, Nick’s Pension, and Adi Assri. Try to spend a few nights in a homestay for a similar experience to that which I had at Sebatu Village. Staying at any of these properties will result in a meaningful and impactful travel experience.
LEARN HOW TO CREATE BALINESE CRAFTS
By staying in locally operated eco-accommodation or homestays you’ll experience authentic daily life in Bali and likely have the chance to learn about and try your hand at Balinese craft making. Crafts are deeply intricate into the Balinese way of life–everyone in each village has a certain task they’re responsible for including many crafts such as making Hindu ceremonial offerings known as Canang Sari, bamboo basket weaving, or even performing music and dance! If these offerings aren’t offered at your accommodation try to book the activity that interests you with locals so that your tourism dollars will fully benefit the community and economy. Other traditional courses to consider are woodworking, kite making, batik courses, dance classes, or practice yoga.
ATTEND A TRADITIONAL HINDU CEREMONY
No trip to Bali would be complete without visit a few sacred Hindu temples. If you’re lucky enough to visit during a ceremony day be sure to follow the local customs which requires everyone who enters the temple to wear Balinese dress. Remember you’re there to observe and keep a respectful distance so you don’t disturb the proceeding. Never walk in front of someone who is praying as they believe it can cut off communications with deities. Some areas of the temple may be closed off for ceremonies and only open to villagers so respect all signage you see and always ask if you aren’t sure whether or not you’re allowed somewhere. Balinese people are so friendly that it’s likely they’ll be thrilled that you’re interested in their tradition and invite you to join in.
My favorite temples in Bali were those in Tampaksiring. Visiting Pura Tirta Empul and partaking in a spiritual cleansing is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Hire a local guide to explain the proper process to you, it’s important to follow this sacred ritual in detail so you don’t offend any worshipers. After your cleansing ceremony ask your guide if they’ll show you how to pray in Balinese style and if you’ve mastered that you may be blessed by a High Priest who will sprinkle more holy water over you after you pray.
Responsible travelers will avoid cockfights in temples. Although cockfights are a cultural norm in Bali and usually reserved for ceremonies they’re still incredible cruel to animals. Better Places Travel arranges for guests to visit Pura Tirta Empul as well as Gunung Kawi Temple and any other temples you’re keen to see.
BAN SINGLE USE PLASTIC WASTE
Did you know that globally only 9% of plastic is recycled? Better Places Travel is committed to helping guests ban plastic from their travels, and lives back at home. Travelers produce huge amounts of waste–on average 30 plastic bottles are used per person on a two-week trip! To combat this they provide their guests with branded Better Places Travel Dopper water bottles to drastically minimize plastic waste. Pack your own cotton tote bag for shopping or pick up a beautiful handwoven bag from one of Bali’s many artisan markets. Refuse plastic straws and carry your own eco-friendly bamboo straw.
In Bali, many hotels, restaurants, and shops participate in the RefillMyBottle program and provide sterile drinking water where you can refill your water bottle for free or a minimal cost. Refill Bali launched in cooperation with Social Impakt. The Social Impakt initiative provides eco-friendly water filters in remote areas and urban centers of Bali to make clean water accessible to all. Although potable water is accessible in most popular tourist destinations in Bali it’s wise to carry an individual water purifier when you travel. SteriPen is a reliable option that’s small enough to fit in a handbag and makes water potable in seconds using ultraviolet light that kills bacteria and viruses.
VISIT LESS-TRAVELED AREAS OF BALI
There is so much more to Bali than the popular areas of Kuta and Ubud. Make your way towards the remote areas to see the untouched nature of Bali and support rural communities through your tourism spending. Nature lovers will want to head to Munduk to chase waterfalls, learn about agriculture, and head to nearby Lovina where they may have the chance to see wild dolphins playing in the waves. There is an abundance of hiking and diving to be done in the northeast of the island from Mount Batur to the deep seas of Amed. The Nusa Islands have been one of my favorite places on earth to visit, and they belong to the Bali archipelago. The trio of islands boasts untouched nature, pristine white-sand beaches, and warm welcoming locals. Bird lovers will want to head to the far west of Bali to the Bali Barat National Park to spot vibrant kingfishers and the critically endangered Bali myna bird.
DISCOVER HOW BALINESE COFFEE IS MADE
Before we get into the decadent process of turning coffee from cherries to caffeine let’s discuss civet or kopi luwak. Responsible travelers will avoid patronizing places that serve the cat coffee. Drinking coffee made from animal droppings may be the most expensive caffeine fix in the world, but it’s also one of the most unethical. Civet cats are small mammals that are mass farmed in cages and forced to eat coffee cherries. This process simply cannot be organic, or ethical, and should be avoided.
Fortunately, a good ole cup of java can be enjoyed at various organic farms in Munduk. Many of the coffee farms in the area put on coffee making demonstrations that teach guests the entire process from growing the cherries, drying the fruit, roasting the seeds, and hand grinding the coffee beans.
AVOID TOURIST ATTRACTIONS WITH ELEPHANTS
Responsible travelers are probably already aware of the damage of elephant riding but may visit elephant “sanctuaries” in Ubud and Denpasar. Usually, these places are a part of solving the problem, not creating the problem. However, this is not the case in Bali. Elephants aren’t indigenous to Bali so any elephant attraction is exploitation. Any elephant that is living on Bali was brought here to work. Sumatran elephants that are truly rescued should be taken back to conservation facilities in their natural habitat on Sumatra. Human interaction is counterintuitive to conservation efforts. Authentic sanctuaries that prioritize the animal’s needs over their own financial gain won’t allow people to touch, feed, bathe, or ride animals.
Before visiting Bali with Better Places Travel or on your own make sure to invest in your health and get a travel insurance plan from World Nomads. With all these adventures ahead you never know what could happen. As they say, prepare for the worst and hope for the best! World Nomads offers travel insurance packages that cover various activities you may partake in while visiting Bali such as motorbike accidents, snorkeling, surfing, and hiking.
Have you had any responsible travel experiences in Bali? Share them with us in the comments!
This article was made possible due to a collaboration with Better Places Travel. This post contains affiliate links. All opinions and photos are my own. Please read the Miss Filatelista disclosure policy for more information.