A Sustainable Guide to Traveling Bali

Sustainable travel is important to consider when traveling to Bali. This is due to the rising popularity in tourism and the need for preserving Bali’s natural beauty.

Popular for its lush landscapes, picturesque beaches, vibrant culture, and rich spiritual heritage; Bali has slowly become one of the biggest destinations for tourism today. Many young travelers and backpackers are also attracted to the general affordability of travel to the Indonesian island, and it’s not uncommon to see many young tourists roaming the streets of Bali. 

However, it is extremely important that we as travelers are always aware of how we are leaving our mark on the places we visit. Beyond its natural beauty, Bali has been home to generations of locals and native wildlife for centuries before the tourism boom. 

Infographic detailing the ways to make your Bali trip more sustainable

The impacts of tourism in Bali have already transformed many parts of the island, some for the better, but some for the worse. 

As a result of a high influx of visitors, some prominent environmental concerns include:

  1. Plastic Pollution: Single-use plastics and inadequate waste management systems affect not only the land but also the marine ecosystems that surround the island.
  2. Water Pollution: Improper disposal of waste like plastic damages sewage systems, which can lead to the contamination of rivers and coastal waters
  3. Overfishing: Though it is an issue that is prominent in nearly all seas worldwide, the demand for seafood from tourists has led to overfishing of Balinese waters, threatening marine ecosystems and local fishermen
  4. Deforestation: The demand for increased infrastructure and accommodation has led to deforestation that disrupts local ecosystems- this can also lead to loss of biodiversity in certain native ecosystems
  5. Air, noise, and light pollution: The growing number of vehicles and urbanization efforts not only leads to traffic congestion (a widely-known concern of traveling within the island) but also increases air, noise, and light pollution that disrupts not only tourists and locals, but also natural habitats for wildlife

Why Travel Sustainably?

Bali’s rich biodiversity consists of the tropical jungle and all of the inhabitants of it, as well as the plentiful marine ecosystems consisting of coral reefs and diverse marine life such as manta rays and sharks.

There is also a great cultural heritage associated with Bali’s roots, as many will notice as they travel further from the tourism-ruled areas of the country to the simpler outskirts. 

Bali’s primary religion is Hinduism, while the rest of Indonesia identifies almost completely as Islamic. You will notice the intricate temples and other religious representations along the winding roads of the island, and you may be enticed to attend a traditional dance ceremony- with one of the most popular being at Ubud Palace.

Two Balinese dancers performing at a traditional dance ceremony
A moment from a traditional Balinese dance ceremony.

Nonetheless, the rise of tourism is consistent with growing infrastructure and also pollution, all of which are having a negative impact on Bali’s environment and communities. 

Tourism problems in Bali have become apparent with the traffic congestion and heavy plastic waste that many visitors and locals have been subjected to. 

Despite this, young travelers have the chance to make a positive difference through sustainable tourism in Bali. Being conscious of the impact of tourism on Bali and practicing eco-tourism can allow you to visit Bali without contributing to the negative effects of mass tourism. 

  1. 1. Sustainable Accommodation Options

With a growing stress on eco-friendly accommodation on the island, many hotels, lodgings, and hostels have taken measures to contribute to a more environmentally conscious experience.

Naturally, staying in hostels is generally more eco-friendly, as sharing accommodation uses less energy. According to a recent study completed in 2020 by Censuswide, Hostelworld is also driving change in the accommodation industry by supporting the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative.

However, not everyone is comfortable with staying in hostels, so there are other hotels and lodges that make real efforts toward eco-friendly practices.

Some top eco-contributors within popular parts of Bali include:

There are also several platforms that will be helpful in finding sustainable accommodation, such as through ecohotels.com. Choose from over 100,000 hotels committed to sustainability with certifications like Green Key Global, which is designed to recognize hotels and lodging who are committed to improving their environmental performance.

Booking.com also has a sustainable travel filter that has three levels, where more leaves on the scale relate to more efforts in sustainability. 

2. Explore Responsibly

Along with choosing eco-friendly places to stay, making conscious efforts to explore responsibly through Bali is important.

Overhead view of a sustainable Bali villa
A stunning Bali villa from above

“Leave No Trace” is a set of principles designed for minimizing the impact we leave on natural environments when exploring them. The seven designated principles consist of planning ahead, disposing of waste properly, respecting wildlife and more.

It’s important to practice these principles on hikes and beaches, as well as being conscious of it on tours, whether they’re self-guided or with a tour guide.

It’s important to support sustainable experiences in Bali, and some great choices to keep your exploration responsible include:

Support a local green village made entirely of bamboo; you can visit the bamboo factory here or stay in one of the bamboo villas. Courses on model making (architecture with bamboo), bamboo joinery, and rindik instrument construction are also available here.

Trash Hero Canggu is a beach cleanup volunteer experience, meeting every weekend on various beaches of Canggu to pick up and dispose properly of trash on the beach. This organization works with with local schools, businesses, and any volunteers willing to take on the challenge- you can contact them through their facebook page!

Shedding light on the current state of Bali’s coral reefs and the imminent threats that they face, this coral rehabilitation experience will train you on the construction of artificial reef structures.

3. Supporting Local Communities

Choosing local warungs is a great way not only to support local businesses, but also to save money as they are a lot cheaper than western restaurants. Many of these eateries will also offer vegetarian/vegan options, and you can consider adopting one of these diets for your trip if you don’t already. Eating meatless and vegan is one of the best things you can do for the environment.

Support local vendors as an alternative to the overpriced shops targeted to tourists that are most commonly found in areas like Seminyak or Canggu. The Ubud Art Market is a popular choice not only for its low prices, but the diverse finds that represent the rich culture of Bali. You may also find fresh food and clothing at pop up stands throughout the island.

Experience a cultural exchange through day trips like a traditional cooking class, where you’ll learn about and engage in traditional Balinese practices.

You can also research opportunities for work exchange through Worldpackers, and receive free accommodation and sometimes meals for a set amount of work each day. 

4. Eco-friendly Transport

A classic scooter parked along a street in Bali
Scooters are the main form of transportation around Bali

Along with the aforementioned cycling tours, walking tours are also a great way to explore sustainably and remain active on your vacation. There are several free walking tours available, or just set off on your own!

Motorbikes are the most popular form of transportation throughout the island, and traveling by scooter has minimal environmental impact compared to cars. Otherwise, if you have luggage that cannot be transported by scooter, the next best option is by ride-sharing with other travelers. 

You can typically find people to carpool with at your accommodation, and chats like those used in the Hostelworld app allows you to request others to ride with.

Additionally, hiring rideshare drivers for day tours has several benefits:

  • Customizable tour options: Drivers are very flexible with their tours and you can create an itinerary based on your interests. You can find a great Ubud itinerary here.
  • Off-the-beaten-path access: Only the best spots are known by locals, and you can ask your driver to bring you to less touristy spots.
  • Hourly rate: Instead of purchasing rides to and from all of the attractions you wish to visit, hired drivers may charge at an hourly rate. This is a great Bali budget travel tip and if you split the ride with friends, you can save even more.
  • Balinese cultural exchange: Connecting with a Balinese local allows you to understand the culture directly and get to know someone who knows Bali like no other!

5. Beyond the Tourist Trail

Go off the beaten path and discover lesser known attractions of the culture-filled island. There are a multitude of ways to find hidden gems in Bali, some of the most popular being recommendations from locals, online forums like Reddit or TripAdvisor, or social media platforms.

One of the best hidden gem tours in Bali is this one, touring several temples and local villages throughout the central and eastern regions of the island.

A Balinese temple surrounded by a small pond
Discover undefeated views like this one off of the tourist trail

Strive for deeper cultural exchange through homestays with local families and cultural workshops that will foster a deeper understanding of local culture. 

You can also consider contributing to community-based tourism initiatives like this program that will connect you with the history and Balinese way of life in an experience free of the tourists.

Though you may also want to tour the more popular attractions that Bali has to offer, it’s important to also know what to avoid.

Specifically, any experience that may exploit animals for profit, like those at the Bali Zoo, should be avoided at all costs. Mud baths and other experiences with elephants, photographs with animals such as tigers and orangutans, and swimming with dolphins are just a few examples of unethical animal experiences.

The conditions that these animals are forced to live in are less than favorable, and sustainable tourism also means not supporting organizations that run these types of entertainment for profit. 

Avoiding plastic use and waste altogether is another conscious effort that you can make to prevent from contributing to the Balinese trash pollution. Since there are not many effective waste management systems in place on the island, the best way to combat this is to avoid single use plastics like straws and water bottles, and avoid waste whenever possible.

This may seem dangerous as drinking the tap water in Bali is not recommended, however you can combat this by using products like the LifeStraw or Brita filtered water bottle

Finally, many coral reefs suffer from the harmful effects of sunscreen used when snorkeling or diving around Bali. Invest in a reef-safe sunscreen to avoid damaging the marine ecosystems further. 
By adopting these sustainable practices, you not only leave a positive impact on this beautiful island but also become a mindful traveler who cares for the environment and respects local communities. 

Through the conscious efforts of choosing accommodation, activities, and transportation with the environment in mind; along with connecting with local communities and getting off-the-beaten-path, you are committed to keeping Bali beautiful for years to come. 

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