If your first experience of being in Bali is trying to get transport from Denpasar Airport to Seminyak, then be prepared. The most common complaint I hear from friends, family and fellow travellers is how much of a nightmare it is trying to arrange transport at the airport to Seminyak after a long flight. Exiting customs into the arrivals hall can be a daunting experience. The wall of taxi drivers and touts can be really confronting, even for regular visitors, but getting a ride to your destination needn’t be stressful.
You have three options for getting to where you need to go. The first is to have a private driver and car waiting for you. The second is to rely on the transport service from your hotel or villa. The third is to try and negotiate with one of the waiting taxi touts. There is no shortage of them, and they can smell hesitation or weakness in an arriving tourist, so be careful if you choose to go the make-it-up-as-you-go-along route.
Here are my expert tips for getting from Bali airport to your destination with as little friction as possible.
1. The Taxi Booking Kiosks are Hit and Miss
You can try the new taxi booking kiosks located just outside the customs exit on the way to the arrivals hall. In my experience, this is mostly a poor experience because all it’s really doing is issuing a ticket and then the local airport transport cartel simply goes and gets a driver from the arrivals hall gates anyway.
This means all that it really does is set the price without assuring that you will get a reliable driver who may or may not hit you up for “extra” charges like stopping for fuel or being harassed into booking a day tour with them.
I’m not saying this to promote my own booking service — quite the reverse — the only reason I offer a booking service is because the options at the airport are so appallingly unreliable.
If it were reasonably priced, reliable and hassle-free I’d recommend it in a heartbeat. But it’s not, so I don’t.
2. Download WhatsApp
Seriously, do it now. WhatsApp is the standard communications platform for over 1 billion people and without doubt, is used by everyone in Bali — and I mean everyone! WhatsApp allows you to securely text and call over either wifi or mobile data.
If you read the previous post on arriving at Bali airport you may already have bought a local SIM, so using WhatsApp to communicate with your driver shouldn’t be a problem.
Considering there is both public wifi available and telco outlets in the arrivals hall there’s no excuse for being stranded and not being able to communicate with your transfer driver or host.
If you have been to Bali before, you may have the contact number of your favourite driver. Make sure that everything is absolutely crystal clear beforehand and confirm using WhatsApp before your flight departs.
I’ve met a lot of returning holiday-makers who were unexpectedly stranded at the airport after their “good mate” Ketut failed to show up because he had a better offer elsewhere.
3. Forget using Uber or Grab
For several years Uber tried to get a foothold in Asia, particularly in China and Indonesia. Right or wrong they gave up and sold out, and in Indonesia’s case, they sold to Grab (a very similar ride-sharing service).
Uber no longer exists in Indonesia, and they left a bitter legacy for drivers, customers and ride-sharing apps in general. Breaking the stranglehold of transport “organisations” in Bali, especially at the airport, was a high-stakes poker game for all the companies involved.
But since Uber folded the authorities have exerted a significant amount of pressure on the local transport providers to lower the chaos of arriving at Denpasar Airport and friction for incoming passengers.
The instances of arriving tourists being fleeced by airport “taxi” drivers have decreased, but by no means has been resolved. You can’t get an Uber, and I very much recommend you don’t try for a Grab (or another ride-sharing app) due to the risks posed to both the driver and their passengers as they are prohibited from the airport.
Book an airport transfer instead.
4. Hotel or villa transport is already provided
Many hotels and villas in Seminyak and elsewhere in Bali provide a transfer service, with varying degrees of the quality of communication on how to connect with your driver. For the guests staying at one of my villas, I send detailed instructions on how to connect with your driver at the airport a week before arrival.
I also include their WhatsApp number, so if there are any problems finding them you have a number to connect with. If you have your driver’s number, the best thing to do is get to where you think you need to be and send a message. And the message should be “I am here” with a selfie attached (a photo of you and your surroundings).
While many drivers have excellent spoken English (or insert your native language here) they often don’t have excellent written comprehension (no offence intended, my written Bahasa isn’t too good either).
So sending a photo with an identifiable background is the best help you can give someone looking for you.
If your accommodation has sent a driver but no instructions on where to meet, the next best way to connect with him is to write in large letters on a piece of paper the name of your accommodation and slowly walk along the barrier. Your driver has a better chance of spotting you than you do of picking out your name or that of the accommodation from the carnage.
The perfect start to our holiday!!
We were so thankful we planned ahead and booked your driver. Immigration took ages and we were hot and sweaty and the kids were getting tired when we got through, so it was such a welcome relief that we saw Putu exactly where you instructed us to meet him. So many taxi drivers yelling for our attention!!! If we didn't have your advice arriving would have been a disaster. Thank you so much Michael. You're the best!!!
5. Book an airport transfer online
Be met on arrival by one of my English-speaking drivers and receive comprehensive, detailed instructions on navigating the airport and making contact with your personal driver straight after booking.
I have personally vetted all the drivers I work with. They text me when they arrive at the airport, after they collect you on arrival, and again when you have been dropped off. I also email you his name, profile photo, vehicle photo and phone number to ensure your safety and comfort.
Of all the services that I decided to offer, airport transfers have by far the highest satisfaction rate with almost all guests who book an airport transfer deciding to book a private car and driver for tours with me because of the friction-free experience of being escorted through the wall of taxi touts straight to a private car in the multi-level car park connected to Bali Airport was worth its weight in gold — especially after a long flight and the stress of getting through Bali airport and the immigration queue.
This is, in my experience, the only sure-fire way to avoid the stress of landing in a humid, foreign culture after a long flight and facing the hustle and bustle of Bali airport.
6. Make your own way
The ad-hoc way is not nearly as pleasant and is much more stressful. Getting a taxi driver won’t be a problem — but negotiating a price from the mass of touts will be. Touts are simply ringers who will hook a traveller into agreeing to take a taxi (really a private car) and then hand you off to a driver (for a fee of course).
I find it’s a bad idea to let anyone take your luggage. Along with throngs of taxi drivers are porters looking to make money by pushing your trolley or carrying your bags to wherever your taxi is — or even worse will steer you towards one of the more expensive options. You are then obliged to pay them a “porter fee”.
They can be quick to take offence no matter how much you “tip” them and will undoubtedly ask for more. The obvious issue you will likely face is that you don’t have “small money” (Rp 2, 5, 10 and 20k banknotes). This means you either don’t have local currency to pay and will be fumbling for the $50 note in your wallet or just used the ATM inside the airport and are flush with a wad of crisp Rp100k notes.
You must then engage with one or more of the waiting throng of drivers looking for a valuable, fresh-off-the-plane “taxi” fare. While virtually everyone will purport to be a taxi driver, in reality, they will steer you towards a private car, often with a different driver from the one you just negotiated with, that costs more than taking a real taxi with the meter on.
My best advice if you reach this point is to be specific about where you want to go and how much you are willing to pay. While the market rate is fluid depending on the time of day and how busy the arrivals schedule is, don’t pay more than IDR300k to Kuta, 350K to Seminyak or 450k to Ubud, Canggu, Nusa Dua or Uluwatu. And yes these are relatively generous suggestions, and yes you can probably negotiate cheaper, but I’m a firm believer in paying for what you get — and in this case, you’re tired and just want to get to your lodgings, so these are indicative amounts of the higher end of what you should pay.
They can be quite aggressive, so be careful not to be pushed around, and keep calm and remain friendly at all times. Getting into a heated argument with a local taxi tout in the humid, crowded confines of Bali airport is not a great way to start your holiday.
And never forget — once you get to your destination you will be undoubtedly asked for more than the previously negotiated rate. So do yourself and your fellow travellers a favour and make the effort to arrange a private car and driver before you leave.
7. An airport hack for solo or couple travellers
If travelling solo or as a couple, I have an airport hack worth trying. Take the elevator, located on the left after the first convenience store past the telecom booths to the 3rd floor where departures are dropping off other tourists.
You can often wave down a Bluebird Taxi (the only kind you should ever use) and get him to take you to your destination using the meter. From the airport to Sunset Point on Sunset Rd in Seminyak will cost around IDR80k using the meter as an example.
This isn’t such a great idea if your destination is further away, like Canggu or Ubud for example. In that case, you are better off with pre-arranged transport or trying to negotiate with the mass of waiting driver touts that are hanging out on the 2nd level looking out for people just like you.
And never underestimate the sheer tenacity of touts. Even when I was arriving at Bali Airport on a sometimes weekly schedule, and had my driver pick me up every time, the same touts would still harass me relentlessly, even though we were on a first-name basis.
8. Book using the transport desks at the airport
Bali airport recently (in 2019, before Covid) allowed a few transport providers to operate inside the airport, located just outside the customs exit after the banks and before the intimidating arrivals hall with the lines of waiting drivers and touts.
The last time I came through I used this service just to experience it myself. I paid IDR 400k for a “taxi”, which was in reality just a private driver waiting outside that the sellers had a deal with. I spoke to him on the way home to Seminyak and he told me they just take the money from the traveller and essentially hired him or a much cheaper rate.
The car wasn’t in great condition, didn’t smell too good and the driver’s English was a bit hit and miss. Even though I spoke to him in Bahasa and clearly knew where I wanted to go, he took an indirect route and still tried to pressure me into a generous “tip” when I arrived home.
Other travellers may have a different experience, but my main point is that it lacks consistency and quality for the amount paid. I’m not writing this simply to promote my own airport transfer service (my reviews speak for themselves) but as an honest appraisal of sub-standard service.
So there you have it. If you haven’t already, you may want to read my post on getting through Bali Airport on arrival, updated for 2022. If you have an experience you wish to share, please leave a comment below.
Safe travels, Michael