Last updated: December 9th, 2018
If your first experience of being in Bali is trying to get transport from the airport to your destination, 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 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’s my expert tips for getting from the Bali airport to your destination with as little friction as possible.
1. 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 chapter 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.
2. Forget using Uber.
For several years Uber tried to get a foothold in Asia, particularly 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 strangle-hold 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 transportation 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 has 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 other ride-sharing app) due to the risks posed to both the driver and their passengers.
Organise a private driver instead, either through your accommodation or via contacts.
3. Hotel or villa transport is already provided.
Many hotels and villas 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 humber, 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 surroundings).
While many drivers have excellent spoken English (or insert your native language here) they often don’t have excellent written comprehension (no offense 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 accomodation from the carnage.
4. Organise a private car and driver.
This is your easiest and most preferred option by far. When I have guests arriving I send a private car and driver, and a week before they arrive I also send detailed, step by step instructions on where to connect with the driver, how to identify him (often with a photo) and his phone number (and I give my driver your number too).
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.
If you have been to Bali before, you may have the contact number for 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.
5. Make your own way.
The ad-hoc way is not nearly as pleasant and much more stressful. Getting a taxi driver won’t be a problem, but negotiating a price will be.
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” (ID2, 5, 10 and 20k bank notes). Which means you either don’t have local currency to pay and will be fumbling for the $50 note in your
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 advise 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 IDR100k to Kuta, 150K to Seminyak or 300k 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.