Bali is the only Hindu-majority province in Indonesia, with 86.9% of the population adhering to Balinese Hinduism. It is renowned for its highly developed arts, including traditional and modern dance, sculpture, painting, leather, metalworking, and music. The Indonesian International Film Festival is held every year in Bali. Other international events that have been held in Bali include Miss World 2013, the 2018 Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group and the 2022 G20 summit. In March 2017, TripAdvisor named Bali as the world’s top destination in its Traveller’s Choice award, which it also earned in January 2021.
The island of Bali lies 3.2 km (2.0 mi) east of Java, and is approximately 8 degrees south of the equator. Bali and Java are separated by the Bali Strait. East to west, the island is approximately 153 km (95 mi) wide and spans approximately 112 km (70 mi) north to south; administratively it covers 5,780 km2 (2,230 sq mi), or 5,577 km2 (2,153 sq mi) without Nusa Penida District, which comprises three small islands off the southeast coast of Bali. Its population density was roughly 747 people/km2 (1,930 people/sq mi) in 2020.
Bali’s central mountains include several peaks over 2,000 metres (6,600 feet) in elevation and active volcanoes such as Mount Batur. The highest is Mount Agung (3,031 m; 9,944 ft), known as the “mother mountain”, which is an active volcano rated as one of the world’s most likely sites for a massive eruption within the next 100 years. In late 2017 Mount Agung started erupting and large numbers of people were evacuated, temporarily closing the island’s airport. Mountains range from centre to the eastern side, with Mount Agung the easternmost peak. Bali’s volcanic nature has contributed to its exceptional fertility and its tall mountain ranges provide the high rainfall that supports the highly productive agriculture sector. South of the mountains is a broad, steadily descending area where most of Bali’s large rice crop is grown. The northern side of the mountains slopes more steeply to the sea and is the main coffee-producing area of the island, along with rice, vegetables, and cattle. The longest river, Ayung River, flows approximately 75 km (47 mi) (see List of rivers of Bali).
The island is surrounded by coral reefs. Beaches in the south tend to have white sand while those in the north and west have black sand. Bali has no major waterways, although the Ho River is navigable by small sampan boats. Black sand beaches between Pasut and Klatingdukuh are being developed for tourism, but apart from the seaside temple of Tanah Lot, they are not yet used for significant tourism.
The largest city is the provincial capital, Denpasar, near the southern coast. Its population is around 726,800 (mid 2022). Bali’s second-largest city is the old colonial capital, Singaraja, which is located on the north coast and is home to around 150,000 people in 2020. Other important cities include the beach resort, Kuta, which is practically part of Denpasar’s urban area, and Ubud, situated at the north of Denpasar, is the island’s cultural centre.
Three small islands lie to the immediate south-east and all are administratively part of the Klungkung regency of Bali: Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan. These islands are separated from Bali by the Badung Strait.
To the east, the Lombok Strait separates Bali from Lombok and marks the biogeographical division between the fauna of the Indomalayan realm and the distinctly different fauna of Australasia. The transition is known as the Wallace Line, named after Alfred Russel Wallace, who first proposed a transition zone between these two major biomes. When sea levels dropped during the Pleistocene ice age, Bali was connected to Java and Sumatra and to the mainland of Asia and shared the Asian fauna, but the deep water of the Lombok Strait continued to keep Lombok Island and the Lesser Sunda archipelago isolated.
Bali was inhabited around 2000 BC by Austronesian people who migrated originally from the island of Taiwan to Southeast Asia and Oceania through Maritime Southeast Asia. Culturally and linguistically, the Balinese are closely related to the people of the Indonesian archipelago, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, and Oceania. Stone tools dating from this time have been found near the village of Cekik in the island’s west.
In ancient Bali, nine Hindu sects existed, the Pasupata, Bhairawa, Siwa Shidanta, Vaishnava, Bodha, Brahma, Resi, Sora and Ganapatya. Each sect revered a specific deity as its personal Godhead.
Inscriptions from 896 and 911 do not mention a king, until 914, when Sri Kesarivarma is mentioned. They also reveal an independent Bali, with a distinct dialect, where Buddhism and Shaivism were practised simultaneously. Mpu Sindok’s great-granddaughter, Mahendradatta (Gunapriyadharmapatni), married the Bali king Udayana Warmadewa (Dharmodayanavarmadeva) around 989, giving birth to Airlangga around 1001. This marriage also brought more Hinduism and Javanese culture to Bali. Princess Sakalendukirana appeared in 1098. Suradhipa reigned from 1115 to 1119, and Jayasakti from 1146 until 1150. Jayapangus appears on inscriptions between 1178 and 1181, while Adikuntiketana and his son Paramesvara in 1204.
Balinese culture was strongly influenced by Indian, Chinese, and particularly Hindu culture, beginning around the 1st century AD. The name Bali dwipa (“Bali island”) has been discovered from various inscriptions, including the Blanjong pillar inscription written by Sri Kesari Warmadewa in 914 AD and mentioning Walidwipa. It was during this time that the people developed their complex irrigation system subak to grow rice in wet-field cultivation. Some religious and cultural traditions still practised today can be traced to this period.
The Hindu Majapahit Empire (1293–1520 AD) on eastern Java founded a Balinese colony in 1343. The uncle of Hayam Wuruk is mentioned in the charters of 1384–86. Mass Javanese immigration to Bali occurred in the next century when the Majapahit Empire fell in 1520. Bali’s government then became an independent collection of Hindu kingdoms which led to a Balinese national identity and major enhancements in culture, arts, and economy. The nation with various kingdoms became independent for up to 386 years until 1906 when the Dutch subjugated and repulsed the natives for economic control and took it over.
In 1963 the Bali Beach Hotel in Sanur was built by Sukarno and boosted tourism in Bali. Before the Bali Beach Hotel construction, there were only three significant tourist-class hotels on the island. Construction of hotels and restaurants began to spread throughout Bali. Tourism further increased in Bali after the Ngurah Rai International Airport opened in 1970. The Buleleng regency government encouraged the tourism sector as one of the mainstays for economic progress and social welfare.
The tourism industry is primarily focused in the south, while also significant in the other parts of the island. The prominent tourist locations are the town of Kuta (with its beach), and its outer suburbs of Legian and Seminyak (which were once independent townships), the east coast town of Sanur (once the only tourist hub), Ubud towards the centre of the island, to the south of the Ngurah Rai International Airport, Jimbaran and the newer developments of Nusa Dua and Pecatu.
The United States government lifted its travel warnings in 2008. The Australian government issued an advisory on Friday, 4 May 2012, with the overall level of this advisory lowered to ‘Exercise a high degree of caution’. The Swedish government issued a new warning on Sunday, 10 June 2012, because of one tourist who died from methanol poisoning. Australia last issued an advisory on Monday, 5 January 2015, due to new terrorist threats.
An offshoot of tourism is the growing real estate industry. Bali’s real estate has been rapidly developing in the main tourist areas of Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, and Oberoi. Most recently, high-end 5-star projects are under development on the Bukit peninsula, on the island’s south side. Expensive villas are being developed along the cliff sides of south Bali, with commanding panoramic ocean views. Foreign and domestic, many Jakarta individuals and companies are fairly active, and investment into other areas of the island also continues to grow. Land prices, despite the worldwide economic crisis, have remained stable.
In the last half of 2008, Indonesia’s currency had dropped approximately 30% against the US dollar, providing many overseas visitors with improved value for their currencies.
Bali’s tourism economy survived the Islamists terrorist bombings of 2002 and 2005, and the tourism industry has slowly recovered and surpassed its pre-terrorist bombing levels; the long-term trend has been a steady increase in visitor arrivals. In 2010, Bali received 2.57 million foreign tourists, which surpassed the target of 2.0–2.3 million tourists. The average occupancy of starred hotels achieved 65%, so the island still should be able to accommodate tourists for some years without any addition of new rooms/hotels, although at the peak season some of them are fully booked.
Bali received the Best Island award from Travel and Leisure in 2010. Bali won because of its attractive surroundings (both mountain and coastal areas), diverse tourist attractions, excellent international and local restaurants, and the friendliness of the local people. The Balinese culture and its religion are also considered the main factor of the award. One of the most prestigious events that symbolize a strong relationship between a god and its followers is Kecak dance. According to BBC Travel released in 2011, Bali is one of the World’s Best Islands, ranking second after Santorini, Greece.
In 2006, Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love was published, and in August 2010 it was adapted into the film Eat Pray Love. It took place at Ubud and Padang-Padang Beach in Bali. Both the book and the film fuelled a boom in tourism in Ubud, the hill town and cultural and tourist centre that was the focus of Gilbert’s quest for balance and love through traditional spirituality and healing.
In January 2016, after musician David Bowie died, it was revealed that in his will, Bowie asked for his ashes to be scattered in Bali, conforming to Buddhist rituals. He had visited and performed in several Southeast Asian cities early in his career, including Bangkok and Singapore.
Since 2011, China has displaced Japan as the second-largest supplier of tourists to Bali, while Australia still tops the list while India has also emerged as a greater supply of tourists. Chinese tourists increased by 17% in 2011 from 2010 due to the impact of ACFTA and new direct flights to Bali. In January 2012, Chinese tourists increased by 222.18% compared to January 2011, while Japanese tourists declined by 23.54% year on year.
Bali authorities reported the island had 2.88 million foreign tourists and 5 million domestic tourists in 2012, marginally surpassing the expectations of 2.8 million foreign tourists.
Based on a Bank Indonesia survey in May 2013, 34.39 per cent of tourists are upper-middle class, spending between $1,286 and $5,592, and are dominated by Australia, India, France, China, Germany and the UK. Some Chinese tourists have increased their levels of spending from previous years. 30.26 per cent of tourists are middle class, spending between $662 and $1,285. In 2017 it was expected that Chinese tourists would outnumber Australian tourists.
In January 2020, 10,000 Chinese tourists cancelled trips to Bali due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions, Bali welcomed 1.07 million international travelers in 2020, most of them between January and March, which is -87% compared to 2019. In the first half of 2021, they welcomed 43 international travelers. The pandemic presented a major blow on Bali’s tourism-dependent economy. On 3 February 2022, Bali reopened again for the first foreign tourists after 2 years of being closed due to the pandemic.
In 2022 Indonesia’s Minister of Health, Budi Sadikin, stated that the tourism industry in Bali will be complemented by the medical industry.
At the beginning of 2023, the governor of Bali demanded a ban on the use of motorcycles by tourists. This happened after a series of accidents. Wayan Koster proposed to cancel the violators’ visas. The move sparked widespread outrage on social media.