Photo: Looking out from the slopes of Agung

Bali eruption advice

You’ve read the news and the cataclysmic advisories, but what should you do? If you’re stranded in Bali, how do you leave? How can you skip it to get east? If you’re on the way, should you still come? Read on for the skinny.



The latest

Prefix: TLDR

1. What you need to do

(a) Don't panic
(b) Check your travel insurance
(c) Contact your airline
(d) Keep informed

2. Getting out of Bali

(a) Airport summary
(i) Blimbingsari (BWX)
(ii) Juanda International Airprot (SUB)
(iii) Lombok International Airport (LOP)
(iv) Other domestic airports in East Java

(b) Heading west to Java
(i) Direct bus from Ngurah Rai airport to Surabaya
(ii) Direct bus from Ubung bus station to Surabaya
(iii) Private transport to Surabaya
(iv) What about the train?

(c) Heading east to Lombok
(i) Car ferry to Lembar
(ii) Fast boat to the Gilis

3. Bypassing Bali

(a) Buying tickets
(b) Flores
(c) Lombok
(d) Maluku, Papua

4. Should you still come to Bali?

(a) Yes
(b) No
(c) Maybe

The latest

Bali re-opened its airport at 3pm on Wednesday November 29 as the ash cloud swung to the east (lets see how long Lombok International Airport stays open). It remains up to individual airlines as to when they recommence flights—so do check with your airline and do not go to the airport unless you have been told your flight is happening.

At the time of this update, Australian airlines Jetstar and Qantas are planning to fly up ten scheduled flights plus six additional flights to “bring people home”. That’s excellent news for people stranded in Bali. Not so good if you’re say an Indonesian passenger on Jetstar or Qantas stranded in Australia trying to get back to Bali. Why? The airline is flying all sixteen flights up empty. We imagine there are many Jetstar passengers stranded in Australia desperate to get back to assist family and friends through these challenging times and this decision is just appalling and astounding.

Thursday 11am (Bali time) Lombok airport has again closed due to volcanic ash. If you were planning to fly out today, please contact your airline.

Sunday The volcano has chilled out somewhat and there is no ash cloud. For now. Both Bali and Lombok’s airports are open. Some airlines continue to fly limited schedules, so do check with your airline before going to the airport. AirAsia for example has plenty of seats on flights to KL today, tomorrow and Wednesday.

Prefix: TL;DR

The too long; didn’t read version? Hang tight or head west. Should you still come? It depends: If you have a loose schedule, absolutely.

1. What you need to do

If you are currently in Bali and are stranded due to Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport being closed, there are a few steps you need to take.

(a) Don't panic
Please keep in mind that the vast majority of Bali is not under direct threat by the eruption of Gunung Agung. Particularly if you are in south Bali, in popular tourist centres like Ubud, Canggu, Seminyak, Kuta, Jimbaran, Sanur and Nusa Dua, the chances of you being directly affected by a lava flow pushing your hotel into the ocean are, well, quite low.

Stay calm. Contact your family at home and let them know they can stay calm too.

(b) Check your travel insurance
Because Agung has been bubbling and shaking for some time, many travel insurance companies consider the eruption to be a “known event” which means if you purchased your travel insurance after they declared it to be a “known event” then, well, you are not covered for volcano-related trip interruption expenses. For many insurers, the important date was around the middle of September 2017. Check with your insurer. Essentially, they will say that if you bought the policy after the risks were known, then you took the risk yourself and they will not cover you for volcano-related issues.

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So, before you do anything else, it is essential that you contact your travel insurance provider and ask them, specifically, if you are covered for trip interruption coverage. If you are, then we suggest following the suggestions of your insurer, as, again, if you ignore their advice, they may not reimburse you for your out of pocket expenses.

If you’re not covered, you essentially have two options: prolong your stay and wait it out, or pay your own way to get out of dodge.

(c) Contact your airline
Grit you teeth and give them a call. Do bear in mind that the call centre staff are not able to turn the volcano off. Flight status and news alert pages include the following, but note that many carriers don't seem to have status pages, unfortunately:
AirAsia
Garuda
Jetstar
KLM
Scoot
Virgin Australia

(d) Keep informed
If you are on Twitter, here are a few accounts worth keeping an eye on; the Agung hashtag is useful, but there is a lot of noise there. Ignore anything published in the Daily Mail and Independent. They both just run garbage-filled hyperbolic pieces with little if any relation to reality. (This is the case with everything they publish, not just stuff related to the volcano.)

If there is just one account you want to follow, Dr Janine Krippner is the one. Follow MAGMA INDONESIA (yes Magma is their real acronym, nice job guys!) and Sutopo Purwo Nugroho for official announcements, mostly in Indonesian, but sometimes in English. Bali-based volcano-enthusiast Øystein L. Andersen is also well worth a follow. For explanations on all things airplane related, air-enthusiast Gerry Soejatman is invaluable. For a more newsy look at things, our friend Theodora Sutcliffe is solid—and a good laugh. Lastly, if you're grasping for more accounts to follow, consider following me but be warned I tweet a lot of crap and random stuff as well as the occasional bit of semi-useful advice.

2. Getting out of Bali

Bali is an island, with Java to the west and Lombok to the east. A single car ferry connects Java to Gilimanuk on Bali’s west coast. A car ferry connects Lembar on Lombok from Padang Bai on Bali’s east coast. There are also fast ferries from Sanur and Serangan in south Bali, and Padang Bai and Amed in east Bali, to the Gili Islands off the west coast of Lombok.

Get your bearings

(a) Airport summary
If you just want to get out of Indonesia, Surabaya has daily flights to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore—it is your best bet, unless you want to get a domestic flight to, say, Jakarta and then fly out from there. Banyuwangi should only really be considered if you want to fly to Jakarta, but bear in mind it is a small airport with limited daily flights—check flight availability! Lombok currently only has a single daily international connection to Kuala Lumpur—this combined with the threat of the ash cloud blowing back that way and closing the airport makes Lombok a poor choice.

(i) Banyuwangi's airport, Blimbingsari (BWX), has only domestic flights to:
Jakarta | Surabaya

(ii) Surabaya's airport, Juanda International Airport (SUB), has domestic flights to:
Balikpapan | Bandung | Kupang | Lombok | Jakarta | Makassar | Manado | Palangkaraya | Palu | Semarang | Yogyakarta | (and others)

and international flights to:
Hong Kong | Johor Bharu | Kuala Lumpur | Singapore

(iii) Lombok's Lombok International Airport (LOP) has domestic flights to:
Bandung | Bima | Jakarta | Makassar | Sumbawa Besar | Surabaya | Yogyakarta | (and others)

and international flights to:
Kuala Lumpur | Singapore

(iv) Other domestic airports in East Java
Two other airports not mentioned are Malang’s Abdul Rachman Saleh Airport (MLG) and Jembar’s Notohadinegoro Airport (JBB). Malang is more or less due south of Surabaya and Jembar is roughly half way between Malang and Banyuwangi. They are both domestic airports only, but are worth considering if you want to fly domestically and both Surabaya and Banyuwangi are jammed.

(b) Heading west to Java
Unless you are planning on travelling onwards in Indonesia (see below), heading west to Java is the recommended route. East Java has two airports of primary interest, Banyuwangi (domestic only) and Surabaya (domestic and international). Once you get to one of these, assuming there is seat availability, you can fly elsewhere in Indonesia or, if you go to Surabaya, you can fly internationally.

Bali to Surabaya

Banyuwangi is also the eastern terminus of the trans-Java railway line, so if you can't (or don't want to) get a flight, there is always the train (see below).

Getting to Java is straightforward with three primary options. In all these cases, you can cut the trip short by finishing at Banyuwangi and jumping on a domestic flight or the train.

(i) Direct bus from Ngurah Rai airport to Surabaya
There are apparently 10 departures daily of this bus service between the two airports. The fare is 300,000 rupiah per person. There is apparently some congestion along the way and, while the trip normally takes around 12-13 hours, we’d say bank on 14-15. There is also a free airport bus which runs to Mengwi bus station from where you can then arrange your own bus transport onwards to Surabaya (please see next point, regarding Ubung bus station for details on this—the onwards fare should be similar.)
We've been advised by Theodora that this bus service is no longer running.

(ii) Direct bus from Ubung bus station to Surabaya
Ubung is one of the main bus stations in south Bali; you can get a bus from there to a bewildering array of destinations across the country. A taxi from elsewhere in south Bali to the bus station should cost 50,000 to 70,000 rupiah (depending on traffic).

Bus fares from Ubung to Surabaya vary depending on the operator, but are generally around the 175,000 to 200,000 rupiah mark per person. Tickets can be purchased (and specific seats requested) online through Travelfish partner Easybook. Travel agents will also be able to assist.

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(iii) Private transport to Surabaya
This is the fastest, most comfortable and most expensive means of getting from Bali to Surabaya. You'll be picked up from wherever you are staying in south Bali and dropped at Surabaya airport (or wherever you want to be dropped). Naturally fares have risen due to the situation, with 2,500,000 to 3,000,000 rupiah for the vehicle being a common (and somewhat inflated) price to Surabaya. Be sure to be clear on what is included—the price should include petrol, any tolls and the ferry crossing.

If you are a family of four (or four travellers), the added cost versus taking the bus can be worthwhile once you factor in the convenience of not needing to go to the bus station and so on.

(iv) What about the train?
You can also get a train from Banyuwangi to Surabaya (and onwards from there). There are four departures daily from Banyuwangi, at 06:30, 09:00, 13:50 and 22:00, with the trip taking 6.5 to 7.5 hours depending on the train. Tickets can be booked online via Kerata Api or Tiket.com.

(c) Heading east to Lombok
Unless you are planning on travelling to Lombok (and further east), then we do recommend heading west to Java because Lombok International Airport near Praya on Lombok is a smaller airport with very limited international flights (when compared to Surabaya). It is also more susceptible to the ash cloud swinging around and shutting it down. With that in mind, read on.

Bali to Lombok

(i) Car ferry to Lembar
A car ferry runs every 1.5 hours from Padang Bai in east Bali to Lembar in west Lombok. The trip takes around four hours (depending on the seas). Once at the port you can arrange a share-taxi for the run to Lombok International Airport around an hour away. Local fixer Oan is based at the port and can arrange transport. Contact him on T: (081) 916 021 443, delombokness@gmail.com—we've used Oan in the past and have always found him to be very reliable.

(ii) Fast boat to the Gilis
We do not recommend using the fast boat services to the Gili Islands as we have concerns about how safe they are. That said, thousands of travellers use them month in month out, without too many problems. Prices vary from one operator to another.

Primary departure points are Sanur (via Nusa Lembongan 3-4 hours), Serangan (direct, 2-3 hours) and Padang Bai (direct, 1.5-2 hours). Once at the Gilis you will need to transfer south to Lombok International airport. There is a regular bus service from Senggigi to Praya (for the airport), but you’ll need to organise transport from Bangsal (the boat landing for the Gilis) to Senggigi. The whole trip from the Gilis to the airport should take 2 to 3 hours depending on connections and traffic.

If your primary goal is to get to Lombok International Airport (rather than to lay around on the beach) then taking the slow ferry is both cheaper and more comfortable (especially in bad seas) and lands you considerably closer to the airport.

3) Bypassing Bali

Bali, along with Makassar in Sulawesi, is a hub that connects much of western Indonesia with the east of the country. Traditionally, to get to Flores from Jakarta, for example, the flight would often transit via Bali or sometimes even Bali and Lombok. Currently that is not possible, so if you are in Java and want to get to the east without stopping in Bali, what do you do?

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(a) Buying tickets
Buying domestic tickets in Indonesia with a foreign credit card can be challenging. If you're finding your card isn't working with the airline website, we recommend using Tiket.com as not only is it more forgiving with foreign cards, it also compares a bunch of domestic carriers at the same time.

(b) Lombok
To get to Lombok, assuming the airport stays open, there are flight connections with Jakarta, Surabaya and Yogyakarta in Java, Makassar in Sulawesi and both Bima and Sumbawa Besar in Sumbawa. Ferries (see above) are operating as normal from Bali.

(c) Flores
To get to Flores, you'll need to go either direct from Jakarta or via Kupang in West Timor. Kupang's El Tari Airport (KOE) has direct flights to Maumere, Labuan Bajo, Ende, Ruteng and Larantuka (among others). You can get to Kupang from Surabaya and Jakarta in Java and from Makassar in Sulawesi.

(d) Maluku and Papua
To get to Maluku and Papua, as always, Makassar's Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport (UPG) is the gateway, including to Ambon, Ternate, Sorong and so on.

4) Should you still come to Bali?

You’re still reading? Well done! Should you still come to Bali is the big question. In our personal opinion, as long as you have some flexibility in your travel planning and (obviously) don't mind not flying, then our answer is an emphatic YES! However, not everybody has this flexibility (and time). Please read on and we’ll cover, broadly, the main questions to ask yourself.Want another opinion? Theodora has her take here.

(a) Yes
In the vast majority of Bali, life continues as normal. The traffic is still clogged in the south, the cafes are still (for now) humming and most people—us included—are just getting on with things. Of course if you were planning on diving out from Tulamben or climbing Gunung Agung, those activities are totally off the cards, but there is plenty else to do. Particularly if you’re an overland traveller, then there is zero reason to change your trip. Come to Bali, support the Balinese with your custom (and money) and help this beautiful island through a challenging stretch. Obviously, do check your travel insurance situation.

(b) No
If you had been planning on a short break to Bali, flying in and flying out, then, we’re sorry to say, this probably isn’t an ideal time to be trying to get to Bali’s shores. If you were set on a resort-style experience and haven't landed in Indonesia yet, consider switching to somewhere like Phuket or Ko Samui in Thailand, both of which can offer similar resort experiences, have no volcanoes and have terrific weather at the moment. Also, if you're even on a shortish break and need to be back at work by a certain day, then Bali is hard to recommend at the moment.

(c) Maybe
You’ve got some flexibility, but not enough time to be stranded here for months. We know that feeling, and to decide whether to come or not is a hard call. How much flexibility and loose time do you have? A 12-14 hour bus ride to and from Surabaya isn't the end of the world—and you could certainly slow down and see some of Java while you are at it. It's your call.

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