When we think of exotic destinations, few can top either Bali or the Maldives with their lure of sun, sand and palm trees. However, these two destinations are very different in character, not to mention price. Which of them is best for you?
Bali has something to offer every budget and every kind of traveler. Certainly you can laze on the beach, but you can also hike up a volcano or explore local villages. The Maldives, in contrast, offer pure relaxation and pampering at a high price and a unique sense of isolation. The choice you make may be one of personal preference, but it's just as likely to come down to your bank balance.
1.Locations — the Where and the Weather
Bali is an island province of Indonesia, 8° south of the equator, between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
The Maldives are an isolated island republic in the Indian Ocean, 1–5° north of the equator, 500–1,000 km (300–600 miles) south of India.
Needless to say, both locations are hot all year round. However, there are some significant differences in their climate.
Bali's temperature remains steady all year round at between 30–35°C (85–95°F) on the coast, though temperatures are significantly lower in the highland areas, falling to around 25°C (77°F).
More significant than the temperature is Bali's seasonal change in rainfall. The year divides neatly into two with a dry season from April to September, a wet season from November to February, with March and October unsettled as the patterns change. The typical monthly rainfall in August is 2.5 cm (1 in.) and peaks in January at around 34.5 cm (13.5 in.), a significant difference you will need to take into account when planning your trip.
Bali is fortunately located when it comes to extreme weather. Tornadoes and typhoons tend to bypass the islands. However, with climate change, there has been an increased risk of flooding in the wet season in recent years.
The Maldives has temperatures similar to, perhaps slightly warmer than those of Bali by a few degrees, but there is little here to choose between them. The Maldives too has a wet and a dry season but, interestingly, reverses those of Bali with the dry season falling between October and April, wet from May to September.
Importantly, the wet and dry seasons in the Maldives are less markedly different than in Bali. At its wettest, monthly rainfall peaks at around 24 cm (9.5 in.) a month dropping to a minimum of 5 cm (2 in.) in the dry season. Though the wet season is known as the monsoon, rain tends to fall as showers rather than as a steady cascade.
As with Bali, so the Maldives is relatively untouched by extreme weather events, though storms on the low-lying islands can occasionally produce high waves that make the beaches as unsafe as anywhere else.
2.Geography — Relaxation and Exploration
The geographies of the two destinations offer the most marked difference for the traveler, Bali presenting more opportunities for an adventure holiday along with relaxation, while the Maldives is better suited to relaxation alone.
Bali has four main islands; Bali itself, the largest, then Penida, Lembongan and Ceningan. Most people head for the main island which, along with its beaches, has central volcanic mountains reaching as high as 2,000 m (6,600 ft) one of which, Mount Agung, is active. Coral reefs add to the possibilities for adventure, along with travel to the three smaller islands across the Badung Strait to the southeast. To the west, a still narrower strait separates Bali from the main wholly-Indonesian island of Java.
Turning to the geography of the Maldives, it almost suffices to say there isn't any. Consisting of 1,192 coral islands dispersed across 26 atolls, the highest point is reputed to be Mount Villingili on a small island to the east of the larger island of Gan. However, given it towers to just over 5 m (16.5 ft) above its surroundings the challenge it offers the intrepid hiker is minimal.
Suggested reading: How to Plan a Trip to Bali
3.Culture — Language and Lifestyle
For all its tourist attractions, agriculture still provides Bali with the backbone of its economy. Explore the main island, then, and you will find life being lived naturally by people with a long and vibrant historical past stretching back to 2000 BCE and its first inhabitants, migrants from Taiwan, through western colonization, and on to the present day with a predominantly Hindu population speaking a mix of Indonesian, Balinese and English.
The influence of India and China is strong here, but Bali has had historical twists and turns independent of Indonesia as a whole leaving the island with a distinct cultural flavor. The Agama Hindu Dharma form of Hinduism in particular is unique to Bali and has a strong influence on the lives of its people. It incorporates elements of animism and Buddhism into its beliefs and rituals.
Though isolated, the Maldives has developed its own rich culture from contact with mainlanders from India, Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere. From this mix of influences a distinct language, Dhihevi, emerged along with its own written form. The name derives from an Indian word for 'island'.
The dominant religion is Islam but the influence of Buddhism is present, the Maldives having been founded as a Buddhist kingdom.
Inevitably, the culture of the Maldives is focused strongly on the sea. One thing to look for is the sophisticated design of fishing and other sail boats developed over centuries.
Suggested reading: Top 15 Tourist Attractions in Bali: Beaches, Temples…
4. Cuisine — Feasting and Drinking
With rice as its staple, Balinese food is diverse and spicy, with fruit often an ingredient of savory dishes. Chinese and Indian influences are marked. Given the local agriculture, ingredients tend to be locally sourced and dishes come with a variety of meats and fish. However, given the island's Hindu traditions, beef is rarely on the menu. Dishes are frequently cooked and served wrapped in banana leaves in the traditional fashion.
Balinese coffee and tea are common beverages, the tea served with condensed milk and sugar. The traditional alcoholic drink of the island is a fortified rice wine called Brem.
The cuisine of the Maldives is inevitably based on fish and other harvests from the sea. To these are added coconut, and starches such as rice, tarot or sweet potato. Curried dishes are common, and a variety of fruits serve as dessert.
While alcoholic drinks are avoided by locals in the Islamic tradition, they are freely available for tourists. Traditionally the locals drink black tea and fruit juices. For an unusual drink, try raa, a beverage made from the sap of palm trees.
5.Transport — Getting There, Getting Around, Getting Away
Unless you are arriving from Java, you will probably come into Bali through the Ngurah Rai international airport, located at the south of Bali island. Once you arrive, most of your travel around the island will be by road. You can hire your own driver, get a taxi, catch a bus, or use Uber-equivalent ride apps such as Grab.
Hulhulé Island plays host to the Maldives' Velana international airport. After that, youre probably walking. There are ferries between the islands, but travelers often find them so unreliable and hectic that they're inclined to find a single destination and stay there.
6. Cost — Currency, Accommodation and Other Expenses
While it's true that you will need millions of Indonesian Rupiah to stay in Bali, with some 15,000 to the US dollar at the time of writing, (October 2022), you can still have a cheap holiday. Popular with backpackers and the rich alike, you can spend as little or as much as you want on accommodation. Likewise, with restaurants you can live it up in a high-price hostelry or eat cheaply with the locals.
The Maldivian Rufiyaa are more expensive, (15.46 to the USD at the time of writing), and the cost of a holiday in the Maldives will be very expensive indeed compared with Bali. Cutting every corner it's unlikely you can keep the cost of a week there under US$2,000 per person. If you want to splash out, the sky's the limit. The Maldives really is a luxury destination.
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