When it comes to tropical island paradises, you probably can’t get much better than Bali or the Maldives. However due to their remote nature, visiting either is costly and the airplane journey long. So making the right decision between Maldives or Bali for your dream getaway is vitally important.
However other than their stunning beaches, these islands are vastly different. Having spent time in both, we compare Bali vs Maldives below, showing you what to expect in each, and some of the best places to check out.
Bali vs Maldives: Stunning paradise islands
If you want gorgeous white sand beaches, and superb swimming and snorkeling, then Bali or the Maldives will be perfect. However many islands in the Maldives are privately owned by a resort complex, and so activities on the island revolve around the resort and what it offers. That also means that many of the beaches in the Maldives are not public.
That’s not the case in Bali where the beaches are public. So you have the right to sunbathe and swim throughout the island. Therefore Bali tends to give you a more local experience where you can explore the country, go for picnics on the beach, and interact within the community. In contrast the Maldives has far less integration between the community and tourists.
Therefore think of the Maldives as a holiday destination which revolves around a resort and the beach or island that it owns. In comparison, a Bali holiday can be more adventurous – especially as the island has lots of jungles and temples to explore – and easily allows tourists to spend their holiday away from a resort if they wish.
The Maldives is also a very expensive destination in comparison to Bali which has a variety of accommodation for all budgets. That makes the Indonesian island much more budget friendly.
However in terms of snorkeling, the Maldives is a better destination. But Bali, as we explain next, is an island that has a lot more to offer than just the beach. So if you want to do more than sunbathe and swim, Bali may suit you better.
Bali certainly has similarities to Maldives, but this Indonesian paradise is suited to those seeking more than sun, sea, and sand.
Bali’s stunning coral reefs and sandy beaches give way to a forested volcano-sculpted inland – the perfect place to discover exotic wildlife, and go jungle trekking. West Bali National Park is just a three-hour drive from the airport, but is virtually unexplored rain-forest. Whilst Bali’s northern-central rain forests have some spectacular waterfalls – Git Git and Sekumpul are two of our favorites. (Recommended: Wildlife and nature in Bali).
If you want to stick with sand but avoid the crowds, Nusa Dua is a little-known beach that has miles of golden coastline, and is perfect for swimming, sunbathing and kayaking. In fact head to Bali’s north coast for great diving, but the south coast for superb surfing.
Bali’s natural habitats allow you to holiday in style too, with upmarket hotels deep in the jungle and on the coastline, yoga retreats in the mountains, as well as the usual beachside break accommodations, or cheaper guesthouses.
Ever seen pictures of crystal clear turquoise water, with those stunning wooden hotel huts sitting over it? That’s what you should expect throughout the Maldives, a country that specializes in up-market resorts and honeymoon vacations.
Some of the world’s best beaches happen to be in this nation too. One of our favorites is the powder white coastline at Lhaviyani Atoll where the palm tree lined beaches look like a computer screensaver. We’ve found that the west side of the atoll has wider beaches and softer sand, so is perfect for a day’s sunbathing.
As many of the islands are privately owned by resorts, you may be limited as to where you can go on each island in the Maldives. In general, that’s not an issue in Bali.
However what this means is that if you’re staying at a Maldives resort you are pretty much guaranteed to have a spectacular beach, and a coral reef for snorkeling, right beside your room. When it comes to high-end beach vacations, this country really does excel.
It also excels when it comes to snorkeling, with a spectacular colorful underwater life that can be seen easily thanks to the gin-clear water. However most snorkeling is done with a resort, due to the privately owned nature of many islands in the Maldives.
One of the best snorkeling spots is Manta Point, which is home to Manta Rays! Also known as Emas Thila, this is probably one of the best places in the world to swim alongside these gentle giants, just make sure you take a great underwater camera with you – like this one.
For a burst of color, Banana Reef is another great spot to snorkel and dive. Here you’ll see rays, sharks, and many different types of reef fish including Royal Blue Tangs. You might not have heard that name before, but you will recognize the fish if you’ve seen ‘Finding Nemo’ – ‘Dory’ was a Blue Tang!
Bali vs Maldives: Explore the sights and experience the island
As the Maldives is more focused on resort-based holidays, interaction with the local community and culture tends to be limited. That’s unless you make a trip away from the private island resorts, and into the population centers.
While Bali also has upmarket resorts, many hotels and guest houses are quite integrated into the community. Therefore a Bali vacation can have more of a ‘local’ feel than one in the Maldives. That also opens up opportunities for excursions away from the hotel, or to try out the great street food.
The majority Hindu island of Bali has a plethora of stunning temples. From exotic beachside sanctuarys, to houses of worship hidden deep in the jungle interior.
Go temple hopping around the island for a cultural experience, and a way to see Bali in its full glory. Tirta Empul Temple – with its holy water that you can bathe in which is said to clean you of your sins – is an unforgettable experience.
In fact with a population of over four million people, and huge diversity across the island, Bali is a culture-seekers paradise. We recommend watching a Balinese Gamelan show – the traditional music of the Balinese.
Rice has been cultivated on Bali for generations, and the gorgeous rice paddies that rise up into the clouds across the island are as iconic as they are important. Head to Tegalalang to see some of the most beautiful tropical rice terraces on the planet. Speak to the friendly locals in the villages about their life and work when there – you won’t regret it.
As a majority Muslim country, the Maldives is a conservative nation, although within resort complexes you are free to act as you would in any liberal Western country. However if you plan to make any excursions into population centers – like the capital Malé or public beaches – then be sure to dress conservatively, and avoid things such as alcohol.
The culture in the Maldives is vibrant, interesting, and definitely worth discovering though.
Bodu Beru is a traditional rhythmic dance performed by upwards of 15-20 people, and was introduced to the Maldives around 1000 years ago. It’s been a tradition here ever since, and many resorts have cultural nights where dancers perform.
If venturing into Malé, a visit to the Maldives National Museum is a must. Not only does it give an insight into the history of this nation, but it also has a great collection of historical artifacts from the region, some several centuries old.
Bali vs Maldives: A taste of island life
With both being tropical island paradises, expect an abundance of fruit, coconuts and fresh fish. Still, there are some local dishes which might surprise you!
In Bali the food is pork and chicken dominated. Order lawar, a dish that is made up of coconut, garlic, chili, and either chicken or pork meat and blood. Another traditional meaty dish is Bebek betutu, which is duck cooked with coconut inside banana leaves.
If you want to try something vegetarian, then hunt down Urab – a delicious and refreshing traditional Balinese salad that is accompanied with coconut.
Considering the first settlers to the Maldives came from India and Sri Lanka, a lot of the food here has an Indian twist.
Curry is therefore one of the most popular dishes. We recommend trying Mas Riha. Made with freshly caught tuna, coconut, and a good number of chilies, this is a truly unique and delicious Maldivian dish.
Seafood is also popular and traditional dishes include Garudhiya (a type of fish soup) and Kulhi boakiba, which is a fish cake made from smoked tuna, coconut, ginger and rice.
As for what to drink, resorts in the Maldives have countless number of cocktails to try. However the coconut water in the Maldives is delicious and refreshing – especially when drunk direct with a straw.
Bali vs Maldives: Which should you visit?
If time and money weren’t limited, then we would recommend visiting both of these island paradises. However if you’re looking for sun, sea and sand, but also a bit of adventure than Bali is probably the right choice. The Indonesian island offers more than just turquoise lagoons, is brimming with culture, and is budget friendly.
But if you have in your head an image of a tropical island getaway that includes sipping cocktails from a coconut, and spending more time sunbathing at a high-end resort than anything else, then the Maldives will be perfect. This Indian Ocean paradise – which almost exclusively centers its tourist trade on upmarket resorts – can be very expensive though. However the beaches are world class, as is the snorkeling.
Recommended for your trip to Maldives or Bali
*This article may contain affiliate links which allows Wandering our World to make a small commission on any sales made – and keep the coffee flowing! It involves no extra cost to yourself. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases, but only recommend products we believe in.