December is usually the busiest month for Bali tourism, with hotel and tour bookings at 90% capacity. But last month, it was down to less than 10%. Pictured here is the colorful La Plancha Bar in Seminyak.
As a solo female traveler, I was constantly asked this question before, during, and after my 2.5-week vacation in Bali. After decades of peace, Mt. Agung began spewing ash in September 2017. The Indonesian government released a volcano warning. As weeks went by, the volcano continued to have minor booms and volcanic tremors around the area.
Before I left Manila, social media was filled with two extreme reactions to the Mt. Agung phenomenon—1.) those turning a blind eye and downplaying the facts, and 2.) the fear-mongering trolls spewing more vitriol than the volcano itself. I wanted to find the middle ground, so I filtered through the fake news and panic-ridden discourse.
Hours after I arrived in Bali, Ngurah Rai International Airport closed. Authorities raised the volcano warning level to the maximum 4. While thousands of tourists were #StuckInBali, I was among those stuck by choice. The airport reopened days later. Business went on as usual. As of the publishing of this blog post (January 4, 2018), the big eruption still hasn’t happened.
December is usually the busiest month for Bali tourism, with hotel and tour bookings at 90% capacity. But last month, it went down to less than 10%. Many shops and restaurants were empty when I entered. While some stingy hotels jacked up their prices to take advantage of stranded tourists, many establishments dropped their rates in hopes of getting booked.
Some good samaritans let tourists stay in their hostels and homestays for free while waiting to sort out airline issues. Recently, the government has promised to provide assistance to tourists if they get stuck in Bali during the major eruption.
I remember shopping in Seminyak on the first week of December. The market lady told me I was her first customer in two days. The cab driver I hailed on my way home let me pay half the usual fare because I was only his second ride of the day. He even returned to my hotel the next morning to give me his calling card in case I needed a private tour driver for a good price. I did book him.
It was my first time in this famous Indonesian island, and I finally understood why my fellow travelers have fallen in love with Bali. But I didn’t want turn into one of those insufferable tourists taking endless beach selfies while ignoring the fact that the locals living near Agung were in distress.
No, I did not take tone-deaf bikini photos in front of the volcano—although I was invited go on a joy ride there. I declined. Instead, I made friends with the locals of Denpasar (the capital of Bali) and asked how Agung’s situation has affected their lives and their families who live near the volcano.
If you stumbled upon my blog because you are torn between pursuing your planned Bali vacation or cancelling it because of Agung, I hope this will help you make a practical, enlightened decision. It’s based on the facts I learned from volcanologists, levelheaded travelers, and moreover, the kind Balinese people I met during my vacation.
10 Facts You Need To Know
1. As of today, January 4, 2018, the full-blown eruption, a.k.a. “the big one” hasn’t happened yet.
2. The last eruption was in February 1963 and killed more than 1,000 people. It started with minor eruptions, ash emissions, lava flows, and mudflows that lasted for about a month. The big explosion and deadly pyroclastic flows followed in March and May of that same year.
3. After half a century of dormancy, Agung started spewing ash and smoke again in 2017. As for the big one, it could happen tomorrow, next week, next month, or it could completely mellow down. Since September 2017, I have been reading weekly headlines saying that Agung’s major eruption is imminent. It’s now January 2018 and the big one still hasn’t happened.
4. Nobody can predict exactly when the big one will occur. Not even the holiest priest or top volcanology expert can tell you the exact time and date.
5. The best thing scientists can do is study the previous 1963 eruption and closely monitor current activities of Agung to see if it will follow a similar pattern.
6. Agung has been continuously emitting smoke and ash since September 2017. Mudflows, also known as lahars, are running down the mountainside. While those outside the 10 km zone are safe, those within the danger zone need assistance. Crops in the area have started dying. Many people and animals were displaced and no longer have homes to return to.
7. The area surrounding Agung is not a major tourist spot. There are two volcanoes in Bali—Mt. Batur and Mt. Agung. Both are active and found in the eastern side of Bali. Mt. Agung is the highest point.
8. The people who are in imminent danger are the residents living within the 10 km (6 mile) radius of Agung. As of November 2017, the Indonesian government has called for 100,000 people to evacuate.
9. Bali’s top tourist spots—Ubud, Canggu, Seminyak, and Kuta—are safe and far from Mt. Agung. Bali’s capital, Denpasar, is 49 km (30 miles) away from Agung. To reiterate: The danger zone is within 10 km around Mt. Agung’s summit.
10. By mid-December 2017, Bali’s tourism rate has started to improve despite Agung’s continuous activity.
What Are The Immediate Effects of a Volcanic Eruption?
For those within 10 km of Agung, mudflows and falling ash are health hazards. It can kill crops and animals, affect your respiratory system, and collapse roof buildings. The biggest threat would be the destructive pyroclastic flows. The volcano may also shoot out fist-size rocks as far as 8 km (5 miles) from the summit. For my fellow Filipinos, click here to look back at Mt. Pinatubo’s 1991 eruption to see how Mt. Agung could affect the lives of the Balinese people living in the danger zone.
What’s The Worst That Could Happen To Tourists?
Should you find yourself stuck in Bali during the big eruption, you are safe for as long as you are away from the danger zone. Ubud, Canggu, Seminyak, and Kuta are far and safe. People are encouraged to have a N95 Mask handy in case ash fall reaches your area.
One major downside is that the Denpasar airport (Ngurah Rai) will be closed until authorities deem it safe for airlines to fly again. Depending on the gravity and length of the big eruption, you wouldn’t know how long you’ll be stuck in Bali. Most travel insurance companies unfortunately won’t cover Mt. Agung’s eruption, so get ready to shell out for volcano-related medical costs and hotel extensions.
What’s The Backup Plan In Case I Badly Need to Fly Back Home While Ngurah Rai International Airport Is Closed?
Take a 3-hour bus ride to Gilimanuk Harbour in West Bali. Then take a ferry and bus to Blimbingsari Airport in East Java. From there, fly to Juanda International Airport or Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. It can be a pain in the arse, as I heard from fellow travelers who did it back in November-December.
The Indonesian government has promised to provide transportation and accommodation assistance to tourists who will be stuck in Bali if the big one happens. The Bali Tourism Board has also promised to give complimentary bus passes to affected passengers. Watch the video below for more info.
So, Is It Safe To Go To Bali Right Now?
YES, if you are ready to face the possible contingencies mentioned above and if you have a flexible schedule. The volcano may or may not erupt during your vacation. As a freelancer and solo female traveler, I was aware of the risks. I had a backup plan and made sure I had enough money to cover potentially being stranded in Bali. Luckily, my vacation went smoothly without a glitch.
NO, if you have a strict schedule back in your home country and cannot afford being stranded for a few days to weeks. Maybe wait until the full-blown eruption is over, or the volcano changes its mind and goes back to slumber. But please do not give up on Bali altogether. Should you cancel your trip, please consider returning to Bali once everything has mellowed down. Bali is a beautiful island you should keep on your bucket list.
How To Help
1. Bali’s tourism industry is already suffering, so if you choose YES, your presence (and expenses) as a tourist will help uplift their tourism.
2. Be a conscientious and well-informed traveler. Don’t spread fake news and fear-mongering Tweets.
3. Don’t be that callous tourist who takes yoga-bending bikini photos in front of an erupting Agung. Remember: Thousands of residents had to evacuate their homes and lose their source of livelihood while you are using their volcano for Instagram likes. There are more tasteful ways of photographing the volcanic phenomenon. Try including information on how to help the Balinese instead of a self-centered quote about your duck face.
4. Please don’t be the jackass who bypasses the government laws to skydive or hike to the crater for the sake of filming a YouTube video or garnering Instagram likes. Your life and limbs aren’t worth the social media likes that people will forget about eventually.