5 Tips to Plan Your First Retreat in Bali

So, you want to lead a retreat in Bali? You are a life coach, a yoga teacher or Reiki master, and you have a retreat in mind. Maybe you’ve traveled there for vacation? Been on a retreat as a guest?

Like me, if you have traveled to Bali you have fallen in love with the land, the people, and the culture and you want to share it with others! Like me, maybe you are a yoga teacher, meditation coach, mindfulness coach, reiki healer, and life coach… you know that you can make a different in people’s lives with your craft and your story.

Leading in a retreat is an incredible experience, but planning one is not for the weak of heart. As an experienced retreat facilitator and planner, I can save you time planning your retreat to Bali with some helpful tips.

  1. Visit Before You Create

When I was planning my first retreat in Bali I invested about two weeks to go to Bali and explore the island. Bali is a small island but each little corner has its own benefits and drawbacks. Here are some of the places I visited.

Amed is a beautiful and quiet ocean front town perfect for scootering and snorkeling. Given how spread out the town is, walking from place to place takes quite a bit of time, so its best to have a scooter to get around on. Although some parts of Bali are not ideal for scooter rentals, given how busy these areas are, Amed was much quieter (aka safer). When you are in Amed, don’t expect late night dancing or abundant shopping. While you will find the occasional shop for apparel and handcrafts, most of the sales pitches are for taxi rides and tours.

Lovino Beach has the same kind of hustle and bustle of Ubud but with dolphins instead of monkeys. I took the early morning boat ride to see these ocean dwelling beauties but found that to be the only perk of this ocean side town. It was close to a Buddhist temple but quite far from most other tourist attractions.

Seminyak is a tourist hot spot with shopping, restaurants, beaches and hotels on every corner. You might be hard pressed to remember you are even in Bali since it is so westernized. Kuta and Kuta Beach is like Seminyak but times 100. These two little hot spots are considered the “party centers” of Bali, they may not be the ideal environment for your retreat - depending on the type of retreat you intend to create.

Ubud is the tourist hub of Bali. Famous for its temples, royal palace, monkey forest, artisans, art market, early morning market, PLUS the literal spiritual center of the island, if you are going to go to Bali once this is the place to be. The benefit of Ubud is you can get out of the city for your accommodations and then come into Ubud for events and activities or shopping. Most of the Ubud retreat centers and hotels have free shuttles!

There are many others as yet unexplored areas of Bali, so it is important to go there before you book a retreat center to ensure the environment, surroundings, food and property meet your needs and expectations.

When it comes to planning you also want to consider the excursions you have planned. As I mentioned earlier, I had a terrific tour guide, Putu, to help me plan excursions during my retreat and a considerable amount of time and planning went into creating the retreat schedule. Despite this, one thing I did underestimate was the travel time between some destinations.

Unlike America, where we have plenty of 65-70 MPH roadways, in Bali many of the roadways are winding back roads, some paved, and people take their time. What may take 30 minutes elsewhere could take 60-75 minutes in Bali. It is a small detail but with a little more information it could help with your retreat schedule and create a better experience for your guests.

2. Have a Local Resource

On my first trip to Bali I was wondering outside the Ubud Monkey Forest. It was a hot afternoon and I was seeking transportation to the Butterfly Sanctuary. I had been inundated with invitations for taxi’s and scooters - you just must come to expect that in Bali - so I almost missed out on meeting the single best resource for my retreat planning - a knowledgable local - Putu Mandala of Mandala Bali Tours. Putu is a Ubud travel guide and tour operator. On that hot May afternoon, he offered me a car with “good air conditioning” and I was sold.

Putu proceeded to drive me around the next three days visiting temples, retreat centers, and potential shopping excursions, all in the name of research for my retreat. This was incredibly helpful because he know the local area, could make recommendations and act as translator wherever we went.

When I decided to hold my retreat in Ubud, Putu’s made himself 100% available to me and my guests as our private tour guide and Bali liaison. His presence came in immeasurably helpful when I was trying to communicate with the bus company, talk with doctors at a clinic, navigate the temples, and more. He also had a local cell phone which minimized my need for a SIM Card or international travel plan!

When in Bali take the time to meet the locals, discover that awesome taxi drive and tour guide who is going to help you make all your retreat guests happy.

3. Get The Right Permit

One of the biggest shocks I had while planning my retreat in Bali was learning that, unlike other countries, where I had held retreats, a retreat facilitator must have a work permit in order to hold a retreat in Bali. I was told more than one story of retreats being canceled mid-way through because Bali officials showed up at hotels to find retreat leaders with no documentation to work.

If you hold a retreat in Bali you must get a permit. I located a Bali Visa agent through bali.com. I booked a 20-minute consultation with Yusak XI who outlined the Visa options and recommendations - there are several so don’t guess!, We connected via email to sort out the logistics and next steps. It took several email and WhatsApp messages, a lot of paperwork and one road trip to New York City to make sure I had everything I needed to be legit.

One important note, costs for a Bali Visa can be expensive so make sure you do your homework to know what type of Visa you will need, and make sure you factor it into the budget.

4. Understand the Benefits of Travel Insurance

Most people think of travel insurance for things like your flights or lost luggage. But travel insurance also covers you if you get sick or need emergency medical care while traveling.

Although it is very rare, it is possible for retreat guests to become ill during a retreat. This could be due to any number of reasons including street food, water quality, lack of sleep, virus picked up on a plane, or the like.

I highly recommend travel insurance for all my guests. Not only does it give you peace of mind if you miss your flight or if you baggage is lost or damaged but if you need to go to the emergency room or be airlifted to a medical facility your travel insurance could cover it. It is a nominal expense with significant benefits.

5. Book a Private Retreat Center

At my last retreat, we booked a beautiful retreat center on the outskirts of Ubud. When I first visited I fell in love with their mission, the yoga space, the wellness treatments and the food I tasted. But, what I didn’t consider was as a larger retreat center my guests only took up a portion of the property. As luck would have it, the week of my retreat was during the month of a yoga teacher training.

Although I took time to organize my retreat schedule ahead of time and communicate this to retreat coordinator at the retreat center, it did not go as smoothly as it looked like on paper.

First, no schedule stays 100% as outlined originally. We had no less than 10 changes in the first 3 days as I attempted to meet everyone’s unique needs and interests while also honoring the theme and intentions for the retreat. But if we change the time of our yoga classes or afternoon workshops we often did not have a space to hold the class or workshop. This was stifling.

Secondly, sharing a retreat center with another group did limit our access to props for yoga classes. Most days we had no blocks, no straps, no bolsters. This makes it challenging for beginning yoga students, those looking to move deeper into poses or explore poses in a new way, or for the restorative and yin yoga classes we had planned.

Lastly, we went to great effort to create community with our group through the classes, workshops, group dinners and excursions we offered. Despite this, some days there felt like a little lack of connection and people were not able to bond as much as they normally would. When we have held retreats at smaller retreat centers like, Vida Asana in Costa Rica, we had a small, private retreat center reserved exclusively for our guests and our retreat. It made a world of difference in creating and sustaining our community feel.

Wrapping it all up

Despite the distance for some of us in the Western hemisphere, Bali is well worth the flight. I wish you luck and success in hosting your retreat in Bali and hope the tips I have provided give you some useful guidance.


Shae Sterrett

Entrepreneur, dreamer, doer, lifestyle coach, business consultant, helping you get more done, live freely and fully with total wellness in mind, body and spirit.