How to avoid tour guiding scams at popular attractions

Tourist traps are everywhere and Bali is not immune to it, especially when it comes to the good old scheme of street guides.

Guides at popular temples

At many popular temples, it’s not uncommon to see tourists being hassled into paying a guide to walk with them around the site.

For an unsuspecting foreigner, these people might seem like experts and officials, however, you’ll be surprised to learn that there’s not a single temple in Bali that actually requires a tour guide. You’re only required to maintain decency.

Besakih Temple is where these dodgy things happen the most. Not surprising considering the fact that it is the biggest temple in Bali.

Here you’ll find a gauntlet of hustlers (and believe me, there are way too much of them here compared to other places) interrupting your way to the temple and forcing you to hire one of their men by bringing up “government regulation.” If you happen to be targeted by one, just remember that they’re certainly lying. As long as you’re covering your shoulders and wearing garments from the waist down, you are 100% okay.

Another trick often employed by these hustlers is offering the “tour” for free in advance, but in the end asking for a donation in a pitiful manner that puts you in a dilemma.

Guides at northern Bali waterfalls

The locals at north Bali waterfalls can be particularly feisty when it comes to forcing you to pay for unnecessary guides.

This is especially true with Gitgit waterfall where you can trek by your own but the hustlers under the disguise of “local guide” will force you to hire them and pay a nonsensical amount of IDR 300K (about US$22) per person for 15 minutes of walk.

The case is a bit different with Aling-aling and 2 other waterfalls in the same area, which are full of mixed reviews on Google Maps and Tripadvisor. The reason is you can pay for regular entry but the locals will persuade you to hire a guide that costs IDR 150,000/US$11 per person (including a life jacket to jump off the cliff at one of the waterfalls).

I have to say that the locals there are pretty clever in selling the guiding option. Visitors are free to choose a regular entry, but they can only visit the first waterfall. If you want to have the experience of jumping off the waterfall cliff just like those Instagrammers and Youtubers, then that’s $11 for you.

Now there are two opinions about this: those who think that it’s worth it argues that since the trek is much more arbitrary, a guide is necessary as accidents are likely to happen for those who aren’t aware. On the other hand, those who think that it’s a scam hate the fact that regular entry price disallows you from entering the other 2 waterfalls.

To be honest, I personally would’ve hoped that the guiding price could be cheaper but I still think it’s worth doing if you can allocate the budget. But if you can’t, then going with the regular one without paying extra would be fine anyway. The first waterfall is still mesmerizingly beautiful and surprisingly deep (2.5 meters!)

Nonetheless, Banyumala, Banyu Wana and Munduk waterfalls are practically free from these scams.

The waterfalls in other Bali areas such as Tegenungan, Tibumana and Tukad Cepung in central Bali are safe from these problems as they are professionally managed by the village officials who have received government backings and private investments.

Tips to avoid these tour guiding scams

  1. If you’re being approached by one, be straightforward from the start by saying “no thank you” while avoiding eye contact.
  2. If they’re offering a free guiding tour and it was not in your plan, ignore them. There’s no free lunch, especially in tourist areas.
  3. If they’re strong-arming you by bringing up regulation, keep walking away.
  4. If they’re in any way trying to physically harm you, raise your voice and tell them that you’ll call the police.
  5. If you realize you’ve already paid for something that wasn’t supposed to be, approach the person back and ask them to return your money. Open up your camera, say it out loud and make sure you’re being seen by a lot of visitors. This technique works 70% of all time.

Now, you might be wondering, are there actually officially licensed tour guides in Bali? Plenty, but they don’t just hang around the attraction entrances approaching tourists. These licensed tour guides are either employed by large travel agencies or offering their service through websites and social media which require booking in advance.

As for the “guides” that are harassing tourists on the entrance route, not only could they just be making things up, but I also don’t really think that they can hold conversation at basic level in English at all and surely won’t give you any better experience or insights like a licensed tour guide will.

Good luck and safe travels!

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