What is Bali Belly and What is the Best Way to Prevent It?

Last Updated: April 12th, 2024

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Bali Belly is the term affectionately given to the symptoms of Traveler’s Diarrhea many tourists experience when visiting Bali. While it isn’t anything to be alarmed by, it can be inconvenient for your travel plans.

This leads many visitors to ask what is Bali Belly, what causes it, and how it can be avoided.

While Bali Belly sounds as if it is specific to Indonesia’s island paradise, it is actually a very common occurrence when traveling to new countries or regions.

What is Bali Belly, and What Causes It?

Bali Belly is nothing more than a common case of Traveler’s Diarrhea, which typically occurs as your stomach adjusts to an exotic destination’s new foods, bacteria, and viruses. In the case of Bali Belly, the most common culprits causing an upset stomach are E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter, which all typically enter the body through contaminated foods.

What-Causes-Bali-Belly
An open-air fruit market in Bali.

And since sampling the island’s local cuisine is a pivotal part of the tourist experience, it is fairly common and even expected that many tourists will experience Bali Belly throughout their trip.

Most cases of Bali Belly typically occur within the first week of visiting the island and can often last for a couple of days as your stomach adjusts to the foreign bacteria in the food and water.

What are Some Bali Belly Symptoms?

What-Are-Some-Bali-Belly-Symptoms
Woman shopping with a protective mask in Denpasar.

The symptoms of Bali Belly typically begin to occur about two to five hours after your body has been exposed to the bacteria or viruses known to cause the ailments.

The earliest symptoms to present themselves are a gurgling stomach, bloating, and nausea. However, as the case of Bali Belly progresses, it expands to include other symptoms, such as:

  • Diarrhea
  • Frequent and sudden bowel movements
  • Abdominal cramping, bloating, and pain
  • Mild Temperature
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Fatigue and dizziness

While Bali Belly can cause discomfort and inconvenience for your trip, most symptoms clear up on their own anywhere after 1 to 5 days. However, in more serious cases, you may require professional medical care if you become too dehydrated. So be sure to drink lots of water.

Why is it Called Bali Belly?

Why-Is-It-Called-Bali-Belly
A traditional Balinese Kecak Fire Dance.

Bali Belly is the term given to describe Traveler’s Diarrhea as it relates to Indonesia’s tropical island tourist destination.

However, this is one of many colloquial names that describe the symptoms of an upset stomach caused by exposure to foreign bacteria and viruses.

Other names commonly associated with Traveler’s Diarrhea include Montezuma’s Revenge, the Nile Runs, and Delhi Belly, all of which are typically used to describe the occurrence in various regions around the world.

Bali Belly, in particular, is affectionately used to describe the symptoms of Traveler’s Diarrhea as it occurs across the Indonesian archipelago and even several other countries across Southeast Asia, as it is commonly associated with being caused by the spices used in the region’s cooking.

Is Bali Belly Contagious?

Is-Bali-Belly-Contagious

Yes, Bali Belly can be contagious.

This is because the bacteria and viruses that cause the symptoms of Traveler’s Diarrhea can be passed between people as well as through food and water.

So if you are traveling with someone unwell or feeling sick yourself, wash your hands regularly and avoid sharing any food or drinks with others.

Can You Get Bali Belly Twice?

While it isn’t particularly common, tourists can get Bali belly twice. This is because many different bacteria and viruses are known to cause the ailment, and contracting it once will not make you immune to all of them.

Still, the chances of contracting Bali Belly twice are low since the longer you stay on the island, the more time your body has to adapt to its changed environment.

Additionally, as you collect more bacteria in your body during your stay on the island, your immune system will become stronger.

How to Prevent Bali Belly

Traveler’s Diarrhea is known to affect approximately 50% of all travelers. And considering Bali is particularly known for the condition, the chances of you experiencing it at least once while staying on the Indonesian island is pretty high.

Still, you can take steps to avoid contracting the bacteria known to cause Bali Belly.

1. Pay Attention to the Food

Pay-Attention-To-The-Food
Nasi lemack, a traditional dish in Bali.

The most common culprit known for spreading Bali Belly is contaminated food. This is because Bali’s tropical climate is the ideal habitat for bacteria which are known to thrive in hot and humid environments.

For this reason, food in Bali can often spoil much faster than back home. And an important step for avoiding Bali Belly is ensuring you aren’t eating any compromised foods.

To do this, tourists should avoid eating;

  • Raw salads
  • Peeled Fruit
  • Food that looks like it was left out
  • Street food from vendors that look unclean
  • Undercooked meat and seafood

2. Only Drink Bottled Water

Similarly, the bacteria causing Bali Belly can also be passed through the island’s tap water, which can often be inconsistent at best.

For this reason, tap water, in general, should be avoided. However, in those moments where you have no option, such as in the shower or washing your hands, you should always be cautious not to get any in your eyes or mouth.

Instead, visitors should only consume bottled water. This includes avoiding washing your food and cutlery in tap water, as well as washing your teeth from the tap.

Unfortunately, this also means you should avoid adding ice to your drinks, which is particularly inconvenient if you enjoy a cocktail on the beach.

3. Practice Good Hygiene

Practice-Good-Hygiene
A picturesque outdoor sink in Ubud.

Like any illness that can be passed from person to person, practicing good hygiene is an important step in avoiding contracting Bali Belly.

To minimize the chances of bacteria entering your body, always wash your hands before eating, avoid touching your face, eyes, and mouth, and do not share food or drink.

4. Don’t Over Eat Upon Your Arrival

Most cases of Bali belly typically occur during the first week of a tourist’s stay on the island. This is because many visitors instantly start sampling all of the island’s delicious cuisines upon arriving in Bali before allowing their stomachs time to adjust.

However, this dramatic change in diet is actually one of the most significant culprits causing tourists an upset stomach, especially if it is their first time visiting and they are not used to Indonesia’s spicy foods.

To counteract this, visitors should instead ease into the foreign foods, mixing in the occasional familiar meals to settle their stomachs. Additionally, be sure to order your meal “tanpa sambal” if spicy foods do not agree with your metabolism.

Finally, alcohol should only be consumed in moderation, at the very least, towards the beginning of your stay in Bali. This is because alcohol can irritate your stomach lining and help facilitate Bali Belly symptoms.

5. Give Your Body Some Time to Adjust Your Environment

Give-Your-Body-Some-Time-To-Adjust-Your-Environment
A woman on the jungle swing in Bali.

Another reason why Bali Belly can occur early on in your trip to the island is that our bodies are particularly vulnerable following periods of travel.

Traveling to Bali can leave our bodies physically exhausted, especially if you are coming from Europe or the Americas.

This exhaustion can often leave our immune systems weakened and particularly vulnerable as we adjust to a foreign environment such as Bali’s humid tropical climate.

For this reason, it is important to take some time to unwind and rest after arriving in Bali and take some time to acclimatize to the natural environment. You should avoid strenuous activities and excessive drinking until you are comfortable in the new setting.

Is There a Bali Belly Treatment?

Is-There-A-Bali-Belly-Treatment
A woman practicing yoga in Ubud.

As much as you may try to avoid it, contracting Bali belly will always be a risk of traveling. But luckily, while there isn’t a magic instant cure, there are some steps you can take to help your body recover should you catch a case of Traveler’s Diarrhea.

1. Stay Hydrated

Let’s get something clear. If you do catch a case of Bali Belly, there are going to be a lot of liquids coming out of your body. Therefore, it is critical to replace these liquids by drinking lots of water (make sure it’s bottled), lest you succumb to dehydration.

While Bali Belly isn’t typically dangerous and alleviates after a few days, professional medical care may be required if you become too dehydrated.

2. A Healthy Diet

While it may be difficult to keep anything down between frequent visits to the toilet, your body needs food to recover.

The BRAT diet offers simple foods that may help with your symptoms and consist of eating bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. Other foods that may help include potatoes, smooth peanut butter, skinless chicken or turkey, and yogurt.

3. Foods to Avoid

Conversely, while it is a great idea to get something in your stomach, you will want to avoid those foods and drinks that caused it to get upset in the first place. These foods to avoid include;

  • Spicy food
  • Alcohol
  • Dairy
  • Raw fruits
  • Fatty foods
  • Caffeinated drinks
  • Beans
  • cabbage

4. Medication

Since Bali Belly can be caused by a whole slew of different bacteria and viruses, there is no one magic pill to cure it. However, there are some medications designed to alleviate some of the symptoms.

It is important to speak to a doctor before leaving your home country about gastro symptom relief medication like Diapet and Imodium, or even anti-diarrheal medications such as loperamide and bismuth

5. Natural Treatments

Beyond taking medication to alleviate the symptoms, there are several natural treatments that many travelers swear by. These can include:

  • Using a heating pad for treating abdominal cramps
  • Taking zinc supplements
  • Acupressure on your inner wrist
  • Taking probiotics like yogurt and Yakult

Final Thoughts

While Bali Belly is nothing more than a common case of Traveler’s Diarrhea, it is still known to cause discomfort for your body, not to mention be very inconvenient for your travel plans.

To avoid contracting this stomach bug, it is important to be wary of what you put in your body and always practice good hygiene.

Still, this isn’t always enough, and you very well may still come down with an upset stomach regardless of the preventive steps you have taken.

If this is the case, don’t worry. Just get some rest, drink plenty of water, and don’t stray too far from the toilet. The bug should pass in a few days.

About The Author

A Canada-based freelance writer, Kurt acquired his bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Windsor. Upon graduating, Kurt left the courtside media desk behind and began venturing the globe. Throughout his journeys, Kurt enjoys partaking in slow travel and loves to explore the histories and cultures of each destination, which he shares with others through his writing.

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Picture of Kurt Norris

Kurt Norris

A Canada-based freelance writer, Kurt acquired his bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Windsor. Upon graduating, Kurt left the courtside media desk behind and began venturing the globe. Throughout his journeys, Kurt enjoys partaking in slow travel and loves to explore the histories and cultures of each destination, which he shares with others through his writing.

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