Understanding Bali’s Volcano activities and its impact on visiting Bali

Update: Threat level has been increased to Maximum and DPS airport is temporarily closed at the moment. Latest news here. If you have a scheduled trip, keep an eye on the news, hopefully things will be normal soon. Please check this post on my AirlineBlog on how to deal if you're affected by Bali's airport closure.
------------------------------------- Original Post -------------------

Indonesia is in news again for volcanic activity and many who'd planned visiting Bali and rest of Indonesia are worried if it is safe to visit as per their plan. This post aims to provide information and clarification about visiting Bali right now with reference to volcano risk.
Contextual Image- sipping tea with mount Batur in background, October 2016
1. How will I know when will the Volcano erupt while plan my vacation to Bali?
Typically just like earthquakes and tsunamis, there’s no way to predict a Volcano months in advance. If you’re thinking of visiting Bali, you can go ahead and book without fear. Volcanos are continuously monitored for any signs of trouble and corresponding advisory is issued by the disaster mitigation agency in Indonesia. Volcanos erupt only once in several decades, so even if Volcano is active now, there’s no reason to fear it, particularly if you’re thinking of a trip in future, say early 2018. Most minor to medium scale volcano activities affect only nearby areas (5-10km radius), not all of bali. However unlike earthquake or tsunami, volcanoes give some head-start- before eruption there will be lots of seismic activities that can be tracked and there'll be enough time to evacuate people if needed. Probability of a minor Volcano eruption disrupting tourism for entire is on lower side.

2. Where exactly are these mountains causing Volcano and how far are they?
The mountains are towards the northern end of Bali. Mount Agung, which is currently being monitored at Level 3, is some 85 kms from Denpasar Airport. Thus minor volcanic activities had no negative impact on Bali Airport so far, flights have been operational as usual. Tourists visiting Bali can comfortably explore most of the areas in central and South Bali, including Ubud, Nusa Dua, Kuta and various islands off Bali such as Nusa Penida, Lambok etc without any impact from Volcano activities. Below map gives an idea of relative location of two mountains (Mount Raung was active in 2015) and Bali's gate way airport- Ngurah Rai International airport, Bali


3. What are the Do’s and Don’ts w.r.t Volcanoes when in Bali
Do’s
  • Pay attention to latest updates- tweets or news from Disaster Management committee- for latest threat levels, evacuation zones etc. (Official handles @Sutopo_BNPB, @BNPB_Indonesia)
  • Unlike earth quakes n tsunamis, Volcano can be predicted better closer to eruption, if any. Authorities can track the activities that lead up to eruption and order evaluation of nearby areas. There’ll be at least few hours to few days of lead time to safely move away. So Volcano is not as deadly as it sounds. There is no need to panic.
  • Check your plan for the day, ensure not to visit close to volcano area
  • Understand that Volcano on its own is not deadly. Risk arises from being hit molten lava, with ash/debris, inhaling poisonous gas etc. These are fully avoidable by being alert and not going anywhere closer. If you're 20-30kms away there's nothing to fear.
  • While Airlines are usually generous in allowing you to reschedule your flight if airport is shutdown due to Volcanic ash, some hotels may not be that kind and may insist on changing a cancellation fee as per their policy. Might be good idea to book hotels that allow free cancellation up to 24-48 hours prior to check in date. In 2015 I lost a few thousand rupees as 2 of the 3 hotels I had booked refused to refund. (Hotel Tanjung Sari Inn in Nusa Dua gave full refund but Puri Dalem hotel in Sanur and Maven Gunung Sahari (Jakartha) charged a cancellation fee.)
  • Having some masks with you might be advisable, though not deemed necessary at the moment. This will be needed in case strong winds blow volcanic ash over populated areas, affecting air quality. (Sometimes winds take these ashes all the way to Singapore!)
  • If possible have Visa for nearby countries or a plan B in mind. This will enable you to make changes to your plans last minute, if situation demands. (Philippines gives VOA if you have US/UK visa, Thailand gives VOA, Vietnam you can get approval in a day or two etc)
Don’t
  • Rumors spread very easily causing panic. Cross check facts before believing in rumors that circulate about volcano.
  • Avoid visiting the affected region- stay away from Mount Batur sunrise trek, Mount Agung trek etc. Explore other places in Bali away from these mountains.
4. What are the Volcano Alert Levels and what do they mean?
Below is the meaning of different Volcano alert levels [Source]. Current Level in Bali is Level 3 or Orange.

5. How is life in Bali now? Is the airport open?
Life in Bali is pretty much normal in all areas, except villages which are in close proximity to mount Agung. Those villages in danger zone have been evacuated. Rest of Bali is leading a normal life and  Nuang Rai Airport in Denpasar (DPS) is fully operational.

Above & Below- Photo of Mount Batur from distance and closeup- representative image, October 2016

6. What happens if the Airport is shut down due to Volcanic activities?
DPS airport is safe distance away from the mountains, but disruption if it happens, happens because of wind carrying volcanic ash closer to airport, compromising visibility and the risk of damage to engines and airframe. This happened with us in 2015. I had planned a trip to Bali with family via Air Asia in November 2015 but the airport was shut down due to Volcanic ash from Mount Raung creating visibility and health hazard. Though our tickets were non-refundable, because of this circumstances, Air Asia credited the amount back into their wallet (Credit account- I had to use it for new bookings within 90 days).

Thus what happens to you depends on whether you're yet to board your flight or have already reached Bali
Scenario 1: You're yet to board your flight for Bali
Since DPS airport is closed, you can't reach Bali. So what happens next depends on your airline's policy. Most airlines allow you a free reschedule within a fixed time frame- like 2-4 weeks. You can reschedule your visit to Bali at no extra cost or price difference. If you want to cancel completely and take your money back, most airlines usually allow that if you press for it, as they don't want to appear unfriendly during a natural disaster.

Some airlines like Air Asia return the money back into your wallet (credit account)- you've to use it for some other booking within 90 days- advantage is you can book for any other destination, disadvantage is if you've booked a cheap ticket and no other sale is happening, you've to book at higher price.

Scenario 2: Already in Bali, but unable to return due to Airport closure
Now it is airline's responsibility to fly you back. You may have to wait for a few days- depending on how long the airport is closed, how many additional flights airline can organize (once airport reopens) and what's your number among hundreds of stranded passengers. I am not sure if airline will provide hotel- as it is not their fault.

Insurance coverage
Ideally insurance should cover this kind of natural mishaps. But as per this news some insurance companies are refusing to cover Volcano related claims (including missed flights etc) for those who bought the policy after a certain date, on the ground that the person traveled to Bali even after knowing the active volcano risk, so it is no longer an unforeseen incident.  So you've to be careful with your travel insurance terms and condition

Above: My scoopy infront of a Volcano alert signage.

7. Worst case scenario
What is the worst that can happen? If the eruption is too strong or sustains for long duration then following can happen
-Evacuation zone will be widened to much larger radius
-If wind blows volcano particles towards city, air quality will drop. If it sustains, it can cause health hazard
- If Volcanic ash reaches airport area, airport may have to be shut down

8. When will it be safe to visit Bali? Can I go next month or should I wait?
Current Volcano alert level is at Level 3. Activities so far have been highly localized and contained to foot of the mountain. Rest of Bali is fully safe to explore. We visited in early November and there was absolutely no problem. You can go next month- there is always 1% risk that situation may change unfavorably closer to your travel date- but that can happen anytime, all the time-even if you book say for late 2018. It is not possible to predict mother nature 100%, we have to live with it. Another benefit is lower airfares, cheaper hotels and travel deals made possible because many tourists shy away from visiting Bali fearing volcano. Now you know it is not really fatal, so you might as well take advantage of the situation and explore Bali well for less money.

Have safe trip to Bali. Myself and many others I know had memorable trips to Bali in November. There's absolutely no need to panic.

Disclaimer: All information as available with the author at the time of writing. Information, risk levels etc can change with time. Please use this post only as a reference, check for latest updates from official sources and use your discretion.

Related: Exploring Mount Batur and surroundings on Scoopy * Detailed experience of our 2015 Bali rip that had to be cancelled due o Airport closure * Chennai Flood experience * . 
Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers

12 comments:

  1. Thanks for your article Nidhi.

    Right now I am touring Bali, in a group. And your write-up is really helpful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad it was helpful. Have safe trip in Bali, have fun

      Delete
  2. This was such an informational and detailed post. After the recent volcanic activity in Bali, we contemplated whether or not to visit Bali. This post is quite helpful and a sigh of relief. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My pleasure it was of use. Enjoy your trip to Bali

      Delete
  3. Fabulous post! Super informative and very timely. I was in Bali last week and managed a quick day trip to Mother temple which is at the foothills of Mt. Agung and all was well but... it erupted a few days later. The latest I hear is that the Bali airport is shut for 2 days because of the eruption.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, read about that. Thanks.. Wrote a separate post on how affected passengers can cope up http://www.airlineblog.in/2017/11/bali-airport-closure-best-way-to-handle.html

      Delete

Appreciate your efforts and interests to comment. Comments may be moderated due to increased spam. Will ideally respond to comments within few days- Shrinidhi

Powered by Blogger.