I receive several emails a week about doing yoga retreats abroad. The most common question is, “Should I do a yoga retreat in Bali or India?”
For background, in 2013 I did a three-week DIY budget yoga retreat in Ubud, Bali, and in 2014 I completed a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training in Rishikesh, India. While I enjoyed both Bali and India, they're very different destinations, so I wanted to underline the pros and cons in order to help you decide which will be a better fit for you.
Cost – Winner, India
India is undoubtedly cheaper than Bali. My month-long Yoga Teacher Training cost only $1,250 USD, which included instruction, three vegetarian meals a day, hotel accommodation, and a weekly field trip.
On the other hand, a Yoga Teacher Training in Bali will cost you $2500 – $4500 USD. And that doesn't usually include accommodation or food.
Comfort – Winner, Bali
Bali is definitely more developed than most parts of India. Amenities like air conditioning are easier to come by, and overall the men are much less aggressive. However, it is a more expensive destination but luckily not by much – Bali is still very affordable.
Instruction Level – Tie
I loved both my instructors in both India and Bali. My instructors at my Vinyasa Yoga School in India were incredible – my primary vinyasa instructor is an award-winning yogi, who had competed in the Lakulish World Yogasan Championship. Also, I liked having all Indian instructors – they taught us a ton about Indian culture and history.
I also loved my instructors in Bali at the Yoga Barn. While most of my yoga teachers were western, I did have a few Balinese teachers. Les Leventhal in particular was one of the best teachers I've ever had.
Overall the yoga instruction in both Bali and India was top-notch.
What is Rishikesh, India, like?
Rishikesh is a holy city on the Ganges. It became famous in the 60's when the Beatles visited, and is sometimes called the “Yoga Capital of the World.” (Yoga centers are seriously everywhere).
Rishikesh isn't exactly undeveloped, but it's not luxurious by any means. The power goes out every couple of hours and only few buildings in town have AC, which is especially troubling when temperatures soar above 110 degrees.
Like most places I visited in Northern India, cows and monkeys abound. (And due to the cows, tons of cow pies and flies). Another thing to note is that Rishikesh is a meat- and alcohol-free city, so no post-yoga happy hours while in Rishikesh.
To be honest, I didn't love Rishikesh. It felt like the worst of both worlds – remote enough to lack amenities, but not remote enough to actually enjoy fresh air or mountain scenery. Also most of the food was god-awful. If you're interested in going to India for yoga, I've heard great things about both Goa and Northern India for yoga retreats.
What is Ubud, Bali, like?
Ubud is the landlocked cultural hub of Bali. A small city, Ubud is chock-full of art galleries, yoga studios, and healthy cafés. It has become much more touristy since the Eat Pray Love phenomenon, but I still found it easy to meet locals and get around without too many touts.
If you're looking to indulge yourself, stay at the Alaya – it's a luxury hotel located right next to the Yoga Barn. Plus, it has the sweetest staff and gorgeous views of the rice terraces.
Where did you do your yoga teacher training in India?
I did my Yoga Teacher Training at Vinyasa Yoga School in Rishikesh. I loved the instructors but was not fond of the management- every time we voiced a concern, it fell upon deaf ears. Also the owner tried to get us to pay under the table which was shady, needless to say. The hotel where we stayed was passably nice but the power went out 10-15 times a day (no joke) and there was no AC.
Where did you do your budget yoga retreat in Bali?
I did yoga at the The Yoga Barn in Ubud for three weeks. I absolutely loved it – the grounds are beautiful and lush, the food is delicious and healthy and the instructors are world-class. I also really enjoyed the spa – I mean, duh.
Why did you ultimately chose to your yoga teacher training in India over Bali?
Despite absolutely loving my budget yoga retreat in Bali, I ultimately chose to do my yoga teacher training in India because of two factors: one, yoga originated in India, and two, it's much, much cheaper. Ultimately I was happy with my experience because I got to discover a new country and trek the Himalayas.
I would highly recommend doing yoga in India and Bali – however, they offer very different experiences.
If you want to relax and unwind, go to Bali. I loved doing yoga in landlocked Ubud, but if you're more into the beach check out Canggu or nearby Gili Air.
If you want to rough it, and immerse yourself in a fascinating but often frustrating culture, go to India.
As I wrote when I visited, “Out of all the countries I’ve visited, India is by far the dirtiest and poorest, but also the most colorful, spiritual and fascinating.”
Other posts that may help you decide whether to do yoga in India or Bali: