Tourism and Drug Trafficking Overlap in Bali

By McCarton Ackerman 02/25/13

Drug lords reveal from prison how the tourism mecca masks a thriving drug trade.

bali tourist.jpg
Bali attracts 2.9 million tourists a year. Photo via

Bali is one of the world's top tourist destinations, pulling in around 2.9 million visitors a year. And that industry provides useful "camouflage" for drug traffickers, according to a new non-fiction bookSnowing in Bali, by Kathryn Bonella. Via interviews with some of the island's biggest drug lords—both active and incarcerated—Bonella finds that many of them first came to the island as tourists. And traffickers now routinely slip in and out amid the flow of visitors, sometimes disguised by carrying items like windsurfers and hang gliders that are stuffed with cocaine. Many dealers report operating in broad daylight, handing over backpacks filled with ecstasy pills. But it's cocaine that makes the biggest profit, particularly when the drug is shipped on to Australia. A kilo of cocaine valued at $1,000-2,000 in South America costs anywhere from $20,000-90,000 once it reaches Bali. The rate is dictated by whether it's “snowing in Bali”—ie by how much coke is on the island at the time. If it reaches Australia, one kilo can be worth up to $250,000. The book claims that no more than 10% of the island's drug traffickers are caught. But when they are, the penalties can be dire: British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford, 56, was recently sentenced to death after being busted at Bali’s airport with 4.7 kilos of coke in her suitcase lining. 

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.