This post was last updated on September 24th, 2014
We had heard the warnings. Fellow travelers felt personally responsible to inform us that Kuta was now the remnants of a past paradise, transformed into an overrun tourist town where too many high-priced souvenirs and western restaurants (think Hard Rock Café and Wendys) now dominate the landscape. We heeded their kind advice, and chose to stay at the amazing Puri Bambu hotel in Jimbaran Bay. But you know how it is. If you’re told not to play with fire, the first thing you do is try to turn bacon into a welding torch. So obviously we set off to Kuta on our first day in Bali, just to see if it lived up to our expectations.
The first thing we noticed was that there were about 10x more foreigners than locals. And the second thing? The Hard Rock Café.
Determined to understand why so many tourists came to a city that appeared like it could be any other city anywhere else in the world, we headed to the beach. Of course this would explain the obsession some have with Kuta! Unfortunately, we were met with a disappointing reality. The beach was filled with trash, and a sewer smell pervaded the area. Mamas, as they called themselves, roamed like hawks, and it didn’t take long for me to become their prey. Normally I’m pretty good at resisting when locals try to sell me overpriced services and goods. This time, I managed to leave Kuta beach with a manicure and pedicure, and I’m still not exactly sure how it happened.
In all fairness to Kuta, Dan did have a good time on a surfboard. But that was after he got over the fact that plastic garbage bags kept plastering themselves to his legs.
All that being said, Kuta makes sense if you want to pay lots of money to party all night and then nurse your hangover in your expensive resort the next day. Or maybe if you are looking for expensive shopping and fancy restaurants with an okay beach nearby. If that’s not you, than heed our advice—get out of Kuta as quickly as possible. Then check out some of the nearby places below.
The Bukit Peninsula
This was our favorite area of western Bali. White sandy beaches and turquoise water, good waves, not much traffic, just the right amount of development to have places to eat…what’s not to love? Broken down a little farther, here were some of our favorite spots:
This small alcove is the perfect spot to relax with a Bintang in hand while checking out the waves before a surf session. There are only a couple of warungs to eat at—we recommend the wraps at Kellys. Boards can be rented here for around 50,000 Rp ($5).
A little bit bigger than Bingin Beach, and maybe a little bit more picturesque, Padang Padang is a great white sandy beach with good waves. It’s also your gateway to surfing the famed Incredibles. It’s not as private as Bingin Beach, but this also means more entertainment. If you need a break from the sun, there are a lot of great restaurants on the main road. Don’t miss the Mexican fare at Sunset Grill—YUM.
The surf here is a little more intense, and the beaches not as accessible, but the monkeys sure are awesome. The Uluwatu Temple is located on a cliff, and easy to access via scooter. It is definitely worth the trek for the stunning views, and of course, the monkeys are an added bonus.
If you want to stay a little bit closer to Kuta for the conveniences the city offers, we recommend either Seminyak or Jimbaran Bay.
Seminyak is a little to the north, and is known as the ritzy, Ibiza-ish area. It’s definitely still expensive, but with lots of cute boutiques and great restaurants. The beach here is also much nicer than Kuta as it seems the expensive resorts here take the time to groom it.
Jimbaran Bay (to the south of Kuta) is where we stayed, and while the beach here isn’t really the best during the day, it comes alive at night. After watching a famous sunset, be sure to grab a romantic, candlelit table on the beach. All the restaurants offer fresh seafood dinners with the waves crashing at your feet. Don’t be shy to ‘negotiate’ your dinner price; apparently it’s normal to offer a discount.
As you can see, there are LOTS of options only about an hour outside of Kuta. And that’s only western Bali :-) We’ve also heard good things about Lovina and Sanur, although we haven’t been there ourselves. What is your favorite spot in Bali?