The Saturday City: Kuta

kuta beach in bali, indonesiaAfter my visit to Bali, I totally saw why so many expats move there. Bali is a beautiful, cheap, and verdant tropical island worthy of everything that is written about it. If it had better Internet and ended those rolling blackouts, I would move there. Except not for Kuta beach. Kuta beach is the tourist mecca of Bali. Once you leave Kuta and then the smaller tourist areas of Ubud and the Gili Islands, there are so few tourists you might think Bali has yet to be “discovered.” Then you get back to Kuta with its big bars, overpriced clothes, food, large hotels, and pink bodies and you sadly realize, that yup, Bali has been discovered and then some.

In my opinion, Kuta Beach is not worth visiting. It’s a good place to start and end your trip as it is close to the airport but unless you really want to do some hardcore drinking, there is no reason to visit Kuta beach. Visit everywhere else in Bali! In Kuta, the water is brown and filled with things like McDonalds cups, plastic bags, trash, and god knows what else. That blue tropical water you are looking for won’t be found on Kuta. For that, head to Nusa Lembogan, Eastern Bali, or the Gili Islands. I wouldn’t recommend swimming on Kuta’s beach. I felt dirty and like I needed a shower.

kuta beach in bali, indonesia

Moreover, the restaurants aren’t great. You’ll find overpriced Indonesian food and mediocre western food. There aren’t really any good places to eat here. I found a good Mexican place and there is the famous Madam’s Indonesian restaurant but the best food in bali is not found in Kuta. If you want excellent food, visit Ubud or Seminyak beach. These are where the really award winning delicious restaurants are.

The shopping in Kuta is decent and slightly cheaper than elsewhere on the island. Southern Bali is the most developed and western part of the island making sense that this would be the best place to shop. I found all the places on Bali offered a lot of the same touristy clothes and knock offs. I did manage to find some name brand shops but they weren’t as cheap as I thought they would be. The best deals were in the giant department stores. I bought new sneakers for $40 USD. Overall though, I was unimpressed with the shopping in Kuta and would rather shop in Bangkok or Singapore.

kuta beach in bali, indonesia

So with no good beach, no good food, and mediocre shopping, what does Kuta have? Resorts, surfing, and bars. There is a plethora of resorts starting at $50 USD going all the way up to $1000 USD a night. (Bali has the most $1000 USD resorts in the world!) And if you want crazy bars, giant cups of alcohol, and huge clubs that open until dawn, Kuta beach is the place to be. Moreover, the great surfing here and really cheap lessons but if you want to learn in clean water, go somewhere else. There’s good surfing all over the country.

So if you want to enjoy Bali, skip Kuta. Go elsewhere. There’s beautiful Ubud, the Jatiluwih rice terraces, Nusa Lembogan, Lovina, Amhed…the list goes on. If you all want to do party, shop, and hang out with tanned surfers in brown water, then Kuta is the place for you.

  1. I always feel sort of lame when I travel somewhere and say it’s too touristy – it seems so hackneyed. But in the case of Kuta you have to. The place sucks.

    And yes, totally agree, get away from southern Bali and you hardly see any tourists. It’s a great island.

  2. Jenna Francisco

    Good article. Hopefully visitors will think twice about Kuta. In my experience, Seminyak is the more upscale Kuta–it totally caters to tourists, but the area is beautiful and the restaurants have great views and good food. Lovina was a great getaway from everything– beautiful nature and a nice place to relax. The drive from south Bali across the island to Lovina is pretty amazing. Sanur is a small city near the airport– it used to be the tourist haven but is now more laid-back. A good place for tourists but I didn’t feel disconnected from the locals. My father lives there and loves it, and he has managed to get a decent Internet connection.

      • I couldn’t agree more, Matt. After spending most of our time in Bali up in Lovina (truly, a lovely place), Kuta came as a bit of a shock. It’s loud, polluted and certainly doesn’t ooze with charm and personality or have the friendliness of nearly everywhere else in Indonesia. Next time we’re there, we will no doubt be planning a later flight out to avoid having to spend a night in Kuta!

  3. Dave

    I met Matt briefly in Thailand, and found we had a common friend in the United States.

    I thought I’d peak at his website to see how things are going for him, and found a lot of relevant information. I’ll be going to Indonesia in the near future and certainly appreciate this post.

    For a fairly experienced traveller, I get stuck too much in places like this because of sheer laziness to investigate other options. It won’t happen this time, at least in Bali.

  4. I used to visit Bali on business three or four times a year, and generally had to stay in the Kuta area to be close to the people I had to meet. The thing that really ‘breaks’ Kuta for me are the touts. You can’t walk down the street without being constantly harassed to buy t-shirts, transport, massage, etc. It’s the most off-putting thing that can happen in any destination, and often the touts are so rude that you really want to suggest that they take lessons in marketing.

    But like most people, once you get away from Kuta, I love Bali. On my last trip I spent a few days in Candidasa, and might well rate it as one of the best beach areas I’ve stayed in. There was only one transport tout in the whole village and the restaurants were amazing, especially considering how few people seemed to be staying there.

  5. Totally agree! Now hotels in South Bali like flies on shit. I feel sorry for those people who come far far away, taking 20 hours of flight end up in McDs or KFCs for the most of the time on their holiday. Please, go to other parts of Bali, travel on bike or car and meets locals who never heard about of McD/KFC/BurgerK and the only foreign music they’ve ever heard is Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child of Mine…

  6. Hello I’m from Indonesia, I somehow agree. I agree at my best. Kuta when I was a kid, it still is a clean place with big awareness of neatness. And time flies so fast now people came there just to throw waste and God knows what. I recommend Padang-Padang bay, a secret beach, surrounded by cliff, you need to go down the cliff to get there. It is private and lovely. Ubud, Batur Hill/mountain, just go west, north, southeast of Bali. I am not impressed by Kuta.

    By the way, I live in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia. so people please get don’t be bothered to stay at my place.

  7. Well… i completely agree with you about Kuta, Matt. But i think Bali, Gili islands and Lombok are beautiful (apart from Kuta) but they are not the best places to go in Indonesia. We travelled from Surabaya to Flores by bicycle and i think East Java and Flores are amazing and you can find no tourists at all. If you want to get a “Off the beaten tracks” place to go: Sumbawa is still an undiscovered island.

    • I agree with you Leo, Sumbawa, Flores and the remote parts of Java are truly stunning. But for many who visit in search of a relaxing holiday, I think an incredible back-country bike tour is too much stress. I think Lombok is a happy compromise, especially if you visit the main Island rather than the tourist-dependent Gili Islands.

  8. Haha, I just asked in another article (southafrice) if you ever been to Indo. Well this answers it. I’ve heard so much good and quite a lot bad about Bali (most of the bad stuff was about Kuta. So I guess I need to visit Kuta, just to get that really bad experience everybody had and probably to shop some surf stuff too :)

    Have you been to the other Kuta (lombok). This sounds not as bad – as far as I’ve heard.

    Well I will find out – one month surf trip Indo in May will hopefully let us discover some of it.

    I like your way of writing (obviously I’m not the only one).


  9. I lived in Indonesia for a few years and friends always ask me for advice on travelling Indonesia. They usually start by asking about Bali. I strongly encourage them to avoid Kuta at all costs, but also suggest that they bi-pass Bali altogether.

    Although the Island has some beautiful remote spots in the north and east, its for the most part overdeveloped and overly reliant on toursim. Almost every Balinese works in the tourist industry and this changes they way they interact with foreigners. For a more authentic and local experience, I tell people to visit nearby Lombok Island, which includes the charmingly motor-vehicle free Gili Islands.

    In fact, Lombok has its own Kuta beach, only this Kuta actually has gorgeous beaches free of sloppy drunks. Its dirt cheap, the food is delicious and the surf is world class. From Kuta you can rent a motor bike and check out most spots around the Island in a day, including the stunning Gunung Rinjani, which in my opinion puts Bali’s Gunung Agung to shame.

    My only hesitation in recommending Lombok is that I dont want it to be “discovered.” Obviously, many who visit Indonesia at least will have heard of the Gili Islands, but the rest of Lombok remains mostly untouched. This will likely change very soon with the completion of the Saudi financed international airport going up 20 kilometeres from Kuta. So if you’re in Indonesia, check out this gem while it lasts.

  10. Michael, I agree with you. I’m sitting in Bali right now (February 2013) and can’t wait to leave tomorrow after three weeks on the island. It’s beautiful in places, although I visited islands more stunning.
    It became expensive in the past couple years, people are not very friendly, too many hawkers, walking down any street (and not just in the touristy areas) you can’t stop for a second, cause you get surrounded by people trying to sell you shit. Even in temples they try to take advantage. I really don’t like the attitude. I have no problem supporting local communities but I hate being cheated and it definitely made a big impact on my view of the place.
    Even local guides are not very knowledgeable about things – you get more info from a guidebook. You have to pry every piece of local knowledge out of them. It definitely helps to know the language, which I don’t. Didn’t think to learn for a three week trip.
    Roads are a nightmare. Seen a lot of accidents during my stay and almost been in a head on collision myself (I wasn’t driving).
    I enjoy the food, mie goreng and soto ayam being my all time favorites. I just love noodles. But you can get that anywhere in Indo.
    I’m not even going to mention Kuta.
    In summary, Bali is not the magical place I thought it to be.
    I’m in general a positive chilled out traveler, but this experience was disappointing. Off to Malaysia 😀

  11. Rahul Kapadia

    Hey Guys,

    Guess I came across this post a day too late! I’m booked for 7 days in Bali of which 4 are in Kuta!!

    While we don’t mind the party experience, I’m certainly not travelling all the way from India to experience crowds (we’ve got our own thing on that front!)

    I do love a good bike ride so suggestions on ways to explore the more docile beaches without spending the whole day travelling are welcome. Any suggestions on alternate beaches, I am already planning to check out Uluwatu, Seminyak and wanna add a few more beaches to the list.

    Appreciate the insights!

  12. Agree Kuta is not the best place in Bali. There are many other great destinations in Bali to hang around. But the country has become very touristy and prices there are escalating mad.

  13. Dale

    I’m off to Bali in June for 10 nights. I’m staying in Seminyak. Please tell me that’s okay. It doesn’t seem that far from Kuta.

  14. Ramona

    Hi everybody,
    I’m a fairly experienced independent traveler and have been traveling through Indonesia with my 24 yr. old daughter for the last week. This trip is her college graduation trip. We had a great time on Java, then came to south Bali just for a short time (1 1/2 days) so she could see what all the hoopla was about. We’ve only made it to Legian beach…. Wow, it was absolutely disgusting! Touts wouldn’t even let us rest on the beach for more than 15 minutes at a time. When wading in the water we had to keep pulling plastic trash off of our limbs, and the trash floated up to the shore making little piles as well. Then the clincher was when we went to use the ATM in a quick shop across from our hotel on Jalan Legian. We made the mistake of letting our guard down for a minute while we were counting money that I’d just removed from the cash machine. Before I’d removed my receipt and my card from the machine this dude rushes up to us like he needs to get past quickly to use the toilet, but then goes straight to the ATM. When I told him that I think my card was still there he of course hands me my receipt and shows us his card that he’d quickly shoved into the machine. Then he rushed away while I’m thinking MAYBE I’d already put it into my wallet. Luckily it wasn’t my primary card and I was able to cancel it within 10 minutes. Can’t wait to get to Ubud, our next stop!

  15. Mike

    Traveling RTW with family….. In Kuta tonight. It is a bit wild and tasteless, but still can be fun for an overnight prior to moving on to Australia.

    I first traveled here in ’93; how things have changed. I even hung out in Paddy’s bar… Now there is a memorial there after the bombing.

    Even Ubud has been over built but once off the major paths the country is still magical. Beautiful people, good food and great massage!

  16. swanny

    I am an Aussie so we have been there. It is pretty much where all Aussies go to get pissed and have a cheap holiday. Flights from Perth to bali cost as little as $100 AUD so it is much cheaper than heading interstate to Melbourne or Sydney or even to Rottnest Island (20 km from Perth). I went there once and hated it, I was on a holiday I wanted to get away from my Aussie counterparts not see more of them. I guarantee you will see more Aussies (especially West Aussies) than Balinese in Kuta, it is just not worth it if you want to experience another culture and also see nice beaches. If you want to get pissed with my countrymen Kuta is great place to go!
    I would go to Seminyak or Ubud instead of Kuta

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