Just the word "Bali" has become a byword for the good life. It conjures images of jungle-fringed beaches and cascading rice terraces, of tropical vistas and salt-spraying seas, all underpinned with a current of mystery and magic, wreathed in incense and scented with enticing peanut satay and BBQ smoke. We make no secret of our no-holes-barred love for the so-called Isle of the Gods, which is why hopping the beaches of Bali, from Bingin to Canggu, is one of our favorite things to do. Maybe you'll join us someday?
It's early in Kuta. There's a soft glow of light spreading across the Indian Ocean, glinting on the waves of the Bali Sea in hues of orange, ochre and yellow. Footsteps tinkle on the cobbled streets outside, some returning from an all-nighter in the sky bars (no doubt), others heading to stake their claim in the line-up and grab the morning swell. The clang of the gamelan – Indonesia's recognizable local instrument – echoes somewhere in the distance. It marks the start of a new day in Bali's beachside party town, like a signal for the good vibes to flow again.
I'm trotting up to breakfast, leaving the cool, air-conned interior of my surf-side pad for the tropical rooftop. Palm leaves provide the shade up there, swaying as the salt-tasting breezes roll in from the Ocean. Frangipani and bougainvillea blooms combine to color the trellises overhead. I sit and watch the rhythm of the water from beneath them, just 100 meters away, or less, and delve into a plate of fruits so tasty I feel like writing home about them: bananas as short as my pinky but packed with flavor; watermelon that melts in the mouth; a papaya-type thing I can't describe; a pineapple to make any SpongeBob jealous.
Fruits of the Isle of the Gods done and dusted, it's time to make like a Kuta local and hit the beach. The stretch of sand that fringes the coastline of southern Bali just a stone's throw from where I'm staying is among the most famous on the whole island. It's powdery and yellow, wide and softly sloping, packed with coconut shacks and tanning bodies. It's easy to see why it's so vaunted.
But most of all, it's home to the iconic Kuta beach break, once a magnet for West Coasters and Hawaiian masters of the waves. These days, it's widely considered to be THE best place to find your surfing feet on Bali. I watch as 100s of folk dutifully trudge, foamies in arm, across the pavements towards the crashing sounds of the waves. Others meet at the surf schools that pepper the narrow lanes of North Kuta, bargaining for hour-long lessons and hopeful to conquer the legendary swells of Bali.
I join the steady stream of morning sun seekers on their way to Kuta Beach. Wiggling past the boho bars and barber shops, the knock-of T-shirt sellers and the endless surf shops, I find time enough to grab a health shake from a roadside shack. Piles of avocado and lime and mint and all sorts of other uber-good-for-you green stuff goes in. It costs less than $1 and I'm on my way again, sipping, smiling, slurping and just taking in the good vibes life of southern Bali on my way to the beach.
Kuta Beach lines the long and bustling roadway of Jalan Pantai Kuta. It starts just north of the runways of Denpasar Airport (be sure to keep an eye out for its sparkling run of sand if you're planning on landing during the day – it looks breathtaking). I dodge the blue-hued taxis and the rumbling scooters and find myself ducking under a carved gateway – curious little architectural flurries like that are everywhere on Bali – to access the shoreline.
Then it spreads out in front of me. To the south-east, it peters away into the reefs that ring around the runways of DPS. I think I can just about see the outline of surfers peaking and toughing with the waves that crash so close to where the planes are taking off and landing. To the north-west, it runs and runs as far as the eye can see. In the distance, it's obscured by the mist that froths up from the sea, where the waves are crashing and ripping, rolling and roaring to the unceasing rhythm of the Indian Ocean.
Everywhere are surf boards, jutting from the sands like the totems of Easter Islander tribes. Like palms sprouting to form a jungle, they create a forest of fiberglass and foam that stretches away in pockets with the whole length of Kuta Beach. Their moss is the caking of surf wax, washed and muddied by the smash of countless Balinese waves. There's always a figure to tend them, usually lazing on a deckchair behind a plume of cigarette smoke and some darn cool shades.
There are also trails of footsteps wiggling this way and that like snakes across the yellow sands. This early in the morning, I know they could have only been made by the dedicated coconut sellers or ice-cream wallahs that are always the first to Bali's shores at sunup. I follow them and see a double-bent figure weighed down by stacks of green coconuts, a man toting a souvenir bow and arrow, another with his arms laden with ice creams and lollipops.
It's not hard to find a patch of shade right where I'm standing, but I've also learned that Kuta Beach gets a tad less busy as you stroll up its length. I start trudging over the yellow powder and weave between the groves of standing surfboards. I encounter surfers in rash vests and boardies stretching, others pulling their morning downward dog yoga poses while gazing out across the Indian Ocean, others strapping on the leash and starting to paddle over the whitewash.
There's a smile on all of their faces. It's enough to give you the feeling that surfing in Kuta is about enjoyment, not territory, not ego, not showing off. Pure enjoyment. It's what sets this stretch of surfer sand apart from so many of the other "hotspots" around the planet. You can come here as a total beginner and not worry about being judged. You'll probably find you share the waves with all levels of rider, plus countless groups of neon-clad first-timers to boot. I say that as I look up and see a whole crew of learning surfers practicing their pops on the sand of Kuta Beach. Aloha guys.
I keep walking until I find my familiar spot. I can see Berawa Beach just up the road. That's home to Canggu – south Bali's digital nomad come hippy mecca. I know I should head there for lunch if I have the energy to move by midafternoon. The place is laden with cool coffee joints and organic eateries – veggie burgers and quinoa salads burst from every rice paddy-sided road and mocktail joint up there.
A little closer to me is Seminyak. All hail North Kuta's coolest enclave. A place of chichi bars and whitewashed cocktail pads, you feel like you might need a Rolls Royce to be welcomed there. But you don't. The beers still cost just a matter dollars and the pool bars are filled with backpackers and vacationers just looking for a good time on the edge of the Bali Sea.
I settle in between two groups of sun loungers. I'm alone except for an old dog who's reclined in the shade of a leaning umbrella. The hues of the Bintang logo refract in the sun as it glints through the cloth and hides the pupper in a sultry haze of tropical light. He snores, stretches and spreads out. I do the same, lazing back to the sound of the sandbar-breaking waves and the occasional toot of traffic that echoes out from the streets behind.
I wake an hour – or is it two? – later. The sun's arched higher overhead and Kuta Beach is much busier than it was when I dozed off. My dog's still at my side, unperturbed. Only now the deckchairs host other tanning bodies, and the seas are peppered with more colorful rash vests and bobbing surfboards than I can count – the waves are up in Kuta.
I gather my things and make for the nearest beach bar. It's a half-crooked shack with a big concrete building attached; half Caribbean rum dive, half swish Seminyak mainstay. Inside, I order iced coffee and I find myself a cushiony beanbag to be consumed by as the swells roll over. It's a cracking spot.
The people watching is A-star, and I sometimes glance over the top of my Javanese mocha on ice to spy out the bodies of Indonesian wave maestros flinging and flipping above the whitecaps. Other times, I gaze along the beach. There are thousands of people about now. Some are thumping volleyballs, others are topping up their tans under the Southern Hemisphere sun, others are gazing out across the Indian Ocean. I see some of the foam boards move and turn. It's another group of wave-hungry riders hitting the swells, tutor in tow.
As the afternoon wears on, I laze and drink and eat and sunbathe some more. I watch surfers somersaulting on the swells of legendary Kuta. I enjoy seeing the skies go coral blue and then red as the sunset approaches. It's just another episode in the beach life of Bali.
Bali and Kuta itself are just one of the bucket-list highlights of our trips to Indonesia. You'll have plenty of time to conquer the waves, sip cold beers, watch sunsets and top up the tan on our trips to the Isle of the Gods. Our longest is Blissful Bali, which takes 19 days to reveal the wonders of jungle-shrouded Ubud, happening Canggu, surf-washed Kuta and more. Our shorter Bali Discovery also passes through the amazing southern beaches, putting mystical Ubud and the surf shacks of Kuta front and center. We'd love you to come live the Bali beach life with us this year.
"Rich is a traveler, writer and filmmaker who's always after somewhere new to go. He's been hopping around the globe since 2011, from Poland to Paris, Mumbai to Ho Chi Minh. He runs several travel sites of his own, from Ski Eastern to Live Krakow to Crabs Move Sideways. When he's not planning his next trip, he's usually listening to 50s jazz, surfing in Wales, skiing in the Alps, or just swigging (too much) great craft beer."
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