Kuta beach was gorgeous when I first visited as a surfer-grommet. Good waves, lovely clean white sand, backed by a line of palms, behind which were mainly grazing water buffalo and cash-cropping. The beach was pretty deserted apart from a handful of surfer dudes and naked hippy-chicks sunning and frolicking in the shore-break. I spent my teens pining for a hippy-chick girlfriend to take to the beach.
These days? Ummm - well the surf is still often pretty good.
I RECKON BALI'S BEST BEACH is DREAM BEACH on the offshore island of Nusa Lembongan. It is away from other areas near the south-west corner of the island, maybe 3km from Lembongan Village and is probably only 200m across, book-ended by high headlands with one rather nice flash-packer bungalow/restaurant place overlooking the bay. The sand is clean and white. One caveat - this place tends to pick up a lot of swell so the surf can be quite tricky. There is a permanent rip current on the left side of the bay (facing the sea) - anywhere past halfway across should be avoided otherwise you may find yourself disappearing towards the distant fringing reef and the bigger waves at a rapid rate of knots. Remember, if caught in a rip current swim SIDEWAYS out of the rip - in this case towards the right hand side of the beach.
MUSHROOM BAY on Lembongan is also a pretty nice beach. This one is backed by a variety of midrange and top-end accommodation and some retaurants with good views. It can get pretty busy from about 1100 thru to 1400 with daytrippers from Bali, but is very relaxed at other times. The bay is sheltered by a fringing reef so dangerous surf is not a factor.
THE NICEST TOURIST BEACH ON MAINLAND BALI in my opinion is BALANGAN. This is on the Bukit Peninsula south of the airport and about 2km towards the airport from popular DREAMLAND. It is maybe 500m long with nice sand and very good surf for experts. Note the bottom is rocky in most parts off the sand at low tide, although some small sandy-bottom low tide sections of beach appear against the northern headland as the tide drops. A good selection of budget losmen and laid back warungs back the sand. This seemed to be the beach attracting most backpacker types although Padang Padang had its share. If you are feeling flush google La Joya for a flash place back behind the beach.
I used to think DREAMLAND was mainland Bali’s pick, but the area has been spoiled by a huge hotel-retail development behind the sand plus heaps of beach-lounges and umbrellas, replacing the Balangan type surfer losmen and budget restaurants/bars that used to back the sand. However if you like a European-type beach scene including a parade of beautiful people daytripping from Kuta etc, this may be just the place. The sand on the 250m long beach is nice and the water pretty clean. The place can get some very good surf.
Just around the small headland on the airport side is what I call DREAMLAND NORTH. This had no beach-lounges and few people in my latest May 09 visit and is almost as nice as Dreamland Main sand wise. A bit longer and narrower. Note the area behind the beach had been cleared and prepared for some major building activity on my last visit.
Another nice Bukit beach is PADANG PADANG. This is about halfway between Dreamland and the western end of the peninsula - say 3km along the coast from each although further by road. It is pretty short and quite deep and surrounded by high cliffs. Nice sand and water, often good surf for experts. There is no accommodation backing the beach, but there are some high-end joints along the western cliff and a small town with budget/flash packer accommodation a few hundred meters from the beach access which is a set of quite steep steps.
ULAWATU is the famous big-wave reef-break surfing spot at the western end of the Bukit Peninsula. There is a tiny low tide beach here accessed by climbing down thru the cave where the surfers enter the water. I wouldn’t travel any distance for this beach, but if you are up there checking the surfing or the temple and want a swim it is pretty pleasant. The reef cuts swell hitting the beach.
Midway between Uluwatu and Padang Padang is an un-named beach (actually I’ve seen it referred to as ULU-PADANG) where Thomas Homestay has set up a neat little budget/flash packer place, high on a cliff overlooking a pretty deserted and attractive 600m long beach. This is where I’m staying next Bukit visit.
I rate SANUR BEACH as mainland Bali’s 3rd best after Balangan and Dreamland, although other people may prefer one of the beaches mentioned later.
Sanur has some very nice sections of sand, particularly now that extensive but not intrusive groyne development has finished which seems to have done the aim of building up the beach. Sanur is a 5km long curved beach along which runs a nice walking/cycling path, backed by hotels, restaurants, some beach markets etc. Much nicer and lower key than Kuta. However an offshore reef means sheltered water, no surf, and some parts of the lagoon get real shallow at low tide, okay for low-key snorkelling at higher tides.
For nice sand I particularly recommend the area around the Bali Hyatt (central) & Bali Beach Hotels (south end) and last trip I was impressed by the sand build-up in my favourite mid-north region around Gazebo Hotel - Griya Santrian (not Puri Santrian)- MAP http://www.balihotelfinder.com/hotels/sanur_map.htm
The Nusa Dua/Tanjung Benoa strip has some nice sand areas, but unlike Sanur, I find the groyne development here a bit intrusive. There are certainly some very nice international style properties to stay at along here.
JIMBARIN immediately south of the airport has its fans and is a definite step up from Kuta. Some nice places to stay and the area is highly rated for good seafood restaurants. I rate the 800m long beach itself a grade under Sanur. It had a fair bit of natural flotsam and debris. However I haven’t visited for several years and maybe the local resort people etc are manicuring the beach now.
There is a pretty nice white sand beach just south of the harbour bay at Padangbai on Bali’s east coast. Maybe 200m long, book-ended by headlands and backed by a steep rain-forested hill - a major part of which had been cleared in May 09 for a mega Korean owned hotel. There are only 2 small warungs on the beach now, and the ladies running them told me the hotel does not have title to the beach, but I bet there will be muliple beach-lounges and umbies when it opens.
Padangbai's town beach is not bad towards the left (north) end of the bay. The beach across the other sied of the steep northern headland at BLUE LAGOON is very skimpy, maybe absent at higher tides of the month. Nice snorkelling here however.
CANDIDASA is maybe 10km further north east as the crow flies - the TOWN BEACH here is non existent at high tide and stones at low tide. Lots of concrete break-walls and groynes here and south west to cut wave erosion.
There is a WHITE SAND BEACH about 6km further north which is a popular daytrip call-in, although I was underwhelmed by a lot of natural beach flotsam, some overkeen warung owners trying to drum up business and more yellow than white sand.
Just south west of town centre is a range of midrange places accessed by lanes off the coastal highway which have no beach at high tide but patches of white/yellow sand at lower levels.
The north coast beaches on the coastal strips around AMED and LOVINA are black sand. Nevertheless the series of little bays which make up the Amed strip are very scenic and relaxing. Lovina had a rep for Kuta type hassle in the old days but was pretty relaxed last time I visited, admittedly some time back not too long after the second Bali bombing.
I haven’t visited the north-west coastal area of Bali but I believe the beaches are not black sand, are comparatively deserted and laid back with a few nice budget places to stay. An area to head for on my next trip.
For people who are interested I have photos and details about accommodation, access etc of most of the beaches mentioned on 4 Bali pages in the link below.
Reading the above I realise I haven’t been fair to intended visitors in not describing present-day Kuta beach.
Okay - the sand now has a definite tint of grey. It’s lined with beach chairs, usually crowded, has heaps of places selling drinks/snacks/surfboard hire, and is backed by a super busy road the other side of which are a host of hotels, restaurants and other businesses.
The palms are gone, but many areas have shade-trees in back which is nice. The crack-down on hawkers seemed to have been relaxed on my last (May 09) visit with heaps of ladies wanting to give massages, guys with the usual watches/paintings/wood carvings, girls with fruit and snacks or sarongs/bikinis/board-shorts.
Unfortunately the water aint pristine any more - with a fair few plastic bags etc. In wet season the wind is onshore and so a lot of natural flotsam and jetsam can be washed onto the sand.
The surf is still often very good but watch for rip-currents. There are Aussie-trained surf-lifesavers but not enough for a pretty long strip of beach.
You can walk north for several km and in previous recent trips I’ve always hired a bicycle and fanged along at lower tide checking the scene. Some very nice girls, only semi-naked these days, so the scene is okay. For you ladies, the surfer-dudes and Bali beach boys can cut it. Actually if the tide is right you can go 10km all the way to Canggu, although you may have to ford some streams in wet and early dry seasons.
About 2km north in the mid-Legian area the beach gets less crowded, starts to narrow and the sand gets darker. In parts of Seminyak it is quite narrow and darkish in places. Some very flash newer hotels up here.
South of Kuta Main the beach is divided by break-walls and groynes into shortish sections. When I last did it about 5 years ago it was still possible to walk all the way to the airport thru the Tuban area. There are some nice pockets of sand along here, some laid back beach bars and restaurants and quite a few good places to stay - pretty flash in the near-Kuta area. The water is calmer, protected by Kuta Reef offshore which is a fairly hot surfing spot for experienced riders. Best accessed by hiring one of the local boaties - it’s a looong paddle.
So is Kuta Beach a waste of time? I don’t think so. It has good surf, great people watching and magic sunsets.
Last trip I had half a day before my flight. I got a Perama bus to Kuta, wandered down to the beach, walked up to Legian checking the scene, had a nice swim-surf-some sun, walked back down to Kuta beach central and bought a beer off one of the hundreds of guys selling same up under the trees. When you do this you are their best friend for life. Out comes the plastic chair, placed in prime shade-spot under the trees. I sat there, checked the passing parade of beautiful people, the ever so keen tourists trying to learn to surf in 2 lessons (impossible) at one of the many surf-schools, the Balinese beach boys trying to crack on to backpacker-babes and vice-versa, fended off the massage girls and sarong sellers, bought me a delicious peeled pineapple and a choc-ice from a nice passing lady - and several beers later headed for the airport in a real good mood.
Which was just as well, knowing Bali airport.