This article has the potential to becoming the most informative and useful guide for first time travelers to Bali. Bali is a rather a big island, filled with historical monuments and tourist activities suited for every holiday need. For advanced surfers who want to surf from dawn to sunset, you will have no problems choosing from several world class breaks. The Bukit area is one area that you may want to start your search. If you are a young backpacker with limited budget and want to enjoy both day and night life, then Kuta would probably be your best option. For those with family looking to spend those lazy days playing on the beach with your kids, Sanur area is highly suggested.
This article will be about the most popular tourist areas in Bali and the differences between each spot.
Kuta is probably the most well known area in Bali. It all started as a small fishing village, made up of straw huts, and dirt roads. In just a few decades, Kuta has become the most touristy area in all of Bali. Now with paved roads and modern structural buildings, it is now covered with gift shops, cafes, and night clubs. One great thing about Kuta is the affordability. You can still find rooms to rent for $15 per night and on average spend just under $10 for 3 meals per day. Its a little city that never sleeps, always has something going on.
Prices: local food for $2-3 a meal and western style food for $5-7.
Beach: long stretch of beach with sunbeds, souvenir shops, and great shore breaks for beginner surfers.
Accommodation: cheap local home stays for $10-20 per night, and some 3-star hotels for $70+.
Nightlife: the most active in Bali, you can literally party non-stop every day! Most of the night clubs are located in Legian streets and there are lots of bars and restaurants all throughout Kuta.
Transport: this is a heavy traffic area. You can walk, ride a scooter, or take a taxi. Travel time to other destinations in Bali from the airport: Uluwatu 40 min, Canggu 20 min, airport 12 min, Ubud 1.5hrs, Sanur 30-40min.
Main streets: Jalan Raya Legian is the main street; beach street is called Jalan Pantai Kuta, small streets and with lots of homestays and places to eat: Poppies I, Poppies II, Benesari.
Surfing: beach breaks with sand bottom that are well suited for beginners and intermediates
Seminyak grew out of Kuta to become a more upscale neighborhood. Seminyak is famous for its fancy restaurants, expensive villas, and nightlife with clubs that have strict dresscode unlike Kuta. Seminyak is made up of expats and tourist year around. What I like about Seminyak is the options of foods to choose from. This is the place to go when local food has become redundant and you crave for something different. Seminyak offers world class fine dining experience. Famous chefs reside in this area that is why this area offers some unique cuisines.
Prices: Seminyak is more expensive than Kuta. For dinner, be ready to spend at least $10, highest $15-20, and even more for fine dining. Nightclubs are expensive. Hotels start at $100 a night and villas start between $200-250. For a more fancier and luxurious villa, be ready to spend around $600-$1500 per night.
Beach: same as in Kuta
Accommodation: hotels 3-4-5 stars depends on your taste and budget; lots of villas to rent for holidays, or longterm accommodation. This is the most expensive are compared to the rest of Bali districts.
Nightlife: Quite active night life with lots of fancy places; most of them are getting really busy on Frida and Saturdays evenings. During the week you can typically find special events, or party.
Transport: rental cars, scooter and taxis are available. Time to other destinations in Bali: Uluwatu 50 min, Canggu 15 min, airport 30-40 min, Ubud 1.5hrs, Sanur 40-50min.
Main streets: older part of Seminyak (more touristic and less fancy) is DoubleSix (Jalan Arjuna) and (Dhyana Pura); modern and more upscale parts are following streets: Oberoi, Laksmana, Petitenget – there 3 streets are famous for restaurants and nightlife.
Surfing: beach breaks with sand bottom that are well suited for beginners and intermediates
If Seminyak and Sanur are the most popular tourists destinations, then Canggu is the most popular area for expats to sttle down. You will find the highest concentration of expats living in this area. Canggu is quite big, filled with beautiful rice patties, small villages, with roads leading to dark sand beaches. Canggu prides itself as a simple, easy living lifestyle area. This doesn’t mean that this area is under developed. It still offers numerous restaurants, small shops, and all the amenities that you find in rural areas. There are many villas of different style, size, and budget to choose from. Canggu is also a great surfers destination. It offers a variety of surf breaks that cater to all levels and styles. From beach breaks, to reef, long, or short board, left, or right handed breaks. Its got it all, but be weary of the crowed factor as this area tend to attract large croweds.
Prices: more expensive than Kuta, but slightly cheaper than Seminyak.
Beach: black sand beach with massive shore breaks, not suitable for swimming.
Accommodation: lots of villas and private houses (including cheap local ones for long-term stay), few surf camps and hotels / guesthouses for medium budget
Nightlife: Canggu is rather laid-back, but you can always go to Seminyak which is near if you feel bored in the evening; on Sundays there are parties in Deus which are fun. Besides that not much is happening in the area.
Transport: you need your own transport in Canggu – scooter or car (more on car rental here). Traffic is really bad at rush hour in some of the streets. Time to other destinations in Bali: airport – 40min, Seminyak 15-20 min, Kuta – 20 min, Uluwatu – 50min, Ubud – 1 hr.
Main streets: main streets/avenues are Jalan Raya Kerobokan and Jalan Raya Canggu; other popular streets: Jalan Pantai Berawa, Jalan Umalas, Jalan Batu Bolong, Jalan Banjar Anyar etc.
Surfing: several reef breaks with right- and lefthanders, with some barreling waves suitable for advanced surfers; there are also few longboarders and beginners spots; all spots are heavily crowded
Unless you are an experienced surfer, you might not like the Bukit area. Its not just a challenging place to surf, but lacks high quality infrastructure for restaurants. Dining experience in the Bukit has no comparison to Seminyak and Canggu. As for scerene, scenic nature views, Sanur and Canggu is better. Pricing on local food is not as cheap as Kuta. Nightlife is virtually non-existant, compared to Kuta, or Seminyak. What is good about the Bukit is for a peaceful and quiet getaway. It gives the feeling of a village life surrounded by beautiful cliffs and white-sand beaches. Be ready to ride a scooter, or rent a car, since everything is spread out, so transportation is a must. The Bukit is where you will find some of the most famous surf breaks in the world like Uluwatu and Padang Padang.
Prices: more expensive than Kuta & Canggu, but slightly cheaper than Seminyak.
Beach: the most beautiful beaches of Bali are located in Bukit, here are a few: Uluwatu, Padang Padang, Balangan, Bingin, Greenbowl etc.
Accommodation: the most options for local homestays, bungalows and small hotels for a wide range of price: starting from $15-20 per night for a room in a homestay, to $50-100 for a nice bungalow with a cliff-view.
Nighlife: a bit limited – compare to Seminyak – but some really crazy surfers parties are happening in Bukit; on Sundays Single Fin bar on the Uluwatu cliff, on Thursdays in Cashew Tree cafe near Bingin beach and few others.
Transport: get a scooter or a car, no other ways to get around in Bukit. Time to other destinations in Bali: airport – 25min, Seminyak 30 min, Kuta – 25 min, Ubud – 1.5 hr.
Surfing: most famous breaks of Bali are located here: Uluwatu, Impossibles, Bingin, Padang-Padang to name a few. They are mostly reef breaks suitable for advanced or intermediates that feel comfortable on fast and/or hollow waves.
Sanur is the oldest resort town in Bali. For several decades when Kuta was still a hippie and surfer village, Sanur had already established several large, fancy hotels and upscale tourist crowds from Europe. It provides a very relaxing and laidback atmosphere. Sanur is the ideal place to bring a family with kids, or elderly tourists. Beaches are vast with virtually no waves, ideal for swimming.
Prices: a bit more expensive than Kuta, but cheaper than Seminyak.
Beach: long stretch of beach with sunbeds, promenade; great for swimming (water is flat).
Accommodation: mostly hotels ranging from 3 to 5 stars ($80+ for 3stars, $150-250 for 4 stars, and around $300-500 for 5 star hotels; for more on hotels in Bali follow the link.
Nightlife: Sanur isn’t really a place for night life; You may find a few restaurants that will have live music, otherwise there is nothing else going on.
Transport: Sanur is good for walking and bycicle riding. Taxis and car/scooter rental is also widely available. Time to other destinations in Bali: airport – 30min, Canggu 45 min, Ubud 30min.
Nusa Dua is a heaven for package tourists. Huge hotel complexes with beach access and “all inclusive” options. Aside from being entrenched by white sandy beaches and pristine blue water, I find Nusa Dua rather overpriced and boring. But for those who seek the type of vacation lounging around the beach hotels all day. Then this is the best destination to do just that. Although it is very scenic and beautiful, its not the place to really be entrenched in the culture of Bali. If you have the funds and require westernized amenities and accomodations, then Nusa Dua is highly recommended.
Prices: overprices and not really a high quality area
Beach: awesome beach (compare to most of Bali beaches) great for people who care about swimming and sunbathing. Famous beaches: Geger, Nikko.
Accommodation: huge resorts 3 to 5 stars including some really fancy ones like St.Regis and Mulia.
Nightlife: not really active
Transport: taxis are available, you can walk as well in some parts of Nusa Dua. Time to other destinations in Bali: airport – 25min, Seminyak 40 min, Kuta – 30 min, Uluwatu – 20min, Ubud – 1.5 hr.
Jimbaran is a big local fishermen village which is not really a tourist area. Here you will find mostly locals and expats. Due to a few hotels located in Jimabran Bay, hotel guest frequent in the area, otherwise not very touristy. There is not much to do in this area other than hang out in the hotel majority of the time, or drive somewhere else.
Prices: more expensive than Kuta, but still very cheap (especially if you go for local food).
Beach: Jimabaran bay is a long stretch of beach and waves aren’t big there so you can go swimming(but most of the time noone does); there are lots of locals on the beach. Good thing about Jimbaran are seafood restaurants right at the beach that are open after sunset.
Accommodation: few hotels, you can find the ones I would recommend here.
Transport: taxis or rental transport. Time to other destinations in Bali: airport – 15min, Seminyak 25 min, Kuta – 15 min, Uluwatu – 20min, Ubud – 1.5 hr.