South Bali is where most of the island’s action takes place: Kuta’s white sand beaches and raucuous nightlife, Denpasar’s urban attractions, and Nusa Dua’s ordered serenity, among others.
After touching down at Ngurah Rai Airport near Kuta, a wide assortment of restaurants and accommodations are just a taxi or bemo ride away. You can spend your whole stay in South Bali, and not feel like you’ve missed anything (we suggest you resist the temptation to stay put, though).
Kuta is the where Bali tourism begins and ends – the growth of the tourism industry has transformed this once-sleepy village into a congested hive of restaurants, resorts, and nightclubs. The formerly pristine surfing beach is now lined with tourist establishments, and the urban sprawl now spans the villages of Tuban, Legian, Seminyak, Basangkasa, and Petitenget.
Kuta, for all its flaws, is still a wonderful place for the tourist who knows where to look. The place is home to Bali’s best beach (though its glory days are arguably long over), and its position gazing west over the Straits of Bali offers visitors the best sunset on the island.
Kuta’s beach is great for surfing, less so for swimming (thanks to dangerous currents). This spit of curved white sand stretches for about 5 kilometers, and continues to draw surfers from all around the world (and the vendors who bug them). Due to the number of establishments fronting the beach, the sands are kept constantly clean.
The area also boasts of a wide range of accommodations to fit any budget, and offers the best shopping on the island. You'll also find the most (and best) dining choices within the vicinity, from the budget Warung Indonesia to the upscale restaurants in Seminyak.
Another former fishing village done good, Tuban has become the prime option for travelers seeking a little more peace and quiet. It’s only five minutes away from the airport, and thus not too far from Kuta and its attractions.
The resorts along its white-sand beach are popular with travelers bringing their kids to Bali. Visitors have a wide array of accommodations to choose from, ranging from guesthouses to 4-star hotels.
Despite Legian’s proximity to Kuta, the area offers a little more peace and quiet than its noisy neighbor in the south. That’s because the beach is not directly accessible by any public access road. (There’s a village-owned road separating the hotels from the beach, but it’s closed to traffic.) Which is just as well, because Legian is rather easy to explore on foot!
Apart from hosting some of Bali’s best hotels, Jimbaran Bay also offers some of the island’s best seafood choices. Jimbaran’s beach has a seafood market alongside traditional seafood restaurants with a wide selection of dishes. You can’t get it any fresher than in Jimbaran Bay, and any cheaper, too!
“Nusa Dua” is Bahasa for “Two Islands” – around 10 km south of the airport, Nusa Dua has been planned from the ground up to host some of Bali’s most upscale hotels lining well-manicured private beaches. The Bali Golf and Country Club is in Nusa Dua, as well as the sprawling Galeria Nusa Dua shopping center.
The first luxury hotel in Bali was built right here in Sanur, and still stands today: the Grand Bali Beach (now the Inna Grand Bali Beach Hotel), completed in 1966. It’s still the highest building for miles around, thanks to a law passed after its construction banning buildings higher than palm-tree level.
The beach on Sanur is considered one of the best on the island, perfect for a wide variety of activities. The area also hosts a wide variety of hotels, restaurants, and both traditional and modern arts outlets.
The village atmosphere tends to attract an older visitor profile, compared to the younger age groups congregating at Kuta, but Sanur is the place to be if you’re looking for a good beach area with a laid-back vibe.
North of Kuta and Legian, Seminyak is known for its many shopping, dining, and nightlife choices. Stop by Jalan Dhyana Pura to see the area’s best restaurants and bars, or visit Club 66 to dance to techno music until the sun comes up. Accommodation choices are thinner here compared to Kuta, but the beach is a great draw for surfers avoiding the crush on Kuta.
Denpasar is Bali’s capital, and is home to a different kind of Bali experience. The place is good for cheap food, bargain-basement accommodation, and ample shopping; not so good is the city’s congestion and horrendous traffic.
The city is not very tourist-friendly, so you might consider staying in Kuta and coming over to Denpasar just for a day trip.
Denpasar is worth a visit, if only for:
- Pasar Badung market: four floors of cheap shopping, beginning with a fruit and vegetable market on its outskirts and more goods within. (Don’t leave without buying a sarong on the third floor.) You may also want to try the Kereneng Night Market near Jl. Hayam Wuruk, or the night market on Jl. Diponegoro.
- Bali Museum: Learn about the island’s rather colorful history here. The museum’s displays feature artifacts from prehistoric times all the way to the present, divided among the museum complex’s four main buildings. The museum charges 3,000rp for adults (plus 1,000rp insurance), and 1,000rp for the kids.
- Sanglah Hospital: the best hospital in Bali. Let’s hope you don’t end your visit to Bali here, but if you’re unlucky enough to need serious medical care, this is the place to go. Jalan Kesehaatan, Denpasar; phone +62 361 244 574, or +62 361 244 575.