Kuta Review: the City we All Love to Hate

Alexis
Modified on January 21, 2024

Almost a mandatory stop for some, an absolute horror for others, Kuta is undoubtedly one of the most popular and criticised tourist destinations in Bali at the same time. Discover everything you need to know about Kuta, and my unbiased opinion on this city that many seem to love to hate.

Table of Contents

Where is Kuta in Bali?

Before diving into the heart of the matter, and into the passions that Kuta can be the center of, some geographical reminders are in order.

Kuta is an extensive town on the Balinese West coast, technically encompassing Seminyak and Legian. It is located in the South of Bali, just north of Ngurah Rai Airport. Therefore, it is a relatively central point in South Bali, with Denpasar and Bukit to the side.

The historical role of Kuta in Bali tourism

Kuta played a major role in the development of tourism in Bali.

In the 1970s, when it was still a simple fishing village, it was a popular destination for hippie travelers in search of surfing (especially Kuta Reef, which was then THE wave of Bali) and sun.

Kuta has evolved significantly since then, mirroring the rest of Bali. Gradually, the fishing village transformed into a bustling hub of Balinese tourism that attracted tourists from around the world, especially Australians.

Until the 2010s, it was almost unthinkable to visit Bali without spending at least a few days in Kuta. Many of today's "other tourist destinations" were little known, non-existant and/or underdeveloped.

What does Kuta look like today?

Today, Kuta is a true small seaside town. You can find everything in the streets of Kuta: numerous local restaurants (and food courts!), Western restaurants, shopping malls, bars, nightclubs, and a variety of shops.

On the beach side, Kuta Bay is lined with palm trees, and many locals offer sun loungers, bean bags, and other beach chairs for relaxation at an affordable price and in a friendly atmosphere facing the beach.

The beach is a sandy beach, without reefs or rocks, with waves often smaller than elsewhere in Bali, making it one of the most welcoming spots for beginner surfers.

kuta street

Strengths of Kuta

If Kuta is so popular among a certain demographic, it's because they find what they are looking for. Here are, in my opinion, the significant advantages of Kuta compared to other Bali destinations.

Kuta is a very well-positioned destination in South Bali

If Kuta originally took off as a tourist destination, it's partly thanks to its geographical position, right next to the airport.

As a pioneer (along with Sanur) in Balinese tourism, it was able to benefit from some developments that not all tourist cities in Bali have, including nice roads leading to strategic places in Bali.

In short, when you are in Kuta, the entire South Bali is really within reach: Uluwatu, Nusa Dua, Sanur, Jimbaran, Seminyak, and even Ubud or Canggu.

No matter what people say, it's much easier to go back and forth efficiently when you are in Kuta than when you are in let's say Canggu.

There are many cheap hotels and guesthouses in Kuta

Kuta is full of hotels and guesthouses of all kinds. As the hype in Kuta has been on the decline in recent years in favour of cities further north like Seminyak or Canggu, many hotels have more than average occupancy rates and lower their prices accordingly.

In terms of value for money, it's clearly interesting, especially if you visit Kuta during the low seasons.

Kuta also has the advantage of offering small, very cheap rooms in guesthouses and other small family hotels. Therefore, it is surely one of the best central destinations in Bali for tight budgets.

Booking.com

Kuta is a city that has remained more local than you might think

I often hear that Kuta is a city supposedly so disfigured by mass tourism that it would no longer have anything local.

This is absolutely false, unless you are particularly blind or do not understand anything about Indonesia and local culture.

Firstly, there are many Balinese locals who still live in Kuta, which is far from being the case in many other surrounding tourist destinations. On top of that, Kuta is a destination that attracts many Indonesian tourists (from Jakarta, Surabaya, and elsewhere). Finally, many locals from Denpasar go out around Kuta (on Jl Dewi Sri, for example). So if you plan to meet Indonesians and discover a part of its culture, Kuta is really not the worst city, far from it!

I think that travelers who say that Kuta is not local think that all of Indonesia is populated by rice paddies and fishing villages. Spoiler alert: no, it's not the case! Like in France / Australia / India..., many people are living in metropolis, and the average Indonesian who can afford a vacation is more likely to spend their vacation in a hotel with a mall nearby (the number 1 tourist activity for locals!) rather than in a fishing village or in the jungle.

As a result, among the most well-known beach resorts in Bali, Kuta is one where you will see the most locals living or visiting, the most local restaurants/food courts, and even Kuta architecture, that surely won't steal your heart, ultimately reflects some Indonesian cities quite well (Yes, I am talking about you Jakarta!).

Regardless of what's said, Kuta is a very convenient city

As a pioneering city in Bali tourism, Kuta naturally has many things that can be more than convenient when you are in Bali on vacation or even living here in the long run. In fact, there are many more expatriates in Kuta than you might think!

There are shops for everything and anything in Kuta, and several big shopping malls. Between Discovery Shopping Mall, Beachwalk, Lippo Mall, and all the others, there's really a lot to do.

In terms of entertainment, you can also find everything: cinemas, bars, clubs, food courts, restaurants, water parks, surf spots... in short, no chance of getting bored, all in a very confined space.

You can easily walk around Kuta (rare in Bali)

Many Europeans are shocked when they go to Indonesia for the first time and realise that they can walk... almost nowhere. To say that Indonesians are not big walkers is quite an understatement, and unfortunately, many Balinese destinations, even tourist ones, are hardly walkable.

Kuta is one of those rare places where it is possible to do a lot of things on foot and safely (there are real sidewalks). This is more practical than having to call a Gojek all the time or ride a scooter if you are not used to it.

Kuta is Ideal for learning how to surf safely

If you plan to learn to surf, Kuta and the rest of this bay are some of the best places to do it in Bali.

Not only do the waves break on sand and not on coral reefs, which is naturally much safer, but there are also many locals who can rent you boards and give you a lesson for cheap.

The atmosphere of Kuta is much less bling-bling than in some other Bali destinations

The atmosphere of Kuta is undoubtedly not for everyone, but it is much less horrible than some suggest.

Let's say be honest, Kuta is far from a glamorous city. It is even rather known as the city where the rough guys go, especially Australians "rednecks", locally known as "bogans". If that is partly true, many of these (young) guys are no longer really in Kuta today and have migrated further north to Seminyak and Canggu.

Personally, despite the horrible descriptions I've heard, I'm not bothered at all by the atmosphere of Kuta. There are many normal people on vacation, both locals and Australians, Russians, and other Asian tourists (Japan, Korea, etc.).

And to be honest, I'd rather spend the day drinking a few "binnies" (Bintang beers in Australian) with bogans on holidays on a sunbed held by a local, rather than spend 10 minutes in a Canggu beach club full of obnoxious influencers.

But hey, it's just my opinion, you do you...

Weaknesses of Kuta

If the city of Kuta has so many haters, it's because there are indeed some reasons that disappoint tourists (and expats) and push them to express their little hate about Kuta. Here are, in my opinion, the major negative sides of Kuta.

The inner village of Kuta is not particularly beautiful

Kuta is not a particularly beautiful city, far from it. To be more precise, the inside of Kuta is even rather ugly, consisting of narrow streets often a bit dilapidated and with somewhat anarchic construction. It's clear that the development of the city from the original fishing village must have been done... quickly, to say the least.

And obviously, it's an urban area, flat moreover, so no rice terraces, no green hills, nor cliffs falling into the ocean. It's logical, but some seem surprised not to come across rice fields or middle age life in modern cities in Bali...

On the other hand, I find Kuta beach very beautiful and very accessible, unlike other local beaches.

Kuta has a reputation for being the city where the "bogans" go

As I mentioned earlier, Kuta had the reputation of being the city where the Australian "bogans", especially young ones, used to go to get drunk a few years ago.

It's still a bit true, but largely nuanced. The explosion of Canggu (for the young) and Seminyak (for the thirty-somethings) has clearly shifted a certain number of this public to more northern areas.

But Kuta remains a cheap place, oriented towards mass tourism, where you can party, so inevitably it's a bit more "bogan" than elsewhere.

You will be judged by your sophisticated peers if you say you like Kuta

Kuta clearly has an image problem, and one of the big negatives side of it is that you will suffer too if you have the misfortune to say that everything is not so terrible in Kuta.

Hating Kuta means being on the right side of the fence! On the side of those who have taste.

My advice: do what you really like! If for you, having a good time means lounging on the beach, joking with tourists from everywhere, strolling in the malls, drinking beers, and walking back to your hotel, it's not illegal, and many locals do it too. It's not worse (and even more practical and cheaper!) to do it in Kuta than in Canggu, where many do the same without this silly reputation.

After all, Bali is not just about rice fields and fishing villages, and you shouldn't care about what people think of your holidays plans...

Who frequents Kuta?

Here is a brief overview of the main groups you will meet in Kuta.

Indonesian tourists: many stop in Kuta

Indonesian tourists are very numerous in Kuta and are even in the majority during public holidays and local vacations.

They are for several reasons, mainly those I mentioned earlier:

  • Kuta is not very expensive
  • Kuta is not 100% Westernised, but there are enough Westerners to entertain locals (yes, many locals go to Bali to see "bule")
  • There are plenty of malls (you won't see many Indonesians on the beach in the afternoon, they hate sunbathing!)
  • Kuta is a central base in South Bali
  • Kuta is next to the airport, perfect for a 3-day weekend from Jakarta, Surabaya, or elsewhere

Weeks of Eid (Idul Fitri) or even Christmas and New Year are quite popular among the locals.

By the way, if you have the opportunity to spend New Year's Eve in Bali, Kuta is really not the worst destination, and it's by far the most popular!

Australian "bogans": a cliché that remains somewhat true

The cliché of the 50-year-old bogan in a Bintang tank top sipping his beer at nine in the morning while strolling through the streets of Kuta is a bit true, even if less and less frequent.

Don't worry, they don't bite and are generally quite funny. But of course, that sets the mood somewhere else than the vegan/yoga madness of some tourists in Ubud or the young digital nomad/influencer bros of Canggu.

Young travellers who love to party

Kuta was once THE destination for partying in Bali, especially for groups of young people. It's less the case today, even if still a bit. Many young people, especially the hippest (and the richest), have migrated to Canggu and its surroundings.

The schoolies, end-of-November/December student parties in Australia, are generally the time of year when you'll see the most drunken young people in the streets of Kuta. But they are far from stopping only in Kuta, as you can imagine.

Many families from all over the globe stay in Kuta

There are ultimately many families visiting Kuta, and they come from all over the world. Kuta remains practical in every way with activities that can suit everyone, all in a central position in Bali.

So expect a melting pot if you stay in Kuta, like many other Balinese destinations.

What to do in Kuta?

Kuta offers a multitude of activities for travelers seeking entertainment. Here are some suggestions on what to do in Kuta:

Try surfing: hard to get nicer than Kuta to catch your first waves

The beaches of Kuta are perfect for trying surfing safely and inexpensively.

For more experienced surfers, there are even some really interesting peaks (Padma, Double Six in particular) that are often overlooked by surfers passing by in favour of the Bukit or Canggu waves. I didn't say anything.

Lazing around on Kuta (or Legian) beach is really nice

In life, there is a time for everything. If you want to unwind on the beach for an afternoon or more if you like, Kuta is one of the best places to do so in Bali on a budget.

Plenty of sunbeds to stay on for cheap, cool drinks, friendly beach boys who can make you laugh or even sing along with you... it's far from being a prison.

Kuta is ideal for taking a shopping break in malls with air conditioning

I know, the Europeans (I am French, nobody is perfect...) generally hate malls. But in Southeast Asia, a big part of social life happens in these malls, whether you like it or not!

And even if I'm not a mega fan of malls either, it must be recognised that it's still nice to walk under the air conditioning or at least in the shade when the sun is pounding on the concrete or asphalt outside. Bali's sun is really not the same as the ones we know in the Northern hemisphere trust me...

All these malls have restaurants of both Western and Asian big chains that can be welcome at one point or another. And in addition, some malls in Kuta are beautiful, especially Beachwalk.

beachwalk mall kuta bali
The beachwalk mall in Kuta, which is far from being an eyesore of concrete

Visit Kuta's food courts to discover Indonesian cuisine

Aside from the restaurants and dining you'll find in the malls, there are also several interesting food courts in Kuta that are perfect for those looking to try Indonesian food in general.

Not only is this where many locals eat, but these are also places where the younger crowd hangs out in the evenings and on weekends.

Here are some of them:

  • The Dewi Sri Food Center (and the entire Jl Dewi Sri in general)
  • The street Jl Mataram, which is an unofficial food court

Stroll through the small alleys of Kuta that are real labyrinths

Kuta is truly a small labyrinth, which can largely be explored on foot. If you enjoy walking and discovering shops or improbable places, it's an activity that can be enjoyable.

Party: Kuta's reputation is not entirely undeserved

Kuta has several bars and other nightclubs to party with tourists from around the world but also locals from the entire archipelago.

Sky Garden, Bounty Club, Engine Room, and many others are waiting for the night owls.

Who do I recommend Kuta to?

Yes, I dare to recommend Kuta to some people, even though I know it's not for everybody. But I really think it has its place in certain itineraries!

If you like destinations that have everything at hand, don't exclude Kuta too quickly

If you don't care about not having rice fields, countryside, and even quietness for a few days in favour of having many conveniences (restaurants, bars, clubs, malls, shopping, beaches) around and all on as limited a budget as possible, don't exclude Kuta too quickly from your Balinese itinerary.

Kuta is a good landing point near the airport

Kuta is close to the airport (like Jimbaran). So, it's not the worst idea to spend your first or last day there before or after catching your flight.

It's also a place where you can easily buy things you need or souvenirs from your Balinese trip.

Kuta is not the worst place if you want to have fun in Bali on a budget

If what interests you the most is to party and not break the bank for it, Kuta is really not the worst destination.

Not only are you likely to meet many locals who go there with the same intentions as you, but also tourists from around the world who are generally laid-back and not flashy, unlike other parts of Bali that are much more "bling-bling."

Conclusion

Kuta is clearly not the idyllic image of ancient Bali or Balinese countryside, but it's far from being the hell on earth that some describe.

If you go to Kuta with the right intentions, you might even be pleasantly surprised or even worse, meet nice people.

While I don't recommend spending three weeks there for those who hate touristy cities, Kuta deserves to be on the itinerary for those on a budget, especially for the first and last days of a trip, if only for its location, convenience, and proximity to the airport.

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