Kuta Beach is absolutely crazy. It has been deemed by other travel bloggers as “the worst place in Bali” and “one of the most infamous beaches in Southeast Asia.” And, in many ways, it is. It’s akin to the spring break mecca of Cancun, Mexico, the boozy streets of New Orleans, U.S., and the notorious backpacker haunt of Koh San Road, Thailand. Kuta Beach is the place where tourists go to throw all caution to the wind and party hard. It’s debaucherous and raunchy and sleezy – and it shows.
A stream of noisy motorbikes and drunken tourists constantly chugs down the town’s congested streets. Armed with Bintangs, tourists stumble around in their bikinis and boardshorts, and omnipresent touts lurk in their storefronts and aggressively try to peddle their wares to passersby. Most of Kuta’s shops sell the same crass items. Stickers and t-shirts reading “I’m Not Gay, but $20 Is $20”, “Do It Up the Bum, Avoid Kids”, or “Wash My Cum Rag” appear to be popular items. Oh, and the penis bottle openers are also big sellers. It’s not pretty – in fact it’s downright appalling – but this is the ugly truth behind Bali’s number one tourist destination.
So with this in mind, is Kuta worth visiting?
I suppose it depends on what you’re looking for and how much tolerance you have to this type of scene. If you’re the type of traveler who desires tranquil beaches, then perhaps you’d be better off taking a short ferry ride to the neighboring Gili Islands or Nusa Lembongan. If Balinese temples and lush landscapes are your thing, then beeline it straight to Ubud. But if you’re down to do some serious shopping and club hopping, or if you’re just plain curious to experience the chaos of Kuta for yourself – then why not give it a shot?
I fell into the latter group. I’d heard so much about the infamous Kuta Beach that there was no way I wasn’t going to see what all the fuss was about. I can completely understand and respect why many travelers opt to skip out on Kuta altogether during their vacations to Bali. But I suppose I just have a morbid fascination with places like this. In the past, I’ve been the traveler who defends ultra-touristy places like Koh San Raod, Ko Phi Phi, and Boracay because despite their rampant overdevelopment, cultural inauthenticity, and general sketchiness, there’s something spellbinding about them – at least for me.
For me, Kuta was no different. While half of me was completely disturbed by what I experienced, the other part of me was intrigued by all the craziness. Being in Kuta was a real-life case study on the ugly side of tourism. I spent my two days in Kuta Beach just trying to blend in and observe. While, I failed miserably at blending in I must admit that I had a blast just watching the antics of tourists and locals alike.
I was an obvious target for Kuta’s ubiquitous, in-your-face touts. The words “transport”, “darling”, and “shopping” echoed in my ears the entire time. After two days, the simple act of walking down the street got to be both frustrating and challenging. Hawkers weren’t shy about getting in my face or grabbing my arm to lead me into their shops. Some of the more brazen ones literally trailed behind me, reciting a list of all the stuff they wanted to sell me. I tried my best to not make eye contact as I speed-walked away. As I came to learn, either ignoring the touts or just politely waving them away works best.
The same goes for drunk tourists. I learned the hard way that the second you enter into a conversation with a drunk Australian dude, you will suddenly be surrounded by ten of his loud and very drunk friends. And like the touts, Australians are not shy about following you for blocks on end beckoning you to attend their rooftop pool party. Thanks, but no thanks.
Relentless hawkers and belligerent tourists aside, I actually did have a good time in Kuta. Aside from doing a lot of people watching, I spent my days wandering around the chaotic alleyways, getting lost, and uncovering hidden pieces of street art.
Another perk of being in Kuta is that with the rampant tourism comes lots of authentic and delicious international restaurants. I was able to sample lots of dishes that I’ve been craving since I moved to Jakarta, most notably Mojo’s Flying Burritos which served up some damn fine tacos and burritos. Yes, this place was so good I ate there twice!
I took walks on the beach each evening, watching the surfers and enjoying Kuta’s famous neon pink sunsets. Despite Kuta’s annual trash phenomenon (which lasts from December until March), in November the beach is actually really clean and beautiful. I mean there is a reason that this once tiny fishing village has turned into one of the most visited destinations in all of Indonesia. It’s a pretty gorgeous stretch of beach.
Kuta is not a destination I would ordinarily choose to vacation to. Like I mentioned in a previous post, the only reason I went to Bali was because I needed a break from Jakarta. Since my trip was super spur of the moment and I didn’t do any actual planning I just kind of ended up in Kuta. But honestly it wasn’t as horrifying as I thought it was going to be. And as I came to find out, as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into, Kuta isn’t all that bad. LIke it or not, if you’re traveling to Bali odds are you’re going to wind up spending at least a night or two in Kuta. As long as you can put up with the sight of penis bottle openers and offensive bumper stickers, Kuta is an easy place to unwind and have a bit of fun. You might feel a little dirty afterwards, but there are worse places to kill a few days. And if you’re like me and you have an interest in seeing the darker side of tourism, then Kuta is actually a pretty fascinating place. And for that, I’d say Kuta is worth visiting.
Have you ever been to Kuta Beach? Do you think it’s worth checking out? Or is it better left unseen?