Kuta, Bali, is known for its exciting nightlife and beautiful beaches.
If you love to shop, party, and surf, then Kuta is the perfect place for you. Located just a 15-minute drive from Bali’s only international airport, this former fishing village town was one of the first major tourist spots to crop up on the Indonesian island of Bali. Today, it’s part of a sprawling urban area that’s renowned for beautiful beach sunsets and party vibe. There are so many things to do in Kuta and the surrounding area that it’s hard to decide where to begin.
Where to Stay
If you want to be smack dab in the heart of the action, stay at one of the massive beachside resorts along Jalan Pantai Kuta, such as the luxurious Hard Rock Hotel Bali or Sheraton Bali Kuta Resort. During the day, simply wander across the street and rent a lounge chair on the beach. If kicking back and soaking up the sun isn’t for you, perhaps stroll along the avenue to check out the vast variety of shops, including popular international name brands and local boutiques. At night, enjoy the rhythmic sounds of local bands as the street comes alive with energy.
For my short stay in Kuta, I chose to make my nest a little off the beaten path at the divine Grand Mega Resort & Spa. The four-star hotel offers spacious, modern rooms equipped with every comfort your heart could desire, including both a bathtub and separate shower, plush bathrobes, coffeemaker, and more. An expansive outdoor pool and bar, relaxing spa, and delicious restaurant round out the resort’s amenities.
The Grand Mega is just a 15-minute from the airport, and everything you need for an enjoyable stay is available on site, which is a good thing since there’s not much nearby aside from a small mall across the street. I didn’t plan on spending much time at the hotel, so it suited me just fine. And because of its location away from the beach hubbub, it was extremely affordable. How often can you find a four-star hotel for under $40 per night? Considering equivalent hotels along the beach cost more than three times as much, the Grand Mega is an ideal choice, especially if you plan to spend most of your time touring beyond Kuta.
Arranging a Ride
While tour companies offer many opportunities for things to do in Kuta, it’s just as easy to make your own tour. Most hotels will be happy to arrange a driver to take you around for the day. If you have only one day to take in the local sites, you’ll want to make the most of your day, so be sure to make arrangements the night before. My driver had a handy-dandy binder filled with pictures and descriptions of the main attractions. He made recommendations based on my personal tastes, and then we agreed on a price. This is key.
Always agree on the price in advance. Typically, a full day tour costs in the range of 700,000 to 800,000 Indonesian Rupiah, which equates to about $50 to $60. Most drivers allow two to three people in the vehicle for this rate, but keep in mind, there is no discount if you’re traveling alone. You will need to pay the full rate.
Pro tip: The rate you agree on with your driver does not include entrance to any attractions. You will need to pay for those separately upon arrival. This is just the fee for driving you around for the day. Also, you are expected to tip at the end of the day.
Starting Your Day
If you’re staying at the Grand Mega, the buffet breakfast is a lovely way to start the day. There is a wide selection of both hot and cold foods, as well as fresh fruit and an omelette station. It costs about $10 on its own, or it may come included with your room.
A great way to get a glimpse into the customs and heritage of a culture is to take in a traditional performance of some kind. Grab a buffet breakfast at the hotel, and then head to Sari Wisata Budaya to catch the 9:30 a.m. Barong and Kris show. The show costs about $8 and lasts about 45 minutes. As you enter the theater, you’ll be greeted by a stunning Balinese dancer dressed in colorful traditional clothing. It’s the perfect opportunity to pose for a quick picture. While you can use your own camera, a photographer will also snap a photograph, which you can purchase later for about $8.
One inside the performance area, you’ll immediately notice there are no actual seats. Instead, you’ll find stadium seating on an oversized concrete staircase. Simply sit wherever you like, and wait for the show to begin. Just before it does, the gamelan ensemble to the right of the stage begins playing vibrant music on instruments such as xylophones and bamboo flutes. The tunes are catchy and enchanting. And before you know if the performers take to the stage.
As you enter the theater, you’ll be given a pamphlet explaining the story. Based on a twelfth-century tale of good versus evil, Barong, a mystical spirit in the form of a beast, must protect his village from the with queen Rangda. From Balinese dancing to comedy improv, the show has a little bit of everything. Though the entire show is performed in Balinese, you’ll get the gist of what’s going on. While the traditional dancing and music are beautiful, and the costumes are stunning, the show drags on a little long. And it’s a bit raunchy at times. Still, it’s worth the few bucks you shelled out to see something local.
Alternatively, if the Barong show simply isn’t your style, wake up early, and head down to Kuta Beach for a quiet stroll in the sand before the temperatures rise and the crowds arrive. Aside from the six-foot white sandstone fence built in the traditional Balinese style, there’s not a lot that makes this beach stand out from any other. Still, it’s a nice way to start the day.
When you’re done, head over to one of the many streetside restaurants for a bite to eat. For a couple of bucks, you can get a hearty meal that will keep your stomach sated for hours. For less than $5, I got juice, tea, hash browns, pancakes, fruit, toast, and eggs at the Grand Istana Rama Hotel located just a block or so from the Beachwalk Shopping Center.
After breakfast, head back toward the mall and check out the shops. Then, make your way down Jalan Pantai Kuta, and you’ll get a sense of just how busy Kuta Square gets later in the day. Check out a few more shops, or maybe get a foot massage for a few dollars. Spas are a dime a dozen in this part of the world. You can walk in at any time and expect the royal treatment.
Pro tip: Ask to be dropped off and picked up at the Beachwalk Shopping Center. It’s a solid landmark that’s easy to find and central to the action. Give yourself about two hours to grab a bite, dip your toes in the water, and wander through a few shops.
After you’ve had a chance to see a show or walk along the beach, it’s time to hit the road en route to the Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park, but not before a quick stop at a kopi Luwak coffee plantation. This is one of the most common things to do in Kuta and other parts of Bali. In fact, a stop at a coffee plantation will be on just about every tour itinerary you read. I don’t drink coffee, at all…ever…so I wasn’t super keen on the idea, but my driver was insistent on it and told me it wouldn’t take long. I figured he got kick backs on any sales, but I decided to do it anyway.
Coffee plantations are abundant in Bali, and once you know what to look for, you’ll see signs for them on many streets. The one we went to was designed to entice tourists. At the entrance, you’ll be greeted by a representative of the plantation who will take you on a short tour. At this particular plantation, from the moment you walk in, you feel as though you’ve found a lush oasis in the middle of a dusty desert. As you wind your way along the garden path, the tour guide explains that kopi Luwak is some of the most expensive coffee in the world, costing hundreds of dollars per pound.
Kopi, or coffee, Luwak is not a type of coffee but rather a method for processing it. First, Asian palm civets, nocturnal cat-like creatures known locally as Luwaks, roam through the fields of coffee beans at night, carefully selecting only the finest beans to eat. Their bodies digest the beans so quickly that they don’t have time to breakdown. When they come back out, they are nearly completely intact. From here, the beans are thoroughly washed and roasted.
If you’re an animal advocate like me, your first concern will be for the animals. I was very happy to learn the plantation I was at allows the Luwaks plenty of free time outside of their cages to enjoy the outdoors. I had no idea was I was getting into when I went to the plantation and immediately began asking questions. While this particular plantation placed a high value on its animals, not all of them do. Knowing this, be sure to ask in advance if the plantation you’re going to have quality standards for the care of its Luwaks.
After you’re done the roasting demonstration, you’ll be taken to a tasting area. Here, you’ll be given the opportunity to sample no less than 12 varieties of teas and coffees made at the plantation. Tea flavors typically include mangosteen, ginseng, vanilla, and ginger to name a few. You can sample coconut, chocolate, and Bali coffees, among others. If you want to try the good stuff, you’ll have to shell out about $4. Once you’ve discovered your favorite flavors, you’ll be escorted to a small shop where you can make a purchase. There is absolutely no pressure to buy anything if you don’t want to. The entire experience takes about a half hour tops. Even if you don’t drink coffee, it’s an enjoyable experience, so just go with it.
Once you’ve discovered your favorite flavors, you’ll be escorted to a small shop where you can make a purchase. There is absolutely no pressure to buy anything if you don’t want to. The entire experience takes about a half hour tops. Even if you don’t drink coffee, it’s an enjoyable experience, so just go with it.
Finally, you’ll be on your way to Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park, or GWK as it’s known locally. This park wasn’t on my radar when I was looking for things to do in Kuta, but my driver suggested in, and I was glad he did. The sprawling 150-acre park is about a half-hour drive from central Kuta, but it feels like longer due to traffic congestion and sketchy driving conditions. Dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu and Garuda, the bird-like creature that Vishnu rides, the park features an amphitheater, shops, restaurants, ATV rentals and more.
When you arrive at the park, your driver will likely drop you off at the ticket counter and leave to find parking. After you’ve paid your admission—about $8—you’ll be given a park map and someone will point you toward the entrance. Then you’ll be on your own. Simply follow the path and the other people, and you’ll be just fine (though I found the map a bit useless, and I’m quite adept at reading maps).