On most surfers' bucket list since its discovery as a surf-travel destination in the early 1970s, Bali has gone from a hard-core surf experience to a global, trending tourist hub. With its great waves, warm waters, Hindu culture and increasingly chic shopping, bars and restaurants, the place known as the Island of the Gods offers every type of traveler a unique vacation experience. Here's a rundown of what's hot there right now.
The in-crowdMore and more of the trendy young things, hipsters, fashion designers, pro surfers and iPod-selecting DJs, now base themselves down at Canggu, located just to the north of Kuta. The waves of Canggu break over a forgiving sand-covered reef and the beach has always offered a consistent, more user-friendly change of pace from the coral reef waves and crowds of the rest of Bali. A transformation in the last five years, however, has seen a range of luxury resorts, amazing villas and short-term lease stays pop up nearby.
"I rarely leave Canggu now," says professional surfer Taj Burrow, who bases himself on the island each Southern Hemisphere winter. "It has consistent waves, a great scene, and all my friends come and stay here now too."
Only 5 miles from the seedy happy hours and all-night clubs of Kuta, it has become a supercool Bali oasis, with fun waves and its own feel. Get in while it lasts.
The BukitThe Bukit Peninsula, which houses the famous lefts of Ulus, Padang, Impossibles and Bingin, is the very southern promontory of Bali, about a 40-minute drive from Kuta.
"It's very different to the early days," says Peter McCabe, the first man to surf Padang back in 1976. "And although it has changed massively, I'd like to think its soul, and the waves, haven't."
The pace of development, though, has indeed been dramatic in the last decade. Dreamlands, once an isolated white-sandy beach of learner-friendly waves, cold beers and good times, now houses a mall and massive hotel. Uluwatu, first surfed in 1970 and for 30 years lined by small warungs, or local-run huts, now boasts huge resorts, infinity pools, surf shops, and the Single Fin Bar. However, if you surf the right waves at the right tides, this is still a unique surfing space where magic happens with beaches such as Balangan that rate as some of the most majestic in the world.
For the beginnersMost of Bali's better breaks are very dangerous for learners, with sharp coral, powerful waves and expert crowds making them unsuitable for the inexperienced. However, less well-known waves do provide great options, like the fun, but fattish, left about an hour down the coast from Kuta at Medewi, or try the mushier and shiftier rights over at Nusa Dua on the east coast. After a while, if you have some Bali surf time under your belt, paddle out at the more crowded waves, just with low expectations.
For the non-surferOne of the best-kept secrets on Bali is Menjangan Island. Located about 10 kilometers north of Gilimanuk Harbor in northwestern Bali, its national-park status, white beaches and protected coral reefs make it a spectacular diving place and generally very cool place to visit.
The secret coastFor a long time, Bali's east coast was a well-kept secret, hidden by locals and a few surfers in the know. However, with surfers being notoriously bad at keeping secrets, word soon got out. Only a 45-minute drive from the hub of Kuta, and 20 minutes from the well-known tourist port of Sanur, there are more and more accommodation options in front of the many waves and beaches that line the coast. The most famous of these waves is Keramas, which is where the Komune resort is located; however, up and down the coast, empty beaches and great waves await the intrepid.
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