As your plane descends over this small spec on the globe, you can already get a sense of the magic that Bali creates with its own, unique atmosphere and culture.
First, there are the world-class waves that are lined up all in a row down it’s famous Bukit peninsula coast, which you’ll most likely get to witness from above when the swell is pumping and your plane is about to land right next to the water. Then, there’s the rich history that these said waves have created among the surf/ travel culture, drawing surfers there since the early 1960’s. But it hasn’t been just the waves that have drawn people to Bali and that make them keep coming back. The Balinese culture is like none other. The people are welcoming and friendly and also very spiritual, engaging in daily offerings and practices of worship to the many gods they believe in. Often, there are elaborately decorated, ornate ceremonies and parades happening in various villages and throughout the streets. They believe that Karma will sure enough set people straight for doing right or wrong. In Bali, what goes around comes around, and almost instantly.
When you land, you’re practically in the heart of the tourism center, Kuta, where every surf brand has established roots; where surf schools run along the beaches just as plentifully as the Bintangs (Indonesia’s local beer) that Australians, Swedes, Russians, and people from every other corner of the world are enjoying throughout the middle of the days and the nights. It is one happening place, with the latest and best pop songs (hum, This Is Me by Keala Settle) blaring at all hours through the streets, and blasting from the clubs around midnight, making the sidewalks rumble. Local handicraft stalls and shops envelope the streets, where you’ll find everything from Balinese god and goddess artworks, to bamboo and rattan homewares, wooden penis bottle openers, and lines of batik sarongs and loose-fitting, silk beach clothing.
If being in the middle of the buzzing center of tourism doesn’t strike your fancy, there are plenty of places outside of town to head to where you’ll experience the magic of the Bali coastlines and waves.
On the Bukit Peninsula, there’s the world-class, famous waves of Uluwatu, Padang Padang, Impossibles and Bingin. The traffic on the way outside of town might blow your mind if you haven’t traveled to Asian or South-east Asian countries before. The rules of the road are quite different and they are scattered with motorbikes much more than with cars and trucks. The main goal of driving or riding in Bali, for example, seems to be to never have to come to a complete stop, which makes for interesting, constant and often times unpredictable traffic flow. (TIP: If it makes you nervous, just close your eyes.) Once on the Bukit, you’ll find a bit of solace in the one road that takes you along all the waves, lined with lush tropical trees and cute, quaint cafes of mixed and local cuisine. You’ll get peaks of the ocean along the roadside with views of the world-famous waves, drifting into another dimension as you imagine all the travelers who came before, discovering these gems for the first time. It’s usually much more quiet here, as tourists tend to implant themselves in the cliffside hotels down stoney pathways on the descent to the waves.
In the other direction of the Bukit from town is the North-Western buzzing town of Canggu, where many of the new surf retreats and camps are located. Whereas on the Bukit you find the most hard-core surfing expatriates and travelers there for the famous waves, in Canggu you will find the artist and designer expats, there to soak in the views of the beautiful Balinese rice fields and socialize in some top casual hang outs after a long day of surf, at Old Man’s or Deus to name a few. The scene is trendy, vibrant and busy. You’ll be able to surf one of the many perfect Bali waves along a coastline that’s much flatter and so, easily accessible. Afterwards, you can sit at one of the warungs (local food and drink stands) lined up at the top of the beach for a fresh coconut to hydrate after a surf or a beer if you prefer, then head to one of the many healthy and delicious trendy cafes in town.
Overall, Bali is a multi-faceted and vibrant island to visit. While busy and constantly developing and growing, there are breathtaking beach scenes, cliff sides, temples, and rice fields and some of the friendliest locals you’ll encounter. It’s a highly unique culture, a true tropical paradise and you will surely find some perfect waves to surf. It’s a must-see if you’re a surfer, yogi, dreamer, and traveler like us.
There are two seasons in Bali, like most tropical places: Wet and Dry Season.
Dry Season is High Season, from May through September. The trade winds are almost guaranteed to be blowing through the middle months of high season, with offshores hitting the West and South-west coastlines (The long lefts of the Bukit and Canggu). The swell is usually pumping, consistently reaching the 4-6 foot range and periodic 9 foot and above swells. Of course this is the busiest time of year, in the water and on land. However the weather is unbeatable and the water stays clean and blue.
Rainy season is from November to March. The swell is still consistent, though less likely that large swells will come in above 6 foot. It is way less busy and there’s still something magical about rain in the tropics. However, rain often floods the rivers and with the runoff, the ocean and beaches can become quite polluted. You’re not in any danger of getting sick, but you might be paddling through some plastic bags and wading through wrappers.
One of the key things to remember in Bali is that you are almost ALWAYS outdoors. Even many villas, retreats, and cafes have open-aired architectural designs, so whether you’re lounging at your accommodation, riding on the back of a motorbike, or surfing, you are surely soaking up some strong sun rays. Sun protection is vital, so we recommend bringing the following:
- very good all-natural zinc sunscreen for surfing
- An all-around all-natural sunblock for all day wear
- Lightweight long sleeves and pants (for lounging and motorbike rides).
- Surf hat
- Rash guards
- Surf leggings
- Sun hat
- Plenty of swimmers / bathing-suits. Because of the humidity, things don’t dry too quickly or well, even in the sun. Have a few surf suits and swimmers on hand so you’re not constantly putting on wet ones.
- A good first aid kit that includes waterproof bandages, anti-bacterial cream, and tablets for stomach aches or you-know-what (also known as Bali belly).
- A good book
- Extra cash and room in the suitcase for SHOPPING. Bali is known for its wood carvings and handicrafts. I wouldn’t go home without some sort of souvenir!
- Lightweight beach towel
- We can’t stress enough how strong the sun is in Bali. You don’t want to end up a lobster enclosed in a cage, spending days cooped up indoors because you can’t open your eyes or your skin burns when you walk outside. Be prepared and you’ll be fine.
- Know the currency before you arrive and do a bit of research into the cost of things. Balinese love to bargain and do so with everything, so nine times out of ten, you shouldn’t be paying the first price offered to you.
- Scooters, or motorbikes, are the best way to get around in Bali, though they can be highly dangerous with the rules of the road so different. If you know how to ride a scooter and rent one yourself, start off easy and go on local roads only till you’re comfortable with the rules. If you don’t know how to ride a scooter, we don’t recommend you learn while in Bali. You can easily get taxi rides on them on the back or hire drivers. The retreats should help you anyways.
- Be very careful when you exchange money anywhere. Always count what they hand you back, even if you think it’s offensive or you’re at a trustworthy place. All the tricks of scamming tourists still apply here, even though the friendly locals make it hard to believe.