Kuta, just a short drive from the airport in southern Bali, has become the island's most popular and most crowded holiday resort, blessed as it is with a lovely sweep of golden sand, crashing surf and spectacular sunsets. The natural attractions have now been complemented by the full range of tourist trappings, and Kuta is bursting with hotels, shops, restaurants and an energetic nightlife. It is also teeming with touts and vendors offering everything from sarongs and 'Rolex' watches to hair-braiding and tattoos. Kuta's atmosphere is relaxed, cheerful and friendly, and holiday visitors find it easy to wear a smile and enjoy excellent accommodation with good food.
A holiday must for every visitor in Kuta is a visit to the nearby Temple of Tanah Lot, Bali's most holy place and a magical experience when viewed at sunset.
Kuta is swarming with shops and holiday shoppers, with clusters of stores and stalls all selling much the same goods, waiting for customers to barter on the prices. Accessed either from the beach or Kuta Square is the vast, fun market area where you can buy things like CDs, kites, sarongs, shoes and lots of fake brand name clothing. Local handcrafts, jewellery and custom-made leather goods are good buys. Visitors are usually assailed by pushy street hawkers selling goods like fake watches, and are expected to haggle on prices, which are often quoted in US Dollars.
Kuta is also well supplied with department stores and shopping centres where prices are fixed, like the new Discovery Mall on Jalan Kartika Plaza. Around Kuta Square you can have a spending spree at dozens of brand name stores where goods (the real thing) are sold at amazingly low prices.
Those who are keen to buy local crafts, hand-made jewellery or traditional wood and stone carvings will do well to take excursions into surrounding villages where these arts are practised; some handcrafts are available in Kuta, but better examples can be found a bit further afield.
On holiday in Kuta, you can find anything from Japanese sushi to Wiener schnitzel, pizza to paella, and enchiladas to burgers. Sometimes the taste is not quite as expected because these international favourites have been adapted to suit local tastes and ingredients. If you want to play it safe stick to McDonald's or Pizza Hut! On the other hand, travellers yearning for more authentic local food can brave the rather primitive little roadside food stalls, warungs, to sample local cuisine like Bakso soup, or pick a padang, which is a 24-hour diner displaying a dozen or so different dishes in a glass box at the door where you can sample them all for just a few US dollars. Be warned that wherever you dine wine and beer is very expensive; try locally produced versions which are better value than the familiar imports often enjoyed by tourists.
Whatever your choice for after-dark entertainment you will find it in Kuta, which is the main party district of Bali. Evenings usually start with witnessing spectacular sunsets over cocktails, progress through a leisurely dinner and then around midnight the partying starts, either with a pub crawl, club rave, a rhythmic Balinese dance show or a Wayang Kulit shadow puppet performance. Cafés, pubs and discos line the streets of Kuta, but nothing gets going very early, with the serious party venues often only starting to peak at about 2am. There are also often special events, like beach full moon parties, or body-painting parties, which are announced by way of flyers handed out around town.
Most visitors on holiday in Kuta come for pure leisure and pleasure, drawn by Bali's laid-back atmosphere and the stretch of sandy beach, which at Kuta is somewhat dangerous for swimming because of an extremely strong undertow. However, the area is renowned for its surfing, the several-mile long beach break between Kuta and Petitenget offering a range of waves, and there are a number of surfing schools for beginners. Scuba diving and game fishing excursions are also sought-after and freely available. Kuta also offers bungy jumping on the beach, and boasts a beautifully landscaped waterpark full of thrilling rides and slides. Horse-riding along the beach at sunset is a popular pastime.
Most hotels and resorts in and around Kuta encompass spas, which offer massages and beauty treatments. The larger hotels usually also offer a variety of sports facilities which can be used by non-residents. Day cruises to off-coast islands are also available. Some other holiday activities offered by private operators include paragliding, submarine tours, whitewater rafting, paintball war games and guided bird-watching expeditions.
Currents and a strong undertow make Kuta's beach dangerous for swimming. The beach can also be over-crowded and flooded with vendors hawking all manner of goods. The roads can be dangerous after dark, with a number of potholes on the streets and more than a few drunken drivers.