Bali is undoubtedly the epicentre of Indonesia’s tourism industry and with white sandy beaches ringing a jungle-clad, volcano-dotted interior it’s easy to see why.
Add to that some of the country’s best waves, 29 degree Celsius water and a legendary nightlife, and it’s no wonder the beaches are packed with surfers.
You can almost walk off the plane straight into the surf from Bali’s international airport, meaning no long bus rides or boat transfers….and did we mention it’s cheap?
The down side is that Bali’s surf spots are far from secret, so expect crowds of surfers no matter where you go. But on the flip side, it also means plenty of other travellers to socialise with and by far the country’s best party atmosphere.
Under 30 days - Most nationalities are eligible for a 30-day visa on arrival at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport. They cost USD$35 and can be renewed in country for an additional month for the same price by visiting any Indonesian Immigration Office.
Over 30 days - If you want to stay longer, you will either need to do visa runs every month or apply for a 60-day tourist visa in your home country before arriving and renew it for an additional month once you’re in Indonesia.
PRO TIP: If you overstay your visa, you'll have to pay IDR 200 000 per day when you try to check in at the airport (even if your flight leaves 2 minutes after midnight on the day after your visa expires)
Make sure you have at least 6 months of validity on your passport before you depart, or you'll be fined.
When To Go
Bali’s year is divided into the ‘wet’ and the ‘dry’, with daily downpours to be expected in the height of the wet season between October and April. The dry season between May and September is the peak surfing period when some of the island’s most famous breaks along the southwest and southeast coasts are at their best, fed by the southern ocean swells.
April - October = The dry season. The best season for surfing
November - March = The wet season. The surf is not as consistent, however there are still good waves to be ridden
June to September coincides not only with the Australian Winter but also the long European Summer holidays, so the crowds are thick. But this is also when the waves peak. Having said that, there are a few spots that still work during the wet season and you’ll benefit from fewer crowds. No matter when you visit, expect maximum temperatures in the high 30’s and around the same in the water, due to Indonesia’s equatorial location.
Accommodation - Bali caters to absolutely everybody - from budget travellers on the squeeze to those that want to splash out on five star luxury and surf like a high roller.
There is plenty of budget accommodation around most of the island’s surf spots with dorm prices starting from $7 and private rooms from $10.
If you’re after a little more than the basics, you can get great value for money accommodation in the 3-star category from around $25, all the way up to all-inclusive luxury resorts for around $150 per night.
If you are thinking about a surf camp, prices including all equipment, accommodation, lessons and three daily meals start from around $500 per week.
Food - You can get almost anything your stomach desires in Bali, from local street food to gourmet international cuisine and fusion buffets. A typical nasi campur of rice, vegetables and chicken is an Indonesian staple and sells for $1 throughout the island, and most local warungs serve up rice or noodles with meat for around $2.
Photo credit Wu Chunchi, Flickr
If you head to a tourist restaurant you’re looking at around $5 per meal, but the meat to rice ratio is significantly more than what you get at a ‘local’.
Getting Around - Hiring a motorbike or scooter is the way most surfers get around in Bali, with board racks available on request. This allows you the freedom to explore at your own pace, and with hire prices around $5 per day, you really can’t go wrong, however, it's not the safest option.
Go into your local Roads & Traffic Authority before you leave and apply for an international driver's licence - however, if you don’t have a motorbike licence at home, an international driver's licence won’t cover you for riding one in Indonesia - best to stick to hiring a car.
Alternatively, taxis are also VERY cheap, so if you want to get from one side of the island to the other and don’t fancy tackling the narrow, winding roads on two wheels, this can be a good option.
Getting your own driver is usually the next best option: for $30-$40 you will have a private driver to take you and your mates around for the day, looking for waves. Just don't forget to buy your driver lunch.
If you want to ride some of the offshore breaks in the south, traditional fishing boats known as jukung can easily be loaded up with all your gear and daily charters start at around $60 per day plus petrol.
Daily budgeting - You can easily get by on $30 per day in Bali, including accommodation, three meals, board and scooter hire, but you’ll need to budget for a little more if you plan to have a few beers at the end of each day ($2-$4 each) or travel across the island.
Bali is known for its cheap traditional massages, lavish buffet brunches and all-you-can drink parties, so if you can stretch your money a little further, you’ll be able to sample a little of the high life for next to nothing.
Quick Money Saving Tips
- Book accommodation online - In todays online world there are a number of hotel booking sites, such as booking.com and trivago.com, that offer great deals on last minute accommodation and are often much cheaper than the hotel’s walk-in rate.
- Eat in local warungs - The meals may be rice-heavy but they are cheap and filling, with portions generally larger than what you get in the tourist restaurants for three times the price
- Learn a few words of Bahasa - In a country where bargaining is an integral part of the buying experience, knowing some phrases in the local language will put you on a better footing with the seller, and friendly banter (no matter the language) normally sees the price dropped a few thousand rupees.
- Get your international driver's license - This is not totally necessary, however if you don't be prepared to pay an 'unofficial fine' when pulled over by the police (Pay any more than IDR 50 000 and you're a fool)
- BYO Suncream - Who knows why, but suncream is expensive in Bali, so bring your own.
Surfing In Bali: The Waves
Beginners - one of the best places to start is the original surfer’s beach in Bali, Kuta. It’s a long, sandy stretch, with small swells creating fun, reliable waves, particularly in the morning. There are plenty of surf schools lining the beach offering both lessons and board rental, including large foam boards perfect for first-timers to practice standing up.
To the north of Kuta is Legian Beach, also offering a number of reputable surf schools to choose from, while the next beach along at Seminyak has both left and right breaks good for inexperienced and intermediate surfers.
If you want to get away from Kuta, head south to Echo Beach at Canggu where there are waves to suit all levels. It’s a great spot to hone your skills if you’re quickly progressing, but be aware that there are no lifeguards patrolling the beach here so you’re on your own if you get into trouble!
Dreamland beach on the Bukit peninsular is another great spot for beginners - a fun, beautiful beach break with a few surf schools to choose from.
If Kuta Beach is packed then head 1.5km south to Tuban where the airport runway dissects two breaks known as ‘Airport Lefts’ and ‘Airport Rights’. While you need to take a boat out to the bigger swells, the waves near the shore are perfect for those just finding their feet.
Experienced surfers - For those more advanced looking for waves in the Kuta area, there are a number of offshore breaks that can be easily accessed by local boat. Kuta Reef is one of the most popular, about 800m offshore, but the crowds can get notoriously thick. Alternatively, jump on a boat out to Airport Lefts and Rights, both offering long rides just off Tuban Beach.
The 'Bukit peninsular' to the south is where the real gem waves of Bali can be found, however you'll notice from the crowds that this is no secret.
There is a huge variety of waves to be found on the Bukit peninsular - all within a 20 minute drive from each other. From the short but super hollow (and shallow!) reef at Bingin, to the long grinding waves of Balangan, to the punchy and playful A-frame beach break at dreamlands, to the famous and highly competitive waves at Uluwatu or Padang-Padang - there is something for everyone.
Yes - the crowds are there, however it's not unheard of to still score a relatively empty session at one of the reefs on any given day - just watch the conditions, cross your fingers and hit it early.
If you head in the opposite direction, Medewi on the western side of the island works in both the wet and dry season, although it’s best to surf it in the morning as it often gets blown out later in the day. Its distance from Kuta means that few surfers venture there, and with no night clubs the atmosphere is chilled.
Timing is everything in Bali - Yes, it's crowded and can be horrendous at certain times, but if you act like the savvy surf travellers & locals, keeping a close eye on swell patterns and surf reports (check out Bali Waves for daily surf reports), you too could score a magical uncrowded session at one of Bali's perfect setups.
Surf Camps In Bali
Since the island is so small, the most popular option for surfers is to travel around and book their own accommodation - it's cheap and flexible.
There are a number of surf camps that have popped up around Bali in the last few years and they offer a more complete surfing experience. Surf camps are the way to go if you're a beginner, or if you would like a worry free couple of weeks surfing.
La Point Surf Camp
Located smack bang in the middle of a lush rice paddy in Canggu, LaPoint Surf Camp offers isolated tranquility within a short walk from the surf, local restaurants and nightlife. Their weekly packages include all accommodation, meals, equipment hire and transport to the best surf spots in the region, starting at around $600. They have packages to suit both beginners and those with more experience and a typical day includes free time to venture off on other activities if you’re not only interested in the surf.
Accommodation is in the swank Villa Tugah, set around a plunge pool and decked out with sun loungers and hammocks.
Best suited for: surfers who are looking for a 'complete package' with everything included, and those who would prefer to be further away from the competitive vibe of the Bukit peninsular.
Rapture Surf Camp
Set within Balinese-style gardens, Rapture Surf Camp offers individual grass huts, locally-inspired lounges to relax in and plenty of hammocks for long afternoon siestas. While they are fully set up for surfers (and yogis), offering all of the services you’d expect, their rates are not all-inclusive, allowing you to pay just for those you want.
The Surf Camp is located within easy motorbike reach of both Padang Padang and Impossibles, and rooms start at around $45 per night.
Best suited for: Whether you're looking for a trip where everything included (e.g. equipment, lessons etc) or whether you're just looking for a place to sleep, Rapture surf camp is great because you can pay for extras as you wish. They also have Yoga classes, custom surf tours and martial art classes, at an additional cost of course.
Storm-Rider Surf Camp
Situated in Padang Padang, Stormrider Surf Camp is infused with rustic Balinese charm with a choice of grass bungalows, surf shacks and villas just 5 minutes walk from the beach.
Their weekly rates include accommodation, breakfast, twice-daily surf spot transfers, guides and airport pickups, starting from around $400 in a shared dorm.
On Fridays and Saturdays they offer free transport into Kuta, Legian or Seminyak, making it perfect for those keen to experience the nightlife Bali is so famous for.
Best suited for: More experienced surfers who want accommodation near the world-class spots of Padang-Padang and Uluwatu.
Bali Surf Charters
Surf charters from Bali typically head out to the uncrowded waves on the nearby islands of Lembongan, Lombok and across to Sumbawa, further east.
Trips vary in length from 2 days/1 night if you just want to surf Lembongan, to a full week if you’re visiting Lombok and Sumbawa also.
There are a few boat charter's doing the rounds, so you have options, based on whether you want a budget trip, or something with a little more comfort or fun - most charters are equipped with snorkelling and spearfishing gear, as well as flat screen TVs and even Playstations!
Prices start from around $900 per week all-inclusive and private charters can also be organised for just you and your mates.
Here are some of the boat charters that do Bali and the surrounding Islands:
- Bali Surf Charter.com
PRO TIP: It's not to hard to get a discounted charter if you have 1-3 people. Simple find out where the surf charter offices are when in Bali (most of the are in Poppies Lane 2) and call them to find out the dates which the charter's are leaving. Then go into the office on the day before departure and if there are spots left you can get them at a discount, sometimes up to 50% off!
If you’re just looking to get a boat ride out to some of Bali’s southern offshore breaks, there are fishermen on most beaches who will take you for a small rate (depending on the distance) and there’s no need to book ahead but just turn up when you’re ready. Find out the night before who else is keen to split the cost and you’ll end up paying next to nothing.
Should I Bring Or Buy Boards?
Bali has an abundance of surf shops and more second hand surfboards than you could imagine, so bringing your quiver from home VS buying a few boards over there is up to personal preference.
Board prices in Bali are comparable to board prices in most western countries, at $600-$900 for a brand new board, and $100 upwards for a second hand board.
For beginners and learners, there are plenty of shops to hire boards from, so save yourself the airline baggage fees of lugging your own.
Things To Do In Bali (Flat Day Activities)
Explore the cultural heart of Ubud - Surrounded by emerald rice paddies, Ubud is the artistic and cultural heart of Bali. Home to impressive galleries and traditional handicrafts, it is also the centre of Bali’s alternative therapies scene, with lots of schools offering yoga, meditation and body cleansing courses if you’re in need of a detox.
Watch sunset at Tanah Lot - Just 20km from Kuta Beach lies the beautiful Hindu temple of Tanah Lot, set spectacularly on a rocky outcrop that becomes an island at high tide. Translating as ‘Land in the Sea’, it was built in the 16th Century and if you visit during sunset you’re guaranteed magic photographs!
Get a massage - With prices starting at $10 for a one-hour full body treatment, getting a massage in Bali is almost compulsory. There are plenty of options to choose from, including traditional Balinese massages, hot stone massages, and body scrubs.
White water raft the Ayung River - Swap the saltwater for fresh on a white water rafting adventure through the Ayung Gorge. Ride the wild rapids that pass rice paddies, densely forested banks and Balinese villages, cutting through the heart of the island.
Snorkel or dive the coral reefs - Indonesia is renowned for its marine life and Nusa Lembongan in the south of Bali is a great spot to dive or snorkel its spectacular reef drop offs. For those with more time, make the trip north to the remote island of Menjangan where the reefs are still in untouched, pristine condition.
Witness Jatiluwih Rice paddies - Spend an afternoon cruising Bali’s rural heartland by motorbike or scooter, passing by villages, temples, lakes and rice paddies. Jatiluwih Rice Paddies are perhaps the island’s most photogenic, with emerald terraces cascading down the hillside.
Climb Mount Batur at Kintimani - The volcanic Mount Batur towers magnificently over Bali with a turquoise lake nestled at its base. The steep trek to the summit is well worth it, particularly at sunrise to watch the first rays peek over the horizon.
Stay overnight at a local village - While Bali is a great place to surf and socialise with other travellers, its people are also famously friendly, and the best way to immerse yourself in local life is by staying overnight in a Balinese village. Homestay initiatives allow you to bunk down with a village family and be a part of their everyday routine.
Take a yoga course - Bali has become renowned as a centre for yoga practice and teacher training, and with countless schools to choose from boasting world-class instructors, it’s a great place to take a class. Whether you’re a first-timer or do yoga regularly, there are classes and courses to suit.
Party ’til the wee hours - Nightlife has become synonymous with Bali and if you’re staying in the south, chances are you’re going to be within shouting distance from some of the best it has to offer. Whether you’re after live jam sessions or trance parties, Bali will deliver, and if the surf forecast is off, you’ve got no excuses.
Packing Tips For Bali
- Pack lightly - Bali is warm year-round so you don’t need many clothes and if you’re planning on doing some travelling, the less to carry the better.
- Bringing surfboards - You can get hold of boards of all shapes and sizes pretty easily in Bali, with prices starting at around $5 a day. If you plan to bring your own, check your airline’s excess baggage fees so you don’t cop a hefty penalty at check-in.
- Booties - As most of Bali’s waves break over reef they’re a good idea! (although you can always buy them once you're over here)
- BYO Sun protection - the sun can be fierce in Bali and with the water multiplying its burn factor, sunstroke can be an issue. It’s best to stock up on water resistant sunscreen and zinc at home as both can be expensive (and less reliable) in Indonesia.
- First aid/medical - Malaria is not a big issue in Bali but bring insect repellant to keep them at bay in the evenings and reduce any potential risk, together with a basic medical kit including antiseptic, band-aids and painkillers.
- Travel Insurance is a must - while it may seem like an unnecessary expense, if you find yourself in hospital, it could end up saving you an arm and a leg on medical costs. Go for a surfer-friendly policy to ensure your boards are covered too.
And thats about all you need to make sure you have a ripper of a time when surfing in Bali! Have you got some of your own travel tips? or maybe a bali surf camp review of your own? Leave a comment below!
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