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Over the years, I’ve been to Bali three times – more than I’ve visited any other place in the world. ‘The Island of the Gods’ is a favourite holiday destination for travellers and for good reason. It’s exotic, breathtaking and host to some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.
Like most tourists I’ve always headed to the more developed southern tip of the island where there’s a huge variety of accommodation on offer, from youth hostels to five-star resorts. As a student I made a bee-line to Kuta on my first trip, lured by the promise of cheap youth hostels, great nightlife and bargain shopping. When I returned a few years later, I stayed in Seminyak, where my budget allowed for a more upmarket stay. On my latest trip a few weeks ago, I went all out, splurging on a 5-star luxury resort in Nusa Dua.
What I’ve found from my experiences is that wherever you’re staying – whether you’re in party-central Kuta or the resort-town of Nusa Dua – it’s possible to find something that suits any budget and holiday needs.
It may be hectic, overcrowded and congested but Kuta is still one of the most popular tourist areas in Bali. People flock there all year around, largely because it’s where all the action is. You can spend your daylight hours shopping, eating and relaxing by the beach. After the sun goes down, the bars and clubs pulsate with Bintang-singlet-clad Westerners looking to enjoy the best nightlife in Bali.
One of the main reasons I stayed in Kuta on my first trip was the cheap accommodation. As a student travelling on a budget, it was perfect (and with student travel insurance under my belt, I had nothing to worry about). Because there are so many options, hotels are very competitive on price, so you can always score a great deal. Private rooms at hotels are good value at around $30 a night, although they’ll be pretty basic. There are loads of hostels too where backpackers can find a room for less than $10 a night.
Kuta might be central and cheap, but it does come at a cost. If you’re headed there, be prepared for noise, masses of people and lots of general craziness.
With a few more dollars under my belt my second experience visiting Bali was a far cry from my Kuta trip. Seminyak is at the more upmarket end of town, offering mid-to-high range accommodation, fashionable bars and restaurants, fancy spas and boutique shopping. If you’re not indulging in a spa treatment or buying designer clothes on Jalan Laksmana, you’ll probably be sipping drinks by the pool at one of the trendy bars like Potato Head or Ku De Ta.
Because I was travelling with a couple of friends, we splurged on a private 3-star villa near the centre of Seminyak. It was a massive step-up from the youth hostel in Kuta – and not just because we had our own pool! The area is sophisticated and very laid back – it’s sprawling with villas and higher-end hotels and there’s not a backpacker hostel in sight. You can expect to pay at least $125 for a mid-range villa and upwards of $300 for a beachfront hotel room.
I loved Seminyak. There was plenty of time to relax plus the opportunity to dress up and have a chilled night out. It’s being developed pretty rapidly though – new villas are popping up all over the place and the traffic can be awful. It may not be long before it becomes too crowded and loses the vibe that makes it so special.
On my third trip to Bali, my budget and travelling partners (a four-year old and her grandparents) changed my travelling criteria significantly. We wanted somewhere quiet and comfortable which is why we headed to Nusa Dua.
With a variety of luxurious accommodation, golf courses, fine dining and R&R, Nusa Dua is for upmarket travellers who want a resort-style holiday. The area often gets a bad rap from travelers who claim it’s too artificial. And I can see what they mean –I felt as if I could’ve been, staying at any tropical resort in the world.
If you don’t mind that you’ll have a great time there. The beaches are fantastic – stretches of white sand and calm, clear blue water that’s safe for swimming. The hotels offer plenty of services from onsite medical clinics to activities for kids, restaurants and business centres.
Accommodation is definitely not cheap though – you’ll be forking out at least $400 for a studio room and up to $2000 for a presidential suite. We stayed in a 5-star villa at the St Regis Bali which was amazing – we had our own pool, beautifully furnished rooms and access to the free buffet breakfast.
As nice as the resort was there’s not much in the area in terms of dining except at the restaurants of other hotels. You could easily stop in at nearby Jimbaran Bay for a seafood banquet on the beach, or even catch a taxi to Seminyak but it’s a decent drive – at least 30 min drive in light traffic.