Spectacular sunsets, quirky locals and some of the island’s best surfing action, Balian Beach, on the South West coast of Bali, is the perfect escape from the tourist traps of the main towns. With only a handful of accommodations and places to eat or drink, hardcore partiers will be disappointed but, if you’re looking for an authentic, laidback Bali experience, this is the place to go. I stayed here during a Workaway placement last December and got to know this little village with its beach bars, restaurants, night market and the surrounding jungles and waterfalls.
Things to do
Catch a wave
There are no tacky tourist spots or expensive excursions here, and there seems to be only one activity that anyone who comes to Balian Beach really cares about…surfing. Whether you’re surfing yourself, watching from the black sand beach or talking surf over a bottle of Bintang, Balian Beach is one of the best, still relatively unknown, surfing spots in Bali. I was told you have to get up early to catch the best of the waves here, but I saw plenty of people surfing at sunset too, which is a pretty incredible sight to watch.
If you’re a non-surfer (like me!) there are a couple of places here where you can learn to surf but the most popular seems to be the Balian Surf Camp – a community-owned and operated bungalow and restaurant, with a bar situated right on the beach on the north side of the Balian River. Along with pretty cheap accommodation, they have surfboards for hire and can organise lessons for any level of surfer.
I was told, by a few of the surf dudes that hang out there, that Balian Beach is a pretty intense place to learn if you’re a complete beginner, so keep in mind that it might be best to get some hours in the water somewhere else first.
Take a Yoga Lesson
Balian Beach’s other main draw is yoga – with new yoga places opening each season. There are a couple of accommodations that offer yoga packages and the popular Pondok Pitaya’s Hotel, Surfing and Yoga seems to be considered the best.
I was staying on a Workaway placement at Shankari’s Bali Villa, who also offer yoga lessons when they have a resident teacher…but during the time I stayed there, the classes were being sporadically led by another Workawayer.
Balian Beach is a great base for exploring some of the lesser known attractions on the island. There are beautiful jungle trails and waterfalls within an hour’s drive, as well as an alternative to Ubud’s extremely touristy (and expensive) Sacred Monkey Forest.
You can also easily visit the Vihara Dharma Giri Buddhist Temple in Kabupaten Tabanan, one of the newer Buddhist temples and centres on the island. The best way to discover the local sights is to talk to the locals, who are always more than happy to offer advice and tips. Just be aware that, if a local offers to give you a lift or a tour, you will be expected to give them at least the cost of petrol and, if you are going to one of the waterfalls that require offerings, pay for those too.
Attend a local ceremony
Two of my most memorable experiences from Balian Beach were attending a “Bali Nyabutan” ceremony (babies in Bali do not touch the ground until they are three months old – this ceremony celebrates the child being able to connect to the earth for the first time) with my Workaway host family, and being invited to witness a local funeral taking place on the banks of the river.
Getting to know the locals, experiencing the food, clothing, customs, and hearing the stories and history behind these events, was incredible.
Where to eat
Balian Beach has a small number of restaurants and cafes to eat at, but with a busy little night market too, you’ll feel like you have plenty of choice:
As well as accommodation, surfing and yoga, Pondok Pitayas has a busy beach-facing restaurant and bar. The food here is good but is also the most expensive in the area. There are plenty of western options, alongside some local dishes and an extensive list of cocktails (which are perfect for sipping while you watch the sunset). It’s also one of the most reliable Wi-Fi spots in Balian Beach – which means you’ll be surrounded by surfers and travellers FaceTiming home.
This was one of my favourite spots in Balian Beach – a really pretty garden restaurant with fairy lights, amazing food and great drinks. Hidden down a little path, just off the main road down to Pondok Pitayas, this place has a laid-back, friendly feel and although it’s slightly pricier than some of the others, the portions are huge.
I loved this small, roadside café! With seats nestled in amongst the plants and trees, and a beautiful view of the palm tree-lined beach in the distance, Tom’s is a great place for a quiet and cheap meal. If you’re going to use the free Wi-Fi, just remember it’s only “turned-on” until 6pm!
If you’re on a tight budget in Balian Beach, there is nowhere better for cheap (and I mean CHEAP!) food than the small local night market. Found in the square off Jl. Raya Denpasar Gilimanuk (there is also a supermarket and an ATM near here) the night food market has around 10 stalls serving up local dishes and you’ll be hard pushed to find any that cost more than a couple of pounds (most of the meals I ate here cost me about 50p!) You can grab a seat at one of the stalls next to the locals or take your food with you and find a perch back down at the beach.
Where to drink
Like I mentioned earlier, Balian Beach is not a party destination so you won’t find endless bars or any clubs here. What it does have are a few nice beach-side places to grab a beer or a cocktail and one, later opening, bar with live (think more karaoke than bands) music.
Just up the hill from Pondok Pitaya’s, Deki’s has a great sunset view, relatively cheap beer and a few local characters to make things interesting. It seems to be the last place to close, and I’d recommend having a few drinks elsewhere before you experience the karaoke (be prepared for some unusual renditions of Green Day…which seems to be the cover of choice for everyone).
Where to stay
Accommodation is still relatively limited in Balian Beach but there are a few different options, no matter what your budget is:
- Pondok Pitayas – the most popular hotel, especially for families and surfers but one of the more expensive options. Rooms are from around £60 per night.
- Pondok Pisces Bungalows – these are traditional wooden bungalows, just five minutes from the beach. It’s also run by the same people as Tom’s Garden Café – and you get breakfast included here with the room rate, from around £30 per night.
- Balian Paradise Resort – also on the road down to the beach, these are more modern rooms with air-con and Wi-Fi. There’s also a nice pool (I didn’t stay here but used the pool a couple of times) and rooms start at around £20 per night.
Getting there and away
- Balian Beach is technically only around an hour and a half’s drive from Denpasar airport in Kuta – but realistically, it’ll take you a hell of a lot longer than that even just to get out of the city if the traffic is bad. I had arranged a pick-up with the Workaway placement and it took us over three hours to get from Kuta to Balian Beach.
- You can easily get a taxi at the airport (there will be taxi drivers falling over themselves to take you…be warned, Denpasar arrivals can be overwhelming) but make sure you get them to agree a price before you leave so you don’t get scammed.
- Once you’re in Balian Beach, it’s easy to rent a scooter and most of the accommodations will be happy to organise hire for you.