Kuta: To Visit or Not To Visit

Kuta is one of the most controversial cities in Bali when it comes to travelers, and there is a huge question as to whether or not it is worth the visit. Kuta definitely has a different vibe from many of the other towns in Bali. It has its good and its bad, but when most people have a limited amount of time in Bali, it’s important to consider both sides to make a decision for yourself.

The Good

The first positive thing about Kuta is its reputation for being a party city. It definitely does have more of a spring-break feel to it, and it's popular with the younger crowd. If you’re looking to spend a few days bar hopping, Kuta is the perfect spot to be. There are bars and drink specials everywhere!

Kuta is also known for their good surfing conditions. There are two groupings of waves at this beach: small waves roll in closer to the shore, and bigger waves roll out further. More experienced surfers can ride the bigger waves, while the closer waves are perfect for learners. There are official surfing schools as well as private surfing instructors all over the beach. The beaches in Bali vary quite a bit, so while you can surf at other beaches, Kuta is known for its good surfing conditions.

Another thing unique to Kuta are their turtles. The Kuta Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center sits right on the beach offering visitors a chance to see sea turtles at various ages. If you happen to find yourself in Kuta at the right time, you could even get the chance to release a baby sea turtle onto the beach!

Baby sea turtles being released on Kuta Beach

Baby sea turtles being released on Kuta Beach

The Bad

Perhaps the biggest drawback to visiting Kuta are the local men who would cat call and make inappropriate comments while we were walking down the streets lined with shops. While relaxing on the beach, we were approached by several men asking to take pictures with us. Why? I have no idea. Many of them were polite enough to ask us and walk away when we declined, but we did catch a few men taking our pictures without our consent. It was creepy, to say the least.

Now, the first positive mentioned was Kuta’s reputation for being a party city. Depending on who you are, this can be either a good or a bad thing, so it deserves a spot on both lists. If you’re looking for a quiet or less-populated town, then Kuta is not for you. It is among the least authentic spots in Bali, as it is catering towards a different type of tourist.

Yolo Bar in Kuta Bali. Photo from: www.afar.com

Yolo Bar in Kuta Bali. Photo from: www.afar.com

With that being said, the food also suffers. Much of the food is subpar, and it is harder to find authentic Indonesian food. The worst food I had in Bali was in Kuta. That’s not to say that all the food is bad, but you should take a little bit more time researching where to eat instead of just walking into any place.

I also found that Kuta was the most expensive place I visited in Bali. Everything from the hotels to the restaurants charged more for lower quality. This is a negative, especially if Kuta is your last city, and you’re used to paying a lot less. However, expensive in Bali is still incredibly cheap by American standards.

Now it's time to answer the much-debated question: should I go to Kuta? Well, it really depends how long your vacation is and what kind of traveler you are. Kuta boasts some good beaches for surfing, as well as a fun atmosphere and the chance to see sea turtles. However, it is also a bit pricier than its neighboring towns and is a lot less authentic. Personally, I visited Bali to experience their culture. However, I don’t regret visiting Kuta at all. I got the opportunity to release a baby sea turtle, take a surfing lesson, and spend a couple days relaxing on the beach with a good drink. It’s not the best place to learn about Balinese culture or try authentic food, however it does offer some things that you can’t find anywhere else in Bali.

The Disappointment that is Bali's Turtle Island

My toes squished in the warm yellow sand of Kuta beach as rolling waves offered the perfect conditions for surf lessons. A few turtle centers within close vicinity excite us with the promise of seeing baby sea turtles. During our pre-travel research, we briefly came across a small island off the coast of Bali called “Turtle Island” but didn’t do much research on it. Instead, we decided we’d visit the Kuta Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center.

When the time came to visit the conservation center, we left our hotel hopeful that we could find it. With no reliable Wi-Fi at our disposal, we had to depend on our own sense of direction and a little help from the locals to find our way. Well, that turned out to be easier said than done as we spent almost two hours wandering around Kuta, always being pointed in the same direction when we asked for help, but somehow never quite finding it. Eventually, after being beaten on by the sun for too long, we gave up and decided to enact plan B: hitting the beach  

Our excitement to see sea turtles quickly turned into disappointment as our trip was nearing an end, and it seemed unlikely that we would get to see any at all. As we were walking toward the beach, we passed by one of the seemingly infinite tourist stands offering different tours. The little white stands plastered with posters and stacked with bunches of brochures fighting their way to be in front stick out like a sore thumb amongst all the other stores. We were fully prepared to walk by without giving it a second look until something caught my eye. Among the stacks and stacks of pamphlets, I noticed a small picture of a turtle printed on a poster on the stand.

For the first time our entire trip, we stopped to talk to the worker behind the stand. He told us about Turtle Island, explaining that we could see turtle eggs, baby turtles, and adult turtles. We’d learn about turtles and their different life stages, and we could even hold one. Now, maybe this was me just being a little naïve, but I was expecting a conservation center full of information. The name “Turtle Island” also lead me to believe that perhaps this was an island with a larger than average sea turtle population and that we might catch a glimpse of a turtle hanging by the beach or in the shallow waves.

I was very wrong.

The dock-less entry at Turtle Island, left us no choice but to land in the shallow water before climbing up into the sand. I know, I know it doesn’t sound that bad, but with nowhere to rinse our feet off at and no warning (I was not wearing the right shoes for this) we were stuck walking around with wet, sandy feet our entire time here. The second we walked into the area where the turtles were housed, a man came and rather aggressively tried to be our “guide.” His welcoming grin was overshadowed by his booming voice and hasty disposition as he explained that he was a volunteer, being sure to mention several times that he accepts tips.

The pitiful tour began at a shallow, tile tank which housed younger turtles. After providing us with no information, except a rushed explanation of their ages through broken English (I believe they were around 1-5 years old), he stuck his hands into the tank and pulled out a dripping, and obviously annoyed, turtle, urging us to hold him. He then rushed us towards the next tank housing adult turtles, before pointing us to a larger pool that had all the elderly turtles. He directed us to step down and feed them a few strands of sandy plants (my best guess is seaweed, but he never told us exactly what we were feeding them). Within 15 minutes our experience seeing turtles was over. We were rushed through every tank. and the only piece of information we received was that turtles live to be 150 years old. When asked why the adult turtles were still held in small tanks, he responded by telling us that they were used for breeding.

Young turtles in their tank at Turtle Island

Young turtles in their tank at Turtle Island

After being led to believe that this would have been an informative trip focusing on the lifecycle of sea turtles, we were extremely disappointed to see turtles being kept in small tile pools, not even close to imitating their natural habitats.

After our short and upsetting visit with the turtles, we were rushed off to the even more depressing mini zoo. All the animals were kept in wire cages, none of which made any attempt to imitate a natural environment either. The first cage housed bats, which our guide pushed us to hold. When I protested, he responded by pointing at the bad and telling me to hold it louder. Sheepishly, I folded and grabbed the scared bat by the feet. He proceeded to rush us to the next cage to take a picture with the cockatoos. However, upon closer inspection I noticed that each bird was chained to their little metal perch standing in the middle of the cage. A few seconds later we were being rushed out of that cage and into another. At the very end there was a tank of snakes all piled on top of each other. Again, our guide asked if we would like to hold one.  It was then that I noticed that the snake’s mouth was taped shut with layers upon layers of clear tape. Once the snake was back in its tank, we reached the end of the tour. Finally, we were able to gain access to some sinks, but they were dirty and accompanied with cheap soap that did nothing to remove the sticky feeling from my hands.

Cockatoo chained to the post at Turtle Island (look closely at it's left [our right] ankle)

Cockatoo chained to the post at Turtle Island (look closely at it's left [our right] ankle)

In what can only be explained as the universe trying to screw us one more time, a rain storm hit as soon as we tried to leave. We were left with no choice but to wait it out at one of the café’s benches which were protected under a flimsy roof. Unfortunately for us, our guide refused to leave our side even though we were already done viewing the animals. We waited a few minutes before deciding to get some food at the café. The second we got up to order, our guide jumped up and insisted that he be would order our food and bring it to us. Finally, when our less than subpar food arrived, the guide allowed us to pay him for our food (and a small tip) and left us alone.

When the rain finally let up, we took the first boat we could out of there. Turtle Island was the single biggest disappointment during my entire trip to Bali. I’m a huge animal lover and was excited to see sea turtles in an environment that keeps them healthy and happy. However, what we found was a breeding center that keeps its turtles in small and shallow pools. They didn’t seem to care about the turtle’s happiness and were only concerned about drawing in tourists through deceitful images and marketing. Furthermore, the mini zoo served no purpose other than exploiting animals in a pathetic ploy to increase tourism. If you are visiting Bali, I strongly urge you to skip Turtle Island, and research other options instead.