Kuta is where Bali’s worldwide fame began. During the blessed, hippie years of the 1970s, the golden sands and swaying palms of an almost uninhabited beach became a favourite stopover for globetrotters on their way from Australia to India as well as for those on the ‘3 K Route’ (Kathmandu – Kao San – Kuta). Today it is difficult to imagine the area without the street hawkers and bustling traffic that have found their homes in Kuta’s maze of narrow streets.

The Kuta district starts at Legian beach and stretches south to the Ngurah Rai Airport and inland to Tuban: a rapidly developing area where massive constructions such as the Lippo Mall are being built. The main tourist attractions are clustered around Kuta Square, Discovery Kartika Plaza, Beachwalk Mall, and in the labyrinth of interconnecting lanes, with Poppies Lane being a favourite amongst tourists. This is the essence of Kuta: chaotic, overcrowded and congested with traffic, and yet it remains the most popular area amongst surfers and (forever) young travellers on a budget. Narrow streets are packed with cheap backpacker inns, low-profile bars where Bintang beer is the drink of choice even at 9am, tattoo parlours, and convenience stores where you can buy instant noodles, get the boiling water to prepare them and have access to free Wi-Fi.

But it’s the 5 km long beach that has made Kuta famous. The water is safe with small waves that are perfect for first-time surfers, as well as a few more challenging spots for advanced riders. The beach is well maintained and attracts hordes of  tourists, both foreign and local, especially at sunset and on Sundays. There is no shortage of entertainment: ‘Kuta cowboys’ (young local men looking for a foreign ‘sugar mama’) stroll the beach, hawkers sell anything from crossbows to Buddha busts, there are surf schools, masseurs, hair-braiders and horse riders, and as night falls Kuta proves that it never sleeps. Especially famous for its nightlife is Legian Street and  its ‘no-boundaries parties’ featuring foam dance floors, rock karaoke and transgender divas shaking their feathers, not to mention the magic mushrooms stalls. It is telling that when club promoters from the more upscale Seminyak want to throw a truly wild party, they call the event ‘One night in Kuta’.