BY KONRAD KYC
Bali really needs no introduction, as it's synonymous with many cliches, or quite simply a heavenly stay. It is one of the premier tourist destinations having an amazing combination of lush landscapes, incredible surf, sunny beaches, rich and vibrant culture and open and friendly people. If you travel there, you'll often be torn whether to explore the island and enjoy its beauty or kiteboard in the shallow waters of the 7 km wide Sanur lagoon when the wind is blowing steadily.
Our stay in Bali was only for 8 days, which is definitely not enough time to get a good dose of kiteboarding sessions and to explore the island. And believe me, no matter how passionate you are about kiteboarding, it will be hard to make the choice between the two once you see what the island has to offer.
Below find more details about the logistics of the island, as well as some pictures from our stay in Bali. If you would like to ask me more questions regarding Bali, feel free to shoot me a message on the forum.
When to Go
The best time to visit (climate-wise), is in the cooler dry season (May through September) when skies are clear, there is less rain, and coastal breezes cool the air. The best time to travel to avoid tourists is between January and June, however you may not have the ideal weather during this time (and no good wind). Our trip to Bali was in mid-May, so while it was still considered the low season, we got to enjoy beautiful weather and the start of the windy season at lower prices and less crowded beaches.
There are two distinct windy seasons in Bali: the wet season and the dry season. December to February is when the monsoon hits Bali. During this season the winds are westerly in the range of 30 knots with a lot of gusts. According to the wind statistics (see above), January is the windiest month during the wet season. The locals have mentioned that it's possible to get 10 windy days in a row, and then nothing for an entire month. Generally this period is not recommended for a kite holiday.
May to September is the dry “winter” season in Bali which has the best weather and winds for a kite holiday (or any holiday for that matter). The easterly trade winds are very consistent but not as strong, which are great for learning or all around cruising.
Where to Kite
The best spot to kite that I've been told by the locals is by far Sanur lagoon. A protective reef creates flat-water cruising conditions inside the lagoon with waves on the reef varying from small to huge. Sanur is where Kitesurfing was born on the island, and where numerous locals are picking up the sport. A laid back atmosphere, many small hotels and excellent affordable restaurants make Sanur always a nice place to visit and stay. An average windy day in Sanur is about 14 knots (although it can be better), so larger kites are recommended. If you don't bring your own gear, there are two schools in Sanur (Rip Curl School of Surf and the Bali Kitesurfing School) that offer kiteboarding quiver rental for about $70 a day to IKO Level 3 certified riders.
The location where you kite will also largely depend on the season. If you choose to go during the wet season, the recommended spots to kite are: Sanur, Jimbaran or Tuban (the beach next to the airport). In the dry season the best places for kiting are Sanur, Turtle Island and Nusa Dua.
The Bali Kitesfurfing Website warns that the west coast is windier but only starting from Canggu as wind is a bit off-shore and gusty before this beach. It is recommended that ONLY expert kiters ride there due to waves, currents and rocks! Generally the wind comes from the South East and hits Sanur where it is generally onshore and light to moderate strength. As it passes over the land it gets compressed and generally is stronger on the Kuta side but is slightly offshore which makes for gusty conditions.
Where to Learn Kiteboarding
In Sanur, there are two kiteboarding schools that offer lessons: Rip Curl School of Surf and the Bali Kitesurfing School. At the time of our vacation, I was still in the beginning stages of kiteboarding, so I opted for some lessons with Rip Curl School of Surf. Both schools are located beside each other, and offer lessons for the same price, however the Rip Curl School of Surf is the only affiliated IKO school in Bali. Since I already took some lessons with Drew in the fall before our trip, I was able to skip to IKO Level 3 lessons after a few questions from the instructor regarding safety and rigging. Because most of the people there were taking Level 1 or 2 lessons, I was lucky enough to have a dedicated private instructor with boat support for the same price as in a group. In total I took 3 1.5 hour lessons, and in the end I was able to pass for the IKO Level 3 certification. This later allowed me to easily rent equipment in other parts of Asia.
For my lessons I had two different instructors: Mario and Lolo. Both instructors were very competent and spoke English well, but Lolo was definitely my favourite in terms of his character and charisma. Lolo is a local Balinese kite hero, who was the overall winner of the Hot Air Kite Comp 2012 and he was Indonesia's representative to the Kite Tour Asia. If you get a choice in instructors, be sure to ask for Lolo, and you won't regret it.
Getting to Bali is no easy feat, especially if it's your only destination. Our stay in Bali was part of a 6 week trip to Asia, so it was fairly easy to get to once you're on that side of the planet. Best option is to simply fly to an Asian hub city such as Bangkok, Hong Kong or Singapore, and then separately book a flight to Bali with budget airlines such as AirAsia or JetStar. Once you arrive to Bali, you will be required to obtain a 30-day tourist visa for $25 USD (be sure to have US currency). One thing to keep in mind is that your passport must be valid for a minimum of 6 (six) months as from the date of entry into Indonesia.
Once you're in Bali, you'll have many affordable private transportation options. Best way to explore Bali is to hire your own personal driver who knows the island well, and is able to deal with the local Police at random “checkpoints”. A private driver will cost you around $50 - $70 for 8 to 10 hours, with fuel. We've had a few drivers, but our favourite was Sang Ketut and we highly recommend him: +011 62 812 466 8100 (or locally dial 0812 466 8100).
If you plan to rent a car or a motorbike yourself, make sure to obtain an International Driver's License from CAA prior to leaving for your trip. If you are pulled over in Bali and are breaking any law (i.e. no valid Driver's License, not wearing a helmet, or anything else they can catch you on), expect to be hit up for an on the spot fine. 50,000 rupiah (~5 USD) is pretty standard, but the unwary get taken for a lot more. Always ride with a 50,000 rupiah note in your pocket (for quick handing over). If at all possible, don't get your wallet out.
If you are staying in the region of Sanur or Kuta, your biggest headache will be to deal with the traffic, because anywhere you will want to travel to, you will have to pass through the artery roads which are a huge bottleneck for the island.
In terms of communication, due to the enormous growth of tourism, everyone speaks some English along the tourist routes and you can get by quite adequately without bahasa Indonesia. But even though more and more Balinese are learning English each year, if you venture into the rugged back roads of the island it becomes difficult to find people who speak passable Indonesian (not to mention English).
Where to Stay
One of the hardest decisions that you will need to make is to choose the location where you want to stay. The island offers many amazing places to stay from your typical resort complexes to private villas. The best place to look for any accommodations in Bali (or Asia in general) is Agoda.
In terms of resorts, Kuta (South-West side of the island) is probably the most popular tourist destination, with good nightlife and fairly nice beaches. On the other side, Sanur is also filled with resorts lining the coastal beaches, however it offers a more calm atmosphere. Because this is a kiting related column, I will have to recommend Sanur. We chose this location because we wanted to be in a less tourist filled location and be close to the ultimate kiteboarding spot.
After reviewing all the options in the area of our choice, we decided to stay in Sudamala Resorts (see also on TripAdvisor), which is a short 5 minute walk away from the beach and the Rip Curl School of Surf where you can rent your kiteboarding gear. At the time of our trip, a suite at the Sudamala Resorts was around $100 USD per night which was a steal for paradise like accommodations with royal like treatment by the resort staff.
Besides Kuta and Sanur, the island offers many other amazing places where you can lodge. The decision where you stay should largely depend on what you want to do and see during your stay on the island.