Bali has been well-established as one of the best surf destinations in the world for decades. A place of good times, good waves, and cheap livin’. While, nowadays the island of the gods has lost some of its charm and allure due to its rise in popularity, rapid overdevelopment, and the subsequent hoards, the waves remain the same. The amazing reef breaks around Uluwatu and the beginner-friendly beachies in Canggu are the same today as in the 70s.
However, navigating the island is tricky. With so many surf spots to choose from, countless accommodations, and several intricacies that make up a successful trip, it’s a headache. Thankfully, I’ve created this post to narrow things down. Narrow things down so that you’ll know whether Uluwatu or Canggu is right for you. Only the sprawling metropolis of Kuta separates these two iconic surf towns, but each has its characteristics, positive and negative. There is heaps to unpack from each of these Balinese icons. So let’s dive into Uluwatu Vs. Canggu.
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Perched upon the cliffs on the Bukit Peninsula, Uluwatu is one of Bali’s top breaks and one of Indonesia’s most famous. It’s the very wave that drew surfers from across the globe to visit the island and put Indonesian surfing on their map. On a typical day, the wave is a long peeling left-hander. We’re talking about perfect blue walls reeling endlessly beneath the iconic limestone cliff. With wicked bars, restaurants, and cafes overlooking the waves, Ulu’s is a must-visit Balinese surf destination.
Further North you have Canggu, a thriving surf travel and backpacker favorite which seems to be endlessly expanding. Seriously, every time I go back there, I’m shocked at how much bigger and more developed the place gets. Crazy development aside, Canggu has sick fun waves, from the beginner-friendly rollers at Old Mans to the punchy beach break peaks of Echo Beach, there’s something for everyone. The town is also alive with more shops, bars, and restaurants than you could ever hope to visit in a lifetime trip of trips, let alone one.
Uluwatu Vs. Canggu
In Uluwatu, the break is exposed, meaning the place receives tons of swell. The wave itself can is fast, hollow, and powerful, and at low tide, breaks perilously close to the coral below. Throw in the infamous cave paddle out, sharp reef, and crowd factor and you have an intimidating spot for first-timers. Uluwatu breaks anywhere from 2-20ft, and when it’s in the 4-6ft range is a perfect left with multiple sections. Temples at the tops, then the peak, and finally racetracks at then; a lock and loaded freight train barrel speeding over near dry reef. At 20ft the wave transforms into a premier big wave spot where only those with an 8ft gun can take it on. For a beginner on a small day, check out Padang Padang (so good they named it twice) and Dreamlands Beach.
Canggu on the other hand, while still super consistent, is nowhere near as exposed and or powerful as its Bukit counterpart. There is a handful of breaks scattered around the Canggu area that suit different abilities. If you’re a beginner or intermediate I’d suggest Old Mans, which is a mellow, series of peaks where fat lines of whitewater roll lazily into shore.
Echo Beach, 2 minutes further north, is a stretch of beach more suited to advanced surfers. At one end you have a hollow left-hand reef, and at the other, a long right-hand point. Oh, and there’s a stupidly fun wedgy beachie between the two. The crowds can be insane, so don’t expect to score it by yourself. Tip – On the odd occasion (I think after a huge party night in) you can score relatively uncrowded waves to yourself. Don’t tell anyone your game plan though!
In both towns, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to accommodation. Personally, I find Canggu (due to its ever-expanding size) to have more options. From budget backpacker hostels to luxury Airbnb’s, the “Gu” has everything. Uluwatu also has plenty of options, less than Canggu, but for me, anywhere you stay in Bali you can pick and choose your budget, amenities, and location and book whatever you want. Note – During peak season April-October is crazy busy in Bali and many accommodations book out well in advance.
Canggu is a bustling hub of madness and the vibe is super lively, no matter which day of the week. Each bar in town has its party night, so the place can feel like a never-ending vortex of partying and hecticness. However, Uluwatu, while you can still get a taste of a similar vibe at sunset on the cliff tops, Ulu’s is more spread out and you can find a little more peace.
Both spots have an abundance of things to do, most notably the hundreds of bars, restaurants, cafes, workplaces, gyms, and interesting cultural sites. Seriously, it’s crazy! If you’re looking to stay, live and work in the tropics, you’ll be hard-pushed to find somewhere better on Earth. Additionally, there are some other epic things to check out. In Ulus, check out Uluwatu Temple at Sunset, just watch out for the monkeys, they’ll steal your sunnies and iPhone. And no I’m not joking and yes it’s happened to me before!
How to Avoid Peak Crowds in Bali
Let’s face it, nowadays, Bali is crazy busy no matter what time of year you visit. However, during the off-season (October to April), Bali is (slightly) less crowded because it’s the wet season. At this time, most accommodations are available and you’ll find a bit more space. Note, the wet season is exactly that. Super wet, with lots of rain and onshore waves, it also gets pretty dirty as the rain washes all the dirt and rubbish onto the beaches and unfortunately into the Ocean! But even during peak season, you can sometimes surf by yourself if you are willing to brave the midday onshore, scorching heat, or wake up for the dawn patrol when everyone is still partying.
Final Verdict & My Personal Experience
While Bali is hectic, and there’s no escaping it, I still do love Canggu, and I think the place just has the perfect combination of surf spot variety (for all abilities), amenities, accommodations, and places to eat, work and drink. And while Uluwatu has incredible waves, there aren’t as many options and it’s more of a mission to surf. For example, you have to walk down a huge cliff, paddle out through a cave and walk across the reef. Whereas, in Canggu, you can just park up, walk over sand and run out for quick surf. For general wave quality, check out Uluwatu, for an all-encompassing living-it-up package, head to Canggu. I hope this has helped break down two of Balis’s best surf spots. Good luck and have a sick time in Bali. I’m jealous!
Dan Harmon is a content writer and full-time surf travel enthusiast. He travels the world full-time while creating surf content, traveling to the world’s best surf destinations, and hunting out some lesser-known corners. You can follow more of Dan’s travels over on his YouTube Channel, website, and Instagram.