In spite of the myriad rapid changes transforming Bali, the Uluwatu experience remains a near sacred rite of passage for any surfer worth their salt and a must-do on any surf trip to Bali.
Uluwatu could very well be the most consistent surf spot on Earth. Any size, any direction, any tide, any day of the year, somewhere along the fabled and massive Uluwatu reef will usually be working. Uluwatu is really several different world-class surf spots rolled into one amazing surfing coliseum:
Directly in front of the Cave is The Racetrack, the most heavily surfed section of the reef. Best on a mid to low tide when the waves are shoulder high to several feet overhead, Racetrack is true to its name – a long, dynamic wave offering up smoking barrels and juicy walls to tear into. At lower tides, Racetrack is a shallow tube that is as fast and critical as its name suggests, and can often take you a long way past the cave. The reef here is sharp and can definitely hurt you.
When the swell starts to get more serious, Racetrack disappears under whitewater and the waves start breaking at Outside Corner, the best big wave spot on the island. On massive swells and low tides, you can taste Hawaiian style punch out here and get the biggest barrel of your life. Bigger boards are the go at Outside Corner, and on a serious day, 8-foot-plus guns are the norm in the lineup.
Moving south from Racetrack, the next section up the reef is The Peak, the most consistent section of Uluwatu, surfable on most tides and swells. Way out the back from here is The Bombie, which needs huge swells to fire and can produce some of the biggest waves on the island when it’s on. Even further up the reef to the south is Temples, a testing but manageable paddle up the point. It can be very fickle and needs the right tides to work, so combined with the fact it’s hard to check from the cliff above the Cave, the crowds can be down in comparison to the rest of the playing field.
In addition to the dangers of the powerful waves, sharp reef bottom and rip currents, the crowd can be ridiculous at Uluwatu. So if you’re new to the game or not feeling super confident, it might be best to give Uluwatu a miss and head to some of the friendlier waves nearby. Hati hati!
On the Beach
Uluwatu is the spiritual home of Indonesian surfing: a stunning cliff overlooking incredible waves that have been surfed since the 1970s. There are a few pockets of beach hidden amongst rock pools worth exploring, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t walk up and down the steps to check out the warungs, shops and sun lounges that dot the landscape and the friendly locals who call this place home. The Cave is hallowed ground, and when you’re paddling out make sure you let the spectacular view sink in. Afterwards, buy a photo of yourself shredding from one of the local sharp shooters in the warungs as a souvenir – no wave, no matter how good or how bad, gets past these guys. Top it all off with a massage and a sunset beer to put the finishing touch on the classic Uluwatu surf experience.
Finding decent equipment and repairs on the Bukit used to be a struggle and usually meant a trip into Kuta. Fortunately, these days it seems there’s another well-stocked, full-service surf shop popping up every day. Here are the best:
Just up from Padang Padang, White Monkey is a surfer’s surf shop. Fins, leashes, sunscreen, reef booties, even one of those goofy surf hats – you name it, White Monkey’s got it. Best of all, their racks are bursting with top-flight performance shortboards from the best shapers in the biz, including the largest selection of …Lost surfboards on the island. White Monkey is also where you can score the latest edition of BELLY Mag.
You won’t find a more core local surf shop than Daya Surf. Owned and operated by Bukit surfing legend Mega Semadhi, Daya will keep you in the water with essentials like leashes and fins, or style you out with some dope threads from their underground clothing line of the same name. Even if you just need a bar of wax, stop by Daya to say what up to Mega and find out where the waves will be firing and the fish will be biting. They can book fishing trips too.
Want to pretend you’re Gerry Lopez hiking down the cave to surf empty Uluwatu in the 1970s? Be sure to stop by Drifter first. This is the place for high-end groovy single fins and retro shapes, hand crafted by venerable old-time shapers. Resin tints and tribal inlays rule the racks here, and the shelves are well stocked with durable goods from Patagonia. Drifter also boasts the most complete library of surfing periodicals, books and films in Bali, including BELLY Mag.
Your trusty shred sled get some Bali tattoos courtesy of those sharp Bukit reefs? There’s a small army of board repair specialists operating just before the stairs down into the cave at Uluwatu. Dodo Ding Repair, all the way on the left if you’re walking down towards the cave, does the best work. Doctor Ding is a close second. These guys haven’t met a snapped or buckled board they couldn’t revive – and they have an uncanny ability to match that original magic rocker.
If you’re looking for a more polished finishing touch, bring your beloved board to the boys at Studio Ding Repair (on the main road across from Ulu Thai, just before the Bingin turnoff) for some TLC. Eko, the owner and manager, earned his diploma from the legendary Naruki school of ding repair in Kuta, mastering his craft for nine years before taking his expertise out to the Bukit. These guys are black belts at board rehabilitation and will have your ride looking brand new, often overnight. They do some mean sprays and board art as well.
Eat & Drink
Food on the Bukit has come a long way from the days when a club sandwich was a delicacy and a week straight of nasi goreng became nasty boring. Every warung and cafe in the neighborhood is stepping up its foodie game. Most of the dining establishments highlighted here are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but we’ve organized them according to our favorite meal to stop by for a bite:
Drifter serves up healthy, mouth-watering breakfast bowls and plates in a relaxed garden setting. The fast wifi makes it an informal co-working space and a great place to meet fellow travelers. Killer smoothies, too. Try the Superbuzz – it’ll have you done with your emails and back in the water in a flash.
For gourmet plates at backpacker prices, check out Suka Espresso opposite Thomas Beach. There’s a reason this place is buzzing with happy customers all day long: They serve coffee so good you’d think you were in Seattle, but with a healthy dose of tropical sun and surf.
Little known secret: The gourmet and healthy café movement on the Bukit actually started at Land’s End. After a morning surf at Ulus, it’s worth the quick hop across the Uluwatu bridge to enjoy their bomb smoothies and breakfast burritos. Order a large Managa and veggie burrito with black beans, and you’ve got the perfect Uluwatu morning.
Bukit Café don’t play when it comes to good food. These guys make everything from scratch and serve up the kind of portions that keep hungry surfers happy. From savory vegetarian and vegan options, to classic surf and turf, to creative weekly specials like the Hawaiian Tuna Tower, Bukit Café is a can’t miss when you’re in Uluwatu.
Ulu Resto is the OG spot for tasty, clean food on the Bukit, and still a surfer staple in Uluwatu. Wayan, the owner, worked in restaurants in Amsterdam for 15 years perfecting his menu before returning home to Bali to open his own restaurant. The grilled mahi mahi sandwich and chicken curry in a pineapple boat are longtime favorites.
At the top of the big hill, before you drop down to Bingin, Pizzeria Italia is a slice of authentic, family-style Italian food on the Bukit. No gimmicks, just tasty pizzas and pastas, done right and at a reasonable price. The homemade gnocchi is so good you can smell it all the way from Padang Padang.
La Barraca is a modern take on Italian, with flavors on par with fancy restaurants in Sydney and San Francisco. Another excellent date spot on the Bukit.
Who says vegetarian cuisine can’t be amazing? The Cashew Tree will make any veggie hater a believer (they also have meat options) with their creative, savory dishes. The communal dining tables and cabanas make it a great place to visit with a large group or meet some new friends. And don’t forget their live music sessions on Thursday nights, when the place turns into a hopping dance floor.
The new local favorite for dinner, Casa Asia (just down the Bingin road) is a great spot to bring a large group for a quality Italian feast. It’s a festive atmosphere at night here, combined with quality recipes straight from Italy. It’s also where you’ll find the best eggplant parmesan in Bali.
Ulu Thai has been serving up fresh Thai food favorites for over ten years and is still going strong. They set a nice romantic ambiance at night, with candles and a garden setting. It’s a good date spot to add a little spice – literally – to dinner.
After a successful remodel and menu redesign, The Mango Tree officially serves the best Mexican food in Uluwatu. They have a Taco Tuesday deal with beer-battered fish tacos fried to golden perfection and margaritas so tasty you’ll think you were in Cabo. Stop by Wednesday, Friday and Sunday evenings for live music. You might even catch the proprietor, Indo surfing pioneer and all around good dude Jim Banks, ripping it up on the guitar.
The party schedule on the Bukit is generally as follows: Wednesday nights feature live acoustic performances at Single Fin, which offers cocktails, live music and people watching all above the legendary wave at Uluwatu. Thursday night is all about the aforementioned Cashew Tree. Any evening is a good evening to catch the sunset over Uluwatu at The Edge, but a Friday evening Bintang is the best. Owned and operated by Uluwatu legend Made Lana, The Edge serves the coldest beer on the cliff and has the best view of the action at Racetrack. Lana is the host with the most, unless he’s out putting on a clinic at Racetrack.
Saturday night draws a large full-moon-party-kinda crowd to the Padang Padang Beach Party during the dry season. There’s also an informal pre-party in front of the Padang Mart that can get pretty rowdy. And, of course, Sunday in Uluwatu means sweaty, sticky debauchery with a few hundred of your closest friends at Single Fin.
If you’re looking for a classier, less-spring-break alternative, pay a visit to OMNIA Day Club just down the road. This place combines the most spectacular view on the island with an amazing modern space to lounge for the day and boogie after sunset. World-class cocktails and dining where you don’t have to worry about sloppy drunks sweating on you. They have special DJ lineups on Sundays and are open all week for a taste of the high life.