Including the two beach sites of Kuta and Legian, this area is a major drawcard for travellers, offering cheap accommodation, Western food, great shopping, surf, sunsets and riotous nightlife. Although it's fashionable to disparage Kuta for its rampant development, low-brow nightlife and crass commercialism, the cosmopolitan mixture of beach-party hedonism and entrepreneurial energy can be exciting. It's a tourist gold-rush town with a get-rich-quick mentality and a planning horizon to match.
Kuta is not pretty but it's not dull either, and the amazing growth is evidence that a lot of people still find something to like in Kuta. It's still the best beach on Bali, with the only surf which breaks over sand instead of coral. Lots of cheap accommodation is available and there's a huge choice of places to eat. Shops and hawkers offer everything from fake flimflammery - laid out in boxes that open like jaws as you approach - to genuine antiques offered with a considerably softer sell. Even the tourists themselves have become a tourist attraction, with visitors coming from Java to ogle the topless bathers, and from other resorts to tut-tut at the tackiness of it all. And despite all the excesses, away from the traffic-clogged streets Kuta is still a village: a place of quiet compounds and narrow alleys, where devotional offerings are placed in front of houses and neighbours emerge in the coolness of the evening to gossip in the street.
Behind the beaches, labyrinthine roads and alleys lead back to the most amazing clutch of hotels, restaurants, bars, food stalls and shops. The renowned Poppies Gang, running directly back from Kuta Beach, is where most of the quieter, inexpensive hostels and restaurants are located. Cheap beachfront accommodation is available in Legian; the lanes running parallel to the beach are the best places to start trawling for a decent bed.
Kuta Bay is in the south of Bali, about 10km (6mi) southwest of Denpasar. Nearby, to the north is Sanur, an upmarket alternative to Kuta; Nusa Dua, to the south, is an upmarket alternative to Sanur. Ulu Watu, on the southern tip of Bali, is the island's most famous surfing spot.