Bali is blessed with a full hand of beautiful beaches, but white sand isn't as common as you might think. Thanks to the island's volcanic past, most beaches are some variation of tan or gray, but they're still lovely places to relax.
The best beaches for swimming in Bali tend to be on the Bukit Peninsula, while the pick of the surf breaks are strung out along the southwest coast, but the island has no shortage of idyllic coves where you can stroll and gawp at incredible sunsets over the water.
Here's our pick of the 12 most stunning beaches in Bali.
Kuta Beach and Seminyak Beach
Best beach for sunsets
Tourism in Bali began at Kuta Beach, which still lures in hordes of beach-lovers with its reliable beach breaks and legendary sunsets. Wandering hawkers sell soft drinks, beers, snacks and other treats, and you can rent surfboards, lounge chairs and umbrellas or just crash on the sand. At sunset, a party mood fills the shoreline as crowds gather for sunset.
Kuta Beach morphs seamlessly into Legian and then Seminyak as you wander north. Because of the limited road access, the sand in Seminyak tends to be less crowded than in Kuta. This also means that it's less patrolled, and water conditions can be unpredictable. The odds of encountering dangerous rip tides and other hazards increase you head to the north end; play it safe by sticking to the shallows.
Best beach for day-trippers
Jungutbatu Beach, a lovely arc of white sand and clear blue water on the western shore of Nusa Lembongan, has views across to the Gunung Agung volcano on Bali's main island. The pleasant seawall walkway is ideal for strolling, especially – as you might expect – at sunset, and bobbing boats save the scene from being a tourist brochure cliché.
With the boat traffic, the beach is better for basking than bathing. The once-pungent odor of drying farmed seaweed is fading at Jungutbatu as beachfront land is turned over to tourism; today, the beach is backed by a busy strip of cafes and resorts.
Best beach for foodies
One of Bali’s best beaches, Jimbaran Beach's 4km (2.5 mile) arc of sand is mostly clean and well-kept, and the strip is crowded with places to get food or rent a sun lounger. The bay is protected by an unbroken coral reef, which keeps the surf more mellow than at popular Kuta, although you can still get breaks that are fun for bodysurfing.
Jimbaran comes into its own at sunset, when seafood restaurants pull tables out onto the sand and you can feast on wonderful barbecued fish and other seafood while watching planes swooping over the bay to land at Ngurah Rai International Airport.
Labuan Sait Beach
Best beach for surfing
Slight in size but big on perfection, the little cove fronted by Labuan Sait Beach lies close to the main Ulu Watu road where a stream flows into the sea. This is one of the best beaches in Bali for surfing; experienced surfers flock here for the famous Padang Padang reef break, known as the Bali pipeline because of its long, hollow tubes. You don't need to be a surfer to enjoy Labuan Sait; on Saturday night, everybody comes for the late-night beach party.
Yeh Leh Beach
Best beach for absolute wild solitude
Virtually unknown, but stretching for nearly 10km (6 miles) east from Pekutatan near the surf town of Medewi, Yeh Leh is Bali’s wildest beach. Scattered boulders and gray volcanic sand that runs almost black in places are the unexpected blessings that kept this strip of coastline almost entirely undeveloped. You can walk for miles admiring the sea views, passing countless rarely surfed beach breaks.
Best beach for strolling or jogging
Sanur Beach curves in a southwesterly direction for more than 5km (3 miles) and most of the beachfront promenade is paved, making it ideal for families with strollers and perfect for jogging. It's mostly clean and overall quite serene, much like the town of Sanur itself.
Offshore reefs reduce the surf here to tiny waves lapping the shore, which adds to the family appeal. With a couple of unfortunate exceptions, the resorts along the sand are low-key and unobtrusive, leaving the beach refreshingly uncrowded. Along the shoreline, look out for iconic jukung outrigger fishing boats adorned with eyes and extended beaks that make them look like giant marlins.
Best beach for snorkeling
The gray-brown sand is a little thin and more gritty than powdery, but you can't beat the setting of Pemuteran Beach. The blue waters and surrounding green hills make for a beautiful scene, especially when crimson and orange join the color palette at sunset. Strolling the beach is a popular way to pass the time, and Pemuteran has some of Bali's most accessible reefs for snorkeling and diving. You can rent snorkeling equipment right by the beach and enter the water via a coral-free corridor, providing access to large shoals of fish and some startlingly beautiful coral formations.
Blue Lagoon Beach
Best beach for secluded sunbathing
On the far side of the eastern headland at Padangbai, about a quarter-mile walk from the town center, small, sandy Blue Lagoon Beach catches the early sun. This pretty little cove – just 60m (200ft) long – has no direct road access, which deters the crowds that you'll find on the other side of the bay. While downtown Padangbai is known for its hustlers and touts, Blue Lagoon is a peaceful and idyllic little spot to soak up the rays.
Best beach for diving
The beaches on Bali’s tranquil north coast have an entirely different vibe to the rest of the island. In Amed, you’re far from the party scene and the crash of breaking waves. With the smoldering Agung volcano creating a picturesque backdrop, and gentle ripples washing up over a glistening reef, Amed offers picture-perfect tropical perfection.
There's another bonus: Amed is Bali’s premier dive town. Underwater aficionados make a beeline for the USAT Liberty shipwreck, a transport ship struck by a Japanese torpedo during WWII. You don’t need to be a diver to enjoy Amed; snorkeling among great schools of huge Napoleon wrasse, known locally as reef buffalo, is one of Bali's most remarkable experiences.
Green Bowl Beach
Best beach for watching wild surf
One of a string of beach-lined coves on the southern edge of the Bukit Peninsula, pretty Green Bowl Beach is reached by a strenuous walk down 300 concrete steps. This splotch of sand is uncrowded during the week but draws a crowd at weekends (including a few persistent vendors).
There are caves to investigate, with bats and monkeys in residence, as well as deep turquoise water to splash about it. Green Bowl is also a dramatically wild surf spot, and the crowds are kept to a minimum by the need to paddle across the wide lagoon (the "green bowl") to get to the edge of the reef.
Best beach for a break from Ubud
Accessible in about 30 minutes from the center of Ubud and just off the coastal highway, Pantai Lebih has glittering mica-infused sand. Fishing boats line the shore, and the air is heavy with the smell of barbecued fish emanating from a strip of beachside cafes, which are excellent places to stop for lunch.
Best beach for pure tropical beach bumming
Offering a taste of Bali's Wild West amidst the glitz and glam of the Bukit Peninsula, Balangan Beach is a long, low strand set at the base of rocky cliffs. It's hidden away, fringed by palm trees and fronted by a ribbon of almost-white sand, picturesquely dotted with sun umbrellas. Surfer bars, cafes in shacks and slightly more permanent guesthouses precariously line the shore, providing the full beach bum package.