Best of Nusa Penida
Run don’t walk to enjoy Nusa Penida, an emerging gem of an island just off Bali’s coast in Indonesia.
hot take: Best resembling that rugged island that you were picturing in your head when you booked your trip to Bali, Nusa Penida delivers adventure and wonder for adventurous souls. (4.5 stars)
pro tip: start your day as early as you can (for land tours, earlier means less crowding for photos…for ocean trips, the wave action is weaker).
Our verdict is in…Nusa Penida, a rugged island just off Bali’s coast in Indonesia, is the next hot spot for Bali travelers seeking a throwback to an early era of travel. Blending breathtaking natural beauty with adventure activities and a frenetic pace of construction, go see Nusa Penida now before the tourists have all ruined it! (and yes, we realize the irony of that statement).
Relatively untamed until recently, Nusa Penida is exploding in terms of notoriety and visitors these days. Most visitors arrive via fast boat for a day trip and do not stay on the island (though that is rapidly starting to change). Most land visitors begin their trip being dropped off at Toya Pakeh Beach (the lineup of small tour vans at the harbor in the morning was quite impressive). We recommend booking ahead as the tourist infrastructure can best be described as ‘emerging’ (our trip was 400,000 IDR each, including boat transfer from Nusa Lembongan). You can do this for less if you rent a scooter on Nusa Penida, but don’t as the roads are terrible, not well-marked, and congested…and (frankly) you will want the AC after hiking around each of the sites (note: we saw Westerners on scooters, but we didn’t see any of them smiling, and most looked miserable).
Our first stop was a 30ish minute ride away at the cliffs at Kelingking Beach. Get your cameras ready for “T-Rex”, cuz ALL yo friends gonna be jealous! If you look closely, you might even be lucky enough to see a Manta Ray down in the bay as we were. However, what your friends aren’t going to see are the crowds (if you arrive after 10a), the death defying dirt and root path down the mountainside, or the oppressive heat (especially later in the day). That all said, the experience was 100% worth it! Tip: you can hike all the way down to the beach, but don’t…the best pictures are about 1/3 of the way down the mountain (and you will see better beaches later in the day to spend time in the water at).
Our next stop was another jarring 20ish minute ride to Broken Beach / Angel’s Billabong (2 sites, 1 stop). After hiking about 10 minutes in from the parking lot, you come to Broken Beach’s unique attraction…its large, photogenic sea arch. Take a walk all the way around the site for some dramatic views of the coast.
Afterwards you will make your way back past Angel’s Billabong for one of nature’s most interesting natural infinity pools! While there are likely too many people trying to get the perfect photo for you to really be able to swim and enjoy the place…it is stunning nonetheless.
Back in the van (with that blessed AC) for another 20ish minutes (plus we stopped for a decent but touristy lunch of Indonesian staples) brought us to Crystal Bay. This beach is a dream for sun worshipers, snorkelers or boogie boarders and features the white sand, palm trees, and rocky islands of a postcard. One tip is to bring your mask and snorkel to enjoy the crystal (hence the bay’s name) clear waters.
There are more Nusa Penida highlights for the adventurous, but after these four main sites we were exhausted and ready to get back in the pool at our hotel. The afternoon sun and crowds are both equally brutal, so try to tour in the morning (or after 4p if you can).
Given Nusa Penida geographic location on the Indian Ocean (you can trace uninterrupted lines to Australia, Antarctica, and Africa), the scene underwater on the southern coast is as dramatic as the cliffs and beaches above. While either snorkeling or SCUBA can be a great way to see the Mantas, you really ought to SCUBA if you can to see all the other ocean life (including the giant ocean sunfish called Mola Mola, if they are in season). After diving/snorkeling in many places across the world and seeing a number of beautiful but partially bleached or tourist impacted dive sites, Manta Bay and Crystal Bay were truly an unspoiled divers’ paradise below water. Unfortunately, the story on the surface was not as good as trash and the impact of too many boats could be seen. We worry that this site might lose its magic if some form of conservation is not applied soon. Tip there is a wide disparity in pricing depending on tour operator and departure location...but all the boats go to the same place, so negotiate hard (we were able to get our trip for 400,000 IDR each per dive).
To many, the underwater stars of Nusa Penida are the mantas…and for good reason. These curious, gentle creatures seem to fly through the water with disregard for humans and are simply astounding to watch. Growing to be upward of 10 feet across, to be in the water with them (Kelly was less than 1 feet away from one) is to be made small (which filled us with wonder and delight). Tip: the mantas are often only 5-10 feet deep, so you can see them snorkeling or diving. We will cherish these memories forever.
Like much of our time in Indonesia, we were blown away by stunning natural beauty while on Nusa Penida; however, we worry that the tourist burden is trampling what makes the place special. Nusa Penida is a worthwhile emerging international destination for backpackers and adventure seekers for good reason. We hope they will be able to find a balance that combines the best of its rugged beauty with the comforts of modern tourism. We would HIGHLY recommend Nusa Penida to anyone spending time in Bali (if we only had 2 weeks in Indonesia, we would spend 9 days in Bali and 5 days on the Nusa islands…they were just that good).