Just an arms reach from Bali, Nusa Lembongan and Penida have much to offer for ocean lovers. Experience thrilling drift dives, reef walls and manta rays with ease while avoiding the hustle and bustle of Bali. Whether you're a scuba diver or freediver the Nusa islands have you covered!
THE NUSA ISLANDS
The islands of Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan lie off the eastern coast of Bali, Indonesia. Their close proximity to the mainland of Bali means that they are easy to get to. You can simply take a flight into Denpasar Airport and then a speed boat across all within the same day. If you want to escape the over crowding, traffic and pollution of Bali I highly recommend to take a break on the Nusa Islands as they have much to offer and are considerably less chaotic. The islands are a haven for divers, surfers, yogis and nature lovers. The Nusa Islands are like a second home to me and one of my favourite areas to dive and photograph. I would honestly recommend it to anyone that wants to do some diving in Indonesia but maybe doesn't have the budget or time available to reach the more remote areas such as Komodo or Raja Ampat.
Photos above: Some scenery from Nusa Penida Island
Penida is the biggest island of the 3 and has much to offer above water as well as diving. The scenery is amazing and there are some Instagram famous beaches such as Diamond Beach, Atuh Beach and Kelingking Beach that are not to be missed. You can get around by scooter or rent a driver with a car to take you to explore.
Photos above: Some scenery from Nusa Ceningan Island
Ceningan is a very small island which can be accessed via the yellow bridge between it and Lembongan. This island has a great surf spot and well known cliff jump at Mahana Point. Here you can find some lovely beach bars and a clifftop bar so it's well worth a visit even if just for the day.
Photos above: Some scenery from Nusa Lembongan Island
I lived in Nusa Lembongan for 3 years and this is where my love for underwater photography began to take shape. It is my favourite of the 3 islands as it has a perfect balance of being a beautiful tropical island while also having easy access to diving, great food, nice beaches and a close knit island community.
Photo above: Aerial photo of Nusa Lembongan overlooking Mt. Agung in Bali.
The types of diving around this area vary greatly and will satisfy almost anyone. The macro life, corals and megafauna are abundant, with all the marine biodiversity that the coral triangle is famous for. All year around you can see turtles and manta rays, during the colder months (July to October) you can even be lucky and find Mola (Ocean Sunfish) visiting the reef. Depending on which side of the island you dive on, the reef life and topography will vary a lot. Whether you dive from Penida or Lembongan you will be visiting the same dive sites as the sites are close together and all the dive operators run daily dive trips around both islands. Definitely make sure you book a minimum of two days diving so you can experience a variety of diving as each area has something unique to offer. Keep reading for further details.
Photos above: The variety of marine life you can encounter on the north coast of Penida.
THE NORTH COAST DRIFT DIVING
The marine life you can encounter along the reefs of the north coast is so abundant and vibrant that no matter how many times you dive it you will always encounter something new and exciting. The topography of the northern reefs is a steep sloping reef that runs down to several hundred metres depth. The reef is very colourful with a huge diversity of hard corals, sea fans, colourful soft corals, anemones, barrel sponges, whip corals and coral bombora structures. The life there has everything from the tiny macro critters like nudibranchs, crustaceans, frogfish, pipefish, octopus and mantis shrimp. There is also a healthy population of hawksbill and green sea turtles, some dives I even spotted up to 8 turtles. During the Mola season if you're lucky you might even encounter a Mola coming up from the depths to visit the reef. On occasion as well you can see thresher sharks, rays and even whale sharks in the area. Depending on the tides this coastline is usually dived as a drift dive. The speed of the drift depends on the current strength but it can vary from slow and relaxing to fast and thrilling. There are some dive sites such as Blue Corner, Ceningan Wall and Toyapakeh that can only be dived at certain times of the depending on the current and tidal changes and are suited to experienced divers only. Other sites are great at any time of the day and perfect for all skill levels. You can always expect to have some current on your dives there though as in Indonesia it's rare to not have big movements of water due to the Indonesian through flow. You can read all about that here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indonesian_Throughflow
Photos above: The variety of marine life you can encounter on the south coast of Penida.
DIVING THE SOUTH
The diving on the southern coast of the islands is very different to the north. The scenery of the coast is like something out of jurassic park with towering limestone cliffs covered in dense jungle. The topography of the reef below is mostly rocky with white sand. The corals in the area are those which can survive big swells and storms which hit the coast a as this area is very exposed to open ocean. The rocky reef is blanketed with leather corals and low lying hard corals which give protection to many species of fish, bamboo reef sharks, octopus and sting rays. Visiting this area all year around is a local population of Manta Rays that move between Nusa Penida and Komodo. On the southern coast there are two dive sites where manta rays are known to visit. Manta Bay is a section of coast where juvenile reef mantas will come to surface feed, this is a popular place for snorkelers. The other is Manta Point where there is a manta cleaning station. Your chance to encounter mantas there is very good, although not guaranteed. Usually after visiting Manta Point the dive trip will then dive at a site called Crystal Bay, which during the Mola season is a very popular place to spot them. This site is a small bay with the tiny in the island in the middle and a steep wall of reef. Sadly a few years ago huge swell damaged much of the shallow reef area which is still recovering. But I really love this site as there are many things you can see there. If you love macro critters this bay is a great place for it. You can also see turtles, eels, frogfish, sea horses and many other animals. Be careful on this site though as the conditions can change very suddenly and down currents are well known to hit the reef unexpectedly. As this coast is more prone to big swells and wind, the dive operators can't always go there so give yourself a few days window for diving to allow for this. Luckily diving is always possible somewhere on the islands as the north coast is quite calm and protected from any bad weather.
Photo above: An ocean sunfish (aka mola) swims near the surface.
LOOKING FOR MOLA
The Nusa islands are one of the few places in the world where you can dive on a relatively shallow reef and have the chance to encounter Mola (also known as Sunfish). These strange looking creatures spend much of their time in deep open ocean so coming across one on a reef is quite rare. However around the Nusa islands between the months of July and October you have a very good chance to see one. These fish follow the cold currents and upwellings that happen during those months and take a chance to get cleaned on the reef by various reef fish. These poor animals are often riddled with parasites so getting cleaned by the fish is an important process for them. The dive site called Crystal Bay is particularly well known for Mola sightings during the season and divers will flock to there in those months for their chance to find one. However I have seen many Molas all over the islands at various locations just as often, so Crystal Bay is not the only place you will find them. Diving for Mola is not however for beginners as usually they prefer to hang out at depths of 40m and often in areas of strong currents. On occasion they come into the shallows of the reef but most of the time they frequent deeper sections where there is a thermocline of cold water. Some of the best sites for finding Mola are Toyapakeh, Sental, Blue Corner, Ceningan Wall, Malibu Point, Sental and Gamat Bay. But you sometimes just have to be lucky as they really can and will show up anywhere sometimes even at Manta Point!
WHO TO DIVE WITH?
Below I have two recommendations for you in terms of who to book diving with. After years of diving and living on the islands I can't stress enough how important it is to go with a good company. As you may know diving in Indonesia can be sometimes quite challenging with strong currents. Picking the right dive operator is so important to ensure you have a fun time while also being looked after by experienced and well trained crew. Don't let the idea of strong currents put you off though, diving in Indonesia will give you some great dive experiences while also making you a more competent diver. Prices for a day trip with 2 dives is usually around $120-$150 Aud. This includes gear rental, dive guide and refreshments on the boat.
Photo above: Heading out for some dives with the Siren Diving crew.
Diving from Nusa Lembongan: Siren Diving Lembongan
This little dive shop is run by my sister Prashanti and her partner Darren along with a local family Wayan and Tari. They are all really beautiful people who pay particular attention to customer service and safety while also being a lot of fun. Their guides all speak very good english and have many years of experience diving in the area. Group sizes are kept between 2-4 divers per guide and organised according to everyones skill level and certification. They run daily dive trips all around the islands and will vary the dives sites they visit so if you choose to dive over a few days you will be able to get a diversity of sites. If you need to get certified or want to try diving for the first time they also run all dive courses from Introductory dives and Open Water up to Divemaster level.
Book here: https://www.sirendivinglembongan.com/
Photo above: Divers in training at Pure Dive.
Diving from Nusa Penida: Pure Dive Resort
Run by two of my good friends Ark and Vic, who have dived in the area for many years they own a beautiful dive resort based on Penida. Their set up is very professional with highly trained staff who are great fun to dive with and have perfect attention to detail. They run dive trips daily departing from the northern side of Penida island. A great resort to also complete any of your dive courses with should you wish to upskill or get your diving license. They also keep their dive groups small with 2-4 divers per guide.
Book here: https://www.purediveresort.com/
If you love the freedom of breath hold diving then this dive destination is the perfect place for you as well. Scuba diving is not the only way to see the reef here. There are now many free diving schools running courses on the islands. I was lucky enough to do some training with Artur from Freediving Penida which is located within Pure Dive Resort. He is an incredibly experienced freedive instructor who teaches Molchanov courses. I was really surprised how quickly my breath hold and depth training progressed after refreshing my skills with him. I had done my level 1 training 4 years ago and within a few hours with Artur I was getting to 3 mins static breath hold with ease and diving to 25m depth.
Photos above: Some shots I got while freedive training in Penida.
GETTING HERE: Once you land in Denpasar (Ngurah Rai Airport) you can take a fast boat from Sanur Harbour to Nusa Lembongan or Nusa Penida. The travel time from the airport to Sanur takes about 30minutes and then the fast boat across to the islands is another 30-40mins. There are many different boat companies that operate so a quick google will help you find the right one. Their time tables with vary slightly but generally they run back and forth every few hours between 8am and 5pm every day. Most of the companies also include transportation on both ends of the trip so you can even organise for them to pick you up at the airport or a hotel in Bali. Return boat tickets will cost you around $60 AUD.
While you're on either Penida or Lembongan you can easily cross between the islands themselves by simply getting a small local boat across that departs every 30-60 mins depending on demand (journey across takes 10 mins). If going from Penida you can board a boat at Toyapakeh Harbour. From Lembongan you can board at The Yellow Bridge. A ticket each way is $5 AUD. These
Photo Above: View from the cliffs looking down onto Manta Point dive site.
I hope you enjoy your visit to the Islands and have some great experiences there! Thanks so much for reading and until next time safe travels and happy diving.
You can see more photos from my recent trip to Nusa Penida and Lembongan by checking out my instagram feed @brookepykephotography. Click on the story highlights to see some great photos there as well.