Guide to Bali's Nusa Islands
All photos by Josh Meister Photo.
The Nusa Islands are composed of three islands (Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceneningan, and Nusa Penida), just a 30-minute fast boat ride from mainland Bali. They somehow haven't found the spotlight yet and aren't overrun with tourists, which is always a major bonus in a destination. The main draw of these islands is nature and the variety of beaches, cliffs, and water attractions.
There are several “fast boat” companies that operate from Sanur, Bali (about 20 mins. from DPS airport). Tickets are fairly cheap, around $22.50 each way. You can buy roundtrip tickets to save a little bit on the cost as well. Even though the ride is quick, about 30 minutes, the water is often choppy, and the rows of seats are awkwardly placed too close together, so it's not a very comfortable ride. In addition, you likely have to remove your shoes before getting on the boat, and more often than not, you'll have to wade through the water to get on and off the boat as well, so dress appropriately in short shorts or loose clothing that can be pulled up easily, as opposed to the jeans and hiking boots I was traveling in since we had come straight from the airport! Luckily for me, Josh was willing to piggyback me onto the boat so I didn't completely drench my jeans. Good man.
TOP 10 THINGS TO DO ON NUSA LEMBONGAN + NUSA CENENINGAN
Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceneningan are the smaller islands, yet currently more accessible and therefore more popular. There's lots of great small yet elegant guesthouses and delicious and affordable restaurants. We opted to stay in a less crowded area on Nusa Lembongan, close to Sandy Bay, one of the best spots for watching the sunset. We spent five days here and probably could have stayed even longer as it's so laid back and there's a lot to do. It's pretty necessary to rent a motorbike here as the different attractions are spread out over the island and not much is walkable. Also note that the roads are in terrible shape! The main road through the islands is good, but anything off of it is full of potholes and falling apart. We were told by several locals that the roads would be repaired in the next year, but we got the feeling that they may have been saying that for several years.
1. Devil's Tears
This landmark is essentially a lava rock cliff with tidal pools formed from waves crashing, and it's hands down the best place to watch the sunset on Nusa Lembongan. It's right next to Sandy Bay, a beach with an elegant restaurant that is another good sunset option. Go a little before sundown, stoppoing at one of the little huts set up in the parking area and purchase a few beers. Then find a place to stand around the pools where hopefully you won't get splashed and can cheer on the sporadic giant waves and huge spray along with all the other viewers, tourists and locals alike.
2. Dream Beach
Our favorite of the many beaches around the islands, located on the same side as Sandy Bay and Devil's Tears. Lots of white sand and big waves to through yourself in. There are a lot of rocks here though, so caution is key.
3. Swim with Manta rays
We did a fun dive with World Diving to Manta Point and saw tons of manta rays! You can also opt for snorkeling trips to Manta Bay.
4. Walk around Lembongan Village
Spend some time walking around the non-tourist area of the Lembongan Village on the southwestern side of the island, where the Gala-Gala Underground House if located (worth a quick visit if you're interested in subterranean living), checking out the abundance of shrines and offerings being made at least twice daily. Balinese Hinduism is different from anywhere else, and the locals spend a significant portion of each day dedicated to appeasing the many spirits.
5. Kayak / paddle board through the mangroves
The northern end of Nusa Lembongan has a large mangrove forest with plenty of vendors renting out kayaks and paddle boards. Be sure to negotiate the price!
6. Drive over the iconic Yellow Bridge to Nusa Ceningan and Visit Last Stop Bar
A narrow bright yellow pedestrian and motorbike bridge connects the islands of Lembongan and Ceningan. It's a rite of passage to drive over it, and then hit up Last Stop Bar for a beer and a swim in the turquoise water as you gaze back on the bridge.
7. Zipline over the ocean
On Nusa Ceningan, our first stop was the Abyss Zipline at Ceningan Island Resort. It's not long, but it takes you out over the crashing waves for a fun ride with a unique view. Then lounge in the pool and watch others glide by.
8. Blue Lagoon viewpoint
One of the prettiest spots on the islands is Nusa Ceningan's Blue Lagoon. There's a parking area right off the main road, and you can explore all around the cliffs lining the beautiful inlet as well as hike through the bushes a little bit to find more beautiful cliffs on the other side.
9. Secret Beach
Secret Beach on Nusa Ceningan isn't all that secret, but it's worth seeking out anyway. You can arrive two different ways – through Villa Trevally Hotel which requires you to buy a drink in order to access the beach next to the property, or by bumpy road and jungle path, which is free (accessed by going left instead of straight at the intersection with signs pointing right for the zipline and Blue Lagoon). We had heard this little beach would be pretty empty, but I think the word is out – there were at least 20 other people enjoying the waves and beach lounging along with us.
10. Eat well
Here are some of our favorite spots:
Bali Eco Deli (pictured below) – Delicious and health smoothies and bowls.
Dhipa Warung – We wound up eating here at least three times. The food is simple, tasty and inexpensive, and the eponymous owner is incredibly funny and generous, offering us free Captain Morgan our second time there.
Hai Bar and Grill – Some of the best food we had in Bali, but a bit pricier, and you might even want to make a reservation for this one. Additionally, they offer hotel pickup and drop off if needed.
Sandy Bay Beach Club – If you're hankering for a sunset view with dinner, this is the spot. Right next to Devil's Tears and nailing the upscale boho beach aesthetic.
Tropical Burger – A little on the high side, but fantastic burgers as well as restaurant design.
TOP 6 THINGS TO DO ON NUSA PENIDA
Nusa Penida is the largest of the Nusa islands, but the least touristy. The majority of visitors just come for one day by taxi boat from Nusa Lembongan. But this gem of an island is not going to be a secret for much longer – lots of foreigners and locals alike are investing in development of the island as they anticipate more and more tourists in the coming years. So get yourself there before the word's really out! And be warned, again the main road is great on this island, but a lot of the side roads are even worse than on the smaller islands!
1. Goa Giri Putri Cave
Goa Giri Putri Cave is one of the top cultural attractions on the island. Visitors regularly come from Bali just to pray in this temple and then return to the mainland. To enter the huge cave temple, you have to squeeze through a super narrow opening that opens up into a cavernous space with six different praying areas including holy water purification.
2. Atuh Beach
Atuh Beach is at this point the most distant spot on the island. It's far away from everything. But it was also our favorite place on Nusa Penida, and your trip to the island wouldn't be complete without making the trek there. You can reach Atuh Beach by continuing east on the main road from Goa Giri for a bit and following it as it turns right to head up into the mountains towards the center of the island, where you'll eventually see signs for Atuh Beach. There's two lefts for Atuh, go for the second one onto rougher road and follow the signs until you get to the entrance to Atuh Beach. The parking / entrance fee to the private road is 25,000 IDR for 2 people (about $1.75 US).
Get ready to pick your jaw up off the ground. The views to the right (away from Atuh Beach) are absolutely stunning. Once you've taken a gagillion pictures, head down the steps to the beach. Pay attention as you walk – there's monkeys living in the trees, and if they want to cross the path, you need to clear the way quick like!
The beach is beautiful and not very crowded, and you can spend hours floating in the clear water and snorkeling around. Beach chairs are free as long as your purchase something from one of the vendors behind them. We suggest a fresh coconut and grilled fish for lunch.
3. Molenteng Treehouses
Once you've had enough beach time, climb back up all those steps and ride back out and up the hill, taking your first left, following the signs to Rumah Pohon (“Treehouse”). The road will curve you around the coast for just a few minutes to the Molenteng Treehouses. After you pay the parking and entrance fee (5,000 IDR each + 5,000 IDR for parking), get ready for more steps. There's a few structures here perched on a cliff overlooking the deserted beach of Korawa and a stunning view back towards Atuh. Climb up to the main treehouse for a bit or book one of the others for a rustic night.
4. Broken Beach + Angel's Billabong
Broken Beach and Angel's Billabong are stunning attractions and definitely worth a visit. These are not active attractions – you basically just walk around and take gorgeous pictures and soak it all in. If you can, a) go early before the day trippers get there as these do get crowded, and b) hire a driver to take you in a legit car. We motorbiked there on the worst roads we have experienced yet in our travels, and my butt was sore for days after! Gritting my teeth through the ride there and back, I eyed all the comfy SUV transports longingly and wished we were not on our tortuous 2-wheeled vehicle.
5. Kelingking Viewpoint (+ Beach)
Kelingking is probably the most Instagram-popular spot on Nusa Penida. This is the cool piece of land that curves into the ocean in a way that resembles a T-Rex, or Yoshi, as Josh pointed out. Get ready to fight for your spot to get a great photo, and if you're feeling ambitious and fit, you can climb down the abundant steps to the basically deserted beach at the bottom. As I was babying my ass after Broken Beach and Angel's Billabong, we opted not to hike down (and, inevitably, back up), but have friends that did the hike and said it was well worth it.
6. Eat Decently
There's not a ton of restaurants on Nusa Penida, and we easily found our faves. We recommend:
Warung Jukung – Everything we had here was great!
Kekinian – The service is a little on the slow side here, but the food was worth the wait. Go for the Pepas Tuna and BBQ/Peanut Sauce Chicken.
Cocoleaf – Cheap and yummy!
Penida Colada – Considered the best restaurant on the island. We enjoyed the food, but the prices were a bit high.
And one to avoid: Art of Rolling – it may have been the worst pizza we've ever had. 😞