The 2016 edition of Indonesia Lonely Planet says of Nusa Penida: “Largely overlooked by tourists, Nusa Penida awaits discovery. It’s an untrammeled place that answers the question: what would Bali be like if tourists never came?”. Well, that was the wording in the previous editions and it makes me seriously wonder if LP skipped visiting Nusa Penida for this edition. As of 2017, Nusa Penida is clearly on the tourist map. I met another traveler on Bali who had been in NP about 5 years ago and said she saw a couple tourists and there were only a couple guesthouses. There now appears to be at least 100 guesthouses open, many more being built, and tourism is flourishing. I traveled in the week of the end of Ramadan (read about my chance to ride in the drummers’ truck in the Ramadan parade below!!) and the Eid holiday and due to the additional Indonesian travelers, guesthouses were at full capacity.
What to see – Southeast Island
For me, the highlight of a visit to Atuh Beach was the views from the cliffs above Atuh Beach. Note only are there dramatic rock formations, on my visit there was a pod of 25 dolphins frolicking in the clear water below. After soaking in the view, there is a steep walk down some newly installed cement steps to the beach. If it’s lunch time, have some great fried noodles (Mi Goreng) for 15,000 IDR ($1.20) from the shop half way down the hill and sit in the breezy pavilion for nice views. The beach isn’t great for swimming. It’s quite shallow and rocky. But it’s nice to sit on the sandy beach and have a drink from one of the beachfront restaurants. When the tide is low, like it was on my visit, you can explore the tide pools and sea caves.
There are wooden stakes in the shallow parts of the ocean along the northern and eastern coastline that are used to cultivate seaweed. The harvested seaweed is then dried – often on sheets on the side of the road – and then shipped for use.
Giri Putri Cave
First you don a sarong (rent one for 5,000 IDR, 40 cents) and then walk up the steep steps to make a donation (20,000) and they’ll point out a small hole. I crawled on my knees and when able to stand just had to say “wow”. There’s an incredibly large cave and many, many Hindu worshippers inside. The cave is very hot and humid – almost a mild sauna. You exit out the back side and need to walk around the north side of the cave to return to the car park.
What to see – West Island
For 300,000 IDR ($23) you can take the “snorkeling safari” from Crystal Beach that takes you on a local fishing boat to three distinct snorkeling spots. The first one is Manta Point, a manta cleaning station in a wavy bay of Nusa Penida’s west coast. Seeing mantas is pretty hit or miss here. We saw the wings of one, but by the time everyone jumped in the water, it was gone. The second spot is an extremely colorful reef in a protected bay, but with high currents. The last spot was the coolest for me as I haven’t snorkeled with sunken statues before. The Buddhist Temple is a sunken Buddha statue and sunken stupas. The fish like to swim around here too. This area is closer to the neighboring island of Nusa Ceningan.
This is one of the few practical swimming beaches in Nusa Penida and there is great snorkeling near the shore, although the currents can be very strong.
This might be one of the most scenic places I’ve ever visited. The peninsula is famously shaped like a dinosaur and the sand on the beach below looks absolutely amazing. There is a VERY steep track that goes down to the beach, but we saw very few people attempting it. Many improvements are being made here – new fences have been built in the viewing area and railings have been added to the steep trail. Several restaurants are available at the top and more are being built.
Nusa Penida’s favorite selfie spot. Not only were there 5 drones flying, but someone was getting their wedding photos done here. But, it is a beautiful spot… a natural arch with a bay inside.
This is a natural infinity pool among limestone karst formations. There are warning signs to beware the high tide and waves.
There are good spots for sunset on both the north and west coasts, although the sunsets weren’t fantastic during my time on the island. This was my favorite sunset shot, taken on the northern coast.
Make a Side trip to One of the Other Nusa Islands
Logistics of Getting Around Nusa Penida
Nusa Penida is a very large island. Walking is not an option due to size, elevation gain, and heat. There are several ways to get around Nusa Penida:
- Self-drive motor bike – bikes can be rented for 80,000 IDR ($6) although there was high demand at the time I visited so some people paid as much as 100,000. If you’re going to NP for a longer period of time, it may be worth renting a motor bike in Bali for a lower price and taking it over on the ferry. Do NOT underestimate the roads of Nusa Penida. Some roads are OK, but many of the roads are very narrow, busy with tourists, full of potholes and gravel parts, and steep. We saw several motor bikes deserted on roads going to the major attractions, including one that had fallen on its side and was all scratched up.
- Motor bike with driver – someone will drive you around for 200,000 IDR ($15) per day.
- Private car/SUV with driver – you can get trip for 600,000 IDR ($45) per day. This includes car, driver, and parking fees. This can be cost effective if you have 3 or more people. There are 3 itinerary choices for this charge – the southeast area, the west area, and the southwest area. I did two of these trips – southeast and west. More on these below.
- Bus tour – there are now some small open air buses that are visiting the main sites on the west coast. I don’t know the price of these tours.
- Taxi for shorter distances – I did not take a taxi but heard they are quite expensive.
- Hitchhiking/Trucks – if you are just traveling on the main northern road, you may be able to flag down a truck and get a ride to the next town. It’s polite to offer a small amount of money (10,000 could be sufficient). The one time I needed a ride along this road just happened to coincide with the local end of Ramadan parade. I hitched a ride in one of the trucks and got to ride with the drummers as I waved to unsuspecting tourists and local Hindus watching the parade! There were a lot of surprised looks.
Where I stayed:
Nusa Garden Bungalows. They have private bungalows available as well as dorm beds for 75,000-100,000 ($7). It had many good qualities…The location was good, walking distance from the public ferry dock. They would book tours for you for what I think is a reasonable price. It was clean. But there were a couple downsides – foreign owned, breakfast wasn’t included and was a bit expensive for what you got, they had some pets like a caged chicken and a poor chained up monkey. One afternoon I got back from touring and found the gate locked only to find out the family was having the monkey and chicken fight each other so if you don’t like seeing a monkey chained up, this place isn’t for you.
Where to Eat:
There were a couple of great restaurants on the main northern road just east of the alleyway to Nusa Garden Bungalow. At one local’s restaurant (warung), I had Burbur Ayam – a rice porridge in chicken broth with bits of chicken and vegetable. This was such a yummy meal, especially as I was coming down with a cold that day. And it only cost 10,000 IDR (75 cents). There was another one where I ran into some tourists that had been on my ferry crossing so I joined them to have a surprisingly good “lava burger” with mozzarella cheese and mustard.
How to get to Nusa Penida:
There are speedboat ferries that go from Sanur and a city south of Padangbai, but I didn’t take this option as I heard there have been safety issues and this option was a little more expensive. I took the public ferry from Padangbai. Cost was 31,000 ($2) to go to NP and 28,000 to return to Padangbai. The normal daily schedule is 8:30 am boarding in Nusa Penida, 9:00 depart. 10:30 Arrive in Padangbai. 11:00 return to Nusa Penida. However, the Padangbai port has two landing spots and the much larger ferries from Bali to Lombok take precedence. Therefore, the NP ferry may sit outside the bay waiting for a docking space for up to two hours. This delays arrival and departure back to NP. Update: in July, 2017 I saw info on the internet that indicated Padangbai is now charging an additional 50,000 ($4) port tax. I was there a couple weeks earlier and did not pay this tax.
Even though I missed the boat to see “an untrammeled place”, it was easy to see why this place has become so popular in such a short period of time.
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