Written by: Jaii Fredregill
Destination: Nusa Penida, Bali, Indonesia
Visited: November 2018
Diving Nusa Penida is on the bucket list of nearly every scuba diver and for good reason. These waters offer good to excellent visibility most of the year and are home to hundreds of coral and fish species, including the Manta Ray and Oceanic Sun Fish (Mola Mola). Sharks, turtles, schools of fish and incredible macro life live here along the sandy bottom and brightly colored coral covered walls.
Puffer on the move
The current is what helps keep visibility clear around Nusa Penida. You can anticipate some drift diving, so proceed with caution and don't dive if you are not comfortable in these conditions.
Naturally, there is no guarantee that mantas will be visiting this cleaning station during your dive, and some divers do leave without ever encountering them. In my experience though, you are very likely to dive with manta rays at Manta Point cleaning station. I have yet to dive here without mantas despite conditions or time of year.
Nudibranch at Manta Point
The shallow water at this site makes it snorkel-friendly and appropriate for beginning divers. It is sometimes inaccessible by boat if the current is strong and the water is too choppy and unsafe. Muck divers be sure to look around for nudribranch and other small life if time permits.
Mola Mola at Crystal Bay
Crystal Bay has a spectacular coral wall with an abundance of life and macro creatures, but it is most known for the Mola Mola who pass through its deep cold waters. Due to the strong current, and deeper diving to search for Mola, Crystal Bay is recommended for more experienced divers.
A curious batfish pacing us on our dive
Toyapakeh located at the northern end of the Ceningan channel, this site receives some protection from swift moving current which often results in a gentle drift dive along its beautiful sloping coral reef past giant gorgonians, schools of fish, giant travali, batfish, and Mola Mola.
A rust-spotted guard crab takes shelter from the current while still managing to keep an eye on us
Named for its crystal blue waters, Blue Corner sits at Nusa Lembongan's northern point and is best for experienced divers comfortable in a drift. The reef begins in the shallows and slopes well beyond 30-meters. Wobbegong, eagle rays, marble rays, and sharks can roam the blue, adding to the excitement of diving this site.
SD & The Northern Coast
The northern coast of Nusa Penida stretches across five separate sites; Pura Ped, Sental, SD, Pura Mas Gading, and Buyuk. I spotted my first Mola Mola on this coast during July but have not seen any here since.
Regardless, I will always return for the vibrant coral, giant barrel sponges, turtles, rays, scorpion fish, frogfish, macro, and countless other wonders.
Snowflake Moray Eel
It is possible to dive Nusa Penida year-round, but some months are indeed better than others, and currents do become strong enough to be considered too dangerous for diving, which you may want to take into consideration when planning your trip.
Water temperature also varies and at times can require a full 5-mm wetsuit. I have found it to be somewhat unpredictable. Many divers have told me that November is when waters are at their warmest, but my coldest dive ever here was indeed during November. It is best to come prepared or ask about conditions when you arrive.
September to November the waters are often at their calmest and August through October are when Mola Mola are most likely to be spotted, so August through October are of course the most popular time for divers to visit. December through March are often when visibility and conditions can be least favorable, but April through June offer some excellent diving.
Over the past few decades, the number of dive travelers who journey to Nusa Penida and its small neighboring island Nusa Lembongan has dramatically increased. Those coming for a full holiday often choose to stay on one of the two islands. However, it is possible to dive these islands without lodging on them.
Dive companies from Padang Bai and Sanur will happily take you diving around Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan. Good news for those who are tight on time. The time you would be spending getting to and from either island by boat can now be spent diving instead.
Staying in Sanur is particularly easy because it is only 30-minutes from Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali and offers accommodations for all budgets and a solid selection of dive shops and dive resorts. Local dive companies will pick you up and drop you off from your hotel and typically feed you lunch, snacks, coffee, tea, and water.
I have spent many a Saturday diving this part of Bali after flying in late Friday night from Singapore. The Denpasar airport is very accessible from other parts of Southeast Asia and traveling to Bali from other parts of Indonesia can be done by boat, plane, train, bus, and car. Whether you are passing through or settling in for a while, diving these waters is worth working into your itinerary.
If you would like to spend some time on the island of Nusa Penida or Nusa Lembongan you can catch a boat from a few different areas on the main island of Bali. Be aware that transportation here is loosely scheduled and tends to run late. If you need to be somewhere by a particular time, don't cut it too close, allow yourself 1-3 extra hours for boat or car transit.
If traveling by speedboat anywhere in Bali you should take into account that you may have to carry your luggage across the beach and depending on the level of the tide, you may also be wading out to board the boat, so be prepared to get wet.
Ferry from Padang Bai
Padang Bai to Nusa Penida
The local ferry from Pandang Bai to Nusa Penida takes about 2-hours but has been problematic recently due to engine problems, so this may not be the most reliable mode of transit at this time even if it is running again when you arrive; most travelers are opting to take speed boats.
It is likely that everyone you encounter in town will try to sell you a speed boat ticket, because if they do they receive a cut of the money, this may also mean you are paying an inflated price for your ticket.
The public boats begin around 6:30 am and will take you to the yellow bridge scheduled to depart Padang Bai beach once the boat is full (about 20 passengers). The tickets are around IDR 75,000 / USD 5.25 for non-Indonesian travelers and travel time will be about 45-minutes. If you would like to hire a private boat rather than waiting for more passengers the cost is around IDR 250,000 / USD 18.
Sanur to Nusa Penida
A speedboat fast boat (speed boat) can be hired from a few different fast boat companies. You can purchase tickets at the beach, or for a slighly higher price, you can buy tickets online. There are several companies with websites where you can book the tickets from in advance.Ticket Fast Boat or Bali Fast Boat but they are relatively straightforward. The cost to book a one-way ticket online is around USD 20 / IDR 292,000 round trip is IDR 511,000 / USD 35.
Pick-up from areas like Kuta and Ubud can be arranged. Boats depart from 7:30 am -5:00 pm and take 30-45 minutes depending on whether you are going to Nusa Penida or Lembongan. Your destination will also determine your boat schedule, so it is good to look ahead of time. It is also a good idea to bring a paper or electronic copy of your reservation confirmation.
You can purchase tickets at Sanur Beach where the boats depart for about IDR 90,000 / USD 13. The beach is at the end of a road called "Jalan Hangtuah." Taxi drivers all know where the ferries leave from here, so it is easy to find your way there. If you are feeling more adventurous, you can also take a local boat called a Jukung, which takes about one and a half hours and cost around IDR 58,500 / USD 4. You will find locals boarding these older boats on Sanur Beach near the fast boats. Check in with the crew to pay and board.
The easy island life on Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan is easy to enjoy and exploring on land is an absolute pleasure. Those who have the time to stay a few days will find white sand beaches to play on, lovely seaside paths to stroll, pools to lounge beside, and cafes to relax in.