Written by: Matt Newkirk
Destination: Bali, Indonesia
Visited: April 2019
It’s no secret that the island of Bali is home to some great scuba dive sites. Divers have been coming here in droves hoping to catch a glimpse of the rich biodiversity that make-up Bali’s coral reefs ever since the Ngurah Rai International Airport opened in 1970.
The Island of Bali marks the southwestern corner of the infamous “CoralTriangle” housing over 500 species of reef building organisms, seven times more than what is found in the entire Caribbean Island chain. In addition to Bali’s incredibly diverse reef system, the Island is also a regular stop-off point for larger pelagic marine species such as manta rays, reef sharks, sea turtles, and the world’s largest bony fish, the giant mola mola.
Traditional Balinese boats line the shores in Padang Bai, Bali
Scuba diving in Bali can be divided into three zones, plus the nearby Gili Islands of Lombok which can easily be reached from Bali. The south Bali zone is made up of the port city of Sanur, and the nearby islets of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida. On the east coast, divers can enjoy the relaxed beach vibe while diving from the villages of Padang Bai, Candidasa, Amed and Tulamben. In the north, calm seas and mellow diving can be enjoyed in Menjangen Island marine park and Gilimanuk. For divers looking to dive during the day and sweat to the beat of techno music when the sun goes down, the Gili Islands may be just the thing.
Mola sunfish are commonly sighted in Nusa Penida from August to October
Located just off the southeast coast of Bali, the tiny islets of Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan are probably Bali’s most popular dive destinations. Their proximity to the popular city of Kuta Beach, and the International Airport in Denpasar, make Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan easy spots for a quick dive getaway while visiting Bali. Accommodations on the islands range from backpacker to luxury resort, but a shortage of fresh water can mean that even upscale hotels can have saltwater pools, and brackish showers. It is also easy to visit the islands by fast boat from the mainland for a quick day trip.
The diving around Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan is truly sensational. Both islands are ringed with lush, healthy coral reefs teeming with fish and colourful invertebrates. Blue spotted stingrays, leaf scorpionfish, tangs, angelfish, eels, damselfish, and scores of other reef regulars are common sights on all the dives. From August to October, when the cold southern currents come to the surface, giant mola mola can be spotted coming up from the depths to get groomed by the many cleaner-fish which eat the parasites from their gills and mouth. Manta Point and Manta Cove offer both divers and snorkelers a very high chance of spotting reef manta rays in the plankton-filled water surrounding the dive sites.
You can dive Nusa Lembongan and Penida by taking a fast boat from either Sanur or Padang Bai. Most dive operators will arrange the passage for you, and even pick you up from nearly anywhere in south-eastern Bali for a nominal additional cost. If you plan to dive there for more than one day, it may be easier to take a ferry from Sanur and stay right on one of the islands. The laid-back beach vibe provides a great atmosphere for chilling out between dives, and with a scooter you can explore either island in an afternoon.
Diving around Candidasa can be rewarding for advanced divers
Candidasa and Padang Bai are located along the east coast of Bali in the Straight of Lombok, where the swift ocean currents rush between Bali and the Island of Lombok. Much of the diving here is suitable for advanced divers only, as the waters can be unpredictable, with currents churning the seas in all directions. There are a few exceptions, such as the calm and mellow Blue Lagoon dive site, but the majority of the reefs are found in deep turbulent water between 20 and 30 meters. Despite the sometimes-challenging conditions, the diving is incredibly rewarding, as many of the reefs along Bali’s eastern coast are pristine and relatively untouched by heavy dive traffic.
Some awesome dive sites can be found here for advanced divers to explore. The washing machine currents of Gili Tepekong can make for some harrowing diving, but if the conditions are favorable, there are some great swim-throughs to explore while looking out into the blue for a chance to spot reef sharks and hammerheads. Mola mola can be spotted here from August to October. Candidasa has some exciting coastal walls where the waves break right along the shore, and white-tip reef sharks hide in the narrow caves along the limestone drop-offs. Beginning divers will enjoy the shallow sandy slopes of Blue Lagoon, where lots of fish and macro critters can be spotted in more relaxing conditions.
Padang Bai is located on the East coast of Bali, at the ferry terminal that connects Bali to Lombok. You can get to Candidasa and Padang Bai from the Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar in about 1.5 hours by taxi.
Purple hairy squat-tailed lobster in Amed, Bali
Amed and Tulambenare small fishing villages located along the northeast coast of Bali, in the shadow of the ever-smoking Mt. Agung volcano. The black sand volcanic beaches found here provide the perfect backdrop to explore the two shipwrecks and world-class muck diving. The diving is suitable for divers of all experience levels, although getting in and out of the water from shore at some dive sites can be challenging, as the waves break on the steep slopes of round, potato-sized volcanic rocks. Once you are in the water the seas are usually calm, and marine life is abundant, making for some truly enjoyable recreational dives.
The USAT Liberty Shipwreck is probably the most popular dive site in Tulamben, and for good reason. The bow of the freight-class WWII ship lies just off the shore, with the stern resting at about 30 meters. This really is the perfect wreck dive, not just because of the ideal depths, but also because the ship is covered in corals and fish. In the sandy slopes around the wreck, you can spot octopus and pipefish, while larger hump-head parrotfish and sweetlips patrol the cargo hold in schools.
Amed is home to some of my favorite muck diving sites on the planet. The calm water and idyllic conditions allow you to really get close to the colourful nudibranch sea slugs, purple squat-tailed lobsters, and scores of other strange and unusual marine critters in the soft, fine black sand.
You can get to Amed and Tulamben via a 1.5 to 2-hour taxi ride from Denpasar Airport. You may be able to save a few bucks on taxi fare if you download the popular GoJek or Grab Apps. Once you are there, most of the diving is done from shore, or small local outrigger boats. You can also hire a local outrigger for snorkelling trips from right on the beaches for about USD $10-15 per hour.
Blue-spotted ribbon-tailed stingray, Bali
The Gili Islands are located off the northwest corner of Lombok, but I m including them because the majority of the visitors to the islands get there via fast boat from Sanur or Padang Bai, Bali. There are three Islands that make up the Gilis, Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air. Gili Trawangan is the largest and most popular among travelers and has quite the reputation as a party island. DJs and dreadlocks dominate the beaches at night while 20-somethings dance the night away to the rhythms of electronic music. Gili Meno is the middle island and is very quiet in comparison. Gili Meno is a great spot to chill out and enjoy a romantic stroll along the white sand beaches at sundown. Gili Air seems to be a balance of the party scene of Trawangan and the quiet vibe of Meno. All three islands are great destinations for snorkelers, and scuba divers.
Some people refer to the Gili Islands as “The Turtle Capital of the World”, because of the abundance of hawksbill and olive ridley turtles. Reef sharks, lionfish, moray eels, batfishand even the occasional whale shark can be seen around the Gili Islands. Take care when snorkeling, as the currents can be unpredictable and swift.
From Bali you can catch a speedboat from Padang Bai or Sanur. The trip takes 1.5 – 2 hours. Most operators will arrange transfer from your hotel for a small additional fee. You can book tickets online, or at the harbor. Boats typically run late, so be sure to allow extra time as a buffer.
Bargibant's pygmy seahorses live exclusively in sea fans
Menjangan Island is located just five miles off the northwest coast of Bali, near Gilimanuk, where the ferry lands from the island of Java. Menjangan Island is part of the West Bali National Park and is one of the first popular dive sites on Bali.
Mengan Island is famous for wall diving with calm and easy conditions. Turtles are a common sight, but other large pelagic species are uncommon. The visibility here can reach 50 meters or more, and large sea fans and gorgonians, many of which are home to pygmy seahorses, cover the steep walls of the dive sites. There is also a small wooded wreck, The Anker, located between 40-50 meters. Despite the depth, the calm waters allow advanced divers to comfortably explore the remains of the boat.
Gilimanuk Bay does not have a lot of coral, but the muck diving is worth a look. Frogfish, seahorses and dragonettes can be found in the muddy bottom if divers are careful not cloud the visibility by stirring up the silty seafloor.
Menjangan and Gilimanukis about a four-hour taxi from Denpasar Airport. You can also take a quick 25-minute ferry to Gilimanuk from Ketapangin east Java.
A pair of nudibranchs in Bali
Diving is possible year-round in Bali. The best visibility is from May to November between the southern monsoons. The best time to see the mola mola along the south and east coasts of Bali is from August to October. The best chance you have of spotting manta rays is from April and May
Bali truly has so much to offer divers of all experience levels. Regardless if you are hoping to get your open water certification, or if you are a professional dive instructor, scuba diving in Bali will keep you coming back for more. From pristine coral reefs, to large manta rays and sunfish, you will be sure to remember the time that you spend diving in Bali for years to come.