During our two-month stay in Indonesia, we decided to see “little Bali” — also known as Nusa Penida. For anyone who wants to see a less developed island on their Bali trip, this is a great option. In fact, this was one of the highlights of our adventure in Indonesia.
The roads around Nusa Penida are not all paved. WiFi is spotty at best. There are no malls. No Starbucks.
Brief Nusa Penida background
Many tour operators offer one-day excursions to the island from Bali. This post is not about that. This is for the intrepid traveler who craves authenticity and desires to stay a night or two, or more.
Also, “Nusa” means “island.” So you don’t say “Nusa Penida Island” — just Nusa Pendia. Penida means “priests.”
The island has a rich history – and used to be known as “Black Magic Island.” It’s important to Balinese Hindus, and this island is primarily Hindu.
Nusa Penida is also a bird sanctuary.
Mount Agung on Bali is clearly visible from Nusa Penida. Eruptions from the active volcano cost Bali a billion dollars in tourism money since 2017.
Getting to Nusa Penida without a tour
We went through the port town of Sanur, which was a chaotic experience at the dock. There are many “fast boats” to Nusa Penida that line up off shore.
People have to scramble down rocks (there are stairs on one side) and around ropes, and then wade into water and climb up step ladders into boats. Crew will carry your bags on board so you don’t drop them by accident.
The ferry ride takes about a half hour. And there are plenty of ways to get tickets. Foreigners will be lucky to get round trip tickets for 300,000 rupiah ($21.50). Indonesians pay far less. (Side note: the old boats no longer take tourists across to Nusa Penida, due to safety concerns.)
Different boat companies go to different docks on Nusa Penida, so make sure you know which dock is closest to your destination on the because, as I mentioned, not all island roads are paved yet.
Getting around Nusa Penida on your own
You’ve likely seen the stunning shots on Instagram that show the famous cliffs, billabong, and other sites around Nusa Penida. If you’re not on a side-tour on your Bali trip, you have the freedom to either rent a scooter or hire a driver.
We hired a driver and found another couple to split the cost with us. We paid 700,000 rupiah total for a drive to four spots on the western end of the island. (That’s $25 per couple.) I enjoyed the air conditioning and not getting all dusty on roads that will soon be paved.
Tedly rented a scooter a different day to explore the eastern end of the island on his own. He paid 60,000 rupiah ($4.25) – for the entire day!
What to see on Nusa Penida
Make sure your camera batteries are ready to go!
We paid 300,000 rupiah each ($21) for a 4.5 hour snorkel excursion by small boat. We went last minute during low season, so you might pay more.
There were only eight people in our group – which was way smaller than some boats that carried up to 25 people.
There is excellent snorkeling – and diving – all around this island. Our group went to some amazing spots, mostly on the south and southwest side of Nusa Penida.
The day we went was too rough to see manta rays – but – we lucked out and saw more than a dozen dolphins near the boat at the manta stop.
West end drive
The island interior is hilly, and our first stop was near the highest point. From there you could see the sea and other islands. Try to go on a clear day with good visibility.
Our second stop was the cliffs at Kelingking. This is the famous “dinosaur” rock jutting out into the sea. Tedly walked part of the way to the beach, but decided skip the rock scramble once the stairs ended. Besides, the best views are from above.
Stop three was Broken Beach and nearby Angel’s Billabong. Really cool place! But let’s get real about the danger.
The billabong has a gorgeous tide pool area. But rogue waves slam into rocks and they’re strong enough to clobber someone standing too close to the edge.
And yet — you guessed it — we saw many tourists risking a picture. People have died there. Even Tedly – as daring as he can be – decided not to go down.
Our last stop was Crystal Bay Beach for sunset – and it turned into the most colorful sunset of our entire Bali trip!
East end ride
On Tedly’s east end scooter ride, he checked out Atuh and Diamond Beach. This was similar to the cliff and beach at Kelingking — stunning.
The stairs gave good access to the beach by a staircase carved into the cliff face. Getting down was an adventure in itself, and an amazing engineering design. Look closely at this picture:
The main road on the east end was in excellent condition, except for a one-kilometer chunk that still is being worked on. That part was still rugged, but passable slowly, so Tedly had a great scooter day.
He also reports there are far less tourists on the east end, and not as much development.
See Nusa Penida on your Bali trip ASAP
And that brings me to the development of “little Bali.” It’s started. Tourism dollars are saturating Nusa Penida and more tourists take the fast boats to reach this place every day. The island is on the verge of a tourism explosion.
A local man told us people are glad for the current tourism — but he says it’s just enough as it is right now. He knows, however, that won’t happen. Developers and big-name hotels reportedly have plans for Nusa Penida. That will mean more cars, and a more urgent need for infrastructure.
Our friend told us five years ago, there were seven hotels on the island. Today, there are 400 places to stay — with more rooms ready all the time as construction booms. And he says every day for the last three years, a new car has come across on the giant ferry that brings large goods to Nusa Penida.
In fact, barges must bring over all supplies to build the island’s roads to support those cars. We passed one on our fast boat back to Bali that was filled with asphalt and other road-building material. Sadly, we also passed a few traffic jams on the narrow, few paved roads.
Said our local friend, already nostalgic for today: “What can we really do about it?”
For now, you can still see slow boats stocked up with goods for local markets. You can still see locals wade into the water to unload the the goods. You can still see older women at the markets who will charge you the same price locals pay… that is, until a younger woman reminds her you’re a tourist, and can easily pay double.
So what if I pay double? I got to see Nusa Penida on our Bali trip before it’s ruined by more tourists (like me).
2 last points
- We spent some sweet hours at the Bali Dancer Watersport Beach Club. It offers all types of water sports, and there is a refreshing seaside pool there that overlooks Mount Agung.
- We recommend this place.
- Tell Ray we said hello!
- We happened to on Nusa Penida during a full moon and watched a beautiful ceremony of locals praying to the sea god right outside our hotel rental.
- Be respectful of local ceremonies, and don’t get too close if you have to take a picture.
- I decided not to take a single picture – I’ll remember it well without one.
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