My third time to Bali and the difference is noticeably immense this time round. There’s more traffic on the roads, prices have increased and hotels are booked solid. Nabbing the fourth spot in TripAdvisor’s 2018 Top World Destinations, Bali Island saw a 23% increase in tourism numbers for 2017 alone.
Seminyak, Ubud and Kuta are leading sirens of tourism in Bali, with Aussie and European tourists all vying for the same Insta-worth snapshots. Even the once lesser known Uluwatu has fallen victim to hordes of tourism buses carrying hundreds of umbrella-wielding Chinese tourists.
While Bali is still a stunning island to visit with tranquil temple backdrops and perfectly manicured rice paddies, the serene escape the once lured travelers is evaporating fast.
What are the Nusas?
Having spent three days in Seminyak, lounging by the pool and taking it easy, it was time to move on, and fast. With Lombok tourism wrapped in a flurry of the recent earthquakes devastating the region, I decided to head south-west from Bali, to the Nusa Islands.
The Nusas are a great option for travellers who want best of both worlds: relaxation with a splash of luxury, as well as adventure.
How to get to the Nusas?
From Bali, Nusa Lembongan is just a quick 35 minute boat journey. Boats depart every morning and afternoon from Sanur Harbour. There’s no real need to book ahead as there are lots of different boat companies, all going the same way, charging around the same price.
The boats depart at 8am, 9.30am, 11am, 2pm and 4.15pm (times may vary depending on which company you take). The seas can be rough going to the islands so make sure to check online the night before if the boats are running to the islands.
My return ticket cost IDR400k, which included a truck transfer to my hotel also. Make sure the hotel transfer is included as it’s difficult to organise one on the beach, which luggage in tow (mostly just bikes offering lifts).
My ticket was also open-ended which was handy as we were unsure how long we wanted to stay.
Tickets are also available from Sanur to Penida but run on a different timetable. The boat journey takes one hour.
Where to Stay?
This totally depends on what kind of trip you want in the Nusas.
Lembongan is the most popular island, which is very built up and has plenty of accommodation, ranging from cheap homestays to luxury hotels.
Lembongan and Ceningan are connected by a short bridge, which you can walk or drive over.
Accommodation on Nusa Penida, however is a different story. It’s less developed, and a lot more basic. Often, hotels are located in quite remote parts of the island, requiring you to bike everywhere to get food, etc.
Tigerlillys Boutique Hotel
We opted to stay in Lembongan. We used this island as a base to explore and rented a bike. We chose Tigerlillys Boutique Hotel because of its great location in Lembongan and raving reviews online.
This hotel was one of the most aesthetically beautiful hotels I’ve ever seen! The building and furnishings are a gorgeous shade of teal and white, with a stunning mixed of beachside decor with traditional Indonesian touches added.
Every night the hotel restaurant was packed, not only with hotel guests but with tourists off the street who were attracted to the hotel’s charm. The restaurant menu is a fab selection of Indonesian cuisine as well as amazing thin-based pizzas.
Day One – Lembongan and Ceningan
Assuming you hopped on an early morning boat across to Lembongan, you still have the whole day to explore.
Once we landed in Tigerlillys, welcome drink and introductions to the island out of the way, we strolled down the road and rented a moped for IRD70k a day. It wasn’t even midday and we were already zipping around the island, eager to get exploring.
In my opinion, a moped is a necessity around the Nusa Islands, everything will be so much more easily accessible and cars/taxis aren’t readily available on the little islands.
First on the agenda: lunch. With nothing in our bellies since a 7am brekkie, grub was the only thing occupying our minds. I spied a beautiful little restaurant called The Sands online and was dying to check it out.
With our destination typed into Google Maps, we set off to Nusa Ceningan. The roads on Lembongan and Ceningan are fine for novice moped drivers. Just take it easy and make way for locals and trucks zooming passed.
Once over the yellow bridge connecting the two islands, take a right and follow the road. You’ll soon be greeted by a coastline of water so clear and blue, I will go as far as saying it rivals the Maldives.
After my trip to the Maldives in April, I remember thinking “I’ve ruined every other beach for myself now, nothing will ever compare to the Maldives”. Luckily, I was so wrong! The Sands restaurant, perched on sloping hill, looks like a picture from a Maldives brochure, and knocks the Gili Islands right out of the park. With a delicious menu (try the smoothies!!), cute puppies to play with, and a view out of this world, this place is an Insta-babe’s dream!
A quick ten-minute drive from The Sands is the famous Blue Lagoon. This place is certainly true to its name, I don’t think I’ve ever seen water so clear and blue! Take a walk all around the cliff’s edge and admire all the different shades of blue in the cerulean sea.
Don’t forget to skip across the road to the Mahana Viewpoint. Here you will find spectacular views of he surfers braving the waves below.
You might want to pop back to your hotel in Lembongan at this point to freshen up and unpack. Don’t worry about traveling too far away, the islands are small and travel between the two takes no time at all.
Come evening no time, we went in search of a good sunset bar and found one at Dream Beach, called Blue Corner Diving. We chilled out in the beanbags and had a couple of beers while watching the sun disappear beneath the horizon.
Day Two – Nusa Penida
My second day on the Nusa Islands, and I was dying to check out Nusa Penida. Penida is the biggest island of the trio and less discovered. Nusa is absolutely stunning, with a dramatic coastline that reminded me of the Great Ocean Road in Australia, only even more beautiful. The unpaved roads are extremely worn and bumpy with potholes the size of bomb craters!
Once an undiscovered, remote tropical island, unfortunately is now become victim to day trippers from Bali. The winding dirt tracks are being clogged up with huge air-conditioned vans carrying Asian tourists from one location to the next.
The rest of the roads are filled with Westeners on mopeds all flocking to the once secret locations. The one way to avoid crowds? My favorite two words: low season!if this isn’t an option, start your Penida adventure early, I’m talking 6.30am early!
The boat from Lembongan to Penida leaves at the yellow bridge. There is no set time, the boat just leaves when it’s full. We were there for about 7am and we the only foreigners on the boat, the rest bring locals carrying supplies to the island.
The ticket costs IDR60k one way, we were advised by our hotel to not book a return ticket, as you will be forced to find that boat on the other side and wait until he is ready to leave. It is better to just buy two one way tickets on either side.
Upon arriving in Penida, we rented a bike from the local guys at the beach. They’re really friendly men who are happy to help out and advise. The price for the bikes are non-negotiable at 80k for the day. We were given a map and told to be very careful as “bike no have insurance”!
I cannot stress enough how bad the road conditions are on Nusa Penida. It is ESSENTIAL to wear good footwear, not only for driving but a lot of the sights require a lot of climbing.
Also, if you have the time to spare, I wold recommend spending two nights on Penida, giving yourself two full days of exploring. However, if time is of the essence, get to Penida early and hit the main sites: Kelingking Beach, Angel’s Billabong, Broken Beach, Peguyangan Waterfall and Atuh Beach.
As soon as you get your bike, set off ASAP to Kelingking. This is by far the most popular destination and as is the norm in Asia now, there are queues of Instagrammers all vying for the same snap. Here is where your good footwear comes in handy! The hike down to the beach is intense – not only is it steep and uneven with no man made holdings or steps, you have to battle the cliff along with hordes of other tourists, coming in both directions.
The Peguyangan Waterfall (though not rally a waterfall anymore) gives the most spectacular coastal line views. The aqua water below crashes against the cliffs, while the huge dark silhouettes of manta rays are easily spotted from above.
Atuh Beach is another steep climb down to a stunning beach, not unsimilar to Thailand’s Maya Bay. The blue waters are eclipsed by towering limestone cliffs, giving the bay a nice sheltered area perfect for swimming.
If you would like to visit the famous treehouses that overlook Atuh Beach, be mindful when typing your destination into Google maps. There are two ways down to the beach: one is a nice paved set of steps all the way down (this side is where the treehouses are), and the other side, (where we arrived!) is the more rugged way down, with no real steps, just a beaten path down a steep cliff.
Be careful when getting to Atuh Beach, if you arrive on the wrong side and want to get to the treehouse side, it’s a 45 minute drive back the way you came; very frustrating!
Day Three – Snorkelling with Mantas
By day three, your backside will probably need a well deserved rest after all that biking around the islands!
We booked a n early morning snorkel trip around the islands to see manta rays. While exploring Penida, we saw sooo many mantas from above, I couldn’t wait to get in the water with them!
Again, like everything in Bali, over-tourism is taking hold. The water is now filled with tourists all wanting to catch a glimpse of the giant filter feeders. A group tour will cost about IDR200k per person, which includes Manta Point, Mangrove Point and Crystal Bay.
However, for twice the price (IDR800k for two people), you can take a private boat out on the water, which leaves at about 6.30am and arrives before all the other tour groups. I would highly recommend this as you are the only ones out snorkelling with the mantas!
The snorkeling trip will take up about four hours of your morning, depending how quick your captain spots the mantas. Inquire at your hotel for a private snorkelling tour, they will be happy to help! The tour can be done from any of the three islands.
We arrived back from our snorkelling trip shortly before midday, with still a full day of exploring ahead of us. We decided to zip around on the moped again, and discover more of Lembongan.
I would definitely recommend visiting the rock pools nicknamed the Devil’s Tears, thanks to the sea spray when the giant waves crash up against the cliffs. This is a great spot to visit to catch a killer sunset as well.
If you have the energy, you could visit the Mangrove Forest in Lembongan. FrOR about IDR100k, a local guide will take you on their boat through the Mangrove Forest, where you can explore all the nooks and crannies. We were actually to exhausted after an active morning, so we decided to relax for the afternoon on Dream Beach!
Day Four – Back to Bali
As we were flying out of Bali on day four, we hopped on an early morning boat back to the mainland. Make sure you confirm and reconfirm your back back to Bali, as things run on island time here and are a little unorganised. If you don’t have to catch a flight that day, have a lie in, enjoy one last açaí bowl for brekkie and catch a later boat back at your leisure.
Nusa Islands versus the Gili Islands
Now having visited both sets of islands, I can confidently say I prefer the Nusa Islands. While the Gilis are famed for being the little slice of paradise just east of Bali, the Nusas, in my opinion, are just as tropical, just as idyllic and far more exciting.
Travelling between the Nusa Islands is also very simple and quick, unlike the Gilis, which is a bit more of a process.
While the Gilis boast a barefoot lifestyle with a ban on engines and no cars clogging up their roads, it is far more adventurous and exhilarating to hop on a moped and have the freedom to explore as much as you like.
With the Gilis now being rocked by devastating earthquakes, it’s safe to say, the Nusas are the new Gili Islands.