If you haven’t been hiding under a rock for the last year, you will have seen Nusa Penida all over Facebook and Instagram. The crisp white beaches and rolling turquoise ocean are perhaps nothing special for Indonesia, but it is the sheer cliffs that reach out and play with the ocean that gives Nusa Penida its charm.
However, Nusa Penida is so very much more than just a great selfie spot. Here’s why I think even sustainable minded travelers need to get themselves to the island.
Nusa Penida – A Haven for Wildlife
Nusa Penida was declared a Marine Protected Area in 2014, and it really is the most beautiful place to dive and snorkel. The water is clear and warm, and depending on your luck, you can spot some amazing wildlife. What brought us to this island in particular were the Manta Rays that live and eat and chill out around the island.
The Giant Manta is listed as vulnerable with an elevated risk of extinction, a fact not helped by their slow gestation rate of 12-13 months per pup. Mantas are vulnerable mainly due to over-fishing, and over the past 20 years or so they have not been able to recoup their numbers as fishing increases.
The Giant Manta actually has one of the largest brains of any cold blooded fish, ten times larger than a whale shark. It heats the blood going to its brain and it is one of the few animals on land or sea to pass the mirror test, which may mean that mantas are self-aware.
Witnessing these creatures in the wild, and seeing their curiosity, really made me even more of an advocate for keeping our oceans healthy and well populated. Contributing to ethical and sustainable tourism in areas such as Nusa Penida is one way we as travelers can help to ensue the future of these amazing creatures.
Nusa Penida is also home to a community-led bird sanctuary that has been seeing some astounding results. Since the inception of the sanctuary in 2006, the wild population of the Bali Starling has soared from less than 10 to well over 100. In a culture that prizes keeping birds in small confined spaces, the Bali Bird Sanctuary is doing amazing work to rehabilitate and release birds back into the wild where they belong.
Finally, Nusa Penida also houses a breeding ground for the critically endangered Hawksbill Turtle, and the endangered Green Turtle. The Sea Turtle Saver Program works with locals on the island to run watches and patrols during breeding season to ensure that no nests are disturbed. To read more about the amazing ecological efforts on Nusa Penida, click here.
Nusa Penida – Breathtaking Natural Beauty
Of course, you can’t go to Nusa Penida without taking some photos. Here are our tips for the places you can’t miss if you only have a day:
Our trip started with a snorkeling expedition at Manta Bay, and it became one of the highlights of our entire Bali holiday. We went out on a small boat with just us and the captain, who expertly maneuvered us to where some Mantas were feeding. There were a number of other people in the water, but we were incredibly lucky to see somewhere between 10 and 15 Mantas chilling and swimming around with us.
At one point one swam up so close to me that I actually sucked my belly in because I thought I was going to get a Manta massage! Our captain pointed us in the right direction every time we came up for air, and it really was an incredible experience. Obviously you can’t be sure to see Manta every time you go, but head there as early as you can and take in the gorgeous fish and coral while you wait to see if you can spot them.
Make sure that you head to Manta Bay if you are snorkeling, and Manta Point if you are scuba diving. Manta Bay gives you a better chance of seeing the animals up close as the sand dips off more slowly. Manta Point is an excellent dive site that lets you get close to these beautiful creatures down in the deep. You can read about our experience diving Nusa Penida as part of our Advanced Open Water Course here.
Angel’s Billabong is a spectacular rock formation on the South-West edge of Nusa Penida. It is a naturally formed lagoon with stunning turquoise water that looks straight out of a travel magazine. Definitely stop here to take a selfie or 100, and if you have the time, you can get down to the lagoon at low tide.
Please be careful getting down here or to any of the beaches, Nusa Penida doesn’t have the best infrastructure or safety mechanisms in place, so don’t be an idiot. We heard that a guide had died just days before we arrived, and apparently this happens pretty frequently. Just because you can stand on the edge of the cliff, or hang off of it, doesn’t mean you should.
Just a little further on from Angel’s Billabong, Broken Beach is a stunning limestone formation. This cove is surrounded by rocks and lets water in through a gorgeous archway that will fulfill all your Instagram needs. You can’t get down to the beach, but you can walk the full way around the cove and enjoy it from every angle.
Kelingking beach is the photo you’ve probably seen all over Instagram. The rocks jut out like a dinosaur head , although Kelingking actually means little finger (the one on your hand, not the one in Game of Thrones). There are a number of viewpoints along the cliffs, and you can get down to the beach HOWEVER it is a hell of a climb and near vertical at points along the 400m path, so know what you’re getting yourself into.
Nusa Penida – What to know before you go
The island is just to the South-East of Bali, and it rises out of the ocean to a peak of 524 metres. It’s around 202 square kilometres, and if you’re looking for the developed infrastructure of Bali, you won’t find it here. Nusa Penida is pretty rural, and as there is a lack of natural fresh water on the island, much of the food you eat will have been ferried in by boat. Nusa Penida is more expensive than Bali for this reason, although still super affordable.
The roads are hellish and steep, and often there isn’t a road at all. You can rent yourself a motorbike to get around, but after seeing the grim faces of the tourists bumping their way around the island, I wouldn’t recommend it. Rather hire yourself a driver or a guide, it will save you hours of pain, and contribute to the local community in a meaningful way, win-win!
Getting to the island is by boat, and there are a variety of options available. A fast boat takes around 50 minutes from Sanur and costs around 125 000 IDR (about $9) one way. There are so many tour operators though that for us it made more sense to book with Nusa Penida Guiding, as they offered us a hassle free tour experience with everything included. If you’d like to go it alone, you can book online for the fast boats here.
Nusa Penida Guiding
We chose to book a day trip with Nusa Penida Guiding after seeing their photos on Instagram. The whole organization is run by one guy, and it really is putting money straight back into the local community. Our driver for the day was an older guy that had very little English but the absolute best and most chilled nature ever. He climbed up trees to get the best angles for photos, and knew all the best off the beaten track photo spots to beat the crowds. He also managed some truly epic driving when faced with single lane unpaved roads and a bazillion massive 4×4’s pushing their way through.
We were picked up and dropped off from our hotel in Seminyak, had our fast boat trips organised and an amazing local lunch, as well as all our snorkel gear and our own private boat. We really enjoyed using these guys, but I do think that they owner tries to do a little too much all by himself, so communication before the day of your trip may be a little difficult. I would go with them again though, so if you want to check them out you can find them here.
Note: We weren’t sponsored at all for the trip, just passing on the organizations that worked for us.
If I had to do it all again, I would opt to spend the night on Nusa Penida and really get a chance to explore some more of the island and enjoy the sunset. I guess that means we need to go back 😉
You can read more about the ethical adventures we had taking an eco-tour of Ubud here. If you want to really make a difference in the lives of Balinese people, have a look at this restaurant where you can eat delicious food and fund medical services for locals. There really is no excuse to not travel ethically!
If you still aren’t convinced that Nusa Penida should be on your go to list for Indonesia, maybe our video can give you an extra nudge:
I hope you enjoyed this article, let me know if you have any other tips for Nusa Penida in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!
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