Nusa Lembongan, a small island just 30 minutes from 'mainland' Bali, is becoming an increasingly popular destination for those looking for a quiet and relatively untouched slice of paradise. The island is often promoted as a way to experience the Bali of old - a Bali without the traffic jams, massive luxury resorts and sketchy nightclubs. After days of nonstop sightseeing on the main island, I felt drawn to this secluded place where I pictured myself relaxing on quiet, white sand beaches.
I quickly found out, though, that the current reality of Lembongan doesn't quite match its portrayal in the guide books. But more on that later. Nusa Lembongan is still well worth a visit during your time in Bali. Aside from lazy afternoons on the beach, the island features plenty of activities to keep you busy for a few days. Let's take a look at the top 5 things to do in Nusa Lembongan:
1. Watch the Waves at Devil's Tear
Right by Dream Beach is the awe-inspiring Devil's Tear. This is the most spectacular sight on the island and a couple of hours at Devil's Tear is worth the trip to Nusa Lembongan alone.
Devil's Tear is an area of rocky cliffs which take constant punishment from massive Indian Ocean waves. Come face-to-face with the raw power of mother nature as you gaze out at the neverending explosions of white foamy water. It can be both mesmerizing and a little unsettling at the same time. Watching the sunset over the crashing waves is an incredible sight and one of my most memorable experiences in Bali.
If you're brave enough, you can get fairly close to the edges of the cliffs, but you really shouldn't underestimate the power of the ocean or the unpredictability of the waves. Luckily, despite its popularity, there are plenty of places to stand at Devil's Tear to appreciate the sight without too many other people around.
From Devil's Tear you can also get a glimpse of yet another Lembongan beach called Sandy Bay
2. Go Snorkeling or Diving
Some of the most popular activities on Nusa Lembongan are snorkeling and diving. I opted for the former, and was hoping to witness some manta rays which the island is known for. But they apparently only make an appearance just once a week or so, and it wouldn't be our lucky day. Nevertheless, we did end up seeing something which I never expected to see while snorkeling.
At our first stop, in between Nusa Lembongan and neighboring Nusa Ceningan, I was shocked to learn that there were ancient Buddhist ruins sitting on the ocean floor. Buddhism, of course, was one of the first major religions to arrive in Indonesia, but I had no idea such a temple existed off the coast of Bali.
I'd later learn that these Buddhist “ruins" are nothing more than an art project which was placed there sometime within the last 15 years. While this information was a letdown, the ruins are still an awesome sight. They make for some great photo opportunities if you can take your camera underwater.
There were two or three other stops on the tour, but they're somewhat of a blur. The waves continued to grow increasingly strong and it was not easy to focus on the fish in between bouts of nausea. This is the only time I've ever experienced seasickness while snorkeling, but the state of the waves on any given day can be hard to predict.
Overall, even with the lack of manta rays and the sea sickness, snorkeling off of Lembongan was a great experience that I'd recommended to anyone visiting the island. Simply ask your hotel staff about it and they should be able to arrange a trip for you which also includes pickup.
3. Visit the Underground Cave House
Though the beaches and sunsets are Nusa Lembongan's main attractions, the island does have one proper sightseeing spot. Known as 'Gala Gala' by the locals, this peculiar spot was carved out by a single individual named Byasa. Both a priest and shadow puppet performer, Byasa was very familiar with the Hindu epics and took inspiration for this project from the Mahabharata.
A character in the Mahabharata named Pandawas, who'd been banished to live in the forest, decided to build a cave house in order to protect himself along with his family. He called it Gala Gala, hence the title of Byasa's recreation. Completed in 1975 after 15 years of labor, this 500 square meter “house” is a fun and worthwhile visit to anyone staying on Lembongan.
One thing you should be aware of before your visit is the price. The official price is not written anywhere on the signboards and the man who manages the site will likely give you a quote of 50,000 Rp. Had I not done my research in advance, I would've been surprised and convinced I was being taken for a ride. Many others have reported that 50,000 is indeed the normal price, though, even if it's not necessarily a 'fair' one.
The cave has multiple entrances and exits and you should be able to enjoy it for up to twenty minutes or so, or maybe less if you're on the claustrophobic side.
4. Go Island Hopping
While Nusa Lembongan may be the most-visited small island near Bali, it also has a couple of neighbors. Most people who visit Lembongan also end up visiting its smaller sibling Nusa Ceningan. The two islands are connected by a yellow bridge which happens to be one of the area's main landmarks. To get between islands, you can either walk across or ride over it with your motorbike.
While the bridge should be fine now, I can't help but shudder when coming across older info about people's experiences with the crossing, whether it be fun or nerve-racking. The bridge suddenly collapsed in 2016, killing 9 people and injuring many more. The new bridge pictured below, in fact, had just been completed shortly before my arrival, and we can only hope that this one is going to be a lot tougher.
But what is there to actually do on Nusa Ceningan? Many people enjoy just riding around, while a lot of visitors also rave about the Blue Lagoon.
Nusa Penida, on the other hand, is by far the biggest of the three islands but is much more difficult to get to than Ceningan. The public boats leave daily, but only at 6am. To visit any later, you'll have to charter a private boat which, while negotiable, is not going to be cheap. Try heading down to the yellow suspension bridge to find some boatmen to ask. I actually arranged a deal with the captain of our snorkeling boat once that excursion had ended.
Despite the inconvenience, I couldn't resist a visit to what the locals dub the “Black Magic Island.” Regardless of your interest in the island's fascinating backstory, Penida is a beautiful place with lots to see and do.
Nusa Penida is home to some of Bali's most significant temples which even attract regular pilgrims from the main island. Additionally, Penida also has its share of beautiful beaches and snorkeling spots. You'll also see many seaweed farmers here, which is the island's main industry.
Seaweed farming at Nusa Penida
5. Watch the Sunset at Mushroom Bay Beach
I watched my first sunset on Nusa Lembongan from Devil's Tear. Considering how amazing the sight was, I intended to go back again the next evening. At the last minute, though, I decided to head down to Mushroom Bay Beach instead. I was curious as to whether any other sunset spot on the island could compare. And to my amazement, the sunset at Mushroom Bay Beach comes pretty close.
My previous visit to Mushroom Bay Beach has been during high tide, when the harsh waves made it too tough to swim. But I later returned to find things much more peaceful. The tide was so low, in fact, that it was now possible to walk far out into the water. As the sun sets, you can see the pink and purple shades of the sky reflected like a mirror in the surface below.
Thanks to the low tide, you may also get the chance to see an entirely new beach open up, which the locals refer to as "Secret Beach." If you'd rather enjoy the sunset with dinner or drinks, there are a couple of restaurants along Mushroom Bay with good views of the water.
A lot of people visit Nusa Lembongan to surf. The rough waves, though, mean that the area is probably better suited for more experienced surfers. There are a number of different surf spots located around both Lembongan and Ceningan. If you're interested in surfing here, there are plenty of resources online which deal specifically with surfing on Nusa Lembongan.
Another popular activity is a ride through the mangrove forest situated in the northeast part of the island. You will need to negotiate a price with a boatman, with some people reporting paying for a 20 minute ride for around Rp. 100,000. Nearby the forest you can also find additional snorkeling and diving spots.
Is Nusa Lembongan For You?
As mentioned above, I did not find the reality of Nusa Lembongan to quite match the descriptions in the guide books. First of all, before visiting the island, I read in not just one but several sources that Nusa Lembongan has "no traffic." But the island does indeed have traffic. Sure, the only four-wheeled vehicles allowed are the shuttle vans transporting people to and from the ports and their hotels. But with more hotels opening up all the time, you'll encounter a lot of these shuttles which can catch you off guard as they suddenly appear, speeding around tight corners. Furthermore, there's no shortage of standard motorbikes around the island either.
The roads on the island are also pretty bad. This surprised me considering how many people also touted Lembongan as the perfect place to ride around freely on a motorbike. The problem is that even if you take your time to watch out for the potholes, you're still going to have to watch out for the hotel shuttles speeding down the road.
While maybe safer than the main Bali island, I would say that Nusa Lembongan still isn't an ideal riding spot. I even saw a couple of people with nasty looking post-crash injuries during my visit.
Nusa Penida, on the other hand, is the place that actually fits people's image of Lembongan. Penida has virtually no traffic and the roads are wide and paved, too.
Another thing that surprised me about Nusa Lembongan is that while beautiful to look at, the beaches are hardly pleasant for swimming in. The strength and size of the constant waves can make staying afloat too much effort. And some beaches have an especially rocky surface.
Nusa Lembongan was my first swimming experience anywhere in Bali, so I was caught off-guard by the harshness of the waves in comparison to other tropical islands that I've been to. If this is your first time in Bali and want to swim in the hot weather, be aware that you might be spending more time in the pool near your hotel than in the ocean itself.
Though Nusa Lembongan has plenty to offer, and its sunsets are second-to-none, it's clear that the island is developing very quickly, gradually losing its charm as a result. Therefore, you may want to consider staying in Nusa Penida and making a day trip to Lembongan to see Devil's Tear and the other sights mentioned above.
Dream Beach during high tide
Nusa Lembongan can be reached fairly easily from the main Bali island by first going to Sanur. There are many companies operating boats along the beach, but it's best to make a reservation online in advance just to be sure.
I needed to find a way to get to the island from Ubud, and luckily there's a company called Perama Tour which offers a package for an affordable price. I paid Rp. 190,000 total for a bus ride from Ubud to Sanur, and then a fast boat ride from Sanur to Nusa Lembongan.
Keep in mind that there are two main ports on Nusa Lembongan: Jungut Batu and Mushroom Bay. Some fast boats from Sanur will stop at both, but not all will. I was staying near Mushroom Bay but it turned out my boat would only be stopping at the other port. It was no big deal, though, as I simply paid the fast boat company a little bit extra for a shuttle directly to my accommodation.
The island is developing rapidly, with new hotels popping up seemingly everywhere. There are a few different towns on the island but I would recommend basing yourself somewhere near Mushroom Bay Beach. This gives you easy access to most of the locations mentioned above.
I stayed at a place called Suba Homestay (not to be confused with Suba Guesthouse). The room was well-located, clean and I had my own private bathroom, all for under $20 USD a night. Prices will vary according to season, of course.
As mentioned above, lots of people get around the island by rented motorbike. Expect to pay up to Rp. 100,000 a day or less. However, if you're new to riding a motorbike, then the conditions on the island are not as ideal for riding as some people claim.
If you're staying near Mushroom Bay Beach then other notable locations like Dream Beach and Devil's Tear can be reached on foot in 20 minutes or so. The cave house is also walkable.
The yellow suspension bridge connecting Lembongan and Ceningan is probably too far to walk, so you'll either need your own ride or you can always ask a local to take you somewhere for a fee.
When it comes to snorkeling excursions or getting to the port for the fast boat back to Sanur, you can usually arrange to have someone come pick you up at your hotel.
Bali only has one airport, which is located in the capital and largest city of Denpasar. The best way to reach your accommodation on Bali island from the airport would be via taxi, which can be arranged by your hotel or simply negotiated at the airport.
The Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar is very well connected. You can find direct flights from all over Indonesia, in addition to plenty of international cities throughout Asia and even Europe.