Seven Reasons to Visit Nusa Penida

Sunset over the coast of Nusa Penida, Bali.

Remiss, I know, but after over three years living on Bali – and at least five years thinking about getting to Nusa Penida – I finally made it. One of a triad of islands between Bali and Lombok, Nusa Penida is almost embarrassingly easy to reach by a selection of speedboats from Sanur and Kusamba (near Padangbai), and the cliché says it’s the Bali that time forgot. I’m going back in August, and here’s seven good reasons why you should too.

Giant mola mola fish

Dramatic Diving

The cool waters and fierce currents that surge around Penida (and the dinky neighbouring islets of Lembongan and Ceningan) make for some epic diving (one reason I’ll be back in August). Mantas are commonplace; during the season, the giant oceanic sunfish, or mola mola, frequents a range of sites; and there’s stuff to see at scales from nudibranch and pygmy seahorse to one-tonne mola mola. (People die at some of the sites around here, so pick your dive centre carefully: Blue Corner, with outlets on Lembongan and Penida, and World Diving are experienced and safe.)

Leisurely Lifestyle

The moment you step off the boat in Penida, time slows down – and, no, there’s not even a sea of hotel touts bombarding you. The pace of life is slow, the roads are empty, and bedtime is early: it’s the perfect counterpoint to the chaos of Ubud or South Bali. (So laid back is Penida, in fact, that island-wide power cuts are not unknown.)

Pantai Atuh beach, Nusa Penida.

Spectacular Beaches

Don’t be put off by the seaweed farming on some of the shallower bays. Nusa Penida is rich with stunning beaches – and, with the signature exception of Crystal Bay, almost all of them are hardly visited. Pantai Atuh is a perfect curve of golden sand, reached from towering promontories, with a stunning natural arch offshore. Pantai Kelingking, a no-no for anyone with vertigo, is a crescent framed by razor-sharp hills. And there’s at least two pristine white sand beaches that can be reached on foot from Crystal Bay.

Broken Bay, Nusa Penida

Rocks to Reckon With

Geologically, Nusa Penida is uniquely blessed. The staggering coastline is more like a hybrid of Britain’s Jurassic Coast and Greece’s Zakynthos than anything you’d associate with Indonesia. There’s Broken Bay, a flawless circle eroded from the rocks complete with natural bridge to let the ocean rush through; there’s Angel’s Billabong, a deceptively tranquil canyon that descends to the sea in tiers of natural swimming holes; and then there’s the beaches….

The Open Road

Nusa Penida’s roads may be narrow – and, in places, not in the best condition – but between the lovely sweeping stretches of coast road, and undulating mountain routes that run along the spines of lush valleys, this is an absolutely wonderful place to be on two wheels. You’ll have the road to yourself much of the time – which doesn’t mean the tarmac gets any softer, so do wear a helmet. (Rental bikes in conditions from dangerous to shabby start from around 60,000 IDR per day: guesthouses can arrange these, or book them at the port.)

The rock temple at Goa Giri Putri

Magic and Ritual

Penida is Bali’s capital of magic, a place where black and white magic intertwine: according to legend, a demon queen married the island’s very first king. The temples, many carved from brilliant white limestone rather than the darker stone favoured on the mainland, and many of them right beside the sea, are stunning. If you see just one, make it Goa Giri Putri, a cave temple accessed through the tiniest hole in the ground. Inside, a natural cathedral extends through seven separate sanctuaries: around full moon and new moon, it’s dense with incense and incredibly atmospheric.

The Gallery

The Gallery is a little social enterprise just outside the town of Ped, which is home not only to the demon queen’s temple but to what passes for a social scene in these there parts. Swing by for vegan-led food, generally made using local organic produce, delicious ginger-hibiscus tea, local crafts including Penida’s very distinctive weaving, locally made soaps, and Mike Appleton, RIP. Until his untimely death in late 2017, he was a fount of information on all things Penida.

Thanks to Tom Bridge for his image, Mola Mola, on Flickr’s Creative Commons.