When it comes down to what I think people from the West picture when they picture Bali, the Nusa Islands deliver in every possible way. Sandy beaches, hidden coves, reefs teaming with life, bumpy roads and barely any road signs....
These islands still feel under-explored even though they have a bizarrely high percentage of some of the most beautiful sights in all of Indonesia, (let alone Bali) all of which are within an hour of one another. If you aren’t familiar with the Nusa Islands, you’re about to be, and for good reason: absolutely no one visiting Bali should skip (at the very least) a day trip to this trio of islands: Nusa Ceningan, Nusa Lembongan, & (the biggest of them all) Nusa Penida. They’re a half an hour boat ride from Sanur, but might as well be a world away.
We’re going to break down what we feel is the best way to get to these islands & see everything worth seeing. We’re also going to throw in some tips at the end on general things we wished we’d known beforehand.
During our time on the islands we stayed on Nusa Lembongan and ventured out to Nusa Penida & Nusa Ceningan during the day. This is pretty typical, as it's the island with the most accommodation options for tourists and we were very VERY happy with it. Unlike what we dealt with on mainland Bali, the beaches on Nusa Lembongan seemed to be kept a lot cleaner. We stayed at a catered villa called Villa Sayang that looked out across the harbor, and the staff there were meticulous about picking up any sort of trash they came across (both on & off the property) which was encouraging to see for sure. Villa Sayang also has a private boat for hire and coordinates your meals in house which made traveling to the other islands to explore and photograph almost too easy. It's definitely not the least expensive accommodation you can find on the islands, but if you're splurging on a trip to Bali to begin with, we definitely think a few days at Villa Sayang split among friends is 100% worth it (or if you're headed there on your honeymoon!). It was easily the highlight of our entire month in Bali.
So here we go, our tips for the Nusa Islands:
We took a ferry from Sanur (in central Bali) with Rocky Fast Cruises. If you Google ferries to the Nusas you will be promptly overwhelmed by about 100 options. Rocky Fast Cruises is the most highly rated for safety and customer satisfaction. The boats weren’t overfilled and the captain adjusted his speed on days with swell to make the ride more comfortable. We’ve read some pretty terrible reviews from other ferry companies so play it safe and go with. A lot of accommodation options on Nusa Lembongan will actually coordinate your ferry for you (and your taxi to and from the ferry terminal) so shoot wherever you're staying an email before booking yourself.
What to See on Nusa Ceningan
The Blue Lagoon- Head here to see some of the most Gatorade-looking water you're likely to ever see in your life. It's the same color as the famous Lake Louise in Alberta, and you can cliff jump straight into the cove from certain points. I'll put a not so great photo below just for reference (we were there in the middle of the day, so the light was unfortunately super harsh).
This is definitely a do not miss!
Side note: there's a little path to the right of the lookout point most people stop to take pictures at. Go along it for a more secluded viewing point. There's also a meadow in there where you can camp out if you want to save on accommodation (but double check if this is permitted!).
Mahana Point Surf Break & Cliff Jump - Mahana Point is a bar sitting on top of the perfect cliff jumping site on the left, and the perfect off-shore break on the right. Porter jumped while we were there (I was feeling kind of chicken) and even though you have to pay 100K rupiah (about 7 USD) it's absolutely worth it because it's safer than some of the local, unsupervised cliff-jumping spots and they have an area you can easily swim to afterward to climb out of the ocean back up to the bar. You can grab a drink and sit and watch all the surfers until the sun goes down. The off-shore break to the right o the bar is kind of big, but if you're experienced we would say this is probably hands down the coolest surf spot in Bali. It's secluded, relaxing, feels a world away from it all and even watching people surf there instantly makes everyone mellow out.
The Yellow Bridge - Nusa Ceningan & Nusa Lembongan are attached by the cutest neon yellow Golden-Gate-esque miniature bridge that mopeds and foot traffic can get across. It makes going from one island to the other super easy, and the bridge area is great to hang out at on the Nusa Lembongan side during any religious holy day because there's all kinds of cultural dancing. The whole town turns out for sunset, the strait between the islands that's mostly mangroves gets so incredibly still, and, again, it feels like you're experiencing a slice of what mainland Bali used to be like.
On Nusa Lembongan
Stay - Just like we mentioned before, we think this is likely the island you should stay on. We loved Villa Sayang but there are plenty of other options for all sorts of price ranges. All of the islands are pretty underdeveloped, but Nusa Lembongan definitely seemed to be the easiest of the three to get from Point A to Point B on. There are lots of sites you can use as a resource to find a hotel or villa or even campsite on. We used The Lembongan Traveller.
Swim - Nusa Lembongan is a great island to just kick back on and enjoy the sea and the beach. There are coves and "secret" beaches nearly everywhere and the water is like bath water. There's slightly less to see as far as awe-inspiring settings compared to the other two islands, which, to be honest, is kind of nice when you want to get back to your villa and just chill.
Seaweed Harvesting - Down by the harbor that separates Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan there's seaweed flats that locals go out to collect the seaweed harvest from most evenings. There are a couple of mom-and-pop style bars and restaurants along the strait where you can watch this from and it's, to say the very least, magical. The water gets so calm that it looks more like the men collecting seaweed are gliding on top of it than waking through. Watching this at the end of some of our busier days always brought us back down to Earth a little bit.
On Nusa Penida
Kelingking- Rarely are places so, so worth the hype, but Kelingking is absolutely one of them. This sheer cliff with two secret beaches on either side of it that you can climb down to honestly should probably be a natural wonder of the world. If you're afraid of heights, this is definitely not for you, exploring this area is a once in a lifetime experience. On days when the waters flat you can also go by boat, get out onto one of the beaches at its base and climb up for the view (as opposed to driving through Nusa Penida when the swell is bigger). We had the chance to boat over to that section of Nusa Penida early one morning and you really understand just how sheer and huge this cliff hike is from the ocean. It's like Bali's answer to Halong Bay and looks straight out of Pirates of The Caribbean.
Broken Beach - If you're going to Kelingking, it's definitely worth stopping here because right before Broken Beach (a cove with a natural archway connecting it to the ocean, see photo below!) there's also Angel Billabong along the same walk, a kind of rock-sandbar-cove that you can wade out into (hard to describe, but just Google the photos!).
Snorkel At Atuh Beach - This was another highlight of our time on the Nusas. Even though you can still occasionally spot pollution, the reefs in this section of Nusa Penida are thriving, teaming with life, and have the kinds of vibrant fish and coral that will keep you in the water for hours. Swimming there kind of felt like being dropped onto the set of The Blue Lagoon.
Camp Out - If we could do it all over again we would absolutely have set aside some time to camp on Nusa Penida, somewhere by Kelingking. I can only imagine that it's one of the most beautiful places to watch the sunrise on Earth (not exagerrating!). I'm almost positive there are permitted camp grounds on the island as I've seen pictures pop up from time to time on Insta of people camping around that area. If you're adventurous, absolutely set aside the time to do this!
When we say the roads are bumpy, we mean it!
Like those crossing the terrain on Nusa Penida on mopeds almost seem like they have a death wish bumpy. Most of the roads aren't just gravel, they're straight up rock, and you should add an extra half hour to get from any Point A to Point B. You've got to be somewhat grateful for the lack of pavement, though, because it's undoubtedly one of the reasons the Nusas aren't overrun with tourists just yet. Proceed with caution!
You HAVE TO BE fit for some of the hikes.
If you want to hike down to the beach at Kelingking, it's honestly almost worth doing a hike or two at home in preparation. This hike is difficult and dangerous (there are signs everywhere saying if you hurt yourself, it's on you, not the Indonesian government). It's so difficult on hot days climbing back up, that when we went to see it, adults our age (twenty-somethings) who appeared to be in peak physical condition were literally asking us (strangers) if we could spare a sip of water. We felt terrible that we didn't have any, but they made it anyway. If you're up for this hike, expect to take lots of breather breaks!
We hope any of you out there planning a trip to Bali will get the chance to explore the Nusas. If we ever get back to Indonesia after this trip, it will be undoubtedly be to explore these islands again!
Anna Lisa & Porter
*Thank you to Villa Sayang for sponsoring this post. As always, all thoughts & opinions remain our own.