Nusa Penida – Visit or Skip It?

Nusa Penida is an island off the coast of Bali that’s recently landed on the tourist map. Google the island and you’ll find striking images of turquoise waters too bright to be real, and some really unique rock formations, natural rock pools, and cliffs. Who wouldn’t want to go? Unfortunately, despite its raw beauty, Nusa Penida is far from equipped to handle the exponential growth in tourism.

Planning the Trip

Most people visit for a day. Though there are clearly a lot of resorts and hotels being built, there isn’t much to do here after a day or two, unless you fancy sitting in your resort all day. Like most visitors to the island, we opted for a private tour (we used Bali Customized Tours for a one-off cost of USD89 per person – pricey but highly recommended! The fee includes pick up and drop off from your accommodation, boat transfer, a car for the island, a driver and a guide, and a light lunch). Depending on your boat operator, pick up time from Seminyak will be around 6.30am, to get you to the dock in Sanur by 7.30. There, you’ll be greeted by chaos, with hundreds of tourists crammed on to a tiny single-lane road dotted with endless boat companies. Your tour operator will take you to the right boat stand, register you, and introduce you to the guides who will show you around the island. Once you register, you’ll have time to grab a light brekkie before you jump on one of the several morning boats heading to the island. Ours left at 8.30 and got us to the island in around 40 minutes. The ride is pretty bumpy because of the speed, so don’t stuff yourself with food! Also, you’ll have to wade in about knee-deep to get to the boat, so dress appropriately.

Angel's Billabong and Broken Beach, Nusa Penida

Angel’s Billabong & Broken Beach

This was the first stop on our tour. It took slightly over an hour to reach from the pier. Angel’s Billabong is a natural rock pool filled with crystal clear water when the tide comes in. Visitors can walk around the area, take in the gorgeous blue expanse of the sea and the dramatic cliff faces. On the loop around Angel’s Billabong, you’ll be able to see Broken Beach at the bottom, which is also inaccessible.

Angel's Billabong, Nusa Penida
Angel’s Billabong

Kelingking Beach

This stunning, Instagram-popular viewpoint is a T-rex-shaped cliff that drops off to a small, secluded beach below. You’ve probably seen a lot of photos of the beach from similar angles – but no one shows the reality of hundreds of tourists queuing for the same photo opp. It’s busy and chaotic, and takes away from the tranquility. If you’re up for an adventure or want to stretch your legs after sitting in the car for hours, you can climb all the way down the cliff on a narrow set of stairs to access the tourist-stripped beach below. Prepare for a 40-minute journey to the bottom, and longer for the climb up. If you choose to do the climb, your guide will probably tell you to skip one of the other attractions so you’ll have enough time to get back on your return boat.

Kelingking Beach, Nusa Penida
The T-rex of Kelingking Beach

Crystal Bay

This was where we had the most fun. It was finally a chance to get out of the car for good amount of time, to enjoy the vistas of the beautiful bay, with sky-blue, clear waters. The waves are pretty strong here so you do have to take care if you’re swimming far out. You can snorkel here as well – there are lots of small fish and corals to see. And if you forgot to bring your gear, there are rentals on the beach.

Crystal Bay, Nusa Penida
Crystal-clear waters at Crystal Bay

Things to Know

  • Dress appropriately. You’ll be wading in water up to your thighs when you get on and off the boat, so leave those fancy outfits and thin sandals at home. Flip flops will get you through the day since you won’t be walking much, but if you plan to climb down to Kelingking Beach, pack a pair of good trainers.
  • Don’t be the idiot that climbs aboard a boat with a phone in their hand…
  • Pack appropriately. You’ll need to bring your own towels, change of clothes, snorkelling gear if you want to snorkel at Crystal Bay, and some water. Don’t forget the sunscreen.
  • Don’t skip breakfast, and bring your own snacks. You’ll have a light lunch around 2pm.
  • Bring something to entertain you when you’re sitting in the car. Each destination is around 30-90 minutes away from each other, not because they’re geographically dispersed, but because there’s a massive line of cars in front and opposite you.
  • There’s internet on the island but it does get very patchy.
  • Most of the roads don’t have tarmac, and are extremely bumpy. This isn’t going to be fun if you get carsick easily.
  • You won’t be the only one on the island, so don’t expect anything ‘off the beaten path’ on your day tour. You’ll be sharing each destination with a lot of tourists. If you want to explore the less-traveled areas of the island, I really liked this comprehensive guide on all the other awesome things you can do on Nusa Penida.
  • It’s possible to plan the trip and visit the island on your own, but I feel that it’s worth paying the fee for a hassle-free experience. It’s also pretty challenging to drive on the island unless you’re really experienced driving on narrow, packed roads with no tarmac.
Nusa Penida

The Verdict

Despite all the gorgeous photos you’d get, and jaw-dropping landscapes that you’ll bring home in memory, for the time being I’d say it isn’t worth going to Nusa Penida. Until the island gets enough money from the government to develop its roads, this over-tourism isn’t going to help. All visitors have to pay an ‘entrance fee’ that supposedly goes to the island, but who knows. The amount of time you spend sitting in a car going absolutely nowhere really took away from the natural beauty of the island. Taking into account the cost, the amount of time you spend traveling to the island and back, only to spend more than half your day sitting in a car getting from A to B, until better roads are built, skip it.

Sunset on the boat back

Writing & Photos by Chindu J Palakal

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