After three weeks in Bali, we found ourselves growing a bit tired of the massive crowds. We were in search of adventure, more beaches, and a rugged experience. We found that less than an hour away on Nusa Penida.
Nusa Ceningan, Nusa Lembongan, and Nusa Penida all make up the Nusa Island group and a trip to explore them is a great addition to any Bali trip. Nusa Penida island is the largest and most rugged of the three islands. However, it’s still a small and much less crowded version of Bali with dreamworthy turquoise water, rolling hills, epic cliffs, coves, and white sand beaches.
We spent 10 days hopping between all three islands and found each to offer something different. Each is worth a few days of exploration and all are definitely worth the 45 minute speedboat trip over. When you do decide to make the trip over (because you won’t regret that decision) here’s all you need to know before traveling around Nusa Penida.
Nusa Penida Travel Tips
Opt for the fast ferry to Nusa Penida
There are two options for ferries to Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan – a speedboat or the slow ferry. Everyday ferries leave from Sanur and Padang Bai in Bali. Sanur is the primary point for tourists wishing to travel vis fast boat to both Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan. Once you arrive in Sanur beach/port you may find the area to be a bit chaotic. It’s a mess of tourists, few signs, dodgy boat operators, and annoying touts that creates a confusing and stressful environment.
The second option is the local ferry. We’ve been told the local ferry costs around 50,000 IDR and takes about two hours with questionable Indonesian safety regulations. What’s a life jacket? Even though the journey is short the waters can still be treacherous and people have died crossing on both the local boats and speedboats. However, odds are better in the fast boats meant for tourists.
Regardless of money, I wouldn’t recommend the slow boat as even the speedboats can eat a large chunk of your day. Our speedboat took almost four hours, a lot longer than the advertised 45-minute boat ride. Most of the time was spent in the process of buying and haggling for tickets, waiting for the boat, loading the luggage, taking off, and the boat ride to Nusa Penida. Once we arrived in the Nusas we once again and to load everyone off the larger boat into a lorry and get onto the Nusa Penida island.
Pay the right price
There are a number of “ferry” operators and picking the right one seems to be an impossible task. El Rey, Arathmas, Mola Mola Express, and Maruti are a few notable ones. We had heard of the name El Rey so we took the gamble and chose to go with them. The first price they quoted us to go from Sanur to Nusa Penida was 490,000 IDR one way.
We’re not sure if anyone paid this ludicrous price. We managed to haggle the price down to 150,000 IDR per person one way. If we pressed we may have been able to get it for 100,000 IDR on a slow day or in the offseason.
My advice would be to have a price that you are willing to pay to get to the Nusas and stick to it. There will be numerous touts and companies trying to quote you for much more to see what they can get. If you don’t like the price head to the next stand and see what they will quote you until you’ve exhausted your options.
Most of the companies are about the same in service level and dodginess. If you end up booking with your hotel or a third party you will most likely be paying more than you would at the ferry terminal, but you will enjoy the convenience and peace of mind by not dealing with the chaos of doing it yourself. This often includes a transfer from your hotel to the ferry point. (Side note – We made our way back to Bali from Nusa Lembongan for 175,000 a person).
Hold on to your valuables
There is no dock or port to board the speedboats that depart from Sanur so you should be ready for a water departure and landing. You’ll have to wade out in water waist high depending on your height.
Wear flip-flops and clothes you don’t mind getting wet. The employees will gladly carry your luggage onto the boat and load them in a big old pile with everyone else’s stuff, but if they drop it in the water I’m not sure you could blame anyone or get compensated for your belongings.
Since we were traveling with all of our cameras and electronics we carefully packed them in our camera bag, placed the water cover over them, and Cameron carried the bag over his head very carefully. If you are carrying important items with you I would be hesitant to separate from them or let others handle the baggage.
Carry your shoes with you
Most speedboats will collect your shoes before you get on board so that you don’t risk them getting wet. They will give your shoes back to you when you arrive at the Nusas. Unwilling to part with my Rainbows Sandals, I opted to carry on my flip-flops with me while Cameron surrendered his.
He later admitted I made the better choice. When we arrived on Nusa Penida it was confusing to locate his shoes and when we did find them they were in a mess of shoes and a pile of mud. Thanks, El Rey!
Nusa Penida is more expensive than Bali
Everything on the island arrives via ferry from Bali. This means everything comes with an added cost and less supply on the island. Expect prices to be more than in Bali for just about everything. Motorbikes, food, accommodation, activities will all run you a bit more on the Nusa Islands, often at a lower quality.
For some items, you can even pay up to double what you pay elsewhere in Indonesia. Just accept it.
Nusa Penida island is far less developed
We were surprised by how undeveloped Nusa Penida was at the time we visited. However, it’s all quickly developing from an influx of tourist.
The Nusa Islands have seen a fast growth mainly because of viral Instagram spots, but don’t worry they are still rugged and raw and perfect for those wanting to get a little off the beaten path. Just be aware that Nusa Penida is certainly not like Bali so don’t expect luxurious amenities. Finding a room with a hot shower is a bit of struggle and the roads can be exhausting on motorbikes.
Don’t expect it to be as hip as Bali
Those hip coffee shops and vegan cafes you can find in Bali? Those are few and far between on Nusa Penida. The island is mostly full of local family run warungs. Although, we did find a few places to eat with epic viewpoints and some nice seaside cafes in the main part of the island. We’ll share our favorites at the bottom of this post.
Bring items of luxury with you
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Nusa Penida, so I packed everything we could need for a three-day trip. Anything that you need for traveling should be brought with you to the Nusas as you may not be able to find it there.
This includes specialty medicine, electronics, and beauty products. There is a main part of town near the ferry harbor and Toyapakeh where you may be able to score a few odds and ends, but I wouldn’t risk it for anything of importance.
Leave your suitcase on Bali
If you are traveling with a suitcase I would recommend leaving it in Bali and traveling to Nusa Penida with a carry on backpack or duffel bag. Trust me on this one. First, a suitcase is not ideal when dealing with boat transfers and the water entries and landings. Second, you’ll be able to move across dirt, sand, and gravel far faster and with less struggle with a backpack. Third – if you plan on renting a moped right when you get onto the island to get to your guesthouse you can ride with the bag on your back.
We knew for certain that we didn’t want to drag our suitcases to Nusa Penida, so we packed up our backpacks and left our suitcases back in Sanur with our Airbnb host free of charge. We brought a few outfits to change into, bathing suits, tennis shoes, flip-flops, electronics, and toiletries and left the rest in Bali.
Get a motorbike
There are two ways you can explore Nusa Penida – hiring a driver for the day or motorbike rental. We opted for a motorbike so we could get where we wanted on our own schedule. It was the best option since we were spending multiple days on Nusa Penida Island. We paid 75,000 IDR for a one-day rental which seemed to be the going rate on Nusa Penida.
Don’t sell yourself short on time with the moped though. Distances between points may look close together, but given the roads and routes, it can take an hour to get between points that are right next to each other. If you only have one day on Nusa Penida a driver may suit you better to see more. We’ve told 500,000 is a good price for a driver for the day.
Know how to ride the motorbike
Some competence riding a motorbike is recommended as the roads here are not exactly roads, but more like stretches of the moon filled potholes and craters. You’ll spend a lot of time dodging speeding cars who don’t seem to value life itself. There are also plenty of hill climbs and descents on uneven gravel roads, it’s very easy to lay the bike down. It’s probably the most common mishap for tourists in Southeast Asia and I doubt it will change anytime soon. Wear a helmet!
You should be prepared for an adventure on Nusa Penida as it’s a bumpy and adventurous ride. Just book a massage session for when you return to Bali your back will need the reprieve.
Google Maps works well
Despite being a bit off the grid we found that Google Maps works surprisingly well as a navigation tool around Nusa Island. Download an offline map of the island and you should be set!
Time your stops right
When plotting out where and what to do on Nusa Penida make sure you time your stops well. Pay attention to high and low tide as it will affect your beach-going experience. We showed up to Atuh Beach at low tide and although it was still beautiful we would have preferred to be there during high tide and dip our feet in the water.
We also noticed at Crystal Bay that the day tours arrive around midday becoming crowded and far less enjoyable. Generally, the earlier you arrive somewhere the better.
Bring cash with you
There are ATM’s on Nusa Penida but they are often out of order. We never found a single place on Nusa Penida that accepted credit card so it’s advisable to bring all the cash you will think you need from Bali. Check out more of our travel finance tips here.
Prepare for a cold shower
As mentioned, Nusa Penida is not developed. We listened to many people complain about cold or salt water showers here, and it should be expected with cheaper accommodation. If you love your hot fresh water showers make sure you ask your accommodation provider beforehand if they will be provided.
How many days should you spend on Nusa Penida?
We spent three days on Nusa Penida. We traveled slow and didn’t get to all the points of interest that we wanted to. I would recommend at least four days here if you can spare it. If you’re moving fast and don’t have a ton of time to spare I think three days is more than enough to have a good time.
Nusa Lembongan or Nusa Penida?
With many travelers short on time they may be wondering where to invest the majority of their precious time. We spent three days on Nusa Penida, one day on Nusa Cenginan, and five days on Nusa Lembongan because we took our open water dive course there.
If it weren’t for our diving course on Nusa Lembongan we’d spend more time on Nusa Penida over Lembongan. Penida is adventurous with a lot more island to explore. Lembongan is great for bars, surf schools, dive operators, pools, and restaurants.
Where to eat on Nusa Penida
Nusa Penida is not like Bali loaded with a wide variety of food options. For the most part, you will be limited to family style Indonesian warungs dishing up local food. We still managed to have a few good eats while on the island.
Our favorite places to eat on Nusa Penida:
- Vegan Soul Kitchen: Our favorite find in Nusa Penida. Located far away from the main road and you will definitely need a scooter to get there. Once you arrive you can indulge yourself with all the vegan food you want away from the hustle and bustle.
- Ogix Warung: This is the number one rated restaurant on Trip Advisor so we figured we would give it try and we left more than satisfied. Ogix Warung specializes in grilled fish and Indonesian bites. Their restaurant is perched high up over the ocean and they have great tropical vibes going on in the evening, along with a stunning sunset.
- Penida Colada: Stopped here for a quick cup of coffee and ended up staying because of the view. This is a small cafe that serves up international cuisine. It’s just steps away from the clear blue water.
Accommodation on Nusa Penida
Many people arrive on the Nusa islands with no accommodation plans. However, the supply on Nusa Penida island cannot keep up with demand and if you do this in the high season you may end up homeless for the night.
We recommend you book before you arrive to avoid this scenario. We stayed at a lovely brand new Airbnb that had great views, comfortable rooms, and helpful staff. Once their pool is finished the place will be epic. Read our other Airbnb tips here!
Other Nusa Penida accommodation options are:
Things to do on Nusa Penida
Kelingking beach and lookout
Kelingking beach is the spot that draws in visitors to Nusa Penida. It’s been making the Instagram rounds for a few years due to its drop dead gorgeous (albeit dangerous) ridge that is shaped like a T rex head.
To get here on a motorbike is no easy or comfortable task. The roads are rough so if it’s your first adventure on a motorbike be prepared. Once you arrive at Kelingkling beach there will be a small area to park. The walk to the cliff point will take about five minutes. Once you arrive at the lookout you’ll have two choices. Stay at the top and admire T Rex from above, or make the trek down to Kelingkling beach.
The trek down is no joke. Questions on the safety of trek and whether to allow tourists down the path remains to be a debate. Most tour guides and drivers advise tourists to not make the trek for fear of their client’s safety. Regardless, the local community continues to maintain the trail as they know it draws in a plethora of tourists. The only thing that separates hikers from certain death is a series of makeshift bamboo railings.
If you do decide to make the journey the reward is spectacular views, an adrenaline rush, and a secluded beach at the bottom. It was the highlight of our trip to Nusa Penida and we were happy to witness sunset while on the ridge. With as much as we’ve traveled we’re pretty immune to tourist spots, but this is one that took our breaths away. Many places don’t live up to their photos, but the scale of the ridge and angle of the path are will leave you speechless.
The hike down and up takes about one hour roundtrip. If you make the trek down we recommend to go barefoot or bring tennis shoes, not flip flops as they can lose traction. Also, be sure to pack a bottle of water for the hike back up.
Pura Goa Giri Putri Cave
The Pura Goa Giri Putri Cave may have once been a quiet stop off in Nusa Penida, but with the new popularity of the island the cat is out of the bag. We stopped here on our journey to Atuh beach with no expectations and thought it was a different and unique thing to see on Nusa Penida instead of another beach or view point.
The entrance to the cave is located up a steep staircase. You won’t be allowed to enter without a sarong so either bring your own or rent one from the locals at the parking area for 5000 IDR. Once at the top of the staircase you will be given a glass of water and asked to pay a donation of 20,000 IDR per person to enter. The entrance in may make you feel a little claustrophobic but it’s only for a few meters.
The cave soon opens up to a massive 300-meter cave. If you’re lucky you will arrive during a prayer and get a glimpse of religious life. When we checked it out there wasn’t much going on, but it was still a nice experience.
After the cave, we continued onto to Atuh Beach. There are plenty of street signs that will lead you here and the road is well paved. There are two ways to enter Atuh Beach, both require you to take stairs down. We took the “Stairway to Heaven” which was much easier and less dangerous than the Kelingkling beach staircase.
Atuh Beach was a great stop for us as there weren’t many people here and the views were amazing. We came during low tide and were able to walk out towards the impressive rock formation. If I had known better I would have planned to arrive at high tide. Keep in mind it’s on the east side of the island so later in the day it receives little sun.
There are a few small warungs with beach lounges setting up shop here making it the perfect place to chill out with a coconut in hand.
Giant Manta Rays surround the waters around the Nusa Islands, and it’s common to see them from the cliffs above. For those looking to see them in the water the most reliable place to see them is Manta Point.
Manta Point is only accessible via boat so you will have to book a snorkeling or diving trip to reach the spot. As with all wildlife spotting them is not guaranteed, but chances are super high you’ll get a glimpse of them. We got open water dive certified with Dive Concepts on Nusa Lembongan and had one of our last dives here. During the dive, we saw three massive manta rays swimming through the water!
We’ve seen Manta Rays before in the Galapagos and Mozambique but they were shy and fast to swim away from us. Here, they seemed habituated to the large amounts of snorkelers and divers floating around them. If it’s your first time make sure to bring an underwater camera. We just bought the Sony RX100v and absolutely love it!
Crystal Bay is a small bay great for lounging and enjoying a dip in the clear blue waters around Nusa Penida. There are a few local stands dishing up fruit juices and local Indonesian fare here as well as some loungers and bean bags to relax. The loungers are privately owned and you will be asked to pay for use.
We were asked to pay 50,000 IDR for three hours, but I watched the family next to us get charged double so put your bartering pants on. Crystal Bay is known for its crystal clear waters and is a great snorkel and dive spot. It’s most famous for divers around the world to see the mola mola, the heaviest bony fish in the world. We found the reef here impressive and we had a great experience.
Crystal Bay was our very first stop on Nusa Penida and I was so happy we made it before noon. After lunch it seemed all the day tours made their way here and the bay quickly became overrun with what seemed like hundreds of people.
Palm Tree Lane
As the crowds came we made the decision to leave Crystal Bay, but not before staying around Palm Tree Lane to grab some photos nearby. When exiting Crystal Bay you’ll notice that if you keep going straight instead of turning left a long paved road full of crazy high palm trees lay ahead. A fun place to take photos with hardly any traffic.
This is an amazing spot famous for the awesome effect created by the tide pool. We ran out of time to make our way to Angel’s Billabong on Nusa Penida. However, you’ve probably seen the amazing natural effect on social media. We’ve heard getting in and out of the tidal pool can be super tricky due to sharp rocks. Mind your step and if you can pick up some water shoes or Tevas.
Another great sunset spot on Nusa Penida is Banah Cliffs. You’ll need a motorbike to get here as the road is not suitable for cars. Once here you’ll have breathtaking views over the cliff face. You can see the backside of Kelingkilng from here, and if you keep walking around you’ll find more amazing viewpoints and an arch over the ocean.
We were lucky enough to see tons of Manta Rays from above. Just make sure to be careful around these cliff faces, one wrong step and it’s game over.
Day Trip to Nusa Penida
Of course you don’t have to stay on the Nusa Islands. There are many day tours operating from Bali that will handle all logistics for you and take you to some of the best stops. See some of those tour options here.
Plan your trip to the Nusa Islands
- Travel Insurance: We never travel without travel insurance from World Nomads. Natasha is a bit of a worry wart and would rather stay safe than sorry. World Nomads is ideal for flexible and great plans!
- Water: The tap water in Indonesia is not drinkable. Make sure to bring a travel water bottle and fill up from the large tanks which can be found almost everywhere. Indonesia and the Nusa Islands have a huge plastic waste problem so try your hardest not to contribute to it. One of our favorites is the Lifestraw Go.
- Adapter: Indonesia uses the Europlug. Pick up a good universal travel adaptor before you arrive.
- Packing: It can get real dusty riding around the Nusa Islands on a motorbike. Wearing a buffwill protect your face from all the dirt.
- Going to all the Nusa Islands? Make sure you read all the things to know about Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Lembongan.
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