This tiny island is untouched by any form of tourism and access other than by sea is via a 100m (328 ft.) bright yellow bridge from the southeastern side of Nusa Lembongan, wide enough only for either a bicycle or moped. This beautiful little place has no official accommodation other than home-stays, nor indeed any litter. What it does have is neat and well-tended stone walls, trees, and shades of old coconut plantations. It makes a very pleasant trip and you will likely not meet any other tourists. The locals are friendly and it is virtually impossible to get lost.
In the channel between Nusa Lembongan and Ceningan, no more than 500m (1,640 ft.) apart, are the seaweed farms that support the livelihoods of many of the islanders. Guided tours teach you about seaweed farming, ultimately drawing the conclusion that it is a lot of hard work for not a huge amount of financial gain. Seaweed farmers earn between Rp3,000 and Rp8,000 per kilo of seaweed harvested. Still, it is a living, with a fresh harvest every 4 to 6 weeks.
The Jaringan Ekowisata Desa (JED) Conservation (tel. 0361/737447; www.jed.or.id), translated as the Village Ecotourism Network, offers educational trips with a farmer who shows you how the locals harvest seaweed. You also learn how to make food from seaweed, including cakes. A trip for two to four people is US$130 per person; five or more people US$105 per person. Price includes all transfers, overnight accommodation in a home-stay, meals, and an all-day guide. JED can also arrange trips if you are not interested in staying the night.
A great surf break here is called simply Ceningan, off the coast between Lembongan and Ceningan. It works when the breaks on the other side of Lembongan don't. This is also known as the Secret Spot.
Nusa Penida is the Bali, or even the Lembongan, that time left behind. It is a mainly dry and somewhat desolate landscape where nature and wildlife have been left to their own devices. Known to the outside world for being either a formal penal colony or, to the believers of Bali, as the home of Jero Gede Mecaling, the evil spirit with his horde of devils that is warded off by the Barong Landung dance around Galungang.
Nusa Penida's main attraction is the incredible flora and fauna found scuba diving the crystal clear waters or exploring cliffs that drop deep into the sea. The island straddles the Wallace Line and its northeastern shores have the most incredible view up the Lombok Strait. Birdlife has remained left alone and many endangered species have prospered.
Rich in many of the simple things, this is a charming island of natural beauty and not even the increasing number of day-trippers, neither those who come for the diving nor the Quicksilver clients in their floating pavilion, can detract from its charms.
A daily market in Sampalan is open in the early morning from about 5 to 10am selling local and imported (from Bali) fruit and vegetables.
Most people arrive on Nusa Penida at Toyapakeh beach from Lembongan or, if arriving on the public boat from Padangbai, at the main port in the administrative capital of Sampalan. Boats should leave Padangbai for Penida at 7am and 2pm (Rp30,000 one-way) from the ferry terminal but are not always reliable. They return from Nusa Penida at 9am and 4pm. Small boat owners will also take you to the island for the right price. Prepare to bargain. If you are only staying a night, you can even negotiate a return fare as the boatman can usually find some cheap accommodation for the night.
Public boats depart daily from Yellow Bridge (Lembongan) at 6am in front of Ceningan Island. They can be a bit sketchy at times and are usually very crowded. There is no same-day return. The ride across is approximately 90 minutes; they only leave when full. The current fare is Rp300,000 for charter boat transfers (Scoot Boat tel. 08/7861323761). You can always hire your own boat, ask any fisherman or inquire at any of the big hotels on Nusa Lembongan.
The Public Boat to Nusa Penida from Padangbai -- In the summer of 2009, one local boat going to Nusa Penida capsized and all of the passengers died. Surprisingly, most Balinese cannot swim.
Fast Facts -- The police station, hospital (tel. 0366/23582), any banks, and the main harbor are in Sampalan. The two main Banks, Bank Bri and Bank LPD, are on the main street near the hospital. Neither have an ATM although they will change money for you. Both are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 3pm. A Western Union (tel. 0366/31880) in Sampalan should give credit card advances. The island has little or no Internet service.
Exploring Nusa Penida
Arrange a guide in advance through your hotel or villa or alternatively hire a bike and guide when you arrive on the beach at Toyapakeh. You will easily encounter people offering to take you on an escorted motorbike ride round the island or snorkeling. Typically, they will charge in the region of Rp150,000 to Rp200,0000 for a full day, which should include your bike and petrol. A trip on the back of a bike to the Bat Cave alone will cost up to Rp100,000 per person per bike and guide/driver. If you want to rent your own bike for your own tour of the island, a bike will cost around Rp80,000 for the day. A local chap who takes regular tours and is knowledgeable and friendly is Rod (tel. 08/1805333747).
Other trips on the island are to Telaga, which is the center for weaving, or to the temples at either Semaya or at the top of Mount Mundi. Alternatively, you can swim in a beautiful waterfall fed by a natural spring just a 2km (1 1/4-mile) walk from Batumadeg, although you will have to get a guide to lead you.
Temples -- Though known as the Bat Cave, to be honest, Pura Goa Giri Putri only has so many bats. Regardless, this is quite extraordinary and justifies a day trip to Penida. About 45 minutes by bike from Toyabungkah, you arrive at a fairly featureless point and start climbing the 100 or so steep carved stone steps. At the top is a temple where you make a small donation and then you will be taken into the cave. You wriggle through the entrance, no bigger than a man hole. The cave then starts opening up and continues on for about 250m (820 ft.) rising to some 100m (328 ft.) in height in the middle. A series of temples in the cave are partially lit. At the far end, you arrive at the other side of the mountain and peer out to a verdant green tree-lined valley that is almost Provençal. You have literally just walked through the mountain.
Back at the start, you have a view up the Lombok Strait, with Bali to the west and Lombok to the east. You are effectively straddling the Wallace Line. On a clear morning, as the sun is still climbing, the view from here is breathtaking.
The main temple on the island is Pura Penaturan Ped, an extensive and charming temple on the road out of Sampalan with lots of carvings. Various other temples line the road, such as Batu Mulapan, many of them similarly carved in limestone.
Bird-Watching -- The interior of Penida has been mainly left alone and nature has been allowed to keep hold. This is a place for professional twitchers. The Nusa Penida Bird Sanctuary (tel. 0361/977978; www.fnpf.org), part of the Friends of the National Parks Foundation (FNPF) and also now sponsored by the Begawan Giri Foundation, is on the road east of Sampalan and has possibly the most Bali starlings found in any one place. The Bali starling was at one stage the most endangered bird in the world, with only seven in the wild. The biggest challenge to rearing birds in the wild, other than poaching, is the proper water and trees to provide the right habitat. Since its inception in 2002, the Nusa Penida Bird Sanctuary has planted some 115,000 trees. The foundation has also managed to get all the villages of Penida to sign an agreement stating they will help preserve the wildlife on the island -- indeed the whole island is now a bird sanctuary. Contact the Bird Sanctuary at the Bali Bird Park just north of Sanur for more information on organizing a birding tour.
Diving -- Though Nusa Penida is best known as a diving destination, most of the best-known dive schools are based on Nusa Lembongan. The whole Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan area offers drift-diving in mild to strong currents. The water can be chilly but is often startlingly clear (with visibility between 15 -- 40m/49 -- 131 ft.), with gorgeous corals and prolific fish, some turtles, sharks, and, July to mid-November, Mola-Mola (the weird and wonderful-looking ocean sunfish). If you are staying on mainland Bali, you may find it easier and less hassle with boat-transport to also book diving at Nusa Penida/Lembongan with a mainland operator.
The three main north coast sites -- SD, Ped, and Sental -- have many soft corals and fish, such as sweetlips, lionfish, moray eels, scorpionfish and reef sharks, plus turtles, nudis, and crabs.
Toyapakeh, Nusa Penida's most popular dive site, has good visibility and rich, impressive coral formations with big bommies and a profusion of colorful soft corals that provide excellent hiding places for Ribbon eels, banded sea snakes, and nudibranches. If you are here late afternoon, you may see Mandarin fish.
Although a small area, Gamat Bay has soft corals, gorgonians, and hard corals (including table corals) and is thus full of reef fish -- some quite rare -- commensals, and nudibranches. On the outside slope are big bommies, overhangs, and small caves that provide resting places for larger fish. This is also a cleaning station for the ever-popular Mola-Mola.
Crystal Bay is best known for sightings of Mola-Mola in the July to mid-November season, when water temp can reach 19°C (66°F). While the bay itself is quite beautiful, with good numbers and variety of fish plus gorgeous corals, it also has a Bat Cave. You enter from underwater then surface inside the cave, which is open to the sky, and watch the bats overhead. On the deep wall after the Bat Cave you can often see eagle rays and (if you are lucky) the wobbegong shark, only found in Bali.
Manta Point on Penida's southwest coast has dramatic limestone cliffs that descend straight into the ocean. The swell and surge however can be strong. The mantas seen here are 2 to 4m (6 1/2 -- 13 ft.) in size at an average depth of 5 to 10m (16 -- 33 ft.); you may see other big fish such as Mola-Mola, bamboo sharks, shark rays, tuna, tiger mackerel, and dolphins, while the smaller fish include other rays and unicornfish.
Malibu Point, on southeast Penida, lies on a very steep slope, with table corals and big bommies. There are huge schools of rainbow runners, big trevallys, and rays. Malibu Point is Penida's best location to see a variety of sharks.
Batu Abah, on the far side of Penida, is known for mantas and Mola-Mola. You need a fast and sturdy boat to reach Batu Abah within a reasonable time.
Dive Schools on Penida
The dive school outside of Sampalan branded Quicksilver shows no evidence of PADI certification. The Quicksilver website states quite proudly that they have insurance cover up to US$100 per person. An introductory dive is advertised at US$115 against US$45 for an accredited school such as World Diving on Lembongan (a short boat ride from Penida), where many accredited dive schools are based.
Manta Point -- You have two ways to see the resident manta rays: one is obviously from the sea but the other is from directly on the cliffs at Manta Point. The best chance of seeing them is to get there about 8:30am or an hour thereafter. It will take you up to 2 hours to get there by bike from Toyabunkah.
Snorkeling -- For snorkeling, a lot of people head straight for Crystal Bay, making it feel a little crowded, particularly given the island's remote location and the number of other bays close at hand. While you should be observant of currents and not simply head off on your own, you may find it more rewarding to pull in to some of the other bays and snorkel there.
Where to Stay & Dine
You have few, if any, real choices for staying on Nusa Penida. For those comfortable with braving the elements, here are your choices: Made Homestay (tel. 08/5238814998; Rp100,000 standard, Rp120,000 twin; rates include coffee for breakfast; no credit cards) is four basic but clean bungalows of Balinese carved stone in a delightful garden. Cold water and fans are the order of the day. The beachside Mutiara Mas Bungalows (tel. 08/1337077590; Rp120,000 no A/C, Rp150,000 with A/C; no credit cards) are just 10 twin rooms, with either air-conditioning or a fan. Facilities include a couple of bales and even a volleyball court. It is a beautiful spot, though the dodgy (and not in the least bit artistic) Art Market is just next door as is the charmless Quicksilver Dive Operation.
For dining, there are various local warungs but none of real note, so just pick a busy one and hope for the best.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.