1. Start from Sanur harbour.
There are plenty of boats heading to Nusa Penida throughout the day. The fast boats take 40-45 minutes. It’s important to travel with a reliable company since the fast boats can often be late or have mechanical problems.
I recommend “El Rey Junior”, a slightly bigger vessel with a capacity of 120 seats. (Bigger boats are better if you suffer from seasickness – they rock around less.) I had a straight-forward and relatively smooth journey there and back, but I’m still glad I took a seasickness pill before I got on because a couple people with sensitive stomachs were unwell.
Tip #1: Arrange the boat ticket before – don’t show up at Sanur and try to buy the tickets there, you’ll end up paying twice as much. Same goes for tours on Nusa Penida. If you arrive without a pre-booked tour, guides will mark up their prices on the spot – because unless you rent a motorbike yourself, they’re the only way you’ll get to see the sights.
Tip #2: You have to wade through the sea in order to reach and board the boat at Sanur harbour. For this reason it’s better to go wearing flip flops and shorts. Don’t wear long trousers (unless you can roll them up) or they’ll get soaked, making the next 45 minutes rather uncomfortable.
2. Choose West Nusa or East Nusa.
The west side of the island is by far the more popular one – that’s where all those photos you’ve seen online have been taken. They are the four most scenic spots:
- Angel’s Billabong. A natural tidal pool, only safe to swim at low tide – it was absolutely crazy when I went. See point 10!
- Broken Beach. A picturesque stone archway; the actual beach itself is inaccessible, lying at the foot of a steep cliff.
- Kelingking Beach. Possibly the most beautiful beach on earth, fantastic views from above it too.
- Crystal Bay. A great beach for swimming and sunbathing.
Fewer tourists visit the East side of the island, so if you can’t stand the crowds or you’ve got time to spare on a multi-day trip, it’s worth checking out these spots too:
- Atuh. Another gorgeous beach.
- Raja Lima. Breathtaking views.
- Gili Putri Cave. A Balinese Hindu cave temple.
- Teletubbies Hills. Green rolling hills named for their resemblance to the Teletubbies’ home.
2. It’s busy.
Just a few years ago Nusa Penida was a deserted slice of paradise not yet steamrollered by the Indonesian tourism industry. Now, thanks to the popularity of photo-sharing platforms like Instagram, the masses have descended. The four most popular destinations on the West Nusa Penida Tour are usually crowded with visitors jostling for the perfect picture.
When I went, long queues of tourists snaked up the trail above Kelingking beach, all of them waiting their turn in the best selfie spot. If you are similarly snapshot-oriented be prepared to wait in line — and if you were expecting peace and quiet, you may be in for a shock!
It’s a good idea to visit during off-peak season (avoid June or July). Alternatively, consider staying overnight.
4. Staying overnight is an option.
Decide what kind of experience you want and/or have time for. Do you want to experience Nusa Penida’s true spirit, or is ticking off the sights enough? Do you have time to spare, or only a day free?
On a day trip you will be surrounded by tourists from dawn until dusk and feel rushed; nonetheless you will still get to see the major sights. On the other hand, staying overnight gives you the opportunity to experience the island’s rural tranquility.
There are plenty of bungalows and guesthouses available to help you enjoy the relaxed pace of life on Nusa Penida, plus you’ll get to see the best spots during sunrise/sunset after the crowds have left. I’ve heard good things about the Namaste Bungalows, Bintang Bungalows and the hotel Coco Resort Penida. Bear in mind that all accommodations will be basic.
5. Confirmed: it is as stunning as the pictures.
Spectacular vistas, blow-you-away beautiful beaches and lush foliage — people are coming here for a reason. The ocean glitters around the perfect crescent of golden sand that is Kelingking beach. Sheer cliffs and rugged terrain drop down to bluer-than-blue waters just about everywhere.
No rabble of tourists detracts from how good it looks. This is, without a doubt, a place of striking natural beauty with no bad angles. Every sight is unspoilt, every beach seems brighter and clearer than the last. Treasure it!
6. The roads are bad.
Zipping around on rented scooters/motorbikes is popular with tourists; while certainly the cheaper option, the reality is that motorbiking around Nusa Penida can be dangerous.
First-timers have lived to tell the tale, sure, but I think as a general rule it’s better not to take that risk — if you’re not a highly experienced driver, it’s not for you. The main roads close to the harbour are in good condition but the trails you need to take further inland to get to all the beautiful spots are a bumpy, chunky, winding mess of potholes, sandy rocks, infrequent asphalt and very steep hills. They’re also rammed with SUVs taking day-trippers back and forth.
Either hop on the back of a scooter with a local guide or get a private driver (the pricier option). I went with the former and was immensely relieved I did, it was a lot easier. If you take a car tour you will spend the day rocking and rattling around from one destination to the next, so be sure to take nausea meds if you’re prone to motion sickness.
- If you do decide to go with the motorbike, know that you officially need a license to drive it on Nusa Penida. You can bring an International Driving License or get a temporary tourist license at an office in Denpasar on Bali. If you get injured driving without a license you travel insurance will be invalidated and you’ll have to pay for your own medical care.
- Tip: It’s more efficient to ride motorbikes in the west part of the island, which has poorer infrastructure but shorter distances between destinations. The situation in the east part of the island is the reverse: better infrastructure and longer distances, making it the better option to explore in a rented car with the help of a local driver.
7. Prepare for poor infrastructure.
Nusa Penida is a huge island with 14 villages scattered pretty far apart from each other. Of the three Nusa islands, it is the most undeveloped. This is not necessarily a bad thing — if you’re ready for it, it won’t be a problem. Let’s say it helps to have an adventurous spirit.
For starters, you need to bring cash as you won’t find an ATM machine. As my previous point mentions, you should explore, at least initially, with a local guide. The internet is unreliable. Some cafes have wifi, but it can be dodgy and slow. 3G is similarly sluggish or non-existent (so don’t plan to rely on it for GPS).
On the topic of cafes – don’t expect culinary greatness. Food is hit and miss – some good places, some not-so-good places. I didn’t stay long enough to be able to recommend any, but a quick search online should reveal promising options so be sure to have them in mind before you go.
8. Destinations are further apart than they appear on the map.
It can take an hour or more to get between spots. If you are on a day tour you will spend most of your time in transit — another good reason to consider staying overnight.
9. That flaming ball of gas in the sky is no joke.
Not to be your naggy travel mum regurgitating the same old common sense, but really — make sure you bring all the important bits. I’m talking sunblock, sunglasses, a hat. Drink water like it’s in limited supply. Find shade frequently. I’m only saying this because I got absolutely spit-roasted by the sun here and I’m going to save you from the same fate.
10. Crazy waves come in June.
I couldn’t match the Angel’s Billabong I saw to all the calm, peaceful photos I’d seen online. The biggest waves I’ve ever seen came crashing in and exploded off the rocks, pushed towards us like monster-sized clouds by the coastal breeze. At Kelingking beach the water looked equally as disturbed. Apparently June is the worst month for this; east winds from Australia hit Indonesia especially hard around this time, causing huge waves. The rest of the year the water seems much more calm, so if you’re planning on getting in it then don’t visit in June.
If you have any questions about Nusa Penida, feel free to leave a comment and I will get back to you!