Jason’s Trot: Nusa Penida
Bali is, for all intents and purposes, a major tourist destination, filled with, well, tourists. There is no denying that at all. However, if you want a little escape away from the main island for a little peace and quiet, and rugged adventure, then Nusa Penida is a very good alternative.
One little interesting tid-bit I learned about Nusa Penida: this island was once the penal colony, a sort of place for exile, for the Balinese of old. Now, it feels like a refuge colony, for those seeking all-terrain explorations or excellent dive sites. You get fantastic views of Bali from the north shore, and you can see why this was the perfect place to be if you (or the Balinese community of old) want to be in exile.
A short 40 minute speedboat ride away from the main landing point on Sanur, Nusa Penida is close enough to Bali that it has become a sort of day-trip destination from Bali, an alternative to the somewhat party isle of Nusa Lembongan. I will be honest: do not expect much, Nusa Penida is very, very rustic.
But this rustic-ness is the charm of Nusa Penida. While you may get a slight shock when you get off the boat when you arrive, this raw beauty in the form of rickety country roads, rugged terrain and a dearth of built-up space makes for a refreshing experience.
Dirt Trails Galore
The roads in Nusa Penida are, to be honest, questionable. With the exception of a few sections that have been maintained, on the whole, roads away from the main north and west shores are almost gravel-like. Great for an off-road moto-session.
On arrival at the pier, there are options for renting motorbikes, which is a fun way to explore the island, but unless you are a capable rider, you can either get a motorbike with a driver and ride pillion, or get a car. Riding in Nusa Penida is not the same as riding in Bali, and some stretches can get very, very (very) challenging, especially towards the south-east.
Beaches, Cliffs and Holy Springs
The beauty of Nusa Penida is best experienced on her beaches, cliff-side walks and rugged drops. There is a certain charm about this island, despite it being somewhat dry, without as much dense vegetation compared to Bali. However, this does transport your mind to somewhere else, a wind-swept island, a perfect retreat.
There are quite a number of stunning beaches, mostly concentrated on the western and south-western end of the island. As with most destinations that have appeared on the radar, expect crowds, particularly day-trippers from Nusa Lembongan and Bali. If you time your visits right, you can either catch the tail-end of them, or leave just as they come in.
If you are a bit more adventurous and want a good workout, then the holy spring by the Peguyangan Waterfall, a temple perched at the bottom of a cliff, where a natural spring meets the sea below, provides for a stunning experience, both for a meditative but challenging walk down, and the views of sheer falls from the cliffs above.
If there was one iconic picture of adventure, travel and wanderlust, it would be one taken when looking down towards Kelingking Beach from the top of the Kelingking Peninsula. This spot has been made famous thanks to Instagram, and it is not hard to see why: the spot is stunningly photogenic. It can get crowded around lunchtime, so come by around lunch, have something to eat and wait for the crowds to thin out before heading down.
However, the beach at the bottom of the steep descent down is well worth the effort, but not suggested if you are on a tight day-trip from the main island. Once you are at the bottom, enjoy the crystal clear waters, white powdery sand and the knowledge that you just scaled down a collection of rickety bamboo ladders held by, well, let’s not go there.
Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach are also iconic spots in Nusa Penida. Both are next to each other, with both getting very packed during day-trip and tour sessions around 10/11 am. Very ingenious local residents have identified the best places for selfies or photo opportunity spots, and these are clearly marked, and are there for a reason: the angle is just right.
Angel’s Billabong is very nice, but beware of the steep, slippery stone ledges and waves, that are not as calm as they seem: like the angels of the bible, they look divine but they can smite with a vengeance.
Broken Beach, just a short 5 minute walk away from Angel’s Billabong, is a sink-hole with a stone arch, and clear water down below. This spot is arguably a very close contender to the ‘iconic Nusa Penida shot,’ and the rugged beauty of the terrain makes it easy to see why. Come by just before lunch, when the tour groups leave for Kelingking Beach, if you want the place quieter.
After seeing Kelingking Beach, Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach, Crystal Bay may suddenly feel not as stunning. Crystal Bay is a pretty bay, a secluded harbour with a good spot to see the sunset, but to be honest, it just makes me appreciate Kelingking Beach that much more.
While you can squeeze in all the main highlights of Nusa Penida’s West Coast in a day-trip, you will not get to experience the whole island in her rugged beauty. The ride down to the cliff temple brings you through rolling hills and quaint villages. The ride along the north shore brings you past some of the best views of Mt Agung. The thought of spending a few hours on Kelingking Beach does not sound out of the question when there is no boat to catch.
However, as this is pretty much the sticks, facilities, street lighting and infrastructure are limited. Wifi may be spotty and mobile reception is focused on the north and west sides of the island. Perfect if you want to unplug, chill and do basically nothing. Plus, the sunset views get that much better when there are no big crowds blocking your view as the main chunk of the crowds leave at 4pm.
To the island - There are quite a number of operators that go to Nusa Penida from Sanur. Most provide one-way transport to the ferry point if you book in advance. I used Maruti Express Boat, with a return fare of IDR 550,000
On the island – 3 options, either a) rent your own bike for around IDR 60,000/day, b) rent a bike with a driver for around IDR 200,000/day or c) rent a car with a driver for IDR 700,000/day
Stay?: Accommodation is limited on Nusa Penida, with most properties under 20 rooms, and concentrated on the northern and eastern sides of the island. Book in advance of your trip!
Jason is a world traveller and avid seeker of high perches, on a mission to capture the unique experiences that makes destinations iconic.