The Penida Islands are clustered southeast of Bali about 30 km (20 miles) offshore and are comprised of Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Penida, which is the largest. The islands were very sleepy and undeveloped until Instagram made Kelingking Beach, which is located on the southwest side of Nusa Penida, famous. Since then tourists (mostly the millennial Instagram crowd) have been steadily ramping up. I’m sure you’ve seen a picture of Kelingking before but just didn’t know what it was called and where it was lcoated. Now you do!
Until a few years ago there were no cars on the island and everyone got around on mopeds. Infrastructure was slowly being built, but then a magnitude 7.0 earthqauke during the summer of 2018 shut down tourism on the nearby Gili and Lombok islands, diverting crowds to Nusa Penida. Demand for transportation skyrocketed and now there are several hundred cars (all brand new) on the island that serve as taxis. Every morning they congregate around the two ferry landings and disperse within an hour to the tourist sites around the island. The problem is, at least half the roads are unpaved and they are all two lane scooter roads – which translates to one lane (maybe 1.5) car roads. So transportation is challenging but they are working to improve it. The island is going through hyper growth to try and keep up with demand.
We came here for the same reason everyone else did: we saw a picture. We also talked to previous travelers who said it was a must see. Thankfully we booked several days on the island of Nusa Penida because we were not loving Bali proper – it’s too crowded – and needed to find a sanctuary.
We departed Ubud at 9am and caught the 10:30 fast ferry from Sanur. We opted to stay on Nusa Penida for all of the reasons above, and to get an early start to our days, so went to our hotel after arriving. We had a driver meet us at 13:30 pm and we did the East Island tour in the afternoon to see Diamond and Atuh beaches as well as other sites in the area. By the time we got done going down to and exploring Diamond Beach (plus flying the drone) it was already 4pm and we were dying of heat under the Bali sun. We opted not to hike down to Atuh Beach (but the girls did) because the tide had gone out and the water had receded exposing the broken coral so the photo op and ambience wasn’t the same. Instead we sat on the bluff above drinking beers from the local cantina. It was late in the day and everyone was gassed so we opted not to do the treehouse or the temple.
Our goal the next morning was to be on the road by 7:30 am, which was kind of late (most blogs said get there at 7:30, not leave at 7:30), and see the West Island sites, with Kalingking being the highlight. In the end everyone was moving slow so we didn’t leave until 8am and it was an hour drive on some really rough roads. Despite the late start, we pulled into the Kelingking parking lot at 9am and there was no one there. We jumped out and ran to the top of the trail and had the descent to ourselves.
Kelingking is a peninsula that juts out into the Indian Ocean. From the top it looks like the head of a T-Rex and is affectionately referred to as T-Rex point. The trail down the ‘spine’ of the dinosaur has cliffs on either side that drop precipitously (400 meters / 1350 ft) into the sea. You can see all the pictures, and even watch the videos, but being there in person is magical (rarely does reality exceed the hype!). The descent itself is EPIC with the grade varying between 45-90 deg. It seems the 400 m of elevation is covered by about 420 m of trail. It took us 45 minutes to get down and then everyone wanted to chill on the beach. I was a bit antsy because I knew the tourist hoard was catching up to us, and sure enough they did. We climbed out from Kelingking Beach to find hundreds of people lined up at the top taking pictures, flying drones, doing what tourists do. We made it to Broken Beach by 11:30 and it was over-run with people. The tourist time bomb goes off at 10am (an hour from when they get off the ferry). We did our tour and took our pictures, but we were one of the masses at that point. Next to Broken Beach is a beautiful tidal pool called Angels Billabong. The pools used to be open for swimming but were closed due to dozens of tourist deaths over the past few years. Unless you are experienced with reading water and tidal conditions we would recommend that you DO NOT swim at Angels Billabong. We paused for lunch before spending the afternoon at Crystal Bay, then returned to our hotel to escape the heat.
The next morning we went snorkeling to see mantas, but there weren’t any to be found. We did jump in at four locations to see the fish and coral reefs. All of the guides say that you go to Nusa Penida to see the mantas, not the coral, and we would agree. We relaxed that afternoon and the girls did more yoga at the hotel before having a great final evening meal at a beach-side restaurant.
We enjoyed Nusa Penida, and the time away from Bali proper, but we could tell that we have been on the road a long time. When you see so many things and have so many great experiences, it’s hard to motivate the family for “one more scooter adventure” or “one more hike to XYZ”. We wound up chillaxing at the hotel, which is also just fine. We headed out in the morning for our final stop on this trip: Canggu on Bali proper.
Nusa Penida Travel Tips / Advice:
What to do : You can come here and rent a moped or driver and explore on your own. However, the sites are clustered together so there are really two tours: East Island and West Island. It takes an hour to drive to each from the ferry landings. Note that the distance is probably only 10-15km so you can get a sense of the roads….
East Island is focused around Atuh and Diamond Beaches. Both are stunning – and there is a cliff top viewing point between them. On this end of the island you can also go to the tree houses and an underground monastery. There is an entrance fee for Diamond and Atuh Beaches of 10,000 IRD per person.
West Island is focused around Kalingking Beach, Broken Beach, and Angel’s Billabong. There is also Crystal Bay. There is an entrance fee for Kelingking Beach of 5,000 and it’s also 5,000 for Broken Beach / Angel’s Billabong.
Tour Options: You can get to Nusa Penida from multiple ports, with most fast boats leaving from Sanur. The crossing took us 30-40 min in smooth water. Note that you have to wade through the surf at Sanur so anything below your thighs is subject to getting wet. If you are day tripping, the boat leaves at 8am and will be packed. There has to be 500-1000 people that go over in the morning to explore the island. When you land you will be bombarded by people offering moped and taxi rentals. The going rate for a moped is 70-75,000 IDR (for 24 hours) and the going rate for a taxi is 600,000 IDR. You will only have time to do East or West, you can’t do both in a day. Here’s my ranking of the attractions:
1) Kelingking Beach: This was the highlight of the Island. Kelingking could be #1-#5 on our list – it’s that big and magnificent. We were there prior to the main tourist horde and had the descent and beach to ourselves. They have recently upgraded the railing from lashed together sticks to a sturdy teak railing cemented into the ground. This allowed you to climb down (and up) on all fours – there really wasn’t another way to do it. The new railing runs out about 3/4 of the way down and you scramble the remaining 100 meters holding onto loosely secured sticks. Kelingking Beach is clean and cared for by some caretakers. The surf surges in and out so you have to be careful not to get swept out by large sets of waves.
2) Diamond Beach: The stairway down to Diamond Beach is almost as hair raising as Kelingking, and possibly more dangerous. The beach was not accessible until very recently when some locals used jackhammers to carve a staircase into the 100 meter (330 ft) cliff face. It switches back three times, but there is no railing at the switchbacks, nor on the last 15 meter (50 ft) descent. Diamond Beach from above is magnificent. However, the vibe goes away a bit once you are at the water level because of the garbage on the beach. Also, everyone who went into the water, which required walking on some of the rocks, got tar on their hands and feet, which is left over some previous oil spill.
3) Atuh Beach / Lookout: The view from the lookout between the two beaches is stunning. It’s also an amazing vantage point to fly a drone. Take your time to soak in the views of the five islands that sit just offshore. You can then descent down a steep trail to Atuh Beach, which is set in a cove with a nice sandy beach. Atuh Beach is best experienced at high tide. Once the tide goes out it exposes long broken coral flats which are not that pretty to look at and dangerous to traverse. There is a trail up the other cliff face to another lookout that has a great view looking south past an arch and towards Diamond Beach.
4) Broken Beach: There is a big gap between #1-3 and Broken Beach at #4. The surging surf has carved a cavern which appears to have collapse creating a round pool that is open to the sea via an arch that you can walk over. This scene serves as the backdrop for a quick selfie and then people are off to Angel’s Billabong and then other sites.
5) Angel’s Billabong: The sea has created a terrace tidal pool carved in the lava rock that fills at high tide. It makes for a great photo op, but can also be very dangerous. At high tides surging waves have unexpectedly flooded the tide and caused injury to unsuspecting tourists. In 2018 there were multiple incidents where tourists were swept out to sea and died. The tide pool was closed when we were there due to the surf conditions, but we also saw it open when we were on our snorkeling trip.
6) Crystal Bay: An idyllic beach for sunbathing, swiming and pictures. This is not a must see but worth an afternoon visit if you have time. You can rent umbrella covered sun lounges for 50,000 IRD and snorkel gear for 75,000 IRD. The snorkeling is average.
Recommended Approach: If I had just a day, I would go to Nusa Penida and do Kelingking. It’s a must see, even if you just see it from the top of the trail. But I would not recommend a day trip to Nusa Penida. You can do all of Nusa Penida with a one night stay. You would take a morning ferry and do the East Island in the afternoon. I would spend the night in a hotel and be on the road by 7am or earlier. This gives you enough time to see all of the west end highlights before the day trippers flood the sites, and spend the afternoon in Crystal Bay before catching a 5pm ferry back to Sanur. This seems to be the best value. We stayed two more nights and didn’t need to in the end. We went snorkeling to see mantas, but they weren’t there. The fish and reefs are just meh compared to other places on the planet. You go snorkeling for the mantas. There was probably more exploring we could have done via scooter but it was DAMN HOT in the afternoons and we were also a bit concerned about all the tourist traffic on the roads.
Where to Stay: There are a few hotels on Nusa Penida proper and many more are being built. We stayed around Toyapakeh landing at the Hotel Arsa Santhi. It’s a simple but nice hotel with pool, yoga studio, restaurant, and a short 5 minute walk to the beach. Rooms were $44USD which was a good value. There are AirBnBs on the Nusa Islands, with most of them located on the more developed Nusa Lembongan.
Where to Eat: There are many emerging eateries and beach bars on Nusa Penida. We ate at Ba Bar Kitchen, which serves pizza, pasta and burgers. We also ate at Organica, which had some amazing curries, smoothies and other dishes. We enjoyed an evening beach side meal at Penida Colada. All were great and reasonably priced.