Everyone has heard of Bali, and most have heard of it’s neighbouring island of Lombok. However, until the last few years, relatively few people knew anything at all about the beautiful island nestled between the two – Nusa Penida.
Nusa Penida has seen massive growth recently and a huge influx of tourists, all heading for the island’s iconic beaches, especially the Insta-famous Kelingking Beach, known for being one of the most inaccessible but beautiful beaches in Asia.
Getting to and from Nusa Penida
We found a really easy way to get to Bali’s neighbouring islands – we used a company called Giliferries.com to get to and from Nusa Penida as they searched through lots of different ferry providers for us, which made it really easy to choose the option we wanted. Basically I looked at pictures of the boats and chose the one with an open top deck so we wouldn’t feel seasick. Win.
Getting around the Island
Nusa Penida is relatively tiny when compared to Bali or Lombok, but getting around the island can take a few hours due to the state of the roads. There’s a main road which circles the island, snaking up and down hills and giving incredible views of the coastline. From that road, you can take the little side roads into the island’s interior or out towards the many beaches and iconic viewpoints.
If you read any blogs about Nusa Penida, one thing they’re all very clear on is that the roads are in an awful condition and you absolutely should not ride a scooter here unless you know what you’re doing. The second thing you read is that the only real way to see the island is by scooter, as this island is not built for cars, and has zero public transport. So on our first day here we hired scooters (something Rebecca specifically promised her mum she wouldn’t do) and set off to explore.
It soon became apparent that the roads of Nusa Penida are definitely the worst we’ve seen in our travels so far – the ridiculously steep hills, tight turns and crazy potholes all make riding around the island a huge challenge. Saying that, there’s heaps of improvement works going on – I’d say that in a couple of years the roads to all the main attractions will be newly paved, making them slightly less dangerous.
It’s amazingly easy to get a scooter here – you don’t need to show a driving license or passport, we just asked for scooters and were given the keys. One thing that we were shocked by was the number of westerners not wearing helmets whilst on their scooters. On an island that’s notorious for it’s dangerous road conditions, why on earth would you ride around without a helmet? It seems crazy, especially when you definitely aren’t covered by insurance if you have an accident. Blakey, Rebecca and I all wore helmets. We might not be the cool kids, but we’re the safe ones.
Nusa Penida’s Beautiful Beaches
Well one thing we’ve learned is that if you want to experience the beauty of this island, you’ve got to work for it. The most beautiful beaches here are really inaccessible – usually down a crazy gravel roadway full of potholes, loose stones and big hills. Then, if you successfully navigate the road, at the end of it you’ll find yourself standing on the edge of a huge cliff, gazing down at a pristine stretch of sand.
However, to get to that perfect beach, you have to clamber down the side of the cliff. The paths all seem to start well, with actual stairs, even a handrail if you’re really lucky… but they soon become little more that footholds cut into the rock, maybe a rope hanging down in a token effort to stop you plunging to your death…
On our first day we headed to Diamond Beach, which looked beyond beautiful from the top of the cliff. However, after climbing most of the way down, we hit a section of path that pretty much required rock climbing skills and I totally chickened out – I’m super scared of heights. It was frustrating after all the effort involved in getting there, but I just could not go any further. Blakey continued alone while Rebecca and I sat on halfway up the cliff watching the Instagram girls posing below. Always fun.
After that absolute fail, we started the second day with a new determination. This was the day we would definitely get to the beach. And not just any beach – the famous Kelingking Beach.
It took well over an hour to drive the 17 miles from our guesthouse to Kelingking, with the usual tight turns, terrible roads etc etc. However, when we got there we were rewarded with one of thee most beautiful views of our travels. The headland stretched out to sea, looking like a t-rex with it’s mouth open. The beach looked perfect, the sea was turquoise blue and inviting. We were definitely walking down to this one.
Everyone wants their iconic Kelingking Beach selfies from the top of the cliffs, so the top of the stairway was heaving with day-trippers from Bali and local guides. Only a tiny percentage of those hundreds of tourists actually make the trek down to the beach as it’s no easy task.
I thought the walk down to Diamond Beach was scary, but that was nothing compared to getting to Kelingking. The path started out fine… steep and narrow but at least there were actual concrete stairs and a sturdy wooden handrail. I didn’t see what all the fuss was about, it was fiiine.
Soon the stairs disappeared and turned to rubble, then to hollows hacked out of a near-vertical rockface… then the handrail turned to spindly bamboo posts lashed together with rope. At some points we had to turn around and descend like it was a ladder, blindly feeling for the next foothold, knowing that if you slipped, that bamboo fence wasn’t going to save you from a long fall.
During all of this, the sun was beating down on our heads, sweat was literally dripping off our noses to splatter on the ground and I was seriously evaluating my life choices. However, we were determined, and eventually we got there. It was gorgeous. The pictures do not do it justice. Kelingking Beach is all the more beautiful for the sheer effort it takes to get there.
We stayed at the beach for most of the day, sprawled out in a shady hollow beneath the cliff, watching the waves and occasionally venturing out to top up our tans. There was even an enterprising local at the bottom of the trail selling pringles and cold beer at massively inflated prices. I don’t know how he got that cool box down there every day, but well played – everyone on the beach seemed in need of a cold beer or two after that climb.
The waves at Kelingking beach are no joke – from the top of the cliff they looked gentle, the water perfect for swimming. Down on the beach it was another story. A few people every year get swept out to sea from that beach, and the powerful current can knock you off your feet even if you’re only knee-deep. We paddled rather than swam.
The journey back to the top of the cliff was horrendous. Rebecca forged on ahead and went up like a pro. Blakey was stuck with me, and I was not having a nice time. The sun was so strong, the path so narrow and scary. I could barely stand to touch the wooden posts because they were so hot. Trying to scale a particularly steep section of rock, I had a panic attack. I was just so scared. We do physically hard stuff all the time – climbing Mount Batur wasn’t exactly easy, and there the height didn’t bother me. I wasn’t scared at all. Climbing up from Kelingking Beach though… I honestly thought there was a good chance I’d fall and seriously hurt myself. I knew I was probably being irrational, but for me it was a huge test of my fear of heights, so there were tears and hyperventilating and generally being a complete scaredy-cat. Blakey was there, super patient and understanding, showing me where to put my feet or hands when I couldn’t see how to get up. He’s such a good egg.
Exhausted and thirsty, we finally made it to the top… where Rebecca straight away handed us cold beers and informed us that she was clearly now our favourite bridesmaid.
Snorkelling with Manta Rays
We woke up the next day feeling the need for a less extreme activity (who knew that going to the beach could be extreme?!) and so we decided to go on a snorkelling trip to find the huge manta rays which are frequently spotted close to shore.
We headed out to sea in a little boat with around eight other people, all really excited to get in the water. One Aussie couple told us it was their third trip in as many days, but their previous two captains hadn’t been able to find the manta rays. Our captain, a young Indonesian who called himself Boney Mars, laughed and said the other captains must be terrible and if he couldn’t find the rays, he’d give them their money back.
We skirted the island and soon reached an area where the manta rays hang out, with really choppy seas crashing against the cliffs. Boney Mars excitedly pointed to a giant shape under the water and yelled at us “Jump! Jump! Manta! Manta!”. We all grabbed our snorkels and jumped out into the rough seas. It was crazy. One minute you’d see this shape in the deeps, then the next minute a huge manta ray would glide silently below you and take your breath away. Then everyone would madly swim after it, flippers whacking you in the head, waves crashing over you, snorkel filling with water, coughing, swimming, trying not to get run over by the boats or drowned by the waves.
It was overwhelming in a really fun way. No lifejackets, no designated snorkel zone or boat-free area, no regard for the close proximity to the cliffside and the crashing waves. Swimming about in rough seas like that tire you out really quickly – Rebecca and I soon found Boney Mars floating along with a life ring and grabbed on. After that it was loads better; we could just cling on to the ring with our faces in the water and see the manta rays gliding past without feeling like we were going to drown every few minutes.
He was a really good guide to be honest. He found the Aussies in the water and made sure he got a picture of them with the manta rays, and then took loads of pictures for everyone and then sent them all to us later in the day, free of charge. He even tried to give us some of the money back when we went to pay him, as he took us to one less snorkelling location than he’d said. We told him to keep the money, we’d had such a fun morning.
Nusa Penida – Is it worth it?
This is a tough one… the island is beyond beautiful, and it feels like the frontier of tourism, a really magical place that’s just finding it’s feet. But if you like comfort and luxury then this is certainly not the place for you. If you want beautiful beaches an easy stroll from your hotel then go somewhere else. If health and safety is a priority, then pass this one by. The charm of this place is that it isn’t overdeveloped yet. There are some really chilled out sea-front bars and restaurants where you can listen to live music under the stars with the waves crashing in front of you, there are beautiful guesthouses and villas, the views are stunning and the local people are genuine and friendly. Yes, the roads are dangerous… but go slow and steady and you’ll probably be ok. Yes, the trails down to the beaches are also sketchy… same applies. This is a wonderful, un-spoilt, mildly dangerous paradise island which will be unrecognisable in a few years’ time. If you like adventure, come here. If you prefer your creature comforts, stay on Bali.