During my recent trip to Bali, Indonesia, I decided to escape the main island and check out Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, two smaller islands located just off Bali’s southeast coast.
Compared to Bali, life on Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan was much quieter. There are fewer “things to do” and “things to see” but more space to breathe, more interaction with the local community and (in my opinion) more opportunities to explore beautiful beaches and underwater scenery.
In particular, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan are perfect for travelers on a short trip to Bali (say, two weeks or less) who are looking for a chance of pace and a chance of scenery. If you’ve got more time, I might recommend choosing to explore the Gili Islands instead (in fact, I spent a full week on the little, two-kilometer island called Gili Air!) but for short trips and for anyone who has dreamed of swimming, snorkeling or diving with giant manta rays, the Nusa Islands off the coast of Bali are ideal for a two- or three-night getaway.
My Hotel on Nusa Lembongon – Isola d’Oro
Nusa Lembongan has a few main areas where most tourists choose to stay: the long, straight stretch of beach on the northwest shore, and the smaller coves around the island’s southwest shore (including Mushroom Beach and Sandy Beach). The former is bigger and busier, while the latter is more peaceful and quiet, and taxis (of the scooter- and open-backed-pickup varieties) run between the two regularly.
Personally, I chose to stay near Mushroom Bay at a hotel called Isola d’Oro. With just a handful of individual rooms, and operated by a lovely family, Isola d’Oro was a good home base for a few nights on Lembongan. As you can see from the photos, my room was clean, spacious and bright (I think the ceilings must have been fifteen feet high!) and the hotel pool was a great place to relax in the afternoon. I booked online and my room rate included breakfast.
My Hotel on Nusa Ceningan – Twilight Lembongan
Somewhat confusingly, my hotel on Nusa Ceningan was actually called Twilight Lembongan. Consisting of ten private bungalows (each with at least a sliver of sea view), Twilight Lembongan struck the right balance of feeling upscale and feeling homey. Again, my room was spacious and had lots of amenities (mini-fridge, kettle, bottled water, clothes hangers, etc.) and I loved falling asleep to the sound of the waves at night. There is a beautiful waterfront swimming pool with about ten sun loungers, plus an ocean-view bar and a few little Instagram photo spots down towards the rocky beach. I had breakfast here every day (awesome banana pancakes!), indulged in at least one happy hour cocktail each night, and also had a good Indonesian vegetarian dinner in the hotel restaurant on my last night.
Things to Do on Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan
Scuba Dive with Manta Rays on Nusa Penida
Most travel days are not days that you will remember forever.
I will remember today forever.
That’s what I wrote on Facebook the evening after I went scuba diving with manta rays on Nusa Penida. Truly, I would consider it a life-changing experience and it rates as my absolute favorite thing to do on Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan.
I organized my own manta ray dive experience through Blue Corner Dive – Yellow Bridge. Situated… at the yellow bridge… it’s one of the easiest dive shops to access from both Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan. I booked my first dives with them in advance, and was really impressed when, after my first day, they suggested I postpone my next dives until a few days later for a better chance of seeing manta rays. They put my experience ahead of their profits, which can be rare in the business world.
To see the manta rays, we got a very early start from Nusa Lembongan and headed towards Manta Point, a manta ray cleaning station off the shore of Nusa Penida. It was a rough boat ride with a few white-knuckle moments (and enough spray that I was soaked, head to toe, long before I dipped a flipper into the sea!) but after we descended into the water at Manta Point, things were much calmer.
We spotted our first manta ray within a minute of descending, and the next hour was spent floating around as the graceful giants glided along directly towards us, veering gently to the side only seconds before impact. I truly couldn’t believe just how many manta rays there were, how close they came to us (not vice versa!) and how calm they seemed to be. Obviously I can’t guarantee the conditions on the day of your dive (and neither can any dive shop), but Yellow Bridge staff have a good understanding of the manta rays, currents and weather conditions.
(Sorry for the photo quality – my beloved underwater camera is about eight years old now!)
Join an Organized Snorkeling Tour
I’m going to be honest with you. After doing an amazing dive with manta rays, I found the snorkeling on Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan to be a bit disappointing. I went into it with realistic expectations, but please be aware that most of the images you see online, and on local posters, are highly Photoshopped and don’t reflect the true snorkeling conditions in this region.
Although it is advertised that you can snorkel with manta rays near Nusa Penida, it’s not something that I would ever bet money on. The snorkeling boats don’t go out to Manta Point – instead, they stop much closer, at Manta Bay. The water here is quite rough (not appropriate for novice swimmers, in my opinion) and the chances of seeing manta rays are not great (maybe fifty-fifty at best?). On my own snorkeling tour we were able to see one manta ray from the boat, but by the time the few confident swimmers on the boat got in the choppy water we couldn’t find it… in fact, we couldn’t see more than a meter or two in front of our masks.
Your tour will also take you to other snorkeling spots, like Crystal Bay, Wall Point and the Mangroves, but I didn’t consider this to be excellent snorkeling. It seemed that tour operators were baiting the fish with bread and other food, the coral was in rough condition (partially due to human interference – I personally saw coral that had been vandalized as well as people standing on coral!) and the crowds were dense. Expect to see a fair number of tropical fish, but don’t expect vibrant coral or anything large (like sharks, turtles, mola mola, etc… though you might get lucky and see some little stingrays, like I did).
If you do go snorkeling, I suggest joining an organized tour rather than hiring a private boat, since they’re both going to stop at the same places anyways. I booked my tour through one of the hotels in Mushroom Bay, on Nusa Lembongan, and paid 250,000 IDR for the tour (including equipment rental). Before the boat departs, check that your equipment is in good condition and that there are sufficient life jackets on board.
Explore the Coast of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan
Both Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan have beautiful coastlines with lots of famous landmarks. On Nusa Ceningan, the most famous spot on the coast is the Blue Lagoon, on the southwest tip of the island. Shown above, the water here is translucent turquoise, and it is one of the most famous cliff-jumping spots in the region. (I don’t recommend cliff diving on either island – it’s risky with the changing tides and sharp rocks.)
On Nusa Lembongan, the most famous stretch of coast is at the Devil’s Tear, where the waves crash powerfully against the rocks in a narrow cove, spraying water high into the sky. A number of tourists have died here, mostly as they try to take photos close to the edge, so please keep a safe distance and remain aware of the water behind you. A short walk from Devil’s Tear is Dream Beach, a short stretch of sand that is pleasant for wading, but again, where the strong undertow adds an element of danger. If you want to play it safe, the hotel above the beach sells day passes that include access to their swimming pool, sun chairs, toilets and showers.
Chill Out on the Beach
If you just want to relax at the beach, I suggest heading to Mushroom Bay on Nusa Lembongan. There are a number of beach bars with beanbag chairs set up in the sand, so you can enjoy a happy hour cocktail while watching the sun set over the water. You can also rent snorkel gear, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards from the tour operators along the water, but you’ll want to be careful when you’re out in the water as there is regular small boat traffic. In June 2019 a paddleboarder went missing here, so, again, stay within your limits and exercise caution.
Hire a Scooter and Explore the Islands
I am famously a non-scooter tourist in Bali, so I have to admit that I didn’t rent a scooter to explore Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan. However, if you’re semi-confident on a scooter, this is a great place to rent one and hit the roads: there’s minimal vehicle traffic and most other scooters travel at a reasonable pace. The roads are occasionally a little… bumpy… but as long as you’re paying attention and wearing a helmet you should be fine. Most guesthouses and hotels can organize scooter rentals for you, and the cost (including petrol) should never exceed 100,000 IDR per day.
Restaurants on Nusa Lembongan
- Bunga Bungalow – My divemaster recommended this beachfront restaurant for its pizza, and I was not disappointed by my vegetarian pizza (nor by my happy hour cocktails!).
- Hai Ri Zen – I decided to have a “fancy” dinner for my last meal on Nusa Lembongan, so I went to Hai Ri Zen in Mushroom Bay and had a typical Italian dinner, with bruschetta as my starter and a vegetarian pasta dish as my entree.
- Cinta Coffee Shop – Coffee is cheap and WiFi is fast enough that you can get some work done at this little warung and coffee shop.
- Ginger & Jamu – I didn’t actually eat here for reasons completely unrelated to the restaurant (basically, I knew someone who was eating there every night and wanted to avoid them) but I’ve heard this is an awesome choice for vegetarians and vegans, as their menu includes dishes like vegan tacos and a falafel bowl.
Restaurants on Nusa Ceningan
- The Sand – This was my favorite restaurant on Nusa Ceningan. An easy walk from the Yellow Bridge, this multi-level, Insta-friendly restaurant has lots of vegan and vegetarian options, and really friendly staff.
- YuYu Resto – Not a huge selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes, but they are available, they’re made fresh and they’re really good.
- Twilight Lembongan – I don’t usually add my hotel restaurant to the list, but in this case I wanted to include it because the views were spectacular, happy hour drinks were cheap (50k for any cocktail) and the Indonesian food was tasty.
- Two Raksa Warung – Didn’t love this one. It’s a family operation but unfortunately service was painfully slow (like, I waited almost ninety minutes for gado-gado!) and they actually served me someone else’s food by accident.
Getting to Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan
Traveling from Bali to Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan is sure to be… an experience.
Rather than talk about what I did, I will talk about what I wish I’d done, in retrospect.
Looking back, I wish I’d just shown up at the beach in Sanur and bought a one-way ticket on the spot. And I should have done the same thing for the return trip.
I made the “mistake” of pre-booking my return ticket online. Unfortunately, the company that I booked with had mechanical problems on the day of my travel, and no real plan to deal with the issue. We waited for hours and were eventually sent with another company, who docked in a different area and forgot to arrange our hotel connections.
It would have been much smarter to take a taxi (or Grab) directly to the beach in Sanur, walked down to the water and paid someone in cash for a ticket on the next boat that was guaranteed to leave. The little boats traveling between Bali and the Nusa Islands have lots of competition and rarely (if ever) fill up, so booking on arrival is logical. Prices are definitely fluid, and while you might save a tiny bit of money by pre-paying for a return ticket with one company, it comes at the cost of flexibility in case of mechanical problems.
No matter which company you choose, note that there are not docks in Sanur or on the Nusa Islands. You can expect to wade knee-deep or even waist-deep into the water to board the boat. There could be a current and the boat will be moving with the waves, so be very careful and plan to wear flip-flops and shorts (or even a swimsuit). If you’ve got a laptop in your backpack (like I did) seriously… be careful!
Fortunately, no matter which boat company you choose, you won’t be responsible for actually moving your main luggage from the beach to the boat. All of the boat companies have strong, experienced porters who will handle the transfer of suitcases, backpacks and gear between the beach and the boat. Luggage transfer is included in the ticket price and a tip isn’t required, although it would be appropriate if you’re asking the porter to carry your bags beyond the beach up to the parking lot, street or office.
Transportation on Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan
The two islands are connect to one another via “The Yellow Bridge”, a small bridge that is only wide enough for pedestrian and scooter traffic (no cars or vans can cross the bridge).
Of course, you can rent your own scooter and zip around both islands at your leisure.
If you’re not interested in hiring a scooter (like me!) both islands have walkable areas, though neither can be explored entirely by foot. Instead, you can hop in a pick-up truck taxi with bench seats in the back or hop on the back of a scooter taxi to explore both islands. Transportation prices for tourists are definitely inflated – don’t ever spend more than 50,000 IDR for a trip on either island (aim for 20,000 IDR as a “fair” price).
A few of the pricier resorts also offer private golf cart transfers for their guests. This is a good option for travelers with limited mobility or who are traveling with children.
Have you ever visited Nusa Lembongan or Nusa Ceningan? What did you think of these little islands near Bali? Let me know in the comments!