If you’re considering a hop across to Bali’s little brother, then you’ve come to the right place. This guide will answer is Nusa Penida worth visiting by looking at seven of the highlights of the island that sits just 15 miles or so off the southeast shoreline of the Isle of the Gods. Let’s just say this – seven highlights are just the beginning…
Yep, Nusa Penida is an absolute stunner of a place. It’s got white-sand beaches and glimmering ocean waters, multi-colored coral reefs that teem with fish, epic dive spots, luxurious hotels, and a gorgeous backcountry of lush forests and hills. All that’s topped off by the fact that it’s generally less busy than Bali’s big resorts, making it a fine place to escape the crowds to boot.
Adding to the temptation even more is the fact that getting across to Nusa Penida shouldn’t be a chore at all. There are loads of boats connecting the two islands. They mainly leave from the port at Sanur Beach and there are more than 10 departures every day, taking a mere 45 minutes from island to island.
First and foremost, let’s just say this – Nusa Penida isn’t Bali. This small islet in the Badung Strait is still yet to be properly placed on the tourist map. Yep: That, despite the fact that it’s now a regular on pretty much every influencer’s Instagram feed for this part of the world.
But the truth is that most folk who come here are day trippers. They hop on the fast catamaran connections from Sanur Beach in the morning, tour the main sights (especially T-Rex Beach – more on that later), and then hightail it back to their deluxe hotels in Nusa Dua or Seminyak before the sun even starts to set.
Those who choose to linger a little longer on Nusa Penida are in for a real treat. Much of the island is still indelibly rustic and untouched. There are large swathes of palm forest, small hamlets filled with smiling locals, and little warung taverns serving seafood and peanut-infused skewers.
You should also notice that the beaches, at least outside of Toyapakeh on the north coast, are often empty and deserted. That might be because most require a hefty hike to get to, but it’s also down to the fact that they’re just not as well-known as those on Bali, which is most certainly a good thing!
The beaches are downright gorgeous
If you thought Bali’s beaches were good, just wait until you see what Nusa Penida has up its sleeve. Seriously, the coastline of this gem-shaped land in the Bali Sea can compete with the likes of the Gilis and Komodo for the title of the finest in all of Indonesia. It’s like a cocktail of Greece and Thailand, with a mix of exotic coast palms, soaring cliffs, and white-sand bays.
The most famous beach of the bunch is probably Kelingking. It’s known colloquially as T-Rex Beach for the shape formed by the craggy rocks, which look like a bending dinosaur from above. And, while it might be pure white sand and sky-blue ocean below, the beach itself isn’t actually the main draw. That honor goes to the cliffs overhead, which have a lookout point to rival even Shipwreck Beach in Zante. Big words.
There are loads of other top-quality bays to pick from on Nusa Penida, including:
- Atuh Beach – Perhaps just as good as T-Rex Beach, this one is an enclosed horseshoe of sand and rock that’s capped off by a gnarly rock arch.
- Crystal Bay Beach – This west-facing beach is a top choice for sunset viewing, but also a great snorkel location thanks to the calmer waters.
- Diamond Beach – Once totally inaccessible, some locals have recently built a rock staircase into the cliffs to offer access to this absolutely gorgeous bay, where palms loom over sugar-colored sand.
Bali isn’t the only island in this corner of the Indian Ocean that’s known for its surf, you know. The epic spots continue on over on the Nusa islands, just as they do on islands like Lombok and the Gilis to the north and west.
Generally speaking, the breaks here aren’t quite as reliable as over on the Isle of the Gods. However, they are way less busy, which more than balances things out for those who don’t like the line ups of Ulus or Padang Padang. You should also know that most of the best waves are actually on Nusa Lembongan, so you might need to hire a private boat driver to transport you and then stick to the drop-in zone.
The top surf spots to know about in the Nusa Penida area if you’re coming with the board in tow are:
- Lacerations – Named for the super-shallow rock reef at the end of the wave, this is a neat right hander that handles lots of size and loves to barrel.
- Playgrounds – A lovely A-frame wave with a right and a left, the most accessible spot around, and great for intermediate surfers.
- Shipwrecks – A top-quality wave on its day, Shipwrecks is a big and powerful right that can get hollow.
The scuba diving
While surfers might have to transfer over to the next-door isle of Lembongan to catch the best waves, divers are likely to be going in the other direction. Yep, the slightly more protected channel of the Bali Sea where Nusa Penida makes its home means this is just about the perfect spot to pull on the bubble blowers and oxygen tank.
The island is particularly famous for its drift dives – when divers are left to float with the ocean currents along dashes of reef. They’re mainly reserved for more seasoned folk with a PADI and then some under the neoprene. But there are also some more easy-going dive spots, along with plenty of dive schools ready and waiting for complete beginners.
The locations you’re most likely to hear about if you come to Nusa Penida on a scuba trip are:
- Manta Point – No prizes for guessing what incredible marine specimens await here. A haven for huge manta rays who are thought to use the coral reefs to clean off, it’s a wonderful spot to get up close to some of the ocean’s biggest grazers.
- Crystal Bay – There’s good protection from out-at-ocean swells here and visibility can hit 40 meters. The other highlight is the presence of sunfish, known locally as mola mola.
- Blue Corner – An expert-only spot with a steep drop-off into deep reefs, where you can spot mola mola and all sorts of rays.
Nusa Penida might not have the same overload of hotels and massive resorts that you find just over the water in Bali, but it’s got an ever-growing range of pretty fantastic beach hotels and bungalow resorts. Some remind us of what Bali was 10-15 years back, while others channel stacks of luxury and could even live up to honeymoon standards.
In fact, where we think Penida excels on the hotel front is in quirky, boutique lodgings that ooze authentic Indo charm. Some of our top recommendations for stays would be:
- Penida Bambu Green Suites ($$$) – Don’t go thinking that three stars is representative of this hotel. Five is more like it. You get outdoor baths filled with tropical flower petals, bamboo decks overlooking the banyan forests, and hammock beds with views over the canopies.
- Blue Harbor Beachfront Villas & Resto ($$-$$$) – This hotel has an unrivaled location on the north-coast beaches, and one particularly lovely, 8-shaped swimming pool.
- Kompyang Cottage ($$) – Good for couples and solo travelers alike, these cute cottages are centered on a private garden and a small plunge pool.
One of the great things about ditching Bali in favor of way-less-built up Nusa Penida is that you get to see some wilder Indonesian backcountry. A few wiggling roadways pierce the inland. They all converge in the town of Toyapakeh on the northern shore before delving southwards through the scrub-topped hills and thorny forests.
We think that the best way to explore it all is on your own scooter. That offers the freedom to go north to south, east to west, but you will need to ensure you have all the right documents and qualifications (an international driving license is required here). Also, never drive in Indo if you’re not 100% confident you’re up to it.
Whichever way you get on the road, you can look forward to exploring an island that is riddled with lookout points and trekking trails. We recommend stopping off at:
- Teletubbies Hill – This is no misnomer, because these hills really do look like the ones from the hit kids TV show!
- Seganing Waterfall – This waterfall gurgles over the rocks right by the roaring ocean. It’s not for the faint of heart, as there’s a gnarly cliff path that takes you there.
- Sekartaji Cliff Spot – Venture to this far-flung cliff lookout for eye-watering visions of the waves smashing into the Nusa Penida coast rocks far below.
Nusa Penida actually has a bit of a dark and moody history. Not only was the island once a penal colony for outcasts from Bali and Lombok, but it is also said to be the stomping ground of some particularly nasty Hindu demons. It’s believed that they came here and controlled armies of minions who spread sickness and disease.
Today, the locals keep all that in check by making offerings at the revered Pura Dalem Penetaran Ped. It’s one of the most important holy sites in the region, and a site of pilgrimage for people looking to fend off bad luck. It also happens to be a gorgeous temple with an elaborately carved gateway entrance and shrine to the demon Mecaling at its heart.
The Goa Giri Putri is another must-see shrine. It sits close to the hamlet of Suana on the north-east coast of the island. There, it opens into a huge cave that can only be accessed via a narrow slit in the rock. Inside, there are five separate worshipping spots dedicated to different Hindu deities, and a final one dedicated to the gods of the Chinese pantheon. All visitors must wear sarongs, but they’re available for rent just outside the main entrance to the cave.
So, is Nusa Penida worth visiting?
Is Nusa Penida worth visiting? You bet it is! This small isle that fragments off the side of uber-popular Bali is nowhere near as busy as its bigger bro. Yes, tourist numbers are rising every year, but you can still escape here to find stunning bays like Atuh Beach and Insta-famous T-Rex Beach. The diving is also said to be some of the best around, with chances to meet manta rays, and there are immersive temples and untouched backcountry to get stuck into. What are you waiting for?