Three Days of Island Paradise: Nusa Lembongan
I'm overdosing on islands and I love it. Nusa Lembongan was a slice of paradise that I hadn't heard of until I landed on Bali. But when I found out that you could dive with manta rays, I was sold. I bought a shuttle and boat ticket from Ubud for Rp 250,000 / $19USD and was bound for the island the next morning.
The trip got off to a rough start - literally. I had heard that Indo's fast boats were notoriously crowded and unsafe, but I figured that had to be the exception, not the norm.
It's definitely the norm.
I was originally sitting up front in the small fast boat, but could feel the walls closing in when I saw a crew member pull little plastic seats out of nowhere. The boat was already full, but I looked behind me and saw 15 more passengers climbing aboard. I stepped over the plastic chairs and made my way to the back of the boat by the motors. Thankfully, the boat ride was only 30 minutes and I was fine once I could feel the salty, ocean air against my face.
The boat dropped us off at Mushroom Beach, which is on the northwest side of the island. I grabbed my backpack from the boat before it could tumble into the ocean and made my way to the beach, which was crowded with tourists waiting for the departing boat.
I had booked accommodation with Scuba Center Asia and quickly found the dive shop minutes from the beach. Kim and Bastiaan, the Dutch owners, greeted me with a warm smile. I wasn't sure what to expect of the room because I was only paying Rp 150,000 / $11USD - the standard price of a hostel dorm room - but I was so pleasantly surprised. The room had aircon, a large bed with a comfortable mattress, and a locker. And most importantly, it was a private room. After 8 months of hopping from dorm room to dorm room, a private room was much needed. The bathroom was shared and the shower was cold, but that was a small price to pay.
The dive shop was small, so I made quick friends with the staff: PimPim, Julian, Xander, and Andrew. I'm always picky when I choose my dive shops, and one element I look for is atmosphere. As a solo traveler, meeting other divers is one of the quickest ways I make friends. Scuba Center Asia was no exception.
Nusa Lembongan is a quaint island, but it's already been impacted by the 20 million tourists who visit Bali annually. Since it is just a short boat ride away, it's an easy trip from Bali. Tourists often crowd the small beach and others line up to take a quick loop around the bay on an inflatable banana (really). I liked Mushroom Beach because it was slightly less developed, but there are better restaurant and bar choices on the main strip of the island. Either way, there's not too much of a night life here.
While the tourism isn't too off-putting, and the island still maintains its charm, I don't think it's the same island Alex in Wanderland wandered through four years ago. Even the dive shop I was with didn't open until two years ago. Times are changing fast on Nusa Lembongan! Regardless of any development, Nusa Lembongan still has a slow, easy pace to it.
On my second day in Nusa, I headed out to the dive boat with Scua Center Asia. We planned to dive Crystal Bay and Manta Point. After checking the conditions, we started with Crystal Bay. The water was a bit colder than I was used to, but I had a 5mml wetsuit on to keep me warm. I had trouble equalizing my ears on the first dive, but was eventually able to descend. We dropped to 25 meters in search of the elusive mola-mola, but the water wasn't cold enough for the sunfish. The dive was somewhat unimpressive, but I was just happy to be back under the water after two months on land.
The second dive, Manta Point, was where all the action was at! Within minutes of descending, we were surrounded by ten manta rays gliding up and around a massive rock pinnacle. The manta rays were stunning and massive.
Back on the boat, it was 45 minutes back to Mushroom Beach. The sun was warm on my face, the scenery was beautiful, and it had been a good day of diving.
With a tighter budget than normal, I only dived one morning on Nusa Lembongan. The remaining two days were for exploring and chilling. These were some of my favorite spots:
Coffee and Chill
This spot was directly to the left of Scuba Center Asia. I had walked by it several times and was intrigued, but there never seemed to be any staff. Andrew told me to just go up and ask for someone, so I did just that on my second morning. I was tired of the instant coffee I had been drinking and I loved seeing the coffee beans ground in front of me. Andrew and I returned the next morning, and while he went back to the dive shop to finish some work, I stayed and chatted with the staff.
This spot was an instant hit with me. Andrew and I tried to go the previous night, but it had already closed for the night. Undeterred, we went back the next night and I was not disappointed. The whole café is eco-friendly, making an effort to recycle and conserve water. Bali Eco only offers three main dishes, plus a few desserts and coffees. With only a few options, everything was high-quality here!
Mola Mola Café
I ate breakfast at this café each morning because their smoothie bowls were delicious (Rp 55,000 / $4USD). It had a perfect view of the beach and offered shade from the rising sun. I wrote blog posts from this spot, practiced my Rubik's cube, and wrote in my journal. Sometimes I ended up here for lunch or dinner, too, because their nasi gareng was that delicious.
Blue Corner Bar
To wrap up a Friday night, we headed to Blue Corner Bar in Jungutbatu. Blue Corner is a part of Blue Corner Dive shop, probably the most well-known and established dive shop on the island. The place faced the sea and with plenty of bean bag chairs and cold Bintang beers, it was an easy place to hang out for an evening.
With the sun setting fast and Xander and Andrew having some free time from dive master training, I hopped on the back of Andrew's bike and we set off for a hidden sunset spot, The Palms Hotel and Bar. The hotel was on the next island over, Nusa Ceningan, which meant crossing a small, one-way bridge between the islands.
I loved this place. The infinity pool was gorgeous and the view was incredible. You could see the waves breaking past the point, a few surfers still out as the sun set. Incredibly, there were few tourists at this bar, making it the perfect place to simply chill out at.
- Where to stay: Accommodation seems sparse near Mushroom Beach. You're better off checking Booking or Agoda for places to stay.
- Where to dive: Scuba Center Asia. 2 dives cost Rp 1,150,000 / $86USD. There was an extra Rp 150,000 / $11USD charge for Manta Point. Looking back, that seems like a lot of money for just two dives... but it was worth it.
- How to get there: Boats depart from Sanur. I would suggest Marlin Boat, which is what I took on the way back. They didn't overcrowd the boat, the porters didn't ask for tips, and the provided shuttle transport back to Ubud was very smooth.
- If I'm being honest: Nusa Lembongan is connected by bridge to Nusa Ceningan, and then Nusa Penida (the largest island) can be reached by boat. I heard good things about both islands, but didn't check them out.