Nusa Penida Guide

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Nusa Penida has been hailed as Bali’s hidden gem, an island that offers travellers a slice of beach paradise coupled with a touch of adventure.

Just a short speed boat ride away from Bali or Lombok, it is a destination that has risen in popularity thanks to its stunning cliff formations, pristine beaches, and underwater biodiversity.

The vivid aqua-blue waters set against the lush greenery and rugged coastline make it a photographer’s dream. Nusa Penida is not just about the views; it’s a sanctuary for a rich variety of marine life, including the majestic manta rays at Manta Point.

Nusa Penida harbour welcome

While the island can be a retreat for serenity seekers, it is also known for its adventurous side, and many will choose to stay for a handful of days or venture on day trips from neighbouring Bali.

On my two most recent visits I explored the iconic Kelingking viewpoint, clambered down to the astonishingly beautiful but secluded Diamond Beach and also saw the famous treehouse at Thousand Island viewpoint – all of which can be done in one day, or split as separate East and West side trips.

For those looking to delve into the culture, the island’s villages and temples provide a glimpse into the local life and traditions, and just a drive around the island will give you a taste of real island life as you get to watch the locals go about their daily business.

Whether it’s a one-day exploration or a leisurely extended stay, this Nusa Penida guide aims to help you uncover the wonders of this special island.

History Of Nusa Penida

Nusa Penida’s history is rich and intriguing, tracing its origins back to the 10th century. The island finds its earliest written records inscribed on the Belanjong Pillar, dating to 914 AD. These inscriptions detail a military expedition led by Sri Kesari Warmadewa, the first king of Bali, targeted at the region.

Nusa Penida View

According to legends, Nusa Penida also played a pivotal role in the story of the last king of Bali, Dalem Bungkut. Known for his dreaded rule in the ‘other world,’ he transformed into Ratu Gede Mas Mecaling, or the Great Lord with golden fangs. The tales narrate his exile from Batuan, a village in Bali, to Nusa Penida.

Before becoming a sought-after destination for its breathtaking natural beauty, Nusa Penida was often associated with dark mysticism and was considered by some to be an island of banishment due to its history and legends. Probably why it only has around 60,000 inhabitants even today.

These narratives have contributed to the island’s unique cultural heritage, adding a layer of mystique that continues to intrigue visitors from around the world.

Today, the island stands as a testament to the dynamic blend of its tumultuous past and natural splendour, inviting historians, culture enthusiasts, and tourists to explore its many alluring qualities.

Nusa Penida – Is It Worth It?

There is plenty of hype around Nusa Penida, with it sitting between Lombok and Bali, this smaller sibling is dividing opinion from tourists as to whether it is actually worth visiting.

The answer to this is probably dependent on what you are looking for.

If you want to take a glimpse at what Bali might have been like around 50 years ago, before mass tourism exploded over the island, then Nusa Penida is for you. That’s not to say there are no signs of tourism on the island – there are plenty. But away from the main port and the main tourist sites of the island you will not experience traffic, and will often not see another car for miles.

boats at Nusa Penida

Nusa Penida is tiny compared to both Bali and Lombok, but it is sizeable enough to have plenty to keep you occupied for a week or two.

Some visitors will prefer a day trip (which is what I did on my most recent visit) and if you want to see some stunning beaches, take incredible clifftop pictures for Instagram or just want to chill on some of the most exquisite beaches in Indonesia then Nusa Penida is a great choice.

Where I think people become disillusioned is that it is quite an effort to get to – and for those doing day trips or guided tours, be prepared for plenty of travel and not so long at each destination.

How To Get To Nusa Penida

For those taking day trips to Nusa Penida from Bali, you have a few options. You can make your own way on either a fast boat from Sanur or the ferry from Kusamba. For day trips I’d highly recommend the fast boat – as this still takes 45 minutes each way, so is going to eat in to 90 minutes of your day.

Those staying for longer can take either option.

Sanur Harbour
Sanur Port where you catch the fast boat

You can book tickets for these boats yourself or if you take a guided tour like I did most recently you will likely be collected from your accommodation, driven to the port (usually around 1 hour) and then given your ticket for the fast boat.

On arrival at the other end, you will be greeted by another driver and taken on your tour.

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What to do in Nusa Penida?

Kelingking Beach

One cannot speak of Nusa Penida without mentioning the iconic Kelingking Beach which is renowned for its T-Rex-shaped cliff face. This spectacular spot offers panoramic views of the turquoise waters and is a favourite for photographers and Instagrammers.

Expect queues for the best photo opportunities – although our driver did the queuing – one big advantage of taking a guided tour.

Kelingking beach

Angel’s Billabong

Next is Angel’s Billabong, an exquisite natural infinity pool that presents a mesmerising spectacle when the tide is low. The views from here are stunning and your pictures will be incredible.

Broken Beach

Broken Beach is known for its natural archway that circumscribes a tranquil bay. The arch offers a unique vantage point for visitors to take in the serene waters and watch the waves crash on the coastline. Again, expect crowds of tourists – especially between 10am-3pm.

Crystal Bay

Crystal Bay is famed for its idyllic beach and excellent snorkelling opportunities, with vibrant coral reefs and a diverse marine life. The bay’s calm waters make it an ideal spot for a relaxing swim, although there are some rocks and it shelves off quite quickly in certain places so do take care with smaller children.

Crystal Bay beach

The bay is pretty calm and the water is crystal clear when the current is not too strong.

We found that the beach became a lot quieter from around 3.30pm onwards – so if you are staying on the island and don’t need to head back to your ferry then heading down at 4pm-6pm will be a nice quiet time to visit.

You can also expect an exquisite sunset from this beach.

West Or East Trip?

Everything mentioned above is on the West side of Nusa Penida. You can usually take day trips on either the East or West Coast and some will combine the two.

As a first time visitor I’d suggest going for the West Coast and for those looking to stay on the island for a few days, then spread your visits to the top attractions over those days.

Round Island Boat Trip

I’d say this is the best way to see the island and it’s beaches – especially if you are less interested in the overhead pictures and prefer to actually experience the stunning beaches the island offers.

The roads on the island are not the best, and so for a more relaxed way to explore, boat does seem like the perfect option. For this though, you will likely need to either book a private tour from Lombok or Bali, or stay on the island and book a day boat tour from Nusa Penida itself.

Worth The Hype & Visit?

Whether Nusa Penida is for you really depends on what you want from it. If you want to see an island that is similar to Bali (but quieter) then it’s a great option. If you are looking for a stay with high end accomodation options then you are going to be disappointed.

Likewise, if you are limited for time on Bali or Lombok and don’t want to lose a good chunk of your day travelling to Penida then I’d say spend your time on those islands instead.

But for sheer beauty and unspoiled paradise-like beaches and natural scenery – it is hard to beat Nusa Penida.