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Book your individual trip, stress-free with local travel experts
Dominated by a dry central limestone plateau on either side of beaches in the north and by towering sea cliffs in the south, the handsome Nusa Penida island feels quite different from mainland Bali. With its first-class diving, superb scenery and a chance to see the endangered Bali starling in the wild, tourism in Nusa Penida is growing by leaps and bounds. Although infrastructure remains relatively poor, it's improving, and adventurous visitors will find reward in the opportunity to visit a destination almost free of tourist glitz – the welcome in villages is genuinely warm.
Once used as a penal colony, a sort of Siberia for transgressive Balinese, Nusa Penida is renowned as the home of the legendary demon Ratu Gede Mas Macaling; its temple, Pura Dalem Penataran Ped, is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus from all over Bali.
On a day trip from nearby Nusa Lembongan you can get a taste of Penida on a circuit that takes in Pura Dalem Penataran Ped, Pura Goa Giri, a view of the south-coast cliffs, and Crystal Bay, as well as the island’s main towns, Toyapakeh and Sampalan.
Islanders have their own dialect and many live off seaweed farming, fishing and growing tough crops such as corn; it’s too dry for rice. Ideally, at least two days’ exploration provides a better impression of an island that feels far larger than its 20km by 16km because of the steep inclines and dizzy back roads. Take to the latter and you’ll get lost, of course. But maybe that’s half the point.
The pipsqueak island of Nusa Penida belies its 20km by 16km size with loads to keep visitors busy. It's one of the best upcoming destinations in Indonesia. These are the best things to do.
Every day Pura Dalem Penataran Ped attracts worshippers from across Bali, bearing copious offerings. The temple complex is always dressed to receive them, its dazzlingly smooth white limestone walls and fantastic carvings draped in ceremonial cloths of black-and-white poleng and gold-brocade songket. The temple is regarded as angker, a place of evil spirits; it is the home of the dreaded Ratu Gede Mas Macaling, also known as I Macaling and Jero Gde, who brings disease, floods and ill-fortune to the mainland and requires regular appeasement.
There are actually four temples within the compound, one of which is dedicated to Ratu Gede Mas Macaling; another has a dramatic sculpture of the half-fish, half-elephant deity of the sea, Gajah Mina. You'll need your own sash and sarong required to visit.
Thanks to an innovative, community-focused programme run by the Friends of the National Parks Foundation, the endangered, fluffy white Bali starling (jalak putih Bali), or Rothschild’s mynah (Leucopsar rothschildi), is now flourishing on Nusa Penida, with over a hundred birds microchipped and free to flutter around the island.
The easiest place to spot them and other endangered rescued birds is at the Bali Bird Sanctuary, Aa few hundred metres west of the temple, where they congregate for food. The foundation also accepts volunteers for its bird programmes and other island conservation projects.
It’s a spectacular ride south from Sampalan on a coast-hugging road that offers views of prahus on beaches and seaweed-farming plots, as well as vistas of Lombok ahead. About 10km south, in the Karangasari, a steep flight of steps leads up to the limestone bat-cave temple Pura Goa Giri Putri. Squeeze through a narrow gap in the rock and you enter a 300m-long cavern which houses several small shrines, countless bats and a meditation cave.
Walk past the lot and you’ll emerge blinking into sunlight at the far end having walked right through the hill. Balinese people consider this a very powerful spiritual site so it's important that you dress and behave accordingly. Donation includes sash and sarong.
Though difficult to reach over loose gravel pathways, there’s a lot to be said for including eastern Penida. Three beaches with mind-blowing views of the Indian Ocean will make the effort worthwhile. South of Goa Giri Putri, on the left side of Atuh Beach a natural arch juts up from the sea and is spectacular at sunrise when the orange glow peeks underneath. Adjacent is Diamond Beach, named for a diamond-shaped rock beyond a sugar-sand
beach. The final stop on the east coast is inland Teletubbies, a group of big, round hills that are particularly otherworldly looking in the rainy season when they’re green.
A postcard-perfect nook of white-sand beach and outstandingly clear water, Crystal Bay is a popular dive and snorkel site but it’s crowded with day-trippers in the mornings. Go in the afternoon for a better chance of enjoying it peacefully, but check locally for currents at certain tide states. It’s a gorgeous spot simply to admire the view in the shade beneath palms.
Head to this prime diving and snorkelling spot on the south coast for a year-round chance to swim among these giant, gentle creatures and a recorded 250 fish species. If you’re not up for getting wet, you can sometimes spot them from Kelingking Beach, where a rock bearing a close resemblance to a T-Rex breaches the sea and Broken Beach with its wrap-around arch eroded over eons.
Accommodations can be found on all shores of Nusa Penida except the rugged south, most of which are simple fan-cooled affairs.
The most popular spot to stay on Nusa Penida, Crystal Bay has cheap and mid-range guesthouses and homestays.
On the north coast, Ped has a growing number of hotels and guesthouses lining both the shoreline and the roads inland. Expect everything from beach huts to small but ritzy resort hotels.
Somewhat scattered around the town and the surrounding hills, Sampalan has a number of basic bungalows and cheap guesthouses for visitors.
Spread behind a crescent of white sand, mellow Toyapakeh only has a clutch of places to stay a little back from the shoreline. If you've just landed, head for Crystal Bay or Ped.
Browse places to stay in Nusa Penida.
Eating options in Nusa Penida are largely limited to restaurants in the hotels and simple warung. Be warned: the further south you go, the more limited your options for food – it’s packet snacks with an occasional vendor in the deep south.
The only way to get to Nusa Penida is by boat from either Nusa Lembongan or Bali. There are both ferries and speedboats to choose from but for all trips, bear in mind that swells and currents in the channel can disrupt sailing.
From Nusa Lembongan, slow public boats run from Jungutbatu, to the Yellow Bridge connecting Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, and onto Toyapakeh beginning at 6am, ending around 5pm (30min) and have dubious safety standards. Fast boats go roughly hourly (dependent on passenger numbers) from the Yellow Bridge (20 min).
From Sanur, Bali there are many daily scheduled boats (though again heavy seas can mean cancellations). The best service is Maruti Express, leaving four times a day (30min) to Toyapakeh. Mola Mola boats and Gili Transfers are also fairly reliable, sailing three times daily (35min) to Sampalan. Perama runs to Penida three times daily.
Other companies operate boats to Toyapakeh and Buyuk harbour which is very close to Sampalan. From Padang Bai to Toyapakeh there’s one daily ferry at 3pm (1hr 30min) and occasional fast boats according to demand (30min).
On a day-trip from nearby Nusa Lembongan you can get a taste of Penida on a circuit that takes in Pura Dalem Penataran Ped, Pura Goa Giri, a view of the south-coast cliff s and Crystal Bay, as well as the island’s main towns, Toyapakeh and Sampalan. Ideally, at least two days’ exploration provides a better impression of an island.
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The best way to get around Nusa Penida is by motorbike, though there is a bemo connecting the island's two main towns.
The best way to get around is by motorbike. Motorbike drivers/guides wait at Toyapakeh harbour to meet arrivals from Lembongan, and will offer to guide. You can also rent your own bike here, but it's not recommended for inexperienced drivers.
The island is a maze of broken, remote lanes and signposts are few. That said, getting lost is half the fun. Nova Nusa Penida Tour & Travel in Toyapakeh rent reliable motorbikes with or without driver, new model car and driver/guides and offers tours.
A sketchy public bemo service operates between Toyapakeh and Sampalan, via Ped, between about 6am and 9pm.
The best time to visit Nusa Penida is during the dry season (April to October) when the weather is warm and sunny, and the sea is calm. This is the best time to go snorkeling and diving, too, with improved visibility.
From June to August, Nusa Penida is at its busiest during the peak season.
The rainy season lasts from November to March. During these moths heavy rainfall and rough seas may ocurr, which can make it difficult to get to and from the island.
Find out more about the best time to visit Indonesia.
Plan your trip to Nusa Penida with the Rough Guide to Bali and Lombok.