Not snorkelling with manta rays on Nusa Lembongan, Bali
Nusa Lembongan is a little island off the east coast of Bali. It’s fringed with little white sand beaches which can be easily reached by the network of lanes and tracks around the island, with mangrove forests to the north and local villages in the middle.
After our awesome trip to Flores to see the Komodo dragons in the wild on Rinca and Komodo, we headed to Nusa Lembongan to spend a couple of days chilling out and exploring. For us, Nusa Lembongan provided lots of chances to walk around and explore, combined with beaches to chill out on, and some great wildlife watching. The big draw was that there are manta rays in the seas around this, and neighbouring Nusa Pendida and Nusa Ceningan. Big lizards, and now big rays. Cool.
Exploring Nusa Lembongan Island
Nusa Lembongan is a small island, only about 8 km², so easy to get around. We stayed at Mushroom Bay, in the South West of the island. This little bay is busy with boats coming in from Bali during the day, but there is still plenty of space for chilling out and swimming.
Beaches on Nusa Lembongan
From Mushroom Bay, it was an easy walk to Tamarind Beach, just to the north. However, when we got there, we found that the word ‘beach’ was somewhat of an overstatement. The sea came in right up to the wall on one part, and only left a tiny part exposed in another. There was a cute little restaurant where we had some lunch though, and the views over the beach were lovely.
From Tamarind Beach, we took the cliff path up and around, past some really tiny beach coves with villas and one with a little surf shack on, towards Jungut Batu Beach. This is the main ‘resort’ on the island and is a long stretch of white sand beach with bars and restaurants along the front and lanes behind with an interesting cultural combination of guesthouses and traditional Balinese temples, statues, and shrines. Feet Do Travel stayed there when they visited and have an interesting blog on it. Luke from Backstreet Nomads also stayed in this area and has a very comprehensive guide to Nusa Lembongan.
Similar to the Thai spirit houses, Balinese buildings have small shrines outside where the people lay offerings every day. These offerings are usually in small baskets woven from palm leaves and with flowers inside and a lit jostick. For more information on these offerings, check out A Little Adrift’s Blog.
Directly south of Mushroom Bay, across the other side of the island, are Dream Beach and Sunset Beach. We’d read that Dream Beach is supposed to be one of the most beautiful. However, it seemed that a lot of other people had read that too and it was packed full of people and big tour groups, which took away from the beauty somewhat. It was a big wide white sand beach though, so minus the people, could be lovely.
Near to Dream Beach is the Devil’s Tear. I’m unsure if this is ‘tear’ like ‘rip’ or ‘tear’ like what happens when you cry. Those homographs eh? (English teachers only for this comment perhaps!). It could be either when you look at it. Basically, huge waves crash onto and through a gap in the cliff. The gap was probably made by the waves, if you think about it. Anyway, it’s pretty spectacular to watch.
Transport on Nusa Lembongan
We walked around the island on foot, because it’s what we like to do on holiday. If you don’t like to use your legs to get about, you can hire motorbikes or bicycles. Of course, if you hire a motorbike and you don’t have a license, check out your insurance coverage carefully. As we said in our post on travel insurance, we’ve seen so many accidents and there are too many Go Fund Me pages now of backpackers who’ve been injured in motorbike accidents that they weren’t covered for on their insurance.
If you don’t fancy two-wheeled or two legged transport, you can hire golf buggies. Like the ones that Donald Trump et. al. use to propel them around golf courses of the world. We saw lots of happy families driving around in them.
To get to your hotel when you arrive, or if you’re feeling lazy on the way back from a walk. there are also trucks on the island, similar to the Thai Songthaews. You can hire them for yourself from various places, including next to where the boats arrive at Jungut Batu Beach, and they also drive around the island picking people up between beaches. As well as this, several teenage boys offered to drive us back on the back of their motorbikes for a small fee as we were walking around.
Kayaking in the mangroves
The north of the island is covered with mangrove forest. Mangrove trees grow in shallow brackish water, and their roots tend to stick out of the ground, giving it a distinct look. These thick roots trap sediment and provide cover for the various species of animals, particularly birds and reptiles. Mangrove forest often has channels where water flows, allowing you to explore.
We walked from Jengut Batu Beach, following the clear signs for the mangrove forest. After about 20 minutes, we got to a corner where a few touts were waiting. We told the nearest one what we wanted to do and he negotiated a price with us and told us to follow him. He drove off on his motorbike and we walked along behind. Then he gave us to a different guy on a motorbike, who oddly gave us a cheaper price. No arguing with that. Off we went, following him. Eventually, he took us to a beach front cafe and tour operator that offered mangrove tours and fishing, as well as food, snacks, and drinks.
We paid 100,000 rupiah to hire a two-man kayak to explore the mangroves on our own. I (Kate) was at the front, with Kris behind. What followed was a great test of our relationship, as we tried to make the kayak go the way we wanted, against quite a strong current at times, and as I constantly splashed Kris with my oar. We crashed into the mangrove roots several times. As I said, the current is quite strong on the way to the sea, so going in that direction we could sit back and relax, but trying to kayak against the current was quite the feat of strength. Our arms felt it the next day.
We only saw one other group of kayakers during our hour trip, so it was really peaceful. We saw several monitor lizards, disappointingly small after our Komodo dragon experiences. Every so often, a gondala type boat passed us, with a local punting a group of tourists around. Other than that, we were on our own.
Snorkelling with a turtle – but no manta rays
Are you still wondering about those giant manta rays? Ok, let’s get to that. On one morning, we arranged to go on a three stop snorkeling tour, which included snorkeling with manta rays. So bright and far too early (7.30am!) we met at TS Huts Guesthouse. It was just the two of us, and a group of six young Canadians. We all piled into a boat with an outboard motor and one long bench at the back for us to sit on. There was a cover to block out the sun (we got quite badly sunburnt while snorkeling in Komodo national park, so we were being very careful this time) and a net hammock under it for anything which might get wet.
Our boat driver took us out and around the island towards neighbouring Nusa Pendida. First stop was to be the manta rays. The water looked quite rough to start, but as we pulled into a bay, aptly called Manta Point, it got calmer. There we stopped and the driver handed out snorkels and told us to jump in.
Now, you might already know this if you follow our blogs, but I’m a bit of a coward when it comes to two things: falling off things, and deep water. I’m pretty sure the two are related (read our blog on Khao Yai national park for some of the problems this has caused). Anyway, I’m not good when I can’t see the bottom, or when the water is murky. I think it’s related to too many horror movies – Jaws has a lot to answer for. Even though I got over some of my fear of sharks when I went to watch Kris cage diving with great white sharks in South Africa, I still sometimes imagine some kind of monster is going to come from the deep and pull me under.
Bearing this in mind, you can imagine that I wasn’t feeling super confident as I donned my snorkel and flippers ready to snorkel with giant rays. Now manta rays are not like sting rays, they don’t hurt people and they had nothing to do with the death of Steve Irwin. They are the smiley Mr. Ray type that takes Nemo and Dorey to school/shoal in their films. Still, you don’t know what else is down there with them.
We jumped into the water and swam about, looking for huge flat fish. Nothing. And it was deep. And murky. I persevered, not wanting the Canadians we were sharing the tour with to see that I was at all scared. But nothing. If there were manta rays there, they were down, down, far down, further than we could see.
So back on the boat we got, to another place they were known to hang out. Boats already there said they could see no sign, but we got back in the water again. No mantas. Perhaps they were all transporting smaller fish to school/shoal? Who knows.
Next stop was Gamut Bay. Here the water was shallower and much clearer. We could see spectacular coral and lots of multicolored fishes. I got braver and swam away from the group (usually I prefer to stay in the middle. You know, it’s always the people on the outside who get eaten first), following fish and watching them dart in and out of coral and guard their nests. Meanwhile, the others on the boat didn’t seem happy to get in the water. In fact, a couple seemed a bit scared. Wow! It wasn’t only me that wasn’t that happy in deep water, and now I felt ok.
Back on the boat again, our final stop was Crystal Bay. Now I was very brave and took off my life jacket (it’s easier to snorkel with a life jacket on, but it does restrict you. Plus, sharks don’t like the taste (maybe). The name Crystal Bay was perfect, as the water was crystal clear. There were fish and coral as far as we could see. Big groups swam near the surface, while diving down showed different species.
We both followed groups of fish for a while, until we both spotted the same thing.
We saw a turtle!
Now a bit of back story here. Years ago, in the Gili Islands off Indonesia, we snorkeled a lot where people ‘guaranteed’ to snorkel with turtles. No turtles did we see. Then we went snorkelling around El Nido in Palawan, the Philippines. We saw turtles on the surface from the boat, but none in the water. Kris volunteered with baby turtles in Cyprus one summer during his zoology degree, so had seen and released plenty of baby turtles, but no adult ones in the wild.
It seemed everyone had snorkeled with turtles, except us. Even my parents.
Here was our first turtle. I’d like to say we shared the experience with our boat-mates, but to be honest, most of them were still on the boat, clearly bored of snorkelling. And we were worried we’d lose it. So we swam along with the turtle for a while, until it realised we were watching, and decided it was too Big Brother, and swam under some coral.
No manta rays, but our first turtle made up for it. Snorkelling on Nusa Lembongan was amazing.
Nuts and Bolts
Getting to Nusa Lembongan
We travelled to Nusa Lembongan by speedboat from Sanur, on Bali. The boats go from the beach. They are easy to find, because, basically, they are lots of speedboats on the beach! There are offices selling tickets in front of the beach and on the road going towards it.
There are public and private speedboat companies, which differ quite a lot in price. We paid 175,000 rupiah each, one-way on the public speedboat and the same price back. It only takes 30 minutes. Some boats go to Mushroom Bay, and others to Jengun Batu Beach.
The Wikitravel article on Nusa Lembongan has more details on ferries to Nusa Lembongan.
Accommodation on Nusa Lembongan
We stayed at the Soka Homestay in Mushroom Bay, but there were a lot of choices for reasonable accommodation for a great price. We usually try and book hotels on Booking.com and choose them with high ratings. On Nusa Lembongan, there were so many with 9.0+ ratings! The Soka Homestay is six bungalows, three with air con and three with fans. All have en suite facilities with huge bathrooms, and comfortable beds (well ours was, I didn’t sleep in anyone else’s). It’s run by a friendly family who live in the building next door. There’s no breakfast, but plenty of places around to get food in the morning. It is a 5-minute walk from Mushroom Bay.
ATMs on Nusa Lembongan
There are only a few ATMs on Nusa Lembongan: two in Jungut Batu and one in Mushroom Bay in the Hai Tide Resort. They didn’t always work when we were there, and sometimes only worked with certain cards, so it’s a good idea to keep a supply of money handy and bring more than one card if you have them.
Tours on Nusa Lembongan
There are tour operators all over the island, offering snorkelling and kayaking trips and various other tours. There are also yoga schools, surf schools and lots of dive centres. We chose TS Huts for the snorkelling tour because we decided to go last minute and they were still open. We’d recommend the tour though.
The Wikitravel article on Nusa Lembongan is pretty comprehensive and worth a look.