Nusa Lembongan is a small island off the southeast coast of the main island of Bali. Fast becoming one of Bali's most popular attractions, this island paradise is a world away from the hassle and hectic pace of South Bali. Neither hawkers nor traffic mar the magnificent scenery; this is a fine place to just put your feet up and relax. Main activities include surfing, diving and snorkeling. The water is some of the clearest you will find anywhere, and a vivid aqua blue in colour.
Nusa Lembongan is approximately 8 square km in size, and is one of three neighbouring islands, the others being much larger Nusa Penida and tiny Nusa Ceningan (also covered by this article). The three islands are separated from Bali by the Badung Strait. Some visitors may find Nusa Lembongan a little slow after the pace of South Bali.
Many areas around the island are good for diving and snorkeling, with abundant marine life and healthly coral. Surfing can get a bit crowded, but the waves are good. There are several white sand beaches away from the main centres which are virtually never crowded. There is a flourishing and well established seaweed farming industry here, and many visitors find it interesting to learn about this.
Two main beach areas have traditionally attracted visitors.
Jungut Batu in the northwest is the bigger of the two, and has myriad hotels and cheap eateries. This is the area which traditionally attracted backpackers and surfers to the island. The white sand beach here is pleasant enough but nothing to get too excited about, and it is a little narrow in places. In more recent times, the hillside to the south of Jungut Batu known as the Bukit (the hill) has been developed and has attracted some higher level hotels and private villas. The views from the Bukit are perhaps second to none on Nusa Lembongan. Sunsets are best viewed along the main Jungut Batu beachfront.
Mushroom Bay to the southwest of Jungut Batu is a quaint, attractive and sheltered bay. It is an especially nice spot after 3PM when the day trippers have returned to Bali, and it has a great white sandy beach, along with some cozy little water-side restaurants.
Further south, the lesser known beaches either side of the Devil's Tear outcrop, known as Dream Beach and Sunset Beach (or Sandy Bay), are increasingly drawing more visitors. The coastal landscape in this part of the island is mostly low-lying limestone cliffs, and there are some dramatic cave formations.
The north end of the island is fringed by an important mangrove forest, and the eastern side of the island is separated from neighbouring Nusa Ceningan by a shallow estuarine channel.
The main population centre of the island is Lembongan Village in the southern interior, and it is here that you will find the homes of many traditional island families.
The climate of Nusa Lembongan is similar to neighbouring 'mainland' Bali, but it is noticeably drier here, particularly in the period of May to September. If there is a time to avoid, it would be the height of the rainy season in January and February.
The local Lembonganese are Hindu and visitors will notice little or no difference from the prevailing culture on the Bali mainland.
Balinese is the most common language of communication between local residents, with Bahasa Indonesia a distant second. The Balinese spoken here is a distinct dialect, and sharp-eared linguists would certainly notice this. English is widely understood and spoken, often with an Australian accent!.
The only realistic way (although you can charter a helicopter) to reach Nusa Lembongan from Bali is by boat. There are several options according to budget and speed. Most of the scheduled services leave from Sanur Beach at the end of Jalan Hangtuah, and involve getting your feet wet. The exact departure and arrival point on this beach depends on the tide. Other services run from Benoa Harbour, and there are local public boat services to and from Padang Bai and Kusamba in East Bali, but these are not recommended for reasons of safety and comfort.
The attractions here are mostly natural. The beaches and other coastal landscapes are obviously a key draw, as are the sunsets. There are a limited number of man-made attractions, most notably temples and the rickety suspension bridge.
Dream Beach. A wonderful secluded beach with powdery, white sand, located on the south coast. From the main accommodation areas on the west coast, head southeast towards Lembongan Village where you should turn west, and then look for the signposted small track leading south to Dream Beach. There is a cafe attached to the single resort here, and this makes Dream Beach a great place to spend the whole day doing nothing. Be very careful though about entering the water here as the rips can be fierce. Only the strongest swimmers should consider this and even then, avoid the eastern end of the beach.
Sandy Bay (Sunset Beach), (adjacent to Devil's Tear). A small but spectacular beach with white sand and crashing waves, located just to the north of Dream Beach, and easiest reached via the same route. The excellent Beach Club at Sandy Bay is located here and this should encourage visitors to spend the day. At low tide a dramatic cave is exposed in the low limestone cliff at the eastern side of the bay. Approach carefully and make sure you are not cut off from the beach by a rising tide. All-in-all, this is a delightful spot which is as laid back as anywhere in the whole of Bali.
Tamarind Beach, (between Playgrounds surf break and Mushroom Bay). Good views back to Bali, and of Mount Agung especially.
Devil's Tear. A rocky outcrop on the south western coast. Spectacular crashing waves and water plumes. Easily found by walking either a few minutes north from Dream Beach or south from Sunset Beach.
Mangrove Forest, (continue north on the only west coast road from Jungut Batu until you reach the mangroves). Northern Nusa Lembongan has an extensive forest of mature mangroves which can be explored in a jukung outrigger boat.
Puncak Sari Temple, Lembongan Village (just north of Lembongan Village on the main route back to Jungut Batu). The largest and grandest Hindu temple on the island. Good views over the straits back to Bali from this area.
Seaweed Farms, (make your way to the shoreline anywhere in the southeast quarter of the island and just observe). Seaweed farming takes place in many parts of the island, but the most accessible farms are on the southern side of Lembongan Village. Most of the seaweed grown here is destined for the Asian cosmetics industry.
Sunsets. One thing not to miss on Nusa Lembongan. The Sunset over Bali is awe-inspiring, and can be viewed from any west facing part of the island, but the beach at Jungut Batu is especially popular. A more rural alternative is to go over the bridge to Nusa Ceningan and view the sunset from one of the west-facing high ridges. Being just a few degrees south of the equator, sunset times do not vary much throughout the year here. Look to be in place between 5:30PM and 6PM.
Suspension Bridge, (go through Lembongan Village heading west, sticking on the main road until you hit the estuarine channel). This quirky yellow suspension bridge should not be missed by any visitor. You can walk or bike across the bridge to neighbouring Nusa Ceningan. The noise it makes can be quite scary, and contributes to what is an all-round Indiana Jones-type experience. Although it is definitely getting more and more rickety as the years pass, the bridge is still safe, and there are many thousands of incident-free crossings every year. There are very rare occasions when the bridge is off-bounds to motorbikes due to maintenance. At such times boats, offer transport across the channel for you and your bike. Free.
Nusa Ceningan is the tiny island between Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida, which is easily reached via the suspension bridge on foot or by bicycle/motorbike. There is a notable surf break off Nusa Ceningan which attracts some surfers away from the more crowded breaks on Nusa Lembongan. Otherwise the island offers some scenic roads and paths, and the westward views back over Nusa Lembongan to Bali are impressive. Viewing the sunset over Bali from the central Ceningan ridge is very much worth the effort. The estuarine channel between Lembongan and Ceningan is home to many seaweed farms.
Very few visitors choose to stay on Nusa Ceningan, but a small bungalow complex opened in 2009, another in 2010, and more accommodation options are in the pipeline.
Activities are very much water-based, with surfing and scuba diving being especially notable.
Nusa Lembongan was first opened up as a tourist destination by surfers, and it has long been an established part of the Bali surf circuit.
There are three main breaks, all off the top half of the west coast, with another less well known just to the southwest off Nusa Ceningan. Playgrounds, Lacerations and Shipwrecks are all close offshore and reached via an energetic paddle from the beach, or in a more leisurely fashion, by a local boat (perahu) which can be chartered from the nearest beach.
Whilst the breaks usually suit intermediate to experienced surfers given they all break over coral reefs, the aptly named Playgrounds is a little more forgiving and can be enjoyed by beginners and experts alike. All the surf breaks become extremely crowded during the dry season
Although surfable all year round, waves are best when winds are in the southeast quarter, normally from April to September/October.
Diving is of excellent quality in the crystal clear waters around the island. A number of reputable dive shops are present, and this is a notable teaching destination. Many hundreds of visitors have learned to dive here.
For more experienced divers, the most interesting sites are off neighbouring Nusa Penida. There are some challenging drift dives here, and dive operators will visit certain sites only when the sea conditions are safe. There are plenty of options for easier flat reef and wall dives as well. Marine highlights include large manta rays all year round, spectacular, massive oceanic sunfish (mola-mola) in season (July to October), white-tipped reef sharks, nurse sharks and the odd hammerhead. Whale sharks are far from regular, but the odd migrant is seen. Last but certainly not least, four species of sea turtle can be found here. All operators offer scheduled trips to the prime dive sites around all three islands.
Prices vary little from shop to shop. Course fees run from about US$60 for a half day Discover Scuba introduction, to US$395 for PADI Open Water certification. A fun dive will cost approximately US$35-45 including all equipment, with discounts offered for multiple dives. Dive shops have variable opening hours according to seasonal demand. Night dives are widely offered and offer a fantastic underwater experience.
Non-divers should not feel left out, as good snorkeling is available close inshore at various spots around the island. Perhaps the two best areas are Mushroom Bay on the west coast, and the mangroves on the northern tip. Equipment can be hired from your hotel or on the beach, and depending on the quality of the gear, you should expect to pay Rp 20,000-50,000 for renting a mask, snorkel and set of fins.
If you fancy getting further offshore, dive shops may sell you a snorkeling space on a scheduled dive boat, subject to availability. Also, local boatmen are willing to take you by boat to various snorkeling spots. Depending on the number of snorkeling spots you want to visit, a boat trip can be arranged for about Rp 200,000-300,000 (including snorkeling gear). An enjoyable snorkeling spot reached by boat only is the west coast of neighbouring Nusa Penida, with Crystal Bay being especially rewarding. There is a strong current along this coast. The boatman will drop you off at the beginning of the current, and you can drift while snorkeling along the drop off wall with beautiful coral and loads of fish. The boatmen will follow you and pick you up at the end of the drift.
Other water sports
Families with children will not be short of options. The full gamut of typical resort-type, mechanised water sports are available, including wake-boarding and banana boats. Those who care a little about the environment may be keener to patronise the sea kayaking option. Your hotel will be able to assist with booking any of these activities. Alternatively, just head down to the beach at either Mushroom Bay or Jungut Batu, and figure it out for yourself. Costs start at about Rp 150,000 for a single banana boat ride.
This is an excellent island for walking and keen visitors should not hesitate to just head off and explore the myriad tracks that criss-cross the island.
The low cliffs in the south offer some splendid coastal walking routes. Perhaps the best of them starts at Dream Beach, from where you should take the obvious footpath north over the Devil's Tear outcrop, pausing to see some of the most dramatic wave formations anywhere around the island. The crashing plumes are sometimes huge here, so be prepared to get wet! Continue northwards to Sunset Beach and explore the cove. If you time your arrival for low tide, the cave at the eastern end of the beach may be accessible.
At the opposite end of the beach you will find The Beach Club. From here follow the footpath leading northwest up the hill always keeping the private villas to your left, until you again hit the cliff line. From here you will see right across the Badung Strait to Bali. Follow the cliff path northwards and then around to the east, all the time pausing to appreciate the dramatic coastal formations. Birdwatchers should lookout for flashes of turquoise and white, as spectacular sacred kingfishers are common in this area, and offshore it is worth keeping an eye out for huge frigatebirds. Keep following this path eastwards, and you will drop down into Mushroom Bay where the suggested walk ends and refreshments are available.