Jul 18 2011
Nusa Lembongan is a beautiful little patch of an island just off the east coast of southern Bali. It’s famous for its surfing, sunsets and snorkelling, and is growing in popularity among those looking for a less crowded, unadulterated flavour of Bali. But the big question: how to get there?
It’s an island, there’s no bridge and not an airport in sight, so unless you’ve got access to a helicopter and a landing pad, it’s boats all the way. There are fast boats and slow boats, shiny boats and rusty boats, expensive boats and cheap boats. All this for a short jaunt across the water!
Bali to Lembongan 101
Sanur, the south coast sleepy resort town, is the main gateway to Nusa Lembongan (and neighbouring Nusa Penida for that matter) so regardless of where you’re actually leaving from, chances are you’ll actually wade onto the boat at Sanur.
The Badung strait swings between near glassy smooth waters and a boisterous torrent of swirling eddies and waves in the middle of nowhere. If the weather is foul ashore, rest assured the waters will be doubly so.
What are the options
Four main options are worth considering, each probably appealling to a specific segment of the market. Broadly speaking, there’s the “local” local boat, the Perama local boat (basically a local boat aimed at non-locals), speedboat services (many of these to choose from, though most opt for one of two main operators) and the daytripper cruise ships.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, it is worth pointing out that excepting the daytripping services, none of these boats use a pier — you will need to wade (generally up to about knee-depth, but sometimes more) up to the back of the boat and climb the steps into the boat. If you are mobility-impaired or not comfortable getting onto a boat in this manner, someone will need to carry you. In rough seas getting on can be a bit of a circus and injuries do happen, so do take care. If you’re not comfortable getting on the boat, don’t get on the boat.
The local local boat
This leaves Sanur at 08:00 and Nusa Lembongan at 08:00, and costs 60,000 to 100,000 rupiah (depending on what they feel like telling you) and takes about an hour to 90 minutes. Like many local boat services in Indonesia, this boat is invariably overloaded and basically meets few of the safety regulations in your home country (unless you’re from say Indonesia or the Philippines). We saw no life jackets. In poor weather, or when travelling with children, we would not use this service.
The Perama local boat
This leaves Sanur at 10:30 and Nusa Lembongan at 08:30, and costs 150,000 rupiah. It takes about an hour to 90 minutes. There are few differences between the Perama boat and the local local boat, other than you’re likely to be sharing a bench with a German backpacker rather than a bag of rice and you won’t be as crowded. Other boats, not all run by Perama, run this route in a somewhat informal fashion. We didn’t see life jackets in any of the ones we looked into and watched a boatman on Nusa Lembongan tell a potential passenger that life jackets were not needed because it is a short, safe trip. In our opinion, this is not true.
The fast boats
There are two main fast boat services between Bali and Nusa Lembongan: Scoot and Rocky Fast Cruises. The former is the more established of the two and runs boats not only to Nusa Lembongan, but also to the Gili Islands off the coast of Lombok. Both companies ostensibly offer pickup and drop-off services (to a set range of destinations) but we’ve found Scoot’s to be far superior and despite them being cheaper, we’d not use Rocky again solely due to their utterly inept approach to drop offs in Bali.
The actual boat services are close to identical, though Scoot has a larger boat if you end up on the boat that presses onwards to the Gilis after stopping at Lembongan. Both services have new-looking life jackets stowed under the seat, or overhead (though we didn’t actually eyeball the overhead ones). Luggage is tagged and porters carry bags on and off the boat for you.
Scoot charges 300,000 rupiah one way and Rocky 250,000 rupiah (both include pick-up and drop-off services). A return ticket is slightly cheaper.
Aside from Scoot and Rocky, a bunch of other operators offer a fast boat service for as little as 150,000 rupiah one way. Ask around at either beach for a “cheaper boat” and you’ll get what you want. Personally, we feel Scoot is worth the extra money.
Bounty and Bali Hai are among the companies that run day-trip cruises to Nusa Lembongan. They leave from Benoa port on Bali and moor at especially unsightly pontoons near Playgrounds surf break on Nusa Lembongan. Once on the pontoon you’re able to be ferried to the mainland to mix it up with the natives — or in the case of Bali Hai, take a trip in their semi-submergeable coral-viewing submarine.
These services are essentially a pleasure cruise with an island tacked on and, unless you are especially rushed, not really worth considering — the boat services from Sanur are better value. Bounty offers a one way ticket for US$35, a day cruise with Bali Hai $95 — but there are a few options available.
Which boat service to use?
If it doesn’t break your budget, or if you’re travelling with kids, use Scoot. If you’re on a tight budget, use Perama. Given the other options available, we wouldn’t use the local boat service.
In bad weather we wouldn’t use either the local service or the Perama boat. Boats have sunk, and will continue to sink on the Bali to Lembongan/Penida route — the waters can be treacherous.
Are the fares set?
No, sort-of, maybe — well, it depends really! There is a local rate to Nusa Penida for starters. If you have a KITAS and speak Indonesian, you should be able to make an effort at getting the local fare, but at the end of the day, you’re most likely not really local, so don’t risk an aneurism over $7.
Tourist fares, especially onwards to the Gili Islands, are absolutely negotiable. Note though, you will need to show up in person to haggle (neither the phone centre, nor the website will haggle, in our experience!).
By Indonesian standards, the Bali to Nusa Lembongan route is one of the most organised and with the best safety standards you’re likely to encounter in Indonesia. That doesn’t mean it operates at international standards.
If you’re new to how boats typically run in Southeast Asia (unsafely and overloaded, but generally speaking, without incident), then you may find it a little confronting. If weather is bad, the boat overloaded and you’ve got a bad feeling, then don’t get on. The boats run daily, multiple times a day — there is always another boat.
Looking for more reassurance? Read our boating in Indonesia story.
Have fun and be sure to head up to mangrove beach one sunset!
Bali Hai Cruises
T: (0361) 720 331
T: (0361) 726 666
T: (0361) 750 808
Rocky Fast Cruises
T: (0361) 801 2324
Scoot Fast Cruises
T: (0361) 285 522
Travelfish.org always pays its way. No exceptions.