Nusa Penida dwarfs nearby Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, yet is almost devoid of tourists. For all intents and purposes there are only three (yes, three) places even worth considering staying at, despite miles upon miles upon miles of beautiful beaches, an attractive hinterland and a generally "unspoilt" vibe about the place.
Before you pack your bags, a couple of disclaimers:
The vast majority of beaches, with the notable exception of Crystal Bay, are given over to seaweed farming. While there is often coral beyond, it's not a simple throw-yourself-in-off-the-beach affair — do that and you'll likely satay yourself on one of the seaweed poles.
The interior is very pretty, with the north side of the island's interior offering some great views. It is also dotted with hamlets, where kids will dash out and wave hello. Of note is the weaving village of Tanglad towards the southeast corner of the island. While the road network is broadly speaking circular, around 76,342,654 side roads run off this with almost no signposting. Junctions are often in the middle of nowhere with nobody to ask directions from.
You will get lost — even with a map — and while getting lost a couple of times is all part of the experience, it can get very frustrating, especially when there is a "Save the Bali Starling" sign every few kilometres. Perhaps the starling crowd could have added a few road markers while they were at it?!
Yes, Nusa Penida is unspoilt. Coming from very developed Bali or bustling Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida can be a bit of a shock. There are very few places to stay. Eateries are comprised solely of simple warungs. The place is screaming out for a beach bar or two, but there are none (though you can get a cold drink by the beach at Toyo Pakeh for sunset).
There are very few cars, and traffic, well, like nearby Nusa Ceningan, Penida doesn't do traffic. Phone signal is patchy at best, non-existent at worst. You'll get a 3G signal at Toyo Pakeh, on the beach, in certain places, and also at random locations along the main pier. Elsewhere, forget it.
The snorkelling is great and, while we didn't try it ourselves, the diving on Nusa Penida gets great reports. The hinterland is beautiful and we found the locals all up to be a pretty friendly bunch.
You know what? We loved it.
Legend has it Nusa Penida was the original abode of Jero Gede Macaling — a demon and the original inspiration for the Barong dance. Pura Dalem Penetaran Ped in Ped village contains a shrine to his evilness himself making it both a totem for those learned in the dark arts along with those seeking relief from them. These demonic origins gave the island a bit of a reputation for wickedness, a reputation buttressed by the actions of Klungkung regency (of which Penida is a part) — back in the day, the regency banished political undesirables and those expert in the practice of witchcraft here.
Already an arid island receiving a fraction of the rainfall of lush Bali, these undesirables seemingly spent a lot of their time denuding the island's once considerable tree cover, and what topsoil there was went with it. Tree-planting programmes are now underway to try to restore some of the damage done, but as any ride through the interior will show, an awful lot remains to be done.
One bright light has been the Bali Starling programme, which is run by the Friends of the National Park Foundation. They run a volunteer centre just past Ped where you can volunteer, stay or just visit. It's a worthy cause doing some good work. See their website http://www.fnpf.org/what-we-do/nusa-penida-bali for more information.
Nusa Penida is no culinary capital. You'll find basic warungs scattered around Toyo Pakeh and Sampalan plus three or four warungs opposite Pura Dalem Penetaran Ped in Ped. Little distinguishes these three or four, but the easternmost one is the most restaurant-like and has the cheekiest cats this side of Cairo. The westernmost one does a good chicken curry.
Nusa Penida has two main villages: Toyo Pakeh on the northwestern tip, and around 6km to the east, Sampalan. Further east from Sampalan is Suana, while the main interior centre is Tanglad. Only Toyo Pakeh and Sampalan have accommodation and both have a limited selection of places to eat.
Sampalan has a BRI ATM, but it doesn't accept Visa and we've found BRI ATMs to be notoriously flaky, so you're better off to bring cash with you.
Sampalan also has a small internet cafe. The only place we could get a 3G signal was in a couple of random spots at Toyo Pakeh facing Nusa Lembongan, elsewhere you can only get GPRS if you are lucky.
The main roads are all sealed with occasional potholes. As mentioned above, signposting in the interior is a big issue.
For anything more than bruised pride, head to Bali for medical assistance.
There are a couple of fixers on Nusa Penida, the best of whom we found to be Rod. He speaks good English, has good advice and struck us as pretty honest and straight speaking. He'll find you. Really.
Text and/or map last updated on 30th October, 2013.
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Where are the tourists?
This is the island you come to when you want to get away from the tourist hoards and off the beaten track. For the two and half days that I spent travelling across the island, I only ran into two other non-locals.
When you get off the boat you will be met by Roddie, the local tourist guy. I had been told before I arrived that he would find me. I doubted that statement, but yep, Roddie was there waiting for me! I have know idea how this works... maybe the boat captain sends smoke signals to say 'incoming tourist'! In spite of my initial suspicions, he was actually a nice guy and helpful in showing me to the guest houses, and he rented me his scooter for a couple of days at a reasonable rate - and this was knowing that it was my first time on a bike!
If you have not ridden a motorbike before but want to learn, this is the place to do it - forget trying to learn in Bali! There is virtually no traffic, and once you get up into interior of the island, you pretty much have the roads to yourself. The countryside is gorgeous. Be sure to stop in Tanglad (the weaving village) for a look around. Crystal Bay is also worth checking out for a swim (bring your snorkle gear if you have any). Unless the roads have been repaired in the last year or so, it was a pretty rough and steep ride down to the bay - a good challenge to conquer for a novice motorbike rider!
Make some effort to learn a few words in Indonesian before you come - it will go a long way here. I generally found the people on Penida very friendly. I was continually waved down as I rode across the island. The first couple of times, I thought they stopped me because of a problem with the motorbike or something, but no, they just wanted to talk, practice their English, etc. I was invited in to a temple watch a gamelan practice, for a tour around a village that I stopped at, and into people's homes to meet the family. I accidentally interrupted lessons at one school as I stopped outside to get my bearings with a map. All the kids rushed over to wave, chat and have their photo taken.
Penida has a bix of Hindu and Muslim communities. You're not in Bali now, so bikini tops, singlets and skimpy shorts won't do here. Take a more conservative approach and you will have a much better reaction from the locals. Being female, blonde and travelling on my own, I found the Muslim men around the Toyopakeh a bit cold in their reception towards me even though I was reasonably dressed. But everyone else was fantastic.
Penida is a great destination if you want to get away from the crowds, and want a more local style experience. Just don't tell too many others about it!
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By busylizzy (dabbler)
Written on 9th July, 2011 after a visit to Nusa Penida in October, 2009
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