Photo: Go before they put in a cable car.

Introduction

Our rating:

The craggy limestone island of Nusa Penida to the southeast of Bali covers an area of around 200 square kilometres, dwarfing its popular neighbours Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, and until recent years had been all but ignored by tourists.


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Nusa Penida is in the midst of rapid change, having now being “discovered” and though infrastructure is lacking, guesthouses, restaurants and other tourist focused business are sprouting like mushrooms in the wet season. It’s not difficult to see the attraction, Nusa Penida is a place of natural rugged beauty with miles upon miles upon miles of gobsmackingly stunning coastline, 100-metre sheer cliffs that drop dramatically into crystal blue seas populated with an abundance of marine life, along with beautiful beaches, an attractive hinterland and (for now) a generally “unspoilt” vibe about the place.

Seaweed farming—one of the traditional industries of Penida is fading away. Photo taken in or around Nusa Penida, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Seaweed farming—one of the traditional industries of Penida is fading away. Photo: Sally Arnold

One of the reasons Nusa Penida has been avoided for so long, is that for centuries the Balinese have regarded the island as a place of “black magic” where evil spirits dwell and ill fortune awaits. Legend has it Nusa Penida was the 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. Nevertheless, these beliefs seem now to be for the most part ignored—at least when there is a buck to be made.

Despite the exponential growth in visitors, the development of infrastructure on the island has not kept pace, and the few paved roads are rapidly being destroyed by the daily convoy of cars with traffic to rival any southern Bali town. Minor roads are worse than riverbeds, dangerously steep with loose surfaces, so keep that in mind if you plan on hiring a motorbike to ride around—this is really not the conditions for novices. Not to mention the growing problem with rubbish.

Left right left right. Photo taken in or around Nusa Penida, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Left right left right. Photo: Sally Arnold

The arid island receives very little rainfall, and we noted that some villages in the hills had had no water for a week when we visited at the very beginning of the dry season, and it was commented that the coastal towns too sometimes have problems with water and power. Be mindful of your water usage and take a refillable bottle to reduce the excessive plastic problem. Many of the guesthouses we viewed were shonkily constructed, some with downright dangerous electrical work, additionally the general lack of staff training or English skills of those working in tourism makes you wonder why the government doesn’t step in to help these former fishermen and farmers with some training and expertise. We hate to say it, but get in fast to see Nusa Penida before it’s destroyed (maybe Jero Gede Macaling is in control after all).

Notwithstanding our negativity and cynicism, Nusa Penida is very much worth your time and though many visitors venture over on daytrips from Bali we think it is worth at least three days to discover. Several of the sights require climbing down (and back up) steep cliff faces, but many can be just as rewarding from the top of the ridge.

Angel’s Billabong: One of Penida’s top Instagram spots. Photo taken in or around Nusa Penida, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Angel’s Billabong: One of Penida’s top Instagram spots. Photo: Sally Arnold

Nusa Penida’s “top sights” include the cliffs of Kelingking, which adventurous travellers can descend to one of Bali’s most beautiful beaches below. Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach are two natural formations that have the crowds queueing for the perfect selfie and Tembeling offers a beautiful rainforest walk and natural springs.

Peguyangan Waterfall is a sight that requires a bit of a white knuckle climb, to the sacred seaside temple, Pura Segara Kidul, or you could just spend a day driving around the cliffs from viewpoint to viewpoint. For some beach time, our top pick is Atuh Beach, but this too requires a bit of work to reach and if you just want to jump in the sea with little effort, Crystal Bay is easily accessed, and consequently the busiest spot on the island.

No need to even get wet! Photo taken in or around Nusa Penida, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

No need to even get wet! Photo: Sally Arnold

The snorkelling and diving around Nusa Penida is top class with the gentle giants of the sea, manta rays a common sight and seasonally mola mola. Many of the dive sites are for advanced divers only but there are still opportunities for beginners and snorkelers too. Previously the vast majority of the coastline was given over to seaweed farming and some still exists in the far northeast, but do watch out along the north coast as you launch off the beach for a swim or a snorkel as many of the seaweed poles remain hidden under water—be careful not to get satayed.

The interior of the island is also very pretty, with the north side offering some great vistas. The points of interest are not all views and natural splendours, there’re cultural sights too—a fascinating temple within a cave at Pura Gua Giri Putri and a rather odd “car temple” at Pura Palung. The village of Tanglad is known for traditional weaving and a visit is a must for textile enthusiasts. Wildlife lovers and twitchers have the opportunity to spot one of the world’s rarest birds on the island—Nusa Penida is a protected sanctuary for the critically endangered Bali starling, a programme set up by local NGO, Friends of the National Park Foundation. A great way to sustainably contribute to Nusa Penida is to join their volunteer programme where you can stay in their centre at Ped village.

Work in progress. Photo taken in or around Nusa Penida, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Work in progress. Photo: Sally Arnold

Accommodation and tourist services in general are more expensive than you will find on Bali. For the moment, particularly in high season demand well overtakes supply and asking prices at some guesthouses and hotels verge on the fanciful. We heard reports that in the high season of August 2017 some locals were charging 250,000 rupiah for a bed in their home, sharing a traditional squat toilet and mandi with the family. At the time of research in May 2018, construction sites almost outnumbered existing accommodation, and every week new places open, so we guess there will come a point when the market is saturated and prices may be more competitive.

The restaurant and bar scene too is emerging with a couple of very good options and many pleasant spots to enjoy seaside fare. Most accommodation and restaurants offer free WiFi but it is generally hit and miss, similarly with phone signal and internet coverage around the island.

Road standards can be somewhat variable. Photo taken in or around Nusa Penida, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Road standards can be somewhat variable. Photo: Sally Arnold

Even though the island is vast, there is no public transport to speak of and getting about requires long uncomfortable drives. If you are planning on hiring a motorbike, or using motorbike taxis, consider taking a helmet with you as there are very few available.

Generally be careful as you travel around Nusa Penida, not just on the roads, but by the cliff edges, rocky outcrops by the sea and in the water as all are potential hazards and injuries or worse are relatively commonplace. Take note of warning signs and be aware what your travel insurance covers you for.

Regular fastboat services connect Nusa Penida to Sanur and Kusamba in Bali and a daily car ferry runs to Padang Bai. Local boat services also link to Nusa Lembongan with connections to the Gili Islands in Lombok.




Orientation
Nusa Penida is roughly egg-shaped (laid by the chicken-shaped Bali we say) with the town Sampalan on the mid north coast as it turns southwards, the main administrative centre and where you will find the ferry terminal to Padang Bai. Around nine kilometres to the west is Toya Pakeh, the other main town and the only Muslim village in this predominantly Hindu Island. If you arrive by fast boat you will most likely (but not always) by dropped here or close by, as many of the companies are based near Toya Pakeh.

As close to an airport as Penida gets. Photo taken in or around Nusa Penida, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

As close to an airport as Penida gets. Photo: Sally Arnold

Both of these towns offer tourist accommodation, restaurants and bars and roughly between these, at the village of Ped you’ll find another cluster of places to stay and eat, but saying that, running along the north coast and into the hills from the coastal road, more and more places are developing all the way to Semaya village in the east. To the west of the island, between Toya Pakeh and Crystal Bay around the village of Sakti is another area of tourist development. Towns in the interior such as the weaving centre of Tanglad in the east and Klumpu in the west are still predominantly traditional local villages.

Both Toya Pakeh and Sampalan have a BRI ATM which accept both Visa and MasterCard, but can be temperamental—the one in Toya Pakeh more so, so you’re better off to bring cash. Sampalan has a small supermarket and a there’s a minimarket in Ped as well as small shops selling sundries in most towns.

A great island to explore. Photo taken in or around Nusa Penida, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

A great island to explore. Photo: Sally Arnold

Traditional markets can be found in Toya Pakeh near the harbour and Sampalan. The post office is in Sampalan and the police station is between Toya Pakeh and Ped. Near Toya Pakeh, Banjar Nyuh has a small hospital, Rumah Sakit Pratama Nusa Penida and a clinic, Puri Medika and there is a puskesmas (local hospital) in Sampalan, but for anything bar sunburn or a scraped knee, head to Bali for medical assistance.

Make a difference
Volunteer with FNPF and help with wildlife monitoring, tree planting and teaching English. Paws sterilises, vaccinates and provides medical assistance to domestic animals living on the streets of Nusa Penida. Cash donations welcome as are donations of Bravecto or Nexgard flea and tick preventative and dog collars. Yayasan Kura Kura treats injured and rescued sea turtles brought to the clinic from all around Bali.

Friends of National Park Foundation (FNPF): T: (0361) 4792 286; (0811) 398 052; (0813) 5322 9944 (Damai); http://www.fnpf.org
Paws of Nusa Penida: https://www.facebook.com/pg/pawsofnusapenida/about/
Yayasan Kura Kura—Turtle Rehabilitation Centre: Toya Pakeh; T: (0812) 3949 9449; https://www.facebook.com/KuraKura.Penida/

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