Under the shadow of Gunung Agung, amid a scorched landscape of rocky grassland, the tiny fishing village of Tulamben is an isolated speck on the north-east coast of Bali. The main attraction here is underwater — the sunken wreck of US cargo ship Liberty may have been a disaster at the time, but has produced one of Bali’s top dive spots, and one of the easiest wreck dives in the world.
The village of Tulamben, a cluster of hotels and houses, stretches a short kilometre along the main road which snakes along Bali’s north coast, with a few resorts spread about six kilometres in either direction. The beach is nothing but a narrow strip of black pebbles — good for a foot massage, but not really conducive for sun worshiping. Tulamben’s name is a contraction of ‘batulambih’, which roughly translates to ‘many stones’. Visitors come for the diving and snorkelling and not much else. But they do come — the wreck is one of the busiest dive sites in Bali.
In 1942 USAT Liberty (USAT stands for United States Army Transport) was en route from Australian to the Philippines with a cargo of railway parts and rubber when she was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine near the Lombok Strait. She didn’t sink and an unsuccessful attempt was made to tow her to the harbour at Singaraja.
Liberty was beached at Tulamben for salvage operations where she lay for the next 21 years. In 1963 lava flows from the eruption of Gunung Agung, pushed the vessel down into the ocean and she has been there ever since for your diving pleasure. The shipwreck creates an ideal environment for many corals and sea creatures, attracting a large variety of fish too. The cave-like interior hull, invites exploration. Close to the shore, and in relatively shallow waters — it’s an easy swim from the pebbly beach for not only divers, but snorkelers too.
Besides the Liberty site, Tulamben offers a number of pretty coral gardens, all accessible to both divers and snorkelers from the shore, including another ‘wreck’ — the Boga in nearby Kubu, which was purposely sunk here in 2012. Tulamben is also becoming recognised as a good place to learn freediving (apnea).
If diving and snorkelling don’t appeal, this stretch of coast doesn’t have much to offer in the way of sandy beaches — head to nearby Amed or further south to Candi Dasa or Padang Bai for shoreside activities. For a break from underwater, a half-day trip can be made to see the falling variety. Les Waterfall is a little over an hour’s drive away, and amid pretty jungle surroundings provides a serene and cool swimming spot. If you’re in need of a bit of a stretch, yoga is offered Thursday evenings at 17:00 at Minabali Bunga’lo, with a free pickup.
The number of hotels in Tulamben almost seems disproportionate to the activities offered — and it keeps growing. Accommodation ranges from simple dorms to fancy resorts, and almost all have a dive operation attached. If you are planning on diving, it’s often worthwhile to check out packages which include accommodation and dives.
Tulamben's eating scene is pretty straightforward. Many hotels have restaurants, and there are several Western-style restaurants along the main strip. We were surprised at the lack of seafood and fish offerings — it was mostly frozen — check if it’s fresh when you order (and ask them not to overcook it!). The best food here is in the small local point and pick warungs — the surroundings may not be salubrious, but the food is fresh and tasty.
Motorbikes and cars, both self drive and with a driver, can be rented around town and a couple of tour operators offer day trips to other parts of Bali. Public transport is thin on the ground.
Several ATMs are packed together in the middle of town, and a number of mini-markets, including Indomaret sell sunblock and drinks amid other sundries. A couple of dusty small shops sell mass produced souvenirs and sarongs.
The police station is in the centre, and the post office, a few kilometres north. All hotels offer free WiFi as do most of the restaurants.
If you need medical assistance, the closest hospitals are in Amlapura or Singaraja, both over an away.
By Sally Arnold. Last updated on 6th June, 2016.