Bali’s best underwater gardens are found around the bays of Menjangan Island in the far northwest of Bali, within the protected area of West Bali National Park. This is no secret -- it's one of the more popular dive and snorkelling spots in Bali.
Famous for its calm clear waters, the abundance of sea life will make it feel like you’re swimming in an aquarium. Beautiful coral formations, filigreed gorgonian fans and clownfish-filled anemones are common, as are stunning walls and drop-offs pitted with caves and nooks and crannies for critters to hide in. Not as common, but you may be lucky to see some, are larger species like whale sharks, mantas and turtles. Waters here are a warm 28-31 degrees Celsius, the current is none to mild and the sun shines to the deep depths.
Around the island, small sandy bays offer a bit of shade and it’s common to spot the resident menjangan or the Javan rusa or Sunda sambar deer (rusa timorensis) for which the island is named. The island is important for Balinese Hindus, who make pilgrimages to the four temples here, including Pura Gili Kencana, dating from the Majapahit period and believed to be the oldest in Bali. Take a sarong and sash if you wish to visit.
Unfortunately, as with many places in Indonesia, Menjangan Island has a problem with rubbish washed in on the tide and floating around the sea. The local guides make an effort to remove it (and encourage you to do the same), and one guide in particular, Nono Suparono, buys the plastic rubbish from nearby warungs before it hits the sea and transforms it into useful products like shopping bags — look for him at Labuan Lalang. Nono can be contacted through the organisation he helped set up, Friends of Menjangan. Sadly, their work isn't enough, and if the wind is blowing onshore, still expect a lot of floating refuse.
Occasionally there are tiny stinging jellyfish in the water, which can leave a painful sting, but are not dangerous. Guides usually carry vinegar as an antidote. Divers should be aware that Menjangan dive sites have a reputation of causing a high rate of decompression sickness due to some very deep areas. Stay SAFE (slowly ascend from every dive!). A hyperbaric chamber to treat decompression sickness is available at Sanglah Hospital (Rumah Sakit Umum Sanglah) in Denpasar (T: (0361) 22 7911 ext. 232 for the hyperbaric medical department).
The most popular site for both diving and snorkelling on Menjangan Island is known as Pos Dua. On a busy day it can be like Grand Central Station, with the small bay chock-full of boats, however once in the water, it’s not so congested. Though you’ll not be alone, most of the time outside of high season, it’s relatively quiet.
For snorkellers it’s a few sandy steps from the beach over some dead coral, then a short swim over a shallow reef to a stunning drop-off over a 40 metre abyss, quite a giddying experience as you swim “off the edge”. The visibility is often excellent, and the spectacular explosion of colour will have you in awe of mother nature. This majestic coral-encrusted canyon provides even more treasures for divers only a few metres further down. Sometimes a small current helps propel you along the wall, and the moving waters also help to ensure the corals are kept in good condition. It’s easy enough to swim back to the beach, have a rest and spend a couple of hours here -- and yes, it is worth hours.
All up, more than a dozen dive sites are found around the island, many suitable for beginners, as well as sites for more experienced divers, including a very deep small wreck. For snorkellers, there are several good shallower spots for a drift snorkel. Your boatman will drop you (and your guide) into the deep blue and then either float with you, or motor down to the pickup point a couple of hundred metres away.
Menjangan Island is about five kilometres or a 30-minute boat ride from mainland Bali, accessible from two ports: Labuhan Lalang, 16 kilometres west of Pemuteran, or Banyumandi, seven kilometres west of Pemutaran, near Mimpi Resort. If travelling from Pemuteran via public transport, although further, Labuhan Lalang is more accessible, as it’s on the main Singaraja-Gilimanuk road. Buses and bemos ply this route daily passing both Pemuteran (30 minutes) and Lovina (two hours).
For single travellers wishing to snorkel, it’s more economical to join an organised trip with one of the dive companies, or you could try your luck and go to one of the ports and see if you can find someone to join you. Prices are set by the national park and are the same at both ports. Regardless of which you go from, you are required to hire a snorkelling guide to accompany you in the water. This sounds like a bit of a drag, but it is actually good as they tend to be very good at pointing out interesting critters that you may otherwise miss.
Entry fee to the national park is 200,000 rupiah per foreigner. Each person is required to pay an activity fee of 15,000 rupiah for snorkelling or 25,000 rupiah for diving, plus insurance at 4,000 rupiah per person (even if you have your own comprehensive travel insurance).
Boats hold a maximum of 10 people and the rate for four hours (including the return trip to the island) is 525,000 rupiah. Guides are 200,000 rupiah and a “cleaning fee” per boat is 10,000 rupiah. Snorkel equipment is 40,000 rupiah per set (or 20,000 rupiah for just fins or mask). Gear is in a reasonable, though not excellent, condition, so if you are picky, bring your own. No food or water is available on the island. Warungs at both ports sell nasi bungkus (rice packets with a mix of treats) if you haven’t already organised a picnic. Ask them to wrap it in banana leaves, otherwise you’ll get a polystyrene box.
Close to the port of Banyumandi, Banyuwedang Hot Spring is an interesting side trip if you’re passing. There’s not much to see and it’s more of a local bathing spot, but interestingly the hot spring water has flooded the mangrove-filled bay. Locals pull buckets of water up from a well on the shore — it’s really hot and has a strong sulphur smell. Private baths are available but don’t bother, they’re pretty grotty. Nearby Mimpi Resort channels water from the spring for hot pools for guests. Non-guests may be able to negotiate use of the facilities. There are all sorts of health claims for bathing in the mineral-infused waters.
Dive trips to Menjangan Island can be organised in both Lovina and Pemutaran. As many places in Asia, beware of fake “PADI” operations.
Bali Diving Academy: Taman Sari Cottages; T: (0361) 270 252, (0877) 6004 8532; http://scubali.com; two dives Menjangan 1,425,000 rupiah; snorkelling 700,000 rupiah.
Easy Divers Bali Jalan Raya Gilimanuk-Seririt; T: (0362) 94 736; http://www.easy-divers.eu/; open daily 08:00-18:00; two dives Menjangan 95 euros, not including equipment, minimum two required; snorkelling 70 euros.
Reef Seen Divers’ Resort: T: (0362) 93 001, (0812) 389 4051; http://www.reefseenbali.com; two dives Menjangan 1,275,000 rupiah (not including equipment); snorkelling 540,000 rupiah, not including equipment, minimum four required.
Spice Dive: Spice Beach Club, Kaliasem; T: (03620)41 305; http://www.spicebeachclubbali.com/diving/bali-spice-dive; two dives Menjangan 80-90 euros (depends on numbers); snorkelling 55 euros, minimum four.
While there is accommodation close to Menjangan Island, most people choose to stay in nearby Pemutaran or Lovina. Pemuteran has snorkelling and diving sites of its own, including a coral rehabilitation project.
By Sally Arnold.
Last updated on 15th September, 2016.