Lovina is a coastal town in the north of Bali, Indonesia. Thanks to its nice beaches and a fair number of restaurants, cafes and hotels targeting international travelers it often serves as a base for diving and snorkeling elsewhere in the vicinity.
There is a world class muck-diving site right next to the outskirts of Lovina called Puri Jati that offers everything that an eager macrophotographer loves: easy beach entry and exit, shallow depths for long, relaxed dives and lots of rare marine creatures like the frogfish or mimic octopus.
The beach in front of Kalibukbuk, the central part of Lovina, is one huge diving and snorkeling spot. You can see thousands of reef fish and vast sections of healthy coral just from the surface but you can also dive among coral canyons with the occasional dolphin or turtle cruising by.
Though you are strongly advised to dive and snorkel in Pulau Menjangan or near Pemuteran to the west of Lovina, you can also spend a great day here, meeting marine creatures a short boat ride away from your hotel.
Puri Jati is a shore dive that is quickly taking over the reputation of Secret Bay near Gilimanuk as the best muckdiving site in the north of Bali. It is a 20-minute car ride to the west from the centre of Lovina. There is a dive cafe on the black volcanic sand beach providing lounge, restaurant, equipment washing and toilet facilities. You will spend your surface interval here eating a small lunch of fried noodles, fried rice, sandwiches or similar dishes. Farmers from nearby fields bring cattle to the fresh water creek running into the sea next to the dive cafe. This water brings nutrients from the rice paddies to the huge variety of marine life living in the bay.
The entry is quite easy as you gear up near the tables of the dive cafe and walk 5 m (15 ft) to the waves lapping at the beach. The short walk makes a huge difference, especially if you are carrying a lot of photographic equipment as most muck-divers do. There is a short swim to about 3 m (10 ft) depth where you submerge. Don't worry if the visibility is not too good close to the shore, it soon clears up once you reach 5-7 m (15-20 ft) depths. The visibility is usually 10 m (30 ft) on this gentle slope that comprises most of the dive site.
You need to dive slowly and carefully at Puri Jati, bending your feet at the knees and keeping your fins well away from the black sand seabed. Even if your fins are a meter (3 ft) from the bottom you can still churn up enough sand particles to foul up the next few photographs. Reach perfect buoyancy and move without effort. If you are patient enough your dive guide will immediately notice and point out all sorts of tiny creatures going about their daily business: hiding, eating, fighting, mating, fleeing and so on. Almost all animals here are masters of disguise so a good, local divemaster is essential to make an introduction.
Gliding from spot to spot you can come across many rare creatures including seahorses, ghost pipefish, frogfish, mimic and coconut octopuses and cuttlefish. To all you keen underwater photographers or filmmakers this place will feel like heaven. The sandy bottom is sometimes covered by spiky sea urchins so take care if you decide to kneel in the sand for a good photo.
With proper breathing control you can spend well over an hour underwater on this gentle slope in shallow depths of 5-10 m (15-30 ft). Beyond 12 m (35 ft) this slope quickly becomes a drop-off with stronger currents present. However, the visibility probably improves to 15 m (50 ft). We suggest that you stick to the shallows at Puri Jati for macrophotography as there are better drop-off dive sites elsewhere in the north of Bali.
Lovina has quite healthy coral reefs that are home to a large number of tropical fish and critters including razorfish, starfish, squat lobster, nudibranchs, vertical fish, catfish, juvenile sweetlips, blennies, giant clams, wrasses, moray eels, shrimp, damselfish, angelfish, butterflyfish and hermit crab. Turtles and even dolphins may also make an appearance on your dive.
In Puri Jati the animals and plants are smaller and more sparse but you often glimpse rare creatures. You do see lionfish in full samurai warrior poses but you would probably be more interested in a mimic octopus that can imitate up to 15 other marine species regarding the color, shape and the swimming action. You may also notice sea urchins, porcelain crabs, sea cucumbers, regular seahorses, sea pens, snake eels, pegasus, leaf scorpion fish, cuttlefish, dragonfish, various shrimps, spider crab, pipefish, frogfish, tube corals, swimmer crabs, hambone scorpion fish, arrow crab, juvenile versions of reef fishes, fish and nudibranch eggs.
Lovina is a coastal strip with a main east to west road running close to the Bali sea and several small north to south streets leading into the hills. Stretching 5 to 15 km (3 to 9 mi) west of Singaraja, the main regional city, Lovina consists of seven villages: Temukus, Kalibukbuk, Anturan, Pemaron, Tukad Mungga, Banyualit and Kaliasem. It is a regional tourism hub with the dolphin statue at Kalibukbuk beach proclaiming what the area is famous for. Note that there could be more dolphin watch boats in the bay than dolphins on some days.
Even though there are restaurants, cafes, hotels and resorts catering to international visitors, it is more quiet and laid-back here than the party beaches of Seminyak, Legian and Kuta in the south of Bali. As everywhere in Bali, it is worth sampling the local dishes and delicacies instead of eating a bland burger or pizza in a tourist trap.
Most likely you will arrive at Lovina from the south of Bali after a 3-hour car trip through mountains and small villages. If you'd like to dive or snorkel on the same day you have to leave your accommodation in the south around 4 - 4:30 am to make it to a dive gear fitting at a Lovina dive shop around 8:15 - 8:30 am.
The picturesque trip from the south to north can also be extended to cover most of a day. An obvious stop would be in the Bedugul area in the central highlands. This area boasts three crater lakes including Lake Bratan with a magnificient temple (Pura Ulun Danu Bratan) on its misty shores and the Bali Botanical Gardens in Candikuning. There are also strawberry farms, rice terraces, hot springs and mountain jungles.
The other main attraction is further north: the Gitgit Waterfalls approx. 10 km (6 mi) south of Singaraja. The main one drops 50 m (160 ft) and is surrounded by lush tropical vegetation like jackfruit trees, bamboo copses and fan bananas.
The whole black sand beach in front of Kalibukbuk, the central area of Lovina, is sheltered by coral reefs and is perfect for snorkeling and diving. The entry points of the dive site and the best snorkeling spots are reached via the jukungs or small double outrigger canoes leaving from the small marina just to the east of the dolphin statue at Binaria square.
In the morning the jukungs glide over almost motionless water in the bay. If you are lucky you may spot small fish racing around in the air, only their tailfins reaching into the water to propel themselves like powerboats do. After a five-minute boat ride the dive starts in the shallows. Even while sitting in the boat you can clearly see the coral formations and the shoals of fish. Once you are in the water and all of your gear is secured, you swim out over the coral to a slightly deeper area so you can actually submerge without hitting anything with your fins.
There are three distinct areas of reef in Lovina, one is the shallows where the snorkelers spend most of their time. This is filled with a limited diversity of healthy coral and a lot of tropical fish. The next one is a slope covered mainly by dead coral fragments with occasional islands of live coral and fish activity. You will come across crevasses hiding puffer fish, an anemone rug with clownfish inside or beautiful starfish scattered here and there. This area is suitable for muck-diving as you will discover many small creatures like seaslugs, juvenile fish, shrimp and crabs if you take the time to investigate the nooks and crannies slowly. The third diving area is in 15-20+ m depth (50-65+ ft) where you will find a blooming coral cover with interesting topography. Canyons, crevices, bommies, terraces of coral provide habitats for turtles, schools of reef fish, giant clams and crabs. You may follow a teeming mass of juvenile catfish or make distant friends with a moray eel wedged into a cleft.
There is plenty to see and explore on two dives without even moving the boat from the east side of the bay to the west or vice versa. Due to the relatively safe water conditions this is site is also used for night dives. It is an undemanding dive with a lot of fish and nice coral formations. As the marina is at a walking distance from most hotels in Lovina, it is easy to spend a leisurely day snorkeling and diving here.
The best diving and snorkeling spot in the north of Bali is hands down Pulau Menjangan (Deer Island) to the west of Lovina. Stay in Lovina and join a fun dive that goes to Pulau Menjangan for the day.
Pemuteran, a coastal village to the west of Lovina, also has a number of excellent dive sites. Again, you will be dropped back at your Lovina accommodation if you dive or snorkel there.
There is also a famous muck-diving site, Secret Bay, near Gilimanuk, a 2-hour drive to the west from Lovina. Instead of reef fish and vibrant corals you could expect to see frogfish, scorpionfish and nudibranchs. However, the prevailing wisdom among local dive masters is that Puri Jati near Lovina offers similar critters for excellent macrophotography without the long drive and the cold water diving experience.
It is easy to get to the south or east of Bali from Lovina. You can head east to Tulamben and Amed on the coast. You can also get to the south of Bali through the mountains in the center of the island to reach the Nusa Dua, Sanur, Padangbai or Candi Dasa dive locations.
Lovina is an all-year-round diving location with good visibility at Lovina Reef and low to good visibility at Puri Jati even in the wet season. The best time to visit is April to October in the dry season for high visibility and good conditions not just here but also in the east and south of Bali for experiencing other famous diving locations.
The wet season from November to March can present you with challenging conditions at the end of your dive. Lightning, heavy rains, moderately high waves taunt you as you crawl up the beach at Puri Jati with fins removed in the water or as you climb up into a jukung on Lovina Reef after taking off your diving gear in the choppy sea.
The bottom of the sea is pretty calm even in inclement weather. The only issue there is the reduced visibility. There are a lot of floating particles that turn the lustrous colors of the coral at Lovina Reef into a duller yellow. The good news is the reduced number of divers in that season. If you like underwater photography or long, exploratory dives then you may end up in a small diving group that is happy to take its time leaving no stone unturned.
Puri Jati is a safe shore dive site. It is 5-9 m (15-30 ft) deep and is essentially one large safety stop underwater. If you notice mild to medium strength currents make sure that you know the direction back to the beach. You just need to swim to the beach to finish the dive. As per the "Best Time" section above, you may encounter large waves on the surface in the wet season. In this case you need to remain calm and slowly swim on your back with your BCD inflated and using your powerful fins. You need to take the fins off right before the shallows where the oncoming waves may keep pushing you onto the rocks.
On Lovina Reef you need to follow instructions from your dive guide regarding boat entry and exit. If you are on a jukung, a double outrigger canoe, watch the outriggers when jumping in the water or when you have finished your dive and the boat is approaching you. In the wet season the waves can be large enough to throw the small boat around and you don't want your head to be anywhere near the outrigger floats when they come crashing down. The dive itself should be pretty safe.
If you are traveling to the south of Bali in the evening after a diving day, you should avoid the highest mountain ranges and take a longer route. The most direct route increases the risk of decompression sickness as the elevated altitude may affect the dissolved nitrogen in your body. If you are traveling overland with a local dive company or dive guide they will be aware of this and choose the safest itinerary.