Nusa Penida is a small island, located off the south-eastern coast of Bali, Indonesia. Along with its two smaller neighbors, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, it lies in the middle of the Badung Strait between Bali and Lombok. As five different ocean currents lash its shores day by day, these nutrient-rich waters draw lots of small and large fish and other marine creatures to this area.
Almost 250 types of coral and more than 550 species of fish were identified around these three islands. Nusa Penida, with a surface of only 200 square kilometers (77 sq. mi), is practically ringed by world class adventure dive sites such as Crystal Bay, Manta Point and SD Point. Due to the strength of the currents some of these dive sites are off limits for beginners, however, advanced divers (50+ dives) will have the time of their life swimming with mackerels, tuna, manta rays and sharks.
The island itself possesses a lot of natural beauty. It is underdeveloped, though, so staying there and even traversing its rough roads requires a bit of preparation. If you arrive from Nusa Dua, Sanur or Padangbai on a diving boat then most probably you won't even step on the island so make sure you take a few holiday pictures from the boat at least.
Crystal Bay is the bay of Penida village, located in the channel between Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan islands. Cooler water temperatures than in Bali allow soft and hard corals to thrive and explode onto every surface underwater. A fantastic variety of tropical fish live near large bommies - hundreds of reef fish species like eels, angelfish, surgeonfish and wrasses. Clams, teeming balls of striped catfish and small marine creatures will make your dive or snorkeling trip unforgettable. You may also see big pelagics like eagle rays, whitetip reef sharks, mackerel and tuna in the depths.
The visibility is truly world class at this dive site, often exceeding 30 m (100 ft). The inner bay is a wonderful place for snorkelers and novice divers as it has astonishing amounts of coral and reef fish at shallow depths of around 10 m (30 ft). There is a large rock in the middle of the bay and two entrances around it. This is where the depth drops to beyond 40 m (130 ft) and strong currents can push divers along the outer wall. If your dive plan includes circling the rock or visiting the cave on the side of the bay wall facing north then you will have to follow your guide's instructions closely. Note that there are very strong currents at the southern side of the bay wall.
The cave is at 11 m (35 ft) depth and some people call it bat cave, other shark cave, depending on what they notice above the water or underwater. Inside the cave there are usually juvenile whitetip reef sharks. It is possible to surface inside the cave. The sunlight filters through cracks in the rocks and you will see bats roosting at the roof of the cave. [Is this safe to do in terms of decompression?]
Out in the bay there are cleaning stations for mola molas at 18 m (60 ft) and 30 m (100 ft) depths, they are most frequently seen in August and September.
Tropical reef fish live in abundance at all Nusa Penida dive sites - large groupers, triggerfish, parrotfish, unicornfish, surgeonfish, eels, giant angelfish and such. Stingrays, bigeye trevally, tuna, turtles, whitetip reef sharks may make an appearance. The mola mola is a rare but welcome visitor from July to October, but mainly in August and September. It is probably attracted to the deep Toyapakeh Channel between Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan. Though the two islands are less than a kilometre (approx. 0.5 mi) apart, the water is an astounding 250 m deep (820 ft). The coral cover is some of the best around Bali, in Indonesia, if not the whole world - almost all types of hard coral, coral walls, large bommies, soft corals prosper here. The sandy seabottom and the variety of coral create a fantastic background for fish or other critter photos and videos. Manta rays feed around the island or get a thorough cleaning by small fish at one of the cleaning stations.
If you're there to catch a glimpse of mola molas don't forget that, no matter how calm and friendly they are, they may be frightened by the air bubbles you exhale. The best approach is from behind with controlled breathing.
Nusa Penida is approx. 25 km (15 mi) from the coast of Bali. Most of the dive operators in the south and the east of Bali organize Nusa Penida day trips. It normally takes less than an hour from Sanur, Nusa Dua or Padangbai to reach any of the Nusa Penida dive sites. Speed boat rides can be quite choppy - a massive breakfast before takeoff is not necessarily the best idea!
The dive boats from Bali will take you to one of the Nusa Penida dive sites then pick you up after your dive to transport you to the second dive location of the day. While the boat is moving around the picturesque island and you have a light lunch your surface interval should pass. After the second dive the boat takes you back to the Bali port you left from so in this case you don't even set foot on Nusa Penida.
There are also public boats from Sanur and Padangbai and from nearby Nusa Lembongan, operating at specific times, a couple of times a day. There is no regular boat service to Lombok, so you have to go back to Bali if you'd like to continue your diving or snorkeling trip on Lombok or further away.
There is no fresh water source on the island and most food also comes by boat. This is a whole different experience from Bali. Simple, local meals, simple accommodation, a much slower lifestyle, but astonishing natural beauty everywhere: white sand beach (Crystal Bay), rugged coast, amazing sunsets, lake, waterfall, birdwatching and trekking opportunities. Even the temples on the island are located in spectacular environments, Goa Giri Putri (Karangsari Cave) for example is in a limestone cave.
If you have a bit of time up your sleeve, consider staying for a week in a homestay and doing ten-fifteen dives. You would have to sort out meals and accommodation by arrangement with the locals but you will not be disappointed.
The currents can be quite strong here, including vertical surges or down-drifts. This is an exhilarating ride, a bit like watching a National Geographic underwater special on fast forward. No matter how experienced a diver you are, you need to follow your dive master and keep calm. If you don't have a lot of dives in your logbook, make sure you are not much more than arms length distance from your guide at all times.
There are fantastic dive sites around Nusa Lembongan and Cenindan, however, the easiest route from Nusa Penida is always to return to Bali by boat. Sanur and Nusa Dua in the south of Bali will offer Bali's best diving courses and some easy dive sites next to holiday resorts. Padangbai in the east of Bali will open up a whole world of diving for you, whether you continue on Bali or get on boats to Gili Tepekong or Lombok for example.
April to November in the dry season. August and September are the best months to spot mola molas around Nusa Penida. At the dive sites that are more exposed to currents, the water temperature can drop to 18-20 °C (64-68 °F) so thick wetsuits are required. The average water temperature is around 25 °C (77 °F).
Most of the Nusa Penida dive sites involve battling currents, requiring frequent equalization and near perfect buoyancy control. Pay attention at the pre-dive briefing and stay very close to the dive master underwater. This is not the place to test new skills or endurance limits, you have to stay calm and apply what you have practiced dozens of times.
Note that there are some dangerous dive sites on the northeast side of the island that are off-limits for fun divers. If you insist on getting to these locations, your dive may be cut short when a police boat orders you out of the water. No reputable dive operator will take you to unsafe places though.