I spent a month in Bali and fell in love with the island's profound beauty, culture, architecture, and (most of all) people.
A Guide to Doing Nothing on This Serene Tropical Getaway
Looking to escape the winter chills? Or want to take a break from the hustle and bustle of life?
If so, head to a small island off the coast of Bali where the water is so blue, the sand is so white, and the sun is so bright above: Nusa Lembongan.
Nusa Lembongan is part of a three-island group (the other 2 islands are Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan) which can be reached by a 30-minute speedboat ride from Sanur on the east coast of Bali.
Approximately 8 km2 (1,977 acres) in size and a population of about 5,000, the island is uncrowded, quiet and sleepy most of the time, even during peak season when the majority of Bali resorts are inundated with tourists.
There are no cars allowed on the island, except for those small bajaj taxis that shuttle resort guests around.
Walking is the best way to explore the island. But you may also rent bikes or scooters. You can even hire a boat to hop between beaches!
There are no pulsing nightclubs, no wild beach parties, no tourist-trap markets, and no peddling hawkers on the beach. In fact, compared to other island resort towns in Bali, you may find Nusa Lembongan quite boring!
On the other hand, it’s a perfect getaway for those who seek tranquility or just want to lounge on the beach with a book and not be bothered by anything.
Surfers, divers, and snorkelers are also drawn to Nusa Lembongan because of its unpolluted, beautiful clear water, and healthy coral reefs teeming with marine life.
Jungut Batu Village and Lembongan Village
Nusa Lembongan’s base economy is tourism and seaweed farming. You will see the submerged seaweed beds in the shallow water along the shoreline. At low tide, the beds become exposed, and farmers come out to harvest seaweed. Indonesia is one of the top seaweed exporters in Asia, supplying raw materials for the world’s pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.
Food, water, and daily necessities must be brought in from Bali by boats. At various times of the day you can see the supply boats come in with men and women wading in the water and carrying supplies on their heads - from water jugs to live chicken - onto the beach.
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There are 2 main villages on the island.
Jungut Batu Village – located in the north, is where most vacation resorts are found. Some are situated on the beachfront, others perch high on the limestone cliffs with sweeping views across the ocean to mainland Bali.
This village also has many “home stay” rentals and beach bungalows which cater to the budget-minded travelers, i.e. backpackers and surfers.
Lembongan Village – located in the south and much larger than Jungut Batu, this is where most local islanders live. It is also the government/administrative center of the island.
Many homes, schools, offices, and stores can be found in Lembongan Village, as well as several old Hindu temples.
Things to Do (or Not)
Jungut Batu Beach - long stretch of white sand beach along the waterfront walkway, incredible aqua blue water, with mooring boats and submerged seaweed beds.
Mushroom Beach - named after the mushroom-shaped corals found in its water, white sandy beach, calm and clear water. Very popular with the “day trippers” (tourists who come for the day by boats from Bali) between 10am and 3pm.
Dream Beach - gorgeous beach bordered by low limestone rock cliff, fine white sand, clear shallow water, good for swimming and snorkeling.
Sunset Beach - located north of Dream Beach, in Sunset Bay, crescent of white sandy beach with crashing waves. Beware of the strong rip current here!
Tamarind Beach - small secluded beach with some shady areas and great view of sunset.
Three reef breaks located off the shoreline of Jungut Batu: Playgrounds (for beginners), Lacerations, and Shipwrecks (for advanced and professional surfers). All can be reached by paddling from the beach or by boat. The breaks are usually crowded with surfers in the morning during high tide, i.e. big waves!
The island has several excellent diving sites. However, the most popular is Crystal Bay off the west coast of neighboring island Nusa Penida where manta rays, various types of reef sharks, and the giant mola mola (ocean sunfish) are regularly spotted in the deep water.
Professional dive shops are available on the island, offering PADI Open Water certification and a variety of dive packages for you to choose.
Nearshore snorkeling is best at Mushroom Beach and Dream Beach. Offshore snorkeling (including boat ride and boat driver) can be arranged at your hotel/resort.
Mangrove Point is an easy offshore snorkeling spot where there are plenty of colorful corals and reef fish in 6-foot deep of crystal clear water. It can get crowded anytime as snorkeling tour boats often bring their guests here.
Experienced snorkelers may try a more challenging but rewarding spot along the vertical rock cliff of Nusa Penida, aptly named The Wall. Boat driver drops you off in the water at one end where you snorkel/float with the very strong current, and then the boat driver picks you up at the other end. Spectacular underwater rock formation at dizzying depth, amazing corals and fish of all sizes and shapes!
Mangrove Forest Boat Tour
Take a boat tour of the pristine mangrove forest at the north end of the island. You may see birds and other marine estuary wildlife in this swampy lagoon.
Gala-Gala Underground House
A house inside an underground cave, completed with several bedrooms, kitchens, a sitting room, and a well. Built by a Balinese man named Made Byasa – he was a priest, dancer, and shadow puppet performer – in 1961 and finished the house in 1976. A curious must see, open to visit for a small fee.
There are several beautiful Hindu temples on the island that are worth a visit. Special ceremonies, celebrations, and dances are held year round at these temples. Note: Be sure to wear a sarong (for both men and women) when you visit a temple or attend a religious ceremony. It’s a required custom, plus it’s important for you to show respect for the Balinese Hindu culture.
Take a tour of the seaweed farms and learn about the labor-intensive process of preparing and drying seaweed for exporting. Arrange for a tour at your hotel/resort.
A very narrow, rickety suspension bridge - hanging high above the open water channel - that connects Nusa Lembongan with Nusa Ceningan. Foot traffic, bicycle or motorbike only. Definitely not for the faint of heart!
Where to stay/eat
Lembongan Sanctuary Villas – Five luxury villas perched on the cliff, all with private pools and stunning views of the ocean, coastline, and (on a clear day) the majestic Mount Agung volcano on mainland Bali. The villas are within walking distance to Jungut Batu Village and the beachfront where many restaurants and cafes are located.
For a small island, you will be surprised to find a good variety of places to eat, ranging from very affordable warungs (small family-run restaurants) to upscale fine dining choices. For the latter, try Muntigs (Balinese and international cuisine, utterly charming, romantic setting) or Indiana Kenanga (on Jungut Batu Beach, exquisite European/Asian fusion, with a celebrity French chef) or Bali Hai Bar & Grill (on Mushroom Beach, gourmet pizzas, Mediterranean chicken couscous, Thai beef salad). For more casual, budget dining, try Lembongan Reef (wonderful Indonesian specialties, popular happy-hour on the huge deck over ocean) or Bunga Bungalo (delicious Balinese chicken with pineapple, banana flower salad) or Scooby Doo (tables set on the sandy beach, great sunset view, excellent satay and curry).
Note: Many restaurants offer free shuttle service where they would send a bajaj to pick you up at your resort and bring you to their restaurant, and then drop you off back at resort’s doorstep after your meal.
How to get here
The only way to get to Nusa Lembongan is by boat, usually from the resort town Sanur in Bali. There are several boat companies that offer rides to the island. Schedules and fares for the crossing are based on the speed of the boats. Fast boats take 20-30 minutes and cost about $18/person one way. Slow boats takes approximately 90 minutes and cost only $5/person one way. You may purchase tickets (or reserve 24-hour ahead) at the boat office (often just a simple table set up on the beach!) of choice. Some boat companies also offer passenger pickup and drop off services to/from hotels and resorts in Bali.
- The boat ride to/from Nusa Lembongan can be quite adventurous due to the choppy sea and strong wind. If you are prone to sea/motion sickness, be sure to bring medications, wrist bands or patches.
- There are no boat docks on the beach, you must wade in knee-deep water to get on and off the boat. Boat staff will carry your luggage (on their heads) to/from the boat. Keep your cellphone, laptop, or other electronics in Ziploc bags in case you or your suitcase takes an accidental plunge!
- There are a few stores on the island, but you may want to pack all personal items like toothpaste, shampoo, sunscreen, over-the-counter medications, etc.
- Bring plenty of rupiahs (Indonesian money) as some restaurants do not take credit cards. There’s one ATM in Jungut Batu but it is unreliable, i.e. frequently out of cash!
About this article
The author spent ten dreamy days on Nusa Lembongan. He ended up doing a lot of things and didn’t read any of the books he brought with him!
All photos were taken by the author with an Olympus Stylus TG-630 iHS digital camera.
© 2016 Viet Doan