When I told people we were taking a trip to Nusa Lembongan, the first response was always, “where??”. Inevitably I would explain, “it’s an island off of Bali. We would go to Bali, but don’t want to be surrounded by tourists on our vacation (as if we aren’t tourists ourselves, right?), so we always try to choose a location that is off the beaten path.”. Well, off the beaten path is certainly what we got with this trip.
This trip was very different than any we have ever taken before. We were truly on our own, planning how to get around, where to eat, and what to see. Granted, we have done this before, but always had an option for hiring a car to get us around or paying a tour company to show us the sights. We liked having the freedom to explore as we desired, but it took effort and a sense of adventure with a healthy side of danger thrown in just to make things more interesting. The island has an emerging tourism market. They are still trying to figure out how best to cater to visitors. With the tourism market being in its infancy, they still have a lot to learn. I see Nusa Lembongan evolving very quickly in the coming years which will be nice in some respects but may loose some of its remote charm. Overall, if you are looking for a family adventure trip, or you are a 20-year-old tanned surfer, I would highly recommend a trip to Nusa Lembongan. It’s stunning beauty, aquamarine water, and relaxed vibe are worth experiencing. However, if you are the type who likes to be pampered and treated to 5-star luxury, stay on Bali and take a trip over to the island for the day. Either way, our visit to Nusa Lembongan was one we will never forget. We had a fantastic time, survived our harrowing scooter rides, and enjoyed relaxing under the Indonesian sun.
Getting to the Island
- about a 35-minute ride
- wear shorts and flip-flops. You have to wade through knee-deep water to get to/from the boat.
- bring a bag if you are prone to seasickness. It can get pretty rocky. When our boat first took off, Jack yelled, “this is like a roller coaster times 100!” Ten minutes later, a sudden bout of seasickness hit him, and he was throwing up all over himself. Of course, in anticipation of this trip being so remote, I packed everything but the kitchen sink…or a barf bag…sigh.
Rocky Fast Boat
- there are many fast boat options. This is the company we chose, and they were ok.
- will accept cash or credit card with a 3% fee.
- offered airport transport. Arrived late but still got us to the boat on time.
- they carried our luggage to the boat departing Bali, but only to the beach when we arrived on Nusa Lembongan, so we had to carry our luggage from the beach to an awaiting buggy, over sand and uneven road. Something to think about if you have heavy bags. My bag got wet on the boat.
- Shuttle from the boat was tight. Strapped suitcases to roof.
Where we stayed
A lovely open concept three-bedroom villa with a private pool and stunning cliff-top views. Check it out on TripAdvisor.
Super sketchy roads. Part dirt, part paved. Narrow and sandy. Steep hills and lots of potholes. Don’t even think about driving in the rain. The roads become treacherous mud baths. Also, there are very few street signs so expect to make quite a few wrong turns. Oh, and just to make things a bit more interesting, they drive on the left side of the road. My tally for almost killing Jack and me by turning onto the wrong side of the road capped at 3.
- rent for 90,000 per day
- no helmets. Seriously, don’t even ask. You will be laughed out of the store.
- gas powered
- no license required for rental
rent a shuttle buggy
- about 100,000 pp for pick up and drop off
- the best idea at night
- most restaurants and spas offer free shuttle service
Things to do
water activities: take care when swimming in the water. The currents are very strong.
visit local surf spots: Playgrounds, Lacerations, and Shipwrecks.
surfing, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, banana boat rides.
spend time in a spa
We became regulars at Harumaya Spa. The friendly owner, Widi will greet you with a warm smile. She taught us a bit about life on the island and about Balinese culture. Make sure you try the Balinese massage. it was the best!
take turns swinging on the beachside swing at Dream Beach
There are a lot of day trippers at Dream Beach. Best to go late afternoon.
scooter to the mangrove forest
you can rent a boat, kayak, or stand up paddle board to work your way through the forest.
visit the Gala Gala Underground House
A bit underwhelming, but fascinating to wonder why someone would spend 15 years digging out a house underground with nothing but a pickax. To each his own.
scooter across the yellow bridge to Cennigan (pronounced Chinnigan)
Ok, so the bridge collapsed last year and 9 people died, but they rebuilt it stronger than before so you should be fine. You can swim, right?
drive by the seaweed farms. Now abandoned but still really pretty.
drive to the top of the island for a sweeping view of Lembongan and Bali.
visit Blue Lagoon. The name says it all. It is spectacular!
cliff dive at Blue Lagoon. Umm, no thank you.
Zipline across the water between two cliffs.
hire a boat to Nusa Penida
the largest of the Nusas (which by the way are all part of Bali).
- Broken Beach: a stunning cliff-top view of a sinkhole into the swirling aquamarine ocean.
- Crystal Bay: great snorkeling spot. Even better than the Gili Islands and we did not think that to be possible.
Where to eat
Dining on Nusa Lembongan was rather lackluster. We found the food to be bland. In fact, our best meal was prepared by our villa staff. It had bold, rich Indonesian flavors melding into the prawn, rice, and noodle dishes we were served. My advice for eating on the island, don’t look at TripAdvisor or an online site for recommendations. Instead, ask the locals and dine on some local fare.
- don’t be afraid to explore. People don’t question you, and it is one of the best aspects of the island.
- prices are reasonable but not as cheap as places like Lombok and Cambodia.
- be prepared to pay with cash. Some places accept USD, and many restaurants accept credit cards with an additional 3% fee.
- mosquitos weren’t bad but be prepared the encounter lots of bugs and critters. My list grew as the week went on. A gecko a foot long hung out in our bathroom nightly, we had frogs in another bathroom, the occasional ant under our toilet seats, a cockroach on my hairbrush, and a spider in my toothbrush. EWW!!
- no visa required for U.S. citizens.
- fly into Denpasar, Bali.
- bring flip flops and some good walking/hiking shoes. We wore tennis shoes for scootering and exploring cliffs as they were super sharp and rocky.
- buy converters. Our villa did not provide them, and they are the weird round hole plugs so many of our converters did not fit. 220V.
- tipping is not common unless it is a car driver, then a small tip is sufficient. We did end up providing a tip to our villa staff and Penida transport.
- there is only one doctor on the island so make sure to bring medicine and first aid supplies.
- there are no grocery stores on the island. If you want something specific, it’s best to bring it with you.
- the electricity, water, and wifi were sporadic at times in our villa. Be prepared to wait, especially if trying to surf the web.
- the exchange rate at the airport is poor. Also, finding places to exchange money on the island may prove to be challenging. There are ATM’s, but you can’t always count on them working or even having money in them.
- set up a WhatsApp account before you go. Many people in Bali use this method of communication.
Thoughts and things
- A large portion of the visitors were tanned, backpacking 20-somethings who were seeking some surf, sun, and a party. When out and about, our family of four packed onto two scooters and careened shakily down the road with our bodies slathered in sunscreen, tennis shoes on for safety, and hats to protect our delicate faces. So, the island is probably not the best location to try and feel cool unless you fit the aforementioned demographic.
- You are going to be sweaty and dirty get over it. This is not a posh fru-fru trip.
- Scheduling any sort of tour on Nusa Lembongan is not difficult once you arrive on the island. Almost all the locals know or are related to someone who owns a boat, a car, or a scooter and can help you schedule activities you may want to do. Before we left for our trip, we were thinking about scheduling a tour of another island through an online tour company but were able to hire a boat and car driver through our villa staff at a fourth of the price. If you are a planner like me, it may drive you crazy to not have every detail of your trip planned before you arrive, but it’s ok. Island life offers a completely different way of getting things accomplished, but it always works out one way or another.
- Don’t be afraid to get lost. Some of our best discoveries and most beautiful scenery were found when we went off the beaten path.