For my first 4 days in Bali, Indonesia, I traveled to the Nusas ("Islands") to the south east for a bit of adventure and respite.
Bali is often associated with young backpackers who travel there to party hard and work on their tans. This may be true of areas like Kuta beach on the mainland, but on the Nusas the atmosphere is much less crowded and much more relaxed.
While staying on Nusa Lembongan, I had the opportunity to explore the entire island and cycle over to the smaller, even more remote Nusa Ceningan. Both of these tiny islands offered beauty, adventure, culture, and a place to put up your feet.
Here are 9 things to do and see if you go!
See Sunsets from the Beach
My first night on the islands (and every night thereafter!), I had a chance to observe Bali's famous sunsets. They are famous not only because they are beautiful but also because the sun there tends to take on a particularly red color.
Sunsets in general get their redness from looking through more of the Earth's atmosphere when the sun is at the horizon. In Bali, located only 596 miles (960 km) South of the equator where the atmosphere is at its thickest, the sun appears even redder than farther South or North of the equator.
I loved seeing the sun get redder and redder as it lowered in the sky each day. I was able to get some great shots at the beach with the boats in the foreground. So pretty!!
SCUBA Dive or Ride a Banana Boat
I'm suggesting these two options together because I know not everyone is SCUBA certified. One of the main reasons people travel to the Nusas is, indeed, for the diving. But there are plenty of other attractions as well.
People usually decide to dive the Nusas after hearing about the opportunity to see Manta Ray and Mola Mola, the giant sunfish. While I was unlucky in spotting these marine creatures, there is normally a very high chance of getting to see them off the coast of the Nusas.
The best time to see Mola Mola is between July and November. The Manta Rays come and go all year round.
One tip is to maybe schedule your visit around the full moon. I was on the Nusas during a full moon in November which many of the locals said affects the currents and tides in weird ways. Perhaps this was the reason the Mola Mola and Mantas were amiss during my stay?
At the very least, the full moon may have been the cause of the unusual current shift at Crystal Bay which almost swept my guide, buddy, and I out to sea!
As an alternative to diving, you can always take a banana boat ride.
I loved seeing the groups of young people getting tugged around on this ridiculous floating banana. It was hilarious! And the people riding on it always looked like they were having a blast. Definitely a must do if diving is not your thing!
Another adventurous activity is surfing – but I have absolutely no experience in this on the Nusas. I heard of lots of people doing it but I was focusing on descending below the surface rather than riding the waves on top.
Get Your Cycle On
I rented a bicycle from Sanya for 30,000 IDR per day (about $2) and could get around easily. Everything around the islands is within cycling distance.
There are only a few cars and trucks on the island (usually only for locals to use) and motorbikes are the most common mode of transportation.
Cycling everywhere resulted in some fun interactions with the locals. I received lots of head nods, waves, and smiles from the seat of my bicycle. I also easily saw everything I wanted to on the Nusas in one day without having to speed there, without missing a beat along the way.
I loved being able to stop on a whim and snap a photo of my cultural surroundings.
Not to mention, I could avoid the dangers of riding a motorbike on some of the steeper hills around the island. I cannot tell you how many times I saw tourists carefully picking their way down hills on their bikes only to wipe out on the gravel pavement. Oh yes, huge arm and leg gashes look real attractive in a bikini.
It's the old tortoise and the hare story: Slow and steady wins the race!
If that doesn't convince you then maybe this will: A lot of people go to Bali for its eco-tourism. Tourists are all about being environmentally and health conscious here. You'll save the environment from additional motorbike fumes and give yourself a great work out riding a bicycle around!
Cross the Yellow Bridge
The bridge between Nusa Ceningan and Lembongan is an adventure in itself. Some compare it to an Indiana Jones-like experience.
The bridge itself is a busy spot. Lots of tourists with bookings on Nusa Ceningan arrive here to unload their luggage and make their way between the islands. Tons of locals also cross here to transport goods (and roosters!) to their homes and businesses.
At first glance the bridge really doesn't seem like it will be able to hold all the people on their motorbikes and carrying their heavy luggage. The sound of the creaking wood and wires as you cycle down it doesn't make you feel any more confident in its strength.
However, the bridge is safe. There are thousands of crossings free of incidents every year.
The only way to reach Nusa Ceningan is to cross this bridge anyway. You may get an offer from one of the boats to take you across on the rare occasion that the bridge is closed.
Reach the bridge by taking any road (path) to the southeast on Lembongan. When you get close, there will be some small hand-crafted signs around indicating which direction to take. The island really isn't big so it's hard to get lost. Also, pretty much any local will be able to point the way.
Observe Seaweed Farming
As soon as I arrived on Ceningan, I turned right and cycled along the southeastern coast and immediately spotted the seaweed farmers.
Seaweed farming is huge on the Nusas—310 hectares around the islands are dedicated to the industry. There is brown seaweed (spinosum) which is fast growing at 15 day cycles and green seaweed (cottoni) which is slow growing at 30 day cycles.
Seaweed is not only used in salads and other dishes. Some say it may be the key to saving the planet.
The farmers work very hard to collect the seaweed. They must collect when the tide is low which sometimes means going out in their narrow boats or wading into the water in the middle of the night by lamplight. They were farming in the middle of the day when I arrived.
The work is back-breaking, as the baskets carrying the loads can weigh 30 kilos (over 65 lbs) or more and are balanced on top of the head or on shoulder and neck only by a bamboo stick.
Sadly, the seaweed farming industry is dwindling as young Balinesians turn to tourism for a guaranteed income.
Ogle at the Blue Lagoon
On the southern-most tip of Nusa Ceningan, there is a beautiful little inlet named The Blue Lagoon.
The waters surrounding Bali are a brilliant turquoise mixed with a deep blue color. These blue hues stand out vividly against the surrounding orange-yellow rocks at the Blue Lagoon.
I found such peace here as I sat nearby listening to the sound of the waves rolling into the inlet. Total peace!
Swim at Dream Beach
Back on Nusa Lembongan, I discovered Dream Beach after cycling along the southern coast of the island and then West.
I had to check it out to see if Dream Beach lived up to its name—and it did!
This is one of the few beaches on the island that is clear of boats and major traffic in and out. You can relax on a nice big bed of sand and jump around in the waves here free of interaction with anything artificial.
The waves were actually slightly too violent for my liking when I was there. But on a calmer day I could see it being a lovely swim.
Dip in an Infinity Pool
If the waves are a little intense down on the sand, go up to the pool set directly behind the beach at Dream Beach Huts.
Alternatively, crash any number of resorts on the whole island and use their pool at your leisure. Your accommodation on the island may already have a lovely infinity pool on its premises. Bali is famous for having them, after all.
If you're like me and decided to save money and stay at a place without a pool, you'll still be able to take advantage of the ones all over the Nusas.
Most resorts/hotels won't even bother you when you walk onto their premises and take a dip. I even had a few invitations to do so from staff who knew I was not staying there when I showed up.
See my post on the resorts and infinity pools around the Nusas for more.
Visit Devil's Tears
Right next to Dream Beach is Devil's Tears. It's a little farther to the West and faces southwest for some great sunset views.
Devil's tears is probably better named Devil's temper tantrum because of the violent waves crashing against the rocks there. They make a spectacular display of misty spray emitted from the deep crevices cut into the sea walls by years of erosion.
When you walk to the edge, the waves will literally crash in under your feet into a deep impression. A huge mist spews out across the water with a thundering beat.
I could have sat for hours here watching the rollers creep up to the ledge, crash inside, and spray out like an exploding fire hydrant.
If you go during the day, return or wait for sunset to get a whole different, equally stunning view.
I loved doing and seeing all of the above and more on the Nusas. The only thing I feel I missed out on (other than the Mantas and Mola Mola) was Nusa Penida!
The biggest island of the Nusas was so close and yet so far. I dove off its shores but, if I return, I will stay on Nusa Penida to see some of what it has to offer.
In the meantime, I will reminisce about my awesome experience on the smaller two of the three islands. This was such a beautiful, peaceful place to stay and explore. It was in stark contrast to the art and cultural center of Bali, Ubud, where I was about to head next!