Nusa Penida: My Review of the Hypest Bali Island

Alexis
Modified on June 18, 2024

Nusa Penida is probably the hypest island in Bali right now. Here is a review to help you decide if you should include it during your tour.

Where is Nusa Penida compared to Bali?

Nusa Penida is located to the East of Bali, between Bali and Lombok, about a 30-minute speedboat ride from Sanur.

Nusa Penida is almost attached to two other popular islands off Bali: Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan. Like these, Nusa Penida is also officially part of Bali. So when you are in Nusa Penida, administratively, you are still in Bali.

While Penida island may seem relatively small on a map compared to Bali and Lombok, it still covers 200 km² and is 20 km long. So, it's far from being a small isolated rock like the Gili Islands, for example!

The history of Nusa Penida: between black magic and exile

Nusa Penida became a touristy island quite recently recently.

Before becoming a tourist attraction that we now know, it actually did not have a very good reputation in Bali. Nusa Penida was inhabited, among others, by sorcerers practicing black magic, which was (and still is) extremely frowned upon in Bali. For many years, the island was therefore more a place to send Bali's undesirables into exile rather than a vacation destination!

One of these sorcerers/demons practicing black magic, exiled to Nusa Penida, named Macaling, is said to have sought revenge for his forced exile and sent all sorts of diseases and misfortunes to Bali during the celebration of Nyepi, the Balinese New Year. This is why Nyepi is nowadays a day of silence (and not a joyful celebration) where demons descend to Bali: so better be hidden and silent as they pass by.

If Macaling was eventually defeated, his spirit is said to still haunt the island of Nusa Penida, residing in the Pura Ped temple, thus becoming THE temple of black magic in Bali. Balinese people today must go to Nusa Penida once in their lifetime to perform rituals in this temple, which are supposed to somehow balance divine forces and keep evil spirits out of their lives and ideally out of Bali...

An unusual history for this island, which was a bit like Bali's Australia or Guyana. With a more significant mystical dimension obviously.

What does Nusa Penida look like today?

Nusa penida

Due to its special past and reputation, Nusa Penida was and still is very sparsely populated compared to Bali, with currently only 60,000 inhabitants. Nusa Penida has, therefore, remained very rural, even if tourism tends to urbanise some parts to accommodate visitors, but this is limited to well-defined areas.

In terms of infrastructure development and modernity in general, Nusa Penida remains well behind the rest of Bali, even if the delay seems to be catching up since the island has been propelled onto the Instagram feeds worldwide.

Expect a hilly inland with very small local villages, a coastline of small coves, sometimes surrounded by very steep cliffs, and further north, flatter terrain with more accessible beaches.

Nusa Penida's highlights

If visitors come to Nusa Penida today, it's not really for its black magic, at least not many! Here are the major highlights of Nusa Penida that partly explain its popularity.

Nusa Penida probably sas Bali's most dramatic beaches

The beaches of Nusa Penida are undoubtedly among the most dramatic in Bali, especially those next to the cliffs.

It's not surprising that thousands of visitors head to Kelingking Beach, Crystal Bay, or Atuh Beach each year. Yes, the views are magnificent and dizzying!

Nusa Penida's diving spots are incredible

Nusa Penida's diving spots are renowned, and for good reason. It is possible to dive with manta rays, and since the island's reefs are present on almost every beach, there is no shortage of diving locations!

Even for simple snorkeling without an oxygen tank, just putting your head underwater in Nusa Penida feels like being in a real aquarium.

The steep access to some beaches almost makes Nusa Penida a hiking destination!

If you enjoy walking or sports in general, Nusa Penida is a good destination. Most beach accesses are challenging, to put it politely. And often very vertical.

Access to some popular beaches is earned, and going back up even more! If you're looking to improve your thighs, calves, or bubble butt, you'll get your money's worth.

I prefer to warn you, in real life, it's much hotter than you imagine from the photos!

Many say Nusa Penida is Bali 50 years ago

I don't know if this is really the case, but many people say that Nusa Penida is a bit like Bali 50, 40, 30, or 20 years ago. Yes, the numbers vary.

One thing is for sure, Nusa Penida doesn't always seem to live in the same era as Bali, so there's a little nostalgic journey when traveling to Nusa Penida.

And of course, being populated by Balinese, you find the same traditions, the same dishes, and generally the same philosophy, with some even more insular traits than the locals in Bali.

Nusa Penida's hotels and accommodations can be really nice

In terms of accommodations, there is a bit of everything in Nusa Penida. From small unpretentious guesthouses sufficient for visiting the island with rudimentary comfort to the most beautiful properties with incredible views of the sea or the rest of the island.

Booking.com

Drawbacks to know about Nusa Penida

Okay, let's say it frankly, Nusa Penida doesn't always get unanimous approval despite what social media might suggest. Here are some drawbacks of Nusa Penida to keep in mind.

You need to take a boat to get to Nusa Penida

Firstly, since Nusa Penida is a small island, it's not possible to go there by plane or road. This inevitably involves taking a boat.

Those who have sailed by boat in Indonesia know it's not always very pleasant: you have to buy tickets, crowd into the docks, be shaken around, potentially be sea sick or be with sea sick people, and finally arrive at your destination where you then have to find a taxi or means of transportation. In short, it's quite tiring.

For boats, you have two main options:

  • Take a fastboat from Sanur
  • Take a ferry from Kusamba, near Padang Bai

By speedboat, the ticket costs around 400K round trip depending on the companies. These are small boats, and you can't take a vehicle with you.

By ferry, aka slow boat, the ticket is cheaper, and you can take a vehicle, but you have to go to Padang Bai, and there are fewer boats options available.

Some destinations in Nusa Penida are victims of overtourism

nusa penida tree house

Nusa Penida is a destination that literally exploded with the arrival of Instagram, especially for the most popular attractions like Kelingking Beach and Angel Billabong.

Both international and local tourists all want the famous photo at the trendiest spots on the island and on social media.

Additionally, many tour operators organise day trips to Nusa Penida, where the timing for these tourists is meticulously planned, focusing on a few key destinations and clearly centered around photos! If you happen to arrive at the same time as one of these groups, expect crowds and long queues for the perfect shot.

Fortunately, this over-tourism is really concentrated in a few places only, which greatly limits its consequences if you're clever and visit popular attractions when others aren't there (early in the morning, for example, or at noon when the sun is scorching).

Nusa Penida's roads are not suited for its crowds

Unfortunately, the infrastructure in general, and the roads in particular, on Nusa Penida have not kept up with the tourist enthusiasm for the island. 

So, you have a highly visited destination with many vehicles taking tourists to the same spots, with roads that are sometimes damaged, and often too narrow for two vehicles to pass face to face. In short, country roads suitable for a village but not for a destination with such a level of visitation.

The main problem remains the traffic jams, much like in Bali, especially during the peak tourist seasons on the main routes. On secondary routes, the main problem, especially if you're on a scooter, is clearly falling in the middle of nowhere, but that's another subject.

Tourism in Nusa Penida is new and not always safe

Until a few years ago, Nusa Penida had very little tourism.

If the main "dramatic" sites have been adapted to mass tourism, that is not the case for the whole island. To say that some areas or even access to certain beaches are dangerous is almost an understatement.

Clearly, be careful and don't expect everything is safe. Tourists die every year in Nusa Penida trying to access beaches or trying to get the perfect shot for their selfies.

In case of health issues in Nusa Penida, you'll have to go to Bali

It's obvious but worth mentioning, Nusa Dua is isolated from Bali, and the island lacks proper medical facilities.

In case of health problems, whether a simple scooter accident or an illness requiring some advanced medical equipment, you absolutely need to go to Bali to find proper medical facilities.

So, I strongly advise against being too reckless in Nusa Penida: slipping on a bad path, falling off a scooter, or catching the wrong illness can clearly be a problem.

How long should you stay in Nusa Penida?

Nusa Penida is a relatively large island. And most importantly, you must absolutely consider the travel time by boat.

I recommend planning at least 2 or even 3 days, including the boat round trip if you intend to enjoy Nusa Penida to some extent. Less than 3 days is really tight (= only one day without a boat).

A day with a tour operator is possible, but I really don't see the point. You might as well stay in Bali if you have so little time. Otherwise, it's equivalent to visiting Paris by just seeing the iconic monuments in one afternoon just for photos... possible but not exactly what you'd like.

What to do in Nusa Penida?

Nusa Penida offers a variety of activities for travelers seeking relaxation and adventure. 

Here are some suggestions on what you can do in Nusa Penida.

Explore the beaches and coves of Nusa Penida

The white sandy beaches and spectacular cliffs of Nusa Penida, especially Kelingking Beach and Crystal Bay, are popular because they are simply breathtaking.

But these are far from the only beaches in Nusa Penida. There are also many small bays and coves that receive much less media attention (and fewer tour operators), and that's a good thing.

So, explore the coastline, and you'll likely find something that will amaze you.

nusa penida broken beach

Diving with manta rays is an experience that tends to leave a lasting impression, even for experienced divers.

Nusa Penida's coral reefs are beautiful, colorful, lively, and filled with fishes of all types. Even if you're not an experienced diver, let yourself be dropped off by boat with a mask and a snorkel and you won't be disappointed.

Go hike in the center of Nusa Penida

Nusa Penida is not a hiking destination per se, but the center of the island is hilly and green, so it's entirely possible to take small walks to discover Teletubbies hills or other destinations.

The steep access to many beaches are also unofficial hiking trails. Better wear good shoes if you're not a great master of flip-flops.

nusa penida teletubbies hill

Visit the temples of Nusa Penida

As Nusa Penida is one of the most iconic places of Balinese Hinduism, there are also several temples to visit, such as Goa Giri Putri, to learn more about Balinese culture and spirituality.

Eat local foor: a good way to discover Balinese culture

Nusa Penida is still Bali, despite its distance from the main island. So, you'll find roughly the same dishes as in Balinese cuisine.

If you're in Nusa Penida, try one of the local warungs inland to discover the true flavors of Bali.

Whom do I recommend Nusa Penida to the most?

Unlike many travel agencies and influencers, I really don't think Nusa Penida is for everyone. However, if you fall into the following categories, you are probably the right fit for Nusa Penida.

If you love cliffs plunging into the sea, you'll love Nusa Penida

Nusa Penida is truly rugged. If you love cliffs plunging abruptly into the sea, there are two destinations in Bali: Bukit and Nusa Penida.

Nusa Penida truly offers a completely wild side, especially when you venture a bit off the most-traveled paths.

It's photogenic, it's challenging for those who have the courage to descend, and it's truly exotic.

Divers and snorkeling enthusiasts love Nusa Penida

If you are a diver or at least a snorkeling enthusiast, Nusa Penida should be on your itinerary no matter what.

Diving and snorkeling are simply almost mandatory activities in Nusa Penida, whether you want to dive with manta rays or just explore varied diving spots.

Be cautious, as currents can be very strong around Nusa Penida, and many of these spots are naturally... below the cliffs! I advise against solo dives or solo snorkeling in for those who are not experienced. This advice is valid everywhere, but it's even truer in Nusa Penida.

Nusa Penida is a fun island to explore for those with an adventurous mindset and some time

If you have a few days ahead of you (let's say at least 2-3), Nusa Penida is truly a human-sized island that can be very fun to explore, especially if you can ride a scooter without killing yourself.

There are plenty of small bays to discover, roads facing beautiful landscapes, rough roads, hills, flat places, small villages, the famous cliffs... in short, it's an adventure, and it does feel a bit like a mini Bali relatively playful to explore.

Who I do not recommend Nusa Penida for?

If you fall into the following cases, I don't really recommend Nusa Penida. At least, it seems far from being a must to include it in your itinerary. But, hey, you do what you want!

I don't recommend Nusa Penida for those with less than 3 days to dedicate to the island

Between the round-trip boats, possible traffic jams on-site around the most popular areas, the damaged roads where there are fewer tourists, not to mention the size of the island, clearly, if you don't have at least 2-3 days to do all this, you might as well not go to Nusa Penida or head to smaller, more easily explored islands like Nusa Lembongan or the Gilis.

As I mentioned earlier, the round trip in one day offered by some tour operators is, in my opinion, heresy on every level: you will "just" see the Instagrammable spots and spend your time in the car or boat, missing everything else, which is the most interesting.

For me, the most enjoyable thing about Nusa Penida is wandering around and discovering new things at your own pace. The views you see in your insta feeds are just bonuses.

Going there in a rush is really the best way to leave disappointed.

It's better to avoid Nusa Penida if you are in poor health

Nusa Penida is not the right destination if you are in poor health.

Not only are you quite far from any medical centers worthy of the name, which unsurprisingly are all in Bali. But also, Nusa Penida is quite challenging in itself, with many very steep if not vertical paths to access nice beaches.

In short, not exactly the best place to venture with shaky health, even if it is always possible to enjoy it by being careful, of course.

If you hate boats, Nusa Penida might not be the best destination

Like all the islands around Bali, getting there is often annoying and uncomfortable.

If you have seasickness, if waiting for a boat on a dock drives you crazy, or if the idea of depending on a boat to leave the island terrifies you, it's very simple, don't go to Nusa Penida.

Avoid going to Nusa Penida just before an international flight

Going to one of the islands around Bali as the last destination before an international flight is always a bit suicidal (unless you really don't want to go back home, it happens).

All you need is to miss a boat, have one of the boats canceled, or have too much swell that keeps all the boats ashore for you to miss your flight back home.

The problem is less significant in Nusa Penida than in the Gilis, where crossing the Lombok strait can really be challenging, but still. It's better to plan to go to Nusa Penida in the middle of your trip or at the beginning rather than at the very last moment.

Conclusion

Nusa Penida offers a unique island experience, with heavenly beaches, incredible marine life, and breathtaking natural landscapes. However, it's not necessarily a must in a Bali itinerary, especially if you don't like taking boats, have average health, or simply have less than 3 days to dedicate to it.

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