The couple days we spent on Nusa Penida were the highlight of our Bali trip for both of us. There were less tourists, the scenery was spectacular, and getting lost on rugged roads with no cell service always makes for an adventure.
Many people visit the island as a day trip, but to get the most out Nusa Penida, try to stay at least a night, if not more. If we were to do visit again, I'd definitely try to get away from the hotspots like Denpasar and Ubud to spend more time on the less-visited islands like Nusa Penida and Lombok. Even though we covered a lot of ground in 24 hours, we definitely jam packed our days since we only had one night on the island.
There are several ferries departing Sanur Beach in Bali for Nusa Penida, all varying in their departure time. Our hotel arranged our ferry to the island, and we ended up on the Bali Seaview (Maruti Express is another popular option). It's possible you might get pushed into paying a higher fare than advertised, which the locals refer to as a 'tourist tax'. We realized we actually could have shopped around once arriving at the busy port and gotten a better price (and seen the boat we would be taking!) We ended up paying around 1,200,000IDR for two roundtrip fares.
Tip: Don't forget to book a round trip ticket for the best deals and double check the return time.
On the way there, we ended up riding on the roof of the boat next to a chicken with the locals and lots of groceries - yes that happened!
Once we docked, we looked for a scooter to rent for the next two days. Feel free to haggle - at the port you will be approached repeatedly by vendors trying to rent you a bike, and expect the costs to be more expensive than the mainland. Once you get your bike, it's always a good idea to take photos of the license plate and the condition your rental is in. You don't technically need an international driver's license, but as always it is good to have.
During our time on Nusa Penida, we frequently saw other groups who hired a car and a driver/tour guide to take them around the island. Because of the rugged roads, this could be a good idea, especially if you're unsure of your scooter riding skills, or if you want to travel more comfortably.
We opted to share a scooter, which ended up being a good idea for us since we were more mobile and able to cover more distance (I got to be copilot and navigate from the back!). If you do opt for a scooter, you will need to be fairly confident in your riding skills. We encountered potholes galore, rough dirt roads, lack of signs, and even a downed tree.
Since we were constantly on our scooter, we did need to fill up on petrol. Because of the remoteness of the area, we were conservative and filled up when we got the chance. This meant buying 1L Absolute Vodka bottles filled with yellow petrol from a small stand along the side of the road.
We stayed at Full Moon Bungalows, which was laid back and simple, but clean and made for a great base for our adventures. Since we weren't spending too much time in our room, it was exactly what we needed - a great island vibe for a great rate. We got a great rate through through Agoda.com and paid in cash on site.
I loved the location of our place. It was quiet, close to port, and only a short drive to the small cluster of restaurants on the north shore.
What to Eat
Coming from the main island, there aren't too many options for dining on Nusa Penida, and the prices are a little more expensive. But for the remoteness of the island, we still found some great spots to eat. Penida Colada has great breakfast and lunch options with a true island vibe. My favorites there were the juices and smoothies. They also have a great outdoor lounge area with beach views. For dinner we ate at Warung Pondok, which had a full entree menu that featured some fresh local fish.
There are also several small shops along the main road that you can pick up water and snacks for your day excursions.
Things to Do
Finally, what you probably came here to learn about! There were so many places we wanted to see, but the island is surprisingly large, and the roads make traveling long distances quite exhausting.
The map said it was only about 12.5 miles to Manta Point, but the final stretch we were completely off-roading on a moped scooter. We finally arrived at the site of a house being built, and as we walked around looking for 'Manta Point' we found the edge of the cliff and realized we were completely in the wrong spot! Oops. It was still a great view, and we were even able to spot dive boats and mantas from the top of the cliff! After snapping a few photos, we had a good laugh as we mobbed back to the dirt path.
If you want to visit and are also a diver, you should definitely book a charter to dive at this manta hot spot - there's nothing like being in the water with these gentle giants!
If you visit Nusa Penida, you have to do some sort of diving or snorkeling. People will travel all the way from the mainland to the Nusa islands just to do a couple dives or snorkels, and there is something for everyone, whether its scuba diving with manta rays or snorkeling at Gamat Bay.
Other interesting sights
Since we only had a day and a half on the island, we didn't even come close to seeing everything we wanted to. Some other spots we would have liked to check out include:
Bring plenty of cash for your entire stay. We did find an ATM in one of the towns, but we ended up paying for everything in cash: ferry, accommodation, scooter rental, petrol, entrance fees, water activities, and all food.
Download an offline map. I recommend using Google Maps' offline areas feature to save the entire island so you can see where you are, even if you have no service.
Nusa Penida was such a refreshing change of pace from the mainland - I would have loved to spend several more days here! I like to imagine that that was what Bali was like at one time before the tourism boom - remote, untouched and wild. Everyone is also so friendly and laid-back. If you visit, expect to get lost, but at least expect beautiful views the entire time.