You guys, Bali is pretty great. But a lot of people already know that. I don’t need to tell you that Bali is beautiful, it’s paradise on earth, it’s a tropical wonderland. You’ve seen Eat Pray Love. You know it already. And since the secret is out about Bali…many parts are simply overrun by tourists. Crowded streets to crowded restaurants to crowded beaches can sum up someone’s entire trip to Bali. But it doesn’t have to. While there’s plenty of amazing things to see on Bali, there’s also hidden and untouched pieces of paradise within reach. And I just happened to have visited one of those spots.
It all started with a boat ride. We boarded the ferry from Padang Bai, where most of the other tourists are loading up their hiking packs and roll aboard suitcases [on a beach, will always make me laugh!] and heading for the Gili Islands for the weekend. But we waited in a line of local Indonesian travelers. We boarded with our motorbike, surrounded on all sides by motorbikes and pickup trucks full of chickens or coconuts, and Balinese ceremony gear. We were one of 5 foreigners on this boat. And we were headed to Nusa Penida Island.
Nusa Penida is a small island compared to Bali, but large compared to it’s other touristy neighbor, Nusa Lembongan. But unlike the surrounding tourist islands, Nusa Penida has not yet been developed for the Bali luxury traveler. There are no fancy resorts, but simple homestays. No 5 star restaurants, but mostly local warungs. There’s no taxi service, but small winding roads only accessible by motorbikes. We knew traveling Nusa Penida would be a challenge, and we were ready to take it.
We’ve been progressing enough in our language learning, that we are actually able to have pretty long conversations in Indonesian. Which is exactly how we met friends on the ferry to Nusa Penida that invited us back to their home. This couple called Nusa Penida home, and we were excited for an inside glimpse as to how people actually lived on this new island. Once we docked in the beautiful turquoise waters of the harbor, we drove our motorbike off the boat and up a mountain to follow our new friends home. We sat and chatted with our new friends about life on the island [they were both teachers] and how we enjoyed living on Bali. We shared snacks and drinks and laughed together. Usually over how bad our language still is. But this is why I love Indonesians. Always eager to make a friend. And relationship always trumps schedules.
After visiting with our new friends, we headed back down the mountain to see more of what Nusa Penida had to offer. One of the first differences I noticed from mainland Bali to Nusa Penida were the temples. The people of Nusa Penida are Balinese Hindu, just like mainland Bali. And on Bali where we live, I see so many temples every day. Bali is called the “Island of the Gods” and there’s an estimated 10,000 temples across the island. So I’ve gotten pretty used to the look of Balinese temples. But on Nusa Penida, they are different. Instead of a black volcanic rock, they are exquisitely crafted with a white limestone, creating an altogether different aesthetic. It was shocking and beautiful at the same time.
Our big adventure for the weekend was to visit some of the epic beaches that Nusa Penida boasts. We’ve already been snorkeling off it’s coast [via snorkeling trip from nearby Nusa Lembongan], but we wanted to experience the beaches from shore. So we picked Atuh Beach, located at the southeastern tip of Nusa Penida. Google Maps estimated 48 minutes to drive the 12 miles from our homestay to the beach. Google Maps had no idea the terrain we’d be driving. The roads on Nusa Pendia are not good by any standards, but even compared to Bali’s roads, they are rough. After many missed turns and tiny paved roads turning into tinier dirt roads, we arrived atop a cliff with a breathtaking view of the beach below. Huge rock formations sat in the protected bay of the beachfront. Now all we had to do was descend the cliff onto the beach. Bali itself has cliff beaches, so we weren’t new to climbing downstairs to reach the shore. But these stairs were hardly stairs. Large rocks had been turned over to create stepping stone. A few steps had been carved out along the way, but hardly enough to consider helpful. Little by little, step by step, we arrived at Atuh Beach. Close to 3 hours after we departed our guesthouse. And it was worth it. Atuh Beach is nearly deserted, with only 6 lounge chairs spread out across the sand, one guy selling drinks. But it was perfect.
We happily paid the Rp100,000 [$7 USD] for the chairs and collapsed in exhaustion. Our hopes of snorkeling the waters were dashed by the intense waves rolling in that day. But we were able to walk out into the water and cool down. But mostly we just lounged, satisfied in our accomplishment for the day. I began to realize that my grand ambitions of what I wanted to see while on Nusa Penida were a bit unrealistic. This place was much more desolate than I imagined. Traveling distances took longer than I ever could have thought. Perhaps Atuh Beach would be our grand achievement of the weekend. When we had our fill our the chill beach vibes of Atuh Beach, we began the difficult ascent back to our motorbike. Slowly, we drove back to our homestay soaking in all the beauty of Nusa Penida along the way.
We did attempt one more adventure while on Nusa Penida, the famous Balinese temple in a cave, Goa Giri Putri. We’ve visited tons of Balinese temples before, but never one in a cave! And of course the day we decide to go, there’s a Balinese Hindu ceremony in progress. Glad we brought our sarongs! After the ceremony at the mouth of the cave finished, we entered the narrow opening with the worshippers. Smaller than I expected, I had to get down on my hands and knees to enter. But once inside, the cave was massive and vast. The Balinese had brought in portable lights and fans to make the atmosphere more pleasant for ceremonies. The rituals and chants carried on around us as we explored the cave and marveled at it’s size. What a sight.
Nusa Penida was not the adventure I expected, but the adventure I’ll never forget. Maybe in 5 or 10 years, this island will also become a tourist destination like Bali and Nusa Lembongan with luxury hotels and tour packages. And maybe it’ll be easier to travel. But for now, I’m glad we got this hard experience of discovery. It makes the journey more rewarding. The sights more sweet. I can’t wait to go back.
Heading to Nusa Penida?
Homestay Recommendation: Nusa Garden Bungalow
Restaurant Recommendation: Mola-Mola Waroeng