Should you include a Nusa Penida trip in your Bali itinerary? There are plenty of great reasons to go to this little island — but there are also lots of reasons you might want to avoid it! Is a trip to Nusa Penida right for you? We’ve got your answer below!
What’s in our Guide to Visiting Nusa Penida?
The first time we went to Nusa Penida, in 2015, it was a real escape from the tourist crowds of Ubud.
Gone was the bumper to bumper traffic and the buzz of a million motorbikes. Gone was the endless stream of sightseers and spiritual seekers.
On Nusa Penida, we found rural tranquility and a local community which had not yet been overrun by the steamroller of the Indonesian tourism industry.
Unfortunately, the day we arrived, Stephen came down with a terrible fever and we had to rush back to Bali for medical care. It turned out that we both had dengue — but that’s a story for another day.
Fast forward to this year, when we made a return trip to Nusa Penida, hoping to immerse ourselves in the island magic that we had barely tasted on our first trip.
The intervening years have not been kind to Nusa Penida.
Day tourists now arrive in droves and hordes of independent travellers spend a few nights there. Nusa Penida is now a confirmed stop on the well beaten track.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its charms. You just need to know what you’re getting into before you go.
Read on to discover the 21 Things You Need to Know Before Planning a Nusa Penida Trip.
Also don’t miss these posts:
4 Reasons to Visit Nusa Penida
Nusa Penida’s rise to full-blown tourist destination is no mystery. With incredible vistas along its southern shores, beautiful beaches to the west, and exceptional snorkelling and diving opportunities all around, Nusa Penida packs a lot into a little space.
Here are a few of the reasons people go:
1. The most beautiful beach on Earth
We weren’t expecting much from our one day tour on Nusa Penida — and then we got to Kelingking Beach (AKA Klungkung or Secret Point Beach). After an uncomfortable hour on a winding, bumpy road, we found ourselves at the top of a dizzying cliff, hundreds of metres above a perfect crescent of golden sand. We thought we could only admire her from afar… until our guide pointed to the trail.
The treacherous path clings to the cliffside and delivers only the most intrepid / stupid travellers to the sandy shores below.
Once I reached the bottom, the feeling of triumph at having survived the descent, mixed with the stunning beauty, literally took my breath away. If you love beaches and a physical challenge, set aside a whole day just to hang out at Kelingking Beach.
It’s the most beautiful beach on which we’ve ever left our footprints.
2. Meet the friendly islanders
Indonesian people are extremely friendly, but on Nusa Penida, they embody an island vibe that makes them even more approachable. Especially if you walk (most tourists zoom by on motorbikes), children run out to greet you and practice whatever English they can manage.
Adults wave and smile or might beckon you over for a chat, even if they don’t speak English. If you learn a couple of phrases in Bahasa, like “apa kabar / how are you” and “baik baik saja / fine” you will earn huge smiles all around.
3. Do nothing for a few days
If you want to sit in a secluded spot staring out to sea for a few days, Nusa Penida is ideal! Guest houses are hidden away around the island in quiet spaces, making it easy to design your own private retreat.
Our bungalow at Petak Cottage overlooked the north shore of the island, giving us an incredible view of Mount Batur (while it was erupting).
We spent most of our four days on the island just sitting on our deck and marvelling at the power and beauty of the natural world.
4. Snorkelling and SCUBA with Manta Rays
Perhaps the biggest reason for a trip to Nusa Penida is Manta Ray Point, where you can swim with these incredible sea creatures. The small group of islands here is often cited as one of the best dive spots in the world.
More Nusa Penida Tours →
That may be true, but there is a major downside. Because of lack of regulation, the popular spots are often packed with dive boats, so you won’t avoid the tourist crowds underwater, either.
Also, tonnes of garbage wash onto the island from Java and other spots all around the ocean. Depending upon the tides and the time of year, the experience can be as depressing as it is enthralling.
(Related: Don’t be surprised if your Penida snorkelling photos end up like these) →
Of course, we never recommend animal attractions that involve too many people crowding around wild animals, as the manta dives certainly do. Tourists and tourist boats also damage the coral here, so…
…maybe water sports aren’t a great reason to visit Nusa Penida after all!
4 Reasons to avoid Nusa Penida
1. You only have a short time in Bali
If you’re only in Bali for a week or two, we recommend escaping to one of the less touristed areas of the main island, rather than spending your valuable time going to Nusa Penida.
Though the distances look short on the map, the drive to Sanur or Padangbai, where the ferries depart, can take hours in the dense Bali traffic. Plus, the fast boat ride is fairly unpleasant and if the weather is bad, or it can be cancelled or take hours.
All in all, the hassle of getting to Nusa Penida is only worth it if you are not in a rush.
Instead of spending all day in cars and boats, we suggest you get up with the sun and stretch your legs on a volcano! The Mount Batur sunrise trek is a Bali classic.
2. You’ve never driven a motorbike before
Unlike most of Bali, there is no ojek, Go-Jek, Grab, Uber, or taxi service available on Nusa Penida. That means, the only reasonable way to get around the island is by driving a motorbike.
If you’ve never driven one before, the Nusa Penida roads are not the place to learn. Though there are a few good paved stretches, roads to the big attractions are a disaster, with giant potholes filled with loose sand and rocks. They are also rammed with dozens of SUVs transporting day trippers back and forth.
Rental motorbikes are in various states of disrepair, so if you do rent, be sure to check that you have working brakes, mirrors, and tires with some grip left. You will need it all on the disastrous roads!
And you don’t have a license
Also, you officially need a license to drive a motorbike on Nusa Penida. You can bring an International Driving License from home, combined with your regular license, or you can get a temporary tourist license at an office in Denpasar on Bali.
If the police catch you without a license, you will probably have to pay a “fine”. If you get injured, driving without a license will invalidate your travel insurance, and you’ll have to pay for your own medical care.
Having said that, first-time drivers rent motorbikes on Nusa Penida all the time and live to tell the tale — though many of them go away with scratches and bruises or worse.
Since we can’t drive motorbikes, we were stuck seeing only what was in walking distance or paying the hefty fee for a private driver. Because of this, we feel like we didn’t really get to experience the island like we otherwise would have.
So if you’re not a great motorbike driver, think twice before booking your Nusa Penida trip.
3. You’re looking for a truly off-the-beaten-track destination
Nusa Penida is firmly on the Bali tourist trail and, though it’s not quite as overrun as the Gili Islands yet, it won’t be long! If you’re hoping to find complete seclusion and an escape from touristy Bali, head to Bali’s northern or eastern shores instead.
If you’re looking to get away from tourists for a day, this Bali village cycling tour in Kintamani might be just right.
4. You’re on a budget
Everything about a trip to Nusa Penida is expensive. The fast boats charge as much as they can get from you, transfers to your hotel will cost $10-20, and your accommodation will be at least 30% more than on Bali. Motorbike rental can climb up to $20/day too and hiring a car and driver costs from $70-100.
If you’re on a budget, stay away from Nusa Penida. A trip to the Gili Islands or Lombok will be more exciting and much more cost-effective.
5. You need to get some work done
In most places on Nusa Penida, the internet is bad. Like, not just slow, but terrible. At times, you’ll be lucky if you can even load a Google search results page. At other times, there is zero connection.
If you plan to use your LTE SIM card for internet connection, think again. With Telkomsel, we were only able to get 3G on our phones and that was slower than the slow WiFi. If you need to work online, don’t go to Nusa Penida.
We did manage to find fast WiFi at two places on the island:
- Penida Espresso had great WiFi and delicious smoothie bowls, too.
- SD Point has fast WiFi and a nice spot to relax on the beach. But just order a drink, the food was terrible as was the service.
Planning Your Trip
Should you do a one-day trip to Nusa Penida?
If you want to come to Nusa Penida to get away from the Bali crowds, then a Nusa Penida day trip is a total no-go! On a day trip, you will be surrounded by tourists from dawn until dusk, never getting a chance to experience the island’s true spirit.
On the other hand, if you’re only interested in Instagramming the big sights, like Angel’s Billabong, Broken Beach, and Kelingking, then a Nusa Penida day tour is an efficient way to pack them into a short time.
Then again, you might choose to see the most Instagrammable spots on Bali instead. Check out this Bali Instagram Tour which visits waterfalls, temples, and a jungle swing!
How many nights do you need on Nusa Penida?
Your length of stay on the island really depends what you plan to do there. If you’re a beach bum with a motorbike, then you’ll have plenty to occupy you for four or five days.
If you want to do a snorkelling tour and an island tour, you should spend at least four nights so you have one day free to explore.
If you don’t drive a motorbike, like us, then two or three days is plenty.
Should you go to Nusa Penida straight from the airport?
Since Sanur, the main departure point for Nusa Penida fast boats, is pretty close to the airport, it might seem to make sense to travel to the island just after landing. I wouldn’t recommend it though, because getting a boat right after your flight could be tricky and exhausting.
(Don’t miss: Our guide to the best restaurants in Sanur for vegans and the rest of you)
Also, it’s best not to plan to depart from Nusa Penida on the same day as your flight leaves from Bali. Delays because of weather or other unforeseen circumstances are all too common in this part of the world.
You’ll greatly increase your stress levels and the chance of missing your flight if you try to get from Nusa Penida to the airport the day your flight leaves.
Which area should you stay in?
Except for the small towns clustered around the two ferry ports (Sampalan on the north coast and Toyapakeh to the west) there is no real central area for tourists on Nusa Penida.
On our first trip we stayed at Namaste Bungalows for a few nights. We loved this area, near the small town of Sakti, because it’s walking distance to Crystal Bay and brings you closer to the other big sights in west Nusa Penida.
Our second visit, we stayed at Petak Cottage, which is walking distance to the tiny town of Ped. The Petak bungalows have amazing views over the north shore and Mount Agung. Plus, it’s close to Penida Espresso, which offers amazing smoothie bowls for breakfast and lunch.
How to Get to Nusa Penida
Fast boat from Bali to Nusa Penida
The most common way to get to Nusa Penida is via fast boat. There are countless companies who shift tourists from one island to the other and boats run all day long. The fast boat takes about 45 minutes on a good day, but can take much longer on a stormy day.
On the day we crossed, the water was calm, but the ride was still bumpy and the spray from the sea prevented us from opening our windows. If you’re prone to seasickness, being enclosed in a boat with stale air, petrol fumes, and a crowd of people will definitely not be your thing!
How much does the fast boat to Nusa Penida cost?
This is almost the same as asking “How long is a piece of string?” If you ask ten people on your fast boat how much they paid, you’ll likely get ten different answers.
The best advice we can give is to check the prices online, with your hotel on Bali, and with your hotel on Nusa Penida. Choose the best price you are quoted and book ahead.
Don’t wait until you get to the port to buy your ticket. You’ll almost certainly pay more because the boat owners know you already spent the time and money to get there.
We organized our tickets with our hotel on Nusa Penida and paid 150K IDR (10 USD) each for a one-way fast boat. We talked to a few travellers who had booked at the port — they all paid 300K IDR (20 USD) each for a one-way ticket.
Where to get the fast boat to Nusa Penida
From Canggu, Kuta, Uluwatu and other areas in southern Bali
The closest fast boat port from Bali’s southern region is Sanur, on the east edge of Denpasar. Depending on the time of day, boats travel to the main ferry port at Sampalan or the fast boat port at Toyapakeh. Boats from Sanur to Nusa Penida take about 45 minutes in calm weather, more if the weather is bad.
From Ubud and eastern Bali to Nusa Penida
Get the fast boat from Padangbai if you’re in Ubud or eastern Bali. Nusa Penida boats can arrive on the island at Sampalan or Toyapakeh, so check first to make sure your boat goes to the stop closest to your hotel.
You might also be offered a ticket from Kusamba, which is near Padang Bai. It’s also fine and will offer the shortest crossing — around 20 minutes in good weather.
Getting the Nusa Penida ferry to Padang Bai
There is a public ferry to Nusa Penida, which is mostly used by locals. Though this ferry used to leave from Sanur, it now leaves from Padang Bai and arrives at Sampalan port. Accurate information about the ferry is scarce so it’s only a good option if you’re on a tight budget.
Here’s everything we found out about the ferry while on Nusa Penida:
Ferry times between Nusa Penida and Padang Bai
Here is a picture of the official ferry times as of July 9, 2018.
Now ignore that picture.
The truth is, the reason you can’t get accurate ferry times from anyone is that there are no exact ferry times.
Here’s as much information as we could gather about the ferry between Sampalan, Nusa Penida and Padang Bai:
- The ferry leaves Nusa Penida in the morning, some time between 8am and 11am (but maybe not every day)
- The ferry makes the crossing in around 1 to 2 hours
- A second ferry comes from Padang Bai to Sampalan on Nusa Penida later in the morning or in the afternoon
- It then waits at Nusa Penida while fuel trucks deliver fuel around the island before returning to Padangbai some time in the afternoon
Read the section below about our experience to get some invaluable ferry-taking tips!
Ticket prices for the ferry
The official ticket price is 27,300 IDR for a walk-on passenger. In reality, they round that up to 30,000 IDR, at least for foreigners. You may be asked to pay more — but the prices are posted on the wall at the ticket office, so don’t.
Our experience taking the ferry
Having been told by our hotel that the ferry leaves at 8am, we arrived at the ferry terminal at 7:30am. We bought our tickets and the ticket seller said the ferry would leave at 10am. We checked with several other travellers, who had all been told the same thing.
We went to get breakfast and came back at 9:10am, only to see the ferry sailing away into the distance! It might be the only ferry in the world that leaves unexpectedly early.
The lesson? Don’t believe anybody, even the ticket seller, about the ferry times. Just get there early and be prepared to wait.
Before long, new travellers started to arrive to get the 11am ferry. But 11am came and went, with no sign of a ferry. Most of us finally gave up and decided to head over to the nearby fast boat port. We managed to get tickets to Kusamba for 100K IDR each. The boat left on time and took exactly 17 minutes.
As we were making the crossing, we spotted the car ferry heading towards Penida. It probably arrived around noon. I’m guessing we were snug in our Ubud hotel before it left again.
What to Expect on the Island
Getting to your hotel
If you’re planning on renting a motorbike, you can do so right at the port.
If not, make sure to arrange with your hotel for a transfer. Unlike many touristy spots in Asia, there are few options and little competition for public transport while you’re on the island. You might find a car or motorbike willing to drive you to your hotel, but it will be a hassle and you’ll pay extra for not booking ahead.
Prepare to pay more
Being an island with a captive tourist population, prepare to pay a little more for everything than you would on Bali.
Accommodation is about 30% more for similar rooms, food costs about the same but for smaller portions, and transport is much more. Renting a motorbike will cost 100–200 K IDR per day (7–14 USD) while getting a car and driver for the day costs at least 70K IDR (50 USD).
I’ve said it already but it’s worth repeating: unless you’re a confident motorbike driver who doesn’t mind driving up and down steep hills in sand, gravel, potholes and traffic, Nusa Penida is tough and expensive to get around.
You can hire a car and driver for about 70K IDR/day (50 USD/day). It was hard to find a motorbike driver who wanted to bother driving us anywhere and when we finally did, he wanted $20 for a quick drop-off at a nearby Nusa Penida beach – with no guarantee of a pick-up later. We declined.
There is a public shuttle bus on the island, which the locals use to get between towns, but we were never able to figure out:
- The schedule or the route
- How to flag it down
- If we were welcome on the service or not
But if you’re staying on the north coast, give it a try and let us know how it goes!
Roads are brutal
When you’re planning your escape to Nusa Penida, remember that the roads here are not like roads where you are from. They are literally falling apart and often very crowded with tourist vehicles.
That means that a short drive can take hours to complete. If you’re on a motorbike, things are just as slow because of the sand and gravel. Don’t expect to do too much in one day.
Food is only so so
Despite the high praise on TripAdvisor for many of the restaurants on Nusa Penida, we found that the food quality was much lower than in Canggu, Ubud, or even on Lombok. Portions seem to be smaller, too.
If you like seafood, there are a number of places specializing in grilled fish, which looked pretty damn tasty, even to our vegan eyes.
For vegans and vegetarians, many places only offer fried rice, fried noodles, or veggie curry. We found the best vegan food selection at:
- Penida Espresso. Only open for breakfast and lunch but their smoothie bowls are delicious and filling.
- The Gallery. Friendly place with an assortment of vegan dishes. The tempeh sandwich with mashed potatoes was our favourite dish there. Stay away from the Gado Gado, which is pretty lame.
- CCCO (Clothoc City Corner). Their nofollowGado Gado is pretty good, while the Sweet & Spicy Fried tempeh was good enough to order repeatedly.
- Warung Tu Pande. We could never go here, because it was too far from our hotel, but our vegan friends who stayed on that side of the island loved it.
- Warung Kekinian. We had breakfast here in Sampalan and the food was absolutely great. Good thing too, since it was this breakfast that caused us to miss our ferry.
Information is scarce
Want to know what time the ferry goes? Or how much a tour costs? Or how long it will take? Or where’s the best place for dinner? Good luck finding out!
Details are not really Indonesia’s cultural strong suit and on Nusa Penida it seemed even worse than Bali. We seemed to get conflicting or just plain incorrect information from everyone about everything.
These little exchanges can be frustrating, so when you’re asking questions, take a deep breath, and be prepared to come away from the conversation more confused than you were going in.
I hope I didn’t come across too negative in this post! I just want to be as honest as I can about the good and bad of travel to Nusa Penida. We really enjoyed the village-like vibe on the island and, despite a few frustrations, we had a pretty good time there.
I hope this post will prepare you if you’re planning a trip to Nusa Penida. It’s always good to know what to expect so you can make the most of your time! If you have any questions or you had a different experience on Nusa Penida that we did, let us know in the comments below.
♥ Happy mindful adventures, Jane & Stephen
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