Diving Bali and the nearby islands of Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan offer a most diverse collection of dive sites accessible from the one place. From the famous USAT Liberty wreck in the north, to the sheltered Gili Selang reef in the middle, and the slightly more challenging Crystal Bay and Manta Point – a day trip across the strait – there is something for every kind of diver.
Likewise, above the water, Bali presents many faces – an exotic, spiritual retreat, – and for others a place to surf and party the nights away. Bali is many things, and having tolerated a great deal of foreign influence over the centuries it is the sort of place that accommodates all sorts.
The Balinese are a devout race, maintaining a colourful Hindu culture that has survived many centuries. Several Hindu and Islamic kingdoms have swept through Indonesia over the centuries, as well as 300 years of Dutch colonisation, yet this tiny pocket of Hindu culture remains.
It is a place where you can of course eat, pray, love as well as surf, fish and dive. As such there is plenty of accommodation from backpacker to 5-star luxury, plenty of places to eat, from delicious street food to the finest French cuisine. And there are seemingly 100s of dive operators scattered throughout Bali.
From a diving perspective, Bali is a volcanic island in the Western Banda Arc where the Indo-Australian plate is disappearing underneath the Eurasian plate. To the north lies the Pacific Ocean, to the south; the Indian Ocean and strong currents flow along both sides of Bali as a result.
Sitting squarely within the coral triangle, it has the ocean perfect conditions for coral reef building. Unfortunately, being made up connected volcanoes, the coastline is largely sloping black sand – so often the required substrate is not available. However, in rocky bays where it is, and in places where there is a substantial wreck, large coral formations have grown. In between, on the black sands, there are spots with some of the best macro and muck diving.
The nearby islands of Nusa Penida and Lembongan have the required ‘rockiness’ for significant coral formations, as well as areas of deeper in-shore waters where pelagics – like mantas – may be found.
It is also one of very few places in the world where you can see the stunning Mola Mola (sunfish), and has a most diverse collection of dive sites accessible from the one place.
There are dive operators on every street corner of Kuta and Sanur, and many dive resorts dotted around the island, so selecting an operator, especially before you go, can be a challenge.
Bali is not such a big place, so most of the operators can get you to most of the sites; and some of the operators cover more than just Bali. If you are there just for the diving, some operators will focus on where to dive, and then build you an itinerary, with accommodation and transport, based around that.
If you are staying in one place, but want to get some dives in, don’t assume the dive shop closest to where you’re staying will be the best option, as most dive outfits will collect from your accommodation and transfer to the site and back, without you ever seeing their ‘dive centre’.
This can sometimes be an issue as in these cases you might not get to see your hired gear until you’re putting it on. When choosing an operator don’t be scared to ask these important questions:
- What’s the diver to guide ratio?
- What brand and model of computer will I get with the regs?
- How many persons is the boat surveyed for, and how many do you take?
- Which days each week to you go to Tulamben Bay and Nusa Penida? (Not all operators will be diving Bali’s dive sites on a daily basis).
Be specific, and if the answers are vague, well that speaks volumes.
If you plan to learn to dive in Bali, and it’s a great place to do that, shop around for a school or resort that can bundle accommodation with the course.
Follow the links below, where you’ll find our reviews of three quite different operators. It will give you a feel for different ways to dive Bali, and indeed Indonesia.
Aquamarine specialise in the dive safari approach; Blue Season is a top class PADI 5 Star Dive Resort and CDC, and Pulau Dive Charters offer a private boat charter complete with gear and guide, that can take you diving wherever you’d like to go.
View Dive Centres
Mainland Bali is best known for its muck diving and reef diving, with a highlight being the artificial reef formed by the wreck of the USAT Liberty in Tulamben Bay. Then of course there are the dive sites around Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan.
On the east coast, there are a dive sites from Padang Bai (which is a port), all the way up to Kubu Point with with reefs, sharks, turtles, and wrecks.
On the northern coast, sites include Puri Jati, Pemuteran and Menjangen which are mainly macro, but Menjangen also has a wreck and some walls.
Most of the mainland sites are very close to shore, with little current and are considered ‘easy’, by comparison to the sites around Nusi Penida and Lembongan. These sites are accessed via what can be quite a bumpy journey over the Selat Badung – the strait between Bali and Lembongan.
South of Bali is the Indian Ocean, north of Bali is the Pacific Ocean, and powerful and complex currents flow between them. Diving on the south side of Nusa Penida there can be very strong currents outside the bays, and steep thermoclines (21°C to 29°C over a short distance) which means water can be flowing up and down as well as horizontally. However, it is exactly for these reasons that you will see Mantas, and in the clear waters of Crystal Bay – if you are there at the right time of year – Mola Mola.
Below is a selection of dive sites across the eastern coast, and the Nusa Penida group.
View Dive Sites
Where to Stay
There is a huge range of accommodation to choose from in Bali, for budgets of all sizes. Here are a few personal recommendations.
The Watergarden Hotel & Spa
The Watergarden Hotel & Spa is in Candidasa on Bali’s east coast. It’s a secluded little hideaway with thatched bungalow-style accommodation surrounded by lily ponds, small streams, waterfalls and rather lush tropical gardens.
Komune Surf Resort
Located on the east coast of Bali just north of Sanur, Komune Surf Resort is far from the hustle of Kuta, the resort world of Nusa Dua and (logically) sitting next to one of Bali’s best surf breaks.
Each room has a surfboard rack outside, (equally useful for dive gear) and the Beach Club is one of the most popular on the east coast. The resort is famous for its large spotlights, enabling the sport of night-surfing.
Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay
Located in Jimbaran Bay on Bali’s southern coast, the Four Seasons Resort sits on the hillside overlooking the beach, a village oasis that seems far from the hustle and bustle and yet central enough to most of Bali’s attractions.
There is a choice of three restaurants to dine in, including the lively Sundara Beach Club, and suites each have an outdoor dining area for private in-room dining.
Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan
Hidden away in a lush valley overlooking the Ayung River, the Four Seasons Sayan has been recognized as one of the world’s best resorts on the Conde Naste Traveler Gold List 2014 and Platinum Circle 2014.
The resort has a world-class day spa in case you fancy having your aching post-dive muscles massaged into compliance as well as yoga classes, guided village tours and a fantastic restaurant.
Tucked away down a quiet laneway, Serene Villas offer privacy and a good deal of luxury, with the convenience of being a 5-minute walk from downtown Seminyak. This is a great choice for groups, with spacious 3-bedroom villas sleeping up to 6 people (one and two bedroom villas area also available).
The villas each have a fully-equipped kitchen and dining area as well as a butler on call to cook breakfast for you and organise transfers, bookings, taxis and even takeaway dinner.
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Where to Eat
From street food to fine dining, it’s rare to dine out anywhere in Bali and not enjoy it. From fresh seafood caught and barbequed for you on the beach at Jimbaran Bay or Candidasa to fine dining at any number of restaurants and beach clubs in Seminyak or Sanur.
Sundara Beach Club
Aussie head chef Greg Bunt has put together a rather sophisticated Australian-style menu for Sundara. Produce is local and organic whenever possible, sourced from the restaurant’s own organic plots in central Bali. It’s a great place to watch the sunset with a glass of French bubbly.
Sardine Restaurant in Seminyak is housed in an open and rather striking looking bamboo structure which overlooks its own rice fields. Menu changes daily according to the catch of the day. Vegetables, herbs and salads are sourced from their own organic vegetable garden.
Layang Layang at The Regent
The Sunday Lobster Brunch at Layang Layang restaurant at The Regent in Sanur should definitely be on your agenda – at least once. Every Sunday, starting at 12 noon you can choose from a dizzying array of lobster dishes and free-flowing wine for the incredibly reasonable price of (IDR) 650,000 per person.
How to Get Around
Wherever possible arrange a transfer via your operator or accommodation. This is not always the cheapest on face value, but certainly the most reliable, and saves you spending costly ‘waiting-around-time’.
If you’re going to use a taxi, particularly for any distance, make sure it’s a Blue Bird Group taxi (and beware other pale blue imitations). The drivers are polite and courteous and they will always use the meter.
A moped or scooter looks like an obvious choice given the traffic situation in Bali, however, a few notes of caution:
- restrictions may apply (such as insurance cover) if you are not licensed to ride a motorcycle in your home country;
- even then, motorcycle incidents may not be covered by your travel insurance policy;
- there are fines for riders and their passengers for not wearing correctly fastened and approved helmets; and
- in the event of an accident, foreigners may be assumed to be at fault and expected to make financial restitution to all other parties.
As with most activities, seek the same kind of information, and take the same kinds of precautions as you would back home.
If you want to mix up your days with a few non-diving activities there’s certainly plenty to choose from. Everything from elephant rides to water parks, exploring the local markets, pampering yourself at one of the many day spa, and then of course there’s the surfing.
Surfing is, after all, why Australians first started coming to Bali and if you feel like riding the waves for a change instead of swimming under them there are surf schools all over Bali that will show you how.
Odyssey Surf School in Kuta makes the guarantee to have you standing on your first lesson and will even take a photo so you can prove it.
If you can already surf and want to try something a little more challenging, Komune Resort on Keramas Beach offers the opportunity to surf world-class waves at night. Enormous spotlights light up the breaks and there’s also a pretty decent bar from which you can just sit back and watch.
White Water Rafting
The Ayung River in central Bali flows fairly steadily year-round, with white water rafting available several times a day, every day. It’s a great way to get yourself an adrenalin fix while admiring the surrounding lush green countryside.
There are several companies that can take you there and it’s probably best to ask your hotel concierge to recommend a trusted operator.
Ever since Eat Pray Love became a hit, people have been flocking to Bali to find themselves and the number of yoga studios has correspondingly grown. Check with the hotel you’re staying at and you’ll probably find they run yoga classes at some point during your stay.
We tried one of the early morning classes at The Four Seasons Sayan in Ubud, which are held each day on the hotel’s rooftop, surrounded by a lily pond seemingly floating in air.
Otherwise, Ubud is a good place to start. The Yoga Barn is one of the more established, and runs classes from 7am until 9pm, with about 10 classes per day. You can choose to attend a beginners’ class or attend a workshop or weeklong retreat.
Again, if there’s not one at your hotel, walk a few metres down the main streets of Ubud, Seminyak or Sanur and you’re bound to come across several day spas, where you can take your pick of soothing facials or relaxing massages.
The day spas at Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay and Sayan in Ubud are particularly lovely, offering a range of traditional therapies including full body wraps to sooth your sunburnt skin and relaxing massages to ease away your aching apre-dive muscles.
There are over 20,000 temples, or pura, in Bali, and certainly a few worth visiting to get a better understanding of this small island’s rich culture and history.
Pura Gunung Kawi, Bali’s “Valley of the Kings”, and Tirta Empul are located near Tamaksiring. Gunung Kawi is located in a ravine between rice fields. The cliffs flanking the river feature shrines carved into the stone honouring kings and queens from the 11th Century.
Goa Gajah, or Elephant Cave is in central Bali and known for the menacing entrance to its cave, while Tanah Lot and Taman Ayun are located to the east and easily accessible from Denpasar.
The Besakih or “Mother Temple” is the holiest of all, and located some 900 metres up Mt Agung in East Bali and dates back t the 10th century.
The Barong and the Wayang Kulit
Two features of Balinese culture that are truly unique and well worth seeking out; the wayung kulit or shadow puppet shows and traditional story-telling dance performances.
The Barong is probably the most well known dance, narrating the fight between good and evil, a mix of myth and history. Wayang Kulit performances tell stories usually drawn from Hindu epics such as the Ramayana, worth experiencing if just to marvel at the intricately carved puppets.
You can usually catch a 7pm show Ubud at one of several establishments, so plan an early dinner nearby before wandering by.
Before you go, it’s always a good idea to browse your own government’s website to see whether there are specific issues for your particular destination(s). Here’s a link to the Australian Government’s Smartraveller website which tends to be pretty comprehensive for Bali as it’s such a big destination for Australians.
Most of the operators that you are ever likely to dive with also have an English language website which you should probably digest thoroughly before you go. Of course, the best Local information is … just that – local. Pick up brochures everywhere you go – the airport, the accommodation, and even the dive centres. And ask around – you won’t find out who does the best Nasi Goreng locally from a website or a brochure.
From Australia, Air Asia, Garuda, Qantas and Virgin all fly to Denpasar – and there is disappointingly little difference between their prices. Check the websites of all these carriers for specials. Try a travel agent too. Fares are not as cheap as they used to be, but there are still deals to be had. Jakarta is the other main hub into Indonesia, and there may be specials to Jakarta if you can work an itinerary around that, and then you could take in Belitung Island.
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