I’m not sure how I came across Nusa Lembongan while we were planning our trip to Bali this Spring. Once we knew we were headed to Bali for 3+ weeks it was really important for us to stay away from the super touristy spots like Kuta, Seminyak, Nusa Dua, etc. We knew we were going to be in Ubud for nearly 10 days, so we wanted to make sure that the rest of the time was spent away from the crowds of tourists that embrace Bali in the summer!
The boat trip from Sanur (Bali) to Nusa Lembongan is a very interesting trip to say the least. I would be remiss if I didn’t make a few comments. See these guys in the photo above, they are walking your luggage out to that boat right in the middle of the frame. Yes, every piece of luggage for every passenger gets hand walked out to the boats because there is no dock. That also means that you are going to walk through the water as well – with your laptop bag, purse, whatever carry on item you have. You will get wet! How wet depends on the tide.
I don’t happen to get motion sickness or sea sick but my older daughter does. This boat ride did not sit well with her or my mother in law. It was a little rough on the way there, a little claustrophobic as they need to close the windows so the water doesn’t come into the main cabin of the boat, and a strong smell of diesel. Those two were not 100% when we arrived on Lembongan. Keith, Gabby and I were just fine. So this is really just a matter of being prepared, maybe some dramamine if boats tend to make you a little queasy and bring a scarf to cover your nose/mouth if strong smells bother you. A sarong is helpful for so many things when traveling – it can work as a scarf, towel, blanket, you name it, a sarong has a million uses.
Once we decided on spending a few days in Nusa Lembongan we happened across an extremely helpful website: The Lembongan Traveller. I can’t say enough great things about how awesome they were to work with. They are based in Australia, we are located in Phoenix – and we were able to plan our trip via email, never once speaking to one another. And guess what? Our trip went perfectly. From the hotel pickup transportation, the round trip boat transfers, transport from the boat landing in Jungut Batu to our hotels in Mushroom Bay.
Where to stay on Lembongan? Did we want to rent a villa (there are plenty) or did we want to stay in something a little more beachy? The Lembongan Traveler was very helpful helping us arrange where to stay. We stayed a few nights at Castaway Resort a short walk from the water – had the perfect island vibe. The suites were two rooms, bedroom and living room with an outdoor bathroom, so perfect. There are just a handful of rooms at the property centered around a gorgeous pool. They have a small bar area where they will make drinks, food on demand and help you arrange going out to dinner, etc. We even had a massage out on our veranda. Maybe for $10 each?
The Hai Tide was a great place to stay. It was the most laid back resort I have ever stayed at. The Hai Bar & Grill, which served great food, was perched right on the beach at Mushroom Bay. Every morning we started our day at breakfast and probably ended each night with a drink.
I think the highlight of staying at Bali Hai may have been the trip to the pontoon. The resort ferries you offshore, maybe 15-20 minutes away to this floating activity pontoon where you can take a banana boat ride, snorkel, go down a waterslide that drops you into the sea, enjoy the coral viewer and the underwater viewing chamber. This was an absolute blast for the adults as well as the kids. And the best part that this day of fun is included in your daily resort charge. It was awesome!
Another day we enjoyed a snorkeling day trip around the island (this was booked outside of the resort, so it did cost a few $$$). The crew was delightful, taking us to their favorite spots for snorkeling and of course giving us a tour of the neighboring island and commentary to help us better understand Lembongan and its people. Beautiful coral and fish were an easy swim once we jumped off the boat into the warm waters. The Go Pro got a good work out as well. We had a delicious lunch of Balinese food – Isabella couldn’t get enough of the passion fruit. Delicious. We quickly made friends on board, there were maybe 10 or 12 of us in total. The perfect day out.
The Sandy Bay Beach Club was another highlight of our week on Lembongan. It is a little trek from where we were staying but they send their van to pick you up at your resort. Very convenient. The restaurant (and resort) is situated on this incredible strip of nature overlooking the water. A laid back rustic elegance with the perfect island atmosphere and food to back up the views. Like every other meal we have had in Bali, affordable and good. This is a great spot for a wedding or a large family get together. Right on the beach, everything you need right here.
Lembongan may be smallish compared to Bali but there is lots to see. Devil’s Tear (Gabby is standing right above but the wrong time of the day to get the big powerful force of water at high tide). I was a little nervous watching her walk out closer to the edge but she listened and didn’t get too close. It is breathtaking.
Tourism is obviously gaining a foothold here on these islands off of Bali but this is a more recent development. We did meet travelers that had come to Lembongan 20 years ago and they describe how things have changed, how hard it used to be to get here. How they would camp or stay in very primitive lodging. The way of life on Lembongan is still very simple, not overly commercial and really not on too many people’s radars (well maybe the Aussies). So what is the backbone of the economy? After coming across this scene and asking some questions we learned that it is seaweed farming. I’ll state the obvious, this is very hard work. It may make for a beautiful photograph but I couldn’t help but wonder how these not so young folks are able to do this day after day. Backbreaking. These scenes are humbling.
Not to bring the mood down and take the paradise away from paradise but we kept wondering what happens to all the trash on the island. We had spoken at great length with the owner of Hai Tai, he is American and is living the dream. He was a great source of information about the island. He had mentioned to us that the garbage was burned somewhere at the top of the island. One afternoon we had hired a driver to take us on tour around the island (sounds expensive but it is so cheap, and the preferred way to get around Bali). We were curious, so one of the stops we asked him to make was the garbage drop-off. We went down many tiny little roads (saw this cute little girl above walking) and got to see where the other half lives. The garbage area was awful. It smelled of burning plastic and the flies were everywhere. Lord knows I would be a hypocrite if I pretended for a second that I am not a huge contributor to the garbage problem at home and abroad (just my Starbucks cups alone probably have their own landfill). I like my dreamlike scenario of trash just disappearing somehow magically. Sadly island paradise comes with a cost. The plastic water bottles, glass wine bottles, regular trash, old food, well it all has to go somewhere. And this is where it goes on Nusa Lembongan.
The shallow tidal pools at low tide make for a gorgeous backdrop of Mount Agung in the distance. This is what you have to walk out on to get to your ferry back to Bali. Now I see why my feet hurt!
How to get to Lembongan? We took Rocky Fast Cruise. Office is in Sanur. They picked us up from our hotel in Bali and once we arrived back in Sanur, dropped us to our next hotel in Ubud. Expect to pay about $50/rt for adults, $30/rt for kids. Remember, if you are prone to getting sea sick, bring your medicine with you.
It may seem confusing at first, you buy your ticket at the Sanur office and they take your luggage. Grab a beer at a local bar close to the water, you can easily see when they are loading the boat with all the luggage. Remember, you will be walking out to the boat in the water in both directions. I never use water shoes – this may be the one time in my life I wish I had them with me!
Where to stay? Yes, you can easily find accommodation online. But it is just as easy to be in the good hands of the ladies at the Lembongan Traveler. They know the island inside and out and can help you arrange everything from transportation on the fast boat, where to stay, what to do. They are a great resource.
Lembongan is not a super touristy destination. There are beautiful small resorts and villas available. The food is great. the people outstanding. But remember they import everything from Bali so you are not going to find a large grocery store or all the conveniences of home. If you nee anything special, bring it with you.
What to do? Keith went diving and loved it. We did a snorkel boat trip, everyone had a blast. Just think water, water, water, everything revolves around being outside and enjoying the company of incredibly friendly people. What can be more perfect than that?
(Side note: Gabby is the pickiest eater in the entire world, but she was still able to eat 3 meals a day in Lembongan!)
Lembongan was such a great find. A small island still so simple, yet perfect for our family that enjoys being off the beaten path when we can. Simple. Beautiful. Happy.