Bali is wonderful. I mean that, I really do.
The rice terraces of Ubud, the temples, the culture, the beautiful people…what’s not to love? I have visited the island twice before, on Round-the-World #5 and Round-the-World #9, and thoroughly enjoyed both trips.
But these days Bali is also known for endless traffic, mega-resorts, persistent hawkers and raucous nightlife. So when my husband and I visited recently, we went in search of a kinder, gentler Bali. A quieter, laid-back island with empty beaches, turquoise waters and the gentle Balinese spirit.
We found all of that and more just a 30-minute boat ride away on the neighboring island of Nusa Lembongan.
One of three islands just off the southern coast of Bali, the tranquil island of Nusa Lembongan seems a world away from the traffic and hawkers of Bali. When you need a vacation from your Bali vacation, Nusa Lembongan is just what the doctor ordered.
After 3 mostly rainy days on the main island of Bali (it was, after all, the rainy season), my husband Dave and I had tired of the traffic and crowds and were ready for a change. So we booked a speedboat to Nusa Lembongan to “get away” for a few days.
It was a genius decision.
With its close proximity and easy access from Bali, the sleepy island of Nusa Lembongan is quickly becoming one of Bali’s top attractions, yet it has still managed to maintain its deserted-island vibe. Known primarily as a haven for divers and surfers, Lembongan and its sister islands of Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Penida offer a variety of dive sites for both novice and expert divers.
More importantly, the island offers vast stretches of empty beachfront for those looking for a break from the bustling bliss of Bali.
The island’s climate is noticeably drier than Bali’s, meaning that a rainy day on Bali can still be sunny and clear on Lembongan. This is an especially important fact for those visiting during the height of the rainy season in January and February (like we were).
How to Get to Nusa Lembongan
Boats leave several times daily from Bali’s Sanur Beach and speed boats can reach the island in as little as 30 minutes. A number of different speed boat companies run this route and prices are similar across the board. Ticket prices typically include pick-up from your hotel in Bali and a transfer to your hotel on Lembongan upon arrival.
You can also reach the island from Lombok and the Gili Islands, but as we later discovered when trying to continue on to the Gili Islands, these boats can be canceled frequently during inclement weather. The boats from Bali, however, seem to run in nearly all conditions.
Be prepared to take off your shoes and get a little wet when boarding and disembarking the speedboat. Both will involve stepping in up to knee-high water to climb into and out of the boat while it’s anchored on the beach (there are no docks on either end of the journey). The ride can be a little rough during high seas (as ours was) but luckily the trip is short.
Most boats arrive on the shores of the tiny village of Jungut Batu but some arrive at Mushroom Bay on the island’s west end. Our boat arrived at Mushroom Bay and as we approached the island we were mesmerized by the clarity of the pale blue waters beneath us.
Both the water and the beach were far superior to anything we’d seen in Bali. In fact, the island immediately reminded us both of one of our favorite islands in the world, Koh Lipe, Thailand.
After a quick unloading of the luggage we were transferred by pick-up truck to our hotel, just 5 minutes away.
Where to Stay on Nusa Lembongan
Despite its diminutive size, Nusa Lembongan has a wide variety of accommodation options ranging from simple bungalows to small luxury resorts.
For our stay on the island, we chose the Bay Shore Huts on Tamarind Beach. A small property with just a few dozen well-appointed “huts” or bungalows, Bay Shore has two pools, one with stunning views of Bali’s highest peak, Mount Agung. It was also a terrific bargain at less than $100 USD a night – a vast difference from the hotel rates on Bali!
Our oceanfront bungalow (#2) was lovely and even had a spacious outdoor bathroom and shower. It was just a few steps from the pool and the hotel’s restaurant, which had a wide variety of menu options at very reasonable prices. The only down side was the lack of a real beach area. Though the property is oceanfront, there’s no actual beach for swimming.
For those looking for a Lembongan hotel with a great beach, we did check out two other options while we were on the island. The first was another good bargain, the recently opened Mahagiri Resort. (A quick check on Booking.com showed room rates ranging from $100-150 USD per night.)
Located on the northernmost tip of the island, Mahagiri had the best stretch of beachfront we saw on the entire island. Perfect white sands, calm blue waters, a perfect view of Bali and a massive pool area with abundant lounge chairs.
Since the resort is new and part of it is still under construction, it was practically deserted. The few guests we did see had the entire beach to themselves.
If you’re looking for a luxury option on Lembongan, the top choice is definitely the Lembongan Beach Club & Resort.
Centrally-located on popular Jungut Batu Beach, this resort features amazing sunset views and spacious villas with private pools (rates typically ranging a more Bali-like $150-$300 USD).
Getting Around the Island
Private cars are restricted on Lembongan so the only automobiles you’ll see are the passenger trucks commonly used as taxis, mostly by the hotels and restaurants.
Conveniently, many restaurants on the island are happy to pick you up from your hotel and deliver you back after a meal.
The island is small and has good walking paths along the coast so walking is the primary way to get around. But for exploring further afield, motorbikes are for rent on nearly every corner.
However, keep in mind that most of the island’s roads are in less than ideal condition for novice motorbike operators like myself (potholes and missing sections of asphalt are the norm).
Buggies (golf carts) are also available for rent on the island and we chose to rent one from our hotel to spend a full day exploring the island. It was a terrific way to get around and allowed us to reach every corner of the island in a single day for a cost of about $40.
Sightseeing on Lembongan
We drove the entire island from the northern tip near the mangrove forest down to the southern end and Lembongan’s most famous stretch of sand, Dream Beach.
Considered one of Bali’s most beautiful beaches, this secluded beach is home to just a single resort and cafe.
It’s a terrific spot to watch the sunset or spend a whole day doing nothing. However, Dream Beach does have some of the island’s strongest rip currents so it’s best to enjoy this lovely spot from the shore.
The southern end of the island is defined by low-lying limestone cliffs that have created dramatic cave formations along the coast.
The best display of caves can be found near Dream Beach in the area known as the Devil’s Tear. The blue sea crashes like thunder into the caves sending water plumes soaring into the sky every few minutes. It’s mesmerizing to watch and a must-see for any visitor to Lembongan.
While on the southern end of Jungut Batu Beach, don’t miss a chance to stop for a drink at one of the island’s best watering holes, The Deck Cafe & Bar. Located within the Batu Karang Lembongan Resort, the cafe has perfect views of the coast line and Bali in the distance. A favorite with regular Lembongan visitors, there’s no spot on the island more scenic for a cocktail.
Sunsets from Sandy Bay
While the main beach of Jungut Batu has wonderful sunset views, we took our hotel clerk’s recommendation and headed over to Sunset Beach (also known as Sandy Bay) for sunset on our first night and it quickly became our favorite evening spot.
With white-washed tables and an atmosphere reminiscent of a beachfront Greek island taverna, the Sandy Bay Beach Club is a terrific spot for sunset views.
All three nights we were on the island we enjoyed the relaxing sound of the crashing waves and the island breezes while sipping cocktails over dinner. The food was delicious and comparable to some of the great meals we had on Bali.
And like many restaurants on the island, Sandy Bay will pick you up at your hotel and return you back after dinner, free of charge.
One other thing worth mentioning, there is one ATM on the island but it’s rarely in working order so don’t forget to bring cash when you leave Bali. Most hotels and restaurants will take credit cards but nearly all will add a 3-5% fee for the convenience.
The bottom line…
With postcard-perfect beaches, awe-inspiring sunsets and blissfully-few tourists, Nusa Lembongan feels like a world away from the traffic and crowds of Bali.
I’m not saying you should skip Bali altogether, but do yourself a favor and schedule a few relaxing days on Lembongan during your next Bali holiday.
With no cars and few phones or TVs on the island, you might be surprised how quickly the days can melt away.