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Summer in Nusa Lembongan

My husband and I decided about six months ago that we wanted to spend our summer living abroad in Asia. We love this area of the world but had only explored a small fraction of it, so we wanted to take advantage of our time and see as many places as we could. Our trip began with a Holiday Stopover in Singapore- details about this are on my blog- followed by six days in Bali, Indonesia. Bali had always been on the top of my destinations list but after a bit of research, it became clear that the main beach attractions of Bali are now resort-style tourist attractions without much personality. That didn't appeal to us, so I started researching other island destinations that had a mix of diving, leisure, beautiful oceans, all without being too "mainstream". My answer was Nusa Lembongan, a small island about 15 miles southeast of Bali, accessible only by boat.

Jungutbatu beach

Jungutbatu beach, looking toward Bali, with Gunung Agung in the distance

Indonesia, like other areas of Southeast Asia, is a place where there aren't very many rules, and there is still a lack of infrastructure. Major items like flights and hotels can be booked in advance, but smaller transit needs or tours are booked in the heat of the moment. Hotel managers and concierges are an incredible resource for this; our hotel in Bali booked most of our tour and transit reservations, including our speedboat trip to and from Nusa Lembongan, but most reservations happened just a few hours ahead of time. This can feel stressful to people who like to plan in advance, like me, but it is simply the way most things are done and we never had a problem with any reservations falling through. All boats to Lembongan leave from Sanur Beach on the southeast coast of Bali and go to one of the two main beaches on Lembongan- Jungutbatu or Mushroom Beach. There are many boat companies and most will cost around 300,000 Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) for a one way trip, and 500,000 for a round trip; roughly $25/$40. It is worth buying a round trip ticket, because it implicitly includes transport to and from the beach to your local hotel. This is incredibly important on Lembongan, as there are only scooters and hotel-owned trucks on the island. A trip to the island takes around twenty minutes; there are slower boats that take around ninety minutes, and are significantly cheaper, but are generally considered less safe.

Mushroom Beach

Once on Lembongan, there is a range of accommodation options. There is a lack of true budget accommodation like hostels, but hotel rates in Bali and the surrounding islands are incredibly reasonable, and if you want to stay in luxury, this is the place. Luxury resorts, such as Batu Karang Lembongan Resort, are situated on the beach and provide multiple pools, fitness centers, computer access, and spa facilities. Truly luxury accommodations here will cost around $200 a night. That's a bargain by most American standards, but you can stay cheaply and still have more than adequate accommodations. We chose The Well House, situated about 50 meters from Mushroom Beach. Our "standard room" was about 250 square feet with a safe, closet, wifi access, outdoor bathroom and private shower, air conditioning, mosquito netting, and pool access, and cost $30 per day. Additionally, nearly all hotels in this area include free breakfast made to order, which cuts down on daily expenses.


Breakfast featuring local fruit, fresh juice, and a coconut-filled crepe

When settled on the island, Lembongan is a place to relax and casually explore. There are no cars and minimally paved roads, so any exploring is done on foot or by scooter. Scooters are available to rent virtually anywhere on the island, but is safest done through your hotel. My husband and I explored on foot, which is possible for most of the common destinations but leaves a few areas inaccessible, such as the eastern Mangrove Forest. Lembongan is one of three islands in the Nusa Penida chain, with Nusa Ceningan to the south and Nusa Penida further southeast. Nusa Penida is a large island that has virtually no tourism, and serves as a wildlife and bird preserve. Nusa Ceningan is a very small island about 2km in circumference and is connected to Lembongan by a suspension bridge.

Suspension bridge from Nusa Lembongan

Suspension bridge from Nusa Lembongan to Nusa Ceningan, spanning the seaweed farms

Besides tourism, most of Lembongan's 5000 residents and 95% of Ceningan's work in seaweed farming, all done by hand. Crossing from one island to the other by bridge, you pass over the seaweed farm dam area and see the locals at work. Both Ceningan and Lembongan are known for beaches and overlooks. Ceningan is known for adjacent areas known as Blue Lagoon and Devil's Tear, known respectively for beautiful views and cliff jumping. This is a rugged, natural area with virtually no amenities. The restaurant that sold and organized cliff jumping tickets closed in late 2014, but brave souls can still jump here if they are willing to take the plunge. I would advise against it, as there is absolutely no safety equipment, no staff, and rough current. That said, if you're a strong swimmer or a daredevil, no one will stop you!

Devils Tear

Blue Lagoon. Cliff jumping available on the other side of this area at Devil’s Tear, pictured below.

The other main attraction in this island chain is diving and snorkeling. Again, this is best to arrange through individual hotels, as nearly every hotel has a small boat and a guide who will take you to snorkel directly off the boat. We chose to snorkel instead of dive, and doing so off the boat was much easier than my previous attempts at snorkeling from a beach. If you are considering going to the Gilli islands or Lombok, you might think you can get away with skipping Lembongan and its snorkeling but that would be a mistake; Lombok and the Gilli islands are in the Australasia ecozone, whereas Lembongan is in the Indomalay ecozone, and thus has completely different fauna and marine life. This area of water has some of the most diverse marine life on the planet, with over 300 types of fish and over 500 varieties of coral visible in the water around Lembongan. Our snorkeling tour took us to Galak Bay and Crystal Bay in Nusa Penida, with a final stop at the mangrove forest of Nusa Lembongan. The snorkeling and diving opportunities at all three were incredible, and had the most diverse and interesting marine landscape I have ever seen; too bad I don't own an underwater camera!

Dream Beach

Looking west at the aptly named Dream Beach

The one limitation on Lembongan is access to traveling amenities; make sure you bring deet-heavy bug repellant, sunscreen, and other essentials. It is also important to bring IDR as there are no AT'Ms and very few facilities accept credit cards. Thankfully, there are a lot of ATM's in Bali. Most hotels offer AC, but also check to ensure they provide mosquito netting; malaria, dengue, and a few other mosquito borne illnesses are endemic to the area, though these are far rarer here than other islands of Indonesia. Travelers to the area are advised to get typhoid and hepatitis A vaccines, and avoid all tap water. All tourist-centered restaurants use filtered water and filtered ice, but it is worth being aware of.

Being a small island, there are a limited number of restaurant options but thankfully most are quite good. The average restaurant meal will cost around $4-6 per person, not including any drinks, which run about $2-3 for soda and local beer, and $6+ for imported alcohol, which undergoes a 200% excise tax in Indonesia. On the high end of things, Hai Bar restaurant, owned by an American expat, serves elevated and delicious Indonesian and American inspired food and drinks at the east end of Mushroom beach. It is the most expensive restaurant in the area, meaning main dishes cost between $8-12, and cocktails cost $7-9. Probably our favorite meal was near Sunset Beach, at Sandy Bay restaurant. This restaurant sits directly on the beach, with incredible sunset views and an infinity pool. They serve westernized Indonesian food, such as satay barbecue chicken and fish, around $10 for main dishes. Both of the above restaurants offer free transport to or from your hotel, which is quite common on the island. They also offer views like this:

Sunset Beach 

The vast majority of tourists to Lembongan and Bali are Australian- English is spoken nearly everywhere- and many travel with small children. Although these islands attract families they also attract a lot of couples, which speaks to Lembongan's broad appeal to foreign visitors. Nusa Lembongan, Ceningan, and Penida are remote, somewhat rugged, but beautiful and unique. Lembongan is quickly becoming the new Bali, with new resorts being built every week. This is a place to visit now, while it is still a hidden gem, not overrun with tourists and with enough space to find a remote beach and relax.



 Ashley Brandin is a teacher from Golden, Colorado. She is taking advantage of her teaching schedule and spending Summer '15 living in Asia. Ashley and her husband have a passion for travel and enjoy destinations that are on the unusual side. Besides travelling, Ashley spends her free time enjoying the abundant craft beer of Colorado, playing video games, and has a serious baking hobby on the side. She is documenting her summer abroad at ashleyin.tokyo, where you can read about her experience with the Singapore Holiday Stopover, her travels to Seoul, and her upcoming trip to "Rabbit Island" in southern Japan.

Read 5511 times Last modified on Wednesday, 28 October 2015 19:50
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