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Indonesia has always had a mystical fascination for travelers from all over the world. Geographically, Indonesia sits amongst the ancient trading routes between the Far East, Middle East and South Asia which, over millennia, has helped shape its culture and traditions. Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism and Islam have all left their mark on the nation.
With further Western influence in science, technology, entertainment and politics, Indonesia today is probably the most complex mix of human and social diversity. As the world’s largest archipelago, with over 17,000 islands, hopping from island to island is almost akin to exploring different countries.
It is island hopping across Indonesia which is becoming ever more popular with traveling explorers. More and more people are eager to understand our world, not just from an atlas, a text book or the internet, but by living and breathing it. To live, breathe and understand Indonesia is arguably the greatest cultural challenge for any holidaying explorer.
One island, still lesser known, is starting to draw more and more attention from travelers for its beauty, tranquility and serene way of life, Nusa Penida. Laying to the Southeast of Bali, arriving on Nusa Penida creates a first impression of being the perfect tropical paradise. That may, in fact, be true.
What is there to do on Nusa Penida?
One of the biggest draws of Nusa Penida is its fantastic scuba diving. The clear blue waters surrounding the island have built a reputation as having some of the most fantastic dive sites in the world. Travelers need not worry if they have no training in diving, there are many certified dive schools to teach the beginners and escort them on the best dive sites.
Of the multitude of dive sites Malibu Point is ever popular for spotting numerous species of shark. Gray reefs, reef white tips and silver-tip sharks are common. At the Penida Bay site. Fascinating rock forms make for a great dive, look for the old resting elephant rock. If its manta rays you are looking for, then head for Manta Bay and have an experience of a lifetime.
At Crystal Bay leave the scuba behind and take up the snorkel. This is a very popular location on the Western side of the island. From off the beach there is a large rock around which there is incredible fauna to swim amongst. There is brilliantly coloured coral, parrot fish, Napoleon fish, turtles, and during the summer months look out for the gargantuan Mola Mola which can grow up to 1000 kilos in weight.
For something a bit different, visit Angel’s Billabong on the Northeastern tip of the island. This is an incredible, naturally formed infinity pool. The rock formations are amazing and to sit in the cooling water and watch the ocean water crashing over the edge of the pool is like being in another world.
Nusa Penida has more than its fair share white sandy beaches, many of them quiet and secluded. Taking an island beach tour is highly recommended early during your visit, spotting them gems for later exploration. The beach tours cost around 1,900 Baht and represent good value for money.
On Nusa Penida’s interior there two small areas of rainforest, totaling about 16 acres which include the Nusa Penida bird sanctuary. You don’t need to be an ornithologist to appreciate the beautiful birds to be observed throughout the sanctuary. The list of birds to be seen is almost endless but includes, bee-eaters, orioles, sunbirds, spiderhunters, Javan munias, and numerous birds of prey.
Being a natural habitat, other animals also make it their home. There are vipers, cobras and pythons along with monitor lizards and long tailed macaques. The sanctuary is fascinating and enthralling to explore with many visitors so impressed that they feel one day is not enough and return to digest more of this beautiful natural world.
Shopping and vibrant nightlife is not the order of the day for Nusa Penida. The lack of retail commercialism is refreshing, as are the neon strobes and thumping music. The most prominent town on the island is Sampalan, on its Northeastern tip. Here there are local shops selling local wares, ideal for picking up a souvenir. There is also a market selling fresh produce. There are a number of restaurants, the food offerings are delicious, and of course fresh seafood features prominently on every menu.
Where to stay on Nusa Penida?
There is no shortage of accommodation options on Nusa Penida that suite all budgets. At the lower end, hostels on the island are surprisingly well equipped. The Nuansa Penida Hostel is an excellent choice and very popular. Also check out The Packer Box, its quirky, functional and almost futuristic.
On a mid-range budget, bungalows are the favorite choice. Many bungalow rentals are beachside or have a beach view. They all tend to be very well appointed with flat screen TVs and Wi-Fi. With a pool, gardens and a terrace, Coco Leaf and Singabu Bungalows are typical examples. They offer currency exchange, room service and a 24-hour reception.
Crystal Bay Villa & Residence is a good representation of the upper end accommodation on the island. Here there is everything you would expect from a 4-star hotel in the West. These luxury resorts all have à la carte restaurants, with most of them open to non-residents. So, regardless of where you are staying, if you miss your Western food, make use of the restaurants at the numerous resorts.
Nusa Penida is certainly dwarfed by it giant neighbor, Bali. Small in size it is, but in character, charm and appeal it is a true giant, and a real, living, tropical paradise waiting to be explored.