Bali’s Nusa Lembongan is understated but far from underrated
Admit it, you’ve wondered how exactly to pronounce Nusa Lembongan. But let’s get something straight, that’s the only thing you should be questioning when it comes to this little island.
Taking up a tiny 8km² in the turquoise waters off Bali, Nusa Lembongan manages to retain its seaside village feel. With ‘less’ tourist infrastructure, it’s understated in comparison to its more popular cousins, Gili Trawangan or Uluwatu.
Read more: Travel Bali: Top Picks and Local Favourites
How to get there
There is a trio of Nusas; Lembongan, Ceningan and Penida. All of which make up the Nusa Penida District. Between them, they also make up for the unavoidable traffic jams you’ll encounter around the Ngurah Rai International airport. You win some, you lose some.
You can reach Nusa Lembongan from practically anywhere in Bali. The most frequent route would be from Sanur Beach. Just hop on one of the many speedy 35 minute boats headed there. Pre-booked your accommodation? Reach out to them, you might just score a transport discount like we did.
Like all good things in life, the island’s hubs are organised around its beaches. Jungut Batu and Mushroom Bay are the “main” areas, and also tend to be the drop-off point for most day-trippers. However, Tamarind, Sandy Bay and Dream Beach are all good options to create a basecamp. I know, I know, with more options comes more anxiety, especially when you’re going off second-hand information from a person you’ve never met.
I personally decide on where I want to stay depending on the reasons for my trip. If I want to laze by the beach, I make sure I’m in walking distance of white sands. If I’m diving, I find a dive shop I trust, and pick accommodation somewhere close by. This also gives me a few extra minutes to hit snooze in the morning. And if you have no specific reason to visit, apart from the fact that I’m urging you to, just pick somewhere that looks like your vibe. We managed to score a very simple, rustic beach hut on Jungut Batu and I must admit, waking up to the sound of waves breaking was nothing short of wonderful.
Airbnb is a good option for homestays and beach huts, but Agoda also provides some bangers in all different price ranges. If time is your friend, I highly recommend just booking one night in advance. Once you’ve settled in, scope out the accommodation options in person. You can score a lot of seasonal deals this way!
What to do
The great thing about Nusa Lembongan is the fact that there is simultaneously everything and nothing to do, depending which one you’re after. I personally like my holidays just how I like my sweet selection; a pick ‘n mix.
If you have been living under a well-manicured rock, Nusa Lembongan and Penida are known for their underwater life. This makes both scuba diving and snorkelling a great activity to start with. There is an abundance of soft and hard corals, fish, turtles, manta rays and the ever-elusive mola mola (or sunfish). Google it, it’s a weird one. We had a great time with Big Fish Divers but have also heard great reviews about Blue Corner Dive. Because of strong currents sweeping past the Nusas, most companies offer 2 – 3 morning dives. You’re back before lunch, opening up your schedule for the day. Can I get a, “HELLS YEAH!”
Yes the island is small, but it’s also ferociously hot in summer and there are more than a few hills. This makes exploring the many coves and corners by scooter a great way to spend the afternoon. Pick a few spots on the map, and get lost on the winding roads. Plus, having your own transport means you call the shots on whether to head to the next stop or stay put.
Lembongan and Ceningan are separate islands but they are connected by a teeny tiny yellow bridge. This makes heading over to Nusa Ceningan the perfect day trip. Beat the heat, and hit your scooter early in the morning. Get your fix of açaí bowls at Next Level Cafe before heading to one of the beaches or pools. And don’t miss Mahana point! With its breathtaking views and daring cliff jumps, it’s the perfect pit stop to sink a few Bintangs as the surfers whizz past.
A trip to Bali wouldn’t be complete unless you had access to 1) surf and 2) a quiet spot to twist your body and mind into the Zen. And thankfully, Nusa Lembongan provides on both the surfing and yoga fronts.
Lembongan isn’t known as the spot to learn how to surf (head to Canggu for that!) but there are still a few surf schools on the island. Check out this and that to get a taste of what’s on offer. For the more experienced surfer, you’re in for a treat. Head out to the well-known surfing spots; Playgrounds, Lacerations, No Man’s, Shipwrecks and spots around Nusa Ceningan for “world-class” waves. As for the yoga, drop into Serenity and The Village. They both offer daily classes, retreats, teacher trainings and, of course, SUP yoga.
Beautiful views are in abundance on Lembongan so make a point of being sundowner-ready, whatever your plans are for the day. The Deck has beautiful views over Jungut Batu beach, albeit quite hot around that time. There are also plenty of other bars perched along that strip, all with great views of Mount Agung, just take your pick.
If you’re looking for a ‘toes in the sand’ experience, head to Blue Corner Dive (on the other end of Jungut Batu). Ice cold drinks and beach bean bags, what’s not to love? And if you just can’t suppress the adventurer in you, grab your own drinks and head to Devil’s Tear. Sit on the rocks, and watch waves crash and spray to the sinking sun. You could also rent a SUP and watch the sunset from the waves, as cliché as that sounds, it was pretty epic.
What to eat
First things first, let’s talk about the “warung”. Trusty Wiki sums it up as a “type of small family-owned business in Indonesia”. There are varying styles of warungs, all with different offerings and settings. Either way, they are one of the best ways to sample and explore the local cuisine, so get stuck in!
My favourite is the Warung Nasi. Imagine a casual, communal space, with a glass counter enticing you in. Behind the glass lies heaven; a variety of ready-to-eat dishes, from meat and vegetables, fried delights and more. So much more. Depending on the warung, you’ll be offered a choice of rice and then asked to select the dishes that are really speaking to you. If you’re ever in doubt, ALWAYS opt for tempeh. Bali introduced me to this queen cuisine and I will be forever grateful. #TrustInTempeh
Warung Bu Edy is my top pick on Nusa Lembongan. It offers a small, but delicious selection of eats, in a simple and easy-going setting. A word of warning, their chili sambal means business. Ask for it if you’re living that spice-life to the MAX.
Seeing as you’re living that tropical island life, getting your seafood fix is almost mandatory (vegetarian and vegan persuasions permitting). Head to Warung Bambu, single out an item on the menu and let the lovely ladies in the kitchen sling it on the grill. Order the pepes ikan (grilled fish in banana leaf) and dine alfresco.
Bali Eco Deli pops up a in a LOT of Google food searches for Nusa Lembongan. And I’ll admit, I was skeptical. But after visiting, I’m a fully-fledged advocate. Their menu is small, only offering 3 main options, but they do them well. It’s the feel-good vibes that really reeled me in though. They’re Lembongan’s pioneer of eco-responsibility (organic, fair-trade, composting) and eco-friendly (natural and biodegradable materials). And who doesn’t want to play a small part in making Bali a cleaner, more conscious, destination? Disclaimer: do yourself a massive favour and order the Watermelon Lime Chiller. Frozen watermelon lime and mint have never tasted this good.
I don’t know how it’s possible, but if you’re missing your western food fix, Sandy Bay Beach Club will not disappoint. But before we get to the food, can we just take a moment to appreciate the venue. It is an actual paradise. Nab yourself one of the (assortment of) couches, sun loungers or tables by the pool and settle in. I vote starting the day off with a smashed avo on toast and staying till it’s time for a sundowner!
Caffeine on your list of priorities? Me too. Ginger and Jamu delighted with their coffee quality and selection. And I was pleasantly surprised with their beautiful location and setup. But (just between you and I) their food could do with a bit more seasoning.
When to go
Not sure when’s best to visit? Again, it really depends on the activities you’re after. However, Bali gears up for an influx in June, July and August. This makes May the perfect time to piggyback on high season preparations, with fewer crowds.
I could go on, I’m a big fan if you couldn’t already tell, but it’s just better if you go and experience it for yourself. Round up your crew, or make it a solo mission, and book those flights. You don’t need an excuse, other than hearing how a local says, “Lembongan”.
All images credited to @h_falken