Where: Nusa Penida, Indonesia
Cost: $40-60 USD
Spotted: Giant Manta Rays
While on holiday in Bali, I had the incredible opportunity to freedive with manta rays. While I did not know much about these gentle giants, I knew there were several places to see them up close in Indonesia. During this trip, my boyfriend and I travelled to a popular manta spotting location. We sailed around the wild island of Nusa Penida, a new tourist destination and well known Manta Ray spot. I’m here to tell you the good, the bad, and even a little bit scary!
On the Boat
Nusa Penida is easily accessible from the small town of Sanur in Bali. We took a taxi from our villa in Ubud and made our way to Sanur, stopping at a few breathtaking waterfalls along the way. I highly recommend Tibuana Falls as it’s less crowded than most waterfalls on the island.
First, we needed to get to Nusa Lembongan, one of three small islands off the coast of Bali. After arriving in sunny Sanur, we purchased our boat tickets through Rocky Fast Cruises. They generally charge about $50 AUD ($36 USD) for a round trip ticket, but our taxi driver negotiated the fee down to $40 AUD ($30 USD).
Forty minutes later we arrived on the shores of the gorgeous little island of Nusa Lembongan. We felt time slow down on this little paradise, away from the tourists and commotion. Right away a little tuk tuk picked us up and drove us down narrow streets, carrying us along the bumpy roads . We were dropped off right in front of our hotel at Tarci Bungalows. For only about $30 AUD ($22 USD) a night, this cute boutique hotel is located directly on the beach and makes some excellent cocktails! I tried a few just to make sure…
Where are the Mantas at Manta Point?
We awoke the next morning to a goregous sunny day, a rare occasion during Indonesia’s wet season. A long day of lounging by the sea with a drink in hand is what we thought awaited us on this beautiful morning. Instead, the hotel receptionist told us about a tour around the islands that left soon for only $20 AUD ($15 USD) each! So of course, we strapped on our gear and waited for the boat.
After a few minutes a little boat pulled up right in front of the hotel, with about 10 other passengers. Stepping into the boat, my partner and I had no idea we were about to have one of the best experiences of our lives. I had never even seen a manta ray before, let alone freedived with them!
The boat sailed around the islands, showing off breathtaking views that my camera couldn’t begin to capture. Towering cliffs with overgrown trees made us feel small in the midst of it all. Huge rock formations jutting out from the sea, creating unforgettable prehistoric landscapes.
And the colors! The water was a crystal clear blue, contrasting beautifully with the limestone cliffs. Before we knew it, we had reached Manta Point. What had felt like a private tour suddenly turned into a hub of other boats with tourists, like us.
We all geared up, and jumped in. The setting was breathtaking, but still no mantas? After a few minutes our boat captain asked everyone to come back into the boat. What happened? Where were all the mantas at Manta Point? Everyone gathered in, and he informed us that there were too many people, and the mantas had been scared away.
Needless to say, we were a bit disheartened. Our driver then went on to say he knew a little spot nearby where the mantas might have taken refuge from the tourists. He started up the engine, and we were off.
Below the Surface
A few minutes later we were the only boat in a secluded area of the Nusa Penida coast.
And then we saw them.
Giant dark figures appeared beneath the surface of the water, gliding along peacefully. Our captain announced with joy, “Here they are! Quickly everyone! Jump in!”
We quickly put on our snorkeling masks and jumped in the water. The giant dark figures now appeared all around us, majestic and intimidating all at once. There must have been twenty manta rays swimming around us! Some as big as myself.
After the initial shock of being so close to these creatures, we realised how curious they were. The mantas would swim right up to us, completely unafraid. These majestic creatures glided through the water in the most graceful way. I will never forget the feeling of diving under the surface with a giant manta ray at my side, neither one of us afraid of the other.
Back on the Island
The tour lasted about a half day, and we were dropped off right in front of our hotel via the boat. Grabbing a cold drink, we settled in our hotel and prepared to explore more of the beautiful island.
The narrow streets and busy locals had an authentic feeling different to Bali. Secluded beaches, cheap accommodation, amazing food, and friendly locals, what more do you need? I wouldn’t say Nusa Lembongan is by any means a party island, at least not during wet season. For those looking for a party, the Gili islands often attract more rowdy visitors!
From a diver’s perspective, the conditions are perfect. So much diversity in the marine life, with something new to see wherever you look. I noticed that the coral was healthier and brighter than most places I had been. Most of us are aware of the effects of coral bleaching, although this part of Indonesia seemed to have not yet been affected.
The 3 small islands off the coast of Bali are absolutely beautiful. Though we were travelling in wet season (or off-peak season), we found the island to be alive with tourists and locals. While we could see rain clouds over Bali, our little island remained sunny and dry for most of the day. Which made for perfect beach conditions!
While Nusa Penida as a less touristy, “wild” island, you can see the effects of tourism. For example, we noticed the Manta Rays had been scared off from their usual spot by too many tourists. We also became very aware of the amount of plastic pollution in the oceans. My partner and I knew the beautiful experience that we had was incredibly unique, and may not be around for much longer.
– Harmony Riveros, Contributing Writer, Deepblu