Nusa Penida Island, Indonesia: Scooter Rides with Locals, Subterranean Temples and Jurassic Beaches

My Photo Diary

You arrive on this pretty epic island after a fairly rocky 40 minute ferry ride from mainland Bali. The locals say the island has magical properties - and from the dramatic and rare natural features, you can see why. This was the highlight of my trip to Indonesia in 2019, for stunning coastline, epic locals and a low-key, quirky backpacker scene.

The locals call Nusa Penida 'the black magic island', and there exists a cultural rite that every Balinese Hindu is to complete a special pilgrimage here at least once during this lifetime. They must visit a particular temple whose energy provides a negative balance to the positive side of divinity.

I was keen to check this out, with extra thanks to my travel hero Jackson Groves - - who made sure that this was on my itinerary as a backpacker in Asia. I'm not as adventurous or as physically fit as some of the other bloggers, but I made my mission to explore the island slowly over 4 days and meet with locals, sing at the music bar on the beachfront, as well as chill on some other, non-busy beaches.

I stayed for 4 hot and humid nights in a bamboo hut at the Full Moon Bungalows. Can't lie - it was pretty uncomfortable while I was there, but I stayed for the relaxed vibe and the brilliant singer who slayed covers of Tracy Chapman and Joni Mitchell - and let me rip on a cover of Sam Smith's 'Stay With Me'.

One thing I noticed during my time alone travelling through Asia, is that I find it hard to day dream. I rush to fit everything in, falling prey to the pressures of having a bucket list, succumbing to FOMO and always feeling like there is never enough time. But on the back of scooters and racing through endless vistas of palms, I found moments of freedom that have stayed with me even during the dark days of lockdown in London. And on those broken roads with nothing but cliff and sea on each side, I started to daydream again. God, those moments were golden.

I hired a local to take me to a couple of spots on my first full day on the Island. One surprise was the epic Tembelling Springs. Not a person in sight, a romantic and dramatic beach to yourself, where waves crash and spray you as they fall on top of the sharp rocks - and a magical little cove nearby where locals create structures out of the smooth, amber pebbles. Bathing in the cool springs was such a relief after the steep slope down, but so very worth it.

So I almost feel like I died twice at Kelingking Beach - once on the way down and once on the way up. Photos of the infamous T-Rex silhouette of the coastline are a must. But - to be honest, going down was the best bit. Waves are sapphire blue, and huge but soft, towering over you and returning you to the talcum soft sand. A single palm tree offers shade, but really you just want to drink in every second of lying in paradise.

On day two, I accidentally made a friend for life. Tiara was cooking up excellent and spicy Nasi Goreng at a Warung stall on the streets near my bungalow. We started talking, and I heard her amazing story about coming to Nusa Penida Island on her own from Jakarta, starting up her own tourist business, taking small groups around the island so that she can save money to send to her family - and all while only being in her early 20s. Naturally, I had to get her to tour me around the island, and we bonded over a mutual love of Queen, David Bowie and Pop Music!

First stop was the stunning Diamond Beach - named after the unusual cliff formation in the middle of the beach.

I was flagging and feeling pretty low - a strange feeling that creeps up on me during travels. But Tiara's effervescent energy and positivity carried me through. It's funny, although this was part of a long, solo trip to help me shed some of the traumatic things that happened to me back in my previous life in London, it was the moments of fleeting connection with strangers - and times like singing Lady Gaga on the back of her scooter! - that stay with me the most. Thank you for brightening up my day in Nusa, Tiara!

Then we explored the intriguing Angels Billabong. If you do the same excursion, please allow plenty of time to get there - these sites are quite far away from each other and the Island is quite large. Also some of the roads are steep and not very well paved or signposted. Tiara's scooter even struggled especially with me on the back!

The famous Broken Beach.

Sometimes this site is over-looked: the Goa Giri-Putri Underground Temple. You must wear a sarong and cover your head to enter... but it is so very worth it. A cool, atmospheric labyrinth, containing holy statues, shrines and locals praying. You can ask questions about Hinduism and the sacred reputation of the Island to one of the priests at the end, and I was tempted to stay and meditate here as long as possible.

We ended on Atul beach. This is the spot you ideally want to hit for sunset... and apparently you can swim out or take a boat to the one island you see in the background of this photo. It is said to house a holy temple with many steps to the top, taken as part of the pilgrimage to the Island, but we were pretty beat from many hours of sightseeing, so just sunbathed on the beach and felt transported back in time.

On my last full day I met this legend - Thomas. We hung out and scootered around all day, singing old rock and pop songs, and talking about the travel life. Thanks for brightening the day with your presence my friend - and for teaching me cool card games back at the Bungalows.

One highlight of the island which I haven't got pictures of is the spectacular Manta Bay. Tours leave several times a day to take you snorkelling with the Mantas - and even though diving is offered, and I love to dive - I actually preferred this snorkelling experience. The light fills the top of the Bali Sea with brilliant luminescence, and the Mantas are giant, friendly and safe - and come to swim up right next to you. The shame here is the amount of plastic in the ocean, and no one wants to be accountable for it. Our guide blamed the recent earthquake on mainland Bali, but no one apart from me was collecting the rubbish into a bag. It was a sad state of affairs to see the beautiful Manta swimming with plastic cups and straws stuck in their mouths, especially when thousands of tourists flock here to swim with them and the Island profits of this tourism. Luckily, I heard a few travellers are starting ocean-cleaning initiatives here, and I look forward to hopefully visiting again with a cleaner ocean soon.

My Itinerary:

  1. Tembelling Springs

  2. Kelingking Beach

  3. Diamond Beach

  4. Angel's Billabong

  5. Broken Beach

  6. Pura Goa Giri Putri Underground Temple

  7. Atul Beach

  8. Manta Bay

I stayed at the Full Moon Bungalows:

The Penida Colada Beach Bar did excellent smoothies, cocktails and fresh seafood: