TL;DR for our Lembongan & Candidasa Post:
After Ubud, we were once again ready for some beach and snorkeling time. We had read great things about the snorkeling sites around Nusa Lembongan where drift snorkeling is common and after our fantastic experience with this type of snorkeling around Menjangan Island we were excited to do it again. We were also looking forward to a location by the sea where we could enjoy some great views. Wanting to spend just a week on Nusa Lembongan, we decided that our final destination on Bali would be Candidasa where more snorkeling was possible.
Stop #1: Nusa Lembongan
Nusa Lembongan is an island southeast of Bali which has a reputation for being laid back and is quite popular among divers and surfers. One of the attractive features of the island is that there are no cars, just motorbikes and a few trucks that act as shuttles with bench seats in the pickup beds. There are numerous dive shops for the size of the village including several specializing in free diving and there are also some great waves!
In fact, we happened to be there during what many locals described as the biggest storm they had seen in many years, which kept the surfers out of the water on these days, but made for some crazy sights. Along with wide-eyed locals we watched anchored boats capsize, people stranded on pontoons get rescued and sections of the walkway along the water get destroyed.
We were able to take a shuttle from Ubud to Sanur (about 45 minutes) where we caught a public ferry to the island. Wikitravel advises against taking a public ferry for reasons of safety and comfort, but we were feeling adventurous, confident in our swimming skills and the price was right!
We boarded the “ferry” from the water via a small ramp and while this was relatively easy for us, I could see that it might get tricky if the waves picked up. We sat up top with the captain and a load of bamboo. The hour-long crossing was quite comfortable. You can also sit below, but the hull is nothing more than a cargo area without formal seating for passengers. On our return trip we heard a story from a fellow passenger who had a different experience on her ride to the island. Her ferry hit the reef in the first 10 minutes of the journey, but the captain refused to turn back even though the boat was taking on water (yes, they did arrive safely).
What to do on Nusa Lembongan
We found plenty to keep us busy despite the fact that the island is just three square miles in size. It’s easy to walk everywhere– though depending on where you stay you might just find your beach so appealing you won’t want to leave. We rented a motorbike to get oriented and used it to visit the island’s mangroves and a couple of beaches. We also crossed a narrow suspension bridge to Nusa Ceningan (an even tinier nearby island).
Nusa Ceningan is pretty limited in accommodations and eateries, but there is a well-known cliff jumping spot, which is worth a visit. Many locals advise against jumping because of shoulder and back injuries from the 43-foot jump.
We hired a boat for a half-day of snorkeling at three locations including Manta Point, Crystal Bay and Gamat Bay. Without a doubt snorkeling with Manta Rays was one of the most amazing things either of us has done. They gracefully fly through the water and as they approach you with their mouth open it seems as though they could swallow you whole. While their wingspans can reach 23 feet, the largest we swam with was about 8 feet. While the Mantas were a highlight we were otherwise a bit disappointed with the snorkeling at the other locations. Having read from others that it was some of the best snorkeling in the world we had expected to see more corals and fish varieties in larger quantities. We did experience a bit of choppy water– it might’ve just been an off time.
For the majority of the locals, life seems to revolve around the constant work of harvesting seaweed, most of which is shipped to Japan for used as a binding agent in cosmetics. Seaweed, like most crops is planted in square or rectangular “fields” which are very visible from a higher vantage point as you gaze out on the clear blue sea.
During low tide the islanders use hundreds of shallow harvesting boats to bring the crop to shore. When the tide gets too low, they use baskets to transfer it to sorting and drying locations. It was surprising to see so many color varieties of seaweed, from greens to pinks and purples. The locals would often painstakingly separate it piece by piece into the color-appropriate pile. Wherever we were, whatever time of day, someone was always doing something with seaweed!
Food on Nusa Lembongan
We tried several of the highly rated local Warungs and generally found them all pretty mediocre (but cheap!). We enjoyed the food from Song Lambung (the beach huts where we stayed) better than any of the other Indonesian food we tried. We did find a couple of standouts among the more moderately priced restaurants including The Beach Club and TigerLilly’s. The Beach Club is a restaurant/bar located at Sandy Beach with a pool and lounge chairs that serves up great BBQ, Asian fusion food, weekend brunch, drinks and amazing sunsets. It is a great place to spend a few lazy hours. If you really want to splurge, Indiana Kenanga, a French restaurant with a chef from former Michelin award-winning restaurants will not disappoint. While it’s ludicrously priced by Indonesian standards, it’s probably the best deal you’ll ever find for high-end food like this, in a setting where you can stick your feet in the sand under the table and enjoy a spectacular sunset.
Where to stay on Nusa Lembongan
We stayed at Song Lambung Beach Huts, which were midway between the main village and Mushroom Beach. It allowed us to walk everywhere on the island, including longer 45 minute treks across the island. There are a lot of budget locations on the island as well as spendier villas so you can find someplace solid whatever your budget.
Stop #2: Candidasa
Before doing some internet research while on Nusa Lembongan, Candidasa hadn’t even been on our radar as a possible destination while on Bali. But since we had 5 days left on our Indonesian Visa, we were looking for one last place to snorkel without being to0 far away from the airport while avoiding the popular south Bali destinations like Kuta, Nusa Dua and Sanur. We discovered Padang Bai and Candidasa as potential options that fit the bill and ultimately landed on Candidasa, which was described as having better accommodation and restaurant choices.
The area is super laid back and we met Bali ex-pats who regularly visit Candidasa as an escape from hectic Kuta. Relaxation was the theme for us here as we hung by the pool looking out at the rocky coastline and beach, found some good eats, a little snorkeling and a great spa for some last Bali massages.
Our transportation from Nusa Lembongan to Candidasa was another boating adventure. While there are regular slow and fast ferries from the island to Sanur, getting a direct boat to the Candidasa area was more challenging to find. Ultimately we found passage on what someone described as the vegetable boat and we assume it is generally used for getting supplies from the mainland. We were just happy for this more direct crossing which saved us both boat and bus travel time.
The outrigger that took us to the mainland was less than 4 feet wide and had a bamboo mast and boom along with a ratty blue tarp for a sail. Along with a small outboard motor the sail did the trick and we safely made the crossing where a shuttle was waiting to drive us the remaining 30 minutes of the trip.
What to do in Candidasa
There isn’t much to do right in Candidasa, which we were perfectly fine with, as the view was lovely. We had read that the best snorkeling in the area was at three small islands that could be seen from our hotel. We hired a boat to take us out to them and the snorkeling turned out to be quite good. Apparently the diving in the area is also great, but only for the most experienced divers as the current is quite strong. We certainly got more than our normal amount of exercise swimming against the current as we snorkeled but it was worth it. The fish were plentiful and colorful and we saw fish that we hadn’t seen at any of our other snorkeling spots. There were waves that broke on the reefs near the islands and I particularly loved watching the fish dance in and out of the surf.
We also walked about 5 miles to White Sand Beach where we ate lunch, snorkeled and lounged on some sun chairs provided by our restaurant free of charge. The snorkeling there was just average, but the beach was nice enough for a fun outing and we saw monkeys along our walk. We nearly always find that when we choose to walk someplace like this, the locals think we are crazy. They can’t imagine why we wouldn’t rent a motorbike, take a boat or hop on a bemo (a shared minibus).
There was a beautiful lotus pond in Candidasa, which we frequently walked by with a lovely path around it leading out to the beach. The local kids enjoy fishing there with a simple hook and hand line.
We’d recommend Nanda Beauty Salon for a great massage ($8), hair conditioning treatment ($8) or haircut ($4)! The owner Kathy performs all the services herself, but has another equally talented masseuse that she can call in if needed. The hair conditioning treatment which includes an upper body and scalp massage was magical on my saltwater and sun damaged hair– it’s felt silky for a month since. We both had our first professional haircut of the trip and it was clear she knew what she was doing.
Food in Candidasa
We stayed at Pondok Bambu and had lunch there a couple of times. I can highly recommend their Gado Gado, a tasty Indonesian dish with cooked vegetables, rice, fried tofu/bean curd, boiled egg and shrimp crackers with a delicious peanut dressing. In addition our three favorite eating spots were Joglo (great Indonesian food), Ari Hot Dog Shop (yes, #2 on Tripadvisor is a hot dog/hamburger place with tasty Australian beef bacon cheeseburgers), and Vincent’s (European/Indonesian food).
Would we go back?
I think we would both vote for going back to Nusa Lembongan again to snorkel with Manta Rays, relax and enjoy the beautiful views but we wouldn’t say the same for Candidasa. While it was a great place to spend a few days and we have no regrets, we’d probably rather explore new places on Bali.