TL;DR for our North Bali Post:
We’d done plenty of swimming in our four months (there was fabulous swimming off the rocks near Dubrovnik, Croatia and just jumping off the side of the boat on our sailing cruise along the Lycian Coast of Turkey). And we walked the sands of the Sahara. But in these months of non-stop travel, we’d magically managed to avoid hitting anyplace that had the sand/swimming combination that makes for a great beach.
To get a bit more specific, a great beach needs the right combination of weather (warm, windy), sand (white, fine), water (blue-green, warm), palm trees, tropical drinks, and (hopefully) some great snorkeling nearby.
So after a few months of travel and (most recently) more than three weeks trekking in landlocked Nepal, we were ready for a damn beach.
We’d done a lot of weather research on Southeast Asia and decided that we should start with Indonesia and work our way north to avoid the worst of the monsoon season. So we made a relatively big hop from Kathmandu to Bali.
Our goal for Bali was to relax, unwind, and spend as much time snorkeling as our pale-but-getting-browner bodies would allow. We’d heard fairly dire reports about Kuta (the main resort area on the southern bit of the island), so we immediately headed off to quieter villages that were centered around fishing and entertaining diving/snorkeling enthusiasts like us.
Stop #1 – Pemuteran (5 days)
We made it to Bali late in the evening, so we found a cheap resort to spend a night at and grabbed a car/driver the next day. As far as we could tell, private cars were the only way to travel long distances on Bali (there are busses called Bemos, but they tend to do short runs and not have fixed schedules). So we took a 5-hour private car to Pemuteran, which is at the northwest extreme of the Island ($55- just a little more than what we pay for a 15m taxi from the airport at home).
Pemuteran is a smallish village that pretty much runs along one road (there’s great info if you want to visit here and here). This road has plenty of activity (lots of trucks and, like all of Bali, buzzing swarms of motor bikes). It’s just a few miles from the ferry to Java. Unfortunately, all of this traffic gave us fairly constant road noise wherever we chose to eat (our guesthouse was thankfully well off the road).
Bali has a huge influx of European tourists in the summer months and outside of Kuta seems relatively quiet the rest of the year, so we found ourselves the only diners in many restaurants. Most guesthouses only had a few guests, so everything (other than the damn road) felt really sleepy.
Our guesthouse, Doubleyou Homestay (hint: homestays aren’t actually homestays in Indonesia), was amazing, and remains the best place we stayed in Indonesia. For $32/night, we got a massive room with a lovely roofless bathroom, free breakfast in the morning, afternoon tea/cake, and omnipresent smiles and service. The owner is a fanatical gardener– the grounds were gorgeous with many bonsai trees.
We snorkeled directly offshore (it’s home to the largest biorock artificial reef project in the world) and it was pretty solid… Lots of fish and just a few minutes walk from our place. Some of the reef felt a bit less than natural, however.
The centerpiece of Pemuteran as a destination is a boat trip to Menjangan Island, a large uninhabited (other than about a dozen monks) national park. After a 30 minute boat ride, we were floating with the current and seeing a riot of colors– coral, fish, and a range of blues from the shallow shelf we were swimming over into the abyss below. Listed third on Discovery Channel’s “The World’s 10 best places to snorkel,” this was probably the most varied/colorful coral we’ve ever seen, and the fish density was good. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any of the bigger critters we’d hoped to (turtles, sharks, or mantas). The trip included two different spots where you drift snorkel (you are carried along the reef by the current and picked up in a different location) and lunch in between for $35 each, including car transport to get to the boat.
We both managed to get our first real sunburn in four months of travel (a lesson on the impact of having your body at a right angle to the sun!), despite plenty of sunscreen.
Stop #2: Amed
After a 3-hour drive across the northern side of Bali, we got to Amed. Amed is a touch confusing– it’s a region that includes half a dozen villages, one of which is called (drumroll) Amed. We stayed near Jemeluk Bay, which was some of the nicer snorkeling we found in the region. It features a 10 foot tall underwater shrine (I STILL can’t find the backstory on this).
Around the shrine were unusually large Angel Fish that just hovered there in guard positions constantly…. which is kind of a weird thing, really– most fish are constantly moving and eating. My favorite moments were just hovering over the shrine having staring contests with these guys, who were often as close as a foot or two from my mask.
We rented a motorbike and wandered up and down the coast doing a bit of snorkeling. Just 7km further down the road was a Japanese shipwreck that you could snorkel (neat, but cloudy from the surf) and 20km up the road was Tulamben, where the USS Liberty was sunk. This was snorkel-able as well, but we didn’t fancy a 1.5 hour round trip on a motor bike to see another shipwreck given that the Japanese one was kind of a let down. We also snorkeled at Lipah Bay (solid) and off the beach at Amed Village, but Jemeluk Bay was our favorite.
Looking back on Bali snorkeling as I write this, we’d rank Pemuteran as the best (Menjangan Island specifically) and Jemeluk Bay as second best (but big props for easy access from the beach– cheaper and more convenient than having to do an organized tour).
The whole time on Bali has felt like a classic “vacation” versus the adventure travel we’ve experienced in places like Morocco, Turkey, and (most recently) Nepal… But it was a welcome opportunity to rest and splash around with colorful fish. Next up, we’re heading inland a bit for some time in Ubud (Gods help us, it’s on the “Eat, Pray, Love circuit”).