When SCUBA divers think Bali, we instantly think paradise, right? Luscious greenery, crystal clear water, sunsets to die for, big fish, bigger fish, and cheap diving and living. What's not to love?
We spent three weeks traveling Bali and made it to two of their three iconic dive spots. This blog is my best attempt at real-talk about our experience. So, if you're dreaming of diving in Bali, read on friends!
SCUBA Diving in Bali
As far as we are concerned, there are three main dive areas off of Bali in Indonesia. They are Permuteran on the north side of the island, Nusa Lembongan which is a small island to the south east, and the Gili Islands to the east. We were only able to dive the first two places.
We had to ditch the dream of diving the Gili Islands because there's no (or extremely limited) motorized transportation there, which would make Nick's life too hard as a relatively new double amputee at the time. We hear the Gili's are gorgeous, and even though quite touristy, worth a trip. But below I'm going to focus on the two places we did go, Pemuteran and Nusa Lembongan.
Diving in Pemuteran, Bali
Pemuteran is a tiny little town on the north side of Bali, and the only dive destination in the north. So, naturally there are tons of dive shops, some restaurants and hotels, and then a whole lot of nothing else. Basically, you'll only be coming here to dive and relax, meet the locals, and maybe see a monkey or two.
We did some boat diving off a nearby uninhabited island called Menjangan, meaning deer, which was fitting considering we saw deer running about as we approached the first dive site. Menjangan dive site in Pemuteran is known for the beautiful walls full of colorful coral.
This area is fortunate to have nutrient rich currents to attract and sustain epic marine life. The visibility was great the day we dove, at about 20 meters or so.
We did two dives there with FUN Divers, a local operator in town with some of the most genuinely nice dive staff we've met while traveling. We would have done two or three days of diving to make the most of it, but Nick had ear issues, so we remained top side for the rest of our time there.
Bad ears doesn't mean no snorkeling. The snorkeling is rad in Pemuteran, and worth a mention here. For the last 18 years they've been running a project called Bio Rock and rebuilding the local reef with electricity.
There's a solar panel raft floating about 25 meters off shore that sends electricity down to the metal frame underwater that help stimulate coral life on them. One of the frames looked like a UFO, one looked like a star, one was in the shape of a dudes name. It was hands down, the best snorkeling I've ever done.
Our experience with the locals in Pemuteran was also incredibly unique. We were invited to the dive shop for a local dinner and local drink with the guys. Our dive guides brother caught three Groupers that day and barbecued them for us.
We sat around the picnic table for hours just laughing and talking. True hospitality. Which was a far cry from my experience with the locals at other places in Bali, like Kuta and Ubud.
Two of them even showed us around town the next day, not asking for anything but friendship. They picked fresh corn for us and cooked it on a fire on the beach, took us to a temple, and explained a lot about Balinese culture.
So, our trip to dive in Pemuteran may have been interrupted by health issues, but what we gained in top-side activities more than made up for the lack of dives.
If you're going to Bali to SCUBA, don't miss the opportunity to go to Pemuteran, where they will undoubtedly appreciate your presence!
Diving off Nusa Lembongan, Bali
Not located on the main island of Bali, but part of their state, technically Nusa Lembongan is a separate island, only accessible by boat. It is tiny in comparison to Bali, an already small island. On Nusa Lembongan you can rent motorbikes, get budget lodging, and dive your ass off!
Because of Nick's ear infection that halted our diving in Pemuteran, we spent almost a week relaxing and exploring Nusa Lembongan before getting to dive.
What a bummer, because this place was bustling with manta rays when we were there in January. And had we realized how accessible the mantas were to snorkelers, we may have hired a boat everyday to snorkel with them while Nick's ear was healing. You know what they say about hind-sight?
Manta rays are my absolute favorite creature to dive with. They're so curious about it, and completely non-threatening. Manta's do not have stingers, or vicious teeth, or an appetite for flesh. They filter feed on plankton, sweeping it into their mouths and grinding with their more than 2000 "teeth."
Unfortuntely, these teeth of theirs is the reason they are so hunted by humans. The Chinese believe (bullshit) that eating ground manta teeth will filter their blood. These animals are currently threatened with extinction if it's not stopped.
On Nusa Lembongan they have a manta research facility that works with Aquatic Alliance and studies the migrating mantas that come to the island. After years of hard work, a mere week before arriving, they were successful in getting federal protection for the manta rays.
The best SCUBA dive site to see mantas is called Secret Manta. Although, there's nothing secret about it. Dozens of boats were already there when we arrived at 9am.
The mantas swam back and forth above us in a very heavy current. At points we had to hold onto rocks to keep from drifting away.
At another site near by we got to see a giant Mola Mola and hang out with it for a while. There's nothing quite like swimming with the big animals.
We dove Secret Manta a second day as well, where we learned that the mantas, technically fish, never stop swimming, even to sleep, eat, or give birth. When the baby comes out, it begins swimming right away, abandoned forever by it's mother. After an uncomfortable 12 month pregnancy, I can see why! Fun fact: no human has ever witnessed a manta give birth in the wild.
The saddest thing about diving (or snorkeling) this spot is the trash. So.Much.Trash. It was stuck to some of the mantas, I got plastic stuck in my hair, and sometimes it was so dense I couldn't tell I was looking at a manta. In these photos, I edited out as much of the trash as possible to get a clean shot, so it was much worse than it appears here.
The Indonesians have a terrible way of waste management, loading trash (tons and tons of plastic) onto boats and dumping into the ocean. It just comes back to the shores, along with the plankton, where the manta rays like to feed. So sad.
Despite the trash, Nusa Lembongan is a must-do SCUBA destination if you're in Indonesia. Just be prepared, the island smells like rotten seaweed.