There’s something about skimming across turquoise tropical waters, with a salty breeze on your face and the promise of sunshine and ‘island time’…. life suddenly feels uncomplicated.
That happens whenever I board a boat for Nusa Lembongan, a small island across the water from Bali.
So Nusa Lembongan is no longer the sleepy island dotted with beach shacks with life revolving around seaweed farming and fishing in wooden outriggers. New villas are popping up every day, wooden fishing boats have been traded for speed boats, beach clubs have taken the place of warungs.
However, the island charm is still there.
No traffic lights. Small bumpy roads. It’s easy to have fun, to snorkel, dive, surf, or have adventures, meet new people, kick back and relax, all with sunshine and turquoise waters turned on at full blast.
First up you need to decide on location. I like to stay in the main beach area Jungut Batu which is considered ‘busy’ but as I like to walk everywhere it suits me. Dream Beach, Mushroom Bay, Tamarind, Coconut Bay are where you’ll find villas with amazing views and quieter vibes, just remember to factor in transport if you want to explore further than your villa.
Next up decide what type of stay you’re looking for…
Bungalows give you a real feel for island life. Villas work if you’re after privacy or a place for a group. Resorts offer more facilities and anonymity. Beach clubs are the new version of resorts, loaded with style and vibes. I find Homestays uncomplicated and great if you’re on a budget. No longer basic, most have pools, simple cafes, and whilst its nice that you get to know the owners, you can enjoy your privacy.
No different to Bali, you’re spoilt for choice with yoga, yoga/surf or yoga teacher training retreats. Take your pick. I loved every moment of my stay at Isla Indah Retreat. I had a great mix of active classes to choose from – circuit, yoga, Qi Gong, Surf Stretch, along with water adventures, great food, and friendly vibes that made it easy to meet people. I didn’t worry about a thing from the moment of arrival – everything was organised, I really only had to think about picking my sunset spot and whether or not to order another cold glass of wine or beer. It’s hard to describe in one sentence, I came away with so many good memories and experiences. Stay tuned for more in-depth stories.
Looking for luxe? Try Ohana’s. Think minimal, white, cabanas, cocktails, in beach club style. A short beach wander away is Indiana Kenanga described as a “mix of Balinese art and the charm of French details”.
Tigerlillys gives you the exotic grass roof bungalow vibe in the heart of Jungut Batu. Prefer to disappear with a pile of books and an ocean view? Head out to Dream Beach huts. Gorgeous traditional style bungalows perched over a secluded beach. The family size huts or the family house are great options for a group.
On a budget or planning a long stay? Try the super friendly D & B or Five Brothers homestays. ($30-40) both 5 mins walk from the beach. For around $50 a night you can have the beach literally on your doorstep at Pondok Baruna. Only 4 rooms. The Sunset Café is under the same roof. Great place for divers as it’s the base for World Diving Lembongan.
Lembongan is a playground for surfing, snorkelling and diving. Everything is accessible and easy. No traffic to get to start points.
Expect to be bombarded by activity operators during your stay!
I snorkelled and hung out on the boat watching surf lessons with Monkey Activities run by the owners of Isla Indah Retreat. Chris was the first to create a surf school on Lembongan. The staff are amazing, organised. Boats were clean. Gear in good shape. They handle beginners and pros and have years of local knowledge. Most importantly they care. (They also do free-diving courses)
I’m no water babe, in fact I have a lot of fear to deal with in the water. I’m the one asking 50 questions about swell, wind, currents, etc. before I book. I really want someone to tell me exactly how big a wave might be. Yeah, I know, I’m a nightmare.
So when I say I felt safe and had fun, trust me I mean it!
What else to do….
My fave time of the day for a beach walk was 6am. I befriended dogs and people, hung out at the local warung with coffee and a fried banana local style (for less than $1) idly watching the dive boats being loading up with gear, getting ready for the day whilst everyone else was sleeping.
Drop into a yoga class… start the day with a sunrise run along the mangrove road…when the heat of the day gets too much get back to your bungalow and spend the afternoon snoozing, reading, dipping in the pool. Turn the phone off for best results.
EAT & DRINK
If you’ve made a holiday promise to eat clean you’re in a good place. There’s no end of healthy eateries, smoothie bowls and cleansing juices. Vegans can do a happy dance. If beer and burgers are more your thing, you’re ok too. And it seems so right to eat breakfast at any time of the day. Puts one on island time.
It’s hard to go past Pisang Pisang, the café space at Isla Indah Retreat, for good food. I ate there every day. There’s a huge food and drinks menu, with light bites as well as generous mains, perfect for hungry surfers. I got hooked on the turmeric drinks and summer rolls (tempeh rice paper rolls with ginger sesame dipping sauce). The Bintang is deliciously cold.
Bali Eco Deli is a hub of healthiness (and they have movie screenings at night). Just down the road is Kayu, an oasis of calm, if you’re on a ‘treat day” try their ‘diet destroying dessert’, a choc orange tart. Ginger and Jamu is the place to go on the beach. These are not cheap eats, think quality ingredients cooked to order.
Sunset is a spectacular event not to be missed on NL. Wander along the beach until you find the right combo of happy hour.. beanbag.. hammock.. swing.. wine.. beer.. food…
or zip across the yellow bridge to Ceningan
Take in the sunset from the rocks over Blue Lagoon; hang out at Secret Point watching the surfers catch waves under the café (the food and service isn’t great, but it’s an amazing spot); or drop into one of the many bars popping up every few metres. For Italian food Chill & Grill Resto gets the thumbs up from my local friends along with Seabreeze for a friendly boho style beach club with good food (minus the typical minimum spend).
Personally I like to go in the opposite direction…. I have two fave spots on the mangrove road. It’s a bit of a walk so grab a taxi or scooter to get there.
Nyoman’s Warung was the very first warung to open on the mangrove road. Its been there since 2000 and apart from the flashier sign out front I’m sure not much has changed. No swings or hammocks. Just 12 simple tables, plastic chairs, candles, and the odd dog may wander in. Its the best place for fish cooked and served local style. I have either the fish sate or fish cooked in banana leaf and a small Bintang beer. All for $10. Seriously, it’s the first place I head to for dinner every time I go to the island.
This trip my friends took me to Agung Beach Club, just about at the end of the mangrove road. Owned by a French guy, the place is built from the quirkiest collection of recycled objects that apparently continually change. My fish sate lilit and white wine was excellent. Hard to describe. You just have to go there. (no website follow this map)
Dreamy. Gauzy. Breezy. These are the words that came to me as I sipped my tea in a cane lounge chair at Tonic Body & Soul Spa. A 90 minute Goddess Treatment had put me in a state of deep relaxation which then shifted to renergised. I felt incredibly alive and well.
Tonic is a special place, quietly elegant, with just enough boho chic and lightness to keep away that hushed formal luxe vibe so typical of wellness spas.
Josie the owner is a vibrant, caring soul who along with her husband has been travelling to Bali for many years. We chatted about what it takes to create something so close to your heart. We have similar stories – starting out with no water or electricity, realising that accurate plans don’t translate to local building methods and learning that imperfection and intuition are your friends.
Josie has created a wonderful space, driven by the desire to replicate the ‘truly connected feeling’ that came to her during massages in Bali over many years. “I want to help our guests get back to themselves, back to nature.”
Plan to be there for at least two hours. Its tucked away so make the most of the complimentary pick up. (for treatments over 90 minutes). The Escape Package is the perfect solution for a day trip from Bali. Tonic will organise hotel pick up, boat transfers, lunch at their fave spot and of course a spa treatment.
Note!!! I’ve deliberately held back on details and photos so I don’t spoil the little touches and considered moments that will surprise and delight you for so many reasons.
Are there other spas on the island? Yes, but once I found Tonic I felt no need to go looking any further.
It takes 30 minutes on a fast boat from Sanur. Many hotels have their own boats or organise the boat for you including transfers to/from your hotel.
How to choose the most reliable fast boat company? Definitely don’t go on price only. Check out their reviews.
I did Marlin and Arthamas this trip. Good boats with 4 big powerful engines (that all worked!) to cut through the waves. You pay more for Arthamas but there’s benefits – beach club lounge and a boarding process that’s less of the typical scramble.
All boats seem to go for speed over comfort so expect to get bumped around. Personally I only take morning crossings as conditions are more likely to get messy in the afternoons.
There are also boats from Benoa Harbour and Serangan, which may work for you if you’re in Nusa Dua area. Crossing takes around 45mins. Try Rocky Fast Cruise.
#TRAVELTIP Leave the Gucci sandals at home because boarding typically goes like this…
Walk across hot sand with your bags (some operators will load big bags before you board), toss your sandals into a milk crate, walk into the water, maybe up to your knees depending on the tide, and grab the helping hand from the crew to step up into the boat. Personally I love that there’s no jetties, by the time I’m barefoot and onboard I’m already in island mode.
Most boats land at the main Jungutbatu Beach and include transfer to your hotel in a ‘Lembongan Taxi’, small open trucks with seats on the back. Some land at other bays so check which one is closest to your hotel.
#TRAVELTIP in rough conditions you and your bags may get splashed around a little, so prepare your passport and valuables before you get on board.
HITS & MISSES
I think I’ve covered the hits but there are a few misses…
Don’t become an Instagram statistic…. getting swept off cliffs or dragged away by currents in the pursuit of an Instagram shot happens regularly. Not everyone gets saved. Listen up to local advice. Even better, put down the phone and enjoy the moment in real life, no filters.
Novice motorbike riders cause a lot of accidents. Scooting around the islands is fun, but this is not the place to learn to ride a scooter. Roads are rough. Don’t ruin your holiday, get on the back of a bike with a local or take a taxi truck. If you are riding, make sure you have additional insurance. (It’s not a standard clause).
Dogs need our help. Paws Of Lembongan are volunteers caring for the dogs and cats of the island. They rely on donations so look out for the money boxes, or the “dive for dogs” signs. I’ve noticed they sometimes ask for help to get vet supplies to the island via their Facebook page.
Get cashed up before you arrive. The exchange rate is lousy on the island and ATMs often run out of money.
Plastic rubbish is a problem. Please travel with a refillable water bottle. It’s easy to get refills. No excuse for buying bottled water. Recycling and zero waste efforts are underway, with a long way to go given the limited infrastructure, so really think about what you’re consuming or bringing to the island. It’s easy to complain about the rubbish, better to be part of the solution. You can make a difference.
Not everyone gets how precious the marine world is. Despite instructions from boat captains you will see snorkelers standing on the coral! Please don’t be that person. There is some good news about reef protection. A Marine Protected Area (MPA) was established in in 2010. Read some of the research and rehabilitation projects going on here.
Nusa Lembongan is my personal go-to place for an easy, convenient beach escape. If you’re finding the Bali beaches a little too hectic, throw a few things in a very small bag (that in itself is very liberating) and jump on a boat.
*** Stay tuned for the launch of Carpe Diem Retreats in Nusa Lembongan 2020***