Bali's Best Off The Beaten Track

Are there really any undiscovered, unexplored off the beaten track adventured left in Bali ? The world famous Island of the Gods has surely had its every nook and cranny scoured by prospectors in search of tourism gold over years and surely there can be nothing new under that very hot sun. Well, it all depends on what you are looking for.

mantaThe creaky jukung (or jongkong) boat makes a slow pass through Badung Strait. The steady drone of the motor engine breaks the early morning silence in Sanur and the boat slices the mirror like still waters like a knife. It’s still very early in Sanur. The 15 to 20 people packed together on board the tiny jukung are equally silent, each enjoying the serenity of the sunny morning. Not many realize that situated just across the water from the famous Sanur Beach, there exists a number of small islands that fall within Bali’s territory. It takes over an hour for the creaky tourist and non tourist boat to traverse the 20 kilometres to Jungutbatu Beach on Nusa Lembongan. The boat finally approaches the shore and dark blue waters give way to light green. A number of boats are parked up on the white sandy beach and can be seen ahead. As we approach the shore, rows of highly organized wooden stakes can be seen jutting out of the water. Beneath the water lies Nusa Lembongan’s most important agricultural product seaweed. Harvesting the seaweed is the local population’s primary source of income and the crop is grown and cultivated underwater by being attached to strings that are, in turn, tied to these wooden stakes. sail sensationNusa Lembongan covers an area of eight square kilometers and sits quietly in the Lombok Strait. Just beyond Nusa Lembongan, the equally diminutive islands of Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Penida are also waiting to be discovered by adventurous tourists. Although only a few kilometers away from the hustle and bustle of Bali’s southern Kuta-Legian-Seminyak, life in Lembongan has a very different rhythm to it. Time runs slowly here and the island is inhabited by a mere 7,000 souls. There are no cars and even motorbikes are scarce. A thick, rural, village atmosphere lingers heavily in the air.

surfingSavvy tourists head to Lembongan not to party but to relax and to let all of that stress slowly unwind. Most who come here are eco-tourists, drawn by the island’s superb snorkeling and diving and pristine setting. Lembongan’s land based activities are no less alluring however, and hiking and cycling both here and on neighbouring Nusa Ceningan are popular activities. Our boat crashes onto the shoreline. Jungutbatu does not yet have a jetty or pier, so passengers have to disembark into the sea and then splash the few steps ashore. Jungutbatu is one of several villages in Lembongan, and there are a small number of hotels and lodgings situated right on the beachfront. Jungutbatu also has a high concentration of budget hotels for those keeping an eye on their purse strings. nusa lembonganThe island’s southern beach, dubbed Mushroom Bay, offers upper class hotels for more affluent holiday makers. Both of these beaches can be reached by foot and both also face the Balinese mainland, offering temporary residents a spectacular bonus on sunny mornings : majestic views of Bali’s towering Mount Agung. Occasionally, the serene atmosphere is broken by the sudden appearance of banana boats, parasailing fanatics and other high adrenaline water sports. Several day trip cruises from the mainland also make their way to the island’s beaches. Be aware though that the best snorkeling sites are situated right on the Jungutbatu-Mushroom Bay shore and in the waters that flow directly behind the island that look towards Nusa Penida. Notable dive sites here include Blue Corner, Jackfish Point, Ceningan Wall, Crystal Bay, Big Rock, Ceningan Point and Manta Point. Note that the waters in these areas have strong currents and thus care should be exercised at all times.


amedIt’s barely down and the sky is still dark. However, the sound of people screaming in Balinese can be heard competing with the sound of the waves. The clock shows three-thirty. What’s going on down there ? The mystery will only be revealed when the sun finally rises. Amed has a big secret .. As the sun starts to rise above the horizon, the blurred shapes of colourful boats start to swim into view. Some are orange, some are blue, white, black .. it’s a veritable floating rainbow out there. The boats become increasingly visible. There appears to hundreds or even thousands of the things out there ! It’s a quite spectacular sight. Half an hour later the colourful jukung armada docks on the north-eastern shore of Bali. The sea is filled with Balinese fishermen and their colourful vessels a truly unique sight. The boats begin to head into the village bay .. but wait .. surely there’s not a single dock here !? How are they managing to land so many boats ? Here in lies the second wonder of the morning.

amedThe process is more or less similar to the process of landing aircraft. Each of the jukung boats contains a single person, and each waits his turn to land. Boats cannot dock, as they may capsize and the wind is unpredictable and cannot be relied upon. Thus, once a boat is in the correct position and is aiming for the shore, the sailor directs his boat in a manner similar to the way surfers steer their boards. The other fishermen who have already landed must immediately catch him. When the last wave breaks, the boat slides into the ground and is immediately greeted by two or three fishermen. The boat must be quickly removed from the water before the next wave comes in, otherwise the vessel will be swept back out to sea. Dozens of boats go through this same process simultaneously and the whole bizarre scene resembles some kind of military amphibious, D-Day style landing. This whole fascinating spectacle is a specialty of Amed, a town which is located in the Karangasem regency. Over the last decade, Amed has emerged as a destination, and the area offers a quite coast, away from noise. There are plenty of hotels, villas and boutique hotels here though, which are scattered across several villages. The majority of these hotels are located on the beachfront or over the hill overlooking the bay. Amed also offers good snorkeling and diving. The famous Tulamben Wreck in particular is something that keen divers shouldn’t miss if they are in the area.

jalak baliAnother side of “forgotten” Bali lies near the island of Java. After the beautiful Tabanan rice terraces that connect all the way to Jembrana, there stand an 19,000 hectare area that has long survived as a forest with little human population. Its name is the West Bali National Park (the only national park in Bali) and savannah, mangrove forests, islands and marine parks characterize this region. At the sea, the Park also impresses. diving at menjanganThe Menjangan area covers 810 hectares and is one of the best dive sites in Bali, equivalent to Tulamben. The advantage ? There are no dangerously strong currents here. Underwater, there are a variety of interesting species to check out, particularly corals (of the 29 species of mushroom coral that exist in the world, 22 of them are found in the Park).

On land, the park’s flora and fauna wealth is second to none, and aside from the Bali starling, this beautiful national park contains 175 species of plants, 14 of which, such as the bayur and sandalwood, are currently categorized as endangered species. menjanganMoving on to the animals, there are buffalo, deer, ebony leaf monkey, muntjak, hawksbill turtle and leopard cats prowling the Park. There are also 160 bird species in this region, which covers only five per cent of Bali’s total land sea. Snorkeling, diving, tracking, bird watching are all available in n the park and one of the most easily accessible places for a close look at this place is Labuhan Lalang, situated at the edge of the Gilimanuk to Singaraja ferry route. There are mangrove forests here, as well as tranquil blue waters and a wooden pier. From this pier, those who fancy a dive or a snorkel can sail over to Menjangan Island (30 minutes). Here, it’s possible to trek around the Prapat Agung peninsula from Sumber Klampok to Tegal Bunder (25 kilometres), although it’s advisable to take a guide.

jukung boatTransportation to Lembongan is generally cheap : jukung boats depart from a spot in front of Hotel Ananda Sanur, whilst slightly pricier Perama, Tamarind and Tanis tourist boats leave from a spot in front of the Grand Bali Beach Hotel in Sanur. Be ready at 9 am !

From the south, Amed is usually reached via Candidasa, Amlapura and Culik. Public transport can be difficult, thus it is recommended that you bring your own vehicle. Don’t stop in the village of Amed though, the first seaside village that you’ll reach, but continue your exploration all the way up to the east coast that lies beyond.

jeep safariAccommodation in West Bali National Park is a bit tricky. Besides Waka Shorea and Menjangan Resort, everything else is located outside the area. The park’s Visitors Centre is in Labuhan Lalang. Trekking and bird watching should be arranged with park rangers.

menjangan beach view menjangan beach view