The narrow Badung Strait separates Bali's south-east coastline from a cluster of three islands: Nusa Ceningan, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida. Between them, the three islands are home to some of Bali's most exhilarating dive sites. While the water can be cooler than Bali's northern shore and the currents can be stronger, the marine life is hard to beat. Aside from marvelling at giant manta rays and myriad technicolour macro critters, diving in Nusa Penida offers the rare chance to see the ocean's largest (and most bizarre-looking) fish: the mola mola. Whether you're keen to go on a day trip to dive Nusa Penida or spend a few days there to maximise your chances of extraordinary marine encounters, read on to discover the best dive sites in Nusa Penida...
Crystal Bay is the jewel in Nusa Penida's diving crown. Located at the southern end of the channel between Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan, this bay is the best dive site on the planet for spotting the elusive mola mola. Here, the convergence of cooler waters from the south and warm tropical currents from the north creates thermoclines and a nutrient-rich habitat teeming with both tropical and cold-water species.
While the bay features a sheltered area for divers of all levels to enjoy, venturing to the deep channel's currents is best left for experienced divers. Mola mola's can make an appearance anywhere, yet they tend to favour the cooler thermoclines at deeper depths. The reef itself is alive with colourful corals, and eagle-eyed divers can also find frogfish, ghost pipefish, orangutan crabs and, on rare occasions, unexpected surprises - like the great white shark that passed through the bay a few years ago!
Just a short ride around the corner from Crystal Bay lies Manta Point. When diving Nusa Penida, Manta Point is often on the cards alongside Crystal Bay. True to its name, this site virtually guarantees encounters with manta rays.
Manta Point features a shallow cleaning station that can also be enjoyed by snorkellers. As you move away from the coastline, the seabed gradually slopes into deeper waters offering the best chance to spot a mola mola. But don't forget to glance towards the surface as you go deeper; there might be a train of mantas above you heading to the cleaning station! This site is also home to a variety of fascinating macro critters hiding in its nooks and crannies. Take a moment to peer under the rocks and you may just spot a shy bamboo shark snoozing.
Nestled within the channel between Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan, Toyapakeh never fails to captivate with its beautiful coral formations. Toyapakeh translates to 'saltwater' in the local Balinese dialect, a fitting name for the fast-moving currents that sweep nutrient-rich waters through the channel. These nutrients help keep the corals in pristine condition, and the terraced reef boasts some of the best coral cover in the region.
Keep one eye peeled on the clear blue for mola mola and eagle rays, while the other eye scans the reef's nooks and crannies for leaf scorpionfish and ghost pipefish. Toyapakeh typically provides a gentle drift experience, though the pace can quicken during certain times. If you plan on diving Nusa Penida to check out its stunning corals, make sure Toyapakeh is on your list.
Located on the northern shoreline of Nusa Lembongan, Mangroves is often scheduled as the third dive of the day during day trips to dive in Nusa Penida. The drift dive through crystal-clear water is occasionally fast, but always fun. The faster the current, the harder it is to spot the leaf scorpionfish, ornate ghost pipefish and myriad nudibranchs dotted along the reef. However, faster currents mean greater distance and you'll often encounter turtles, groupers and occasional reef sharks as you fly above the coral gardens.
As you near the end of the dive, the underwater topography starts to descend, which signals time to ascend to your safety stop. It's important to pay attention to your guide towards the end of the drift, as continuing too far takes you into the next, less-forgiving dive site: Blue Corner...
Blue Corner sits at the end of the Mangroves drift dive and is exclusively reserved for experienced divers. The currents here can be wild, often accompanied by challenging down currents that plunge into the abyss below. However, for those thrill-seekers with the necessary dive experience to navigate these demanding conditions, the potential rewards are nothing short of spectacular. Mola mola, sharks, white-spotted eagle rays and dolphins make this a very special dive.
Diving in Nusa Penida gives you the chance for truly remarkable marine life encounters and epic drifts. Nevertheless, some sites - particularly Blue Corner - can have challenging conditions. If you think you're up for the challenge of Blue Corner, have a chat with your guides after completing a dive or two with them...