With dense jungles, terraced rice paddies, beautiful beaches and evocative temples, it's no surprise that Bali is the most visited island in Indonesia. While this volcanic island's popularity continues to skyrocket, northern Bali provides a welcome reprise from the thongs of tourists further south. Above water, the sparsely populated northern coastline still retains Bali's original charm - an island culturally rich and naturally spectacular. As for the diving, this region's distinctive underwater topography, defined by oceanic trenches and volcanic formations, provides the perfect canvas for a dazzling array of underwater landscapes. Whether you're captivated by wrecks, mesmerized by macro critters or drawn to the allure of wall dives, read on to discover the best diving in northern Bali.
Positioned at the heart of northern Bali's diving scene, Tulamben boasts the world acclaimed USAT Liberty wreck. This colossal 120-metre-long US cargo ship met its fate during World War II, when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Today, the wreck has found its resting place on the volcanic sands just a stone's throw from the shore, reaching a maximum depth of 28 metres.
Time spent underwater has enabled the ship to evolve into an artificial reef adorned with soft corals and gorgonian fans. Regulars of the wreck include schools of kaleidoscopic reef fish (including butterflyfish, trigger fish and parrotfish), octopuses, barracudas, nudibranchs and, if you keep your eyes peeled, pygmy seahorses. For crystal-clear visibility, early morning dives are recommended, as the interplay of sunlight on the shifting sands illuminates the wreck. However, be prepared for the influx of crowds from around 10am…
An hour's journey south of Tulamben along the northern coast brings you to Amed, where tranquil black sand beaches give way to buzzing coral metropolises. Among Amed's notable sites, Pyramids stands out with its interesting topography and thriving marine ecosystem. As the name suggests, this site features a collection of pyramid-shaped artificial structures - concrete and tires - planted some 20 years ago by locals to create a new reef. The pyramids are now adorned with colourful corals, providing a backdrop for encounters with lionfish, shrimps, angelfish, scorpionfish and the occasional passing reef shark. Glance away from the Pyramids and you might spot curious garden eels poking out of the seabed, or a blue spotted stingray cruising past. Another superb site, Jemeluk Bay, features a gradual slope that leads to a coral garden. This site is a must-dive for macro lovers, with pygmy seahorses, pipefish and anemone shrimp among its residents.
For those with a penchant for the peculiar, Secret Bay, located near Gilimanuk, is a microcosm of Bali's rich biodiversity, concealed within a shallow bay. Serving as a pinnacle of exceptional macro and muck diving in northern Bali, Secret Bay's black sand conceals some of the ocean's most rare and unusual critters. Among the highlights are pygmy seahorses camouflaged in gorgonian fans, ornate ghost pipefish mimicking swaying algae and vibrantly coloured nudibranchs dotting the sandy expanse.
Part of West Bali National Park, Menjangan Island is famous for its clear waters, healthy coral reefs, and abundant marine life. However, the main draws of this uninhabited island are the surrounding underwater cliffs. Home to the best wall diving in northern Bali, divers can take their pick of drift dives along sheer vertical walls accompanied by schools of jacks and barracuda and curious manta rays. But it's the ethereal gardens of soft corals, swaying with the rhythm of the current, that truly steal the show.
Located near Lovina, Puri Jati (otherwise known as PJ) is a muck diving paradise. You can find a variety of critters camouflaged in the black sand seabed, making it a favourite haunt with underwater photographers. Keen-eyed divers can spot technicolour nudibranchs, seahorses hidden in seagrass patches, and the masters of camouflage - frogfish - hidden against corals. The terrain gradually slopes into a drop-off, revealing clouds of anthias, along with appearances by reef sharks, sea turtles and schools of trevallies.
While Tejakula is not as well-known for diving as some other areas in Bali, it offers some superb sites with a fraction of the crowds. Calm waters and colourful reefs characterize the region, with Batu Kelebit and Batu Niti standing out as two must-dives.
Batu Kelebit comprises a pair of substantial rock formations positioned just off the coast. As you descend along the gradually sloping reef, it eventually leads to three steep ridges adorned in hard and soft corals. The spaces between these ridges reveal passages of grey and white sands extending to depths of 25 to 40 metres. Keep an eye out for schools of big-eyed trevallies, moray eels, octopuses and cuttlefish.
Batu Niti is a popular site for underwater photographers looking for macro critters. This muck site gently slopes from the rocky shallows to well past 30 metres, featuring a long list of weird and wonderful critters, including frogfish, boxer crabs and wonderpus, to name just a few.