Bali is one of the most under-appreciated diving destinations in Southeast Asia, and the only island among 17,508 that is predominantly Hindu (rather than Muslim). Indonesia has the most coastline of any country in the world, along with some of the most pristine reef ecosystems. The reason for Bali’s largely-unsung underwater virtues is simple: it’s an extremely popular destination for tourism, and is perhaps better connected than any other site in the country. Typically, the best dive destinations are well away from busy transportation hubs and tourist meccas. So, divers tend to overlook Bali and instead book itineraries to better-known and more remote areas in Indonesia, such as Komodo, Lembeh Strait and Raja Ampat. However, if you’re looking for an efficient use of time, excellent diving, delicious food and the friendliest hosts in Indonesia – look no further than the island of Bali.
Basic Travel Information
The international airport on Bali (DPS) lands you in Denpasar. A quick transport will get you to Kuta – the largest and most bustling city on the island. I didn’t care for the throngs of weekend warriors and the cheesy beach nightclub scene there, so we hightailed it out of the city to head to less populated areas of the island. Though, on our return visit to Kuta we did discover some amazing restaurants and lounges that should not be missed. If you’re wanting to stay near the South end of the island for purely topside attractions, I recommend the classier area called Seminyak.
The first thing that you’ll notice about the residents upon visiting Bali is that the Hindu people are extremely friendly, humble and welcoming to foreigners. The topside experience is very rich outside of the city, and many people travel to Ubud- near the central part of the island, to experience the most authentic cultural experiences that the island has to offer. Most divers head East around the shoreline to find the most accessible and best dive sites.
On a dive safari, we headed straight to Padang Bai to begin our underwater adventures. Situated on the Southeast coast of the island, the
town of Candidasa is a short distance from Padang Bai, where dive boats depart for daytrips to Nusa Penida, a smaller island off the coast of Bali, and other nearby dive sites. The diving out of Padang Bai was among our favorites, offering chances to see large pelagics such as Manta Rays and Balinese Mola Mola (Sunfish), large schools of fish and colorful healthy reefs. The best dive sites we hit were Tepekong, Biaha, Jepun and Manta Point. The trip to Nusa Penida is a must-do, to see the Manta Rays and Mola Mola.
Further up along the coast of the island we reached the best known muck diving area of the island comprised of Tulamben, Seraya and Amed. There are some coral reefs here, but the primary reasons to visit are the photogenic critters found in the silty bottoms, such as Mantis Shrimp and Ribbon Eels, and the sprawling, 120-meter USS Liberty shipwreck. There are also some great dives for muck “purists” out near Puri Jati, on the North side of the island, but there is significantly less infrastructure there. That area is currently being better developed for divers and I expect there to be many more great dive sites in the future.
The last leg of the diving portion of our trip brought us to Menjangan, another small island, off the Northwest cost of Bali. The fan corals have grown to huge proportions in this area, though there weren’t nearly as many fish as in Padang Bai. All of the dives are wall dives, and while beautiful, they all seemed to blend together after awhile. I wouldn’t plan more than a day or two in this area, in terms of diving, but it was beautiful and serene topside.
There are great degrees of variation when it comes to quality and cost of accommodation on Bali. The further away from the South, generally, the less choices there are. The one place we stayed at that I highly recommend was in Candidasa, the Alila Manggis. The setting at this resort was idyllic, the food was invariably out of this world and the staff were knowledgable, courteous and professional. In Tulamben and Menjangan we stayed at Mimpi Resorts, which were okay.
It should be noted that you can stay in Kuta and dive nearly all of the great areas that Bali has to offer, traveling back and forth to the South island each day. Though, I don’t recommend doing this as diving Bali this way poses quite a lot of time in vehicles. If creature comforts and signs of civilization are musts for you though, it’s an option.
Choosing a Dive Operator
The primary decision to make when planning a dive trip to Bali is whether or not you want to trade time and efficiency for cost. If you’re on a budget and have plenty of time, you can easily stitch together great bargains and work your way around the island independently (or just camp in one area if you’re after a particular type of diving). Alternatively, if your time is at a premium and cost is less of an issue, there are some companies that will put together an end-to-end “dive safari” for you, shuttling you, your gear and fresh tanks around the island to make the most of every diving day.
- AquaMarine Diving – Bali – based in Kuta, AquaMarine Diving – Bali is your best option for a “dive safari” around the island. The company employs a fleet of vans and experienced staff who make the most of your time. More expensive than the rest, but for good reason. Photographers: ask for their best dive guide, Ketut.
- Tulamben Wreck Divers – as their name suggests, this operator specializes in serving divers wishing to visit the Tulamben area.
- Absolute Scuba Bali – located in Padang Bai, this operator was recommended to me by several reputable underwater photographers.
A special thanks goes out to the folks who helped me to plan the trip to Bali.
- Beth Tierney – co-author of Diving the World guidebook and publisher of SeaFocus
- Scott Gietler – publisher of Underwater Photography Guide
- Teresa Zubi – publisher of Starfish.ch, an incredibly thorough diving guide of Southeast Asia