On a cloudy morning still damp with the rains of the previous night, Stefje and I bade our villa in Bali adieu and loaded up our backpacks for the final leg of a 7 month journey. After a car ride to the port of Sanur, a boat ride across magically blue ocean waters, and a couple of trips shuffling our gear to a guesthouse, we were all prepared to begin our exploration of Nusa Penida.
A small island off the Southwest tip of Bali that is home to rugged coastlines, jaw-dropping scenery, and mesmerizing beaches, Nusa Penida is quickly surging as a popular destination for adventurous travelers. It was soon clear why: we had found a largely undiscovered slice of paradise.
Our first day of exploring brought us over the cool rolling forested hills of the island’s center, where small villages were complimented by terraced fields of corn and banana trees. By cruising through the backroads, we got an excellent look at the multi-colored frangipani trees and bushes that bursted with tiny bouquets of yellow, orange, red and purple flowers.
40 minutes of driving brought us to the parking lot for the Peguyangan Waterfall, where a straight cliff drop of more than a hundred yards down offered us our first dramatically clear views of the gorgeous waters that surround this tropical isle.
Near the steep rocky coastline, the pounding waves transitioned from frothy white to emerald to a deep and mysterious blue further out. The cliff ran for miles as far as we could see in either direction, but our feet led us straight down a precarious wooden staircase.
We did our best not to look down, but whenever I did I was mesmerized by the endless pounding of the surf and dizzied by the vertical drop right under my feet. At the bottom we encountered a series of shrines and temples, as well as a freshwater spring which formed a series of streams and waterfalls that fed straight into the ocean.
Eventually I found a spot to sit and just calmly observe, taking in the timeless nature of the ocean’s rhythm and the eternal struggle of water against rock. By the time we struggled and sweated our way to the top, Stefje and I considered calling it a day, but instead we snuck in one more nearby pitstop.
At the end of a bumpy dirt path in an otherwise nondescript and uninhabited corner of the island, we were shocked to come across a glistening temple. The pure white exterior contrasted sharply against a deep blue sky, grabbing our eyes’ attention with another striking demonstration of Balinese architecture.
Around the side of the temple we found our intended destination, manta point. Nothing more than a rock jutting out over a hundred meter drop, the spot nonetheless offered an amazing perspective as we could now spot more than two dozen manta rays calmly floating through the water below.
As sunset approached we made our way to the beachfront, wiling away the magic hour at the aptly named “Penida Colada” and taking in the chilled out atmosphere that can only be found at establishments overlooking the ocean.
For our second day on Nusa Penida we began by again crossing the hills of the island’s center, where beautiful tropical forests dominated and birds fluttered overhead. At the end of the road we came to Kelingking Beach, the most visited spot on the island. Having arrived early in the morning we had the viewpoint mostly to ourselves; the scenery was downright surreal. A curved inlet formed a shallow bay of turquoise water framed on three sides by monstrously large cliffs that rose straight out of the gorgeous water.
Directly beneath our feet we could glimpse a pristine sandy beach which added a dose of vibrant white color to the landscape. The scene was captivating, an absolute gem that made every picture we took seem worthy of a Lonely Planet cover shot.
While we stood in bliss enraptured by the waves slowly forming natural patterns f whites and greens directly beneath us, the crowds began rolling in. We took this as our cue to find a more secluded observation spot. We went around the corner and somehow managed to find an even more expansive view of the landscape.
For our next stop we made our way downhill through palm-tree lined roads to the sandy cove known as Crystal Bay beach. The next 4 hours passed in unrequited bliss. We sipped on coconuts in the blistering heat, took long dips in the vibrantly colored waters, fell asleep in lounge chairs on the beach, and worked our way through novels while the sun slowly rotated above our heads. What more could you want from life?
By the time we left, the calming vibes of the tropical island the lifestyle had seeped into our bloodstream, leaving us feeling chilled out as we chowed down on vegan burgers and fell into a long and deep slumber.
We awoke feeling refreshed for our last day on the island. Once again beautiful beaches and landscapes were on the docket, but first we made a pit stop at the Goa Giri Putri Temple. To get inside we had to maneuver through a claustrophobic opening in the hillside, but once inside we were astonished to find a spacious cavern. Stretching back hundreds of yards and with a ceiling more than a hundred feet high in parts, the discovery of this geological marvel was a miracle.
Inside there were plenty of shrines offering up good vibes to the gods and an impressive number of prayer altars to take in, but after a few minutes in the dark and spooky atmosphere, I was ready to escape.
The next stretch of the drive offered incredibly scenic views, as we wound along the coastline and observed a unique combination of old-school fishing villages and new-school bungalows under construction for the anticipated rise in tourism.
One of the most perplexing things to me in Bali remains the focus on intricately designed temples and religious iconography, even in areas where the community is largely impoverished. We passed no less than a dozen temple complexes on our morning drive, each one with extravagant artwork and impressive stone carving work.
After three days motorbiking on tough backroads and rocky pathways which tested my skills as a driver and Stefje’s navigation chops, we finally made a wrong turn and ended up traveling for about a mile down an endlessly bumpy path before realizing our mistake.
Although the views were magnificent, both my wrists and my butt relaxed in relief when we finally glimpsed asphalt again. The road came to an end at the Northeastern tip of the island, where we parked and began the walk down a steep set of stairs to Atuh beach.
About halfway down the steps, the phrase “Stairway to Heaven” seemed to fully encapsulate our perspective. As the beach and its surrounding landscapes of rocky cliffs and beautiful waters came into view, it became clear that we had found our own personal paradise.
At the end of the staircase we were afforded a perfect view of the famous Atuh beach arch, which stood in defiance of the constant waves battering its lone pillar. Just as the day before at Crystal bay, we quickly found a chill spot to relax in the shade and fully enjoyed every moment of our time in heaven.
The intermittent clouds slowly opened up, meaning only a few fronds of palm trees separated us from the perfectly blue sky. We passed the next few hours letting the worries of the world wash away thanks to a combination of sunshine, salt water, tropical views, and ridiculously chilled out vibes. After all, it’s hard to feel stress when this is your view!
In the middle of the afternoon a few clouds encroached and we took it as a cue to wrap up our time at Atuh beach, but not before craning our necks one more time to take in the gorgeous views on our way back up the staircase.