Nusa Penida near Bali offers a fantastic opportunity to dive with mola mola (the oceanic sunfish) and manta rays, two of the most remarkable large creatures to swim with in the ocean. In this article we discuss our diving experience here, where is the best place to dive from Padang Bai, Nusa Penida or Nusa Lembongan, the best mola mola and manta season for Nusa Penida, dive operators, dive sites around Nusa Penida, dive prices and accommodation.
Nusa Penida, Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Lembongan are three small islands separated from Bali on the east side by The Bandung Strait, a spot not to miss on your Bali travel itinerary. Nusa Penida is the largest of the three at 17km long. There is a lot to explore around the island, impressive cliffs, pristine beaches, bat caves, temples, waterfalls, but for us it was all about diving from Nusa Penida.
Diving Nusa Penida
There is some fantastic diving around Nusa Penida, the highlights are the incredible cleaning station at Manta Point and swimming with mola mola at Crystal Bay. This little neighbor to Bali has a lot more diving to offer than sunfish and manta rays.
We did some of the longest drift dives we have done around the world, gliding over the beautiful reefs surrounding Nusa Penida. I will recommend the drift dives around Nusa Penida for more experienced divers, since the currents can be strong and unpredictable.
The water flowing around the island is an up-welling from the deep and is often cold water with temperatures in the low twenty degree Celsius range, even dropping to 16C! I will recommend diving here in a 5mm wetsuit (your dive center should provide one). Water temperatures are the lowest June to October and higher November to February.
The visibility is good diving in the area, ranging between 10 and 40 meters!
Most of the diving is done at depths ranging between 10m and 20m, there are some deep dive sites all the way to 40m.
Best time of year to Dive Nusa Penida
January and February is the peak of the rainy season and not the most pleasant time to be on the island. Diving is good from November to May when the sea is calm. Manta Rays can be seen from Nusa Penida al year round. August to October is the best time of the year to dive with Mola Mola from Nusa Penida, we discuss this later in the article.
Marine life Diving Nusa Penida
The island is known for Mola mola (the oceanic sun fish) and manta rays, two enormous bucket list animals for most divers to swim with! Mola mola, commonly known as the oceanic sunfish is the heaviest known bony fish in the world weighing up to a 1,000 kg. These animals are native to tropical and temperate waters around the globe. The mola mola apears similar to a fish head with a tail, and its main body is flattened laterally. Manta rays are large rays belonging to the genus Manta. The larger species, M. birostris, reach up to 7 meters in width. Both these animals can be very large and make fantastic photo subjects! If you remain calm and swim slow they can come very close!
This is not the only remarkable marine life found diving around this amazing little island. Silver tip and Grey Reef sharks often swim in the currents around Nusa Penida. Hawksbill turtles and a variety of puffer fish and lion fish are commonly encountered floating over the reef. Check in holes and crevasses, Giant Moray eels live here. Don’t just grab or put your knees on any piece of reef, scorpionfish live on the reef and the stinger is very poisoness. Bright colored anemone fish make anemones all over the reef their home. Keep an eye out for a variety of beautiful nudibranches (sea slugs) if you have a good guide he will point some out. In sandy areas swim carefully to spot blue spotted stingrays and garden eels, they are difficult to photograph since they pull back into the sand as soon as they sense you. We were lucky to swim with some big marble rays while doing a deep dive in strong current.
Manta Point Nusa Penida
When talking about diving with manta rays around Indonesia Komodo and Raja Ampat are always the first places mentioned. I knew there were mantas somewhere around Bali, but never would have imagined a cleaning station visited by so many manta rays as Manta Point from Nusa Penida. Plenty of manta rays come all year round to enjoy the cleaning station. It is an amazing place to dive or snorkel with Manta rays. They really are plentiful here, if you stand on the surrounding cliffs you can spot many mantas close to the cliffs.
Mola Mola Nusa Penida
The water around Nusa Penida is fairly cold due to a deep up-welling south of Bali and the nutrient-rich deep-water trench is renowned as one of the top places in the world to spot mola mola, the giant oceanic sunfish. The strange looking mola mola looks like a big head swimming around without a body. It is the heaviest known bony fish in the world. These fish usually live very deep but they come up to shallow waters to be cleaned of skin parasites.
In South Africa I have been lucky enough to swim with mola mola on several occasions, but in Bali we were very unlucky and arrived a day after the dive center saw nine mola molas during a single dive! We did however see many more manta rays than we did while diving in Komodo National Park. During a different kind of amazing dive at the site PED, Alya and I got engaged to be married during a drift dive in mild current, you can see the video below.
Best conditions for seeing Mola Mola in Bali, Nusa Penida
Nusa Penida is one of the best places in the world for seeing Mola Mola also called Oceanic Sunfish. The high season to see them is from August to October. Tides and current will determine if mola is around. The best time is just between new moon and full moon during long slack tide. The day of full moon (we arrived a day late) our dive leader saw nine molas! We dived for the following three days without having any luck.
Dive sites for Mola Mola from Nusa Penida
The best dive sites to see them are Crystal Bay, Gamat Bay, Toyapakeh and Ceningan wall in the Ceningan channel and Blue Corner in Nusa Lembongan. If you have to pick one site Crystal Bay is the place to go. The mola mola come up from the deep in cold water, so you want temperatures below 25C and these big “swimming heads” don’t like current, so little current or look in a bay where they can hide.
Diving Nusa Penida from Bali (Padang Bai), Nusa Penida or Nusa Lembongan
Diving the sites around Nusa Penida is much cheaper from the island itself than from Padang Bai or Nusa Lembongan, as you would expect. Check below we compare prices around Nusa Penida from each of these locations. We enjoyed staying on Nusa Penida, it has some beautiful sites, see our entry Nusa Penida, Bali 20 years ago, for things to do, prices, accommodation and photos of this beautiful island. Since Manta Point is just around the corner snorkeling with these beautiful beasts is not very expensive and you can do it everyday! There is a lot more to do in Bali then diving, here are a couple more ideas for responsible travel activities around Bali.
Dive operators and Prices for diving Nusa Penida
Because Nusa Penida is located close to both Nusa Lembongan and Bali the sites around Nusa Penida can be dived as day trips from either of these islands.
We did go to several dive resorts on Nusa Penida before deciding on a dive center to dive with for 3 days. Penida Dive Resort was our center of choice; professional, organised, friendly, knowledgeable dive professionals and off-course good prices.
- Penida Dive Resort, Toyapake
- 2 Dives all inclusive around $70
- Snorkel with mantas at Manta Point $21
- Nice, well priced accommodation
- Great to stay at the resort you dive with Penida Dive Resort Accommodation
- They offer accommodation and a restaurant see our Nusa Penida entry.
- Professionally Czech run dive resort with very experienced Czech instructors.
Other Dive Centers on Nusa Penida – Octopus Dive, Sanctum Dive Center, Nusa Penida Watersport
Bali (Padang Bai)
Padang Bai is the place to dive from if you want to dive around Nusa Penida from Bali itself.
- OK Divers – Nice dive center in Padang Bai.
- Friendly, helpful and knowledgeable staff.
- Professional dive center dive all over Bali including Nusa Penida
- About $110 for 2 Dives around Nusa Penida from Padang Bai (price dive site dependent)
- For well rated, quality accommodation OK Divers Resort & Spa
Other Dive Centers in Padang Bai – Geko Dive Bali, Momo Dive Center,
- Tamarind Dive Center
- Small, locally owned, well rated dive center on Nusa Lembongan offering scuba diving and snorkelling around Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan.
- About $41 per dive, add $7 surcharge for diving Manta Point (Nusa Penida) around $90 for 2 tank dive around Nusa Penida
- Breeze Villa – well rated accommodation close to the dive center.
Other Dive Centers in Nusa Lembongan – Dive Concepts Lembongan, Legend Diving Lembongan, World Diving Lembongan
Accommodation Nusa Penida
- Dragonfly – Great budget stay, AC, dormitory beds and rooms
- Ampel Hill Homestay – very well rated home stay with excellent views, nice rooms, budget price
- Penida Dive Resort – Stay at your dive center, nice place, loved the pancake breakfast
- Pandawa Beach Resort and Spa Luxury – Delux suites with sea view, 5 star luxury for a great price.
Dive Sites Nusa Penida – from my logbook
Crystal Bay Dive Site
Max Depth: 29m, Avg Depth 15m, 23C, viz 20m
Hung on to the wall at 25-30m for most of the dive waiting for mola mola. The water was cold enough but the current was very strong on both our dives, maybe explaining the molas not showing up. We saw some white tip reef sharks, a turtle, a tuna and the coral was nice.
At the end of the second dive here we finished in the shallows and saw nice coral, lots of nudis, garden eels and a variety of reef fish.
Blue Corner dive site
Max Depth: 38m, Avg Depth 16m, 23C, viz 20m
One of the most famous dive sites in the area, conditions not always favorable, strong currents, experience required some dive operators require proof of 100 dives. Blue Corner has a smooth deep slope with terraces, a fast drift dive. Mola mola often seen in season, we were hoping they are hiding from the current around the corner, but unfortunately did not make it around the corner – no Mola mola. We did however see eight big marble rays! They were swimming at 38m.
Excellent place to see manta rays. There are two sites called Manta point; Manta point (Manta point 1) and Manta point 2 (Manta 66). Manta Point 1 is shallow (10m) and very close to the rocks. Many mantas can be seen swimming here from the cliff above. The peak season is from March to June, but the mantas are here all year round. Some dive shops give a money back guarantee for seeing them. Our decision to go snorkeling instead of diving was a good one. You can talk to the boat that spots them and swim in that direction. We had a few mantas swimming around us on the surface for a while.
Beautiful sloping reef covered in hard coral. Dived it twice, current was medium and strong. We saw large variety of reef fish, turtle, white tip reef shark, if A thermocline is present mola mola can be seen here in season.
I asked Alya to marry me diving on this reef, see video below.
Handy things to pack for your underwater adventure
We always have a mask in our backpacks and love the Mares Star liquid skin. Doesn’t take much space and important to have one that fits without leaking when going for a dive or snorkel. The liquid skin material is super soft and fits very comfortable for both of us. Our favorite mask for Scuba and snorkeling
This awesome, soft silicone snorkel folds away in your backpack, if we have a mask and snorkel the dive center we dive with often borrows us fins, so snorkeling costs us zero. Aegend soft fold away snorkel
- Thermo Guard dive/swim vest
0.5mm neoprene keeps you warm swimming and diving, protects you against the sun. Light to pack in your backpack. Mares Men’s Thermo Guard 0.5mm
- Microfibre Towel
Very important to pack a nice towel that doesn’t take to much space in your luggage. We suggest a quality microfiber towel.
Check here for a complete packing list for a diving holiday
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- Dive Nusa Penida, Bali Indonesia
- Diving Perhentian Islands
- Dive Lembeh strait in North Indonesia
- Dive the Togian Islands, Indonesia
- Bira diving in South Sulawesi
- Diving Pulau Weh island
- Swimming with Whale Sharks in Cebu, The Philippines
- Choosing the Best Dive School in Koh Tao Thailand
- 17 Awesome places in Indonesia
- Indonesian visa on arrival; extendable vs non-extendable
- Komodo island and Flores complete guide
- How to get from Bali to Flores
- Nusa Penida island guide, Bail
- Dive trip in Indonesia; Bali to Sulawesi
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