Lembongan an unknown piece of paradise
Bali seems to be on top of everyone’s must-do list. And while it is nice, our family found the nearby island of Lembongan more our style. It is a small island where people walk around barefoot and there is not a party every night.
To get there we took a small speedboat from Sanur beach on the east coast of Bali. A super-cheap but much slower local ferry is also available once a day. Included in our round trip speed boat fare was transportation to and from a hotel, both on Bali and Lembongan. This was a very good deal I booked the day prior from a tourist stand; other customers buying tickets at the stand on Sanur beach were paying much higher prices for less service. The boat shuttled us across rough swells to the island of Lembongan 12 kilometers off the coast of Bali. On arrival, it was low tide so we had to anchor pretty far off the shore. The ferry operators carried my bag and my son while my daughter and I had fun wading through the shallow water to the beach. We were super excited to see colorful sea stars clinging to rocks around our feet.
The small town of Jungut Batu sits right along the huge west-facing beach on the island. Being the primary transit point for all people coming and going from the island, the beach right in town is not ideal for swimming or lounging. Luckily, it is gigantic; the beach wraps all the way around the north end of the island and the small hotels sprawls along with it. There are no high rises here, just tiny open air restaurants and sandy streets. I don’t believe I saw a single bit of pavement on the entire island. They do have one ATM that opened recently; it runs out of money readily though so be sure to get cash rupiah before coming to the island. Plan to pay for everything, including your hotel, in cash.
Though the town was cute, I was in the mood for seclusion after visiting busy Bali. Once we finally reached the beach, our porters walked our bags along a few sandy trails to a waiting taxi. Well, an Indonesian taxi - being a pickup truck with benches along the sides of the bed. This one had a nice shady roof, though, so I was impressed. The drive was fun, too, as we bounced along the sandy coral-covered streets to drop off other passengers at their hotels.
Our bungalow was near tiny Mushroom Bay up and over the rocky headland from the primary beach. We were dropped right in front. I verified our return schedule, attempted a tip (which the porter turned down), and we checked in at the open-air counter. My $30 rate got us our own air conditioned traditional thatch hut on the cliff above Secret Beach along the edge of Mushroom Bay. This secret was awesome.
The sand was soft and golden. There were rocky tide pools, a plethora of shells and coral, and we had the beach to ourselves. Just me and my two kids playing in the sand on a tiny beach in Indonesia: THIS is paradise! It was small and enclosed by cliffs.
During low tide, Secret Beach joined Mushroom Bay around the edge of one precipice or through a fun belly-crawl cave. We swam a bit but, like in Bali, beaches along the southwest side of the island tend to have rough surf. During low tide the water was fine. At high tide we had to watch that our stuff didn’t get washed away. We learned that lesson the hard way after losing one of my sons shirts to a giant wave that crashed all the way up the beach to the cliff base. We hopped on a boulder and clung to a palm tree to avoid it, but I couldn’t grab all our stuff in time. I spent an hour or so gathering our flip flops, clothes, and towels from the water. I never found the dinosaur shirt; it went extinct.
The main part of Mushroom Bay was just a short fun walk around the cliff on numerous pretty tide pools during low tide. Here the water was calmer and made a nice place to swim. There is a colorful reef off shore that breaks the waves and is a good spot for snorkeling. Local outrigger boatmen moored in the bay can take you out. The hamlet that has grown around Mushroom Bay is tourist focused in a low-key way that makes it very enjoyable. It is small and walk able with flip flops.
There is no primary road but instead a jumble of weird alleys between hotels and unique trails ready for exploring. There are a few tour operators, a convenience store, hotels of varying budgets, a nice sunset view of Bali, and a few open air restaurants. Of these options, my kids and I decided the best place for an evening meal was called Gomez, a lovely Mexican place run by some Aussies and their home-schooled kids. It had free Wi-Fi and a sandy courtyard playground so I could sip a margarita, email back home, and watch the kids play with their new friends. Plus, the food was good and cheap. We went there nightly and enjoyed the walk back to our hut.
If you like swimming, I recommend booking a hotel with a pool. We stayed at Lotus Garden Huts; a bit removed from Mushroom Bay but a pleasant little establishment with only six bungalows around a nice green courtyard and small pool. There is no restaurant, so it was necessary to walk elsewhere but that was just fine with us because we enjoyed being on the cliff top of Secret Beach.
Our hut had a great balcony for reading, a large king size bed with mosquito netting that was comfy for afternoon naps, and a super fun enclosed outdoor shower perfect for getting off all that sand. There are plenty of similar options in Mushroom Bay and throughout Lembongan. They might not all have a few calves that live next door, though. Those little cows were a daily joy for my son.
Nusa (isle) Lembongan is only about 8 km large. The main local population is in a tiny village (also called Lembongan) past Mushroom Bay on the island’s interior. The west side is occupied by tourism and beaches while the east side is a huge mangrove forest. Other sites include the big off-shore seaweed farms and a bridge to the tiny adjacent island of Ceningan. There are plenty of local people renting scooters for a fun day of exploring.
Along the south coast of the island, past Mushroom Bay where we stayed, the ground rises higher to make massive cliffs above a few tiny beach inlets with names like Dream Beach and Sunset Beach. While it is extremely beautiful, the surf here can get very rough so it is not ideal for people who enjoy swimming and relaxing on the beach. It is nice for surfers, though. In fact, Nusa Lembongan has good breaks along the entire south and western portions of the island. They break a bit far to paddle out, but boats can easily be hired to take you. A board rental shop in Jungat Batu can hook you up with information. This is not a spot for beginners, however.
If you find yourself in Bali stressing out about the traffic, noise, and tourist schedule, consider cutting a few days off to vacation in a real paradise on Nusa Lembongan.
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