Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nusa Lembongan – The Perfect Getaway

As soon as I read the following description in my Lonely Planet book of the island of Nusa Lembongan, 30 minutes off the southeast coast of Bali by speedboat, I knew I had to visit: “It’s the Bali many imagine but never find: simple rooms on the beach, cheap beers with incredible sunsets, days spent surfing and diving, and nights spent riffling through a favorite book or hanging with new friends.” So, when my friend Amber was looking for a place to celebrate her 30th birthday, Nusa Lembongan was my immediate suggestion. She readily agreed and that’s how it came to be that a mini congregation of ELFs gathered there for her milestone birthday and a little R&R last weekend. Nusa Lembongan delivered exactly as promised.


We had booked ourselves into a beach retreat that sounded good on the website. We found out that “simple rooms on the beach” meant no AC, no TV, no hot water, and power that threatened to go out at a moment’s notice. I liked the small touches though – the used paperbacks on the nightstand, the strawberry scented soap in the bathroom and the fact that the proprietor lent us her own shorts and hats as needed. It almost felt like being a guest at someone’s beach house. The owner was a woman from Perth, Australia, who came to Nusa Lembongan two years ago to visit her brother, saw the abandoned property for sale, bought it and started fixing it up for guests. The place still wasn’t 100% ready - the main entrance on the beach was being rebuilt and partially blocked the view and the sink in my room had the special ability to wash my hands and my feet at the same time (i.e. it had a major leak). Yes, the beach retreat had a certain charm, but it wasn’t for everyone. Amber and Maura ended up relocating to another place a little ways down the beach. This turned out to be a fortuitous move, however, because they found a place that not only had AC and a TV but, more impressively, had a nice infinity pool facing the beach and a restaurant with a good stock of cheap beers and unblocked views of the incredible sunsets.


Lonely Planet describes Nusa Lembongan as “a funky travellers’ scene with stellar surfing and diving”. What makes the surfing and diving here so spectacular is the element of risk and danger present and the accompanying adrenaline rushes that come from conquering surf breaks called “Shipwrecks” and “Lacerations” and diving the waters between Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida, which are just as notorious for their strong currents and monster swells as they are for the mola-molas, mantas and sharks that are frequently seen here. (My diving experiences here merit a post of their own). None of us surf, but we took great pleasure in eating lunch at a waterfront restaurant with a view of the Shipwrecks break and watching the hot surfers who paddled back to shore and exited the water right in front of us. In other words, we had cute surfer boys literally wash up at our feet.


Nusa Lembongan is not the place to go if you’re looking for crazy nightlife. But it’s perfect if your idea of a beach holiday includes bringing some good books and catching up on your reading. I retired early the first night, turned on my dim reading lamp and made some progress in my current novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife, as I listened to the sound of the waves crashing at the Shipwrecks break in the distance. Shortly thereafter I was lulled into a deep sleep, only to be awoken by the sound of crowing roosters early in the morning. I also relished the other evenings of sharing long dinners and chatting in and around the pool with Maura, Amber, Courtney, and Sarah.

The number of tourists in Nusa Lembongan is not huge, and the town of Jungutbatu feels like a small neighborhood after just a couple of days. On my last night there, I walked down the beach to meet the others at Scooby Doo Bar & Café and gave a little wave when I saw them. As I got closer to their table, I was greeted by a woman from the UK at a neighboring table who thought I was waving at her. It turned out I had gone diving with her and her husband the day before. I hadn’t seen her as I was approaching but I’m glad she noticed me. We chatted for a few minutes and then I sat down at my table with Maura and Amber and Amber’s friend Bret, who I met for the first time on this trip. A little while into our meal, Maura noticed that the German family from Leipzig, who I had befriended at the resort’s pool, had also just arrived at the same restaurant. I said goodnight to them on my way out and we chatted about how much their three children had enjoyed playing with me in the pool. I loved it too – it reminded me of my days as an au pair in Switzerland when I would take Benni and Johanna swimming. I walked away from the restaurant at the end of the night feeling completely relaxed and happy to have chosen Nusa Lembongan for our getaway weekend.

You know you’ve stumbled upon something good when you talk about returning before you’ve even left. Nusa Lembongan is a very small island of about eight square kilometers but my days were so full of diving, snorkeling, eating and general lounging about that I didn’t even have time to see all of it. At the south end of the island there is a little crescent of white sand called Dream Beach nestled between the limestone cliffs. The surf crashes hard and fast here and leaves a stunning impression. At least it did for me when I saw it on Maura’s camera - I never made it there as the others went one day when I was snorkeling. Dream Beach will remain a dream for now, but I hope to get there someday. If any of you reading this want to come visit me in Indonesia, I highly suggest we go back there. Nusa Lembongan offers a simple getaway on a beautiful island with no cars (except for hotel transportation pick-up trucks), no ATMs, and no pushy souvenir hawkers. It truly is the Bali many imagine but never find.


  1. Sounds like a great place and outing.

    How do you like "The Time Traveler's Wife"? I read it last year and liked the Chicago connections but would have liked it more had it been about 200 pages shorter.

  2. I am both glad and worried for you that you are reading Time Traveller's Wife. I loved it and it was so beautifully written and a truly unique story. But it made me so sad. I can't imagine reading it far away from home away from the ones I love. Hugs. Tell us how you like it. Your experience in Nusa Lembongan reminds me of our experience in Vieques PR. They are in some ways similar places small and unique and simple near other more common destinations.

  3. I think it's hilarious that two thirds of the comments on this post are about The Time Traveler's Wife! I am really enjoying the book, but I have to admit that I watched the movie first! I got really caught up the story and love how the book provides many extra background details. I'm still only about halfway through though.