Diving in Bali: a first-timer guide

Located in the coral triangle in Indonesia, in South-East Asia, Bali is undoubtedly one of the most popular scuba diving destinations in the world. Thanks to world-class dive sites such as the Liberty shipwreck, Crystal Bay and Manta, scuba diving is one of the most fun things to do in Bali. Scuba divers visiting the island of the gods can frequently see underwater large marine animals such as the manta rays and the mola-mola (oceanic sunfish). Being a volcanic island, Bali offers incredible muck and macro diving opportunities for underwater photography enthusiasts, and the numerous shore dive sites are perfect for beginners. You can find many PADI and SSI dive centres west of Kuta and north of Ubud in Amed, Tulamben, Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida, and Menjangan Island. If you add the fact that this is a reasonably priced destination with stunning rice terraces and colourful Hindu temples, you have the perfect mix for a fabulous dive safari around Bali.

It only took me two dive trips to Bali, during which I spent a total of 6 weeks, to fall in love with the Indonesian island. The only problem may be that I’m not the only one, but the good news is most people stay in the south around Kuta, while scuba divers usually stay around Amed on the east coast which is much quieter and where Bali is still Bali. For those of you who are still dreaming of getting there, let me guide you through how to plan successfully a first dive trip to Bali so you don’t rush trying to see everything and have an enjoyable diving holiday.

Diving in Bali at a glance

marine life

Rating: 5 out of 5.

unique features

Rating: 5 out of 5.

visibility

Rating: 4 out of 5.

marine protected areas

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Where is the best diving in Bali?

Diving in Nusa Lembongan - Best dive sites Bali

The island of Bali is not huge, less than 6,000 km², and also includes the smaller islands of Lembongan, Penida, Ceningan in the east and Menjangan in the north. Due to the reasonable distances, some dive centres in the south offer day trips as far as Menjangan Island, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this. Thanks to its variety of dive sites, the best thing to do is to go on a road trip to link all the best dive sites in Bali. My top tip is to make sure you have the right level of scuba diving to avoid any disappointment. Some dive sites are deep, others have strong currents. Generally speaking, Indonesia is a dive destination that is better appreciated as an advanced diver. However, Bali has a few spots that are a good fit for beginner divers.

My top 5 dive sites in Bali

To give you a quick idea of the main places to go scuba diving in Bali, if I narrow down to my top 5 dive sites, you will quickly see by exploring to spots, Tulamben and Nusa Penida, you can get a first excellent glimpse of some of the best diving in Bali for a first trip there. Chances are high anyway that just like me, you’ll want to come back again and again to the island of Gods, so don’t try to do everything at once, keep it some for later.

  1. Liberty shipwreck, Tulamben, maximum depth 28m
  2. Crystal Bay, Nusa Penida, maximum depth 40 m
  3. Manta Point, Nuda Penida, maximum depth 25 m
  4. Eels Garden, Menjangan Island, maximum depth 30 m
  5. Drop-off, Tulamben, maximum depth 40 m

Diving in Amed & Tulamben

Located only 10 minutes driving away from each other, Amed and Tulamben are two fishermen villages on the northeast coast of Bali which became the hub of passionate divers and underwater photographers. Home to the famous Liberty shipwreck, I don’t think I’m exaggerating by saying that Tulamben might be the #1 scuba diving spot in Bali.

The USAT Liberty was an American cargo ship torpedoed during WWII by a Japanese submarine. Today, it is the most accessible shipwreck in the world since it was towed on the shore after its sinking. A volcanic eruption in the 1960’s put it back under the surface of the water, but only a stone’s throw away from the dark pebble beach. Open water divers can explore the shipwreck since its shallowest point starts at 5 m deep, and advanced Open water divers will be able to see its deepest point, which is not so deep, at 28 m.

The best moment to explore the wreck is at sunrise, at about 6 am, before most of the tourists from the other part of the island arrive. It is possible to be almost alone on the wreck and see the school of large bumphead parrotfish before they leave the shore for the day.

Beyond wreck diving, diving in Tulamben and diving in Amed is all about some of the best shore diving in the world. Those who love macro critters and nudibranchs and are into underwater photography should definitely check the dive site called “Seraya Secrets”. If you don’t like to swim too much, it is always possible to hop on a jukung dive boat to take you a bit more off the shore in only 2 to 3 minutes. It is a good option to visit Tulamben drop-off for instance.

From the beach of Amed, the dive style is more muck diving style, but for those you love searching for marine animals with their underwater camera, it offers the possibility to scuba dive in quite shallow waters up to 5 times a day.


Diving in Nusa Lembongan & Nusa Penida

Nusa Lembongan has been the historical hub for those who wanted to have the chance to scuba dive with the giant sunfish of Bali, the mola-mola, since it was the closest from the main island. For a couple of years now, Nusa Penida has now had some infrastructure to welcome visitors and scuba divers to explore the famous sites of Crystal Bay and Manta Point directly from its shore.

The easiest way to go diving in Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida is from Sanur where you can take a speed boat which takes you there in only 25 minutes. If you want to say a bit of money and you have plenty of time, you can take the public ferry which crosses the Sanur Channel in about an hour.

It is important to note that while you may be able to see manta rays all year round at Manta Point in Nusa Penida, the peak season to see mola-mola in Crystal Bay, between Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Penida, is only from July to September. On my second trip to Bali, I visited the dive site mid-October and I was extremely lucky to see a mola-mola at that time.

Another important thing to note is the currents and the depths of the mola-mola cleaning station. You can start observing the sunfish from a minimum of 30 m deep. The currents can be strong and as a result, the water temperature is much colder than anywhere else around Bali. With temperature between 23 and 25°C, a 5 mm full suit is a good option if you want to stay warm.

Manta Point is not so deep but the currents can be strong, so depending on the conditions it can or cannot be a dive site for beginner divers. At the time of my visit, there was a prominent tidal current swinging us from side to side, so if you are prone to seasickness, you might not like it.

There are many other interesting dive sites around Nusa Lembongan such as Mangrove dive sites. Many of them are quite powerful drift dives. Generally speaking, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida are scuba diving spots which are better appreciated when you are an experienced diver who can handle and have fun at the same time in such conditions of temperature, depth and current.


Diving in Pemuteran & Menjangan Island

Menjangan Island is part of one of the oldest national parks in Indonesia, the Bali Barat (West Bali) National Park created at the beginning of the 20th century. While being the furthest away from the popular south area of Bali at the northwest tip of Bali, just before where the ferry goes to Java Island, it is my top recommendation for beginner divers thanks to its calm waters.

Marine biology lovers should definitely go diving in Menjangan Island due to the variety and density of soft corals on display around the tiny island. Being a fully protected area, scuba diving centres are located in the nearby town of Pemuteran. It almost feels like you are on a totally different island with its quiet atmosphere and wild landscape.

While scuba diving in Menjangan Island might feel easy, advanced divers will be pleased to learn that there are also wall dives taking you as deep as 30 to 40 m below the surface. If you have enough time to explore the area, you can extend your exploration by muck diving in the bay of Pemuteran which includes an experimental artificial reef looking like a Balinese temple and a dive site near the jetty which is famous for looking for mandarin fish at sunset. 


Diving in Sanur area

Scuba diving near Sanur - Diving Bali

Located in the south of this island, Sanur is the first place I visited and scuba dived from in Bali. Far less crowded than Kuta on the opposite shore looking in the direction of Nusa Penida, it is an excellent option for those who just want to go for a dive or two during their trip and beginner divers. I would not now go back scuba diving from Sanur, but I admit it is an excellent base for scuba divers exploring the island for the first time and hesitate to organise everything by themselves.

Most dive centres of Sanur also offer what they call dive safari package, they offer day trips to most dive spots around Bali from Padang Bai to Menjangan Island including lunch, transportation and pick-up at your hotel. It can be a good solution for those who don’t want to change accommodation during their stay in Bali but it comes at a higher price and a much earlier wake-up time.

It is also possible to go scuba diving in the area of Nusa Penida from Sanur thanks to the speed boats some scuba diving centres have. This is exactly what I did for my two very first dive in Bali. Due to the currents, we couldn’t reach Manta Point, but I have two pleasant wall dives not too deep which were perfect to test the waters in Bali.

The dive sites of the Sanur channel don’t have much interest and will be mostly used for people training for their Open Water level.


Diving in the Gili Islands

Turtle - diving in Gili Trawagan

Technically speaking, the Gili Islands do not belong to Bali but the neighbouring island of Lombok. However, thanks to speed-boats going from Amed to each of the three Gili Islands (Trawangan, Menos, Air) in an hour, it has become a popular extension for scuba divers exploring Bali. It’s easy to understand why, since these tiny islands are really all about tropical paradise on a white sand beach with palm trees.

Gili Trawangan was originally a surfer spot but over the years, it became a popular diving spot for both beginners, advanced and even tech divers. Some dive sites are very sheltered for beginners but other deeper dive sites can have really strong currents. The main attraction in the Gilis are the frequent sightings of sea turtles. While it is indeed always cool to say hi to turtles, it is important to know that due to long time use of dynamite fishing around Lombok, some dive sites look more like underwater dunes of dead coral. It remains, however, one of the most popular places in the area for people looking to do scuba diving training at any level in a paradise-like location.

What to see underwater in Bali?

Long-nose Hawfish on a gorgonian - Drop-off Tulamben - Diving in Bali

Beyond being a friendly and sumptuous place to visit, scuba diving-wise it is hard to beat Bali. There is something for every diver in its waters all around the island. From a historical shipwreck to marine life, it is hard to be disappointed by going diving in Bali. Even the Liberty wreck is full of fish species and macro critters to find like in an underwater scavenger hunt.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the interesting marine species you may be able to see underwater in Bali. I divided it into four parts, the large marine animals including the pelagic species such as sharks, the tropical fish, the macro critters and I made a special list for nudibranchs.

Tropical fish

  • Clownfish & Anemone fish
  • Emperor & Semicircle angelfish
  • Pyramid butterflyfish
  • Frogfish
  • Batfish
  • Crocodile fish
  • Leaf scorpion fish
  • Humphead parrotfish
  • Mandarin fish
  • Oriental & Ribbon sweetlips
  • Jack fish & Giant trevally
  • Titan triggerfish
  • Brown-marbled grouper
  • Blue spotted ray
  • Banded sea snake

Large marine animals

  • Manta rays
  • Sunfish (mola-mola)
  • White tip sharks
  • Black-tip sharks
  • Wobbegong sharks
  • Nurse sharks
  • Bamboo sharks
  • Green turtles
  • Hawksbill turtles

Macro critters

  • Ribbon eel
  • Blue ring octopus
  • Bobtail squid
  • Ornate ghost pipefish
  • Pygmy seahorse
  • Mantis shrimp
  • Peacock-tail anemone shrimp
  • Harlequin shrimp

Nudibranchs

  • Chromodoris nudibranch
  • Flabellina Exoptata nudibranch
  • Jorunna Funebris nudibranch
  • Nembrotha Kubaryana nudibranch
  • Phyllidia ocellate nudibranch
  • Doto greenamyeri “Donut” nudibranch

Where to go diving when you visit Bali for the first-time?

Leaf scorpion fish Tulamben - Bali diving

If you are not yet an advanced diver with enough experience, you may choose wisely where you go diving. The best spot for beginners is definitely Menjangan Island. However, it is a bit far so very few people go there on a first trip to Bali.

Then Amed and Tulamben, with their shore dive sites, are excellent choices. You won’t go to the deeper and more interesting part of the Liberty shipwreck, but you can still see it, which is pretty cool.

Experienced divers will love the strong drift dive around Nusa Lembongan and of course, a deep dive at Crystal Bay between Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Penida to hope to see mola molas.

If the conditions are not too agitated, Manta Point off Nusa Penida can be a good fit for beginner divers as the cleaning station is quite shallow. Some tour companies even take snorkelers there.

The Gili Islands are often associated with beginner divers, however while there are shallow dive sites around the Gilis, what I experienced was pretty strong currents and a large choice of deep dive sites. As a result, beyond being a party place for scuba divers, Gili Trawangan also became a hub for tech divers.

My recommended 10-day itinerary for first-timers in Bali:

  • Sanur, 1 day: to unjetlag after your international flight and then take the boat to Nusa Lembongan the next day after relaxing at the beach.
  • Nusa Lembongan, 3 days: to enjoy the best dives around Nusa Lembongan, Ceningan and Penida including Crystal Bay and Manta Point, while taking into account the time to return to Bali mainland, this is not too much.
  • Amed, 2 days: enjoy muck diving or alternatively you can also take the speed boat to the Gili Islands.
  • Tulamben, 2 days: enjoy the Liberty shipwreck and the drop-offs to look at the most amazing nudibranchs.
  • Ubud, 2 days: explore Bali’s cultural centre and start the decompression process before going on altitude either to visit Bali’s volcanoes or flying back home.

Which scuba diving centres to choose in Bali?

Scuba divers in Crystal Bay - Bali diving

With so many dive centres all around the island, you may rightfully wonder how to choose your dive centre among Bali dive shops when booking your scuba diving trip to Bali. The good news is I have come across any dive centre which was really bad. Some are part of larger tourism operator groups and hence offer high service quality but less personalised. Some are run by Balinese families and while it sometimes looks a run down compared to international companies, the expertise of local guides cannot be compared.

Be careful, unlike Thailand and the Philippines, depending on the place, it isn’t easy to walk in from dive centre to dive centre as they tend to be quite spread out in each place: this is especially true in Sanur. While you may consider doing this in Amed or Gili Trawangan to check if you like the vibe of the dive centre, I recommend booking your dive centres in advance to avoid wasting too much time for all the other places.

Scuba diving centres in Bali are mostly located in:

  • Sanur
  • Amed
  • Tulamben
  • Nusa Lembongan
  • Nusa Penida
  • Pemuteran
  • Padang Bai

How much is diving in Bali?

Manta Point Nusa Penida - Bali diving

With such incredible diving adventures available all around the island of Bali, Bali diving remains surprisingly affordable with prices similar to what you would usually see in other popular diving destinations in South-East Asia.

As the area in Amed and Tulamben is mostly about shore diving, the price of a dive starts from 300,000 IDR (about 20€). In areas like Nusa Lembongan where longer boat rides are necessary, the price of a dive is obviously more expensive but still extremely affordable with the price of a dive starting at 425,000 IDR (about 28€).

Note that if you book a package of 7 to 10 dives, the price of a single dive can drop to 17€, it is almost unbeatable compared to many places in the world. With such low prices you may wonder if you need to pay any smaller extra, actually not, the price of the rental gear is usually included, and Nitrox is sometimes even offered for free to the certified divers.

Is Bali a good place to learn scuba diving?

Crystal Bay - Bali diving

Yes and no, like often it depends. It depends where you go and it depends on your expectations. If you are ok to not see the best dive sites of Bali as a beginner, then I would say, go to Sanur or Amed, and do your Open Water diver course there. It’s important to understand that places like Nusa Penida or Nusa Lembongan have mostly deep dive sites and strong currents, hence not recommended for beginner divers.

Prices for scuba diving courses in Bali are very affordable so in that sense, Bali can be a great opportunity to make the most of your time there and save a bit of money on your training. Just remember that the Open water course takes from 3 to 4 days to complete so plan your holidays accordingly if this is something you really want to do. Prices for the Open water course in Bali usually start from 200€.

If you don’t want to spend several days during your holidays in Bali and just want to try a dive or discovery dive, then my recommendation would be to go to Menjangan Island where you will see beautiful corals and cute clownfish. Prices for a discovery dive in Bali usually start from 45€.

When is the best time to go scuba diving in Bali?

Crystal Bay - Bali diving

Usually, the best time to dive in Bali coincides with the mola-mola season from July to September. You may see elsewhere that this season is from June to October, but if you want to increase the odds of meeting one, avoid the shoulder season.

However, if you can, avoid the peak tourist season in July and August. Prices on accommodation can be 50% cheaper and the traffic on the roads will be more manageable.

Generally speaking, Bali has a tropical, hot and humid climate all year-round due to its close location to the Equator. However, the year in Bali can be divided into the rainy season from October to April, and the dry season from May to September which is the recommended season to travel to Bali.

The air temperature is usually between 29°C and 31°C during the day all year round, while it drops to 22/23°C at night. The sea temperature around Bali is usually between 27 and 30°C but note the temperature is much cooler off Nusa Penida with 23/25°C.

While January is in the middle of the rainy season in Bali, this is the month I chose for my first trip there. It was mostly raining at night, and maybe an hour or two during the day. I was indeed sunny most days and much quieter and low rates on accommodation (10€ for a private bungalow in Amed). However, it did affect the visibility underwater. Besides, at that time of the year, there was no manta and no mola-mola to see.  The water temperature was warm between 28 and 29°C.

For my second trip to Bali, I planned according to the mola-mola season. The weather was hot and sunny with temperatures above 30°C most days. However, mid-October was actually a bit late to see the mola-molas. Luckily, I saw one on my first dive in Crystal Bay. At Manta Point, it was like a manta ray highway; it is not always like this, but at this time of the year, you are almost sure to see them. The water temperature is cooler in Nusa Penida, between 23 and 25°C, whereas in Bali, it was between 30 and 32°C in Tulamben and Menjangan.

For a first scuba diving trip to Bali, I would definitely recommend the month of September to avoid the crowds and give the best shot at meeting a mola-mola at Crystal Bay.

How to get around in Bali with scuba diving gear?

Driving around Bali

There are many different ways to travel around Bali between dive sites during your trip. I personally rented a car each time, because with all my big scuba diving bag in tow, I found it more convenient than the local Bemo vans the locals use.

Once I went north of Ubud, driving through the rice fields of the rural areas of Bali was a mind-blowing and exciting experience, hence I don’t want to do anything else now every time I’m there. Don’t forget Indonesia drives on the left, so if you live in the UK, Australia and Japan, it won’t be a big deal for you. You also need to know the traffic on Bali’s roads, especially around Denpasar, Ubud and Kuta is intense with many people on a scooter all around you. If you are not used to driving in the traffic of a big city, you may want to reconsider this option.

If you don’t want to drive around Bali, here are the other options you can consider:

  • Book transfer with dive centres: If you book ahead your dives, don’t hesitate to ask them for transfer. They usually have their own vans and can offer very competitive prices, maybe the best option for scuba divers. Alternatively, some hotels may offer the same service.
  • Tourist shuttles: This is something quite new in Bali but it mostly works for the south part of Bali, so when traveling between Sanur and Ubud this is a good option. Check the companies named Kura-Kura and Perama.
  • Taxis: Taxi usually operates in the south. It might be where you start after landing at Denpasar international airport. Make sure to go to the official booth to get a fixed rate. If you don’t know the current prices, avoid picking one of the drivers waiting at the arrivals. Alternatively, Bali has its own version of Uber with Grab, it used to be only motorbike ride but now you can find cars too. Prices are usually half of normal taxi companies.
  • Hiring a driver: Another good option for independent travel around the island, especially if you want to get a few sightseeing visits on your way between diving spots without the hassle of driving yourself. The best way to find them is to ask your hotel or guesthouse for recommendations.
  • Bus: This is the solution for long distance travel. When going north to Pemuteran, it can be a good option. You need to go first to the Bus station of the neatest town so you may need a ride to get there and again after arrival at your destination. While being cheap, they are slower and quite unreliable on their timetable.
  • Ferry: Public ferries are the cheapest way to go to Nusa Lembongan and Lombok, but they are slower and with less reliable timetables.
  • Speed-boats: A bit more expensive but still affordable, this is the best way to go to Nusa Lembongan or Nusa Penida from Sanur, and the Gili Islands from Amed.

Where to stay in Bali to go scuba diving?

View of Mount Agung from Amed Beach - Bali

One of the greatest advantages of Bali is the ability to sleep next to your dive site. No need for any early morning car rides, you can be ready in a matter of minutes after waking up. My favourite places to go scuba diving in Bali are Tulamben and Nusa Lembongan. However, Amed and Sanur are also good options.

Bali is one of the best value-for-money destinations in the world. You can book a family run resort with a private bungalow which feels luxurious with their large double bed and open-air bathroom, all of it always being tasteful thanks to local talent wood craftsmen. Due to this you may not need to book luxury hotels and save your money for even more diving that you initially expected. However, I give you a few addresses if you need to treat yourself.

Luxury resorts & villas

Most luxury hotels are usually located in Ubud and in the south of Bali in places like Seminyak or Nusa Dua. If you want to treat yourself with a couple nights of deluxe service, there are a few addresses near popular scuba diving places:

However, in the most rural areas, deluxe rental villas are also a thing for those of us who want to scuba dive in style. Prices starting from 150€ a night included your own private pool!

Guesthouses, homestays & small family-run resorts

Family run guesthouses and small resorts are my favourite options in Bali. I always try to book a private bungalow in the middle of a flower garden near the beach. They have very basic services, but the decoration is always tasteful in all Balinese local craft made furniture, and did I tell you about these open-air bathrooms? Prices in those cosy places usually range from 10 to 40€ a night, depending on season and distance from the beach.

Of all the places I stayed at in Bali, these are my favourite addresses in diving areas:

In Amed, there is such a large choice of cute beach front bungalows, that I let you have a look and pick your favourite. Note: Walking at sunrise on the beach of Amed to see Mount Agung minutes after waking up is something I will never forget.

Hostels & dormitories

Due to the affordability of most accommodation in Bali, hostels were not a thing for a long time. However, they start to appear more and more and especially in places where scuba divers go such as Tulamben or Amed. In a dormitory, a night can be as less than 5€. This is the proof you can also be on a shoestring and travel to Bali.

Here are a few addresses:

Do you need more information to plan your dive trip to Bali? Check these additional articles about travelling and scuba diving in Bali:

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