Just a bit of context...
I’ve been going to Bali on a regular basis for 25 years. Yeah. That’s a long time.
For my first visit, I was 7, my dad was working in Indonesia and though I lived in France with my mother, I visited him for summer holidays. I remember when it wasn’t as touristy as today, when Nusa Dua wasn’t full of malls and five-star hotels (there were some super luxurious resorts, don’t take me wrong, but definitely not as many as today).
Now I’m older, my dad’s retired but he’s living there full time with my stepmom and step-siblings, so I keep visiting them. Bali’s beautiful but it’s still a relatively small island so I‘ve been looking for ways to make my trips a bit more interesting.
This is where the magic of Instagram happened
All those travel content creators posting pictures of the next big Instagram Paradise, Nusa Penida. Each photo more beautiful than the last. From Kelingking Beach to the beautiful Tree House on a cliff, I wanted to see it all. I had to know what this Instagram Paradise was all about. Keep in mind that all this happened before the whole plague thing.
My friend and I decided to book a tour of Nusa Penida. I’m afraid of driving abroad, and he doesn’t have a driving license, so we chose one of the agencies at the port and made a package deal with them. Two days, one night on the island (we would have to book the hotel separately), transportation and entry included, plus lunches, for about 950 000 Rp. per person. An overall nice package that we got tailored to what we wanted to do.
Here was the plan:
On the first day, we had to take the boat at 8 am, then we were taken to Broken Beach and Angel’s Billabong (which are located right next to each other you don’t even have to take the car), then Kelingking Beach, then lunchtime, then Crystal Bay and then they would take us to the hotel of our choice.
On the second day, pick up at the hotel around 9 am, we would do the east of the island with Diamond Beach and Atuh Beach (again very close to each other), the Tree House, then lunchtime, then Teletubbies Hills. We would then take the boat back to Bali at 4 pm.
So what happened?
First of all, you have to know that Nusa Penida is a very very dry island. My dad and stepmom call it “the rock”, you won’t find the luxurious forest jungles of Bali there. And I know I should have expected this, this one’s on me. I hate the heat.
As a big girl, and I’m sure a lot of you reading these lines are the same, I’m doing fine in the cold but if the temperature exceeds 70°F, I die on the inside, thanks to that extra thick layer of fat under my skin. So I’m extra glad we had a car with a driver and air conditioning because it really saved my life there. It was so hot I’m pretty sure I was being slow-cooked to be eaten later.
Imagine this extremely dry land, with temperatures way above what you usually experience in the area and not a single tree to take shelter under. It was extremely uncomfortable to be outside for more than 10 minutes.
Also, I’m not sure how to put it, but it felt like because I’m not as fit as a lot of people there, some places were inaccessible to me.
I’m big, but I’m also active. I move quite well, though I’m not in the same shape as people who do fitness every day. Of the 4 beaches we went to, only one was accessible without having to go through the pain of going downstairs carved directly in the cliff, a path that would take you about an hour to go down and two hours to come back up.
I mean, maybe I would have tried, but not with that dying heat. I only did the 250 steps (each of them as high as my knee) up and down for the Tree House and that was more than enough for me.
That may be why my favorite beach there was Crystal Bay, it was easily accessible and absolutely lovely.
But overall it felt like I was taken from place to place just to see a cliff, not being able to enjoy the sea, the cool atmosphere, and feel all the hype this place was about. We were on the road more than anything else, and since this Instagram Paradise developed in such a short time span, most roads are still a work in progress and really difficult to drive. If you tend to suffer from motion sickness, don’t go there. It was bad at the point that even our driver got sick.
And lastly, it was too superficial. I would have loved to learn more about the culture and history of Nusa Penida, the “dark island” where demons are sent after they’re banished from Bali. It’s partly my fault, I should have asked the tour operator for something like this, but I wasn’t expecting to only find cliffs where you have to wait in line for 20 minutes to take a picture and then leave.
My suggestions for a better trip
I know I’m complaining a lot (or at least it feels like it), but, overall, I’m glad I did it, even if it didn’t go very well. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t know the truth about this Instagram Paradise. I’m also one of those people who think bad experiences make for the best stories for later.
That said…maybe I’ll go back someday. But I would do a couple of things differently.
First of all, I would stay longer than 2 days, so I wouldn’t have to rush everything. I’m not sure about renting a scooter and it would probably still cost me a pretty penny to hire a driver for each day, but I would definitely like to stay closer to 4 or 5 days. I’d like to take it easy. Spend half a day in Crystal Bay, maybe do a small boat tour, do a picnic on the beach, take time to take a swim in the clear blue water.
Because it really was the bluest water I have ever seen in my entire life (so far).
I would probably also take time to book a snorkeling experience with Manta Rays. It sounds absolutely awesome!
I would also like to use the extra time to avoid the most touristy places and go to the more off-the-beaten-path places that aren’t in the basic tour packages like Giri Putri, a temple in a cave on the eastern side of the island.
Also next time I’d consider visiting during the rainy season. We were there at the end of the dry season, most of the greens were dead, and I love forests more than beaches, it probably influenced my experience as a whole. Plus you know, more greens = more shadow = less heat and that sounds perfect to me!
Every experience, good or bad, is a life lesson, especially in travel.
I hope that sharing my not-so-good Instagram Paradise experience will help you make more informed choices, and I really do hope some of you will like it there, more than I did. See you around!