Diving in Bali
More than just Tulamben and Sunfish
One of the most beautiful islands in the world, Bali is Indonesia's most popular dive holiday destination. Many visitors find the attraction of good shore-based resort diving set against a stunning back drop of huge, magnificent volcanoes and picturesque rice paddy terraces, simply irresistible.
The waters of this island are surprisingly unheralded. Bali scuba diving isn't simply the holiday 'extra' that some people might imagine. Previously the preserve of surfers and beach holiday types, nowadays the island sees an increasing number of tourists hauling dive bags around.
Indeed, one of the greatest features of Bali are the incredibly rich and varied dive sites. Deep drop-offs and steep banks, coral ridges and bommies, one of the most famous wrecks in the world, volcanic outcrops and seagrass beds are all part of the underwater tapestry. With its colourful and diverse marine life, there's enough here to keep you coming back for more.
To the east of the island lies the Lombok Strait, the first deep water trench directly to the east of the Asian continental shelf. Through this channel flows the greatest volume of tidal water on earth. This Pacific Ocean can create some powerful currents and rollercoaster rides that characterise some of the dive sites. It also means regular visits from large and unusual pelagic fish like the incredible mola mola, or sunfish. The strong currents can also clean the water and create fantastic visibility.
There is something for everyone; allow yourself to be surprised for you never really know just what you might see in this ever-changing underwater kingdom. Experienced divers will enjoy the thrill of the currents around Nusa Penida, beginners will love the simplicity of the sites in Amed and Padang Bai, and photographers will flock to the muck diving sites of Tulamben.
All of this combined with the friendliness of the Balinese people, glorious weather, white sandy beaches and recent marine protection measures make Bali an increasingly sought after destination by divers from across the world.
Dive Site Descriptions
Amed - The east side of the north facing shallow bay of Cemeluk has dense stands of sloping staghorn corals, teeming with cardinalfish. Here you can see striped convict tangs, sailfin tangs and orange-lined triggerfish quite close to the Bali shoreline.
Off the slope, you will come to a steep wall of hydriods, sponges and sea fans, dropping down to over 40 metres. The fish life here is prolific with bluefin trevally, bumphead parrotfish, tuna, black and white snappers, Indian triggerfish cascading down the walls. Dense growths of gorgonian fans and barrel sponges, and large outcroppings dot the reef, harbouring common lionfish and bearded scorpionfish.
The west side of the bay offers some quite contrasting scuba diving. Here, you'll start in the shallow coral flats with scattered bommies and metal artificial reef crates on the grey sand bottom, before making your way to the deeper ocean-facing wall. There are gorgonians here too, colourful soft coral trees and masses of tube sponges. Dozens of blue-spotted stingrays rest in the shallows and red octopus are quite common here too.
Back in the sandy shallows of the bay there is some coral bleaching from the El Niño of 1998, where the natural reef recovery process is slow but gradual. However, keep your wits about you, as this is one of the best places on the island to find shy ribbon eels in the sand, and clown triggerfish.
Biaha - You can be forgiven for questioning the wisdom of diving here as you are thrown around on the surface before descending at this site, close to Candi Dasa. A quick glance into the water below will reveal countless fish being tossed back and forth by the swell.
Once down it is unlikely to be too much trouble. Good buoyancy and position-awareness will help you enjoy what is one of the best spots for scuba diving on the east coast of Bali. The dive will start with a visit to cave at about 8 metres. Here the swell seems to disappear remarkably but you may feel its effects as pressure variations in your ears.
Concentrating on the sights will reward you with several white-tip reef sharks in this cave. Bali is renowned for its sharks so the sight of at least half a dozen together is not uncommon. Lionfish and a few good sized lobsters also call the cave home and combine to make the first few moments of this dive more than entertaining.
Leaving the cave you will re-enter the to-and-fro of the swell as you turn right heading along the wall where above you the waves break against the island's shore. The wall is a tapestry of colours and activity. Sponges, hard and soft corals, whip corals, crinoids and featherstars are among the sessile splashes of colour. Cracks and crevices in the wall provide homes for mantis shrimps, morays, lionfish and octopus. You won't have a dull moment here as there is always something to catch the eye.
For those who take pleasure in small things, there are various types of colourful nudibranchs dotted around and plenty of commensal shrimps creeping in perfect camouflage along the length of the sea whips upon which they station themselves. Rising slowly along the wall you will come to a sharp point where the wall then disappears back at a sharp angle. Depending on your remaining air at the end of your dive, you will either explore this area from 15 metres or so or ascend to the waiting boat as hundreds of red tooth triggers flutter their blue farewell.
Candi Dasa (Amuk Bay) - 3 km southeast from Candi Dasa, Amuk Bay, lies the little rocky islet of Gili Tepekong that has some of the most spectacular diving Bali has to offer. Tepekong is just 100m wide, the coral walls are steep, the water is cold, and the current can be strong but, for an experienced diver, drifting with an up to 5 knot current through Tepekong's canyon is an unforgettable and dramatic underwater experience.
Lying to the southwest of Tepekong, the canyon starts at 24m and drops to 32m. The canyon is also known as "The Toilet" as the currents can be very strong with down-pull into the canyon when there is surface swell. However, the clear rushing waters are sure to bring you teeming encounters with white-tip reef sharks and huge schools of big-eye trevally and rainbow runners, as you hang on to the boulders.
East and north of Tepekong you can dive to 25m and the relatively protected sloping reef is dominated by table corals, gullies and boulders, fallen from above.
In the shallower waters the overhang at the bottom of Tepekong's walls is a great place for rock groupers, Napoleon wrasse and schools of yellow-ribbon sweetlips.
2 kilometres southeast from Amuk Bay, lies Gili Mimpang, a cluster of 3 exposed rocks. The atmosphere here is often charged and alive with action. White-tip reef sharks patrol the scattered rocks and boulders and pelagic fish such as tuna and sunfish are commonly seen. Pink squat lobsters can be found in the barrel sponges. Bali has alluring, colourful charms as well as more dramatic action packed diving encounters.
The site bottoms out at 30m and you'll come across bumphead parrotfish, longfin bannerfish as well as schooling batfish. Acropora table corals and leather corals dominate the shallows with blue-spotted sting rays and black-blotched sting rays occupying the surrounding sand patches.
Gili Selang - Gili Selang is a small islet lying just off the eastern most point of Bali. Its relatively isolated location make it a popular choice on liveaboard cruises.
The protected areas in the shallows between the mainland and Gili Selang host large colonies of leather corals and brain corals. Directly to the north of the island lies the most protected section of the site. As you work your way down the black sand reef slope you'll find big black coral bushes and gorgonian fans, hosting Bargibant's seahorse.
However, it's the proximity to deep water channels that makes this site popular with adventurous divers. The cobbly east side of the island plunges sharply beyond recreational diving limits, and the swift currents attract giant trevally, grey reef sharks and deep water pelagics such as hammerhead sharks.
Schools of jacks rotate in perfect gyres during daylight. They form their schools for protection from barracudas. Then at night they seperate to hunt smaller fish.
'Current-swept' can be an understatement here and down currents can be treacherous. You may need to make the most of any protection offered by lee pockets to the south of the islet, to make for shallower waters. Drifting down the outer edge of Gili Selang, you can sense the full and sometimes alarming strength of the Lombok Strait.
Lembongan Island - Nusa Penida - Away from the crowds of mainland Bali, just off Nusa Lembongan, lies Blue Corner where there are common sightings of one of the most incredible and odd-looking creatures of the sea - the sunfish. Spot one here and you can tick off a major diving 'must see'. Emerge slightly shaken by the changeable currents but with a smile that won't leave your face for the rest of the day.
Menjangan Island - 8 kilometres off the north west coast in Barat National Park lies Deer Island, or Menjangan, one of the more popular Bali diving destinations. Due to its protected location, waves are rarely a problem and the visibility is occasionally mind blowing.
Menjangan's walls drop down to 30 metres on the south coast and 60 metres to the east. They are decorated with an enormous proliferation of gorgonian fans, pink, purple, green, yellow, orange, and some very large specimens too. You can find minute yellow and pink pygmy seahorses, especially around the 25 metres depth.
The walls are scarred with many nooks and crannies, caverns and overhangs, covered with soft corals and sponges. It's an excellent diving opportunity to look for black-spotted moray eels and ribbon eels. Often you'll find hingebeak shrimps and cleaner shrimps waiting at the crag openings for passing clients. Coral trout arrive, mouths agape to have their teeth cleaned of parasites and small food incrustations by transparent palaemonid shrimp.
Ever-curious roundface batfish, cuttlefish and Picasso and titan triggerfish are often seen here, as are gold-striped and giant fusiliers.
The north side of the island holds the infrequently visited Anker Wreck, a 25 metre long 19th century wooden ship, that carried ceramics and copper. A large coral-encrusted anchor in 5 metres of water marks the location of the wreck at the top of the reef edge. Follow the wall down to 30 metres depth. The bow of the wreck lies at the bottom of the wall and whip corals and gorgonians. The deepest section is the stern at 50 metres, and this is home to white-tip reef sharks.
All diving trips to Menjangan leave from Labuhan Lalang, a small jetty on the Bali mainland. 8 metre simple park service boats must be used for transportation to the island.
Padang Bay - 50 metres off shore directly in front of the shrine after which it was named, lies Pura Jepun. The reef starts as a shallow ledge at a depth of 10 metres. Swim further to sea, and a slope will take you down to 20 metres, after which a sandy bottom levels out at 40 metres. The slope is dominated by magnificent anemones, black and yellow featherstars and sea squirts. Oriental sweetlips, boxfish and yellow trumpetfish are common on dives here.
On the sand you can see lizardfish or you may be lucky to spot the heavily camouflaged peacock flounder, peering up at you with its 2 eyes, both on the same side of its flattened head. In the shallows cruise crocodile long toms, or needlefish.
Tanjung Sari is the name of the headland on the left as you come out of Padang Bay. It is the most different and surprising of all the dives here. It has a distinct population of sharks, such as cat sharks, nurse sharks, wobbegongs and reef sharks. Rare critters such as shrimps, crabs and nudibranchs, mean this site is very popular for night diving. As ever, Bali can turn up the most amazing creatures, just when you least expect it.
Blue Lagoon lies just around the corner from Padang Bay, and is rather imaginatively named since it is neither blue nor a lagoon. It's a protected and shallow, patchy reef of scattered staghorn corals and hydroids. Its unremarkable nature belies the potential for unusual sightings such as stonefish, octopus and eels.
Tanjung Bungsil is a shallow dive to the south of Padang Bay Harbour, but the fish life here is still very good. Blue-faced and 6-banded angelfish and clown triggerfish will brighten up your dive.
Pemuteran - 2 kilometres to the east of Pemuteran (Permuteran) in north west Bali and a couple of kilometres offshore lies Napoleon Reef. This submerged reef rises to 5 metres from the surface and slopes down to 30 metres to the north, providing some easy paced scuba diving in north west Bali.
The slopes are dominated by soft corals, sea fans and small table corals. Shy masked porcupinefish peek out from under the ledges with their large, round eyes. Pygmy seahorses and spider crabs hang out in the pink gorgonians. The Pemuteran sea bed is covered with fields of clasping flower corals and delicate blue vase sponges.
Close by on 22 metres lies the empty 16 metre long hull of a scuttled diving boat, generously "donated" by one of the local dive operators. Reef-fin squid and large cuttlefish can be seen as well as the occasional school of bigeye trevally.
Other dive sites in the Pemuteran area, such as Close Encounters - famed for its encounters with big fish such as mackerel, tuna and barracuda, and Rock Garden, offer large fields of shore-based hard coral reefs and boulder pinnacles with a large array of macro life including colourful nudibranchs and flatworms.
In 1998 the House Reef at Pemuteran was devastated by El Niño. So in 2001, this reef became the first in Bali to be sponsored by an artificial re-generation project, funded by the Global Coral Reef Alliance and Yos Marine Adventures. Over 40 large grid-like structures of all shapes and sizes were sunk, and live coral samples were attached. The reef receives electronic stimulus from shore and responds with remarkable growth rates. The local village has buoyed the area and guard it as a no-fishing exclusion zone, so that fish stocks can re-group too. So far, although still incomplete, the project has proven to be a well-deserved success.
You can visit the area and dive around the various shapes and structures of the artificial reef and see for yourself the remarkable results of this ground-breaking, yet controversial method of preserving the marine habitat.
Secret Bay - Just to the east of the Bali-to-Java ferry terminal in the small village of Gilimanuk in northwest Bali, lie the calm waters of Secret Bay. Although not in the same league as other muck diving destinations such as Lembeh Strait, this dive spot has a fair collection of its own treasures waiting to be discovered; it's definitely worth a dive or 2.
Heading out north west from the shore side, you'll descend onto a very shallow and bare, brown sandy bottom. First thing you'll notice no doubt are the red and white segmented sea cucumbers, very common in this bay. Striped goatfish nuzzle through the sand with their barbels, filtering food.
Dragonets can be seen by the keen eyed scuba diver, crawling across the bottom, with their brightly coloured, spiny dorsal fins raised when agitated. Pink and grey seahorses are quite common and you can find them riding across the open sands, or hooked to a fallen branch.
Wind your way further away from shore, inspecting the cement blocks and other man-made detritous. These objects often harbour more unusual sights. Brown hairy frogfish lumber into striking position, lures poised for a catch. Bearded scorpionfish lurk too for unsuspecting fish. Yellow-margin moray eels peer out from the under-edges.
Deeper sections of the sand bottom attract large beds of black slate-pencil sea urchins and diadema sea urchins, their long spines protecting brown cardinalfish from falling prey to devil scorpionfish. Here too you can find snake eels, staring up from the sand bed, only their heads revealed.
Complete your dive back towards shore, near the police boat mooring station. Here you can find harlequin (ornate) ghost pipefish, cockatoo leaf fish, upsidedown jellyfish and the rather unusual green-striped pufferfish. Hermit crabs and blue crabs scuttle across the bottom looking for scraps of sunken food.
Bali's Secret Bay is very shallow, has no coral and hardly any usual fish to speak of. As such, scuba diving here will only appeal to those that have an active interest in searching out the odd and unusual species that form part of our underwater world.
Tulamben - The USS Liberty is a wreck dive of international renown. Just off the stony shore of Tulamben lies the most beautifully colourful wreck you can imagine. Easy access, mild conditions and shallow water mean that everyone can enjoy the splendour of this wreck and interact with the myriad species that call it home.
How to Dive Bali
Staying on the coast, either in the north-east or east of the island, will allow you to see all of Bali's charms (and a few of its warts) and most of the dives you will want to do are more easily accessible from here. Nusa Lembongan Island is also a great base for divers and those who want to see the region the way it was 30 years ago.
If your intention is truly to see all the best diving that Bali has to offer then you can join a unique 12 night safari which will take you to all 4 corners of the island and to every great dive spot, all in 1 fully-guided trip. Land transfers will transport you to each new destination staying in hand-picked 3 and 4 star hotels in each of Pemuteran, Amed, Sanur and Candi Dasa. Each day you will dive with the same guide from the same catamaran that follows you around the island.
Don't let anyone tell you to stay in Kuta or Sanur - unless you want to be surrounded by Aussies buying T-shirts from locals with even stronger Aussie accents than their would-be customers. Divers should steer clear of this part of Bali as there aren't any good dive sites nearby and to base yourself here will mean long daily journeys to the sites by minibus. But if this really is your only option then check out our prices for Bali day trip diving.
The dive season is year round in Bali although conditions do vary from time to time and location to location. December to March is rainy season (although most days it doesn't rain) and there are fewer divers around. However, visibility is sometimes a little reduced around the north and west of the island.
The best conditions to dive in Tulamben can be found between early April to July, October and November. It is dry season during these months and visibility can reach a spectacular 40 metres at this time of year.
The diving around Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida is good all year round and visibility is generally 20-30 metres. Water temperatures are usually 25-26°C except during mola mola season when it can drop to the low 20's. Sunfish, sharks and other large pelagics are best spotted between June and September which is also the time when seas might be both disturbed and enriched by the monsoon winds. The best time to see mantas is from April until June, although they are present all year round.
Good for: Large animals, small animals, drift diving, visibility, advanced divers and non-diving activities
Not so good for: Underwater photography and snorkelling
Depth: 5 - >40m
Visibility: 10 - 45m
Currents: Can be very strong
Surface conditions: Calm
Water temperature: 19 - 26°C
Experience level: Beginner - advanced
Number of dive sites: ~50
Access: Scuba resorts
Recommended length of stay: 1 - 2 weeks