Bali is paradise twice over. Above the water, it’s a tropical haven full of friendly locals, with sweeping arcs of golden sand and rich green rice terraces stretching as far as the eye can see. But there’s more... far more.
Beneath the waves that lap Bali’s shores and crash against its sun-soaked cliff tops, there’s a second paradise to explore. The turquoise waters surrounding the Bali coastline are awash with skittish rainbow fish, kaleidoscopic coral, sleek manta rays and graceful, wrinkly sea turtles. It’s a vivid underwater world just begging to be explored.
So grab your snorkel mask, tuck your flippers under your arm and wade out into the beautiful big blue with our guest blogger - veteran traveller and snorkelling enthusiast Bryony Holland.
Life doesn’t get more laid back than Gili Meno. A tiny teardrop of a tropical island across the Bali Strait, it’s a little slice of paradise both above and below the waves. From the near-abandoned beaches of Gili Meno, you can simply walk straight into calm, clear waters for a true snorkelling treat.
Beneath the castaway northern coastline of the island, you’ll bump into the famous ‘Meno Wall’, guaranteed to bring all of your Finding Nemo fantasies to life. Here, hawksbill and leatherback turtles idle peacefully past, giant gorgonian fans hang amongst colourful corals, and blue-spotted stingrays slip and slide through the seas.
Visibility is great all year round and the waters are scary-critter free, making them perfect for family snorkelling fun. After you hang up your flippers for the day, you can swing gently in a hammock and watch a fiery sunset as the coconut palms rustle in the breeze. It’s pure barefoot escapism - the place to live out your wildest desert island dreams.
This is so much more than a snorkelling hotspot. Located on the quiet north-eastern coast of Bali, Tulamben itself is a sleepy fishing village with rocky volcanic shores. However, concealed beneath its waters sits a snorkelling surprise that will leave your head spinning inside your mask.
Just 25m offshore, you’ll stumble (or should I say snorkel) across the United States Army Transport Liberty shipwreck. The ship was torpedoed by the Japanese in 1942 and towed towards Tulamben to be salvaged. However, in 1963 Mt. Agung erupted, consigning the ship to its shallow seabed grave forever. These days the wreck is covered almost completely with coral, providing a quirky, hide-and-seek home for all kinds of sea life.
Only a small handful of shipwrecks across the world can be reached with a snorkel, so this is something that will stick with you forever. Wriggling along the vast, spooky carcass of the ship marooned on its dark volcanic bed, you’ll find a multicolour mass of coral, sponges, gorgonians, frogfish, ghostpipe fish and boxer crab. Not to mention the resident school of trevally, dozens of harlequin sweetlips, lashings of lion fish, scores of scorpion fish and masses of moray eels! It’s pinch-me-please, spine-tingling stuff.
Nusa Penida is an easy-to-reach island off the south coast of Bali. Here, beneath the silvery smooth surface of the water, you’ll find a flamboyant showcase of tropical fish on permanent parade and maybe, just maybe, a manta ray or two. It’s somewhere that will open your eyes to the staggering diversity of The Deep and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
One of Nusa Penida’s star snorkelling spots is Crystal Bay, equally as fantastical as its name suggests. The water here really is crystal clear and the coral is thriving, complete with darting neon damsels, clown trigger fish, puffer fish, bat fish, parrot fish, moray eels and turtles lolloping through the blue.
Padang Bai is home to the Blue Lagoon, a snorkelling wonderland attached to a tiny secret beach. Here, the water is warm, calm and incredibly clear, the coral reef runs right up to the shore, and the sea is fit to burst with fascinating marine life. The area is a playground for contented cuttle fish and a rainbow assortment of emperor angel fish, surgeon fish, moorish idols, moray eels, cow fish and sometimes even hawksbill turtles. It’s a real heart-stealer of a place.
Padang Bai itself is a bustling harbour and ferry-hopping point, but its secluded snorkelling coves are easily accessible and overflowing with otherworldly sea life. In addition to the Blue Lagoon, Bias Tugal and Jepun are sheltered nearby coves, tucked away from tourist-heavy waters. Here, you can sneak off for an undisturbed snorkel in peaceful seas, far from the masked-and-flippered masses.
Amed is the Bali that time forgot. A string of authentic, snoozy fishing villages scattered along the scenic north east coast, it’s worlds away from the bright lights of southern Bali. Not only is the journey to reach Amed packed full of stunning panoramas, it’s also a great place to snorkel straight from the shore.
Jemeluk Bay is the most impressive snorkelling spot around Amed, with a coral reef that follows the sweep of the coastline located just offshore. The coral formations are dazzling and loaded with large trevally, groupers, parrot fish, lion fish, harlequin sweetlips, blue striped snappers, emperor angel fish, bat fish, moorish idols, banner fish, bumphead parrot fish and turtles. In other words, there’s plenty to keep your eyes popping and your flippers doing overtime.
Just 7km from Jemeluk, you’ll find another gasp-inside-your-mask snorkelling spot. Only 20m from a hushed little black sand bay called Banyuning, lies a Japanese shipwreck. Much smaller and far less frequently visited than Tulamben, it’s a great place to explore a genuine shipwreck in peace. The Japanese Wreck is wedged in very shallow waters and encrusted with corals, sponges, and gorgonian sea fans. Its undersea tenants include anthias, parrotfish, angelfish and even, occasionally, pygmy seahorses.
This is the unspoilt underwater Bali that most tourists never see. An isolated islet off the far northwest coast, Menjangan is an untouched marine wilderness of eye-popping beauty. It’s off-the-beaten-snorkel-path - a secluded gem that’s easily overlooked. Those who do venture up here are richly repaid with impossibly clear waters teeming with tropical sea life and gently swaying coral of every colour under the sun.
The island itself is uninhabited and forms part of the Bali Barat National Park. Here, you’ll feel almost alone, so it’s a great place to get lost in your own private snorkelling world. When you come up for a break, you’ll see the Java coastline stretch out before your eyes. It’s a truly magical spot.
The protected marine park contains over 100 unique species of technicolour coral as well as angel fish, lion fish, surgeon fish and eels. If you’re lucky, you might even spy a turtle or two. Menjangan is also famous for its incredible gorgonian sea fans, so you won’t be disappointed. This is snorkelling in Bali at its most remote and, arguably, at its most rewarding.