Snorkelling With Manta Rays in Nusa Penida, Bali

January 24, 2024laurenslighthouse

I had been dreaming of seeing manta rays in the wild for years! Already having visited the Maldives a couple of times, there were instances of manta rays gliding near the shore or even under my dinner table. And every single time I had missed them! It was always one of those cases where everyone around you seems to have had the beautiful creatures in their line of sight and before you whip your head around to see them, they’re already gone.

Apart from watching them move gracefully above me at the Dubai Aquarium, I had never once caught sight of one in the ocean. And when I heard that there was even a slight chance of spotting manta rays while snorkelling in the west bays of Nusa Penida, it was a no-brainer to book that boat tour!

In this post, I’ll be detailing our experience snorkelling along the western coast of Nusa Penida during a 3-hour tour. We hit up three spots namely Manta Bay, Gamat Bay and Crystal Bay, all with stunningly clear waters where we also got to practice our free diving. Spoiler alert: I finally got to see and swim with the majestic mantas! Not one, but three came into view while we were in the water! This will always go down as one of my most memorable bucket list experiences.

Getting to Nusa Penida

Before we get into the exciting details of swimming with the manta rays along one of the most beautiful coastlines, let’s talk about how to actually get to Penida Island. Getting to Nusa Penida is fairly easy, especially if you’re coming from Bali. You can take a fast boat or ferry, depending on your budget, departure location and schedule.

Because the distance isn’t terribly far between the islands, whether you take a speedboat or “slow” ferry doesn’t make much difference in time. In fact, it might only be about 10-15 minutes’ difference.

The ferries are a much bigger boat, giving you room to walk around, typically with more comfortable seating and air-conditioning in the lower deck. The fast boats are smaller with the wind coming through the front as the only means to stay cool during the journey. It’s a faster yet bumpier ride. And you might get splashed on with sea water if you’re in the front on a day when the waters are choppier!

We’ve taken both the fast boats and slow ferries between the islands, and don’t necessarily have a preference. So long as the craft gets us from A to B efficiently and are priced reasonably, we don’t care! But it simply comes down to where you’re departing from and which company you book with.

Fast Boat or Ferry From Bali

Taking the boat from Bali, you’ll very likely leave from the Sanur port, though some companies operate from Padang Bai. From Sanur, you can expect the boat ride to be about 35 to 45 minutes, give or take, for a direct journey.

Sanur is a popular pick for its frequent departures and proximity to most of the best places to stay in Bali. The Sanur harbour is within a 30-minute to 1-hour drive from Seminyak, Ubud, Nusa Dua and Uluwatu, with easy traffic. A Grab ride won’t put you over budget for that journey!

When we booked our ferry and fast boat rides in Bali and Lombok, we always used 12Go Asia. It lists all the available options, schedule and shows a rating for the experience as well! It makes it easy to secure your transfer in advance and online.

Full Transfer From Bali Hotel

If you’re looking for a hassle-free booking to get you from your hotel in Bali to Nusa Penida, without having to figure out the land and sea transfers yourself, you can book that directly with GetYourGuide. I would recommend this more for solo travellers who are staying some distance away from Sanur, as a Grab or taxi ride might be more costly.

Be sure to check the Bali regions that are included for hotel pickup! Seminyak, Kuta and Jimbaran are among those listed, but Ubud and further north regions are not.

Fast Boat or Ferry From Lombok

When we visited Nusa Penida, we actually came straight from Lombok. Now, most operators go direct to Penida Island instead of connecting through Bali in Padang Bai. From the Bangsal port, it usually takes about 1.5 hours to 2.5 hours by boat to get to Nusa Penida. The pier is in the northwest of the island, so if you’re staying elsewhere, like we were in Senggigi, you’ll need to arrange land transport to get to the port.

12Go has quite a number of options for fast boats and ferries going from Lombok to Nusa Penida! We ended up booking with Starfish and have no complaints.

Day Tour From Bali

If you’re tight on time or not keen on an island stay, day tours from Bali are a solid option. You could snag a day trip, get your manta fix and even explore the island’s gems, and be back in Bali for dinner!

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Staying in Nusa Penida

We opted to soak in the Penida vibe for four days and stayed in Toya Pakeh, the main town on the island. Toya Pakeh is also where the seafront town that the ferry port of the island is, so if you want to stay in walking distance from the pier, this is your best bet.

Our guesthouse called Citiz’s House was just a 10-minute walk from the speedboat harbour, making those morning departures a breeze. Walking to and from the guesthouse was albeit very tiring, as we dragged our suitcases and carried our heavy camera backpacks through a forest trail and along the sandy road of town.

View of Mount Agung, Bali from the boat harbour

But staying on Nusa Penida for a few nights gave us the chance to explore beyond just the snorkelling spots and witness some of those amazing views our eyes have ever seen.

The iconic Kelingking Beach and Thousand Island Viewpoint are two of many incredible landscapes on the island. You search up images of Bali, and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about when I say “T-Rex Beach,” i.e. Kelingking! It is one of the most jaw-dropping sights in Penida, and being able to come straight here shortly after sunrise with the fewest number of people was a moment to remember forever.

Have I convinced you yet to stay in Nusa Penida, at least for a few nights?

Best Time to Swim with Manta Rays in Nusa Penida

Though you might hear otherwise, manta rays can be spotted year round in the coastal waters of Nusa Penida. You can scuba dive and snorkel with the gentle giants any month of the year as they are frequent visitors to the island’s shores. Particularly making appearances near Manta Bay on the West coast and further south to Manta Point. The question is whether one season may be especially optimal for swimming with mantas.

Bali’s dry season is more or less between May and October. These months offer clearer skies and calmer seas, perfect for island hopping and underwater exploration. During this season, an upwelling occurs, which is the process of deep, cold, nutrient-rich water rising to the surface. And of course, those rich nutrients include plankton, the primary food source for mantas.

The mantas particularly frequent the coast near Manta Point and Manta Bay. But here’s the kicker: it’s all about timing and a little luck. One day you could see a dozen swimming near the surface, the next day none! Even if you’re in the waters at the same time of day with ideal conditions.

For your best chances at swimming with the gentle giants, pick a clear day with lower winds if you can. If it didn’t rain the previous day, even better! That’ll make for less choppy waters and higher underwater visibility. We had very little rain compared to what we expected when we were in Bali last March. Mid-March in Nusa Penida last year was pretty much perfect for our time swimming with the manta rays!

Why Can So Many Manta Rays Be Found on the Coast of Nusa Penida?

Manta Bay and Manta Point are known for their “cleaning stations”. Cleaning stations are where manta rays gather for a spa day of sorts. Here, smaller fish like cleaner wrasses nibble away parasites from the mantas’ skin, offering a unique opportunity for up close encounters.

Keep an eye out for this natural phenomenon during your snorkelling adventure as they’ll put on quite a show! Not only do manta rays, but turtles and smaller ray species will gather here for their spa retreat.

A young manta ray gliding above the ocean floor of Nusa Penida's Manta Bay. You can see the rays of sun shining through the water and the shot is taken from above the manta.

On top of having cleaning stations, Manta Bay and Manta Point offer themselves up as feeding stations as well! Thanks to their plankton-rich waters, no doubt, which also include jellyfish. Yes, jellyfish! When we were snorkelling at the Gili Islands not too far from here, off the coast of Lombok the week prior, we were being stung left and right by the tiny creatures! It wasn’t anything too painful but those itchy zaps are still uncomfortable, making for a less pleasant underwater experience.

So, although the small jellyfish attract the mantas to these waters for their morning meals, a word of advice is to have on protective swimwear to limit the stings, at least on your upper body! I wore my rashguard swimsuit for this purpose, and thankfully the waters were not filled with those stingers when we were snorkelled in Manta Bay.

Manta Bay vs. Manta Point

Although Manta Point is a truly iconic spot to swim with manta rays, it’s mostly reserved for scuba divers. The reason why is because Manta Point is located on the south coast of Nusa Penida, where the ocean swell can be high. Where Manta Bay is on the west coast, shielded by Penida’s sister islands Nusa Lembongan and Ceningan as well as the Badung Strait, Manta Point is left exposed to the open sea of the Indian Ocean.

Bigger boats for scuba diving tours are better suited for the rougher seas of Manta Point. Divers can get really up close to when the manta rays go over the cleaning station here.

But don’t worry friends, Manta Bay is just as magical to experience! Instead, the manta rays come up to the surface here as the calmer waters make for better feeding grounds. There are very few places in the world where you so can easily snorkel with manta rays, especially at the incredibly low price of $20 USD or less!

How Safe Is Manta Bay for Swimming?

You’ve probably come to realize that in order to swim with manta rays, you’re likely not getting into shallow waters. In fact, Manta Bay is 8-12 meters deep on average, and eventually slopes to about 30 meters deep. Those 8-12 meters may seem deep but don’t worry, you will be able to see the bottom.

So long as the weather conditions are good, visibility is about 10-15 meters, allowing you to witness the mantas glide along the ocean floor!

If you feel uncomfortable at all, communicate with the boat crew and guides to use a life jacket. Don’t get into the water unless you’re 100% sure you’re comfortable with being there!

Lauren gliding in the deeper and darker waters of Manta Bay, snorkel in mouth. You can barely see the surface of the water as the shot is taken above, but the coral reef on the sea floor gives an eery feeling, though she is lit up by the sun rays piercing through.

Apart from the mental trip you might face of slightly deeper water, so long as the weather is good, Manta Bay is definitely a relaxing place to snorkel. The currents are very calm and so are the waves. And part from those potentially stinging jellyfish, you don’t have other harmful marine life to worry about when you’re swimming in Manta Bay!

Even though snorkelling is a pretty easy going activity, it involves getting into a medium that we, as humans, aren’t necessarily built for. Anything can happen in the deep blue! I’ve had my fair share of saltwater rashes and, as you know, jellyfish stings. And while manta rays are the gentlest of the ray family, don’t forget you’re entering their habitat. Get yourself covered before you go on that boat trip with an all-encompassing travel insurance! SafetyWing is our go-to as it’s the most affordable and well-rounded on the market! You can start and stop it any time, even if you’re already travelling.

The Manta Ray Snorkelling Experience

Whether you’ve booked your tour to start directly in Nusa Penida like the one we did, or to have you be picked up in mainland Bali, you’ll likely hit up the same few spots to snorkel. The main one is of course Manta Bay. This is the one stop where your boat crew will scout for the stunning creatures and where you’ll have the chance to swim with them!

After that, you’ll have the opportunity to snorkel at one or two other spots along the western coast of Nusa Penida. Those will likely be Crystal Bay and/or Gamat Bay.

If you book a day tour that brings you over from Bali, you might also get to snorkel at Nusa Lembongan before hopping over to Nusa Penida! Or, if you couldn’t leave Penida without hitting up those iconic sea cliff viewpoints I mentioned, you could spend half your day snorkelling and the other half exploring the western coast landmarks!

The two things that all these snorkel tours also have in common are that you’ll be travelling by speedboat to hit up the snorkel spots, and your snorkel gear is included! Make sure to give yourself enough time to try on your snorkel, mask and fins. Yes, fins should be included with your tour as they’re pretty important to help you keep up with the mantas!

And you’ll want to avoid any gear malfunctions if you can by making sure your mask and snorkel are functioning and fit you properly. The last thing you want is to get in the water just to find out something’s not working and you’ll have to sit on the sidelines while others marvel at the majestic mantas!

Gearing Up for the Manta Ray Snorkelling Tour

As we were staying a 10-minute walk from the boat harbour and didn’t yet know the shortcut to get to the pier, our wonderful guesthouse hostess Echa offered to give us a ride on her motorbike instead of letting us walk the way! She knew the folks at Dolphino King – our tour operator – so it was pretty effortless in getting to the tour office.

When we got there, we signed in and got fitted for our snorkel gear. The mask and snorkel were clean, sanitized and good quality. Since I have two very different sized feet, I always appreciate it when I can get one fin in each size, and the company was gracious enough to let me!

We were also provided a towel as well to dry off with as well as a water bottle each. All we needed to do was come swimsuit ready and bring any device we wanted to capture video and photo with! Even if we didn’t have that, the main guide has his own GoPro to capture us and the manta rays on photo and video!

It wasn’t long before our tour group all arrived around 9:30am and we set off to get on the boat.

The Tour’s Speedboat

Dolphino King, much like all the other major tour operators for this snorkel excursion, had some spanking new speedboats. I was surprised we didn’t get on a more rudimentary watercraft, considering the price we paid for the tour – a cheap 150k IDR by the way! The speedboat was super clean and fit about 20 of us onboard with a roof over the entire boat.

It was well equipped with a padded bench that wrapped all around, which made it comfortable to sit during the fast and bumpy ride. It also made it easy to do a diver’s backwards roll or forwards step off into the water if you didn’t want to wait in line for the metal stepladder!

When the crew yell and point “MANTA!” you gotta be ready and geared up to jump straight into the water! So it was fantastic that we could get in with ease from all sides.

First Stop: Manta Bay

It was only about ten minutes of a crazy beautiful speedboat ride along the towering sea cliffs of Nusa Penida before making it to our first spot: the southern edge of Manta Bay.

The green coastline of Manta Bay against the vibrant blue waters of Nusa Penida's east coast. You can see the white waters lapping against the rocky cliff bottoms and the textured lines of the cliffs.

The crew wasted no time and took us straight to the manta rays’ main hideout. They were constantly scouting out the gliding mantas for us as they slowly maneuvered the boat across the bay. There was no such luck just yet but they let us hop in the water for a snorkel in the depths of the blue bay.

Jason swimming upwards to the water surface for a new breath after practicing his free dive. The sun rays shine through the deep blue water and the particles and plankton in the water shimmer.

There wasn’t much to see in terms of snorkelling but we kept our eyes peeled and our ears open in case the crew spotted any gentle giants. When we realized there weren’t any in sight, we started practicing our free dives in the deep water. Manta Bay’s sandy bottom was about 10 meters deep where we were. A perfect site to practice our equalizing and breath holds as we finessed moving through the water.

Lauren swimming deep in the direction of the sea floor as she practices her freedive. The water and bottom of Manta Bay look dark but the sun illuminates her as she descends.

After some fun, it was time to head back on the boat in search of the rays. As we drove back north out of the southern bay of Manta Bay, we spotted two dolphins in the distance being playful beside another fellow tour boat! Ah, I would’ve loved to be in that boat for that moment! Especially if dolphins were the only bigger marine animal we got to see on this tour.

Second Stop: Manta Bay Near Broken Beach

Our boat crew kept looking out as we drove slowly across the bay towards Broken Beach. I put my fins back and had my snorkel mask rested on my forehead just in case and I’m so glad I did! I was the first in the water when the crew spotted two majestic manta rays near the surface! Wooh!

A close up of a manta ray gliding near the surface of the water in Manta Bay of Nusa Penida. Its stinger looks menacing but the gentle giant is quite the opposite of harmful.

I swam as fast as my short slightly broken fins would let me with the GoPro in hand. I didn’t care if I had to hold my breath to prevent choking on water of the surface waves splashing into my snorkel tube. I also didn’t even care about the nudges and kicks from other members of our group as we all sped rapidly after the two gliding mantas. But then I felt it… The slimy plastic bags, wrappers and broken cups brushing against my head, arms and legs. Yuck! But must keep up with mantas…

A Note on the Plastic Issue

I was the last to stay on path with the two rays before realizing the boat was a little too far. With less adrenaline coursing through me, I realized how atrocious the surface of these waters were. If you didn’t know it, during the monsoon season particularly, Bali has a huge surge of plastic waste wash up on its beaches and bays. It’s a massive problem due to poor waste management not only in Bali and Indonesia but neighbouring islands too.

A manta ray gliding near the surface of the water in Manta Bay of Nusa Penida some distance away. It continues to feed on the plankton here, though plastic waste litters the waters and floats above it.

Keeping our own usage of single-use plastic at a minimum and away from the waters is one way we can individually do our part to keep our oceans plastic-free. Not only will it make our experiences better, but it’ll bring about a safer environment for our incredible marine life!

Playful Manta Rays in Manta Bay

After heading back towards the boat, there was yet another manta ray circling around! Somehow, yet again, I made it to the front of the group to follow this little guy. Thanking my parents in my head for putting me in swimming, I stretched out the GoPro and dove a little under the surface for the video. This manta started putting on a little show for us as it glided through the deep blue!

A playful manta ray in the middle of a dive and flip near the surface of the water of Manta Bay, Nusa Penida. You can see its identifable black spots on its white underside so clearly as it puts on a show and heads down to the sea floor.

Bucket list moment checked off! I was smiling so big that saltwater kept getting into my mouth but I couldn’t care less!

Third Stop: Crystal Bay

After all the manta rays swam off as they fed on the plankton, it was time for us to head back on the speedboat for our next spot. We continued north towards Crystal Bay which is home to one of Nusa Penida’s best beaches and snorkel areas!

An aerial view of Crystal Bay Beach, the green coastline of the bay, and the ocean's horizon in the distance. Different shades of white and blue beach parasols line the beach, matching the different shades of water of the beach and coral reef. Some speedboats are anchored in the bay waiting for their snorkelers to come back onboard.

Though we were some distance away from Crystal Bay Beach, the coral reef was not too deep at all! We barely had to dive to be level with the coral gardens and watch the colourful fish swarm around us.

Our guide had some food to feed the fish and it was awesome watching the fish eat from his hand. Small and large, but particularly short-nosed unicorn fish came to feed around him!

Our tour guide snorkeling and feeding the many fish in Crystal Bay, particularly colourful unicorn fish! You can see the sand floor, coral walls and other schools of fish in the background.

Fourth Stop: Gamat Bay

Last stop, we made it to Gamat Bay! After seeing and capturing everything we had wanted for the day, it was all about practicing our free diving and underwater swimming. The corals were even shallower here than at Crystal Bay and we took the opportunity to swim between them. Our guide was the best and started capturing videos of us doing our thing in the water with his own GoPro. We got some fun clips of us for the memory books!

Our snorkel adventure came to an end and we were onboard our speedboat, heading back for the Toya Pakeh pier! We definitely built an appetite after the three hours of excitement and being in the water. As it was lunch time, we didn’t take too long before going out to eat!

Where to Dine in Nusa Penida

All the main and best dining spots in Nusa Penida are along the main road of Jalan Raya. You can just walk along it, check out their menus and have your pick within a few minutes. We were actually pleasantly surprised with the variety of cuisine and quality of food every restaurant in Toya Pakeh had. At least the ones we visited!

So many of them merit their excellent ratings on Google Maps. But our favourites are:

  • Wyn’s Penida Café: their Mexican burger is probably the best chicken burger I have ever had. They bread the chicken with a Dorito crust and it contrasts perfecly with the crispy black bun, the vegetables and sauces they use. We went here a few times and the service was great!
  • Joglo Penida: it was a little further up the road but worth the walk! We had the most divine lychee yogurt drink and pulp taro milk. Their pizza, mie goreng and burgers were fantastic here!
  • Kelapa Penida: amazing smoothie bowls, ambience and drinks all around. It’s the best rated restaurant in town!

The two best things about dining in Nusa Penida were 1) there were so affordable for the value you get, equal to the pricing you can find in Uluwatu, Bali. And 2) 90% of the restaurants took credit card, with no extra fees!

It’s always a good idea to carry cash while visiting Nusa Penida. There are working ATM’s on the the main street, as well as a currency exchange office with good rates, in the case you need to get more IDR. But it’s always nice to know that when dining, you don’t need to worry about cash!

Where to Stay in Nusa Penida

There are quite a number of affordable guesthouses and hotels located right in the main town of Toya Pakeh. Pretty much all of them are steps away from the main road of Jala Raya!

We loved our stay at Citiz’s House. For only $15 USD a night, we got a really spacious and new room with AC, hammocks in a garden, included breakfast and an amazing host who gave us rides on her motorbike! If you’re looking for further options for stays, check out the map below!


It still feels like a dream that we got to swim with manta rays in Nusa Penida! Not one but three came gliding by, so close you could almost touch them! Of course, remember to keep your hands to yourself when greeting these gentle giants. You don’t want them to start fleeing these waters!

The same goes for the plastic waste that gets washed up in Manta Bay. It’s honestly upsetting to see such a beautiful coast, where gorgeous creatures come to clean and feed themselves, be littered with waste that is completely preventable. Try to avoid bringing any single-use plastics with you on any boat tour! Water bottles are pretty inevitable, but keep track of where you left yours once it’s empty and properly dispose of it when you can.

Besides the plastic waste dampening the experience, this was honestly the most valuable snorkelling experience I’ve ever had thanks to the stunning coastline and our encounters with the mantas. And you really can’t beat spending only $10 USD on a tour like this!

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