September 12, 2018 – Snorkeling in Bali with manta rays at Manta Point off the coast of Nusa Penida was one of the main things I wanted to do while we were on the island of the gods. We thought about getting scuba certified before our trip to Southeast Asia, but we didn’t have enough time. I still was determined to get out in the water to see the abundant marine life that lives in this part of the world. The slight chance of us getting to swim with manta rays was enough to seal the deal.
The tour company we went with was Blue Season Bali. If you’ve been following our travels for a while you know I never choose a tour company without thorough research first. I was in between a few scuba/snorkel companies (there are so many in Bali).
Blue Season stood out because they kept their groups small. The last thing I wanted was to be crammed on a boat with 20 other people missing out on cool things in the water because I would be avoiding getting kicked in the face.
Fast forward to our snorkeling day…
We had an early morning, but luckily it was late enough that we could have breakfast brought to our room. Blue Season would be picking us up at 7:30 am, so breakfast was at our door at 6:45 am so we would have plenty of time to eat.
The night before, we had chosen our breakfast selection with our concierge so they could be sure to have it ready for us in time. Breakfast was included with our stay and we were told many times over that it was unlimited. So we ordered some basic things like banana pancakes (a Balinese favorite), omelet for Eric, fresh juice, and a cappuccino for me. Nothing too crazy since we would be swimming all day.
Our concierge thought we were crazy for ordering so little. She practically begged us to get more, so I also got a smoothie bowl and a fresh fruit plate. After convincing her that we would be more than happy with what we ordered she let us go. It was so funny!
The food arrived right on time and it was amazing. There was so much we could barely fit it on our table. Everything was delicious, I almost wished we were staying around so we could have a second breakfast later in the morning!
Blue Season was right on time for our pick up. Then we were off to their office to get fitted for our gear.
The office was a small home with a big pool in the front for scuba diving. Our guide greeted us (I can’t remember his name) and brought us to a table where he gave us a bunch of forms to sign. Then we were fitted for fins and a mask.
Our guide asked us if we wanted a wet suit. I had never used a wet suit to snorkel in the past and he told us the water was around 70 degrees, so we opted out.
A few minutes went by and then we were joined by a Swiss couple and a German couple. The Swiss couple barely knew English, but the German couple luckily knew some. They would be joining us on our snorkel journey for the day. I was happy it was only 6 of us going out together.
After our snorkel-mates filled out their forms and got fitted for their gear, we were loaded up in a van and taken to the beach to wait for the boat that would take us out to Nusa Penida. Our guide asked us all at least 5 times whether we needed seasick medication before we left. He explained the ride out to Nusa Penida would be rough no matter what the conditions were. But neither of us had ever been seasick before, so we continued on without it.
We had to wait about 45 minutes for our boat at Sanur Harbor which was a little annoying since we had just waited about an hour at Blue Season’s office. There was an area to wait in, but hardly any chairs or shade. The sun was already extremely strong.
It was finally our time to go out. Our guide gathered all of us and brought us to the water’s edge. Our boat couldn’t get right next to the shore, so they piled us all into a tiny boat to bring us out to the bigger boat. The tiny boat was like an oversized canoe and the water was very choppy so it was a little dicey transferring over to the main boat.
When we first arrived at Blue Season’s office, our guide told us the main attraction of the day, Manta Point (or Manta Bay depending on who you ask), would be a toss-up and we would only go if the captain said it was safe. We wouldn’t know this until we were on the boat heading to the island.
Luckily, the captain told us Manta Point looked to be safe enough so we would be heading there first. I was so excited. On their website, they stated that Manta Point was never guaranteed because the currents can be so unpredictable. The water in this area was notoriously rough even in perfect conditions, but it can become extremely dangerous especially for the snorkelers since there are so many rocks close by.
So why was I so excited? If the name didn’t tip you off already, Manta Point was an is off of Nusa Penida island where the manta rays frequently swim through to get cleaned by a certain type of fish. It’s a natural phenomenon and one of the only places like it in the world.
Getting to snorkel in this place was so exciting, but we still weren’t guaranteed to see manta rays. But at least we would have a better shot than if we didn’t go at all!
Our guide was correct about the rough waters. The boat ride was like a roller coaster. It felt like we were going uphill and then all of a sudden we would free-fall to the water below. Our boat was not the most comfortable to begin with, so the ride was extremely rough to put it lightly.
After the 45-minute boat ride to Nusa Penida, Manta Point appeared. Unfortunately, since the conditions were perfect, we were joined by at least 20 other boats full of divers and snorkelers.
We had 3 divers and their guides with us on our boat. They headed into the water first, followed by us snorkelers.
That was when we realized that everyone, even the guides, had wetsuits on. Back at the office, we were told this was an option and no one stressed to us that the wetsuits were necessary. Since we knew we would be fine in 70-degree water, we didn’t think it was a big deal. We felt a little weird that we were the only ones without them but we were hoping it was just a formality and not a necessity.
Since we didn’t have wetsuits to put on, Eric and I were the first ready to get in the water. The water was so rough at Manta Point. I was wondering how in the world we were going to get in safely. Our snorkel guide had me sit on the edge of the boat with my legs hanging off the side and told me to drop into the water but push out so I would be far from the side of the boat. It was sketchy, but I was fine.
At that point, I realized I didn’t have any type of flotation device or anything to hang on to if I got tired treading water which made me panic a little. But I was totally fine. I could float just fine without the help of anything else. The fins helped too because it didn’t take much effort to keep my head above water. Also, our guide had a flotation ring with him that we could hang on to if we ever got tired.
After swimming around for a little while it dawned on me that I didn’t pay attention to what our boat looked like from the outside. I had focused on getting away from the boat and didn’t take a moment to look back. There were so many people in the water, I kept losing our group too. It was a bit chaotic but after a few minutes, I spotted some people in our group and our guide. The flotation ring helped with spotting him.
As I said before, getting to go to Manta Point was half the struggle. Even if we were lucky enough to go out on a day where the conditions were safe to swim in, the manta rays may or may not be there.
Suddenly our guide called over to us; he had spotted one of the massive rays!
I quickly ducked my head underwater and there it was. It looked like a giant, beautiful, sea-bird gracefully flapping its wings. I couldn’t believe how lucky we were.
We continued swimming around. Eric even dove down to get a bit closer to the ray. Seeing people swim next to the giant creatures was crazy. It was one thing to see them in an aquarium, but to swim next to one was humbling.
Five minutes later our guide called over to us again. This time it was FOUR manta rays swimming together. How were we this lucky?! They were so beautiful, gentle, and incredible to watch. I could have stayed there all day. The only thing that could have made it better would have been if we were able to scuba dive, but the rays came so close to the surface it really wasn’t that big of a deal.
We stayed at Manta Point for about an hour. While it was incredible, there were a few things that bothered me. The first was the number of people. It made me really anxious especially since it was our first site of the day. Getting comfortable in the water while dodging other peoples’ fins and boats was a bit nerve-wracking.
The second was the amount of trash. I have never seen so much trash in one single area of ocean. Wrappers, bottles, containers, straws… you name it, we swam through it. I had plastic in my hair, in my bathing suit, and continuously had to push it out of the way as I swam. It was sad.
Also, a jellyfish attacked my arm. It wasn’t terrible, but it felt like small needle pricks every couple minutes.
Getting back on the boat was a challenge. There wasn’t any type of swim platform; just a rope along the side and a small ladder. Once I reached the side of the boat, I grabbed hold of the rope so I could take off my mask. As soon as I pulled it off, a wave hit me and I swallowed a ridiculous amount of water. I honestly thought I was going to throw up. But I didn’t and I quickly got to the ladder to get out of the chaos.
Once we were all safely back in the boat, it was on to our second snorkel site of the day, Crystal Bay. Crystal Bay was next to a tiny beach and the water was beautiful. On the way over, one of the scuba divers got sick. So before we were let off the boat to snorkel, he was dropped off at the beach with one of the guides to recover.
Crystal Bay was so different from Manta Point. The water was clearer, warmer, and calm. There were fewer people and boats which made our time there much less exhausting.
Of course, what we saw that the second spot wasn’t as amazing as the manta rays. But we saw a lot of beautiful fish, coral, and even a little sea turtle.
Our next stop was Gamat Bay along the coast of Nusa Penida. Before we got out to check out what was under the water, we had a 30-minute break for lunch. There was a platform on top of the boat so Eric and I went up there with a couple other people.
The divers pretty much kept to themselves. Honestly, it was a little weird. In fact, no one really talked to each other. This was the first excursion we had done around the world where we didn’t connect with at least two people. I think it might have been because we were the only English speakers on the boat. One of the dive instructors was from Australia, but she hung around the dive people. Everyone else was Balinese or German.
Our lunch was delicious. It was a sort of bento box with various veggies and rice. Swimming all morning had made us so hungry so we both scarfed our meals down.
After we were refueled and rehydrated it was back in the water for our final snorkel session of the day.
Gamat Bay was an interesting area because there was a strong current that moved us along, almost like a lazy river in the middle of the ocean. There was also some beautiful coral just below the surface which was neat to see, but a little hard to avoid with our fins.
Gamat Bay was my second favorite spot of the day because we got to see so much more interesting marine life. Like this huge blue starfish. They were everywhere!
We also saw another sea turtle fluttering about all on its own.
Our guide had a little fun too. He showed us how to make cool bubble rings underwater.
Snorkeling at Gamat Bay lasted about an hour. There was so much to see so it was hard to leave. It’s so amazing to see how diverse the world is under the sea.
When we left Gamat Bay, I had no idea what time it was. I knew it had to be around 2:30 pm based on what time we were supposed to be back to Blue Season’s office.
The ride back to Sanur Harbor from Nusa Penida was just as if not bumpier than the ride there. At one point we all stood up and held on to a bar on the ceiling of the boat. Getting slammed into the metal seat every time the airborne boat would land in the water was starting to hurt. In my own words, it was insane.
We arrived back to Sanur harbor and back to Blue Season’s headquarters without incident (other than my jellyfish stings). Once we returned our gear, we said goodbye to our guides and then it was back to our Bali home, The Amala.
Of course, the ridiculous Bali traffic turned an 8-mile car ride into a 1.5-hour long journey. I swear, if I ever go back to Bali, I’m just going to stay in one place for a week and never step foot in a car.
We quickly showered and that’s when we realized why we should have worn wetsuits. It wasn’t the temperature of the water we should have feared, it was the sun. Both of us were BURNT on our backs from head to heel. It wasn’t just a slight burn, it was the type of burn where it looked like someone had painted us red. We had even made sure to reapply sunscreen throughout the day, but I guess being in the water for most of it didn’t help. So moral of the story, you should wear the wetsuit.
Once we coated ourselves in some of the herbal lotions our resort provided us, we headed out for an early dinner to catch the sunset. We decided to splurge for our last dinner in Bali so we had our concierge call us a taxi to take us to Chez Gado Gado. It was a nicer restaurant facing the beach in Seminyak.
We arrived right as the sun was starting to set and the colors of the sky started changing into beautiful pinks and purples. I asked if we could have a table right up front for optimal sunset viewing, but they were reserved for hotel guests. Chez Gado Gado was attached to a hotel. Although it was a little disappointing, it made sense.
First, we ordered a few appetizers and wine. The wine was extremely expensive in Southeast Asia so we hadn’t had any at all while we were there. The cheapest wine on the menu was from Australia so that’s what we went with. It still was $27 for the bottle. But if we wanted wine from Italy or anywhere in Europe, the price shot up to over $50 to $100. Liquor drinks were very cheap and many bars and restaurants would have buy one get one free drinks in the evening. So why did we get wine instead of liquor? Because Chez Gado Gado had 20% off all bottles of wine that night. The Neases love a good deal.
For our main dishes, I got garlic shrimp pasta and Eric ordered the yellowfin tuna. Our waiter asked if we were sure we didn’t want to wait a little while. We were confused.
Well, we realized later that it was because the dishes came out super fast. The portions were huge and we were still full from appetizers. She gave us a look like, “told you”.
I think they served me an entire box of pasta. It was massive!
We ate as much as we possibly could while taking in the gorgeous sunset in front of us.
We left Chez Gado Gado to make our way back to our hotel. When we left The Amala, our concierge stressed to us to have someone at Chez Gado Gado call us a cab. The terrible transit fraud in Bali made it very hard to distinguish between legitimate taxis and fake ones.
I don’t know why we decided not to, but we knew what the cab company was called that we took to the restaurant so we searched for one outside the restaurant.
The cab company was called something like Blue Bird and the car was blue. We found one and made sure the driver had his credentials posted in the front like he was supposed to as well as a working meter. He had both so we thought we had found the right one!
Well, it wasn’t. He was totally fake and totally corrupt. When he pulled up to The Amala the meter said something like 70,000 IDR (around $5). He told us we couldn’t leave the car without paying him 200,000 (around $12). I argued with him but he was adamant that there was a surcharge for going such a short distance. Voices started to raise and I started to feel uneasy. I had to remind myself we were in another country and I didn’t want to risk him driving off with us still in the car or worse.
So we reluctantly paid him and got out of the car. I was so mad. I was mad at myself for not listening to our concierge and I was mad at the guy for taking advantage of us. It was the first time we got scammed after being in Southeast Asia for two weeks. Lesson learned.
With our great night gone sour, I was just trying to focus on the good. More than 99% of our trip had been incredible so far, I wasn’t going to let this guy spoil it.
As we walked into our room, our bad taxi experience fizzled away. The staff at The Amala had transformed our room into a romantic paradise while we were gone. I couldn’t believe how lucky we were to be staying there and I never I wanted to leave. I didn’t hurt that we still had one massage left later that evening.
Around 7:00 pm, we had pretty much forgotten our taxi scam incident and headed to the spa for our final massage of the trip.
We went with the jade stone massage where they used jade to relax the muscles and the mind. Ancient Asian medicine has used Jade for centuries. Jade has healing properties such as relaxing the nervous system and aiding in the removal of toxins. It was a very interesting experience!
After our massages, we relaxed by the beautiful pool with our lemongrass and ginger tea while listening to all the chirping Balinese night critters. Then we headed to bed. Our next day would be spent in transit from Bali to Bangkok so we knew we needed to rest.
Continue reading the travel diary here: Day 17: Traveling from Bali to Bangkok
Lauryn The Snorkel Ninja
Enjoy our video diary from this day!
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