Bali's best-known underwater attraction, Pulau Menjangan is ringed by over a dozen superb dive sites. The experience is excellent – iconic tropical fish, soft corals, great visibility (usually), caves and spectacular drop-offs.

Lacy sea fans and various sponges provide both texture and hiding spots for small fish that together form a colour chart for the sea. Few can resist the silly charms of parrotfish and clownfish. Among larger creatures, you may see whales, whale sharks and manta rays.

Of the named sites here, most are close to shore and suitable for snorkellers or diving novices. But you can also venture out to where the depths turn black as the shallows drop off in dramatic cliffs, a magnet for experienced divers, who can choose from eight walls here.

This uninhabited island boasts what is thought to be Bali's oldest temple, Pura Gili Kencana, dating from the 14th century and about 300m from the pier. It has a huge Ganesha (elephant-headed Hindu deity) at the entrance. You can walk around the island in about an hour; unfortunately, the beaches often have garbage problems.

Practicalities

Divers can customise their experience, although it often begins at an extraordinary 30m wall near the south side jetty. Snorkellers, however, may find themselves conveyed past the underwater beauty by guides who do this day-in and day-out and are just as happy to go home. This can happen with both top-end hotel-sponsored tours and the boats from Banyuwedang and Labuhan Lalang. Tips to maximise what will likely be a highlight of your Bali trip include:

  • Boats often tie up to the jetty at Pulau Menjangan. The wall here – which rewards both divers and snorkellers – is directly out from the shore. Currents tend to flow gently southwest (the shore is on your right) so you can just literally go with the flow and enjoy the underwater spectacle. The richly rewarding north side of the island is another place where boats stop.
  • For jetty stops, your guide may try to get you to swim back to the boat along the less-interesting bleached coral near the shore; this turns out to be for their convenience. Instead, suggest that the boat come down and pick you up when you're ready, thus avoiding the swim against the current followed by downtime at the jetty. The jetty wall extends far to the southwest and gets more pristine and spectacular as you go.
  • North of the jetty, you can snorkel from shore and cover the sites in a big circle.
  • Although the jetty area on the south side of the island is spectacular, most boat operators will take you there simply because it's the closest to the harbours and saves them fuel. The north side is also spectacular and is the best place to go midday. The coral is more varied here and there are turtles. Mangrove Point is an excellent snorkelling area.
  • In the west, Coral Gardens is a fine spot. The Anker Wreck, a mysterious sunken ship, challenges even experts.
  • Try to hover over some divers along the walls. Watching their bubbles sinuously rise in all their multihued silvery glory from the inky depths is just plain spectacular.
  • Park fees add up: 250,000Rp per person, plus a diving/snorkelling fee 25,000/15,000Rp.
  • If your guide really adds to your experience, tip accordingly.
  • Friends of Menjangan (www.friendsofmenjangan.blogspot.com) has info. For updates, check its Facebook page.

Getting There & Away

The closest and most convenient dive operators are found at Pemuteran, where the hotels also arrange diving and snorkelling trips. Independent snorkellers can arrange trips from Banyuwedang and Labuhan Lalang. If you are day tripping from elsewhere on Bali, carefully find out how much time you'll be travelling each way. From Seminyak, congestion woes can make for seven or more hours on the road.