I’ve always wanted to dive Bali. The island is one of the most famous islands in the world and I’ve been there so many times — but there are always a million and one things to do in Bali that I never took the time for some scuba diving. Not this time. On my recent visit to the island, I made it specifically a dive and surf (Read about it here: Surfing at Kuta Beach) trip; and I spent three days on a solo adventure in Tulamben just to explore its underwater.
Not many visitors head to Tulamben as it located on the far north-east coast of the Indonesian island of Bali. Most people come on day trips to scuba dive, as it is one of the most popular places to dive in Bali, being the underwater home of the USAT Liberty wreck. Tulamben town itself is just a small fishing village that is in close proximity to the active Mount Agung (most recent eruption was in early 2018) — and after staying there for three days, I only really explored the ocean and its pebbled beach (it’s not covered in sand, but smooth pebbles), and not so much the town. I did head out once for a night out in a small cafe with a live band — one of the only places that was alive at night in the otherwise completely quiet and dark town.
The nearby towns of Amed and Candidasa have more attractions and places to see — and are more frequented by tourists to this side of Bali.
Getting to Tulamben
I arrived in Bali on an Air Asia flight from Kuala Lumpur. Upon my arrival at the Ngurah Rai International Airport, my ride from the resort was there to pick me up. I figured it was easier to hire my transport straight from the resort instead of having to haggle the taxi drivers at the airport for my ride to Tulamben. It cost me Rp550,000 (US$40) per way, for the 3 to 4-hour journey from the west to the east side of the island. I was alone, so it felt like a lot of money; but if you have a group on a shared ride, it would be much more worth the price.
Diving in Tulamben
There are many places to dive all over Bali — Nusa Penida, Amed, Pumeteran, and of course Tulamben. I chose Tulamben because I heard that it is a great place to dive for beginners (and those that haven’t been diving for a while). The current is mild, the dive sites are easily accessible, and they are all relatively close to the resorts. Most of all of course, is that I could finally dive an actual war cargo ship — isn’t that just awesome? The government imposes a village tax fee of Rp41,000 (US$3) per dive day.
Matahari Tulamben Resort, Dive and Spa
There are a variety of resorts, dive resorts and dive centers for all budgets in Tulamben. I chose Matahari Tulamben Resort (Book with AGODA) based on the reviews I read — and I have to say, it was a good choice. The resort is located just a short walk away from most of the dive sites, and has the most beautiful sunrise view from the ocean in the early mornings. I love the ‘Greek’ feeling of the resort — most of the buildings and furnishings are painted in a white and blue color, which gives it an island-ey beachy vibe.
Matahari Tulamben Resort is good for the budget too — I would say it is a fairly comfortable resort that has most of the basic necessities, and my standard (basic) room with breakfast cost me about Rp250,000 (US$18) per night. The resort provides free wifi; and has a spa, a swimming pool, a lounge area with outdoor hammocks, and a restaurant that serves up delicious Indonesian and Western meals. I ate all my meals there every day; and spent time on the decks after a day’s dive with a beer (or two, or three) in my hand. And of course, the very reason why I was in Tulamben — it has its own dive center.
Diving with Matahari Tulamben Dive
On my first day in Tulamben, I walked to the dive center and was immediately assisted with my dive requests. I signed on to do three dives the next day, and an extra one on the last day. I didn’t bring my equipment with me — so I rented most of my gears, which served me pretty well on my dives. I also rented an underwater camera (because my GoPro decided to die on me while on the island). Each dive cost me Rp250,000 (US$18), and my day’s equipment rental was Rp150,000 (US$11). The underwater camera was Rp300,000 (US$22).
I had a great time diving with the crew from the Matahari Tulamben Dive Center. My divemaster, Kapretd was very knowledgeable about the dive sites around the area; and he was ever so patient with me underwater. The other divemasters were a fun bunch to be around as well — we had great laughs and conversations after each dives; and beer, singing and guitar accompaniment as we watched the sun go down after a whole day of dives.
Dive Sites in Tulamben
All of the dive sites in Tulamben Bay are accessible via its pebbled beach. Here are the three dive sites I dived at during my time in Tulamben:-
1) USAT Liberty Wreck —
The USAT Liberty wreck was the reason I chose to dive in Tulamben — so I decided to dive here twice. It is located about 30-40 meters from the beach of Tulamben Bay, and I had to brave through the pebbles on the beach, and the waves (in my full gear) to get into the water. The wreck itself is 120 meters and lies on its right side, between a depth of 5 to 28 meters — but the bottom of the sea on where it lies goes way down. With an Open Water license, I only dived to about 20 meters. I really wish I could have gone on the night dives, I heard its beautiful at night.
A little history of the Liberty:-
It is a cargo ship built in the USA in 1918, and used in WWII. In 1942, it was hit by two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine while sailing the Lombok Straits. It then got stranded on Tulamben Beach and stayed there for almost 20 years, until an eruption from Mount Agung pushed the wreck into the ocean. And there it has been for the last 50 years.
I took my first dive on the wreck at about 7am in the morning, and was greeted by a whole school (almost 10) of Bumphead Parrotfish — and it was absolutely magical! I think that was the one thing I remembered most about my dives at the wreck. The USAT Liberty wreck itself is lying in pieces — a gun there, an anchor chain here, a door by the side. I actually couldn’t make out a cargo ship, really. But the wreck provides a lovely dive nonetheless, with beautiful corals and fishes calling it their home.
On my second dive, I had a little panic attack because of the cold (it happens sometimes); but my divemaster helped me gain my composure, and I had a fun dive around the wreck again after that.
2) Suci’s Place —
Suci’s Place was created by the Matahari Tulamben Dive Center in 2012, and named after its owner. Its situated just off the shore of the resort, and various artifacts and several objects were dropped into the ocean to created artificial reefs to protect the underwater life in the area. It goes down to a sandy bottom depth of 9 to 17 meters.
I really enjoyed the simple dive at Suci’s Place. I managed to find the statue of the “Sleeping Ganesha”, and another with two tigers — but I especially loved the artificial stone walls that were filled with corals and fishes. At the end of my dive at Suci’s Place, I spotted a turtle feeding on some corals. It swam away as we got nearer.
3) The Drop-Off —
The Drop-Off is also called the Tulamben Wall, located on the other end of the Tulamben Bay from the USAT Liberty wreck. It starts from the shore at the sandy slope at 3 meters, and reaches down to almost 80 meters; and was formed by the lava flow from Mount Agung. The waves were pretty choppy during my dive in the afternoon; so I found it a little hard getting into the water with my full gear.
The marine life at the wall is diversed — the reef is beautiful and there are alot of fishes. The visibility was pretty good, about 10-15 meters during my dive; and I got to see nudibranches, shrimps, a couple of lion fish, the leaf scorpion fish, a trigger fish, as well as a variety of corals like sponges, black coral bushes, fan corals and pipe corals. We went a little further from the start of the vertical wall and turned back — so I mostly saw a lot of the high stones.
Prior to diving in Tulamben, I hadn’t dived for almost a year. After the initial excitement of learning to dive (and I did more than 50 dives in that first year) — work and other travels got priority and diving took a back seat in the second year. But getting back to the underwater while in Tulamben was easier than I thought (I honestly assumed that I would have forgotten everything — but I didn’t!) and also because my divemaster was simply amazing. The people at Matahari Tulamben Dive really made my return to the underwater all the more enjoyable.
I agree that the three dive sites I visited in Tulamben are great for beginners. I felt totally at ease underwater (despite that slight panic attack) — current was mild on all my dives, visibility was pretty good at mostly 15 meters, and the sites had sandy bottoms and weren’t too deep. And I’m now racking up those dives again with 64 total dives!