manta rays as seen at nusa penida island in bali

Manta Diving in Nusa Penida: What You Need to Know Before Your Dive!

People paint a picturesque picture of diving in Nusa Penida… and honestly, I think that does it a bit of a disservice, because people don’t know what they’re getting into.

It is definitely on the list of the best places to dive in Bali… but there’s also a big asterisk next to that claim.

They usually just know that manta diving in Nusa Penida is a must while in Bali, and many blogs don’t go into further detail than just that (partly because many bloggers aren’t also divers themselves, and thus don’t know what to look out for or alert people to).

manta ray belly from below with the sun shining at the surface creating a halo effect at the top of the water surrounding the manta ray

Here’s the thing: while diving in Nusa Penida is really cool, it’s undoubtedly the most challenging place I’ve ever dived in over 120 dives.

​And a lot of Nusa Penida’s most famous denizens — the mola mola and the manta ray, the two main reasons people usually dive in Nusa Penida — are not the most punctual or predictable of ocean critters.

To be honest, diving in Nusa Penida means contending with difficult conditions — but hoping you get a lot in return! 

Unfortunately, I wasn’t so lucky — no mantas, no mola molas for me — and as a result, I’ve had to use stock photography in this post instead of my own photographs. But I hope to return and see the manta rays (and update this post!) in the future, and since I can’t seem to stay away from Bali, I’m sure that’ll happen sooner rather than later.

Diving Conditions in Nusa Penida


several manta rays in the water in the ocean in nusa penida

The first (and scariest) thing to know about diving in Nusa Penida is that there are really strong currents that rip through the channel at nearly all times of year. 

This is because the water in the Lombok Strait generally moves from from the north end of the Bali Sea. 

The water movement gets broken into a Y-formation by the Nusa Islands (which also includes Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan). 

This creates rip-roaring currents on the sides of Nusa Penida (and in particular on its north end, where it has some wild drift dives).

Water Temperatures

Diver in a full wetsuit in nusa penida trying to photograph a manta ray that is swimming away

There are also challenging water temperature changes to contend with.

You can encounter thermoclines that plunge drastically to as low as 18° C / 64° F.

That can be quite a shock from surface temperature conditions, which are often around 27° C / 80° F or even warmer!

Weather Conditions

looking up from below the manta rays in nusa penida and seeing a snorkeler at the top

And all that’s without any weather conditions impacting your dives, which it definitely can during the rainy season!

The wet season hits Bali from November through April, though lately rainy season is starting in more like December.

I visited Nusa Penida in November this year, and while I did encounter rough seas and strong currents, there were no weather conditions like storms impacting the visibility.

The dry season has better visibility and water conditions, so it may be worth prioritizing diving there during this season, primarily from August to October which has the best conditions overall.

This is also prime mola mola season — two wins for the price of one!

However, crowds are also at their highest, so if possible, October is the best month to go as it is the beginning of the transition out of the July-September high season in Bali.

What To Know About Diving with Manta Rays in Nusa Penida

But all that said, there’s a reason people flock to diving Nusa Penida time and again, braving its challenges in hopes of seeing some of its most famous marine life.

I’m here to tell you the (blunt and honest) truth about manta diving in Nusa Penida and give you an idea of what you’re in for so you can make an informed choice before you do!

You definitely aren’t guaranteed to see manta rays.

a manta ray seen in the water in manta point in nusa penida

Dive shops like to advertise the near-certainty of seeing some majestic manta rays on your Nusa Penida dive… the shop I went with even said there was a 95% chance.

Well, I guess someone has to be that 5%, and unfortunately, that was the case for me on my manta dive in Nusa Penida! 

But also, people I spoke to had gone in prior days and not seen manta rays, either — whether this was a stroke of bad luck for all of us or if there was something impacting the manta rays and making them decide not to come to the manta cleaning station, I can’t really tell you. 

The reason why manta diving in Nusa Penida is a thing is because there are a few manta cleaning stations around the island. 

Manta cleaning stations are places where the mantas (as well as other larger animals, like sting rays, marble rays, nurse sharks, reef sharks, etc.) congregate to get cleaned by copepods and cleaner wrasse, freeing them of parasites and other gnarly elements that can cling to larger species like the manta.

manta being cleaned by a cleaner wrasse, a type of fish that feeds on parasites that inhabit larger pelagic species

Generally, manta rays will spend a few hours a day at the cleaning stations, getting their skin and gills cleaned by these helper fish and plankton.

One of these cleaning stations is located at Manta Point, and this is where most manta dives in Nusa Penida will bring you: its plankton-rich waters make it an ideal place for manta spotting!

However, while mantas do visit these cleaning stations, they don’t exclusively live there, so that doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to see one.

Due to weather conditions, water conditions, or various other factors, there are many reasons why mantas may not be present during your dive.

We had some strong surge during our dive in Nusa Penida and we think that may be why the mantas stayed clear of the cleaning station during our dive.

You will deal with some currents and surge.

view from the gills of a manta with two divers visible in the far distance

On that note, let’s talk a bit more about Nusa’s currents and surge, and what the difference between the two is.

In the context I’m using it, surge is a type of current that is associated with a “push and pull” type motion, which is when you are pushed back by the current and then pulled forward by it.

​This is the most common type of current you’d encounter at Manta Point, versus on the north end of Nusa Penida, you’ll get the more classic type of current that is associated with a drift dive.

Diving in surge isn’t particularly difficult to me compared to a rip-roaring current (or god forbid, a downcurrent like I experienced at S.D.) — but I’m also fairly experience with this type of current, as I dove it in Beqa, Fiji and Caño Island, Costa Rica.

With surge, it’s key to go with the current and not fight it. Allow it to push you back a bit as it pushes… and then when the surge is in its ebbing, pulling motion, give a little kick with your fins to rocket forward and make up for lost ground!

If you fight too hard against the surge, you’ll use up your air quickly, reducing your bottom time and thus your chances to see giant manta rays!

Another thing to consider with surge is that it has the potential to create an unsafe dive profile if you have poor buoyancy control and are too close to the surface during a swell.

If the swell is really strong, it can potentially push you upwards.

If you don’t quickly act to counteract that (by letting air out of your BCD, exhaling fully, etc.) you can ascend quickly, which can create risks if your ascent is uncontrolled.

Generally, surge is strongest near the surface and in shallow waters, and less strong near the bottom of the reef or sandy bottom in deep waters, so you’ll stay close to the maximum depth during your dive (except during your safety stop, of course).

Our maximum depth on our manta dive was 18 meters, and we dove for 47 minutes before calling it quits and seeing no mantas.

Temperatures can get cold at Manta Point.

manta ray as seen from below with markings on its stomach and light on the surface of the water

Generally, most dive shops will give you a 5 mm wetsuit for diving in Nusa Penida.

While you’ll struggle to get that bulky wetsuit on if you’re the type of diver who is used to shorties and 3 mm suits (not me though — I’m a runs-cold diver and typically default to 5 mm wetsuits for all repetitive dives!), you’ll be grateful for the added insulation.

We didn’t experience strong thermoclines here like we did in Pura Ped and Crystal Bay, but it did get a little chilly.

My dive computer shows that we started at 26° C / 79° F but it went down to 24° C / 75 ° F and pretty much stayed that way for the entirety of the dive.

That may not seem like a drastic temperature change, and it definitely wasn’t as much as a dip as at Crystal Bay, when our temperature yo-yo’d from 28° C (82° F) to 19° C (66° F)!

​But when you’re scuba diving, every degree or even fraction of a degree is something you’re acutely aware of, especially in cold water! 

Manta Point is frequented by reef manta rays, not oceanic manta rays.

a reef manta ray with marks on its belly which is mostly white with some black or gray speckles

One thing to keep in mind is that Manta Point is a cleaning station for the reef manta rays, aka Mobula alfredi (formerly Manta alfredi) — not the giant oceanic manta ray, the largest ray species there is.

How much of a difference is this really? Mostly just a change in size.

The reef manta ray is most commonly around 3-3.5 meters in disc size (about 11-12 feet) vs. the oceanic manta ray, Mobula birostris, which is more often around 4.5 m (15 ft).

However, the maximum size the oceanic manta ray can reach is pretty astounding — as big as 9 meters / 30 feet long and weighing up to 3,000 kg (6,600 lb) whereas the reef manta ray maxes out in size around 5.5 m (18 ft).

​There are some other differences, namely the way their markings are distributed on their body, but it’s something that your average person wouldn’t notice — scientists didn’t even notice a distinction between the two species until 2009!

So, just be aware that technically, you are seeing the second-largest ray species, not the largest.

But they’re still incredibly impressive and will definitely confound you with their massive size and elegant beauty!

Don’t confuse Manta Point and Manta Bay.

Snorkelers at Manta bay as seen from above, swimming towards mantas near the surface of the clear turquoise water

There are two similarly-named spots on Nusa Penida’s southern side where you may see manta rays while snorkeling or diving — Manta Point and Manta Bay.

​As a scuba diver, you have better chances of seeing mantas at Manta Point compared to Manta Bay.

Manta Bay is more commonly visited by snorkelers as opposed to certified divers.

Manta Bay is a small bay that has shallower waters, and it’s not a cleaning station but rather a favored place for mantas to come up from the deeper water area to feed on the plankton that has been pushed up by the waves onto a high-rising patch of reef.

Because it’s a feeding area as opposed to a cleaning area, this means less likelihood of seeing the reef mantas, plus there’s more susceptibility to weather conditions.

Manta Point, on the other hand, has a higher chance (but of course, still not 100% as I found out) of seeing the manta rays.

However, the conditions here are rougher — choppier swell, deeper waters where you may see the mantas, etc. — and therefore it is preferred for divers as opposed to snorkelers.

a mostly-black back of a manta ray as seen in the water near nusa penida island in bali

While a few snorkeling tours will bring snorkelers out here, it’s not that likely that they’ll see anything since the conditions are pretty poor for snorkeling.

The visibility at Manta Point can also suffer pretty poorly here, sometimes being reduced to just 3 meters or about 10 feet of visibility, which makes it hard to spot mantas (and easy to get separated from your dive group if you’re not careful).

The reduced visibility can sometimes mean there’s even more plankton in the water, and hence a higher likelihood of manta sightings… but it’s a double-edged sword, because you’re also less likely to be able to see a manta if it’s further away than the visibility allows!

Even if you don’t see mantas, there’s a lot to love about Manta Point.

Despite my bad luck in not seeing mantas during my dive at Manta Point, I still had a lovely dive.

I saw some beautiful hard and soft corals as well as some incredible marine life, like the giant map pufferfish (a favorite of mine!) and some nudibranchs.

Nudibranchs are beautiful sea slugs with remarkable color patterns and visible, elegant gills (hence their name, which literally means ‘naked lungs’ in Latin).

If you don’t mind keeping an eye out for the small stuff, too, you can’t go wrong with a dive at Manta Point — even if the mantas stand you up.

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