In September 2012 I travelled to Indonesia to do some diving on a liveaboard (MV Mermaid II) and then another week's diving at Tulamben. I went back again in 2014 for almost three weeks and again in 2023 for a bit over two weeks. The following information is provided to assist people in planning a diving trip to this great location. To see the dives available here, click on this link.
Tulamben is a very small town/village located on the north-eastern coast of the island of Bali, Indonesia. For most people, Bali is considered an exotic location, made famous in the 1952 movie Road to Bali, the sixth Road movie starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour. For many Australians, Bali is the location of their first ever overseas holiday and is the second most visited country by Australians (New Zealand is number one).
Of course, in more recent years, the Bali Bombings, especially the first one in October 2002 when 88 Australians were murdered and 202 in total killed, have brought this tropical location to the attention of the whole world.
Tulamben is generally only visited by scuba divers as there is not a great deal for non-divers to do here that cannot be done in places closer to the main tourist resort areas of Denpasar and Kuta. The diving in this area is excellent, as good as any location anywhere in the world. Read about the diving using the link in the first paragraph.
GETTING TO BALI
From Australia, Virigin Australia, Jetstar, Garuda and Qantas fly almost daily from most capital cities to Denpasar, Bali. There may be some other airlines too. From Sydney and Melbourne, there are direct flights. There are also direct flights from Perth, Brisbane and Darwin.
From Sydney, the best options are Virgin Australia with a midday direct flight and Jetstar with a late afternoon direct flight. You can get very cheap flights at times, but these probably coincide with the wet period which is certainly not the time to go diving in Tulamben (see weather later). You will need to book extra luggage to take your dive gear, I would recommend the 23 or 30 kg limit (depends on the airline) as this is more than enough to take all your gear, camera and clothes.
It is about a 6 hour flight from the east coast. The main flights arrive in Denpasar about 10 to 11 pm, although the Virgin flights seem to get there at 4 pm or so (all these times depend on whether daylight saving is operating). The Jetstar return flights leave about an hour after they arrives, although the Virgin ones do not go till late evening or even very early the next morning (the plane may be a different one to the flight over).
There are also flights to Denpasar from the major Asian cities.
Denpasar has a new airport in 2014, it is much nicer than the old one.
You need a visa to enter Indonesia. You can get when you arrive but it is much easier to get the electronic visa (eVoa) before you leave home. See Visa on Arrival Indonesian Government website. Make sure you do not use one of the fake ones that make you pay more. The cost is 500,000 rupiah (about AU$50). It was US$35 (AU$42) in 2014 and US$25 (AU$26) in 2012.
Once you have completed your on-line form and paid your eVoa fee, you get an email with the visa very quickly. There is another on-line form for customs. This is at Customs Declaration. When you arrive need to pass through immigration. There were 12 or so lines but it was a slow process. You show your QR code and then are processed.
In 2012 there were people in this area (amazingly) who seem to offer a service to by-pass this queue. This did not seem to be available in 2014 and also seems to now not to be available.
Even though it was a bit slow getting through immigration, in 2023 not one bag was waiting on the baggage carousel when I got there. I had to wait ages for my bag to arrive. Once you collect your bag, you pass through customs showing another QR code. On previous trips all bags were x-rayed but not in 2023. Of course, there is a death sentence if you smuggle hard drugs and even soft drugs will put you into gaol for 20 plus years, so it is not even worth thinking about this.
This process was simple and quick. Once out of customs you walk past a lot of desks for banks, money changers, ATMs, car ride places etc. I withdrew money at one of the ATMs, maximum I could take out was 1.5 million rupiah (AU$150).
GETTING TO TULAMBEN
As mentioned, Tulamben is located on the north-eastern coastline of Bali. It is about 90 kilometres from Denpasar and Kuta to Tulamben. This is at least a three hour car trip, more likely three and a half hours. Most of the dive operators in Tulamben will arrange pickups from the airport or hotel for a very reasonable price. If arriving on the Jetstar flights, you may want to stay overnight in a hotel and travel the next day as you would not arrive in Tulamben till 2 am or later.
If you go in daytime, you will get to have a nice sightseeing trip on the way. There is a lot of interesting things to see, including rice paddy fields, volcanoes, temples and more.
In 2023 I stayed at a hotel near the airport (Harris Hotel, good price and very nice). I was collected at 8 am and arrived in Tulamben about 11 am.
Indonesia uses the rupiah as its currency. There are approximately 10,000 rupiah to the Australian dollar. You can swap money at the airport. When we went in 2012 the rate was 9,200 rp to the US dollar and 9,500 to the Aussie dollar. ATM machines give a much better rate, but you may get hit with charges. In 2014 there did not appear to be any banks or money changers at the airport (dozens in 2012) but plenty again in 2023.
If travelling to Tulamben, there are no ATMs there now (there were two in 2014). Get your driver to stop on the way and withdraw more money, I managed to get another 2 million. I think you can get money from one of the businesses in the main street if you run low.
LOCAL TRANSPORT - TAXIS/BUSES
What a shambles! As you exit the airport you will be accosted by hundreds (and I really do mean hundreds) of taxi drivers trying to get you to go with them. If you have arranged a driver, they will be near here and holding a sign, it would be very hard to find your driver! Do not, under any circumstances, let someone help you with your bags unless you are prepared to use their taxi. Before you do this, agree on a price. Do not get to their car and then try to agree. Better still, go to the taxi desk as you leave the immigration section.
Probably the best thing to do is prearrange a driver via the internet. There are a number of companies doing this and the price is correct and you do not have to put up with the hassling as the driver will be waiting for you with a sign.
I certainly would not consider hiring a car, the traffic, even at midnight, is horrendous and chaotic.
As far as I could see, there are no buses that can be hired (we had 13 people in our group in 2012 and we tried to see if we could get one to travel to our hotel but could not, so we had to use four taxis).
Tulamben is probably more a village than a town. It is a one street town, with the main highway passing through it. There are a couple of laneways that run down to the water, but they only lead to hotels or the beach. There are numerous hotels, dive shops and restaurants (more about these later) as well as a single supermarket and a gift type shop. I think I worked out there were 19 dive resorts here! That is about it.
There are probably about 20 different accommodation options in Tulamben. I used Tulamben Wreck Divers in 2012 and 2014, but Liberty Divers in 2023. There are also Mata Hari, Paradise, Tauch Terminal, Mimpi and more. Do an internet search and you will find some, but not all I suspect.
|Our accommodation at Tulamben Wreck Divers
|The view from our room
Of these, Paradise was very basic (not open in 2023) but looked okay (two of our friends stayed there), Mata Hari was a bit nicer and Tauch Terminal even better. There was also another more upmarket place south of these called Mimpi.
As mentioned, we stayed at Tulamben Wreck Divers but I would not recommend them now as the Australian half owner has left and it is not as good. I have heard some poor reports about them since Covid finished. I also had a bad experience where the owner messaged me and without including his name and asked me some questions about when I was arriving. I had never booked with him, I had merely asked for pricing months before. He then sent a driver to pick me up. I thought it was Liberty who I had actually booked with.
In 2023 I stayed at Liberty Divers Resort. It is up the street a bit and there are three other resorts in the same lane. It was very nice, good rooms, two pools. Rooms were small, larger and two rooms. The small ones are more than enough for two people. Rooms had a few powerpoints, but bring a powerboard. They use the two prong (wide) plug.
Accommodation at Liberty Divers also includes breakfast. This included juice (freshly pulped), bacon, egg, sausage, tomato, toast tea/coffee or pancakes. It was quite nice.
There is a very small supermarket almost opposite the Tulamben Wreck Divers shop and a larger one up the street near Liberty Divers. The first one sells soft drinks, beer, spirits, biscuits, chips and nuts etc. It also sells more substantial items. The other one is more substantial, but did not seem to sell beer.
The local beer is Bintang. It is allegedly a pilsner, but I doubt it. It is a reasonable beer, but nothing special. It is drinkable. Cost was 27,000 rp for a small can/bottle (was 18,000 rp in 2014) and 40,000 rp for a large bottle (was 28,000 rp). There are some other beers, including imported stuff, but the Bintang is as good as them and cheaper.
Soft drinks are about 6,000 rp a small can or bottle (Coke, Coke No Sugar, Schweppes including Tonic) and chips and nuts are cheaper than back home. There are also small and large bottles of drinking water. I purchased a beers to have before going to dinner.
There are numerous places to eat in Tulamben. The place we ended up eating most of our lunches was the Liberty Divers restaurant. I also had some at a place called Rusti about 330 metres down the main road. This was cheaper and good.
For dinners, we ate at a few more places. As well as Liberty Divers (which again was cheap and good - 120,00 rp (for meal and a large beer), we tried Mata Hari quite a few times. I had a really excellent and hot Nasi Goring. The food here was cheaper that some of the other places that look over the water. We also ate at Oceanview Divers down the lane a few times, the Flamingo Chinese (nice but too loud) and Wayan Restaurant. All were good and similar prices.
I also had a couple of simple dinners at Rusti, very cheap and good.
As mentioned there are many dive shops/operators in the town. Most are connected to accommodation, but some appear to be independent. We used Tulamben Wreck Divers in 2012 and 2014 as we had a package deal including accommodation. In 2023 I used Liberty Divers. Excellent service!
The base cost of dives was about US$30 each. They also organise transfers from the airport/Kuta for US$45 each way. If you organise a group you can get additional discounts. Nitrox was included in this price.
In 2012 and 2014 I did three dives a day, but some in our group did four. In 2023 I only did two, but they were longer than the earlier trips due to using Nitrox.
Most of the operators work similar, but this is how Liberty Divers do it. When you come to the dive shop, your gear will be ready waiting for you already set up. The tank and BCD are loaded into a small ute and you also get in the back. You are then transported to the dive site. You just put on your wetsuit before getting in the ute. The most famous, the wreck of the USAT Liberty, is only a few minutes drive at the most. The furthest of the sites is about six kilometres away. A couple of dives can be done by small boats and these leave from a beach.
Once at the site, you gear up and walk to the water's edge where your gear will be waiting. When back after the dive, you leave your gear on the beach and the tank is changed. After the second dive, it is carried back to the ute. You just need to walk back from the beach. Once back at the resort, you wash your camera and wet suit etc and then head back to your room. Your gear is washed by the guides.
The gear is then ready again when you come for your next dive.
Guides are provided for dives, but you do not need to use them if you do not want to (not sure if this is Liberty's policy). However, I would suggest that you should use them for most of your dives as they will show you where all the incredible creatures are to be found. We would certainly never have seen as much as we did if we did not use a guide. In 2014 I did perhaps three dives without a guide, all of which were dives at sites we had already done at least once.
It is wise to do the wreck of the Liberty early as the hordes of divers from Kuta arrive about 8:30 am and you do not want to be in the water then. They generally do three dives, so it is not clear again till after 3 or 4 pm. On the first two trips we mostly dived there at 6:30 am and then again in the late afternoon. It was nice to go back to the resort after this early dive and have breakfast.
You can arrange tours with your accommodation, dive shop or probably even just walking along the street. A nice all day tour is to the water temple (you could do this on the way back to Denpasar) and the Mother Temple as well as other things like coffee farms and the volcano lake. We did both these on our last day and worked out a price which gave us credit for the money we had already paid to get back to the airport. One thing, if you visit the Mother Temple, take some long pants. Otherwise, you will need to purchase a sarong to cover your legs. This applies to males and females.
An excellent holiday. You can easily spent a couple of weeks diving here. The all up cost of a week in 2012 was about AU$800 each (plus airfares) for about 15 dives, accommodation, meals and drinks. I was staying in the most expensive accommodation then. In 2023 I stayed 16 nights, 29 dives and all other costs was AU$2900.