The little town of Pemuteran in northwest Bali reminds me of Bali when I was a young girl: still a tad touristy, but retaining an authentic, Real-People-Live-Here vibe. And compared to the uber visited areas of south Bali, it feels a world away. It’s peaceful. A bit more gentle and easy going. Definitely less touristy.
I guess it should because getting to Pemuteran is a chore for most holidaymakers with a week or less to spend on the Island of the Gods. From what I gather, people come here mostly for Bali’s premier diving reserve just a thirty-minute boat ride away, near Pulau Menjangan (Menjangan Island). So, if you want to make the journey to Pemuteran, you’ve got two choices, really:
How to get to Pemuteran, Bali
1. Arrive via Denpasar airport and then drive up to Pemuteran via private car (about 4 hours one way in decent traffic), public bus or motorcycle rental, or
2. Arrive via Gilimanuk ferry terminal (from Java) and then drive or catch a public minivan (angkot — about 40 minutes) to Pemuteran.
We chose the latter, and the trip from Java to Gilimanuk alone was a pretty fun adventure; you can read about it here.
Catching an angkot into the town of Pemuteran from Gilimanuk proved a bit trickier than we thought, however, because it was a public holiday and thus public transportation was not according to normal schedule. We ended up hiring an angkot to drive us to Pemuteran, but for about a 66% cost upgrade on the drivers’s part. Still, it only cost us 150,000 Rupiah (about 11 USD) so we really can’t complain.
Where to Stay in Pemuteran
Pemuteran has several swanky resorts right on the beach, but since we were on a budget, we looked for home stays/bungalows on the west side of town. We just asked the angkot driver to stop on the side of the road and wait as I scouted out a room. Even though it was Indonesia’s Independence Day holiday weekend, several places had rooms to let, and we lucked out by finding a cute bungalow at a place called Tirta Sari. This spa/restaurant/hotel combo was awesome, actually. We had our own cute bungalow with AC, mosquito netting, shared kitchenette with fridge (set between our bungalow and another) and an outdoor bathroom for 700,000 IDR. Breakfast included.
I’ve always heard about outdoor bathrooms but had never experienced one for myself until now, and I have to say, it was pretty nice! The toilet area is covered overhead, but otherwise the remaining room and shower area is ceiling-less, but surrounded by pretty, tiled walls. The only problem was we had to keep that bathroom door closed at all times to keep the mosquitoes from flooding into our room.
Once we settled into our room, we took a short, two-minute stroll down a sandy lane to the beach, passing a friendly boy who sat eating guava in a tree!
Since Pemuteran is a popular snorkeling area — it lies just 30 minutes south of Bali’s most famous dive reserve of Menjangan Island (Pulau Menjangan) — dive and snorkeling facilities are everywhere, and we passed one of the most recommended just before accessing the beach: Reef Seen.
Just skirt to the right of Reef Seen, and then … voila!
Unlike south Bali, we discovered the beaches here are of black, volcanic sand. And all around, sienna-hued mountains surround the coastline, so that it feels mildly Mediterranean. Along the beach, several resorts set up stalls where one can purchase a beer or grab dinner, but we just walked on the sand and took pictures as the sun set, heading eastward until we found this picturesque alley leading from the beach, back into town.
Back in town, we wandered along the main road, though the town doesn’t have a whole lot going on, to be honest. A few souvenir and convenient shops, ATMs, a handful of cafes, several snorkel/dive shops and then the requisite smattering of local “gas stations,” which never fail to amuse me. The draw here is definitely the beach, snorkeling and diving.
We eventually ended back at Tirta Sari, and we didn’t know it when we booked into this place, but we discovered that our hotel has a roadside restaurant that, at least on the night we were there, was the most popular in town! We decided to give it a go ourselves and soon realized why this place was so crowded. The menu is extensive, the drinks list long and reasonably-priced; the actual food was tasty, if not smallish in portion, but what really sets Tirta Sari apart is its presentation of … everything. Every dish was served on a pretty wood or wicker plate covered with a fresh cut banana leaf, then embellished with flowers and pandanus leaf origami. And if you had a dipping sauce, a cute little basket woven from banana and/or pandanus topped it all off. I think the presentation took longer than the actual food prep, but hey, an artist can not be compromised!
The next morning, we took another walk to the beach before heading west toward the mountain town of Munduk. (We had to eventually make our way down to the airport as we had a departing flight early Tuesday morning). I didn’t realize it the night before, but directly in front of the beach by our hotel, there is a snorkeling reserve, so even if you don’t have the time or money to charter a boat to Pulau Menjangan, you can still enjoy some of what these waters have to offer, beach-side.
From Pemuteran, we hopped into the private car we’d hired to take us to Munduk, which is just under 2 hours to the east. I believe we paid about 200,000 Rupiah for the trip — again, way more than what our guidebook indicated, but I attempted my best bargaining, so either prices went up over the holiday or (gasp) the guidebook’s 2015 version … um, isn’t. Either way, we were just happy to be out of our airline-delay-and-roach-motel-layover-hell from the past two days. Today was Sunday; we had a whole day and a half left to enjoy Bali before flying out Tuesday morning, so we paid up and went for it.
Just four kilometers out of town, an interesting temple rises over the sea, flanked with carved dragons and inhabited by monkeys. We stopped for some photos, paying 10,000 Rupiah at the kiosk just beside the entry way for the requisite sarong and sash one needs to wear for temple entry. Fetching, eh?
This temple, called Pura Pabean, is set in stunning surroundings with the sea to the north and mountains to the south. A steep stairway leads down from the center, where a strange set of statues slowly erode from sea spray. I don’t know what these statues represent, but I read somewhere that this is actually a separate — and much older — temple called, aptly enough, Pura Segara. (Segara means “ocean.”)
Just to the west of both of these temples — and across the street from yet another temple called Pura Pulaki — we came across a rather unexpected sight. Dozens of macaques diving and frolicking in a tiny lagoon facing the sea!
So that’s a wrap of our short stay in Pemuteran. Even though we didn’t get to appreciate the main draw of the area — the snorkeling and diving — we had a great time taking in the scenery and just relaxing. If we ever get a chance, we’ll definitely be back. Honestly, I’d almost lost faith in Bali until we came here; it is such a refreshing change from the tawdry bustle of Kuta and commercialism of Seminyak. This is where to come if you just want to relax and take in north Bali’s famous coral reefs. And the best part? I don’t think I spotted a single tacky t-shirt or, er, Kuta “key chain.”
Coming up, the lush mountain town of Munduk, then a road trip south to Kuta and the airport area with stops along the way.