Wonders Under the Waves

Stunning as the landscapes can be, some of the most beautiful parts of Bali lie under the waves. One of the main things that drew us to this island, besides the distinctive culture, is the coral reefs. Now that we’ve had a chance to snorkel some of them, they’ve been everything we hoped for.

In the little fishing and diving village of Jemeluk (pictured above)—which we liked so much that we stayed there twice, with long bus rides to reach it each time—a swim of 10 yards from the beach brings you to coral more beautiful than anything we’ve seen in the Caribbean. Dappled sunlight plays over a garden-like landscape of pale and bright blues, pinks, greens, browns, and the occasional purple or dark orange. Fish add every color of the rainbow, especially yellow, blue, green, and orange.

The landscape you’re swimming over and among is three-dimensional, with little hills, cliffs, and plains of coral, and sandy-bottomed canyons running through them. Fish are all around you, some hugging the bottom, others skimming along an inch or two below the surface of the water. Solitary or in schools, they chase each other around or nibble algae off the coral, seemingly oblivious to your presence. Others—especially little white- and black-striped sergeant majors—are inquisitive and come right up to take a look at you. It’s like swimming through a giant aquarium.

One afternoon we rented mopeds and rode about 10 miles down the coast from Jemeluk to snorkel over a wrecked Japanese ship. Scuba divers love wrecks, but most are in water too deep for snorkelers to see them very well. This ship, however, sank in fairly shallow water just about 25 yards from shore, so it was good for snorkeling. Although the sea was a bit choppy that day, which churned up the sand and reduced visibility, it was still cool to see what were obviously masts, a propeller, and the bow or stern (now vertical) covered with corals and home to lots of fish.

The profusion of fish are the main stars at Jemeluk and the rest of the Amed coast, which is Bali’s easternmost point. On the far northwestern coast of Bali, by contrast, the coral is the big draw. There, from the town of Pemuteran, we took a minibus and then a boat out to uninhibited Menjangan Island, which is part of Bali’s only national park. Although there are fewer species of fish there, the coral is as beautiful and vibrant as anything we saw on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The four hours we spent in the water there were some of the best snorkeling we’ve ever had—definitely worth the time and trouble of getting there.

If it weren’t for things like fatigue, masks fogging up, or having to pay attention to sun exposure or the level of the tide, we could stay out there—paddling around and spying on the underwater world—forever.

It’s amazing, sitting in a lounge chair or a restaurant looking out at the blue-gray, largely featureless ocean, to think that all of that teeming life is hidden down there—until you put on a mask and take a peek.


    • We could, but it would be just one more thing to lug around. And it’s harder to get really good underwater pics while snorkeling than while diving because you are bobbing on the waves.

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