A tiny, charmingly scruffy port of transit for the neighboring island of Lombok and beyond, Padangbai is northeast of Gianyar (29 km), Kuta (62 km), and Denpasar (56 km). One of the most relaxed beaches on Bali, the port faces the Bali Strait and Nusa Penida. From Denpasar, take a bus from Batubulan or Amlapura, from Klungkung take a 'bemo'. Or just hop on any bus out of Batubulan heading for Amlapura, get off at the turnoff to Padangbai, then hitch a ride down to the port.
The area offers varied and exciting hiking. Hidden coves a short distance down the coast. The hills behind the bay present gorgeous views of Nusa Penida across the Bali Strait.
Climb the paved road at the bay's northeast corner above the port to visit the headland on which perches Pura Silayukti, once a hermitage of the 11th-century Javanese priest Empu Kuturan, Erlangga's contemporary who purportedly introduced the caste system to Bali. Pura Telagamas is nearby and Pura Tanjungsari is about 100 meters farther along the headland. Watch fishing boats chug out at night and return with their catch in the morning.
You can sunbathe on the beach stretching north of the Pantai Ayu Restaurant, though the water is too polluted for swimming. A 15-minute walk over a grassy hill will bring you to quiet, sandy, beautiful Pantai Kecil in the quiet palm-lined village of Biastugal. Walk along the seawall, following it until you see a big tree, then take the flight of stairs, walk on the road past a temple on a bluff, and descend to the small, uncrowded white beach.
To the southwest are more gray-sand beaches. The idyllic beach to the north, on Blue Lagoon Bay, is a longer walk, but has better snorkeling because of shallower water (but not the best swimming). The variety of fish and the hard coral outcrops on the sandy bottom are outstanding. Several places in Padangbai rent snorkeling equipment.
At least three dive spots are found off Padangbai, all a 10-15 minute 'jukung' ride out into Amuk Bay. The water is cold. Use a wetsuit. Pura Jepun, only 50 meters from shore, is a mixed reef with a flat, sandy bottom and a visibility of 10-12 meters, teeming with a great variety of fish, including some stingrays.
On the way to Pura Jepun you'll pass a lighthouse on the north point of Padangbai Bay, then the rocky headland marking the entrance to Blue Lagoon Bay, with its brilliant white-sand beach and 25-meter-dropoff. Charter a boat from Padangbai. South of Padangbai's harbor is Tanjung Bungsil, where the sloping bottom flattens out at between nine to 10 meters and the fish are numerous and varied.
Travel and transport services sell tickets to all over Bali and to the neighboring island of Lombok. Arriving from Lombok, a line of 'bemo' waits in the main car park at the end of the jetty to take passengers to all the major points on Bali. Walk 100 meters from the harbor gate to catch 'bemo'-blue for Klungkung, orange for Amlapura and Candidasa.
After 1800, it's difficult to find a 'bemo', unless you walk out to the main road and flag one down. There are also buses to Probolinggo (East Java), Surabaya, Malang and Yogya.