Standing on the beach staring out at the deep blue water, it’s hard to imagine a world so vibrant and full of life lying just a few meters away from our feet. My dive group and I shuffle slowly into the water, careful not to slip on the smooth black stones beneath our boots. With all our gear in place and a quick press of our deflators, we descend down into this beautiful wonderland hidden just below the surface.
Tulamben. Widely known as one of Bali’s most popular diving destinations, Tulamben was put on the diving map after the discovery of the USAT Liberty wreck lying just meters offshore. Once a sleepy fishing village, it has now been transformed into a world famous dive destination, and for good reason too.
Located in the North East of the island, Tulamben sits in the shadow of Mount Agung, Bali’s highest volcano. Its name even derives from the word batulambih meaning many stones, a reference to Mount Agung’s destructive past. It is these eruptions that have shaped the region into what it is today and gives the landscape above and below the water a very distinctive feel.
The fishing trade that once drove the town has made way for the diving industry leaving the protected waters in the surrounding area teaming with marine life. The many people who would have once played their part in the busy fishing scene now keep the booming diving industry heading in the right direction by carrying out important jobs such as expert dive guides, Jukong boat drivers and tank porters.
These porters can often be seen carrying up to 3 full sets of equipment on the back of their bike or balanced effortlessly on top of their heads without even breaking a sweat, don’t try that at home! The town itself still has that sleepy village feel, with one main road cutting through the middle with nothing more than a handful of restaurants, bars and shops, and of course, plenty of dive centres.
There is limited access to ATM machines, with only one located in the town so don’t forget to bring enough cash for your stay or ask your driver to stop at one of the many moneychangers along the way. Most dive centres take payment by card for the diving but you will need cash when paying for meals in town or any other activities. As far as eating goes, there are a few options in the dive resorts and around town with restaurants and bars offering both local and western dishes to suit everybody’s taste. Local dishes such as Gado Gado, Nasi Campur and the various Satay sticks with delicious peanut sauce are all delicious and fantastic value.
If you find yourself with some free time when not diving, take a drive to the nearby temples and water palaces to take in some local history and culture, visit neighbouring town Kubu for some relaxing Spa treatments or even just take a walk in the hills behind the town to get a feel for the spectacular scenery.
No trip to Bali is complete with out a stop off in Ubud, located high up in the hills on the way back to the airport and making a great stop off for a few nights before heading home. Visit the local markets and jewellers, take a scenic stroll through mile upon mile of rice paddies or even white water rafting for the more adventurous.
Most of the diving in Tulamben is done from the shore along the large curved bay making the cost of diving incredibly low. Prices start from as little as US$20 per dive and most dive centres offer accommodation and diving packages to keep things easy. There are loads of dive centres in and around town to choose from, with most of them situated within walking distance of the beach. After seeming to spend most of my working career in the dive industry loading boats or trucks with dive equipment and tanks, the ease of diving in Tulamben was a welcome surprise.
With our masks, fins and cameras in hand, we followed our expert guide on foot to the various entry points at the beach and moments later, our gear would arrive balanced on the head of one of the porters or piled up on the back of a motorbike ready to go diving. When we were done, we simply left our tanks lined up at the beach and our guide would call out to a passing porter on the short walk home, and the gear would then arrive back at the dive centre ready for a full tank of air for the next dive.
The entries can be a bit wobbly and thick-soled diving booties are recommended to protect your feet while getting in and out. I had my camera passed to me once I was in the water and fully kitted up to minimize the risk of it being dropped while getting in. Wading out just a few meters however, the seafloor slowly sloped off into the distance making for an easy relaxed descent.
At around 6m the stones give way to a black volcanic sandy sea floor, which is home to the huge variety of fish and critters that make Tulamben so popular with underwater photographers. The bay itself is home to many dive sites, most of which are accessible from the beach, the most famous being the Drop Off, Coral Garden and of course the Liberty Wreck. Conditions at these dive sites ...