Too Sketchy to Stay: Why I Left Penida Dive Resort
Penida Dive Resort is the worst dive center I’ve ever been to.
This is the first dedicated negative review I’ve ever written on this site and the point of it is not only to caution you from going there but also to encourage you to leave a situation if you ever feel unsafe.
Hannah and I caught a boat from Sanur to Nusa Penida, a beautiful and largely uninhabited island off of the coast of Bali, near Nusa Lembongan. The surrounding reefs are known for being habitats of the Mola Mola fish and manta rays. We were so excited to see these beauties for ourselves, and booked a few nights stay and five dives at the Penida Dive Resort.
First Impressions of Penida Dive Resort
When we walked into Penida Dive Resort, we were greeted by a smiling Indonesian woman. She led us to our hotel room priced at 30,000 IDR, around 33% above market rate for that area.
The owner was standing near the reception desk but did not acknowledge or smile at us, which I thought was strange. The dive industry in general has a strong reputation for attracting friendly people, so it felt weird to have such an awkward welcome.
The bathroom was moldy with strange rust-colored liquid splattered along the sides of the walls. My first thought was that the red stains were blood, but it’s likely melted glue that’s dripped down from ceiling. The beds were creaky, uncomfortable, and had one thin sheet draped onto a yellowed mattress. There was no secure place to lock our laptops or camera gear.
I’m not generally a picky person and neither is Hannah, so we shrugged it off and put our things away.
Hannah and I wanted to go for a mid-day snorkel so we walked over to the dive gear area to borrow some equipment. Almost none of the gear matched and all looked as though it’d been acquired secondhand. Think wetsuits with holes, tattered BCDs, and regulators lying on the floor. Some of the equipment was bound together with zip-ties and tape. There was no way you’d be able to arrange a set-up that fit and was safe.
That night, we met another female diver who had been at the dive center for a few days. She donned a dark black eye. Someone jumped on top of her while getting out of the dive boat, knocking her eye socket with the tank.
Barbara, the dive instructor and guide, talked primarily to a group of young, male divers in their twenties. She never introduced herself, despite being our guide for the next morning. When we asked her whether we could sort out our equipment ahead of time (because of the state the gear was in), she draped her wrist in my direction and scoffed, “We’ll deal with that later.”
Things Start to Feel Unsafe
The next morning, the owner told us that the dive center would not being going to the manta ray dive site. Hannah and I opted to stay back an extra day and explore the island of Nusa Penida and dive the day after.
The entire time there, I only saw Barbara as the guide and instructor. There were both fun divers and open water students. So, it looked like the open water student was mixing with the fun divers. Hold up, aren’t open water students supposed to be with an instructor only — separated from the fun divers? How can someone focus on teaching while keeping an eye on eight or nine other divers?
A few days before, news came into my personal life that one of my close friends had a diving accident where two divers in his group, including the guide, died because of a negligent dive company. You can read the account from a man on the rescue boat and hear the testimony of my friend at the bottom of this article called, License to Kill.
Around this point, I started feeling really uncomfortable with the way things were running. There were way too many customers for Barbara to handle on her own — and she was super proud of the pictures she’d gotten on the last dive.
The morning of our dive, Hannah and I were the only ones out of our room at 7 a.m. and ready to go. Nobody asked to see our dive licenses. We walked around the dive center hoping to talk to someone who could help us find fitting equipment.
A few hours later, Barbara walked out of her bedroom. She’d fallen off her motorbike the night before and painful-looking scrapes covered her arms. She told us to chill out and wait a little while to get going. During the downtime, I heard her tell another diver, “I have the perfect old-school mask today for photos!” Dive guides are supposed to focus on their divers, especially at sites known for currents, not how they’ll look in a photograph.
At 10 a.m., It looked like there would be ten other divers with us on our dive– a site that’s known for its strong currents. There was a scuffle for equipment with everyone scrambling to find gear that fit — like kids running after candy from a busted pinata. If someone found a set up that matched and didn’t have holes or duct tape holding it together, I swear they would’ve yelled “BINGO!”
Hannah and I discussed the many waving red flags and with a sinking feeling.
Were we overreacting? Were we just being babies? Maybe this was normal? We texted a few other more experienced divers for their thoughts. They all told us to back out and cut our losses (both time and money).
I thought of my friend.
Maybe, with some clear information, we’d feel safer. I walked up to the receptionist and asked how many people would be going with us on our dive. She said she didn’t know — maybe nine or eleven? Maybe one open water student? All she knew was that Barbara would be the only guide.
Barbara was nowhere to be seen to ask about the dive, and divers were geared up to go at any minute.
I then went to the owner and told her that we’d be leaving to go to another island with another dive school. I listed all the reasons why we were felt unsafe why I did not feel comfortable diving with such a disorganized operation.
The owner simply said, “Sorry…” without offering any consolation or explanation for why so many things seemed unsafe at the dive school.
Hannah and I packed up our belongings, paid our balance, and caught a boat to the nearby island of Nusa Lembongan to dive with another company. As soon as our boat took off, I felt a wave of relief that we wouldn’t be diving with a shady operator and flighty guide.
Since our stay, four out of five most recent Tripadvisor ratings for Penida Dive Resort have been one star reviews.
The Only Highlight of Penida Dive Resort
The Indonesian staff were incredible. When Hannah and I had scrapes from our motorbike accidents, the Indonesian receptionist and the other staff were extremely concerned and attentive — offering us bandages and checking in to see if we needed anything. For our entire stay (three days), they were friendly, talkative, and were the only ones who even acknowledged our presence.
Well This is Awkward
Throughout my travels, I’ve yet to really run into a bad tour or diving operator where I felt unsafe. Writing posts about companies I love, specifically Blue Marlin, Aqua Tao, and Blue Corner Dive, is a fun experience and I always enjoy hearing about readers and friends who have gone there because of these posts (and loved their time there as well).
Many bloggers shy away from writing anything unflattering in fear of scaring away potential brand partnerships. I can see why — it really is uncomfortable. However, I think it’s important not only for building trust with you guys but also for offering the best advice that I can. In this case, my advice would be to stay away from Penida Dive Resort and head to somewhere reputable, like Blue Corner Dive, instead if you’re wanting to dive around Nusa Lembongan or Nusa Penida in Bali.
The resort has many flaws — and ultimately I left because it was unsafe. I hope this post convinces you to do the same should you be in a similar situation. It’s not worth the financial loss, your happiness, or your health to dive somewhere shady.