So, you’ve come to Bali for the quintessential Eat, Pray, Love experience. You’ve done a photoshoot at the picturesque Tegalalang Rice Terraces, you’ve had something stolen by the agile primates of the monkey forest, and maybe you’ve even contracted a little “Bali Belly.” Though you’re probably starting to feel better now that you’ve enjoyed copious amounts of Mie Goreng or Acai bowls (whatever floats your boat). But, you’re still looking for that unique and off the beaten path experience! Well, I have the place for you to visit, the Ceningan Channel, home to some gorgeous coral walls and the underwater Buddha.
THE UNDERWATER BUDDHA
The underwater Buddha, stupas, as well as smaller statues of Ceningan are a sight to behold. Now, before a second internet rumour begins, this is basically a submerged art exhibit and maybe a conservation project. I’ll get to the background of this location and the potential inspiration for it in Pemuteran a little later. But, first I think I have to explain how invigorating it was to skindive next to these beautiful statues.
A few weeks ago, I saw an image of some divers and snorkellers in front of an underwater Buddha. It was so intriguing and unique, I just knew I had to go there. Underwater ruins aren’t terribly common and when I discovered how close it was to the next island I planned to visit, it seemed like a given that I’d go for a dive there.
Many internet commentators said the Buddha was near Bali, then a few others claimed it could be seen on a drift dive of the Ceningan Wall. Turns out it’s in the much shallower and more accessible Ceningan Channel. I have to admit, getting here wasn’t the easiest task from the island of Nusa Lembongan (30-40 minute speedboat ride from Sanur in Bali).
Many of the locals were confused when I asked to go see the underwater Buddha in Ceningan. Most tourists come to Lembongan to swim, dive or snorkel with the manta rays. Having seen mantas in Hawaii and Derawan (both times were very recent) I wanted a different experience. Over the course of my first few days in Bali, I showed photographs of the Buddha to people in restaurants and homestays, as well as a local guide I had met in the hope of finding someone who knew the location and would take me. Finally, the guide introduced me to a spear fisher who happened to go past this location weekly. His uncle then agreed to help me get there!
ORIGINS OF THE UNDERWATER BUDDHA
It turns out that after looking into the origins of the Underwater Buddha more closely I learned that the Pemuteran garden came first! Pemuteran is a beautiful fishing village on the northern coast of Bali. Considering that most people rarely venture farther north than Ubud it would be a wonderful refuge from the crowds. Particularly given the shallow depth of the Ceningan channel Buddha, I would highly suggest a visit to Bali Sea Rovers. It’s there where one can have an incredible once in a lifetime diving experience in an underwater garden
From Paul Turley’s video above: “The underwater ‘Temple Garden’ just off ‘Temple Wall’ dive site in Pemuteran. Part of the ‘Reef Gardeners’ a social/environmental project created in 2005. The main section of the ‘Temple Garden’ is down at 30mtrs, vis was hazy an light wasn’t great. Still I was quiet impressed with the results. No tweaking of the original footage. The ‘Temple Garden’ is just that. It is not a real temple or the ‘Atlantis of the East’ as one newspaper claimed. And it is definitely not a theme park as another claimed. It is made primarily of natural stone carved locally and makes a very good medium for coral growth, as can be seen.”
After doing a little more research and learning it’s not an ancient site, I finally understood why people were so confused. This isn’t a sacred place that has been around for generations and would be known to inhabitants of Lembongan or Ceningan.
Now more well known by name, the Pemuteran Temple Garden was actually built by Captain Paul M. Turley, Chris Brown, as well as a number of other local businesses and artists. I should note, I’m not sure if this place in Ceningan Channel is an imitation of that or a second conservation installation by Turley, Brown etc. But, regardless of when these statues were sunk, the site is still very beautiful and worth a visit if you are in this area.
HOW TO FIND THE UNDERWATER BUDDHA
For people who like tours and groups, there’s now an organized snorkel or underwater scooter tour: The day tour costs $95 USD or Rp.1.330.000. But, I would encourage people to use a local guide who can take them to the area for a less crowded and more relaxed underwater experience! This is something you could easily combine with other snorkeling destinations in the area. You won’t be disappointed as you’ll have the chance to snorkel with a beautiful manmade 2.5-meter-tall (8.2 ft) statue of Buddha in the middle of several stupas!
The Buddha is facing North and is located at the entrance to the Ceningan channel. To arrive here I took a small local boat departing from the mangrove forest on Lembongan Island. For more information on price points and tours you can contact Hendra Sakti (firstname.lastname@example.org, IG @sakti_tour) who resides on Bali, but regularly travels from there to Lembongan. Or reach out to Wayan Nane (IG @nanewayan).
Coming from the Mangrove Center on Nusa Lembongan one would enter the channel between Lembongan and Ceningan, it is near the end of the Ceningan Island on the north end. I’d highly advise against trying to swim into the channel independently as there are many boats, also it can be quite rough. So, hire a local guide with a boat and they can help you get right up to the underwater buddha. If you’d like to depart from Ceningan, you must simply cross the bridge from Lembongan and turn left then head to the north end of the island.
Do you have other tips on how to get to these Underwater Buddhas in Bali? Please share with our readers in the comments below! Read Next > Indonesia’s Nusa Lembongan, Ceningan and Penida in 4 Days