Canggu is my preferred place to stay if I find myself staying in Bali for an extended period of time. It’s convenient, trendy, a little hipster, and the surf is a lot of fun in this area. After spending two weeks here, I decided to put together a women’s guide so that you can narrow down your options on places to stay, where to eat, shop, do yoga, and, my favorite, find wine. 


Kos One Hostel / Canggu Village
This is the area’s most Instagrammed place right now. It’s two properties combined into one area that markets to digital nomads and for those looking to party. They have a long list of daily classes beginning with yoga and Crossfit to get your morning started and then more social events in the afternoon to early evening.

The restaurant on site is awesome providing healthy Western options like açaí bowls, pressed juice, strong coffee, fresh smoothies, and poke. They also have unhealthier local options like nasi goreng and mie goreng.

I stayed here for 4 days in a hostel for about $22 USD per night.  The rooms itself were all modernized with outlets near the bed, safety security boxes and privacy curtains. 

If you want to get a ton of great pictures for your Instagram feed in a prime location, this is the spot to do it. Swings, waterslide, high deck to do flips in the pool for adrenaline junkies, and a swim-up bar. Check out Alternative Beach which is the pool onsite.  They accept cash and credit card making it ultra-convenient. 

Ayok Surf & Stay

If you aren’t a party person and prefer something a bit mellower, I’d recommend staying at Ayok Surf & Stay. I found out about this place from another blog I read up on and found it to be a great recommendation. I mostly liked it’s modern, stylish, surf decor – including an enlarged reprint of Ayok as a child with a surfboard. I get my own room for about the same price as Kos One shared hostel, the showers are nice with complimentary towels, shampoo, and body wash, and the beds are comfortable providing more than just a sheet. The wifi also works well enough to stream if you need to do any work online or want to take a down day to watch a movie. 

The only con to staying here is that there is no pool or activities included and it’s cash only. This is really meant for independent travelers who prefer doing their own thing or introverts who don’t like a lot of different energy floating around. 

The road it’s located runs parallel to Kos One Hostel / Canggu Village (Echo Corner) but I find it to be quieter and perhaps a little more high-class. There are nicer boutiques and cafes on this side and it’s still in a prime location walking distance close to the beach. My preference would be to stay here instead of right next to the beach. There’s a bit more of a scene in this area and the beach is a short 10-minute walk away.

I ended up staying at Ayok Surf & Stay for one week in two trips combined. If you stay here for a week, they’ll likely provide you with a weekly discount.  They also offer private transport services to the airport for 250K rupiah ($20 USD).


There is no shortage of great restaurants in this area that’ll meet pretty much any demand you desire. Local food, Italian, Indian, vegan/vegetarian, and sushi lovers. You may need to account for an extra 15-20% on all meals because they add a 10% tax, 5-6% service charge, and 3% fee for using credit cards. But, hey, it’s super convenient and it holds up to our western standards. 


Bar K

Bar K. Best value local food in the area.

This is one of those under the radar places. Another traveler introduced me to this place for its value and quality of food and she did not disappoint! They offer fresh-squeezed juices like dragonfruit for only $1 USD (15K rupiah), nasi goreng for about $1.50 (20-25K), Bintang bucket specials, and a selection of western food if you’re in a group and want more options. The portions are healthy, service is pretty fast, they accept credit cards, and they don’t charge a tax or service fee.  If you get a sweet tooth, there’s an awesome ice cream stand next to the restaurant with progressive flavored ice creams like charcoal. 


Varuna Storefront. Known for Nasi Campur.

This place was listed on GoogleMaps as one of the best warungs in Canggu and I can see why. They have an excellent nasi campur (where you pick what you want from a wide variety of pre-made food) made with the freshest ingredients. This place never felt overcrowded but there were always a few people in there even in the slow season. They’re known for the nasi campur, but I ate the nasi goreng on both occasions. I highly recommend either because both are sought after.


If your style is more gourmand or you’re looking for something more vibey, then check out these spots.

La Brisa 

Ambient lighting at La Brisa

This is probably the most popular venue in Canggu and for good reason. AMBIANCE! It’s one of those specially curated places you have to go at least once, especially at sunset. The venue is quite large with different rooms and seating areas. Fancy a treehouse table? Or, perhaps, sitting closer beachside is your thing. This place has something for everyone and is great for solo travelers or groups. 

Catching up with friends in the right place at the right time.

I’ve gone without a reservation on a couple of occasions without a problem and made a reservation for another. They have tables you can sit with prime locations and comfortable pillows really meant for lounging for a $70 minimum (1 million rupiahs) which is easy to do, or you can still sit in sunset view at one of the stools for free. I love that they offer a little creativity to their dishes and that the quality of taste matches the price. They also offer a pretty good shisha here.  This is my favorite lounge spot!

The Lawn

This place makes the list for its awesome beach location and loungey atmosphere. There’s a pool you can keep cool if you aren’t feeling those salty-sandy vibes and they have lounge booths for groups you can reserve for a minimum. I personally prefer coming here at night instead of the day because it’s just too hot without AC. They offer a decent wine list, tasty sangria sold by the carafe, 2-for-1 happy hour on crafted cocktails which is an amazing deal. The food is average. This is more of a place to go if you’re looking for drinks and ambiance. 


Mason. Quiet by day. Busy by night.

I must have walked past this place a million times and every time at night it was always bustling. This restaurant also finally kept popping up on my GoogleMaps as highly rated. Finally, on my last night in Canggu, I decided to give it a whirl after the Italian restaurant I loved was full.  I’m so glad I did! 

First, the wine list. Once I saw their extensive menu ranging from local wine to French Chateauneuf du Pape, I was sold on staying. I plopped myself down on a bar stool with a great view of the bartenders mixing craft cocktails and seeing the works behind the open kitchen. I really enjoyed the lively atmosphere with a select range of edging hip hop music to a more indie poppy vibe. 

Now for the food. Their menu is very food-forward ranging from artisan hummus dips to cured meat platters, but they’re really known for their charcoal chicken. Because I haven’t been eating much meat on this trip (only fish) I decided to give it a pass and try the smoked tuna hummus with bread. Initially, when I ordered it I thought I was actually getting the tuna meat and was going to bypass the bread. Instead, it came out has a hummus with fresh pita bread. But, oh my god, so bomb. I absolutely loved it! If I love something as simple as that – then I know their other dishes have to be great. 

I didn’t eat much more than that because I was drinking my calories and instead was people watching what everyone else ordered. This is a nice place to come visit if you’re looking for a lively atmosphere and happy, smiling staff. 


Go right at the beach to find my preferred surf rental shop. The most popular break is straight ahead.

Batu Balong Beach
There are other beaches in Canggu to surf, but this one is the most convenient and easiest. It’s near the accommodations and boutiques I listed above, there are plenty of surfboard rentals in the area, and lots of beachside restaurants to hydrate with fresh young coconut water. 

I recommend going to Canggu Surf (I might be off on the name). They’re not on GoogleMaps but if you go down the main road (same as Kos Hostel) you’ll see Old Man’s (iconic party bar) on the left and a few restaurants on the right. Go right of the restaurants until you see a little surfboard shop/set up on the beach. I really love these guys because they finally encouraged me to get off a foam board and start using a real board. I had the most epic time and two of my best waves ever after that! Their point entry isn’t at the most popular break (straight ahead in the photo above) but in-between the popular break and a quieter one with fewer people but fewer waves. They also offer free freshwater showers and toilets for paying customers which is super nice after the beach and a place to store your belongings. I never ran into any problems. Ask for Coco! 

Be prepared for lots of beginner surfers and everyone going for it at Batu Balong because of its prime location, encouraging big swell, and gentle break. There is no line or wait for your turn. Everyone will go for the same waves, but that’s okay! Everyone wants to ride and sometimes you’ll literally find yourself touching boards with another surfer while dodging others with as many as 5 people at a time. It’s all a part of the charm, I suppose. It feels super communal and no local attitudes who are quite nice! There are plenty of good waves so don’t feel like someone snaked you. It’s all good in the hood around these parts.


While a lot of accommodations that offer yoga, including some inclusively, if you’re looking for the best I’d recommend checking out The Practice. At places like Kos One, the loud music or festivities in the background can be very distracting.

I traveled with my own yoga travel mat so I did most of my yoga from my own room. Booking a room with A/C is super nice at places like Ayok Surf & Stay.


My favorite swimwear boutique

I dropped some serious dough on all the boutiques in Canggu and literally walked in every single shop within a mile radius. You get high-quality, light, and fashion-forward designs. There are very few places in the world I like to shop and this is marked on my world top five and #1 neighborhood to shop for clothes in all of Indonesia. There’s a lot of Australian-designer influence here so you’re not getting the cheesy, tacky, souvenir type shops. Instead, it’s affordable (under $100 for an outfit) sometimes handmade pieces. It’s also beach-chic Boho-ish, but not from your grandmother’s Boho closet.

Shopping can be a very personal experience but if you book at Ayok Surf & Stay or Google Gypsy Restaurant, the best ones are literally on that corner (Echo Corner).

If you want stylishly cropped tees, try Bali Tees on the street that runs parallel at a store called PressBan. Bali Tees donates a small portion of each sale to humanitarian and environmental projects in Bali. You can get cool “bagus” accessories here too.

The jewelry in Canggu is also very stylish. You’ll find lots of affordable gold-plated jewelry to mala-styled beads. The good necklaces like this one will cost you about $80 USD (1.2 million rupiah).

My favorite places to find jewelry is Fineline, a jewelry boutique, and MA:HI jewelry found at 21 Degrees boutique.

The only jewelry markets I’d avoid are the vendors you bargain for. One girl while I was shopping for rings said she bought her ring a week prior and it already started turning green when they guarantee their jewelry is gold plated brass. I bought a sterling silver ring for about $7 USD that broke less than two weeks after I left. That’s why I always prefer buying from a reliable boutique instead of junk shops.


Spring Salon
I did try a handful of massage places and spas in the area, but I found Spring Salon to be the best one to treat yourself at. All of these women are highly qualified. I received a shellac/gel manicure and pedicure, facial, stretch therapy massages, deep tissue massages, waxes, and other eye treatments.

You can’t be the prices when compared to western standards. If you get a stretch therapy massage, ask for Sudari. She’s the best! Also, it’s highly recommended you make a reservation. I once had to come in at three different times for different treatments because they book up quickly.


Vineyard is an excellent place to buy beer and wine at retail price.

I was surprised to find a reasonable variety of wine in Canggu including Balinese wine. From what I gather (correct me if I’m wrong) is that they get their grapes from Australia and make it in Bali. I haven’t been able to dig too deep into the wine culture, but with westerners coming here there’s been an increasing demand. Some common local labels found in restaurants and liquor stores are Plaga and Cape Discovery. You can find a bottle in a liquor store for around 200K rupiah and, of course, served at a higher markup in restaurants. The wine itself isn’t bad! Just as good as any under $20 bottle of wine from a grocery store in the states. I preferred the Cape Discovery Syrah the most though.


WJ Laundry

WJ Laundry

Knowing who you can trust to do your laundry here can be less than convincing with expensive garments, but I did find a laundry service that was able to return my brand new whites without any stains, pressed, and folded. Out of the 3 times I used them, only once did my clothes come back after 3 pm the next day. All other times were ready before noon.

I hope this guide helps break down some of the overwhelm for you. Please let me know in the comments below if you’d like me to add any recommendations for other places to shop or dine. I spent all my time in Canggu avoiding tours and other trips, so I really felt like I got a bit more of a local perspective of the area.

Bali is known for its beautiful beaches, yoga culture, and it is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world. It is filled with geological wonders and natural beauty. You can find romantic restaurants and fascinating infinity pools around the area, and it provides a one-of-a-kind dining experience for its visitors. But there are a few basic things you should know before you go to Bali.

From the Airport
It is best to take a taxi from Bali airport to your hotel. Taxi fares from the airport usually range from $10 to $57 depending on the location. You can also hire a private car service, but that’s obviously a lot more expensive.

The currency of Bali is an Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). You can do a currency exchange at the airport and many are located near the customs office.

SIM Cards
You can get Telkomsel Simpati SIM cards at the Bali Airport for only $11.45. You can also find XL and Indosat SIM cards at the airport for around 38 cents, but you have to load some text and call credits to the card to use it.

Luggage Storage
There’s a luggage storage system at the Bali airport. You can store your bags for $1.53 a day.

How to Get Around Bali
Ojek: a motorbike that takes you around town for $1.53
Taxi: taxis in Bali are relatively cheap. In fact, you can travel from Kuta to Seminyak for under $4. The best taxi company for tourists and expats is the Blue Bird Taxi.
Bemo: Bemo is a minibus, and it is the most common mode of transportation in Bali. The fare is about $4.
Dokar: less common these days are dokars (pony wagons) if you opt for a romantic experience.

Spots for Foodies and Adventure Seekers
Bali is a city of adventure. If you have an adventurous spirit, there are a lot of things that you can do in Bali. You can join the bike tour around the rice fields in a traditional Balinese village for only $29. You can visit the Bali Butterfly Park for only $5, or the UNESCO site called the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces which is truly stunning.

If you want to eat authentic Indonesian food, you should visit the famous Balinese restaurant called Kampoeng Bali. It replicates the ancient food handling traditions in a classic Balinese village. Plus, it showcases the rich culture of Indonesia through song, dance, and dramatic performances. If you want to dine above water, it’s a good idea to go to Bale Undang which is located in Ubud and Kuta. The restaurant has a great view and amazing food.

Bali is known as one of the top surfing destinations in the world. If you’re into surfing, you should visit Bali from October to April.

Balinese Culture
Bali is tied to its religion which is Shivaite or Balinese Hinduism. The country is known for its culture, dance, and drama. It is also known for the Wayang Kulit or shadow play. The display of breasts in Bali is not considered immodest. You can easily see a Balinese woman displaying her breasts, but oddly, the display of thigh is deemed to be immodest.

You can also explore the famous Balinese temples such as the Pura Taman Ayun, Pura Ulun Danu, Pura Besakih, Pura Tirta Empul, and Pura Tanah Lot. If you’re the spiritual type, you can sign up for a yoga retreat in Ubud.

There are only two seasons in Klaten, and that is the dry season or the wet season. You’ll find that even during the wet season, you’ll want to take a dip and get out of the Klaten’s sometimes unbearable heat. There are usually two fees, a local entrance fee, and a foreigner entrance fee. The foreigner fee is usually about double what it costs the locals. Don’t get too bent about the price. It’s just the way it is and not really breaking anyone’s pocket in the long-term. You’ll also have better days the sooner you come to terms with this.

Here are three places to keep you cool during your stay:


One of my students (at the time) took me here. It’s basically a water park where the water source comes from a well. There are several sections of this mini water park to break up the fun.

Lazy River: there’s one area (my favorite) where you can rent inflatable tubes and lazy tube around the “river” (it’s more like a hundred meters in length by a five meters in width.). It’s shallow enough to stand in but deep enough for you to relax in.

There are also vendors in this section with blankets set out near the river. For a small fee, they’ll watch your belongings so you can freely enjoy the water park. If you get hungry, they also sell things like iced tea and refreshments, instant noodles, and other local snacks.

Waterslides: Adjacent to the lazy river are a couple of pools with decent sized waterslides. It’s fun coming here and being a kid. Sometimes the water doesn’t run as freely, so you have to give yourself a little nudge to keep going at a faster pace.

Tipping Well and Playground: This area is mostly intended for children, but fun watching them. Next to the kid’s pool is a water playground where kids run around and besides that is a tipping well that kids loved hanging under. It was a well from above that continually has water slowly filling up. Once it fills up, it tipped over gallons and gallons of water onto the kids and then resumes upright to its filling position again.

Entry Fee:

15,000 rp for 1 local + 1 tourist

5,000 rp to watch our bags

5,000 rp per tube rental




Pongkok is a cold water spring where the locals swim and snorkel. It consists of a sandy bottom with random treasures such as a random bicycle and many varieties of tropical fish. The spring gets to no deeper than 6 feet, so overall a very safe place to get cold.

Pongkok 2

You can rent or bring in your own snorkels, and it’s a place where many families come to hang out.

Entry fee: 13,000 rp



Here we have a lake more intentionally used for fishing than for swimming but nonetheless recommended to me by the locals (depending on who you ask). I was never daring enough to challenge myself against the fresh water fish and fisherman, but it’s there as an option!

rowo 1

If you’re not keen on swimming, it’s nice just to walk around and enjoy the views from either above on a hill or listen to some of the music jamming from the waterfront in which I decided to take.

rowo 2

Entry fee: 5,000 rp

Parking fee: 2,000 rp

Food/Drink: 3,000 rp (iced tea) 10,000 (cup of noodle soup x2)



One thing you need to be especially mindful of when traveling to Klaten is modesty. I was completely unaware of the cultural differences and assumed they might be wearing full body swimsuits instead of bikinis. Once I arrived with my host family, I quickly realized how wrong I was! Growing up and living most of my life in Southern California, bikinis and swimwear were a normal thing, but the women here were covered from head to toe in long pants and long sleeves. This was a culture shock for me, even with it being my 3rd country and again after my 21st country.

Long story short, I ended up swimming with my sundress on. Not because my host family asked me to, but because it was how I felt most comfortable blending in.

After that, I started wearing my yoga workout pants in the water. It’s lightweight and quickly dries making this a perfect multi-use item for long-term travelers. They seemed to be okay with me wearing a tank top, but that’s only because they knew I was a foreigner. If I were local, it would be frowned upon.


Recently I got to spend time snorkeling with over 100 manta rays (closer to 150 to be precise) in Komodo National Park. It was one of the pinnacle sea moments of my life.

I was on a dive boat with about a dozen others when the captain shouted from the distance the huge school of mantas. We turn the boat around, stop about 100 feet from the manta pathway until we approached them at a safe distance. It was one of the most exciting times for me. But sometimes we get caught up in these beautiful moments that we forget how to interact with marine life responsibly. This is why I am sharing with you 5 ways to interact responsibly with these sea creatures.

1. Keep Noise to a Minimum
When you encounter manta rays, don’t be that person screaming at them to come over to you and then doing cannon balls right next to them. Not that I think you are, but there’s always that “one person.” Keep noise to a minimum and avoid jumping in abruptly if you’re on a boat. Keep your fins underwater to avoid creating big kicking splashes.

2. Allow the Mantas to Swim Around You. Not the Opposite 
When you’re snorkeling, try staying in one area allowing the mantas to swim around you. Don’t swim over to them. Keep calm and avoid disrupting them if they’re feeding close to the surface of the water.

Let me repeat. Do not touch the mantas. Do not touch the mantas! I know it would feel so amazing to touch one of these guys, but this code of conduct is an absolute! The manta rays have a protective mucous coating, and when you touch them, you rub away their protective barrier causing them to get sick or get an infection. We don’t want them to get sick. Let’s preserve their existence in these oceans by keeping your hands off.

4. Keep your distance 
The rule of thumb is to stay at least 10 feet (3 meters) away. If manta comes close to you, remain calm and still and let the manta ray control the interaction with you.

5. Do Not Chase or Harass the Mantas 
You want to avoid restricting their natural behavior by blocking their path. Avoid duck-diving when they’re near. It may startle them and interrupt them while in their natural habitat trying to feed or clean.

That’s it! Stick to these 5 and you’ll be to engage with the mantas in a safe and responsible way, and while I’m not a marine biologist or expert, this is simply a guideline I’ve heard through my training. I hope this helps!

When one thinks of Labuan Bajo, they think of diving with manta rays or visiting the Komodo dragons at Komodo National Park, but what else is there to do is a common question I’ve been asked? How about jumping off a 42-foot cliff at Cunca Wulang Waterfall?

Admittedly, I almost didn’t go. The night before I was raging it up at the Paradise Bar, the only place to go on a Saturday night in Labuan Bajo. My Swedish friend and two-week long roommate was taking off, and I wanted to properly send him off with one last good night out.

It’s Sunday morning, and I get a Facebook ping at 9 am from my local friend, Stefan, who is all bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to go. This is going to be a struggle. He said he’ll be at my place by 10 am so I use the opportunity to sleep in those few extra minutes before he arrives. Should I use this time to sleep in and go another time? Motivate, Celia. Motivate!

So I get my ass up and hop in the shower and meet my friend as scheduled. I stop to pick up a sandwich and water for the road, and we start making our way to Cunca Wulang Waterfall. He’s concerned about his two other friends…and, when I say concerned, I mean he’s concerned they’re still hungover and not going to wake up. He promised to not leave without them but stopped by their house and no sign of life. He called but no answer. Eventually, around 10:30 am they awake from the dead! It looks like after the bar had closed, they all decided to go swimming at the beach and share a bottle of tequila until the early sunrise. Rock stars! So we’re all a bit of a hot mess at this point except my friend Stefan who seems to have a neverending supply of energy.

We make about a half-dozen more stops (it’s one of those mornings, lol) trying to find bananas for my other two friends, stop to take pics at a viewpoint, pick up some food from the local warung, more water, cigarettes, and then we finally get our shit together and begin making our way to the waterfall.

view along the way

I’m not really sure how long the drive would take to get there because we made so many stops, but I guestimate it’s about an hour away.

After making our way on our motorbikes through windy roads up the mountain, we reach a rocky unpaved road. We pay our $4 (50,000 rupiahs) at the entrance of the waterfall park where we could either park our bikes and make a long 1-2 mile trek or say f*ck it and four wheel our way through that mothereffer. We’re still hungover, so we say f*ck it and start riding our bikes on the loose cobblestone path.

The easier part of our trail.
The easier part of our trail.

After about 15 minutes and a sore ass, we make our way to the end of the path where the only way to go is by foot. There’s an old man there selling coconuts, so we decide to take a couple for the waterfall. The man chops the outer barrier with a machete trimming it down for us. We then have a local who we pay to escort us to the waterfall.

The hike is about another 15 minutes or so. We come to a crossing point where we literally have to leap from one rock to another. I’d guess it were about 4 foot jump. I’m thinking, “Are you serious? F*ck!” Here goes nothing! My sad leap across the two boulders with streaming water below me looked more like one awkward old lady giant stride. Stefan grabs my hand so that I don’t fall into the flowing stream. Alright! I made it! How in the hell am I going to get back, though? I’ll think about that later. Then we come across another “leaping point” we’ll call it for lack of a better term, but this one wasn’t as bad as the last one.

path to waterfall 1

We arrive, and it’s just as beautiful as I imagined. Wow. I’m surprised we’re one of the only few there. We get settled and park our things, and I can’t decide if I want to nap, eat, nap, or jump.

friends at canyon

My friend decided she’d motivate to be the first to jump off the 42 foot (13 meters) cliff. Alright, alright, let’s get our asses in there. It’ll feel so much better. My friend, Stefan and I, decide to jump in together and “Weeeeee!!” *splash*… shock therapy! Instant hangover cure. There’s something about the ocean or natural body of water that clears the mind, body, and alcohol seeping from your pores. 

Later more people begin to show but still not too many where it felt crowded. We begin to guide them on where to jump, and it’s about a dozen of us all enjoying this hidden gem.

Our friends made their way to a rock below the waterfall, so my friend Stefan and I decide to follow them. Stefan went first, and I could see it was going to be a struggle getting to the waterfall. It required all of his upper body strength to swim there. I try, and I’m struggling. I keep getting pulled back into this little hole, and the current is too strong. My arms are tired, and I feel myself getting swept back. I tell him I can’t make it and I’m swept back to where I started. He comes back for me and said we don’t have to go, but I’m determined. I’m not a quitter. I can do this. So we hang onto a rock with one hand and try to find an alternative route until my arms regain strength. Our friends told us to try from the other side which now made a whole lot more sense because it was a lot less strong. So we try from the left side, and then I make my way to the other side, and we begin climbing to meet our friends. The rocks are slippery and I keep slipping, so Stefan continues to be my guiding light helping me get up safely. Then others begin to follow suit, and he helps about 3 others make their up grabbing them all with one hand until they get to a stable point.

We want to give others the chance to enjoy the rock under the waterfall, so we decide to get off, but it’s tricky. One of our friends was starting to make his way down with his feet in a sliding motion, but that only lasted about a second before he was swept down in .2 seconds, the fastest rock slide I’ve ever seen. We see a couple of others try, and the same thing happened. Slippery slope! Stefan was the last to go down and then told me not to go down that way because it was a very shallow and rocky area. So he helped me get down the way I came up.

After about a half-day at Cunca Wulang Waterfall we decide it’s time to make our way back to town. We ask our friends to carry our bags back to the beginning area of the trail so we could go in for one last jump and float part of our way down, which also allowed me to skip that treacherous leap between rocks.

piggy back trail

Our local guide who was there watching our belongings the whole time making sure it was safe carried our bags back the rest of the way until we reached out bikes. Score! I tip him $4 (50,0000 rupiahs) for allowing us to focus on having a good time.

After we got back to our bikes, we made one last pit stop at a private resort beach and rested up with some coffee and tea until the sunset. 

sunset at beach

Moral of the story is get your lazy ass up and motivate when it comes to beautiful natural gems like this and never quit even when you’re fighting against a strong current you don’t think you can fight; there’s always another way.

Diving with mantas is among one of the ultimate bucket lists for divers and why so many passionate divers come to Komodo Island, but how about swimming with 150 of them?

I started my morning with Wicked Diving on their boat, Charlie, with about a half dozen others who signed up for this full-day excursion. We were already off to a good start seeing dolphins playing in the water on our way to our first dive. We don’t always see a lot of dolphins around here so it was a nice surprise to see them from a close distance as they passed our boat.


We just finished up our second dive at Batu Balong, one of the best dive sites in the world, and were on our way to Makassar Reef (also nicknamed “Manta Point”), a dive site northwest of Komodo, known for finding mantas hence the nickname.

Our captain and some of our boat crew noticed something in the waters about 100 meters in the distance, and we notice there are about a dozen mantas. Our captain decided to turn the boat around, and that’s when we saw a long stretch of about 150 mantas. We watch the mantas from the second level deck of Charlie, and we are ecstatic. Everyone runs to grab their cameras and watch them in awe as they form a line behind each other looking like aquatic birds.

About ten minutes pass and we decide to keep going but continue to keep seeing mantas everywhere. I want to jump in! Everyone wants to jump in, so the captain and our dive instructor make the call to turn around and allow everyone to grab their mask and fins and hop in!

One of the Wicked staff members joined the boat trip today on her day off has never even seen a manta. This is someone grew up on this island, works in a dive shop, and barely snorkels. She escapes through travel books like the works of Paulo Coelho. Can you imagine the joy she felt not only seeing her first manta but hundreds let alone being able to go out and swim with them?? I’m pretty sure I can vouch for her by saying this is one epic moment in her lifetime.

Or could you imagine a couple who traveled from the other side of the world with only one dream to see a manta and then gets to see an entire sea full of them? Hell, even our dive instructor was ecstatic and said the last time he saw something like this was a year ago.

We all jumped in, and the captain was guiding us about the proper direction to go in, and once we found their path, it was craaaazy!! They were in every direction! On either side of me, below me, coming at me! There was one manta ray that was literally swimming 6 inches below me and so close to flapping it’s wings on me if I didn’t move. I remember coming manto y manto (er, I mean, mano y mano. hehe) with one manta ray with its mouth wide open. I’m thinking, “Oh sh#t! What if stay in place? Will we have a head-on collision?” Naturally my instinct was to get the hell out of its way.

snorkel selfie manta (1)

After about twenty minutes of being able to snorkel with these beautiful creatures, we get on the boat and head to our last dive at Manta Point.

We gear up, take a giant stride into the water, and descend into a drift. Sure enough, mantas are passing by in several directions. Not quite as many as our impromptu snorkel session, but still incredible to see and a different experience. You get to study their bellies as they pass you from above in twos, fours, and sixes or lean close to the ocean ground steadily watching them circle around you.

After experiencing an epic day with nature’s playground, it was no surprise that at the end of our trip back to Labuan Bajo that we were gifted with a beautiful sunset and three eagles passing in the distance. Incredible day!


My activist friend, Marta, runs the Wicked Good SEED (Support Environment & Education Development) accelerator project in Labuan Bajo, a 7 month scholarship program sponsored by Wicked Diving. She invited me to spend a couple of hours talking with the teenage students of SMKN 1 High School, a vocational tourism high school, in Manggarai. I love getting in touch with the local culture through my travels, especially, curious and enthusiastic teens, and agreed to meet her the following morning.

She meets me on her motorbike in front of La Cucina Restaurant at 7:15 am, but she didn’t have an extra helmet for me. The cops can be a bit strict on the helmet policy around here, unlike many other places in Indonesia, so we decided to hail down a motorbike cab instead. It’s about 10 minutes away in a ruralish area outside of Labuan Bajo. The students are all dressed in a matching baby blue and yellow uniforms wearing Vans or Converse shoes in crew cuts and ponytails.

I was a few minutes ahead of Marta, and while I wait for her to arrive at the school, I get plenty of rubberneckers wondering what this foreigner is doing standing by herself in front of the school on the side of the road until she arrived.

LBJ high school

Marta escorts me pass about a half a dozen of full classrooms, and I get big hand gesture waves, bright smiles, and welcoming hellos from the students. If there’s anyone that knows how to boost my self-esteem, it’s definitely Indonesian kids!

We get into Marta’s classroom where she teaches 4 hours a day on Monday’s and 2 hours a day on every other weekday and most of the kids were already in their seats. They’re all wondering who is this foreigner guest their teacher brought into the room.

Marta introduces me to the class and then allows me to tell them something about myself and encouraging they ask me questions to help practice their English.

“Hello, my name is Celia. I’m from California…in America. I have 3 brothers and 2 sisters which is a big family for Americans. I have been traveling since October, and this is my third time to Indonesia.”

I’ve never been great at introductions.

There are several students quick to raise their hands and ask me more questions about myself wondering if I like Indonesia, what my hobbies are, and then one of the girls followed up and asked…

“How old are you?” she asks.


I hear the turntables scratching through my head with “How old are you?” Beat. “Erwee, Erwee.” Scratch. Beat. “Erwee, Erwee.” Followed by a dozen pots and pans falling through a glass ceiling.

Marta quickly steps in and explains to them about cross-cultural relations and what’s appropriate to ask people, and this was wasn’t necessarily polite among Western culture. 🙂

Thank you, Marta! But I answered anyway.

“I’m 34.” I say confidently.

32 pairs of eyes went big in the classroom as if they felt sorry for me. Hey, kids! I’m not that old, okay! Am I?? Well, whatever, the 30s are the new 20s in America! Take that even though you Indonesians all look like you’re 30 when you’re 60 and 60 when you’re 90. Oh, go away with your impressive anti-aging genetics! 😉

Whew! That was a digress. Ha! Back on topic. Where was I?

Oh, yes… the introduction.

As I am finishing up introducing myself, one male student walked into class late apologizing for being late and proceeded to say to me, “Sorry, sir.”

The class chuckles and corrects him before he apologizes again and accidentally calls me sir a second time.

Oh, kids. You have a long way to go, but you’re so adorable.

I take a seat in the back of the classroom and observe Marta going back and forth between speaking Bahasa and English. She then asks for a few of the students to give a presentation on a topic about a place that tourists could go but also how to make it environmentally conscious. I was interested to learn about the Bajawa Hot Springs to Cunca Waterfalls to the Batu Cermin Caves. I haven’t really even thought about the land attractions since I’ve been here. 

Then the class concludes, and Marta welcomes me to spend 15 minutes with the students and allow them to practice their English. Several of the not-so-shy types run over and ask to take photos with me. We needed to allow the next class to prepare and finished off with a few group photos of the class.

group photo

One thing I’ll say is I’ve always loved the inquisitive and warm Indonesian teen minds. I spent a month with them in Java a few months ago and now a couple of hours this morning on Flores Island, and, while adults are usually much more my speed, I sincerely love their age in this culture.

I can’t believe I got punked by one of my Wicked Diving instructors. I have spent over a month with the Wicked Diving Komodo team working on advancing my dive certifications and recently started my Rescue Diver Course.

I wasn’t initially thrilled about getting my EFR (Emergency First Responder) certification required for the Rescue Diver Course. Why? Classroom time means no dive time! Instead of a day out diving keeping cool with the manta rays or discovering camouflaged cuttlefish and scorpion fish underwater, I’d instead be spending a full day in the classroom watching guys in mullets in 80’s generation training videos. But this is a necessary and crucial step, and I knew it would be relatively easy because I’ve kept up with my CPR & First Aid over the last decade.

We go through our DVD material, and the DVD kept restarting. To get back to where were we, we had to manually fast-forward at a 2x fwd rate. I’m feeling like I’m watching a Hawksbill turtle. Slooowww!

It’s about 1/2 way through the day. We decide to take a break, and when I get back, he’s not ready. He calls one of the other dive guides down to help with the TV and I think nothing of it. I’m checking my Facebook and Instagram not paying any attention to what’s going on before I hear a loud POP!

It took me a second to register what was going on. There’s chaos, and I see our dive guide is leaning over the TV unresponsive. I’m thinking, “WTF! Is this a joke?” No way did he just get electrocuted. It would seem too obvious to pull a stunt like that when I’m working on my EFR. What are the odds of something like this happening? I mean, it is Komodo, and I can’t say that the electrical sockets are the safest.

I ask them if this an exercise, but they’re yelling at each other and fingers are being pointed back and forth to do something. I think what if this is a real accident? I immediately switch gears and run up and check the power supply and then lay him down to check for breathing, and then I finally get one of the guys to break a smile, and I’m relieved! What the hell guys!? Okay, you got me.

What I learned was that they popped a balloon from behind the TV. Since I’ve been in Indonesia, I’ve not seen ONE balloon at all in this country – let alone this tiny town of Labuan Bajo. I swear if these guys could get an Oscar, it would be well-deserved. I am happy to say I passed the exam with flying colors, probably because I didn’t want ever to have to deal with that mini heart attack ever again. 🙂

If you’re thinking about getting a scuba dive refresher course, here are 6 simple steps you’ll learn through the course.

The dive refresher takes about one full day. I’m not a dive instructor (yet), so please always follow the direction of your instructor, but I did recently go through my dive refresher course around Komodo National Park in Indonesia after 15 years since my last dive. I’ll try to explain it in laymen terms without all the technical talk about the simple steps you’ll review when going through your dive refresher.

1. Buddy Check

In the buddy check, your instructor will show you how to safely check your buddy’s gear and essentially being their second set of eyes. This requires checking their BCD (the jacket that keeps you afloat) and seeing that it inflates and deflates properly, making sure the breathing apparatus is functioning on the regulator, and making sure all the harnesses are in place for a quick release, and that their weight belt is on.

2. Giant Step Entry

This is an easy step, literally! If you’re on a dive boat, or I imagine on a pool ledge, you just take one giant stride into the water holding having one hand on your weight belt and the other holding your mask and regulator. Once you fall into the water, you inflate your BCD and make clearance for the next diver after you.

3. Regulator Clearing

There are two methods of doing this. The first one is you take the regulator out of your mouth (pointing the breathing part down, so air doesn’t escape) and then placing the regulator back in your mouth. Once the regulator is back in your mouth, you’ll want to exhale as hard as you can until the regulator is clear.

The second method is following the exact same method, but instead of blowing air into the regulator, you use the purge button on the regulator. The purge button clears this for you.

4. Regulator Recovery

Again, there are two ways to recover your regulator if you happen to lose it. The first is to lean to the right and, then in a sweeping motion, use your right arm to grab it. It’ll likely come over your shoulder making it easy to recover.

The second method is to reach over your head or shoulder with your right arm and recover it that way.

Don’t forget to clear your regulator as needed.

5. Mask Clearing

There are 3 ways to clear your mask. I don’t know why I had such a hard time with this. Maybe it was my new mask and the silicone.

Partial mask clearing is you allow a little water to clear into the mask. Once it’s 1/2 filled, you open the bottom of your mask breathing out until the water clears. Repeat as necessary.

Full mask clearing is pretty much the same as the partial mask clearing but instead of filling your mask with only 1/2 the amount of water, you fill it completely.

Open mask clearing you take the mask completely off remembering to only breath with your mouth and not your nose then putting the mask back on and clearing the mask as above. You’ll want to make sure you always take a deep breath before clearing so that your breath is more powerful clearing out all of the water.

6. Neutral Buoyancy

Buoyancy is one of the most important skills you can learn while diving. If you can master your buoyancy, you can avoid damaging our ecosystem when diving underwater. In this step, you’ll essentially learn the difference between positive buoyancy (too much air in your BCD), negative buoyancy (too many weights or not enough air in your BCD), and then neutral buoyancy, which is what we want to strive for. In this step, you’ll observe your buoyancy and how to control it when inhaling and exhaling under water.

That’s about it! There are YouTube videos to give you a better visual. Just type in one of the 6 simple steps to getting your dive refresher. And, remember, to always follow the instruction of your guide when taking a refresher course.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last month with the Wicked Diving Komodo team working on my certifications from Advanced to Divemaster. It was nearly 15 years (yes, that dates me!) since my last dive and now I get to immerse myself fully at one of the greatest dive locations in the world (raise the roof!).

Because it had been so long since I’ve been back in the diver life, I had a lot of questions. What is a BCD and regulator again?? Octo-what?? I hope I don’t have any trouble equalizing. But then one of Labuan Bajo’s finest instructors, Marsel, introduced me to the underwater world again with a few simple steps in a refresher course, and since I put my mask on the right way, I knew I was off to a great start!

Our first dive was in Siaba Basar, also nicknamed Turtle City, and it was pretty easy-peasy for beginners. I’m feeling like a natural. Fins are appropriately placed on both feet, and I remembered how to breathe without using my nose again. We saw a some tropical fish and my confidence is up. In other words, I got this! Like a true champ.

Now that I’m feeling all mermaid status, it was time to step up our skills and visit a more interesting site – one with [drum rolls] MANTAS! I’ve never seen mantas before, so I know this is going to be freaking awesome!

On our way to our second dive, I hear Ilham, one of the other dive guides, screaming, “Whaaaale shark!!!” We all run to the side of the upper deck and see a baby whale shark swimming next to the boat. “Stop the boat!” The guides grabbed their masks and then jumped into the water without hesitation. I’m watching from above and then I see other divers following suit. I don’t want to miss out on this opportunity and jump on the whale shark party train with only my mask being able to see it for the last 10 seconds before it drifted deeper into the sea.

At this point, we’re feeling ecstatic. We get back onto the boat and continue to our second dive site before mantas came flying out of the water from a short distance away. Now I’m even more mindblown. What an incredible thing to witness and we’re not even in the water yet! This is surely a good sign.

Everyone is pumped and eager to get in. Andreas, one of our other dive instructors, was trying to give us a dive briefing, but we couldn’t help but take our attention off of him to see the mantas flying from different directions. But once he said the sooner we get through the briefing, the sooner we can see these mantas underwater, he had our undivided attention.

The second dive was at Makasar Reef that is known for being a cleaning station for Mantas. It started off with a light drift dive. I’m trying to be cool and mimick Marsel’s perfect buoyancy looking ever so relaxed and keeping my arms in place instead of like an amateur doggy paddling under water. I think I did okay!

We passed along some brown bamboo sharks, sweet lips, Little Nemo, and even unicorn fish – but it wasn’t until we saw four mantas between 3-4 meters circling that we decided to lay low and observe these majestic creatures for about 10 minutes.

Nothing compares to the very first time seeing a manta ray – especially when it hovers so close above you that it could touch you. I remember being in awe as we watched these guys get closer and closer to us, one of them even spouting out something from it’s rear in sets! I’ll let your imagination run wild with that one. At that point, aside from nature’s sense of humor, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. No other world existed but this one at this very moment.

We have one more dive for the day, and we ended it at Tatawa Besar. This was another low-key drift dive with plenty of coral to see. We saw both white tip and black tip sharks, Hawksbill turtles, and many other great marine life. A nice and relaxing way to end the day after being filled with so much excitement as we chase the sunset back to Labuan Bajo.

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