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.

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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.

Pure luxury

Pure luxury

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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.

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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.

We stayed local and snorkeled around instead.

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.

penidadiveresort6Hannah 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.

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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.

Not all scuba dive resorts are created equal. Some are dirty, disorganized, and downright unsafe. Click to read about the worst one I've ever been to in Bali and why I left.

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31 Responses

  1. Annika says:

    I really congratulate you on writing this post. As I diver myself I often thought about how much trust you put in your dive company even if you are an OW or AOW. This is not about being picky, this is potentially about your life so well done for speaking up!
    Annika recently posted…Flying home for Christmas.My Profile

  2. I’m no diver, but to me it sounds like you made absolutely the right decision. It sounds like a total shambles, and completely unsafe.

    As for writing negative reviews, it might feel uncomfortable but for me as a reader it’s vital! I don’t want to read an online magazine – I want real thoughts from real people. Thanks for sharing your true opinion 🙂
    Rachel ¦¦ A Nesting Nomad recently posted…Whale spotting in Juneau, Alaska and a blogging failMy Profile

  3. Sarah Harvey says:

    Very honest account here Chantae, which I understand can be difficult. We want to see the good in the world around us, and often think perhaps it’s nothing, maybe I’m just not adapting properly, I need to be more flexible etc- but when it comes to safety, you definitely did the right thing.
    Sarah Harvey recently posted…Finding the WayMy Profile

  4. stephanie says:

    Wow what an honest and brave article! Thank you for sharing.
    I agree more bloggers should talk about the bad experiences too, because it can help people and the companys in the future.
    Good that you left; I remember sleeping in a hostel in Vietnam were I did not feel safe, so I left the next day too.
    x

  5. Sarah says:

    I’m proud of you guys for having the courage to leave. Also, I think Posts
    Like this one are important to make sure dive Centers can’t just do whatever they want and that readers can really trust your opinion.
    I hope we’ll have a better experience in Bali!

  6. Dulice Reden says:

    Smart girl Chantae….you trusted your intuition and insight…your honestly, wisdom and courage to post this will help to keep other divers and travelers safe.

  7. Richelle says:

    Wow that sounds awful! I had a really sketchy dive experience I should probably write about (just haven’t gotten around to it yet). The company was so disorganized, and the divers on my dive were not experienced despite all having Advanced certificates and really fancy gear. They let someone with an Open Water certification go in my group, even though he’d only done two dives after getting his certification and hadn’t been diving in a year. My tank fell off mid-dive and someone had to strap it back on, AND my friend had a leak and ran out of air mid-dive and wasn’t compensated even though he had to miss out on half the dive. Thankfully my Trip Advisor review hasn’t been deleted… yet.
    Richelle recently posted…The Huashan Plank Walk: World’s Most Dangerous HikeMy Profile

  8. Anne says:

    I’m surprised you stated that long, they should be shut down

  9. Veronica says:

    OMG Tae, I am so sorry for what happened to you!
    And you are right, we, travel bloggers, don’t feel comfortable writing about bad experiences.
    I have recently written a negative review of Istanbul in overall. It was very fair, though, I was robbed twice during one day. And I paid my price for that because one Turkish company refused to collaborate with me.

  10. Hannah says:

    So glad you wrote about this. What a bad experience. Except for the local ladies who brought us ice and betadine haha <3

  11. Justine says:

    I’m so bummed to hear that. That’s super sketch, but good on you guys to go with your gut and get out of there. I love Penida but it definitely has a ways to go in the tourism department. Anyway, I’m glad you wrote this post. Hopefully this dive center will get their shit together, and hopefully this will send the message to other divers that it’s always OK to speak up and walk away if you feel unsafe.
    Justine recently posted…The Ultimate Vegetarian Guide to Bali, IndonesiaMy Profile

  12. Sonja says:

    I wouldn’t have wanted to dive there either it sounds awful! Diving is a dangerous sport, if it’s not done correctly. I really hope something happens to improve things there before it goes wrong!

  13. Doro says:

    Wow that sounds so sketchy! I would definitely have left as well. Thanks for sharing though, I enjoy reading blogs that don’t only focus on the sunny side of traveling!

  14. As a fellow scuba diver, I would have left the resort as well. There’s is no excuse of being so negligent when it comes to the gear and I personally like being informed before heading out on my dives. I prefer a community where everyone looks after everyone else and you feel safe because after all, you are putting your lives in their hands by using their equipment.
    I’ve had a horror dive story as well (back when I first started) due to a malfunction in their equipment so I’ve always been cautious when it comes the gear – I always set my own gear up even if they’ve done it for me, I pull it apart and inspect everything myself.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience! No dive centre should be operating like this and I will happily avoid them.

    Did you manage to find another resort/centre and see the famous mola mola? I would have been so pissed that they didn’t go to the manta dive site… I’ve never seen one before and if they cancelled that on me (unless due to unforeseeable conditions), I would’ve been so gutted!

  15. Felicia says:

    Thanks for sharing and sorry to hear about the experience. You’re right about the feeling of discomfort but not everything is sunshine and lollipops out there!

  16. Chiera says:

    This sounds absolutely horrible! It’s so important to share experiences like this to warn others from putting themselves in a dangerous situation! I’ve never been diving before, but I’d like to think if/when I do I would have full confidence in the person incharge to stop anything bad from happening, this woman didn’t seem that fussed. Thank you shraing!

  17. Good for you girl. Tell it like it is! You are being the best blogger you can be by giving an honest account and review. You’ve done the right thing.

  18. Miriam Ernst says:

    First sorry for your bad experience, and then thank you for writing this honest post. I know it can be difficult writing negative posts but it’s necessary for others as they want to read articles about personal experiences (otherwise we would only read their website!). Good post!

  19. Anne says:

    Thank you for writing an honest post.

  20. Kusum says:

    Sad to hear you had such a terrible experience but I love that you have written this post, the fact that bloggers just don’t glorious reviews all the time just because it is sponsored is something that readers need to understand! Bloggers have integrity and we love to spread the good and warn in case there is something that others need to stay away from.

  21. blair villanueva says:

    Thank you for your honest and constructive review. I know many bloggers who just prefer to mum those nagativeness just because they are being paid or everythings all expenses-paid, and that’s ridiculous. If more bloggers are afraid to say honesty just because they are afraid to lose partnerships with brands, then your #1 purpose as a blogger is gone. Just saying.

  22. lex says:

    Your bravery and courage to go through bd write this is stronger than you can imagine. Alot learnt here.

  23. verushka says:

    Thank you for your honesty in this post.Glad you both listened to your instinct and left.
    It is sad that places like this are allowed to even operate !

  24. Laveena Sengar says:

    I think it is very important to share posts like these. It is very easy to write flattery stuff about any brand but it takes a lot of courage to write what the truth is. The pictures say it all. Well done.

  25. Shane says:

    Oh wow I’m so sorry to hear you had such a bad experience! Bravo for being honest and transparent with your audience so they don’t have to suffer as well.

  26. Karin says:

    You did the best decision you could in those circumstances, I think. I´d be extremely annoyed to dive and feel unsafe! What a shitty company…especially taken into account that they are not the cheap ones.

  27. James says:

    It’s great to see that you share your experiences whether they were good or bad. Places like the one you described should be avoided and if everybody would give honest feedback like you then the problem will take care of itself by nobody going there anymore. Thanks for sharing!
    James recently posted…Mares Puck Pro vs. Mares PuckMy Profile

  1. December 9, 2016

    […] Hannah and I received the keys to our motorbikes and slowly drove down the dirt path leading away from the dive resort we were staying at (yeah, the terrible one). […]

  2. February 6, 2017

    […] my hellish experience at Penida Dive Resort, I am a massive advocate for doing your research before entrusting your safety with a dive school […]

  3. March 2, 2017

    […] is small, laid back, and has only a string of positive reviews. After my scuba diving fiasco at Penida Dive Resort, I didn’t want to take any chances on dodgy dive […]

  4. August 8, 2017

    […] *If you do plan on diving, do your diving from Nusa Lembongan which is just a couple minute boat ride away. Chantae and I actually left Nusa Penida Dive Centre because of the poor treatment of equipment and u… […]

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