You know how sometimes, when you follow a lead, you might end up in a different place – but it’ll be the place that the universe intended you to end up in? Like when on your ex’s cue, you plan a trip to Bali and he doesn’t turn up, but you end up meeting the man of your dreams. Or when you travel to the north of Bali on a story trail, hit a dead end and end up in Lovina? Don’t you just love the irony of life and the perfect, spontaneous chaos of travel…
As you come into Lovina you’re pulled through the salty, foggy mist and into a sleepy beachside town that takes you right back to the family beach holiday memories from the 80s.
So we were in the car from Ubud travelling through the Singaraja mountains when my interviewee rain checked on me. Suddenly the topic of dreams popped up in conversation and Hannah went, “I dreamt of dolphins last night. I was surrounded by beautiful dolphins in the ocean.”
The gears in my head clicked. The road we were on led to Lovina. A sign from the divine? I think so. Our eyes lit up with a magical wonder and excitement you get when things spontaneously align and feel really good. When this happens, one must go with the flow. I tapped the driver on the shoulder and we were Lovina bound.
Getting to Lovina is half the trip, and worth it
We travelled by car from Ubud (IDR450,000 from Ubud, the drive took about 2.5 hours) over bridges high above river valleys, along the abundant tropical landscapes. We passed traditional towns and villages where there was not a tourist in right, and past rice terraces cut into the sides of the mountains, more rural villages and small towns. The drive was really half the trip, and it reminded me more of more of Lombok the further north we went until we noticed women wearing headscarfs and the Muslim call to prayer echoing in the cool air.
It would have been mint to road trip this journey in a 4×4, but we’ve organized that for the next leg of the trip (cue: subscribe for updates.)
Lovina is one of those beach holiday towns you used to go to with your family in the 80s. The cheesy hand painted signs on hotels all bear Lovina’s mascot, the dolphin. I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d actually see any, if I’m honest. I don’t think it’s wise to pin your hopes (and dreams) on a weathered retro signboard.
These days, Lovina is very chill, and the tourist guides and hawkers are hustling pretty hard to make a living on the fringes of high season. The restaurants and cafes were really quiet. There were only three of four tourists in each one. Some were totally empty. But Lovina is not just a place where tourists come, busloads of locals come here to see the dolphins and spend quality time with the family.
Homestays and beach bungalows are pretty basic and dated but clean, and you’ll find a few old hotels around. Relics of the 80s ideal of a family vacation kept in rather pretty condition. We stayed at Nirwana Seaside Cottages (IDR350,000 per night for a deluxe room). The rooms were clean and had air-con with comfortable beds but the bathrooms cold use some work (and so could the water pressure on the hissing shower). The grounds of the hotel are lush and well kept – and the pool was gorgeous. It really reminded me of good family memories from beach holidays in Malaysia and Thailand way back when Bananrama was cool.
Give yourself time to warm up to Lovina. You probably won’t stay more than a day or two, so make the most of it. In the evenings, locals come to the beach and watch the sunset on the jetty, fish and just hang out by the beach. There’s something quite charming about coming to a place that the locals adore as much as the tourists do.
Why we love Lovina
Dolphins. Hundreds of them. I’m not exaggerating. Not that I was skeptical about the $5 dolphin watching ticket (get what you pay for or amazing deal?) – I simply had no expectations and knew that we were guaranteed a sunrise from the ocean at the very least.
At 6am we boarded the local fishing boat with a Balinese family. One hundred other boats (I counted) were already cruising out to the dolphin watching spot. The castaway traveller in me grew more skeptical yet.
The boat chugged along in the same general direction, but when we reached the massive circle of boats, our driver hung back, slightly away from the crowds. We scanned the ocean, looking for breaks in the flat sea. For the first 20 minutes, nothing. Then one dorsal fin appeared, and disappeared just as quickly. And then another. This continued at long intervals – each time a dark triangle appeared from the ocean, the gang of boats sped in that direction.
As the sun rose higher into the sky and warmed the already bath-like ocean, it was on. Schools of dolphins appeared on the left, and then on the right, and behind us, and in front of us. They were everywhere. For over and hour, our driver expertly maneuvered away from the crowds, getting us closer to the dolphins each time. We even saw baby dolphins jump out of the water and twirl in the air a few times.
At 8am, the other boats started heading back to the shore. But we scored an awesome boatman. He kept the boat out for even longer, and when the boats were gone, he told us it was okay to get in the water. You’ve never seen two girls jump off a boat so quickly and chase dolphins in the water. Seriously, play the video. We were so close to them (but it was breakfast time so they weren’t too interested in playing with us.)
Why we actually love Lovina
So there we were, hanging out at the café, buzzing from the experience and trying to latch onto the café’s WiFi so we could post updates on our social media pages. I had officially warmed to Lovina and I kept wondering why there weren’t more people here. Although the distance from the airport might have a lot to do with it. Could a fast boat transfer from Sanur be the solution?
Back at the hotel, we hung out by the pool and romantised buying the property, renovating all the bathrooms and fixing a few things up. Unlike most beach holiday towns from the 80s that are now derelict, Lovina could very well be heading for a revival.
Along the rows of dated restaurant and cheesy souvenir shops, we found the cutest organic café and modern shopping boutiques. We went back to Spice Beach Club twice, which reminded me of hip beach clubs in Sentosa in Singapore, but with a much more laid back crowd (and an actual real beach).
Lovina survival tips
You might get the sense that you’re walking into a rip off tourist trap dive when you first get to Lovina. There are a lot of guides around. Massage? Bracelet? See the dolphin? Waterfall? The usual hustle. But you get that in Bali (and everywhere else in Asia).
The hotels are all pretty old near the beach. There’s a few newer resorts in the village, but it’s nice to be able to walk to the beach and the cafes.
The mistake we made in Lovina was thinking that we’d spend three nights there and paid upfront. We only really needed to stay for two, and this might happen all the time, because their no-refund policy was printed in bold on the recipet. Pay for one night at a time – they’re not running out of rooms anytime soon.