Just got back from 10 days in East Bali and since my trip was motivated by discussions with members of this board I thought it might be fitting to post a review for the next 'googler' to get some tips.
The goal of our trip was for my g/f Em to get her open water so I needed to go somewhere that had some easy diving as well as some more interesting diving for me. I'm at ~100+ dives, probably 40 land-based and 60 live-aboard. Candidasa was recommended and mostly fit the bill.
Bali Bubbles Dive Shop
We set aside the first day to inspect all the dive shops and find the right match. For Em, it was definably Jos at Bali Bubbles. There are some other quality operators but be warned, some looked pretty average. Orca, Shangri-La, Gangaa all had good equipment.
From my small amount of experience with perhaps 10 dive shops I would rank Jos as the #1 instructor i have seen. It was lucky that since it was extremely quiet in Candidasa that Em got 1-1 instruction but beyond that, you could tell Jos took a personal interest in making sure the student was not only safe and well trained but also motivated to continue diving by exposing them to interesting aspects of the reef. Em had her moments but within 10 dives Jos got her relaxed enough to spot scorpion fish, notice nudi's, eels, cow fish (etc) and bubble with excitement at the sight of sharks. Our major goal of the trip accomplished, she won't shut up about diving! Thanks Jos!
I dived separately with the other Jos (there are two at Bali Bubbles!) and 1 other client the whole trip. We had the dive sites mostly to ourselves since it was low season. No Mola Mola but plenty of other reef action. Again, would highly recommend Bali Bubbles for advanced divers too since they ensure small dive groups and give good freedom on the dive if you demonstrate dive knowledge and skills. Much appreciated.
Land based operators tend to gravitate towards local reefs to keep costs down at the expense of dive site quality. Note so with Bali Bubbles, they are happy to take you wherever you want to go for the best diving.
Diving around East Bali
When you read dive magazines, websites (etc) divers always focus on the most remote reefs as THE places to go (e.g. Raja Ampat, Outer Fiji, Oz, etc). They're always referred to as "pristine" but East Bali proves that "pristine" is not synonymous with remote. East Bali is A+ and easily accessible. You will not be disappointed with the quality of the reef and macro life, however, overfishing was apparent with hardly any large schools of Pelagics but to be honest, it wasn't much better in Raja Ampat.
Sadly, this trip reminded me why I thought I would never do land-based diving again. This was my second trip to East Bali (previously 1 week in Tulamben) and the "ease" of diving just isn't here. An average 2-dive day started at 8:30 and ended at 2pm for sites off Candidasa. If you went to Nusa Penida, Amed or Tulamben, add another 2-3 hours. Thats a lot of mucking around just to get 2hrs underwater. This had nothing to do with the dive operator and is just a product of the fact that the dive sites are spread out, I couldn't see how any land-based operator could have done it any better. Once underwater though, A+. Really, had some great dives. Might of been different though in August when its high-season and there apparently lots of divers…be warned!
If your happy doing land-based diving (or have to as a consideration to family 🙂 my suggestion would be to base yourself for a few days in Tulamben, a few days in Candidasa and a few days on Lembongan and just dive the sites local to those towns. Minimise your travel time and maximise your apres-dive activities. From what I saw, if you want the "dive like mad I have 1 week off work" 4-dives/day experience, I can't see East Bali fitting your bill.
Candidasa Area & Accommodation
Get yourself a scooter. The surrounds of Candidasa are gorgeous and there are plenty of activities for non-divers or non-dive days.[img400]http://wikitravel.org/upload/shared//b/b4/Candidasa_Fishing_Boats.jpg[/img400]
We spent an entire day scoping out accommodation along with dive shops. One thing to note about Candidasa is the main road is very busy and noisy while the beach has retaining walls creating heavy wave breaking near shore. Hence, accommodation between the main road and beach is a trade-off between cars or heavy waves, not to mention the roosters! Fortunately there are accommodations north and south of the main strip along back roads that are just perfect, Sea Breeze the best of the bunch (room 6 or 7 the pick!).