Palm trees fill both sides of Bali’s eastern coast road, with small puras – Balinese Hindu temples – occasionally popping out amid modest houses, a scenic setting for a juxtaposition of bucolic scenes and modern twists. It bears little resemblance to the raunchy atmosphere of the infamous Kuta, or the glitzy upscale restaurants and fashion boutiques of Seminyak, or the well-manicured and posh Nusa Dua resorts. Despite having experienced the tourism boom on the island during the 1980s, Candidasa today is a sleepy beach town often overlooked by its more alluring eastern Bali counterparts of Amed and Tulamben, two increasingly popular spots frequented by divers.
During its heyday Candidasa saw a period of rapid tourism industry growth, marked by the construction of hotels and restaurants along the coastline. Its scenic lagoon served as a focal point of the development and a landmark for Candidasa’s fledgling industry, and today it still is one of the most photographed sites in the area. Unfortunately what was once an unspoiled blue lagoon has now turned into a big pond bordered by concrete and brick-and-mortar walls, an apparent victim of the haphazard development that damaged Candidasa’s environment forever.
Local people mined the coral reef off the coast to provide construction materials much needed to fuel the economic boom. Little did they know that it would create an irreversible damage to their own beaches. The lack of information on sustainable development practices and the importance of reef for local people’s livelihoods was to blame, but Candidasa’s sandy beach has long gone, replaced by stretches of pebble-littered coastlines.
Today the hotels and restaurants are still open for business, but this corner of Bali no longer experiences construction boom as it did decades ago. Instead, today not only does it provide a nice and more peaceful escape for those who wish to find respite far enough from the tourists-flocked parts of the island – although not entirely remote and secluded – but also it shows people what could happen if we don’t put environment on top of our minds.
We walk down the main road of Candidasa, pass by the iconic lagoon, and stroll around the sandless beach. The waves are calm, boats are berthed, the sun is setting, a shaded pavilion stands on a rock jetty jutting out into the Lombok Strait. A lone man under a decorated roof of the small pavilion is silhouetted against the afternoon sky, a beautiful canvas of melancholic colors slowly turning vermilion as the sun sets.
Despite the past environmental damage, beauty still envelops Candidasa, giving hope for those who wish to bring this tranquil part of Bali back to its former glory.