We’ve all been to Bali - once, twice or maybe you’ve been going to Bali since Kuta was considered ‘exotic’. Over the recent years, probably with the help of The Bali Bible’s Instagram account you might have had some of the surrounding islands of Bali enter your radar and pique your curiosity. Indonesia is made up of over 17,000 separate islands, 922 of them inhabited. Here is a guide to a handful of them.
Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan
Bali’s petite cousin Lembongan is still rather wild and considered ‘Bali 20 years ago’. It has a boutiquey vibe with a small selection of trendy accommodation, restaurants and cafés. Nusa Lembongan is romantic and probably the perfect place for a honeymoon with cracking views and an intimate feel. But what I believe to be the biggest draw card of Lembongan is the range of activities on offer. If you like to fit a bit of action in to your holidays, your days will easily be filled paddle boarding, surfing, snorkeling with mantas, cliff jumping and diving. The size of the island will allow you to cover all of these activities in a day. And your nights will be spent relaxing at restaurants or resorts leaving you enough go to do it all again the next day. Cenningan, connected by a yellow bridge wide enough for only one scooter at a time is the even more petite sibling of Lembongan where you will find a handful of accommodations including Le Pirates Beach Club. My personal favourite is The Palms where you will wake up every morning to waves crashing and finish everyday with a stunning sunset, all viewed from the comfort of your own bed.
A trip to the Gilli islands usually begins with the long journey to Padang Bai where you will find pushy vendors, awful bathroom facilities and a heap of backpackers smoking on a wharf in close vicinity to fuel fumes. Every time I go there I promise myself it will be the last. All is quickly forgotten though once you enter the sparkly waters and realize that this might be the most beautiful clear body of water you have ever submerged yourself in. The water is so bright and the sea life so vivid that you need not don the whole diving kit but using just a snorkel you will see turtles and all the colours of the rainbow in the coral and the fish. The lack of police on the island give it a mischievous vibe which makes Gilli T a backpacker haven. Groups of young travellers drink the night away and subsequently pass out hung over on the beach the next day and spend the rest of their trip sporting traces of hideous sunburn. The diameter of the island can be cycled in less than an hour and unlike Hindu Bali, is governed by the Muslim religion. From the mosques of the island you will hear a call to prayer 5 times a day. Gilli T may not be the place you go for a cultural awakening exactly but this aspect adds a point of interest for those who have spent most of their time in Bali.
Gili Air and Gili Meno
Like Trawangan, Air and Meno also belonging to Lombok and prohibit the use of motorized vehicles, with push bikes and horse drawn carriages the alternative. Gilli Meno is the most far removed of the islands and would be the ideal destination for one wishing to retreat into seclusion amongst the beauty of a remote island. Gilli Air sits in between Trawangan and Meno, serving as a happy medium of the three. New accommodations are frequently popping up on the island and it is a perfect honeymoon hideaway for the low key couple. The whole Gilli archipelago hosts an abundance of marine life and attractive coral formations. The islands have fresh water and all supplies are delivered from Lombok daily. Head to the Gillis if you are looking for something close to Bali but a world away from the bustling tourist centers that you’ve gotten to know.
Lombok is Bali’s slightly mysterious neighbor. Roughly the same size but with much better infrastructure and no traffic congestion, many factors favour the island. Mystery shrouds Lombok as people try and predict it’s future. Will it take off? Is it the new Bali? Will buying land result in you gaining a massive return 10 years down the track the way many before have done in Bali? Currently Sengigi is the island’s tourist center with a comfortable number of villas, hotels and restaurants. It has a sort of Sanur vibe in the way that it isn’t the most trendy of destinations but it sure has a lot going for it. Kuta, around 1.5 hours drive south is a surfer hotspot with a myriad of surfer accommodations, white sand beaches and beach parties to sip large Bintangs at most nights of the week. The mellow but consistent and often sizeable swell makes it the perfect place for beginners to spend a week or so immersing themselves in the art of surfing. I find a certain charm in the fact that Lombok is less used to the western tourist and I have had a few Faulty towers-esque episodes at restaurants and hotels. Inevitably the eagerness of the people to please you allows one to see this as an adoring quirk of the island rather than an annoyance. My prediction based on nothing but my own observation is that Lombok will come into it’s own in the next 10 years (and I certainly don't have the authority to be giving investment advice). I can report that in the last 6-12 months Kuta Lombok particularly has had a small growth spurt with a handful of western cafés and restaurants popping up and land being bought out by developers. It may not become the dynamic and hedonistic super destination that is Bali. But the cracking white sand beaches, world-class surfing, and lack of traffic, as well as the fact it is less affected by Bali’s wet season, will make it a great alternative. Especially as more western provisions are put in place (baby steps).
I refrained from using the word ‘paradise’ through out the article, but in summary here you have it- the islands surrounding are nothing short of Paradise. The bright, sparkley waters, the crystal clear visibility, the untouched and secluded beaches, the white sand and the smiles of the locals who are happy to share their beautiful place with you- these are the things that make these islands so special. Even if you are a loyal Bali devotee I suggest trying them out, you will probably fall in love!
By no means is this a full guide to the islands of Indonesia. I have every intention of expanding my hopping horizons to other islands in the future. Hopefully the likes of Flores and Borneo will feature before too long. In the meantime can anyone recommend some Indonesian island destinations?
Article Written by Rosie Patterson