The 7 Best Island Getaways From Bali
The tropical paradise of your dreams awaits.
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With hundreds of dreamy islands in Indonesia, why not skip Bali and explore the smaller, quieter islands like Gili Air? We tell you where to go, how to get there and what to expect.
If, like me, you’d rather not spend your Bali holiday haggling for trashy souvenirs, dodging suicidal scooters and running away from rabid dogs because you feel too harassed by beeping taxis to flag a driver down, then the solution is simple: go island hopping.
Free from traffic, pollution and the crushing commercialism of the mainland, Bali’s surrounding islands will leave you dopey with the kind of happiness you dream about for years, especially when the weather suddenly turns Melbourne and your twisted editor asks you to write about tropical islands.
So pick up a bottle at duty free, pack some good reading material and experience your own little island paradise off the coast of Bali.
#1 Nusa Penida
Once a kind of prison for banished criminals, it’s no wonder tourists have remained wary of the rugged environment of Penida. But its sublime limestone cliffs, stunning beaches, utter quiet and spiritual sites are attracting a steady trickle of daytrippers and scuba divers for a reason. A floating restaurant also helps. Good to know: Both Nusa Penida and its neighbours, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, are part of a special Balinese bird sanctuary, the Friends of the National Parks Foundation (FNPF), which has saved endangered birds like the Bali starling from extinction.
#2 Komodo National Park
A one-and-a-half hour flight from Bali will land you in Labuan Bajo on Flores, which is smack bang next to the Komodo National Park: an island-dotted wildlife reserve that’s home to the majestic and terrifying Komodo dragons that call Indonesia home. The park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Man and Biosphere Reserve, with basically every kind of wildlife you could ever want to see, snap or turn into memes. Day and overnight trips will take you around the three main islands – Komodo, Padar and Rinca – to experience the ridiculous diversity of life including Timor deer, wild pigs, bats, monkeys, pink coral beaches and sea life. Want to see the entire cast of The Little Mermaid? There’s so much going on beneath the sea that even dugongs – those alluring ladies of the ocean – can be spotted on a good day. Good to know: Komodos – vicious demon lizards they are – love the smell of blood, so make sure you let your tour guide know if you’re in the red.
#3 Nusa Lembongan
Basically Bali but smaller, classier, and with better beaches and fewer hawkers, Nusa Lembongan is a little slice of perfection that’s only 30 minutes or so from the Bali mainland. For such a sleepy island, there’s a surprisingly lot to do including cliff jumping, diving, surfing, paddle boarding and sitting on the beach with a delicious cocktail. Those wanting a little extra can wobble along the suspension bridge to neighbouring Nusa Ceningan and ‘naw’ at the spectacular sunset. Good to know: With only one ATM catering to the entire island, make sure you bring cash.
Talk to anyone recently back from Lombok and you’ll catch a sneaky ‘I’ve-discovered-perfection-and-I’m-not-telling-anyone’ smile, coupled with evasive answers to your travel questions and very few photographs, because Lombok is a secret everyone wants to keep. A 20-minute flight or two-and-a-half hour boat ride from Bali, Lombok towers over the pancake Gilis like the shadowy peaks of Mordor. Except instead of hiding orcs and a giant fiery eyeball, Lombok nestles dreamy beaches, splashing waterfalls, surfing hot spots and lush rice fields in its fiery belly. Mount Rinjani, Indonesia’s second-highest (and still active) volcano, can be climbed up or just gazed at, depending on your preferences. Make sure you get to Kuta Lombok – a stunning village down south and the top surf spot with world-class breaks and a super chill sensibility. Good to know: Lombok, like the neighbouring Gili islands, is 80 percent Muslim, so dress appropriately and respect the local culture.
#5 Gili Air
Anyone who has taken the fast boat from Bali to party island Gili Trawangan will know the intense flare of curiosity at the Gili Air stop, when one or two tourists splash into the dimply water with so little luggage you wonder how they brush their teeth. As the closest island to Lombok, Gili Air has more of a rural, lived-in vibe than Gili T. And like all three Gilis, motorised vehicles on Gili Air are prohibited, so you can walk around the whole island without experiencing a single car, scooter, or that twitch you get in your eye when thinking about traffic. With six dive operators, it’s the perfect place to learn how to breathe underwater. Beach bars, restaurants, kite surfing, paddle boards, yoga retreats and live music make Gili Air the perfect middle ground between buzzing Gili Trawangan and the honeymoon peacefulness of Gili Meno. Good to know: With only two ATMs on the island, make sure you take enough cash – especially if your accommodation doesn’t accept credit cards. Internet is patchy, but Gili Air isn’t a place for working anyway.
#6 Gili Meno
Gili Meno should really be called Gili Mini because it’s so tiny. Only two by one kilometres in size, Meno is the least developed and most peaceful of the three Gili islands. Gili Meno is perfect for honeymooners, introverts and those hoping to recreate Linda Williams Aber’s excellent series Lost Girls, which for those not in the know is a beautiful mix between The Babysitters Club and Survivor. Luxury travellers will be relieved to hear that Meno still has a good supply of indulgent resorts and beach bars. Good to know: Divers and snorkelers shouldn’t miss a night dive at the famous Meno Wall, while bird lovers can hang with over 300 feathered friends at Gili Meno Bird Park.
#7 Gili Trawangan
Google ‘Bali Party Island’ and Gili Trawangan will invariably surface. But the island isn’t just reggae bars, dance parades and controversial pony taxis – stroll a few minutes up the beach and you’ll forget you’re sharing the island with anyone at all. Turtle sanctuaries, beachside breakfasts and mornings opened by the muezzin from nearby mosques are just a few reasons why everyone should visit at least one Gili in their lifetime.
Good to know: If you’re feeling adventurous enough to take the long walk back to your hotel after an evening out, think again. Or bring a torch. The dark is so complete on the western side of the island – and the sound of distant reggae bars and bleating goats so unnerving – that you’ll instantly regret such a decision.
Chill out in Bali, Gili Trawangan and Lombok with Contiki on the new 8-day island hopper. Think 4* hotels, pristine private beaches, world-class surfing and a vibe like no other. Experience Asia the Contiki way with 2016/17 dates and trips out now. TAKE ME THERE.