Guide: the 3 best islands in Indonesia | Bali, Gili Islands, Lombok

 

 


A guide to visit the 3 best islands in Indonesia

- Bali, Gilli Islands and Lombok -

 

In this amazing country, we only scratched the surface as there are hundreds of islands to explore. We visited the ever-popular Bali, Lombok and the Gili islands and spent 3 weeks here overall.

 

Bali Island - Indonesia

Flying into Denpasar airport, we chose to base ourselves in Legian. This is a resort on the west coast of Bali nestled between the lively Kuta and the upmarket Seminyak. All three resorts run into each other and are lined with beautiful sandy beaches.

Kuta beach is famous for surfing so it is great to spend an afternoon hiring out a surfboard or paying for a lesson. Bodyboards are also available or you can just relax by hiring out sunbeds for the day. This region of Bali is extremely popular with Australian tourists and as such, is really commercial and 'westernized'. Plenty of Western food available in restaurants and an Aussie sports bar on every corner. It isn't very authentically Indonesian here but there is a good holiday vibe and is a great chill out spot.

We chose to stay in the 4* Sol House Legian Bali – this hotel is less than a year old and is as modern as you can get. Very slick and chic design aimed at a younger crowd and groups of friends. There are live DJ sets most evenings on the roof top bar and they host parties and events every week. The staff are polite and the pool area is nice. The breakfast was a little lacking in choice but overall a nice stay. It was quiet while we were there but I would only recommend it for people looking for a livelier place to stay. It is situated on Jalan Legian about 10 minutes' walk from one of the main nightlife areas.

If I was to return to this Indonesian island I would choose Seminyak as a base as there seemed to be a wider choice of nicer restaurants here and lovely beach bars with beanbags and tables where you could relax with a drink in the evening while listening to live music.

I would recommend a two centre in Bali as there is so much to see. After a few relaxing days by the beach, we decided to move inland to a town called Ubud.

 

Ubud in Bali Island - Indonesia

Ubud is renowned for being the cultural centre of Bali and places an emphasis on healthy living. There are an abundance of vegetarian and vegan dining options in the town and many visitors come to practice yoga here. I imagined a rural small peaceful town surrounded by rice terraces and local villages and that was the case before. Because of the massive increase in tourism here, it has had to expand and it is a REALLY busy place.

It is about an hour's drive from Legian and there was crazy traffic the whole journey. We did not pass through one bit of countryside or rurality on the way and once there, the small streets clearly can't cope with the traffic – cars, mini vans and motorbikes and scooters ploughed through roads being dug up and re-laid. It was a bit more chaotic than I had imagined of Bali, Indonesia.

There are many shops and boutiques selling hand-made crafts and clothes and there is a magnificent market in the centre of town. You can also buy tickets to catch a show of traditional Balinese dance and many of the bars offer live music during the week. I had heard many good things about Ubud and 3 nights here was plenty. You can organise with your hotel to hire a driver for a full day or half day to take you around to view many of the attractions on the island and the prices are always very reasonable.

For one half day we hired a driver to take us to 2 lovely waterfalls and the famous Tegalalang rice terraces. Our driver was super friendly and really chatty, we found out so much about the island and its traditions from him. It was a great day and very good value.

There was much more to see and do in Bali that you could never see it all. We enjoyed it so much that we agreed to return after seeing other Indonesian Islands, Lombok and the Gili islands, for another few days. Unfortunately, due to the volcano Mount Agung threatening to erupt that never happened but would definitely warrant a second visit.

 

The Gili Islands - Indonesia

The Gili islands are a true paradise and are well recognized from Instagram for the famous hammock and swings in the sea set against blue waters and blue skies or a jaw-dropping colourful sunset.

 

There are multiple ferry companies supplying the route from Bali, and other islands in Indonesia, and most offer a hotel pick up to the pier. The 3 small islands are situated off the North West coast of Lombok island; Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air.

Gili Trawangan is known as the livelier party island, Gili Meno is the quietest island with very little development and Gili Air is a nice balance between both with more to do but still without the nightlife reputation that Gili 'T' has. All islands are small enough that you can walk around the whole place in an afternoon. Many visitors hire bikes for as little as 1 euro per day and cycle around the island making stops at different beaches for a swim or at a restaurant for a refreshing drink. What is really interesting about these islands is that there are no motorised vehicles allowed, meaning the only way to get around is by foot, bicycle or horse-drawn carriage. It is like stepping back in time and they have the true 'island' vibe.

 

Gili Trawangan isn't that raucous that you cannot avoid the party scene, there are plenty of activities and quieter beaches to relax on especially the Western side. Of course, diving and snorkeling are the main things here and there are snorkeling spots known to attract turtles which draw in the crowds hoping to catch a glimpse. Many companies offer a '3 island' snorkeling tour which seemed good value but we decided to hire snorkeling masks ourselves for 2 euro and head to the most popular spots. We had no luck seeing turtles but the underwater life was incredible to see nonetheless. Every evening the crowds descend upon a particular beach to chill out on a beanbag with a cocktail and take in the breath-taking sunsets, offering a different plate of colours each evening.

We spent 4 nights on Gili Trawangan and 3 nights on Gili Air. Gili Meno would have been too quiet for my taste but perfect for someone seeking uninterrupted bliss on a peaceful getaway. Each island is no more than a 10 - 15 minute boat ride to the other making it easy to island hop. Each place offers a range of accommodation also to suit every budget. If you make it as far as Bali, it would be a shame not to make the short journey to the Gili islands, one of my favourite places on the whole trip.

 

Lombok - Indonesia

Lombok is another island similar in size to Bali and often compared to the 'Bali of thirty years ago' before the tourism boom.

 

The view of the mountainous terrain from the Gili islands is gorgeous and it is only a 15 minute boat ride to the main island. It is a lot less developed than Bali for sure with only two main resorts.

Sengiggi is the closest resort to the Gili islands, small town with a beach but overall, unimpressive. It lacks that holiday charm and the beach is not very nice. The second resort is on the South coast of the island called Kuta and is a charming little beach town with lots of surprisingly modern cafes and restaurants. It is famous for good surfing and there are lots of beaches surrounding the area that are worth visiting.

The evidence of Indonesian tourism expansion is clear though with a hugely wide paved promenade being built by the beach currently, it seemed quite ugly to me but might look better once completed and some restaurants and accommodation open up at the front.

 

The main attraction of Lombok that draws people is trekking Mount Rinjani; Lombok's active volcano. There are 2 day / 1 night packages available to the crater rim and 2 night / 3 day packages to the summit. This activity was not for us but would be well worth it for anyone interested. We met a couple who went to the crater rim and their photos were unbelievable.

Other than this, Lombok has the typical waterfalls and beaches that Bali has but is a bit more difficult to get around. Many people hired mopeds and scooters but if you are not experienced it leaves you a bit stuck as the hired drivers are not as popular yet as they are in Bali. 

We spent four nights in total in Lombok and headed back to the most popular island in Indonesia, Bali.

 

We wanted to visit two more islands in the southeast corner of Bali known as Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan which are now getting more popular as either a day trip or to spend a few more nights exploring but Mount Agung was threatening to erupt so we decided to leave Indonesia a week early, which was a huge pity. I know I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but I really would like to go back someday and explore a bit more!



 

Ellen

Travel Consultant at J Barter Travel

Currently travelling around Asia, with stops in SingaporeMalaysia, Thailand, Laos, VietnamCambodiaPhilippinesIndonesia and Hong Kong, and also Australia and New Zealand.




closeTo give you the best possible experience, this site uses cookies. Using this site means you agree to our use of cookies. We have published a cookies policy, which you should read to find out more about the cookies we use. View cookies policy.