Boasting a string of more than 13,000 sun-soaked isles stretching from Malaysia to Australia, Indonesia is an island hopper’s paradise.
From the popular tourist hotspots of Bali and Lombok to the white sandy beaches of the tranquil Gili Isles, Indonesia’s archipelago is bursting with culture, dramatically rugged coastlines and bustling nightlife.
With a variety of boat transfers and ferry services available, an island hopping adventure is a fantastic way of experiencing Indonesia’s intriguing diversity.
Bali is an island of ever-changing facades. Whilst Kuta has become renowned for its surf culture and numerous bars, the inland villages give way to lush rice terraces and breathtaking temples.
The mountain village of Ubud is the best place to experience traditional Balinese culture. As the island’s cultural heartland, the village abounds with magnificent temples, local art galleries, museums and performance venues. Ubud’s most popular attraction is the Monkey Forest Sanctuary (website: www.monkeyforestubud.com), where visitors can get up close and personal with the resident, and extremely mischievous, macaques.
The laid-back beach resort of Lovina, in the north of the island, is a great place to escape the tourist throngs of the south. Boats can be chartered to the surrounding islands from the centre of Kalibukbuk, as well as early morning dolphin-watching trips, which offer a jaw-dropping view of Bali as the sun rises above the island’s looming volcanic peaks.
Tanah Lot is Bali’s most famed temple, and sits aloft a rocky offshore outcrop, just west of Denpasar. Set in a dramatic landscape of glistening black sand and lashing waves, the multi-tiered shrine is well worth a visit and is especially magnificent at sunset.
Padang Bai is Bali’s main port for Lombok as well as boat charters to the Gili Islands and Komodo. You can buy ferry tickets from the port itself, whilst all-inclusive trips to the Gili Islands (including ferry, minibus transfer and local island crossing) are available from one of the many local tour companies.
Although often compared to the neighbouring island of Bali, Lombok differs dramatically in culture, offering a much slower pace of life and remaining relatively unaffected by the tourist trade – earning it a reputation as a more adventurous destination.
North Lombok is dominated by the staggering volcanic mass of Gunung Rinjani, which has created an arresting black sandy coastline. As well as climbing up the mountainous terrain, visitors can cool off in one of the many waterfalls or take in some local village culture.
Nature lovers will appreciate the picturesque upland Sembalun valley, which is not only surrounded by impressive mountain peaks, but is also a far cry from the usual tourist trail. For the more active visitor, the big swell along Lombok’s south-coast beaches attracts a mass of surfers to its many hidden coves.
Boats travel frequently from Bali such as Bounty Cruise (website: www.balibountycruises.com) and Bluewater Safaris (website: www.bwsbali.com), which also offers air-conditioned trips to the Gili Islands. A slower and cheaper alternative is the aptly named Slow Ferry from Padang Bai, which takes around five hours. In summer months aim for the air-conditioned lounges as the trip can be unbearably hot.
The little known Gili Islands are a collection of three unspoilt havens, sitting off the north west coast of Lombok. Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air are all strikingly beautiful with vast swathes of pure white sand and evian-clear waters that boast stunning coral reefs.
Although the nightlife is fairly low-key on all three islands, there is a great choice of accommodation from traditional wooden lodges to more luxurious villas, as well as a good selection of bars and restaurants. With a population of 700, Gili Trawangan is the largest and most lively island, with nightly beach parties, bars, restaurants and numerous dive centres.
One main draw of the Gilis is the fabulous snorkelling and diving opportunities. As well as snorkelling equipment for hire, there are a number of Padi certified dive centres on Gili Trawangan, which offer courses for beginners and more experienced divers. Not only is this a great opportunity to catch a glimpse of a sea turtle or reef shark, you can achieve your Padi certificate for a nominal cost in a stunning location.
You can reach all of the islands from Lombok’s port of Bangsal, from where regular public boats leave between 0730 and 1630, as well as shuttle boats and private charters. There is also a twice-daily Perama shuttle boat from Senggigi, although the running of this does depend on the weather conditions.
For the more adventurous traveller, various organised boat trips can be taken to the island of Komodo. Although the journey can take up to a day from either Lombok or the Gili Islands, once there visitors can marvel at the stunning wildlife and get the rare chance to see the feeding of the prehistoric-sized Komodo dragons.
Perama offers trips from Senggigi on Lombok and Coconut Cottages from Gili Air (website: www.coconuts-giliair.com). Lombok Sailing (website: www.lomboksailing.com) offers a variety of trips including Komodo and Flores. Most trips last around four days and three nights aboard traditional wooden charter boats.
For further information visit the Ministry of Culture and Tourism at www.my-indonesia.info.