Bali is a bucket list destination for many, but with thousands of dreamy islands in the Indonesian archipelago, why not skip Bali and explore the smaller, quieter islands. Free from the hustle and bustle of the mainland, Bali’s surrounding islands will leave you dopey with the kind of happiness you dream about for years.
A 30 minute flight or a two-and-a-half hour speed boat ride from Bali will take you to the neighbouring island of Lombok known for its colourful Sasak culture, great dive sites, surfing hot spots and stunning white sand beaches like Selong Belanak or Mawan. If you’re up for an island hopping adventure, don’t miss the ‘Secret Gilis‘. The twelve tiny islands between Sekotong and Desert point surf break in the south west of Lombok are delightfully low key and are teeming with spectacular reefs and deserted beaches. In the northern part of Lombok, Mount Rinjani – Indonesia’s second highest volcano – is one of the main attraction and makes for an epic two-day climb. In its foothills are ancient mosques and villages populated by practitioners of a Hindu-Islam fusion unique to Lombok, as well as scenic waterfalls.
The Gili islands
Just north of Lombok is trio of tiny tropical islands collectively known as the Gilis. All three Gilis are car-free and each island has its own distinct character. Gili Meno, the smallest of the three, is a popular destination among honeymooners and couples seeking a more quiet retreat. Gili Trawangan is the famed party island but it isn’t just late night bars, dance parades and full moon parties – the west side of the island offers deserted powdery white beaches, you’ll forget you’re sharing the island with anyone at all. The middle ground comes in the form of Gili Air, which has a laid-back vibe and is a mecca for outdoor activities. Scuba diving, snorkeling and freediving are all popular off the coast, and a rich underwater life and beautiful coral reefs give you plenty to see.
It just takes a 90 minute flight from Bali to reach the island of Flores. The UNESCO-listed world heritage site of Komodo National Park on Komodo Island is arguably the most famous spot in Flores. The big draw are the Komodo dragons but the surrounding waters also offer great diving and snorkeling opportunities for the wildlife enthusiasts. Nearby, you can also check out Kanawa Island which is something of an underwater paradise filled with turtles, manta-rays and sharks. Flores has a number of marine parks and one of these is the 17 Islands Riung Marine Park famed for its beautiful coral gardens. Divers flock there for the top-class underwater action but there’s plenty around to keep non-divers happy like trekking through the jungle in search of the Timor deer, fruit bats and monkeys.
Sumbawa is located between Lombok and Flores. It might take longer to reach but if you’re looking for a relaxing holiday with an adventurous edge, set among stunning scenery, then Sumbawa could just be the spot for you! Sumbawa is s a surfers’ paradise with famous breaks like Lakey Peak, Yo-Yo’s, Supersucks and Scar Reef. The coral drenched waters provide excellent opportunities for snorkelling and diving. Be sure to visit the islands of Moyo, Sangeang and Satonda for an unforgettable diving experience. Serious climbers may want to ascend the mighty Gunung Tambora (2,722 meters), Sumbawa’s highest mountain and be rewarded with those breathtaking views. And on a Sunday, be sure to ask around to see if you can enjoy a day of the local sport of water buffalo racing.
Hidden below Flores and Sumbawa, Sumba is probably more popular among surfers. But you don’t have to be into surfing to enjoy Sumba. Almost the entire coast is lined with perfectly sheltered bays with fringing coral reefs for swimming and snorkelling. The island has some of the best preserved traditional culture in Indonesia and one of the few remaining living megalithic cultures in the world. Ancient tombs, high priests and daily ceremonies are all a part of life here. One of the highlights is the annual Pasola festival, held between January and March, and involves rival teams of warriors on horseback throwing blunt spears to honour their ancestral spirits and offer sacrifice to the lands. It’s an easy two hour flight from Bali, so this is the ideal place to head for if you are looking for tribal culture mixed with a relaxing beach stay.