Step off the Indonesian island of Bali, onto a fast boat, and be wandering in no time at all, barefoot along sandy pathways, swinging beachside on a bar swing and swimming in eye-popping azure water, with turtles popping up for air beside you.
April 26, 2023 – 10:42AM
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1. Gili Trawangan
Largest and most popular of the three Gili islands just 2.5hr boat ride from Padang Bai, Bali, Gili Trawangan attracts islanders who seek more action of an evening. Dance barefoot on the soft sand and enjoy a continuing line-up of bustling cafes, beach bars and loud music. Indulge in a $10 massage and plunge into the ocean to glide over the surrounding vibrant coral reef. Turtles come guaranteed. There are great gift shops, lots of dive shops, cooking classes and a chance to canter a pony bareback along the shoreline. Budget bungalows are plentiful. A stay at Wah Resort Gili Trawangan for instance, beside the sea and within lush tropical gardens, will set you back $30 per double room with breakfast included.
2. Gili Air
Does swinging from a bamboo bed suspended from the ceiling sound like a different sleeping experience? Captain Coconuts is a resort-style hotel, sustainably designed and mindful of the environment, where you can swing from the rafters in hostel accommodation or book into a private room. There are a host of bungalows where $30-$50 buys you a private hut complete with air conditioning, private bathroom, and sometimes a swimming pool and ocean view. They are basic, but clean and tidy, all just a couple steps from the beach. Gili Air emits a quieter, laidback vibe. There are no cars or motors allowed on the island (or any of the Gili islands in fact). Everything is within barefoot walking distance or pushbike ride, and spending the evenings by the sea watching a free outdoor movie is more popular here than late night music and bars. If you like to travel with purpose, contact Gili Air Shark Conservation who are based on the island to see how you can help with shark conservation and turtle identification.
3. Gili Meno
This is the smallest and most tranquil of the three Gili islands. It measures just two kilometres long and one kilometre wide and is the perfect place to just drop and flop. Surrounded by the clearest of waters, it has the added attraction of being able to snorkel and free dive straight off the beach onto an impressive underwater art installation by famous sculptor, Jason deCaires Taylor. However, visiting snorkel trips can make this a busy spot, so my tip is to swim off the beach at lunch time, avoiding groups, and having this cool installation to explore all on your own. If you are seeking an unspoilt little sanctuary, this island is the one. To sleep, check out Fantastic Cottages, that are large, well located and positioned just 70metres from Gili Meno beach.
4. Nusa Penida
This island’s beauty will blow you away. Less than an hour boat ride from Bali, it’s big and it’s rugged, so rent a scooter to see the sights or book an organised tour. Both Diamond Beach (pictured) and Kelingking Beach are stupendously beautiful from the viewpoints above, but quite a dramatic steep climb down the cliffs to dip your toes onto their silky shores. Either way, don’t miss them, and give yourself time to see the many more scenic spots on this island. For ocean lovers, Manta Point is nearby where you can take a dive or snorkel, swimming with gigantic manta rays, flashing you their enormous white bellies and graceful wing spans that block out the sun. Check out Gading Treehouse for a lovely little nature sanctuary stay in the hills for less than $50 per night.
5. Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan
Joined by a bridge, these two small islands can be explored by motorbike in under an hour but don’t be fooled – there’s plenty to do here. Try a cliff jump at Blue Lagoon on Nusa Ceningan, stand-up paddle board through the mangrove forests on Lembongan, learn to surf on rolling beginner breaks, search for the Mola-Mola sunfish or just grab a beanbag for a laid-back beverage gazing out from the clifftops. Double A beach house on Ceningan Island is right on the beach and offers either a sea or mountain view. It can be booked for $35 a night.