The tropical island of Bali is commonly associated with white sandy beaches, absurdly clear waters and sunny, tropical weather. But, recent years have seen the popular holiday destination become more and more of a tourist trap reminiscent of a small city.
While the busy areas of Seminyak and Canggu in Bali certainly do offer extraordinary delicious food and some of the world’s best beach clubs, if you’re seeking a true island experience you may be best off venturing out to some of Indonesia’s lesser-known gems.
Thankfully, with over 18,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago, you’re pretty much spoilt for choice when heading off when the intent of finding some private powder-soft sand. Here are our picks when it comes to Indonesia’s best island escapes.
Made up of three islands, Lombok’s Gili islands may well be best known for the party destination of Gili Trawangan, but it’s the island’s other sisters, Gili Air and Gili Meno, that really steal the show when it comes to unadulterated relaxation, paradise style.
Ringed by gorgeous beaches and exuding some serious deserted island vibes, the tiny island of Meno is the perfect place to kick back in a hammock with a book and switch off from the rest of the world. Dubbed the turtle capital of the world, the ‘Gili Meno Wall’ is located directly out front and divers and snorkelers can catch majestic turtles in their natural habitat being happily pulled along by the strong current.
Gili Air is considered the darling of the three islands, has it all and is perfect for those looking for a mix of fun and relaxation. It’s famous for its happy hours on pristine beaches, live music without an influx of intoxicated tourists and of course, the famed marine life that the islands are known for. Slightly larger than Meno, you can even fulfil all your wildest island dreams with a barebacked horse ride along the beaches at sunset.
How to get there from Bali: boats leave Seragan Port and Padang Bai port multiple times a day. The journey takes around 4 hours from Serangan port and approximately 2.5 hours from Padang Bai port.
Get the latest Travel news, features, updates and giveaways straight to your inbox Learn more
Bawah Reserve is so much of a well-kept secret that even many local Indonesians are unaware of its existence. This could be due to the island – which is littered with overwater bungalows perched upon aquamarine reefs and boasts dense, thriving jungle – being only accessible by a luxurious seaplane. Bawah Island is completely private, so anyone who stays on the island must stay at Bawah Reserve resort.
Fancy some pampering in paradise? You’re in luck, once you set foot on the completely private island you’ll have access to spa treatments, water activities and wellness classes, all at no extra cost. You’ll also have some creative cuisine choices; whether you’d prefer a picnic on the beach or fragrant fare in a treetop jungle canopy, Bawah Reserve has plenty of dining choices across its six islands.
Going beyond its luxurious offerings, the reserve prides itself on sustainability. From ocean-friendly sunscreen to solar-powered boats, Bawah is about as eco-friendly as it gets. It’s no wonder it was awarded one of CNN’s best paradise islands in Asia – an award that really put Bawah on the map.
How to get there from Bali: it takes a while to get to Bawah from Bali, but the picturesque island is certainly worth the journey. Tourists will need to fly from Bali to Jakarta and then catch a connecting flight to Batam. The hotel will then arrange a car to collect guests from their hotel in Batam that will take them to the seaplane port.
In less transit time than a car ride from Bali’s international airport to Ubud, you could find yourself taking a dip in your private pool, pina colada in hand on Nusa Cenigan. Nusa Cenigan is connected to the adjoining island of Nusa Lembongan – which is busier and more well known – by a very famous yellow bridge. The island can be reached by a 35-minute boat ride from Bali’s tourist hotspot Sanur.
Along the sun-kissed sandy strip of the shore that connects Nusa Cenigan to Nusa Penida, you’ll find adorable beach bars offering ridiculously cheap two-for-one cocktail deals. If you’re not content relaxing on bean bags on the beach or lazing around an infinity pool, take a day trip to the neighbouring island of Penida. Here, you can check out stunning spots that you’ve surely seen splashed across your Insta, like KelingKing Point and Angel’s Billabong.
How to get there from Bali:Boats leave Sanur port multiple times a day. The boats will usually take you into Lembongan, and then a hotel will arrange transport to pick you up.
Nihiwatu Beach, Sumba
Sumba is relatively unknown – and well off the beaten track – but there’s one hotel that’s made one area of the island a hotspot for luxury holidaymakers: Nihi. Nihi Sumba is a five-star hotel that was voted the ‘Best Hotel in the World’ by Travel + Leisure for two years in a row and has also graced Conde Naste Traveler’s prestigious ‘The World’s Best Hotels Gold’ List
Three islands across from Bali in Sumba you’ll find Nihi. Here you can experience five-star luxury, without having to forgo adventure. The resort sits on 560 acres and is famous for its private beach that’s full of beautiful horses that happily prance around the sand and sea directly in front of the accommodation.
The private villas themselves are nothing short of breathtaking, featuring private pools, stunning ocean views and expansive entertaining areas. The hotel also offers a range of activities, from Mixology and Indonesian cooking classes to kite surfing, hydrofoiling and waterfall treks.
Contrasting culture and luxury, here you’ll also have the chance to explore all day and head back to your luxury villa equipped with a friendly private butler and exquisite cuisine.
How to get there from Bali: Guests will need to take a domestic flight from Bali airport to Sumba Island’s Tambolaka Airport. The hotel will arrange for a vehicle to pick up guests and the journey to the accommodation takes about 1.5 hours.
For more on this topic, follow the Travel Observer.