Bali, also known as the Island of the Gods, is Indonesia’s main tourist destination. Combining an incredible history with an exotic and spiritual culture, Bali offers something for everyone. Best of all, the island is truly beautiful, with everything from lush green forests to mountains to white sand beaches. Although Bali is a destination of choice for many, don’t forget the many islands near Bali which are just as exciting and picturesque.
Lombok is a large island in eastern Bali, and it’s a diverse and scenic place to explore on vacation. To the south of the island is the seaside town of Kuta, where surfers hang out. Almost a world away from the eponymous beach town of Bali, Kuta offers spectacular beaches and a laid-back atmosphere. In northern Lombok, a less visited part of the island, you can hike to the top of Mount Rinjani, see some of the area’s many waterfalls, or take a ferry across the Gili Islands. For a more urban and lively atmosphere, head to Mataram, the largest city on the island. In Mataram, you can visit an 18th century palace in the Mayura Garden or embark on a street food adventure by strolling through Jalan Udayana.
2. Gili Meno
Gili Meno is the island in the middle of the Gilis, and is widely known as the most romantic place in Indonesia. For this reason, couples often flock to Gili Meno, and it is a prime honeymoon destination. In addition to sunset cocktails and romantic beach walks, Gili Meno is ideal for animal lovers. Taman Burung is a fantastic aviary, and at Gili Meno Turtle Sanctuary, you can watch turtles and their cubs safely come to the beach. There are several places on the island where you can take PADI certification courses to introduce you to scuba diving, or you can choose to rent snorkeling equipment from vendors on the beach.
3. Gili Trawangan
If Gili Meno is for romantics and Gili Air for intrepid travelers, Gili Trawangan is for nightlife lovers looking for a good party. Trawangan is the largest and most popular of the Gili Islands, and there is always something to do there, day or night. During the day, you can take yoga classes or try your hand at scuba diving, or you can opt for surf lessons and a boat trip. As the sun sets, however, the island really comes to life and everyone begins to relax. Many bars and clubs have party nights, so there is always something to do until dawn.
4. Nusa Ceningan
One of the islands located directly south of Bali is called Nusa Ceningan. Accessible by a bridge from two neighboring islands, Nusa Ceningan is small but absolutely worth a visit. Many local residents grow seaweed and you will no doubt want to see how they harvest it during your stay. If you’re looking for breathtaking scenery, head to the Blue Lagoon, the quintessential photography destination. For those looking for the adrenaline rush, Mahana Point is a must see. A bar at the top of the point offers exceptional views, and many visitors jump off the cliff into the clear, deep waters below.
5. Moyo Island
About 280 km (170 miles) from Bali is Moyo Island, located just north of the island called Sumbawa. Moyo Island is relatively remote and underdeveloped, with the exception of one luxurious resort complex. This is why Moyo Island is the epitome of a luxury getaway for those who want to see a less populated and more natural side of Indonesia, but who also want to enjoy top-notch services. Most of the island is covered by the Moyo Island Hunting Park, where there are no buildings and lots of wildlife. The entire coast of the island is a marine conservation area, which makes it ideal for those who enjoy diving or snorkelling.
6. Nusa Lembongan
The third of the Nusa Islands, near Bali, is Nusa Lembongan, a destination that is quickly gaining a reputation for offering breathtaking landscapes without much tourist infrastructure. Jungut Batu is the busiest beach, a favorite with surfers and budget travelers alike. More privacy can be found in the south of the island, in places like Devil’s Tear, where the low cliffs offer spectacular views of the water. In addition to abundant beaches, Nusa Lembongan is home to kelp farms, mangrove forests, and the impressive Hindu temple Puncak Sari.
7. Komodo Island
West of Bali is Komodo Island. As the name suggests, Komodo Island is home to many Komodo dragons, the largest lizard in the world. Much of the island is part of the Komodo National Park, which also includes the islands of Rinca and Padar, creating a reserve for local wildlife and its habitats. Komodo Island is accessible by ferry, and many visitors come on a guided tour from Lombok, although an excursion from Bali is also possible. Although the animals of the islands are a big attraction, the sea around them is also popular for diving. In particular, the reefs off Komodo Island are home to sharks and even stingrays.
8. Nusa Penida
The largest of the Nusa Islands, off the southern coast of Bali, is Nusa Penida. Daily ferries and private speedboats take you from Bali to Nusa Penida, and most visitors come for the secluded beaches and less touristy atmosphere than in much of Bali. Crystal Bay has pristine white sand, clear waters, and excellent snorkeling, making it one of the busiest beaches in Nusa Penida. If you are looking for more secluded places, plan a walk through the limestone caves of Goa Giri Putri or go bird watching in the lush Tembeling Forest. As with much of Indonesia, scuba diving opportunities abound.
The big island west of Bali is called Java, and there are big cities like Jakarta. If you want to know the rich cultural history and heritage of Indonesia, Java is an unforgettable place. Many tours from Bali can help you see the highlights of Java in just a day or two, taking care of the logistics along the way. You can explore ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples, such as Borobudur, or visit incredible structures such as the Sultan’s Palace, the seat of Indonesian royalty. Volcanoes, temples and beaches are just a few of the attractions Java has to offer.
10. Gili Air
Just off the coast of Lombok is a group of islands known as the Gili Islands. One of them is Gili Air, the closest island to Lombok. Gili Air is renowned for being the most laid back of the Gilis and is the mecca for outdoor activities. Scuba diving, snorkelling, and snorkeling are popular on the coast, and the rich underwater life and beautiful coral reefs give plenty to see. The local food scene revolves around grilled fresh seafood, and although the nightlife is minimal, there’s always an open bar and live music to enjoy.