3 reasons to ditch Bali
If Bali's honking Bluebird taxis, zipping motorcycles, monstrous daily traffic jams and persistent beach touts obliterate your Bali dream within a few hours of landing, there are alternatives.
Plus, in light of the recent news regarding a police standoff with suspected terrorists, you may want to look around.
At these three islands life slows to a crawl and the agenda is nothing more complicated than topping up your tan and embracing the outdoors.
Think of the Gili Islands -– consisting of Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno -- as Bali in the 1970s but with all the modern amenities travelers have become accustomed to: fresh water showers (only at some resorts), Wi-Fi, Lavazza espresso.
Most stay on Gili Trawangan, eager to make the most of a more real island experience, and to escape the constant calls of “transport, you want transport?”
There’s no motorized traffic allowed on all the islands, you either cycle, walk or take the pony express if you’re really lazy (or have a lot of bags).
Days are spent laying on the rarely inhabited white-sand beaches, exploring the calm, clear waters and pondering life as you gaze at the nearby mountain range.
When you tire of doing absolutely nothing, glass-bottomed boats can be hired out for approximately 80,000 rupiah (US$8.70), inclusive of snorkeling gear. The Gili waters provide plenty of distractions especially for all snorkelers and divers: turtles, reef sharks, moray eels and schools of mackerel are all common sights.
At dusk, everyone on Gili Trawangan gathers at the island’s sunset spot where cold cans of beer can be bought to enjoy along with the breathtaking sunset: pink-orange-purple with streaks of green.
Once night falls, it’s a lazy stroll down to the restaurants that line the promenade. Scallywags (South Beach Gili Trawangan, +62 370 614 5301; www.scallywagsresort.com) has one of the best barbecue seafood options and a goat’s cheese tart that's unforgettable.
Newcomer ko-ko-mo (South Beach Gili Trawangan, +62 370 613 4920; www.kokomogilit.com) is the island’s only genuine fine-dining eatery with a menu featuring lots of super-fresh seafood and sashimi.
On most nights, the reggae bars are packed with the island’s inhabitants. Exotic shakes are readily available, possibly another reason why the island grows more popular with every full moon.
Where to stay: There are cheaper options than the Hotel Villa Ombak (Gili Trawangan Island Kabupaten Lombok Utara, Lombok, +62 370 614 2336; www.hotelombak.com) but for the money, you get a prime beachfront location, a three-tier saltwater pool, grounds scattered with hammocks, an on-site spa, and fresh water showers -- this is a big plus.
How to get there: Blue Water Express sails three times a day (www.bluewater-express.com) from Serangan Harbour (20 minutes from South Bali) or via Padang Bai. The journey takes between two and two-and-a-half hours. Otherwise, fly to Lombok and take a 30-minute water taxi ride.
Visit Nusa Lembongan soon if you want to see it as its authentic self.
A small laidback island that can be crossed on foot in two hours, it is becoming quite the surfing hot spot, and where the surfers go, mass tourism usually follows -- look what happened with Bali.
For surfers, Nusa Lembongan will never lose its appeal. There are three main breaks -– Shipwreck, Lacerations and Playground –- which see most action from April to September. They are more suited to intermediate and experienced surfers as they break over coral reefs.
Non-surfers will find adequate distraction diving, snorkeling or just sunning on the white sand beaches of Mushroom Bay, Pantai Selegimpak, Dream Beach and Jungut Batu, which is the most developed stretch.
Up for exploring? Local boatmen will take you from Jungut Batu to Mushroom Bay for 30,000 rupiah (US$3.20) –- or you can just walk for 35 minutes -- or over to Nusa Penida for 400,000 rupiah (US$43.90).
When it rains, seek refuge at Lulur Spa (+62 3662 4880) situated at Batu Karang. It offers services using imported Australian products.
While Nusa Lembongan’s development can’t be stopped, one thing will remain the same: its sunset.
Best admired from the western side of the island at Jungut Beach or over the bridge to Nusa Ceningan. Aim to get into your spot by about 5.30 p.m. -– and yes, it’s worth making it a daily highlight.
Where to stay: The Waka group is well known in Bali so it makes sense that they’re here in Nusa Lembogan. The Waka Nusa Resort (Mushroom Bay, +62 361 484 085; www.wakanusa.com ) is a small property with just 10 bungalows. Located right on the beach, you pay premium prices for non air-conditioned rooms that do not have TVs or telephones but there is free Wi-Fi in the public areas.
How to get there: A daily public boat leaves from the northern end of Sanur beach at 7:45 a.m. The trip can take up to two hours and will cost you 45,000 rupiah (US$4.95). It is a supply boat, so you'll likely be surrounded by your breakfast.
If you’re challenged for time, the Blue Water Express (www.bluewater-express.com) leaves from Benoa harbor for 325,000 rupiah (US$35.60). The journey takes 30 minutes.
Thanks to the lack of a deep-water harbor Nusa Penida has remained largely unaffected by tourism.
Not that the locals -- or any of its visitors -- are complaining.
Nusa Penida has a dry, natural rugged beauty and magnificent vistas. There are no lush rice paddy fields to explore, getting around the island will involve bringing over a good mountain bike, or renting a motorbike from one of the locals; and there's no bar to escape to.
Aside from seaweed farming -- the island’s main trade -- Nusa Penida is the unofficial bird sanctuary for the critically endangered Bali Starling and many other species. Bird enthusiasts often flock to the Nusa Penida Bird Sanctuary to stay for a few days.
Otherwise, there’s not much else to do on Penida except settle back, enjoy a much slower pace of life and gaze at the stars every night.
Visitors can enjoy secluded white sand beaches -- Crystal Bay is the most popular -- located on the north and northwest coast, the stalactites of Goa Karangsari cave (guides can be hired for 20,000 rupiah (US$2.15), and a trek up to the high coastal cliffs.
The island also has several interesting Hindu temples. The grand Pura Penataran Ped temple is of particular importance and visited by many Balinese pilgrims who pray for protection against disease and death.
If you expect to be entertained, do not come to Nusa Penida. This destination is as off-the-beaten track as you can get.
Where to stay: There are not many places to stay on Nusa Penida but opposite the police station lies Bungalow PEMDA (+62 813 3853 9435) with 14 simple rooms.
Located at the highest point of the island is a private (and unnamed) villa available for rent (www.ecopenida.com). Near the temple of Puncak Mundi, the eco-friendly property has a spectacular 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside.
On clear days, the majestic Mount Agung is clearly visible from the verandah. The rooms are comfortable, there are hot water showers but no Wi-Fi or Internet connection. Although, for once you won’t mind being cut off from the world, it’s that sort of place.
How to get there: The fastest, most reliable and convenient way is to catch the Maruti Express (+62 819 1626 8871) from Sanur beach in front of Ananda Beach hotel. The boat departs Sanur at 10a.m. and 4p.m. and departs Nusa Penida at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., although timings vary according to the tide. Expect to pay 250,000 rupiah (US$27.40) (one-way) and 480,000 rupiah (US$52.70)(return) and don’t be surprised if you share the space with some pet chickens.