Bali means many things to many people. Some are captivated by the spirituality, kind locals, variety of landscapes and hip beach bars while others catch one glimpse of Kuta — and all the tackiness it’s famous for — and decide Bali isn’t for them. A trip to Bali doesn’t have to mean spending all your time on that one island though and there really is an island near Bali for everyone. From lazy days on the Gili Islands to exploring ancient temples and active volcanoes on Java, there are so many options. Check out my favourite islands close to Bali and you might get some inspiration for your next trip!
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The Gili Islands
The Gili Islands is a group of three tiny coral islands off the coast of Lombok. Famous for white sand beaches, fancy resorts and nightlife.
The largest of the Gili Islands, Gili Trawanagan (usually shortened to Gili T) is the one to visit if you want a few drinks and a dance after a long day of relaxing. It’s the most built-up of the Gili Islands and there are accommodation options to suit all budgets. There isn’t a lot to do during the day apart from diving and snorkeling, but if you want to spend some time sitting on world-class beaches while eating good food you can’t go wrong. The beaches on Gili Trawanagan (and its two neighbours) are better than any I’ve seen on Bali itself.
If Gili T is too busy for your tastes, you’ll feel much more at home on Gili Meno. The smallest of the three islands, Gili Meno attracts an older, more upmarket crowd. It’s the one you’ll want to spend the most time on if you’re on your honeymoon. The beaches are stunning (and more consistent than the other two islands) and there are some cool places to eat and drink. Again, there’s not much to do but that’s kind of the point.
Gili Air is kind of a mix of Gili Meno and Gili T. Personally it’s the one I’d skip if you could only visit two of the islands, but it does have all the attributes of an island paradise, so it could be a good option.
Getting to the Gili Islands: You can catch a fast ferry from Bali to the Gili Islands – it’ll take a few hours all up and can be booked from popular destinations in Bali such as Seminyak and Kuta. It’s not the cheapest option and apparently the seas can get rough, but it’s the most common way to get there. You can also take a public ferry to Lombok (from Padang Bai in Bali) then travel overland to Bangsal where you can take a local boat to your island of choice. Another option is to fly to Lombok then organise transport to Bangsal.
Where to Stay: Some of my favourite Gili Islands hotels include PinkCoco, Seri Resort and Villa Gili Bali Beach
Lombok, a large island to the east of Bali, has a lot going for it. There’s Mount Rinjani, the highest mountain / volcano in Indonesia, some stunning waterfalls and a few quiet but up and coming beach towns. I haven’t spent much time on Lombok but I enjoyed the short trip I did there recently. It seems like a more adventurous / off the beaten path place to travel than Bali and you could easily spend a couple of weeks exploring the island. We stayed in Kuta and stayed at an awesome resort on our recent Bali honeymoon — it was an awesome experience!
Check out this awesome resort in Kuta, Lombok!
Getting to Lombok: I recommend flying. It cost us around $30 each for the half hour flight – make sure to get a window seat as you’ll fly over some nice scenery. You can also catch a public ferry from Padang Bai or there are speed boat options.
The “Nusa” Islands: The Easiest Islands near Bali to Visit
This group of three islands, full of Instagrammable viewpoints and varying shades of blue water, are becoming popular “side destinations” for people visiting Bali.
You’ve probably seen the photos and now really want to visit Nusa Penida. The good news is that it can easily be done as a day trip from wherever you’re staying in Bali (assuming that’s Ubud or one of the popular southern beach areas). We did the typical Nusa Penida day trip and really enjoyed it. Kelingking Beach is amazing, and the other places are nice too. Nusa Penida is a large island and you could spend a couple of days exploring it by scooter or car / driver if a day trip doesn’t appeal. I think over time Nusa Penida will get way more popular and more beaches and viewpoints will be “discovered”.
Nusa Lembongan is a good place to visit if you’re looking for a quick island getaway from Bali. The beaches aren’t as nice as those on the Gili Islands but there are more exploration options, including trips to surreal coastal features. The two beaches most people stay near are kind of average though, so if all you want is a lazy beach holiday I’d recommend the Gilis.
This small island is joined to Nusa Lembongan by a bridge and can easily be visited in a few hours (I walked there from my guesthouse at Jungut Batu on Nusa Lembongan). You can stay there too obviously and there are some nice little beaches scattered around the island. The real highlight though is the Blue Lagoon — such a nice shade of blue!
Getting to the Nusa Islands: Aside from taking a tour to the islands (which is a good idea if you’re short on time), you can also easily catch regular boats there. Most boats plying the Bali – Nusa Lembongan / Penida route leave from Sanur. They take around an hour and most seem comfortable and affordable. There are also public slow boats leaving from Padang Bai, but I haven’t heard great things about this route. If you only have a short time in Bali you can do a day trip to Nusa Penida or Nusa Lembongan / Ceningan but probably not to all three.
Java is one of the world’s great islands – it could easily consume your entire trip to Indonesia if you wanted it to. There is heaps to see and I’ve only scratched the surface. Java is home to arguably Indonesia’s coolest city (Jogjakarta), one of its most impressive volcano view (Mount Bromo) and its best temples (Borobudur and Prambanan). It also features heaps of nice beaches, numerous other volcanoes, temples, waterfalls and scenic areas such as the Dieng Plateau.
Getting to Java: From Bali you can either take a bus / ferry to Java or fly. Flying to Jogjakarta and then making your way back overland to Bali would be a good idea.
Komodo National Park
A trip to the Komodo islands, where you’ll see the famous Komodo dragons, sleep on small boats, see dolphins jumping at sunset (if you’re lucky like me), set foot on pristine beaches and climb to stunning viewpoints is easily attainable during a holiday to Bali. You can do a “cruise” from Labuan Bajo on Flores but there are also tours which run direct from Lombok. I did a one-night island hopping trip and then spent a couple of nights on Kanawa Island, a basic but beautiful island famous for snorkeling and diving. In fact, there are heaps of places to snorkel and dive in Komodo National Park – I’m not an experienced snorkeler at all but it’s the best place I’ve done it.
Getting to Komodo National Park: The best way is to fly to Flores (you can get some great deals) and then book a boat trip. The boats (at least the one I was on) are basic and you might be sleeping on mattresses spread out along the boat (no cabins!) but it’s a fun experience.
I spent two weeks exploring Flores and it turned out to be one of my favourite islands in Indonesia. The 17 Islands Marine Park is home to some of the most pristine beaches I’ve ever seen and Mount Kelimutu, with its colourful crater lakes, is a sight worth going out of your way for. Flores isn’t the kind of place you’d go for a couple of days while visiting Bali as it takes some time to get around – plan on at least a week (more if combining it with Komodo National Park).
Getting to Flores: Most people fly to Labuan Bajo from Bali. I arrived on the other side of the island (from West Timor) on a ferry and travelled across the entire island. Travelling by overnight ferry in Indonesia is a good experience and is very affordable!
This is definitely not a complete list of islands near Bali – there are heaps more! Have you been to any? Which were your favourite? Let me know in the comments below!
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Monday 1st of October 2018
The Gili islands & Lonbok are not advisable tourist destinations right now due to the instability & earthquake recovery & trauma they have been through. Boats reserved for recovery effort. The place I was going to stay in Gili Air was completely decimated by the late Aug earthquake. Oct 1, 2018
Tuesday 2nd of October 2018
Thanks for the update Lorraine! I figured they'd be back to normal by now but these things take time.