Let’s get one thing straight: we adore Bali. Babi guling (roast suckling pig); bougie beach clubs strung along Seminyak’s sunkissed coastline; Uluwatu’s ancient, dramatic cliffside temples; and Ubud’s forested retreats and arty boutiques – what’s not to love?
At last count there are some 17,000 islands in Indonesia, and Bali currently soaks up about 40 per cent of the country’s 15 million annual visitors. But Indonesia isn’t exactly short on island paradises: it’s time to show some of those other islands a bit more attention. We’ve set our compass due east of Bali and cherry-picked one for every kind of traveller.
Best for Family Getaways
Lombok’s low-key vibe and ease of access – just 50 kilometres across the Bali Sea – are perfect for families looking to get away from the Nusa Dua crowds. The island has long lived in the shadow of its showier neighbour, but people are now waking up to its stunning trails, beaches, world-class diving and growing surf scene.
The area has welcomed a steady stream of new hotels spreading south and north of Senggigi, the main tourist area. In June 2019, The Oberoi reopened along the shores of the quieter northeastern Medana Bay. The resort is dotted with an array of well-curated Indonesian art, and families will appreciate the series of palm-fringed pools, as well as spacious villas located in walled courtyards – some with large private pools.
Mount Rinjani, popular for day hikes or multi-day treks to its crater lake, looms in the background, while views stretch out to the nearby Gili islands. A Padi dive centre is available onsite at the hotel, or charter an outrigger to go island-hopping.
Public ferries leave regularly from Bali, taking about four hours; or fly from Bali in about 30 minutes.
Best for Picky Travellers
The Gili Islands
Located just northwest of Lombok, the Gilis are what you get if you take the best bits of Bali and divide them up into three tiny islands.
If you just want beaches and romance, you make a beeline for Gili Meno, with its Insta-worthy views, quieter beaches and desert island vibes on the less populated western shore. Meanwhile, Gili Trawangan – the largest island – boasts buzzy seaside cafes and lively parties that rival the hedonistic beach bars and clubs of Bali’s Kuta and Seminyak.
Filling the ‘Goldilocks’ space between the two is Gili Air, the smallest of the trio. Here, you get a hippie vibe in its beach bars, a growing yoga scene and stunning dive sites – plus views of Lombok and Mount Rinjani across the water. Best of all, it takes just 15 minutes to skip between the Gilis, so it’s easy to mix and match and spread a holiday across all three islands.
Take the ferry or plane from Bali to Lombok; regular ferries run to the Gili islands.
Best for Aquatic Adventure
Out of the 29 islands in Komodo National Park, only five are home to the famed three-metre-long Komodo dragons – and Komodo, with about a thousand of them, is where to go to guarantee the best experience. Komodo is really also Rinca, Padar and a few smaller islands – which is why staying on a liveaboard gives you the best access to and experience of the area.
The luxury liveaboard phinisi yacht Rascal and its team can arrange guided tours to see Komodo dragons as part of a multi-day itinerary that also includes hikes up forested hills, diving with manta rays and turtles, and laidback afternoons picnicking on pink-sand beaches and stargazing at night. There are five spacious rooms onboard, and 10 staff to keep you fully refreshed.
Flights from Bali to Komodo International Airport, near the town of Labuan Bajo at the western end of Flores, take just over an hour. Then make your way to the port to board the Rascal.
Best for Long Stays
In many ways, Flores is the island that time forgot. The Portuguese landed here in 1511 and gave it its name, meaning ‘flowers’, and they were followed by the Dutch. At 13,540 square kilometres – more than twice the size of Bali – Flores is incredibly diverse in its landscapes. Plan to stay at least a couple of weeks to trek up the multi-coloured craters of Kelimutu in central Flores, cruise through stunning landscapes where buffalo plough the fields along the Trans-Flores Highway, and discover traditional villages including the cone-shaped thatched houses of Wae Rebo (hero image).
Labuan Bajo in the west has long lagged behind Bali, but the once sleepy fishing village has woken up to tourism in recent years, and now serves as the gateway to the island and the springboard to Komodo National Park. The Inaya Bay Komodo is the newest hotel to grace the shores of the harbour. Here, you get five-star accommodation just minutes from fresh seafood markets and the Wae Rana beach.
Fly from Bali in about 80 minutes. Regular buses run between Labuan Bajo and other cities like Maumere. You can also hire a driver, who can often also act as a guide.
Best for Heritage, Tradition and Waterfalls
If you’ve ever wondered what Bali might have looked like 100 years ago – it’s probably a lot like Sumba today. This remote island 400 kilometres southeast of Bali still clings to its traditions and history, and it’s home to some of Indonesia’s most breathtaking waterfalls – including Lapopu in the east and Tanggedu in the north.
Here you can visit the hilltop villages with traditional Sumbanese uma clan houses built around ancestral tombs. And if you’re here during rice-planting season in February and March, you can catch Pasola, a traditional spear-fighting competition between hundreds of horsemen to wish for a successful harvest.
For a luxe stay check out Nihi Sumba, which regularly features on lists of the world’s best resorts. Meanwhile, the wellness-focused Alamayah resort in the beachside village of Kerewe on Sumba’s southwestern coast opens this month.
Fly from Bali to Tambolaka airport in 50 minutes. To maximise your time, consider flying into Tambolaka and out of Waingapu.
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Bali is still worth your time: check out these brand new sights the next time you’re there
Bali has no shortage of top-tier hotels, and the island is set to welcome a raft of big brands this year, including Raffles Bali (Jimbaran Bay), Andaz Bali (Sanur), W Bali (Ubud) and Kimpton Bali (Nusa Dua).
Tanaman is the latest restaurant from the group behind the uber-stylish Seminyak properties like Katamama. Located in the new Potato Head Studios, the restaurant’s plant-based cuisine recreates the rich flavours of the island’s best dishes with fresh produce: think mushroom sate and jackfruit rendang.
Tourists tend to stick to Bali’s southern beaches or Ubud’s terraced rice paddies. But the northern port city of Singaraja was once the capital before Denpasar, and offers a peek into the island’s past: Dutch colonial architecture, unspoiled beaches, cascading waterfalls, secluded hot springs and virgin forests.
When to Go
May to September is the dry season for Bali and many of the islands east of it. But July and August can bring strong winds that cause rough seas, so keep an eye on the weather.