Fragrant, spicy food, smiling locals, coconuts galore and balmy tropical seascapes make Indonesia one of my all-time favourite destinations. Couple that with plenty of opportunity for adventure and Bali makes for an ideal holiday destination or pit stop on your round the world trip.
Over the years, I’ve accrued over a year’s worth of travel experience in South East Asia, always gravitating toward active, adrenaline sports. With that in mind, here are some of the places I recommend you visit if you’re interested in an active Indonesia holiday.
Bali is a popular jumping off point to see more of Indonesia as many flights arrive in Denpasar. Although the island is well-known for its beaches and culture, there is also plenty of opportunity for an active adventure whilst you’re here. How about a gentle cycle ride through the lush rice terraces around Ubud to warm you up, followed by white water rafting on the Ayung river near Ubud. You could also try canyoning in Gigit which is in northern Bali or leaping into the Kembar waterfall - just 30 minutes from Lovina, also in the North. Once you’ve had your fill of Bali – here’s where to head for your next adventure!
From Sanur in Bali, I took a boat with Scoot Fast Cruises over to Nusa Lembongan. There are 4 departures per day and they pick you up from your accommodation and drop you off at your hotel on the other side. I stayed in Suka Beach Bungalows which I loved, but there’s plenty of accommodation here, ranging from basic to 4* properties.
I recommend spending at least 5 days on Nusa Lembongan, Bali’s sleepy little brother. You’ll soon discover this island has all of the charm and culture you expect from Bali, but fewer if the commercialism and crowds which are creeping up on Bali. Here are some of my active highlights:
Indonesia’s beautiful marine life never disappoints – from pufferfish to hawksbill turtles. Nusa Lembongan offers promises world-class diving where you can regularly find yourself swimming side by side with Manta rays.
I found myself swimming beside these giant creatures, frantically kicking to keep up as they glided so effortlessly, seeming to fly through the island’s plankton-rich waters. If you’re lucky, you may also catch a glimpse of the large and famously weird-looking ‘Sun Fish’ (locally known as the Mola Mola fish).
It’s worth knowing that the conditions aren’t ideal for learning to dive as there are strong currents – its better suited to slightly more experienced divers.
The reefs surrounding Nusa Lembongan allow huge, hollow waves to jack up around the perimeter of the island so there are a number of great surf breaks. Despite the sharp reefs these waves crash onto, you can often find conditions that are suitable for beginners, if you time it at the right stage of the tide. I surfed and SUP-surfed (stand up paddleboard) on two reefs on the island; the scary-sounding Lacerations and Playgrounds reefs.
Despite being a SUP beginner and coming away with a couple of coral cuts from my clumsiness, I loved it and would definitely recommend it! The sea here warm and turquoise and because of the reef breaks, paddling back to shore is easier.
When you’ve had enough diving, snorkelling and surfing, I thoroughly recommend you grab a scooter and head out to discover some of Nusa Lembongan’s many rocky beaches, white sand coves or temples.
At the northern tip of the island you’ll find a river winding through mangrove swamps, home to monkeys and birds. You can get over to the mangrove swamps via a very rocky road, but here you’ll find plenty of kayaks and paddleboards for hire so you can extend your exploration along the river.
From Nusa Lembongan you can hop on a fast boat and zoom over to Senggigi on Lombok. Here you’ll find Mount Rinjani, Indonesia’s second highest (and active) volcano. If you take the bus transfer up to Mount Rinjani, you’ll be in the right place to being your volcano trek. If you’d like to include this trek in your trip, we can build this into your itinerary – just ask.
This trek is not for the fainthearted, but the reward at the top will be well worth it - the trek to the Rinjani Summit and lake will involve you hiking and camping for 4 days/3 nights. It’s recommend that you have a fairly good level of fitness before embarking upon the climb, so do make sure you’re well prepared.
There are various routes to choose, depending on the time you have and your own fitness levels, including choosing between different gradients and walking conditions. Whichever route you choose, you’re going to encounter stunning waterfalls, monkeys, jungles and stunning panoramic views from the summit.
Unlike Kuta town on Bali’s mainland, Kuta beach on Lombok is a million miles away from its Balinese namesake. If you’re looking for the ‘authentic Indonesia’, you’ll find it here in abundance; a rustic town with no big shops that’s yet to be invaded by any of the larger surf giants.
In the past 10 years, I’ve seen the town develop a little, so you’ll find pizza ovens, bars and fresh fish restaurants. There’s a sandy beach and clear blue waters where you’ll see local kids playing and goats roaming. A beautiful, deep bay radiating out from the town where you can hire paddleboards and paddle out to some outer reefs to try and surf.
Kuta makes a good base to explore Southern Lombok so again, I recommend hiring a scooter so you can discover the endless beaches that pepper the coastline - you can rent bikes with surfboard mounts and head east or west over the winding, tree-lined roads to search out your next paradise. Most of the beaches don’t have surfboard hire so you’ll have to take your own, but there are some great snorkelling sports so take snorkel gear.
One thing to be aware of is that you’ll often get charged to visit a beach. There will be a couple of local guys lounging around, maybe with a bamboo barrier stopping you from taking the road to the coast and they will probably ask you for the 10,000 IDR (the equivalent of about 50p) to park your bike and visit their beach. You can sometimes negotiate and we often asked to check out the beach first to see if it was worth paying; if it was, we would go back and pay. The beach ‘warungs’ (small cafes) here serve noodles, coconuts and pineapples for lunch, so at least you won’t go hungry!
After all the activity of surfing, diving and volcano-trekking, how about some pure relaxation to round off your trip? In which case, head to one of the 3 Gili islands off the coast of Lombok. Here you’ll find an island to suit everyone, whether you’re looking for a party scene, some family-friendly beaches or just some secluded tranquillity.
There are 3 islands to discover here to suit all tastes. Gili Trawangan is the most well-established of the islands with a party scene, dreamy beach and a turtle sanctuary. Neighbouring Gili Air is a bit less busy and is great for diving, with a few venues for drinking and dancing in the evening. Lastly, the island of Gili Meno is a chilled-out destination for those who would rather sip a coconut, see the sunset and get to bed early in readiness for days of full-on relaxation.
After years of effort put in turtle conservation these islands have been blessed with a huge turtle population once again. These idyllic, low-lying isles are blessed with white sands and the clearest water I have ever seen, so there’s no better place to see all the colours of marine life close up.
One tip - if you’re intending to dive - avoid the rainy season from November until April as the water isn’t as clear and visibility is lower at this time of year.
If you’d like to plan a trip to Indonesia and include anything I’ve mentioned, we can tailor-make your whole trip, including flights and transfers, accommodation and touring. To start planning a trip, call us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email.