Making a second trip to Indonesia has been a goal of mine since I first visited a couple of years ago. So when the opportunity to revisit these amazing islands arose, I couldn’t resist.
When most people think of Bali and Indonesia a few places spring to mind; the Gili Isles, Kuta and perhaps Ubud. Having already visited some of the most recognisable places, I was keen to discover what else was on offer for my second time in Indonesia.
After perusing a few travel books and my work colleague’s Indonesia blogs we decided to explore a little of Java, as well as some other areas of Bali in the 14 days we had at our disposal.
Deciding to hit Java first, we took a 1 hour short-haul flight from Denpasar to Surubaya immediately after landing from the UK. As much as Kuta can be fun for a night (the beach and general hustle and bustle of the place is pretty vibrant!), our hearts were set on the more rural areas and more laid back parts of Indonesia.
Java has a very different atmosphere to Bali. We found people are less inclined to speak English, accommodation is stylised differently and there is are fewer other travellers - just what we were looking for as we made our way to Mount Bromo.
If you’re exploring independently, finding a bus departing Surubaya to Cemoro Lawang (for Mt Bromo) is simple enough, but do be warned; bus travel in Java can be a long and arduous journey. For a little more money you could get a private shuttle or taxi which would save you hours of travelling time - so do prioritise. Cemoro Lawang has plenty of guesthouses of all standards to suit most travellers and is a good base from which to explore Bromo.
Mount Bromo is one of the best known and often photographed active volcanos located on Java, so I was keen to see some lava! However, the (geothermal) powers that be made this unachievable for me (there were small eruptions from the caldera). But that's proof the volcano is still active!
Instead, we decided to go for a hike at sunrise. This gives you panoramic views over the crater and a fantastic vantage point even though you won't get up close. The views from the top as sunrise hit the volcanic peaks are just fantastic so we were more than content to watch from afar.
After our Mt Bromo hike, we decided to head to the coast for some well-deserved beach time. Some friends had recommended we try the Mojosurf surf camp if we were headed to Indonesia and this turned out to be an amazing option for us.
Near to the town of Banyuwangi is the Mojo Surf ‘Red Island surf camp’ which is a great base for a few days of sunshine, surfing and socialising! The surf here is great for beginners and experts alike, with all of the local instructors being on hand to help you progress, whatever your standard.
The surf camp itself is located right on the Red Island Beach and has all the amenities to give you a great experience including nearby cafes and restaurants, a communal kitchen with a fully stocked fridge for a post-surf beer, plus a little swimming pool.
In terms of accommodation, independent travellers can shack up in shared dorm rooms, or people seeking more comfort can make use of the private cabins located around the gardens.
If you like the sound of Mojosurf, we can book it as a standalone trip or as part of a longer small group trip, for example this Bangkok to Bali on a shoestring tour. It also works as a stopover if you’re heading over to Australia for the next part of your trip.
Once our thirst for saltwater had been happily sated we headed back via Banyuwangi to the island of Bali. We found the easiest way to do this was to take a bus back to Banyuwangi then take a ferry between the two islands (this takes about an hour). We then headed to the island’s northern coast by taxi, to the town of Gilimanuk.
This area is often overlooked by first-timers visiting the island, but in fact is home to some wonderful gems and you should definitely come here if you’re here for a second visit. Renting scooters between towns is easy enough here, and you can make a great day of exploring the waterfalls, beaches and towns from Gilimanuk to Lovina (a great place for seeing dolphins – normally about £10 for a morning tour)
We decided to make use of our snorkel masks here. We hopped on to one of the many day tours out to Menjangan Island and were not disappointed by the quality of the coral to be seen here. Fish are a-plenty and there is even the chance to spot a few ray, turtles and sun fish if you’re lucky.
Making your way around Bali independently is very easy with many taxi services and shuttle buses. Because it’s so easy to get from A to B, we decided to squeeze in a short stay on Nusa Lembongan, somewhere I’d previously visited and completely fallen in love with. The pace of life, relaxed atmosphere, beautiful beaches and coastline leaves little else to be desired!
The Islands of Nusa Lembongan are a welcome alternative to the ever-popular Gili Islands and in practice are actually far easier to access. A boat from Sanur to Nusa Lembongan takes about 40 minutes, and the change in pace upon arrival is instantly palpable.
Accommodation varies from small hostels to much more comfortable establishments on the island, so we decided to push the boat out and stay in a nice little sunset-facing guesthouse for the three days we were there. This was still very affordable at about £30 per night for a lovely room, overlooking a pool.
Using a scooter to hop between Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan is ideal, and there are a lot of great places to catch a stunning sunset – with our favourite being the 'Devil’s Tear', where rolling waves push up against the volcanic cliff face and cause huge plumes of water to erupt skywards.
During a stay on Nusa Lembongan, it is always worth booking a tour to Manta Ray Point – where the namesake manta rays drift about near to the cliff face, feeding on plankton. It’s pretty hard to get to yourself, but many tour operators are happy to offer their services for about £30. The tours normally last from the early morning to the afternoon and include a snack and water, plus use of some flippers.
Even though it’s easy to lose yourself here and spend days exploring the two islands , we decided to head back to mainland Bali and make our way to our final destination of Ubud.
Everyone calls Ubud the “cultural heart” of Bali, and rightly so; it’s surrounded by rice terraces, coffee plantations and yoga retreats – perfect for those wishing to get away from it all.
Near the centre of Ubud town is the monkey forest, which is well worth a visit and makes for an enjoyable stroll through the forest. You can get very close to hundreds of curious little primates (just keep water bottles and shiny objects out of sight!)
Tour operators throughout the town offer excursions out to coffee and rice plantations, with some excellent photography opportunities to be had in the afternoon sun, overlooking the green tiers.
If you’re looking to meet new people and enjoy the experiences alongside others, I would recommend a small group trip like this Java to Bali excursion. It also includes a stay at Mojo Surf’s Red Island surf camp and a hike up Mt. Bromo, as well as other highlights of both islands. These group trip include all your accommodation, transport, some meals and other fees, so they’re really economical.
Bali can be one of the most enjoyable and stress-free destinations to travel to. The infrastructure and abundance of English-speaking locals make exploring the island incredibly easy, making independent travel a breeze. We can help you plan and book an independent trip throughout Indonesia, add on a stay at Red Island Surf Camp or tailor-make an Indonesia itinerary to any standard to make your time there unforgettable!
Flights to and from Indonesia can be relatively cheap, depending on the time of year and where you want to see – or we can include Indonesia as part of a longer itinerary, such as route 219: