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Indonesian Islands that are Alternatives to Bali

by Travelbag on 29 May 2019, 12:05PM


From Ubud’s monkey forest and terraced rice fields to the fantastic surf breaks at Kuta, Canggu and Seminyak beaches, Bali has a lot to offer. So it’s no surprise that this Indonesian island, with its abundance of temples and yoga retreats, has become such a tourist hotspot – 5.7million people visited in 2017, while the government’s target for foreign arrivals in 2018 was 6.5million. However, this influx of visitors has led to development, meaning the island sadly no longer resembles the tropical paradise it once was.

If you’re seeking a more authentic experience, it’s definitely worth looking beyond Bali to other islands in Indonesia. As the world’s largest archipelago, this beguiling country comprises more than 17,000 of them – so we’ve rounded up some of our favourites.



Lombok Pink Beach

Thirty five kilometres east of Bali, in West Nusa Tenggara, laidback Lombok has certainly increased in popularity in recent years – yet it still sees just a fraction of the tourists that flock to its nearby neighbour. The island’s unspoilt landscape is dominated by the imposing Gunung Rinjani – Indonesia's second-highest volcano. Sacred to Hindus and Sasaks, Mount Rinjani offers a fantastic multi-day hike, which includes incredible sunrises and camping beside a crater lake. The south of the island is a surfer’s paradise, with pristine bays and beaches populating the entire coastline, while the southeast tip is where you’ll find Lombok’s famous pink beachone of only a handful of pink-sand beaches in the world. Inexpensive accommodation is available all over the island, but those seeking a life of luxury should head to the secluded northwest coast where you’ll find upscale resorts like the incredible Oberoi Beach Resort, Lombok.


Gili Islands

Gili Islands

This trio of tiny islands is easily accessible from both Bali and Lombok, with fast boats to the Gilis leaving multiple times a day. Fringed by white-sand beaches and lapped by turquoise water, all three islands are strikingly beautiful – but each has its own distinct character and there is ongoing debate about which is the best Gili island. Gili Trawangan – or Gili T as it’s more commonly known – is the largest, and most cosmopolitan, of the three. Known for its vibrant nightlife, it boasts plenty of upscale restaurants alongside more relaxed beachside cafés. Gili Meno, on the other hand, is far more tranquil and traditional, making it popular with honeymooners and older travellers. Our favourite, though, is Gili Air as it offers the perfect balance of the other two. It also has the best scuba diving, snorkelling and freediving, with an exciting underwater world waiting to be discovered just off the east coast.


Flores and Komodo

Komodo Island

Located in the East Nusa Tenggara province, remote and rugged Flores is drastically different from other Indonesian islands. Despite being just a one-hour flight from Denpasar, few visitors to Bali venture here. This means that tourism infrastructure remains fairly underdeveloped, but those willing to sacrifice a few creature comforts will be well-rewarded for their efforts. The Trans-Flores Highway, which bisects the lush jungle landscape from east to west, allows independent travellers to explore the island at their leisure – although its hairpin turns and knife-edge ridges mean that many people opt to hire a car with a driver, rather than go it alone. The most spectacular site on the entire island has to be Mount Kelimutu, in Kelimutu National Park. Located in central Flores, close to the small town of Moni, this extinct volcano has three crater lakes at its summit, all of which change colour depending on the light.

The main tourist hub on Flores is the port town of Labuan Bajo. Once a sleepy fishing village, visitors flock here as it is the gateway to the nearby Komodo National Park. Spread across the islands of Komodo, Rinca and Padar, the park is home to the world’s largest and heaviest lizard – the Komodo dragon. While these ancient residents are the park’s main attraction, it also offers superb snorkelling, diving and hiking opportunities, and Komodo is another Indonesian island boasting a pink-sand beach.




A complex island, home to some 140 million people, Java is the beating heart of the country. West Java is where you’ll find Jakarta – Indonesia’s sprawling and dynamic capital. While traffic here is usually gridlocked, the city itself moves at an incredibly fast pace. Once a key trading port for the Dutch East India Company, it is a place of great contrast, where modern high-rise buildings stand alongside colonial-era architecture; upscale neighbourhoods are found in close proximity to slums; and air-conditioned megamalls are as ubiquitous as traditional market places. While not the most beautiful of cities, it does possess its own chaotic charm and boasts the country’s top museums, vibrant nightlife and a great diversity of restaurants.

Indonesia’s second city, Yogyakarta, lies in Central Java. Affectionately known as Yogya – or 'Jogja' – this is the island’s cultural and spiritual hub. Far more attractive than Jakarta, it is a major centre for the classical Javanese art of batik, music known as gamelan and shadow puppet shows. It’s also the perfect base for visiting the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan – two of Indonesia’s most important archaeological sites – or for beginning a sunrise hike up Mount Merapi.

Like most other Indonesian islands, Java also features beautiful beaches and some great surf breaks. Pangandaran is West Java’s most popular beach town – while it resembles a sleepy fishing village during the week, at weekends and on public holidays crowds descend in their masses and it can become almost unbearably busy. Nearby Batu Karas is a quieter alternative in this region, but for a truly remote island experience you should head to Karimunjawa Islands in Central Java. Lying about 90 kilometres off the coast of Jepara, this archipelago of 27 coral-fringed islands is probably as close to paradise as you’re ever likely to get. Largely free from tourists, the perfect white-sand beaches, dotted with palm trees and lapped by azure blue water, are a haven of peace and tranquillity.



Sumatran Orang-utan

The sixth-largest island in the world, and the biggest that lies entirely in Indonesia, Sumatra is a wild and otherworldly place – one that holds great appeal for the intrepid adventurer. Situated at the far, western edge of the archipelago, it is unofficially divided into three regions – South Sumatra, West Sumatra and North Sumatra, where the majority of the island’s attractions lie. Dense jungle and towering volcanoes offer excellent hiking, while coursing rivers provide opportunities for rafting and tubing. The island’s sheer natural beauty continues down at sea level, where you’ll find idyllic beaches that are largely deserted. The main draw for most visitors, though, is the village of Bukit Lawang on the edge of Gunung Leuser National Park – one of the richest and most diverse tropical forest ecosystems on the planet. This is one of only two places on earth where you can still see orang-utans in the wild. Treks here vary from half day tasters to multi-day expeditions, and there’s a chance you’ll spot other endemic animals, including tigers, rhinos and elephants.

Another must-see destination in Sumatra is jewel-like Lake Toba. Occupying the caldera of a supervolcano, this is the world’s largest crater lake and also the largest lake in Southeast Asia. At its centre lies Pulau Samosir – an island the size of Singapore. It’s worth spending a few days here exploring the coastline by motorbike, getting to know the local Batak people or simply relaxing in a hammock as you soak up the laidback vibe.




Lying to the east of Borneo, Sulawesi is a popular destination for domestic tourists but is often overlooked by foreigners. However, it’s one of the most compelling and complex of all Indonesian islands. It is home to a unique mix of ethnic groups, religions and ecosystems, as well as some of the rarest animal species on the planet – including tiny tarsiers, flamboyant maleo birds and two unusual marsupials called bear cuscus and dwarf cuscus.

Swathes of pristine white sand line much of the coastline, while the interior is dominated by mountains and lowland tropical forest. This, combined by with the island’s highly unusual shape, means Sulawasi’s four distinct peninsulas are almost entirely isolated from one another – so spend some time carefully planning your travel route. The south is the most settled part, and also where you’ll find the capital Makassar, while the north is famed for its world-class diving. The tiny, coral-fringed isle of Bunaken – easily reached by boat from Manado – is particularly popular. Located near the centre of the Coral Triangle, the clear, warm waters here are abundant in colourful and diverse marine life.

Tana Toraja, in the northern highlands of South Sulawesi province, is one of the island’s key attractions. With its elaborately-carved Tongkonan houses clustered around emerald green rice fields and set against a mountainous backdrop, the famed ‘Land of the Heavenly Kings’ boasts one of Sulawesi’s most striking landscapes. It is also home to an indigenous tribe known as the Torajans, for whom death is considered to be a deeply spiritual journey. Witnessing an elaborate Torajan funeral is a considered a highlight by most visitors to this region.


Tempted by a Southeast Asian adventure? Call our travel experts on 020 3918 4613 or check out the range of exciting tours we have on offer.


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