It is no surprise that Bali is the most-visited destination in Indonesia. But while Seminyak and Kuta seem to get most of the attention, there’s so much more to the island and its surrounds.
On a recent trip to Bali, I set out to find some of its less touristy parts. Most were only a scooter or boat ride away, but one of my favourites (Sumba) was on another island altogether. It was on this trip that I really fell in love with the beauty and magic of this country, so here’s five under-the-radar spots to check out if you want to do the same.[listicle]
This quiet, serene little corner of Bali on the Bukit Peninsula – just a 45-minute drive from Seminyak – is a surfer’s paradise. Offering some of the best waves in Indonesia, those in-the-know flock here not only for the surf, but also for the incredible clifftop rooftop villas and resorts, spectacular views of the Indian Ocean, beautiful yoga shalas, great food and friendly locals.
Stay at Mick’s Place, perched high on the cliff, with unrivalled views of the brilliantly blue ocean below. Sal Secret Spot is another favourite – all white-walled, and hidden away behind a big old wooden door, halfway down the cliffside.
Eat at the Cashew Tree for healthy, plant-based food, where they serve breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between. Try acai bowls for breakfast, wholesome soul bowls for lunch, or frozen margaritas as the sun sets.
The yoga classes at the Temple Lodge are a beautiful way to start the morning. Surrounded by pretty pink and green hanging flowers and vines, this is an incredibly special place to find your zen. Lastly, to cap off a day spent catching waves or paddle boarding out in the ocean, book a massage or facial at the spa at Mick’s. It’ll be the best $18 you ever spend.
Nusa Lembongan is a magical little island, known for its surfing, snorkelling, diving and paddleboarding, and is just a short 30-minute boat ride away from the Bali mainland. From the port of Sanur, take a boat (we used Scoot Fast Cruises) to Lembongan. Often a rocky ride, you’ll forget your motion sickness as you arrive on this island paradise.
The small, mellow island which specialises in chilled vibes, is only 4km from end-to-end, making it easy to get around. Rent a bicycle or a scooter to start your exploring.
As well as surf shacks, all levels of accommodation are on offer. If you’re after something a bit more boutique, Tigerlillys is known for its traditional Balinese lumbung-style accommodation in a lush tropical Balinese garden setting (with great food as well), or Batu Karang Resort for something a little more luxurious. Eat at the Deck; this beachside restaurant is the most awesome spot to settle in for a while.
Grab a surfboard or SUP from one of the rental shops on the beach, sign up for a diving class, or check out one of two of the yoga schools on the island. There is so much to do. The sunsets, looking back over Bali, will stay with you for a long time as well.
Accessible only via a narrow suspension bridge from the neighbouring island of Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan is our pick of the bunch for spots near Bali. It’s an island of adventure; an island to explore. A surfer mate recommended this as a good alternative to Lembongan, and he couldn’t have been more spot-on. Given there are no cars on the island, there are less tourists, and only those more adventurous choose to take a bike or scooter across from Lembongan to explore.
Known for its awesome surf breaks, you’ll pass endless seaweed farming sites while traveling around the island’s diverse terrain and landscape. You could spend weeks exploring the island’s endless hidden beaches.
Overlooking Secret Point surf break, stay at Bungalow 1A Cliff Upstairs at the Australian-owned Jenny’s Place for the best views over the crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean below. Alternatively, book into Le Pirate, cute little aqua and white thatched cabins right on the water, offering a delicious menu to boot.
Grab sunset beers at Mahana Point, overlooking one of the best exposed left-hand surf breaks on the island. There’s a great cliff jump here as well. And Dream Beach really lives up to its name.
An easy day trip from Nusa Lembongan or Nusa Ceningan, Nusa Penida is the biggest of the three islands and an awesome day-trip from either place (but a few days would be better to explore). Tourism infrastructure here is really limited, but if you find a local guide to show you around, you’ll be easily navigated around some of the island’s most magical locations. The natural beauty here is outrageous. Whether it be Penida’s rugged coastline, its white sandy beaches, its incredible limestone cliffs, or its lush green jungle, your jaw will drop at every turn.
We were lucky enough to be taken to the Guyangan waterfall by a guide I met on my Scoot ferry ride a few days earlier. Our new friend escorted us on scooters from the Penida port to the falls; a rather gruelling ride on off-road tracks which took well over an hour. Once there, we climbed hundreds of steep and chunky wooden stairs (some of which are missing) down a sheer cliff face. While the railing is a little shonky, watch your step and you’ll be fine.
At the bottom of the stairs, you’ll find the most amazing viewing platform on the whole coast. Surrounded by freshwater natural pools, created from the waterfalls above, you can float on your back as you watch the water cascade into the ocean below. It was incredible to learn that local people used to gather water from these freshwater pools with buckets they then carried on their heads back up the hundreds of stairs and on to their villages.
A little further off the beaten track, the island of Sumba is still a mystery to many travellers. Though it’s twice the size of Bali, Sumba has only one sixth of the population (650,000 inhabitants). Discovered by Portuguese explorers, the island is one of the poorest in Indonesia, but thanks to recent support from local government and a flow of NGO investment, the island’s infrastructure is beginning to improve. Full of undulating mountains, limestone cliffs, and hilltop villages surrounded by abundant vegetation, it’s an island full of magic and natural beauty.
Some locals still wear their woven ‘Ikats’, the native dress, and traditional houses are constructed over three levels in a wooden structure with high-pointed roofs made from grass and bamboo. They’re clustered around tombs where family members are buried once they pass on. The other modern-style houses come in a variety of bright colours; you’ll pass hot pink and green and aqua and bright blue homes as you drive.
With the recent arrival of Nihiwatu, an exceptionally high-end and environmentally-considered resort, Sumba is starting to pop up on the radar of a more diverse range of travellers. Nihiwatu sits alongside one of the most famous surf breaks in the world, Occy’s Left, which is often left relatively empty as only hotel guests and locals have the privilege of surfing it. Sumba makes for an interesting, challenging, adventurous and luxurious travel experience all at once, and a great alternative to many of the options on Bali itself.[/listicle]
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Georgia Hopkins is the friend you want to have. With the heart of a gypsy this Aussie girl has made friends with the locals in over 300 cities. Now based in California ‘Gigi’ explores life with the motto that “travel is not to escape life, but for life not to escape us". Join her at www.itsbeautifulhere.com.