In September, 2017, Derek and I travelled in Indonesia for one month at the beginning of our 9 months whirlwind trip around the world. Despite being the first, it remained one of our favourite destinations and is definitely a place to which we would return. We visited the islands of Bali, Lombok, and Flores. We loved the unique culture of each island, dense jungle, beaches, and amazing wildlife.
Bali is likely the most well known of the Indonesian islands. It has been a popular tourist spot, particularly for Australians, for a few decades. We loved Bali for the many beautiful hotels and delicious restaurants and for the ease of travelling there. While not the most authentic of Indonesian islands, Bali was a perfect place to was into travelling without having to worry about logistics.
I visited Bali 5 years prior to this trip and I was amazed/disappointed with how much things had changed. While ev en five years ago it was a popular spot, massive group tourism has definitely taken away some of its charm. I particularly felt this in Nusa Lembongan. Five years ago, it was a quaint surfers paradise with some of the best snorkelling and scuba I had ever done. This time around however, throngs of tour groups crowded the beaches, and the coral gardens had all but wasted away. While I think you have to go out to the islands while staying in Bali, I wouldn’t recommend staying more than a few days here. That being said, we were able to find some really gorgeous spots!
Next, we headed north via hired car (super easy to find, drivers approach you constantly asking where you want to go) to Buleleng Province in the north of Bali. This is definitely off the beaten track, and we stayed at a tiny homestay where we were the only guests and our hosts didn’t speak any English. After the tourist trap vibes on Lembongan, we were so happy to be in authentic Bali. Our host’s nephew took us around to the many amazing sites to see in northern Bali, an undertaking that filled two full days.
Looping back down towards the centre of the island, we arrived in Ubud. This multicultural yogi town was exactly how I remembered it from 5 years ago. I wouldn’t say its authentic but its such a cool place to hang out with so many things to do all in close proximity. My recommendations: rent a motorbike for the whole time you are there and start EARLY in the morning to have places to yourself. We typically got up before sunrise, went to two sites/waterfalls, went back to relax by the pool and have a quiet afternoon. We stayed at Gajah Biru Bungalows and would totally recommend as a laid back B&B.
Kembali Lagi Guesthouse in Sanur was our go-to place to stay in the Denpasar Area. It was a quiet oasis, and the staff were so helpful in arranging transfers to the islands, northern Bali, and the airport. It was also super close to lots of restaurants and walking distance to the beach!
Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida
Epic views of Kelingking Beach in Nusa Penida. We stayed on Nusa Lembongan and found a boat driver at Mushroom Bay to take us to this nearby island for the day. Once there, we hired a driver to take us around to the main sites!
Sunset in Nusa Lembongan from aptly named Sunset Point. We explored the whole island via scooters that we rented in the main town.
Pools with a view at Devils Tear in Nusa Lembongan
The most magical experience: sunrise with the dolphins in the Buleleng Province of Northern Bali. The owner of our homestay arranged for us to go out on a jukung boat from Lovina to see the huge pods of dolphins that come out to play each morning.
Sambagan Secret Gardens: a series of beautiful jungle pools and waterfalls
Set aside a good chunk of the day for Sekumpul Waterfalls. The valley of falls is breathtaking and a wonderful place to swim and explore. Because we were staying nearby, we arrived well before the tourists doing day trips from Ubud, and had the place nearly to ourselves.
The best morning! We headed out on our scooter well before dawn to the infamous Tegallalang rice terraces. These epic rice fields are amazing to explore, particularly when you have them all to yourself as the sun rises.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Ubud without a visit to the Monkey Forest. This wooded area with old ruins and statues is run by very boisterous monkeys. I would not recommend trying to feed them or touch them as they can be very aggressive. Sometimes though they just jump on you and all you can do is try to take a picture without looking too terrified.
Flower baths after a delicious vegan lunch at Fivelements Spa.
Lombok was our favourite island. We headed here by ferry from Sanur – a long and nauseating boat ride. Lombok is Bali’s eastern neighbour and is rapidly gaining popularity. Still in its developing stages, Lombok has amazing beaches with great surfing and snorkelling, as well as hiking and waterfalls. We stayed close to where the ferry drops people off in Sengiggi, though there is much more tourist infrastructure and better beaches in the south of the island. We were very happy however with where we stayed for 2 reasons: 1) our hotel Puri Mas Resort was amazing and had the yummiest breakfast EVER 2) we were much closer to our main reason for visiting the island in the first place – WATERFALLS.
Tiu Kelep Waterfall takes the cake for the most beautiful place I have ever seen. We left Senggigi well before dawn, arriving at the entrance to the waterfalls at 8am (opening time). For an entire two hours, we had this unreal jungle oasis entirely to ourselves. Probably one of my favourite travel memories of all time.
From Tiu Kelep, we headed even further north Mangku Sakti falls. These hot spring waterfalls flow down from the crater lake at Mt. Rinjani. The scooter in was sketchy to say the least (we had to walk alongside the bike on several portions), but I would still say it was worth it.
Flores and Komodo National Park
Flores is the island of Indonesia closest to Komodo National Park. We travelled here for one purpose: to see Komodo dragons. This little jaunt a few islands east was crazy expensive but totally worth it. We cruised the islands and saw Dragons on Rinca and Komodo islands. Thanks to the crystal clear water, we also enjoyed some truly phenomenal snorkelling and free diving. We toured the national park on a live aboard that we found in the main town. In hind site, we got a little bit scammed and had a few sketchy moments onboard (however we did have the whole boat to ourselves so that was cool). I think if I were to do it again, I would splurge on an even more expensive live aboard just for peace of mind.
Back in Labuan Bajo, Flores, we heard about the crystal blue Rangko Caves. This was another truly magical place that I think most people miss! The trick is to hire a driver who goes their regularly because the road is treacherous and definitely not possible via scooter. After the road, you have to negotiate a bunch of entry prices and a boat transfer to the actual cave. I truly believe it would not be possible without a guide (we just asked around on the main strip in Labuan Bajo ).