With more than 17,500 in the Indonesian archipelago, which islands do you visit once bucket-list Bali has been ticked? Try this off-the-beaten-path journey of culture and wildlife.
The Gili Islands
Situated between Bali and Lombok is a trio of glittering islands. Gili Air is the most visited, with Gili Trawangan more suited to hedonistic night owls. Gili Meno (the honeymooner’s secret) sports a salty lake, relaxed eateries and exquisite beaches, often without footprints. Blissfully, the Gilis are traffic-free, so bicycle wheels or a cidomo (horse and cart) transport you around. Or just stroll the islands’ sandy tracks on foot. An even lesser trodden cluster of Gilis basks off Lombok’s southwest coast. Basic bungalow-style accommodation is available here, where rustic beachside cafés cook up locally caught fish for transitory backpackers. The clear waters of the Gilis will have snorkellers nose-to-beak with bumphead parrotfish, plus droves of green and loggerhead sea turtles. Scuba diving could have you eying up reef sharks, stingrays and the delicately handsome seahorse.
In Lombok’s north, climb the fertile slopes of Mount Rinjani with its roaring waterfalls. Tiu Kelep’s magnificent torrent and sacred swimming hole are worth a visit, and if you wade into the cave behind its pounding curtain, legend says that it will take one year off your age. In Mataram, Lombok’s capital, Mayura Water Palace is a place of worship set amid calming gardens. Its intricately carved Hindu temple overlooks grassy terraces flanking a sacred pond. Shop for bamboo baskets and lace kebaya clothing at Cakranegara’s traditional market. Then taste the real Lombok by joining locals to sample authentic dishes from roadside warung (food stalls). Watch out for the chickens that roam at large throughout the market. Further south, Ashtari Restaurant & Lounge provides a welcome rest on balcony-perched beanbags overlooking Kuta Beach and its striking conical islets.
It may not be the Galapágos Islands, but Flores would be a dream holiday for Charles Darwin. In the World Heritage-listed Komodo National Park (comprising Komodo, Rinca and Padar islands), find world-class diving in glass-clear waters flecked by mesmerizing manta rays. Flores is also pitted with volcanoes home to rare migratory birds seen on its forested hiking trails. However, it’s most famed for the indigenous, carnivorous and endangered Komodo dragon. Also make time to treat your camera to the tricoloured lakes at Kelimutu. The island can be reached independently from Labuan Bajo, which you can access by plane, or by sailboat from Bali.
by Marie Barbieri