High 5: Islands of Indonesia
From sunrise to sunset, Indonesia has plenty to offer those lucky enough to find themselves there. Whether you are a pro surfer in search of the best waves in the Indian Ocean, looking to visit ancient temples, ready to pull on your hiking boots and climb the remarkable Mount Rinjani, or simply lie on a white sandy beach with a cocktail or a Bintang (Indonesian beer) in hand, there is plenty to do.
I discovered this when I spent five weeks backpacking through the Indonesian islands of Bali, Gili Trawangan, Lombok and Nusa Lembongan this summer and, from many unforgettable experiences, I have selected five personal highlights.
Yoga lessons in Ubud
As you get lost in the winding streets of Ubud, a cultural town in the middle of Bali, you will come across colourful street markets, art galleries, organic food cafés, cookery schools and yoga retreats, where enthusiasts seek peace and tranquillity through yoga and meditation programmes. For beginners like me, there are plenty of introductory classes. I had a lesson at the Yoga Barn and, after a session of poses ending in savasana (the corpse pose) in an open air studio with stunning views of rice-paddies, I found myself incredibly relaxed.
Cycling until sunset on Gili T
Gili Trawangan, or ‘Gili T’, is a small island between Bali and Lombok that offers beautiful beaches, plenty of restaurants (from budget market stalls to high-end seafood buffets) and a lively nightlife. There are no cars on the island, creating a peaceful environment. Rent bicycles and cycle to the west side, or take a memorable sunset horse-ride along the beaches to escape the buzz of the busy side of the island.
The sister islands of Gili Meno and Gili Air offer even quieter settings – perfect for a romantic getaway.
Beach breaks in Kuta, Lombok
Searching for respite from the hustle and bustle of Bali and Gili T, I travelled to Kuta, Lombok, after hearing rumours of a quiet town with endless stretches of white sandy beaches. I was not disappointed. In fact, it was the highlight of my trip and I will certainly be returning. Explore the south coast of Lombok by moped and you will be rewarded with glorious view points and untouched beaches. Tanjung Aan Beach is especially worth a visit.
An underwater utopia
Top of my Indonesia wish list was the chance to swim with turtles. There are numerous dive schools and snorkel tours that will take you into the crystal clear waters, and it was on an expedition with Gili Divers where my wish was fulfilled and I swam alongside these serene creatures.
In Nusa Lembongan, an island off the coast of Bali, our home-stay arranged for us to snorkel amongst manta rays. Most home-stays offer these tours. Or – better suited for the budget traveller – there are plenty of beachside stalls offering snorkel masks and fins so that you can explore the ocean yourself. However you choose to discover Indonesia underwater, it is an experience not to be missed.
Beachside cocktails in Seminyak
Seminyak, Bali, is known for its luxurious beach clubs, boutique shopping, indulgent restaurants and high prices. Knowing this, I saved my visit until the end of my trip in the hope that I would feel less guilty about breaking the budget.
If you find yourself in Seminyak, you need to visit Potato Head Beach Club. It boasts an infinity pool with a view of the Indian Ocean, an impressive cocktail list and staff who are incredibly kind and attentive. Perhaps this is why everyone at Potato Head has a smile on their face. For the gin-lovers, order a Kookaburra cocktail, a unique mouth-watering creation of lemongrass gin, fresh mint, lime and passion fruit and vanilla foam.
As you walk onto the beach you will find plenty more beachfront bars and restaurants, and bean bags laid out on the sand underneath colourful umbrellas all the way down to the sea, where you can sit and enjoy the sunset. It is beautiful at night when the umbrellas are all lit up.
Further down the beach you will reach Kuta, famous for its nightlife. Have a surf lesson on the beach; the local surfers are more than willing to teach amateurs and many will approach you offering a lesson. After spending an hour repeatedly crashing headfirst into the water, I can vouch for their patience.
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