The Island of the Gods has reached its boiling point. Between the polluted waters and mass littering, the sacrilege at temples and the extortionate prices — Bali needs a break from mass tourism. With this debate ongoing, we encourage travellers to look elsewhere in Indonesia when planning a trip. As the largest archipelago nation in the world, needless to say there are a few alternatives available.
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Experience all-inclusive (but still authentic) glamour in Sumba
Number of tourists per year: 25,000 a year (mostly Indonesians).
A world apart from Bali, Sumba is much closer to the hidden paradise you might have had in mind. From the arched Mangrove trees of Walakiri Beach, to the astonishing Weekuri Lagoon which you will need at least half a day to explore — Sumba is rich in natural beauty.
You will hardly ever want to put your camera down whilst visiting, if only to experience the environment around you first-hand. The ancestral Marapu religion is widely practiced on Sumba; even though in recent years, many have blended old customs with more mainstream faiths. You will find tall thatched roofs throughout the entire island: symbolising the residents’ close connection to god.
Tourism is being developed here at a steady rate with local life and customs at the heart of it. Historically, Sumba is one of Indonesia’s poorest regions. This is primarily because of its geographical isolation from Java, and the near constant concern of droughts.
But organisations like the Sumba Foundation have given Sumba’s economy a fighting chance — as has the rise of philanthropic hospitality. Most notable of all being the Nihi Sumba Private Resort. With a double room starting at €1490, this exclusive establishment regularly attracts Hollywood A-Listers yearning for some time under the sun and away from the spotlight.
There is some space in between the extremes of poverty and opulence — but it still leans on the expensive side. A bamboo bungalow stay at Maringi Sumba starts at €209 a night. Aside from being served by local students training in the hospitality industry, your money goes directly to the foundation. As far as responsible tourism goes, Maringi Sumba excels.
Whispers of Sumba have been growing for some time now. We’ll hardly be surprised if in 5 years time, this Indonesian island starts to soar as a tourist destination. So, if you want to get ahead of the wave whilst it’s still rippling, now is your chance.
How to get there: Take a transfer flight from one of Indonesia’s international airports (Bali & Jakarta are the most popular picks) to Tambolaka Airport.
Not the settling down type? Go to the Gili Islands
Number of tourists per year: over 1 million — with Gili Trawangan receiving the most visitors.
Sumba sounds amazing, but many of us cannot afford that level of luxury. Not to worry, as there are other islands available that are more budget-friendly (without compromising on the ‘wow’ factor).
Northwest of Lombok is Indonesia’s iconic trio: the Gili Islands. Due to their close proximity to one another, island hopping is an easy feat…
🎊 Gili Trawangan: Perfect for party animals
Easily the most popular choice has to be Gili Trawangan. Whilst the snorkelling and scuba-diving opportunities are appealing, the island’s biggest draw comes after the sun has set…
Gili Trawangan may be small, but its well-organised and vibrant nightlife have earned it the reputation as Indonesia’s party island.
How the island operates is that each day of the week (except Thursdays for prayer on Friday), only one bar stays open up after a certain hour. This means that all the tourists and locals can come together for a night to remember!
🌹Plan a romantic getaway to Gili Meno
Gili Trawangan is for the backpackers, but Gili Meno is for the newly weds. Love is in the air at Gili Meno: the most upscale of the 3 islands. Its boutique hotels are ideal for those in need of some pampering. And if the only thing you want to do all day is swim and sunbathe, Gili Meno has your name written on it.
Activities are on the limited side here, with an emphasis on quality over quantity. There are a select number of restaurants available, but you can forget about trying to find a nightclub. Who needs them, when you can sip a cocktail by the sunset instead?
😌Gili Air is the locals’ favourite
If Gili Trawangan is too much, and Gili Meno is too little, then Gili is just right. Some may say it’s what Bali used to be; since the island has a laidback and bohemian feel without trying too hard. Needless to say, yogis have come to the right place.
As Gili Air offers a little bit of everything, this island is the best choice if you are looking to stay in only one place. Getting to know the easy-going locals is just as pleasant as the more adventurous activities — like snorkelling and listening to live music.
How to get there: Arrange a private transfer boat from Lombok to reach the Gili Islands. Alternatively, you can book onto a ferry service like BlueWater Express.
Komodo Island: Come for the dragons, stay for the scenery
Number of tourists per year: 200,000.
A trip to Komodo Island is truly like stepping into a high fantasy novel. This exquisite landscape is home to 25 endangered creatures, as well as the formidable Komodo dragons. These astonishing reptiles are cherished as part of south-eastern Indonesia’s culture — and have been ever since the birth of an ancient legend about a man who falls in love with a dragon princess.
Stunning as they may be, don’t even think about trying to train a dragon. Better yet, don’t go near them. The Komodo dragons can be lethal, and are able to smell blood from kilometres away. As the largest living lizard in the world, the Komodo dragon weighs over 70 kilograms and 3 meters long. You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of one…
With that being said, trips to Komodo Island are strictly operated — not only for the safety of humans, but to protect the island’s biodiversity. If you take a hike on Padara Island, you will quickly understand why this is so important.
Komodo Island is only accessible via an organised boat trip departing from Labuan Bajo beach. But this spot is so much more than just a meeting point. The rosey tint makes this destination pretty rare — as Labuan Bajo beach is one of the few beaches in the world with pink sand.
How to get there: Once you have arrived in Jakarta or Bali, take one of the 7 daily flights available that go to Labuan Bajo, Flores. Since these flights are in demand, you will want to book in advance.
Embark on an underwater adventure in Raja Ampat
Number of tourists per year: the highest recorded number ever is just over 24,000 people — but in 2022 Raja Ampat received just under 5 thousand visitors.
West Papua is possibly the most remote area of Indonesia. But just because travelling here can be a pain, doesn’t mean you should rule it out. Lonely Planet certainly haven’t — as Raja Ampat has been awarded Best in Travel for 2023.
Raja Ampat translates to Four Kings, but the number of islands in this chain sits at around 1500. This ethereal archipelago within an archipelago more than lives up to the name. If Raja Ampat is the Frontier of Indonesia, travellers will delight in going off-grid whilst exploring the vast scenery.
Once you go scuba-diving here, nowhere else on earth will ever compare. It is located roughly in the centre of the coral triangle: the world’s most diverse and complicated marine ecosystem. With enough luck, you may spot a blue ringed octopus underwater.
Raja Ampat sounds like a dream, but its strong currents can pose a challenge to even the most experienced. Do you dare to dive?
How to get there: Raja Ampat is the most inaccessible island on this list, so take travel time into account when planning your trip. Fly in from one of Indonesia’s international airports and take a transfer flight to Sorong. From here, you can either take one of the daily ferries from Sorong’s harbour to Waigeo — or arrange for a private boat transfer.