Having travelled in South East Asia extensively, I often get asked by friends planning a honeymoon or a romantic holiday, if they should visit Bali or somewhere else. I always ask them what their agenda is and if it’s beautiful beaches, my advice is always ‘somewhere else.’
Don’t get me wrong, Bali is not exactly lacking in the beautiful beaches department. But there are more beautiful beaches a hop skip and a jump from Bali and many people do not even know they exist.
Now firstly I should say I loved my Bali visit. I’d go back again in a heartbeat. But I would not be basing myself at a Bali beach resort.
So why would I not recommend to visit Bali for the beaches?
Well in my personal experience I found Bali Beaches were more crowded, touristy and dirty than photos I’d been expecting. Google ‘Bali beaches’ and you’ll no doubt be overcome with wanderlust. However, for me, they did not live up to expectations. The Gili Islands, on the other hand, were more beautiful than I could have ever imagined!
Gili Meno Island Beach
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What you can expect from this article...
- 0.1 Should you still Visit Bali?
- 0.2 So where should you stay in Bali?
- 0.3 Things to do in Ubud
- 0.4 Day trips from Ubud
- 1 The Gili Islands
Should you still Visit Bali?
Now I still think you should visit Bali. In fact, I LOVED my time there. But focus less on the beaches and more on the culture and you will have the most amazing Bali trip.
Then, when you’ve explored Bali until your heart’s content, pop on a boat and visit the nearby Gili Islands. There you can relax on those picture-perfect beaches and they will not disappoint.
So where should you stay in Bali?
My advice would be to base yourself in Ubud. Ubud is the cultural heart of Bali. A mecca for holistic therapies, arts and crafts. After 3 months of fast-paced travel in South East Asia, I was ready for a rest. Ubud was my peaceful solace. I would have happily based myself there a lot longer than 1 week spending my days cycling through rice paddies and failing at yoga.
Things to do in Ubud
There are so many things to do in Ubud that you will be spoilt for choice. However, don’t get too caught up ticking off your Bali bucket list and forget to relax. Ubud is one of the more peaceful relaxing places I have ever been. Be sure to make the most of that.
Visiting the Rice Paddies in Ubud, Bali
One of the most popular things to do in Ubud is visit the rice paddies. Hire a bike and spend a day leisurely cycling along them soaking up the stunning views and watching the farmers at work.
Visit an Ubud Spa
If there’s one thing Ubud does well, it’s spas and holistic therapies. So book yourself a relaxing massage, get yourself pampered and rest your weary traveller’s feet!
See an Indonesian Barong Dance performance in Ubud
Visit the Puri Saren Royal Palace and enjoy a colourful spectacle of Indonesian dance.
Take a Cooking Class in Ubud
Learn how to make some of the deliciously spiced Indonesian food then take your new found skills home to impress your family and friends.
Take a Yoga Class in Ubud
With a huge emphasis on holistic therapies, Yoga is BIG in Bali.
Go Shopping in Ubud
From the markets to the tourist trinket shops to the boutique stores and art galleries – there is something for everyone in Ubud.
If Ubud isn’t floating your boat then check out this article for places to stay in bali
Day trips from Ubud
Ubud is such a great location that pretty much anywhere is accessible in a day trip. The western side of the island is slightly trickier to visit from here but is still doable in a day. I recommend hiring a driver for the day or you can hire a scooter.
At Uluwatu you will find a few little temples dotted along a beautiful coastline but you will also find a LOT of naughty monkeys. Do not underestimate them. They will steal all your water and your sunglasses so I recommend keeping everything locked away inside your bag!
Make sure you stay for the colourful Kecak dance performance around a bonfire in the evening.
A small temple on a pretty rock formation which draws tourists from all over. It’s about a 40-minute drive from Ubud and is best visited for sunset. Be warned, it gets very busy with tourists but at least there are less mischievous monkeys out to steal your possessions!
Dinner at Jimbaran
Jimbaran and old fishing village is now home to a string of seafood restaurants all serving up a seafood BBQ on the beach. It’s a 10/10 for location and atmosphere but be warned, the prices are extortionate with a hefty 25% service charge despite ordering your own food at the bar!
So what about some beach time?!
The Gili Islands
Ok let’s face it, you’ve not flown all that way not to see a single strip of bright white sand or take a dip in the warm turquoise waters that Sout East Asia is famed for, have you? So you’re going to want to schedule some beach time. I highly recommend you head to the Gili Islands.
I would go so far as to argue that some of South East Asia’s best beaches are in the beautiful Gili Islands. And the best beaches in the Gili Islands are found on Gili Meno.
The Gili Islands are made up of 3 small islands just off the coast of Lombok. All three are completely different:
The party island. Not as busy as the likes of Kuta or Seminyak on Bali but with a buzzing nightlife. Gili Trawangan is the best island to choose if you want lively nightlife.
The quietest island. Gili Meno is in my opinion, the most beautiful island. However, it’s quiet. Like, really quiet. So only stay here if you are happy with your own company. There are a scattering of hotels and restaurants but personally, I think it’s better visited on a day trip. For one day you will have utter peace and quiet and views like this…
The best of both worlds! Gili Air has enough going on that you won’t get bored yet you won’t be swamped with millions of tourists or fall asleep to the thumping beat of an all-night party! There is usually one party on the island each night but it rotates between bars all over the island. We went to one party – a Bob Marley themed reggae party where we fell asleep on bean bags on the beach with a cocktail in one hand – I’m so rock and roll…!
How to get from Bali to The Gili Islands
It’s really easy to get from Bali to the Gili Islands. There are frequent ferries from Serangan, Padang Bai and Amed to Gili Air and Gili Trawangan. Serangan is probably the most convenient if you are travelling from Ubud and it’s easy enough to get a taxi between the two. It takes approximately 1 hour 15minutes by ferry.
Where to Stay on Gili Air
I stayed at Satu Tiga Hotel which was a convenient 5-minute walk from the main street. It was so quiet and peaceful with no bars in the immediate vicinity. The pool was beautiful and the rooms were light, airy and well equipped. We absolutely loved our huge outdoor bathroom which felt really exotic!
Things to do on The Gili Islands
Island Hop in the Gili Islands
My personal recommendation would be to stay on Gili Air and take a day trip to Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno or even to mainland Lombok. Each island is best explored on foot or by bike. There are horse and carts but no cars allowed on the island. But if you are going to take a horse and cart, please take care to see the horse is well cared for first!
Snorkel or Dive in the Gili Islands
There are lots of opportunities for snorkelling and diving. We saw plenty of sea turtles on our trip. You are likely to see lots of sea turtles in this area!
Take a yoga class
Just like when you visit Bali, you will find there is a big emphasis on holistic therapies in the Gili Islands so there will be no shortage of yoga classes to attend!
Have a massage
Why not carry on the relaxation and book a massage. You can usually book the same day on the main street on Gili Air.
Have cocktails on the beach
The beauty of the Gili Islands is there are not many things to do other than relax so you can easily justify whiling away many an hour reading a book and sipping a cocktail. Ah bliss…
Watch the sunset
Every night I was there, we saw a beautiful sunset. Watching it set over Mt Rinjani was just beautiful!
Cycle around Gili Air
It’s worthwhile hiring a bike at least once and cycling around the island. It’ll only take an hour or two but you’ll find some peaceful deserted beaches along the way!
Packing List for Bali and the Gili Islands
Doubles up as a sarong on the beach and a shawl for covering your shoulders when you visit a temple.
Super useful when you are staying on the gili islands as there are not many street lights and so I found I used mine every night for walking home with.
You’ll be spending a lot of time underwater in the Gili Islands so make sure you can take some photos!
If you don’t want to splash ou (see what I did there..?) on a flashy underwater camera, you could invest in this cheap as chips waterproof case and turn your phone into an underwater camera. This also solves the problem of what to do with your phone when you’re swimming!
Speaking of keeping your belongings safe on the beach, this little pacsafe is a great solution if you are travelling solo and want to take a dip in the sea!
And don’t forget to invest in a Lonely Planet Bali and Lombok Guide. Whilst blogs are my preferred source of travel planning advice, the internet can be unpredictable in rural places and so a good old-fashioned guidebook always comes in handy!
Whilst Bali and the Gili Islands are very easy to travel solo, if you prefer having the company of other travellers and the ease of an organised trip, I always recommend G Adventures for group trips. They do a great tour which includes both Ubud and the Gili islands as well as a few other spots on Bali and also on Lombok island.
Have you been to Bali or the Gili Islands? What did you think? Would you agree that the beaches on the Gili Island are better than in Bali? I’d love to know what you think in the comments below! As always, I really appreciate you sharing this article with your family and friends or saving a pin for later!