Why the best secret islands in Indonesia?
This best secret islands in Indonesia post is part of my best secret islands in Southeast Asia with kids series. It follows on from my last post about the best secret islands in Malaysia. Since writing this post, I’ve written about the best secret islands in the Philippines with kids, and the best secret islands in Thailand. Next week, I’ll post on and Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos (a combined post).
As you all know, changing how we travel has moved from being something I’m interested in, to being something that we just have to do. I’m so disillusioned by following the crowds to overcrowded destinations that have don’t have the infrastructure to support mass tourism. These places have fragile ecosystems and communities that need to be respected and protected, not exploited for a cheap holiday and some grat posts on social media.
So, as I said in the post about secret islands in Malaysia, from now on, that stops. So this week, I’ve asked the travel blogging community to hit me up with their best secret islands in Indonesia.
The Gili Islands
The Gili Islands, off Lombok in Indonesia, hold a very special place in my heart. They’re where I learned to scuba dive and formed part of a life-changing trip I took with Mr Wanderlust. So I was delighted when Sophie Marie from Baby, Toddler and Kids suggested including it on this list.
The Gili Islands is actually a collection of three tiny islands off the North West coast of Lombok, Indonesia – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and, Gili Air. Each island is slightly different with Gili Meno known as a romantic escape, Gili Air a yoga haven and Gili Trewangen touted as the “party island”.
We found that all of them are great for families though and don’t let the phrase “party island” put you off a stay on Trawangan as we actually found it to be our favourite island (although we did visit slightly out of season) There are plenty of options for families with older kids who want to learn to free dive or scuba dive on all three islands. Trawangan has more restaurants and dining choices but all three have white sandy beaches and crystal clear shallow water that’s perfect for little ones. One day we even managed to snorkel along with a sea turtle straight off the beach in waist-deep water – no tour guides or expensive excursions needed!
The biggest reason that the Gili Islands are so family-friendly? There are ZERO vehicles! That’s right, no cars, trucks or buses in sight. Instead, you can hire a bicycle and cycle the whole way around the island in about an hour or there are horse and carts to help with bags and tired little legs.
Nusa Lembongan (Lembongan Island)
Nusa Lembongan, near Bali, has been on my radar for some time but we’ve just never made it there. Vaibhav Mehta from The Wandering Vegetable has just made it a place I am desperate to go!
Nusa Lembongan is a kid-friendly island in Bali that is good for families as it is safe and ensures that both – the kids and adults have a wide range of activities to choose from. Thus, Nusa Lembongan becomes an automatic inclusion in the ideal Bali trip itinerary.
The best places to visit in Nusa Lembongan with kids are the Devil’s Tear, Mushroom Bay, Jungut Batu Beach, Sandy Bay Beach Club, and Yellow Bridge. You can also visit the neighboring island Nusa Ceningan that is on the other side of the Yellow Bridge. Here you can explore the Blue Lagoon and eat at the lovely Ceningan Cliff restaurant.
There are plenty of things to do in Nusa Lembongan with kids like snorkeling, scuba diving (for kids above 10), stand up paddleboarding, Bali Submarine Safaris, mangrove tour by boat, surfing, and Bali Marine Walk (for kids aged 8 and above).
Some of the best places to eat with your family in Nusa Lembongan are Tigerlillys, Indica Restaurant and Bar at the Tamarind, The Deck, Sandy Bay Beach Club, Jibaku, and Nick’s Place.
Family-friendly hotels in Nusa Lembongan include Sunday Huts Lembongan, Water Blow Huts, Pattri Garden Lembongan, The Tamarind Resort, and Lembongan Island Beach Villas.
You can get to Nusa Lembongan island by catching a speed boat from Sanur beach. Once you book your tickets online, the ferry companies arrange for a pickup from your accommodation and take you to Sanur beach. From there, a 30-minute speed boat ride gets you to Nusa Lembongan.
On the island, motorbikes are the official mode of transport as cars and taxis aren’t available. You can either hire them yourself or ask your accommodation to hire them for you. However, if you have little kids and safety is a concern, then you can hire a Golf Buggy from Island Buggy Hire.
Pulau Weh (Weh Island)
Whenever I do a collaborative post with other bloggers, I just love it when someone suggests a place I’ve not heard of before. It ignites all that old spark of excitement I get when finding out about a new place that someone else loves. Pulau Weh, or Weh Island, is really off the beaten track and I couldn’t be more thrilled to include it from Carly and Agung of We Are Sumatra.
Just off the northern coast of Sumatra lies an idyllic little island named Pulau Weh (Weh Island), also known as Sabang (the name of its main town).
This charming island in the Andaman Sea is one of the few places in Sumatra catering to overseas visitors, though it’s still off-the-beaten-path and seldom overrun.
While many visitors come for the incredible snorkelling and diving (check out Rubiah Island for a great day-trip), there’s plenty to keep families entertained outside of the water. Explore the jungle-covered island in one day via becak, scooter, or hired car; visit a smelly but intriguing volcano (without having to trek uphill!), swim under a small waterfall while searching for the large bats roosting in the trees, or visit the monument at Kilometer Nol, the northernmost point of Indonesia!
Pulau Weh is definitely not a party place, which makes it ideal for families. You won’t find hordes of partying backpackers, but if you fancy a beer or wine in the evening, you can find one or two places to enjoy one – with bonus ocean views, of course!
Reaching the island is part of the adventure. Fly to Banda Aceh (or make your way by car, if you have plenty of time and patience!), and taxi to the port. For budget travel, the 90-minute slow ferry is a comfortable way to make the trip across. If you’d prefer to speed things up, you can jump on a fast boat and get there in less than an hour.
When it comes to accommodation, Iboih and Gapang Beaches are the “tourist” areas, with plenty of budget accommodations to choose from. Kids (and adults!) will love the overwater bungalows at Iboih Inn or Yulia Bungalow. Be sure to schedule a few days at Freddie’s Santai Sumurtiga on the other side of the island, though. This family-friendly spot has incredible food to suit even the fussiest of eaters and a sheltered, private white-sand beach to play on.
Tanayesh from Shoestring Travel delighted me with another off-radar suggestion: Togean Island. Also off the beaten path, it sounds like as much of an adventure to get to as Pulau Weh, but well worth it!
Togean Island is a tropical paradise with white sand beaches surrounded by rainforests and pristine coral reefs in crystal clear water. There are regular flights from Bali, Jakarta, Surabaya to Gorontalo and then catch a public ferry to Wakai in Togean Islands, it takes about 13 hours. Visiting this island is best from July and August when accommodation books up well in advance.
One may stay on Kadidiri Island itself, there are beautiful family resorts here to choose from and they normally charge per night inclusive of meals. Alternatively, accommodations would be at Kalolio Island. Beer and soft drinks are always available in most shops and homestays. This place is good for a family vacation with kids as you could dream to explore the most amazing underwater world.
All around the island (no more than 15 to 45 minutes by boat) you will find beautiful reefs where you can spend hours snorkeling and swimming with fishes of all kinds which kids would love. A trip to the lake, Danau Mariona, where you can swim with stinger-free jellyfish (one of the few places in the world where this is possible) is an exciting adventure.
If you are into diving, Togean Island is one of the best places for a diving trip in Indonesia. For snorkelling, it’s better to bring your own snorkel gear as resort provided gear is all banged up from use.
There is a National Park also which is fun for kids as well. Again, trekking around volcanic Pulau Una Una for land-based adventures, while several islands have jungle hikes to isolated beaches.
Nusa Penida (Penida Island)
Mal, from Raw Mal Roams, floored me with this photo of Nusa Penida and I immediately had to read what she had to say about it. I heard about Penida Island years ago and am now kicking myself for not having been there before!
Nusa Penida is a small island situated 30 minutes boat trip from its bigger and more famous sister Bali. The island is perfect for escaping mainstream tourism and crowded beaches of Kuta and Seminyak. Penida Island will take your breath away with its unspoiled nature, pristine clean beaches, dramatic clifftop views, and much more. There is so much to see there!
The number one Nusa Penida attraction is Kelingking Beach. Head there to admire the T-rex shape rock formation. Explore some unworldly creation of nature including natural tidal, infinity pool of Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach.
Head East to discover secret beaches of Penida Island. Spend a day in Atuh Beach lazing on a binbag sipping fresh coconut and soaking in the views of a perfect turquoise blue lagoon. And if you’re adventurous, climb down to Diamond Beach to experience flawless white sand with mighty waves.
Boats to Penida Island leave every day from Sanur port on the south coast of Bali. Once you on the island, the most convenient way to move around Nusa Penida is to hire a car with a driver that will take you and your family around the island. I recommend staying in Crystal Bay Beach or Toya Pakeh harbour area where there is a good selection of restaurants and some of the best Nusa Penida accommodation Check out Kompyang Cottage for an affordable luxury stay, or Hotel Arsa Santhi which has an excellent location close to a range of good restaurants. An alternative way to visit Nusa Penida is to take a day trip from Bali.
I loved all the off the beaten path suggestions from my blogger friends and Raja Ampat, as suggested by sustainable travel bloggers Oksana & Max from Drink Tea Travel, was no exception.
Raja Ampat in Indonesia is one of the most beautiful archipelagos in the world, known for its turquoise waters, dense green jungles, and incredible diving. It is not the most obvious place to travel to with the family but it can be done.
Families will likely want to stay at all one of the area’s diving resorts, however there are also kid-friendly liveaboard boats on the market. Some Raja Ampat resorts offer babysitting service, so your little ones will be in safe hands if you want to go for a dive.
Nowhere else on earth can you find the same level of underwater biodiversity, especially since Raja Ampat is located right at the center of the Coral Triangle in West Papua. It is a hotspot for sea life of all kinds and you can find everything from manta rays, large shoals of fish and macro life under the water’s surface.
When you are not scuba diving, the whole family can enjoy this off the beaten path destination by snorkeling, exploring the area’s beaches, visiting waterfalls, local villages or by taking a day trip to the Fam Islands.
If your family is more interested in discovering land animals, there are tours to see the Birds of Paradise which are native to Papua or to take a boat cruise to Hornbill Island where dozens of hornbills can be spotted flying across the sky shortly after sunset. Your little ones will love spotting these funky looking birds.
Avid divers looking for an off the beaten path destination with their family will love Raja Ampat. Outside of diving there is still plenty to do to make this an unforgettable trip for every member of the family.
And finally, to my recommendation. Bintan.
Bintan might not be as remote as some of the other suggestions here. It is certainly easier to get to! But it’s still not well known unless you live nearby in Singapore or Malaysia and isn’t the top of most people’s list to go to. Yet it has some really lovely resorts – from Club Med to Canizarro – and is really quite breathtakingly beautiful. Once you’re there, it’s hard to believe you are still so close the Singapore metropolis!
Bintan is super close to Singapore – less than an hour away by ferry. This makes it an ideal place to combine with a Singapore city break. Most of the resorts are really close to the ferry terminal making it incredibly convenient to get to. That being said, we stayed at The Residence, Bintan, which was on the other side of the island (oops!) so we had a 90-minute drive to get there. When we got there it was well worth the drive.
There are loads of outdoor activities which definitely added to the appeal for us. Both the Things love swimming so we spent lots of time in the sea, on the beach and in the swimming pool. There was a games area with giant jenga, petanque and table football – the latter was a huge hit with Thing 1 and all he wanted to do was play on it! We spent ages just reading in the sun by the pool, or exploring the beach right next to it. There were also kayaks that you could borrow – we did it every day that we were there!
Your favourite secret islands in Indonesia!
Talk to me Wanderlusters! Have you been to a super amazing secret island in Indonesia that you want to tell me about! I love hearing all your travel stories!