Bali & the Gili Islands surprised me.
I fell in love with Bali as soon as I stepped of the plane, and arriving in the Gilis I thought, “Can it get any better?”. The fresh, warm air, friendly people and amazing food are all reasons I wanted to stay in Bali & the Gili Islands for much longer than just two weeks — oh, and also because it’s bloody gorgeous.
I’ll be honest, after seeing photos of Bali all over Instagram I was desperate to visit. Bali & the Gili Islands are very popular with tourists and it’s clear that tourism plays a huge part in the industry here. This is normally something that would make me shy away from visiting a place, but there was something in my mind niggling me, telling me I’d love Bali & the Gili Islands.
And I wasn’t disappointed.
After getting my PADI Open Water Scuba Diving certification in Thailand a week earlier, I was eager to discover both whats on land and beneath the waves. The scuba diving in Bali & the Gili Islands is known for being some of the best in the world – I wanted to see what all the fuss was about!
Rich with culture, vibrant personalities and a captivating history, mainland Bali brings nature, cuisine and tourism together in the most perfect way.
There is no shortage of activities to do and sights to see, but you can also just relax if you want to. The Gili Islands are home to possibly the most perfect image of paradise I’ve ever seen; soft, yellow sand meets turquoise waters, lazy palms flow in the breeze and you’re never too far from a freshly squeeze juice (or a cocktail). This is holiday-ing at its best: you can do as much or as little as you wish, and get as involved with the local way of life as you please.
Here’s how to spend two weeks in Bali and the Gili Islands — this itinerary is based on my own experience but improved for your benefit. I could have easily spent a full two weeks in just the islands, but sometimes needs must!
This itinerary flies into Bali Denpasar and departs at the end from Lombok – simply because flying is much more convenient and reliable than getting a boat between the islands (which often run depending on the weather and there is sometimes only one per day).
Bali & the Gili Islands – Know before you go
Brits get 30 days visa to Indonesia free upon entry into the country. Check on your government website for more info.
The currency in Bali & the Gili Islands is the Indonesian Rupiah. You’ll go to a cash point and come back feeling a millionaire when you’ve only got about £50 on you! 100,000 rupiah is around £5.35 GBP/ 6.00€ EUR/ $7.00 USD at the time of writing.
What to wear
Bali is a predominantly Hindu island. You can wear what you like but must cover your shoulders and knees (men too) when visiting temples. The Gili islands are predominantly Muslim. Again, you can wear what you like but shouldn’t walk around the streets in your bikini. Be respectful of local cultures.
There are a number of ways to explore Bali & the Gili Islands.
- Scooter – People here call mopeds scooters or bikes. Rent a scooter and explore with your own two wheels. We grabbed a scooter as soon as we arrived in a new destination (even with our luggage!) and from there were able to explore as we pleased.
- Cycle – In the Gili Islands there aren’t any cars or scooters, so grab a bicycle and burn some calories whilst exploring. Luckily they are very flat and easily bikeable.
- Avoid using the Cidomo – You’ll see horses and carts in the Gili islands. I urge you to avoid using these – the horses are worked from the break of dawn until gone midnight and live very hard lives; don’t encourage them.
- Boats – You’ll need to get boats between the Nusa islands and the gilis. Be aware that times may not be accurate and departures depend on weather conditions
For more tips on planning a trip to Bali, see this post by Lucy from A Travellers Footsteps.
2 week itinerary for Bali & the Gili Islands
Day 1 & 2: Canggu
Landing in Bali, ask your hotel to arrange a taxi to your accommodation so you don’t have to worry about it when you land.
Spend your first night in this area, which is known to have some of the best sunsets in Bali. Close by towns of Seminyak and Kuta offer great bars, nightlife and shopping if you fancy a change from chilling out, but Canggu is where we decided to base ourselves for a few nights as it has a chilled vibe that I just couldn’t get enough of. Further south, Uluwatu is another great place to start your trip in Bali, and similarly to Canggu offers great cafes, a chilled vibe and lots of sun, sea and surf. We settled on Canggu but would love to explore this area more on our next trip!
Canggu is by the sea and is the perfect place to grab your surfboard and hit the waves! After learning to surf with Sanctuary Surf in France a couple of months ago, Isaac was keen to catch the waves again. Canggu offers the opportunity for beginners and experts to enjoy the surf. A must visit is La Brisa Bar at sunset for drinks – it’s the most beautiful bar!
Where to stay in Canggu:
Day 3 & 4: Ubud
Ubud is a place that everyone seems to love and for that reason I booked four nights there – however I felt it was too long so recommend just 3. There is plenty to do in Ubud.
Ubud itself is a vibrant, busy town with lots of hustle and bustle. The centre is a mix of shops, cafes, restaurants, spas, guesthouses and temples. I found it quite bizarre that modern buildings were planted right next to the intricate balinese temples; combined with the whizz of scooters going past it made for a unique and interesting visit.
Whilst in Ubud, we visited the Tegalalang Rice Terraces – endless rice fields that are open to the public to wonder and marvel at. Although they are somewhat commercialised with cafes and restaurants popping up on the outskirts, and ‘instagrammable’ signs dotted all over, they are worth visiting for the lush green views. I also recommend going on one of the swings in the terraces; not only does it make a great photo but you’ll go back to your childhood remembering just how much fun swinging over an endless green landscape is!
Dotted around the outskirts of the city are a number of waterfalls, some more popular than others. These include Tegenungan waterfall, Tibumana waterfall and Tukad Cepung waterfall just to name a few – Isaac and I visited the first two on our scooter (each was about 30 minutes drive from the centre of Ubud.) Our favourite was Tibumana as it was much less popular with visitors. If you don’t want to drive a scooter, your guesthouse will easily be able to arrange a tour for you.
Another must in Ubud is visiting the market, where you can get just about anything you like. The city is full of unique boutique shops all offering something slightly different to the next, but you can find lots of similar things at the market stalls. From clothing and accessories to ornaments and musical instruments, you’ll find no shortage of souvenirs, gifts, or a complete new wardrobe!
Finally, a visit to Ubud is not complete without seeing the Sacred Monkey Forest. I was a bit hesitant to visit as always when animals are involved, as I wasn’t sure if the animals are being exploited or abused. However, it seems this really is just a forest in the middle of the city where the monkeys hang out. They are fed by the workers, which obviously encourages their return, but it keeps them off the streets of the city and from scavenging. Visitors aren’t allowed to touch or hold the monkeys and they are not trained in any way so can become aggressive. You can take as many photos as you like – but keep a firm grip on your camera as they are sometimes known to steal your stuff!
Where to stay in Ubud:
It’s brimming with options, but we decided to stay in two absolutely gorgeous hotels. If you’re going to splash out while you’re in Bali, Ubud is one of the best places to do it!
Dedary Kriyamaha Villas – Set amongst the rice paddies, this was my favourite place we stayed in Bali; with a beautiful four-poster bed, a kitchenette, private pool andfloating breakfast, it couldn’t be beaten! Click here to book your stay at Dedary Kriyamaha Villas.
Day 5: Mount Batur
A popular trip from Ubud is climbing Mount Batur, an active volcano, at sunrise. Whilst no-one’s a fan of early mornings, seeing the sun creep over the horizon and bathe lake Batur and the small villages below in a golden glow is an unforgettable experience to add to your trip.
The hike isn’t particularly difficult but you do need to be fit and able in order to do it. It’s basically two to three hours of uphill walking – I advise sensible footwear (trainers are fine, you don’t need boots). You aren’t allowed to climb the volcano without a guide, but this can be arranged alongside your transport as a package deal through your accommodation, or you can just turn up and scout someone out. Although the track is easy to follow, I wouldn’t recommend it without a guide as parts are quite unstable and it’s reassuring to know what pace you need in order to get to the summit in time for sunrise. Tour packages can be organised from guesthouses just about anywhere in Bali; we chose to visit from Ubud as it’s only a 1.5 hour drive from Mount Batur and is a common option for travellers.
From Ubud, we were picked up at 2.30am, arrived at Batur for 4am and after about two hours arrived at the summit. The sun rose at around 6:30am, so we had breakfast while we waited and then took lots and lots of photos! We were back at the car park by around 8.30am and in our guesthouse in Ubud for 10am, so had a few hours nap and then continued sightseeing in Ubud in the afternoon. If you choose to go to Batur from Ubud, I recommend planning it for your second night of the three so that you don’t need to worry about checking out of your accommodation when you arrive back in the morning!
A change from sunbathing and diving, we really enjoyed seeing the sunrise from the top of a volcano. If your itinerary allows it, I really recommend making the trip.
Where to stay in Batur:
Day 6 & 7: Amed & Tulamben
Not somewhere I managed to visit on my trip but somewhere I’d love to go, the north coast of Bali is home to stunning beaches and incredible diving and snorkelling spots. En route, you can stop off at the famous Bali Gate, where the encaptivating view of Mount Agung is framed by the balinese architecture at the Lempuyang Temple – definitely worth a visit if you’ve seen it on Instagram!
Views from Amed of Mount Agung are incredible. Agung is Bali’s tallest mountain and is in fact a volcano, which erupted in November 2017. Amed is a fishing village, so the scenery is suitably picturesque with the many boats lined up along the shore. This blog post by Travel Lush gives a little more detail about Amed.
Tulamben is a hot spot for diving; the dive sites here are renowned for being some of the best in Bali. After getting my PADI certification in Koh Tao, I was eager to visit Tulamben to see the sunken USS Liberty shipwreck – but even non-divers will be keen to visit as apparently it’s viewable with just a snorkel from the shore! Our itinerary didn’t allow time for this, but I’ll definitely be visiting next time.
Where to stay in Amed and Tulamben:
Day 8 & 9: Nusa Lembongan & Nusa Penida
Isaac and I spent 4 nights in Nusa Lembongan as we decided to do our advanced adventurer scuba diving certification here, but if you’re not planning on taking a course, I recommend visiting for a couple of days so you can experience the great snorkelling and diving opportunities here.
Spend your first day in Lembongan diving or snorkelling in one of the many spots around the islands. There are heaps of dive shops on the island, where divemasters are happy to take qualified divers out into the ocean to see the incredible marine life in the area. We dived with Dive Concepts. Sites around Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida offer the change to see sea turtles, manta rays and all sorts of weird and wonderful fish!
If you aren’t a diver, many guest houses and shops will organise a snorkelling trip for you. Unfortunately it’s not possible to snorkel from the beach; you have to take a boat out to sea, but it really is worth it for what you’ll see. The coral close to the coast is rather brown and dull but much more vibrant in the ocean, and it’s quite dangerous to try to see it from the beach. On a boat trip, you’re basically taken to a number of different snorkelling spots where you can jump off the boat and snorkel to your heart’s content!
Check out my post on the best places to go scuba diving in Bali and the Gili Islands here!
On your second day, make a trip to Nusa Penida. It’s nowhere near as busy as Nusa Lembongan and is quite refreshing to see the local way of life, but we found there weren’t many accommodation options here so decided against staying a night. You can take a boat from the Yellow Bridge and rent a scooter when you get to the other side for around 60,000 – 80,000 Rupiah, or organise transport at one of the shops in the area.
First stop, drive to the famous Kelingking Beach, which you may have seen on Instagram – it’s pretty popular! Despite its popularity it is a beautiful viewpoint; the water is just SO turquoise and the T-Rex shape of the land is quite unique.
Also worth a visit in Nusa Penida is Crystal Bay, if you don’t visit it on your snorkelling or diving trips it is a great place to see an abundance of wildlife and is a great dive spot for new divers. Again it’s easily accessible with your scooter or by car.
Where to stay in Nusa Lembongan:
We stayed at two different places in Nusa Lembongan as we booked our accommodation before we decided to take our advanced diving course. These were:
Day 10 & 11: Gili Trawangan
Next, make your way to the Gili islands for some serious R&R – or, on the flip side, some partying! High speed boats run regularly between Sanur, Nusa Lembongan and Gili Trawangan, and you can easily travel between the three Gili Islands (Gili T, Gili Air and Gili Meno) as public boats go between them regularly.
Gili Trawangan (known as Gili T) is the party isle of the three, so if you fancy some bar-hopping or a nightclub then this is the place to be. The main ‘strip’ is home to restaurants, bars, dive shops and boutiques, and it’s small enough to travel around by bicycle in an afternoon.
I recommend spending some time here diving; the corals are really out of this world! If you don’t dive, organise a snorkelling trip through your guesthouse. On your second day, take a day trip to the quietest isle of the three – Gili Meno – and just relaxxxx.
Where to stay on Gili T:
Day 12 & 13: Gili Air
Much quieter than Gili T, Gili Air is where I wish we had based ourselves in the Gili Islands. The beaches are beautiful, with white sand meeting turquoise waves, and again the diving here is top-notch.
There are loads of dive schools to choose from if you want to explore the depths while you’re here, and again your guesthouse can arrange snorkelling trips.
Spend a couple of days here enjoying putting your feet up on the sand or exploring below sea level.
Where to stay on Gili Air
Day 14: Fly home from Lombok
Take a boat from Gili T to Senggigi and then a taxi to the airport; it’s much easier to travel from the Gilis to Lombok than back to Bali (and saves you a long boat journey). Sadly, your time in Bali has come to an end… until next time!
Have you visited Bali & the Gili Islands? What do you think to this itinerary?
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
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