BY LAUREN ZUMBACH
After several weeks working in Jakarta, a friend and I were fantasizing about escapes from the city when she asked me what my favorite beach was. I’d always been more of a fan for outdoorsy, mountain destinations, but being from the US, I had never doubted Hawaii would come out on top every time. This, apparently, was sacrilege for a self-described sand snob.
“Hawaii?” Pause. “You can’t be serious. The sand’s not even white. The water’s hardly blue.”
So as soon as we got the chance, we set off for Bali, so she could expand my horizons (and prove me wrong.) We started off at the most famous beach, Kuta, also closest to Denpasar. Kuta gained its fame as a surf spot, but unless you’re there for the waves or backpacker-vibe tourist bars, you’d be missing out if this were all you see of Bali. The scenery is not the most spectacular, and the tourist hordes and hawkers mean it’s not the most relaxing spot to kick back and relax, though it’s still worth seeing for the spectacle.
Next on the list were: Nusa Dua, Jimbaran and Sanur, all seemingly deserted after Kuta’s crowds. Here, we felt like we were on the right track. The sand is a little whiter, the water a little bluer, and Sanur’s beachfront boardwalk was the perfect place to amble before stopping at a cafe with a view of the beach. Jimbaran is best at the end of the day, when the restaurants that line the waterfront serve fresh seafood while you watch the sun go down.
But the spot that wowed even the sand snob wasn’t on Bali at all. Virtually everyone we’d talked to about our trip had asked if we planned to go to the Gilis, a trio of islands off the coast of Lombok about an hour-and-a-half speedboat ride from Kuta. “The Gilis are where people find what they thought they’d find in Bali,” one friend said. Astrid, owner of Karma Kayak resort on Gili Trawangan (the Gili with the reputation for the most nighttime action,) said the Gilis are what Bali was like before it was “discovered.” She spent 20 years looking for the perfect place for an island resort after finding Bali too touristy, but kept coming back to the Gilis.
It’s not hard to see why. The setting is spectacular, with white sand, blue water, and views of Indonesia’s tallest peak on Lombok’s main island. It’s the kind of place that’s so laid back, shop owners might not realize the electricity isn’t on until nearly lunchtime. You can snorkel the coral reefs, kayak (when the current isn’t too strong,) take a walk around the entire island in about two hours (less if you find one of the horse-drawn carriages,) or just kick back with a coconut and take it all in. I still think Hawaii’s combination of volcanoes, rainforests and beaches is pretty spectacular. But if all you’re looking for is the perfect patch of sand, impossibly blue water, and a taste of island life, then I might have to concede advantage to Bali and the Gilis. Sand snob, you win.