Travelers are spoiled for choice when it comes to exploring Indonesia’s 17,000-plus islands straddling the equator in the Indian and Pacific oceans. If you’re up for island hopping, keep in mind that Exclusive Resorts Members have access to private luxury villas at posh resorts in Bintan as part of its global vacation club.
Indonesia’s most fêted island is a dreamscape of blissed-out beaches, volcanic peaks and lush jungle. Known as the Island of the Gods, Bali’s reverent culture is just as alluring as its natural beauty. Locals are famous for their kind hospitality and deep spirituality that blends Hindu, Buddhist, Javanese, and animistic beliefs. Colorful canang sari spiritual offerings (palm-leaf baskets filled with fresh flower petals, incense, and other small gifts like candy and cigarettes) adorn nearly every home, street corner, and some 10,000 temples peppering the island.
After exploring essential sights like Ubud, Mount Batur, and the UNESCO-listed Tegalalang Rice Terrace, escape the crowds at Jumana Bali Ungasan, a cliffside resort near the must-visit Uluwatu Temple on Bali’s southern peninsula. Palatial villas come with private infinity pools, outdoor day beds, and monkey-dotted gardens. Head to the resort’s private beach club 230 feet below to watch intrepid surfers ride mighty waves. Follow it up with an in-room Balinese massage and private villa barbecue.
To get a feel for what Bali was like before it became a global sensation, fly about 40 minutes east to visit its laid-back sister island, Lombok. The isle’s uncrowded coasts are a magnet for surfing, snorkeling, fishing, and scuba diving. Head south to Mandalika, an emerging hot spot coveted for its spectacular beaches, upmarket hotels, and hip cocktail haunts. Inland, Mount Rinjani volcano challenges hikers with its steep, jungle-clad trails, while traditional Sasak villages give travelers a peek into the native Lombok lifestyle. Indigenous locals (predominantly of Muslim faith) reside in clusters of woven bamboo homes with thatched roofs and make their living mostly from farming and textile weaving. Don’t leave the island without picking up a traditional handwoven Songket; the artistry is stunning.
The trio of Gili Islands, just a quick speedboat ride from the northwest coast of Lombok, are best for luxury adventure vacations. Refreshingly absent of cars and motorcycles, travelers get around the islands on bicycles or cidomos (horse-drawn carriages). Besides the postcard-perfect beaches, a thriving population of sea turtles and manta rays draws a steady stream of scuba divers to the Gilis. Each island has its own charm, so it’s fun to mix and match. The smallest island, Gili Meno, has a remote lowkey vibe. Nature lovers will appreciate its green turtle sanctuary and 200 species-strong bird park.
Gili Air has a larger local population, authentic villages and a wider range of adventures like kitesurfing, subwinging, and SUP yoga. Known for its historically raucous party scene, Gili Trawangan offers the most upscale accommodations and cosmopolitan locales for dining and imbibing.
Where You'll Stay: Bintan Island
The largest island in the Riau archipelago is a 55-minute ferry ride from the coast of Singapore. Make your home base the Banyan Tree Bintan, a rustic retreat perched on a rainforest hillside along Tanjong Said Bay. The all-villa resort is done up in traditional Balinese style with stone walls and thatched roofs. If you can peel yourself away from your private plunge pool overlooking sweeping views of the South China Sea, there’s plenty to do and see. Play 18 holes on the coastal Greg Norman-designed golf course or unwind with a two-hour body treatment in the spa pavilion. Sights on the island not to miss include the sandy desert landscape of Gurun Pasir Busung, the hidden shores of Pantai Senggiling and the hundreds of life-size sculptures at the 500 Lohan Temple.