Nusa Penida is a much larger island and if you are adventurous and like to trek and hike it is a must do. But accommodations are not as plentiful as on Lembongan. Nusa Penida has also become an unofficial bird sanctuary for endangered Balinese and Indonesian bird species, including the critically endangered Bali Starling.
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One of the highlights of Nusa Penida is Goa Giri Putri (Karangsari or Karangsari Cave), Desa Pakraman, Karangsari. Large limestone caves on the east coast about 4km north from Suana village. You will need a sarong which can be hired for Rp 5,000, a donation is very much appreciated, Rp 20,000 is considered a good donation. In exchange, you will see a very unique temple, and according to locals, this temple has great significance for people all over Bali. Climb the stairs and enter the caves via a manhole. Inside the caves, there is (electrical) light and a place for meditation. The place for meditation can be entered by tourists, but be sure to take off your shoes and to be washed with holy water by one of the priests (Manku) before entering. The whole place has an awesome atmosphere. Take a bottle for some of the holy water. On public holidays it tends to be very busy with all Balinese who go on pilgrimage here as the place is of great religious and cultural significance. If you are lucky enough to be there on the right day, you might be able to witness a ceremony. The singing vibrates through all of the cave and gives a very mystical vibe to the place. At the end of the cave, you can find a small temple which is a Buddhist temple. This part is next to an exit which gives an amazing view on the hills behind it. Some impressive stalactites and other typical limestone formations can be seen.
Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan
These two beautiful little islands lie about an hour off the coast of Bali connected by a small bridge. Lembongan is one of my personal favorites for a day trip to swim with the Mantas and to explore by scooter. There is very little traffic on both islands and scooters usually rent for as little as 60,000Rp per day. Both islands are a little slice of heaven with crystal water, snorkeling, and diving colorful coral reefs. You’ll feel like you are swimming in an overstocked aquarium. Both have adequate accommodations but are not over commercialized.
Gili Trawangan is the largest of the main Gilis. It has the most infrastructure and entertainment, only having about 800 permanent residents. It has its own power and desalinization plant, which means it has fresh water. There are some misconceptions about Trawangan in many of the guidebooks. Trawangan is truly a Gemini with two very different faces. Some guidebooks will describe it as a party island. Whereas that is certainly one face, it also has a quiet side that is not far from the main strip. So if your goal is tranquility DO NOT discount Trawangan on that basis. Actually, I prefer it, because it offers both. Great places to eat with live music which Air and Meno offer dramatically less of, if at all.
Gili Air is the only one with fresh groundwater, but that is limited. Therefore, saltwater showers are common in many of the accommodations. If you are booking Meno or Air it would be best to ask that question. Freshwater has to be brought into Meno and Air by boat, and electricity on both is less reliable than on Trawangan. Gili Air is the closest island to Lombok. It has a rural feel and seems to attract divers and party types. For that reason, good if you are looking for a slower pace than Gili Trawangan. It has the highest permanent resident population with about 1800.
Gili Meno is the middle island and has the least infrastructure of the 3. Probably most frequented my couples and honeymooners for its solitude. Swimming with the turtles seems to be one of the big attractions here. Permanent residency is only about 400. So, asking potential accommodations about fresh water, power reliability, air conditioning and the food is always a good idea.