If you have the time, I would recommend visiting Nusa and The Gili Islands, but if you don’t, this guide will help you decide which one to visit.
It only takes about 45 minutes by fast boat from Sanur Harbour to reach the Nusa Islands, so if you only had one spare day, you could easily visit Nusa Penida or Nusa Lembongan, and Ceningan. From Nusa Penida to Nusa Lembongan there is a boat that takes you between the two in 10 minutes however it would be too much to see all three islands in one day.
Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan are connected by a yellow bridge, and getting from one island to the other by scooter is quick and easy. It’s only a 10-minute boat ride between Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan, but seeing all three islands in one day would be too much.
It takes approximately 2 hours by fast boat from Padang Bai Harbour to The Gili Islands, plus travel time to the harbour, for example, from Ubud it takes approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes to Padang Bai Port.
The Nusa Islands, particularly Nusa Penida, are much larger than expected. To get around, you’ll need to hire a driver or rent a scooter. Driving from one side to the other takes about an hour.
The Gili Islands are much smaller and can be explored on foot, though I recommend renting a bicycle. It’s a lot more enjoyable! It takes 30 minutes to cycle around Gili Air Island, an hour to cycle around Gili Trawangan, and about 45 minutes to walk/cycle around Gili Meno (There are many places with loose sand that you won’t be able to cycle over).
For landscapes, Nusa Penida has many hills, winding toads, and dramatic scenery, whereas the Gili Islands are mostly flat and easy to navigate.
Nusa Penida has a stronger cultural presence than the Gili Islands. Most villages in Penida have Hindu festivals and ceremonies.
The Gili Islands’ local population is mostly Muslim. There are mosques where you will hear Muslim prayers through a loudspeaker during certain times of the day and night.
Nusa Penida is famous for its breathtaking views and snorkelling with the Manta Rays.
The Gili Islands are well-known for their fantastic diving, snorkelling, nightlife, and beaches.
Which island you should visit depends not only on how much time you have in Bali but also on your interests.
Nusa Penida is well-known for its dramatic scenery and photogenic spots, as well as hiking and snorkelling with the Manta Rays.
I wouldn’t recommend renting a scooter on Nusa Penida unless you are confident riding a scooter because of the steep, narrow, and winding roads. Unlike Nusa Lembongan, where the roads are mostly flat and straight, the roads on Nusa Penida are hilly, windy, and in poor condition. It’s best to hire a driver to get around.
Nusa Penida is a large island, and getting to each location may take longer than expected due to weather and traffic conditions.
Nusa Penida is the ideal island for those seeking adventure. For a comprehensive guide and assistance in planning your trip to this incredible island, be sure to check out my blog post on the 3-Day Nusa Penida Itinerary.
Nusa Lembongan has the best accommodation and dining options of the three Nusa Islands. You can also snorkel with Manta Rays from Nusa Lembongan.
It’s easy to ride a scooter around Nusa Lembongan as it’s mostly flat.
It’s the perfect island for relaxing by the beach, dining and surfing. Read my Nusa Lembongan Guide for everything you need to know about this island and the top things to do.
Nusa Ceningan is the smallest of the three Nusa Islands. Activities you can do here include surfing, cliff jumping and zip lining.
It’s also easy to ride a scooter around Nusa Ceningan as it’s mostly flat and small.
You can do Nusa Ceningan on a day trip from Nusa Penida or Nusa Lembongan. Take a look at my blog post 10 Best Things to do in Nusa Ceningan.
Gili Air is well known for its beaches, restaurants, snorkelling and fishing. Hiring a bicycle is the best way to get around.
It’s the ideal island for a laid-back vacation.
The island of Gili Trawangan is well-known for its snorkelling and party nightlife. It is the largest of the three Gili Islands, so renting a bicycle is the best way to get around.
The best place to see turtles is Turtle Point.
It’s the best island for solo travellers, couples, and friend groups!
Gili Meno has beautiful beaches and snorkelling. The underwater sculptures can be seen from this island. Gili Meno is the smallest and most tranquil of the three Gili Islands. The best way to get around is on foot or by renting a bicycle.
It’s the ideal island for honeymooners, couples, and families.
See my comprehensive Gili Island Guide for all the essential information you need for each island, from transportation options to recommended dining spots and everything in between.
No matter which island you visit, you will have a fantastic time because they are all so exotic and unique in their own way!