Although Bali is well connected by air with all Indonesia’s major cities, sea travel is still the most popular and cost effective way to travel for the majority of local people.
There are no direct international sea routes to Bali other than the occasional cruise liner which calls in at the port of Benoa on the south coast. This is also the embarkation point for state run PELNI ships which link Bali with many of Indonesia’s far flung islands.
Bali ferry routes
These large roll on roll off ferries connect the islands of Java, Lombok, Sulawesi, the famed spice islands of Maluku and even as far as West Papua. Weather permitting, ships run every fortnight and are often overcrowded with a poor punctuality and safety record. Onboard facilities are very basic but the experience is a truly unforgettable one.
Fares are cheap with a first class cabin to Surabaya costing just US$15 one way. Tickets have to be booked at least a day before from a registered travel agent or direct at PELNI (website: www.pelni.co.id) There is also another PELNI office by the quayside at Benoa harbour.
Bali’s other main ports are situated at extreme ends of the island. Gilimanuk is located in the northwest overlooking the coastline of East Java while in the southwest is Padang Bai, a popular resort in its own right which serves as the gateway to the nearby island of Lombok. Both routes run 24 hours a day using large car ferries able to accommodate over 200 passengers.
Popular Bali ferries
The southern offshore island of Nusa Lembongan is one of the most popular side trips in Bali and can easily be explored in a day. There are a number of different ways of getting there including small outriggers or comfortable speed boats from the resort of Sanur.
There is also a daily boat service by Bali’s premier travel company Perama (website: www.peramatour.com). The port of Benoa is the starting point for more affluent day trippers to Nusa Lembongan with several companies offering upmarket cruises water sports pursuits by catamaran.
The lure of the famous Gili Islands have never been more irresistible and these three tiny paradise islands couldn’t offer a more compelling contrast to Bali’s hectic southern resorts. There are now a dozen different companies offering daily services to the largest island of Gili Trawangan direct from Benoa, Sanur and Padang Bai.
Journey time is around 90 minutes and all companies arrange free hotel pick up from most resorts in south and central Bali. Prices are around rp500,000 to rp600,000 during high summer season but in quieter months price wars often break out with prices falling by as much as half. It is always worth shopping around for the best deals.