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Indonesia & Bali-Based Tour Operators

Independent travelers tend to view organized tours as antithetical to the joy of discovery, however there are not many undiscovered places in Bali. Besides, leaving the details to someone else frees up substantial time to concentrate on something else -- like your actual vacation. Most tours include local guides, all land transportation, accommodation, meals, and any gear that may be required. Lombok, though, can be problematic for an independent traveler simply due to the language barrier. However, it remains largely "undiscovered" (by Bali standards) by foreign tourists.

Organizing a specialized tour in Bali from your hotel or villa is as easy as calling your concierge or villa manager. Nearly any tourism business, from restaurants and car rental outfits to hotels, can arrange virtually any trip you can dream of. These are small islands with a very tight-knit tourism infrastructure and community. Chances are if your point of contact cannot arrange the trip him- or herself, they'll know exactly who to call. Such is the Balinese sense of hospitality.

Bali Discovery Tours (tel. 0361/286283; www.balidiscovery.com) is one of the island's largest and most established tour operators and offers customized and off-the-shelf tours. These guys really know their stuff and have been doing it for about 20 years. Their website has up-to-date news on what's happening on the island and a comprehensive list of practical tips and advice to make your holiday a success.

JED (Jaringan Ekowisata Desa; tel. 0361/737447; www.jed.or.id) is an ecotourism nongovernmental organization that works with four traditional Balinese villages (Pelaga Kiadan, Sibetan, Tenganan, and Cenigan). They organize day visits to experience village life as well as overnight stays with a village family. This is a very local affair with local guides, local food, and all profits going to the local communities.

Sobek (tel. 0361/287059; www.balisobek.com) is a well established and ethical adventure tour company that arranges and runs white-water rafting, cycling, and trekking all over Bali. Sobek invests heavily in providing the highest safety standards of all companies on the island. All the staff receive on-going safety training and language courses to ensure the highest of standards are met.

ABL Tours and Travel (tel. 0361/731520; www.baliwww.com) is one of the busiest leading tour operators. They can assist with organizing custom-made tours, villa and hotel accommodation, and even weddings.

Bali Adventure Tours (tel. 0361/721480; www.baliadventuretours.com) can arrange fun day and overnight itineraries to volcanoes, the jungle, and rural villages.

International Tour Operators

Asia Transpacific Journeys (2995 Center Green Court, Boulder, CO 80301; tel. 800/642-2742 or 303/443-6789; fax 303/443-7078; www.asiatranspacific.com) deals with small groups and custom programs that include luxury accommodations. Tours to Bali can take in the island of Komodo on a traditional Indonesian schooner or trekking in the central mountains.

Backroads (801 Cedar St., Berkeley, CA 94710; tel. 800/462-2848 or 510/527-1555; fax 510/527-1444; www.backroads.com), the cycling and hiking specialist, organizes trips round the island taking in the village communities, the fantastically rich underwater world, and the beaches and scenery of Bali.

Carrier (No. 1 Lakeside, Cheadle, Cheshire SK8 3GW; tel. 01244/897551; www.carrier.co.uk) was voted by Condé Nast Traveler readers as the number-one favorite tour operator. Their service is second to none. Based in the U.K., Carrier can organize luxury stays in villas and hotels throughout Bali.

Elegant Resort (The Old Palace, Chester CH1 1RB; tel. 01244/897551; www.elegantresorts.co.uk) is a renowned luxury resort tour operator that arranges accommodation and packages staying in all the best resorts in Bali.

G.A.P. Adventures (19 Charlotte St., Toronto, Ontario M5V 2H5; tel. 888/800-4100 in the U.S. and Canada, 0844/410-1030 in the U.K.; www.gapadventures.com) is a sustainable adventure travel organization based in Canada with affiliated travel agents all over the world (check the website for a detailed list). They specialize in holidays for independent travelers looking for something unique.

Intrepid Travel (11 Spring St., Fitzroy, Victoria 3065; tel. 613/9473-2626 or 877/488-1616 in the U.S.; fax 613/9419-4426; www.intrepidtravel.com), a popular Australian operator, is probably the best choice for an off-the-beaten-track tour of Asia. Intrepid caters their trips to the culturally discerning, those with humanitarian goals, those in search of comfort and adventure, those on a budget, or those looking for a looser structure and lots of options. Its name is its motto, and with some of the best guides in Asia, these folks will take you to the back of beyond safely and in style.

i-to-i (tel. 800/0111156 in the U.K. or 800/985-4852 in the U.S.; www.i-to-i.com) is a globally recognized travel organization that places volunteers in overseas projects that assist local communities. Packages include surfing and teaching English or working with orphans and the disabled in Bali.

Kuoni (Kuoni house, Dorking, Surrey RH5 4AZ; tel. 01306/747002; www.kuoni.co.uk), a well established U.K.-based firm, specializes in long haul trips.

Responsible Travel (www.responsibletravel.com) is the leading ethical travel agent, a joint initiative with Conservation International. They work with local communities to create authentic experiences throughout Bali and Lombok.

Thomas Cook (tel. 0871/895-0055; www.thomascook.com), organizes package holidays to suit all budgets and tastes. Great for those on a budget and with kids. They are the number-one travel agent for Bali.

Trailfinders (48 Earls Court Rd., London W8 6FT; tel. 0845/954-6060; www.trailfinders.com) is undoubtedly the leading travel agent in the U.K. and Ireland for holidays to Bali and Lombok. Their specialty is honeymoons and weddings.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.