Gili Islands, Indonesia

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Gili Islands

The Gili Islands are a group of 3 tiny islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air located just of northwest tip of Lombok Island. the Gilis became popular and felt like a backpacker mecca in the 1980s and 1990s. Three Gilis are famous for the ultimate remote island experience. This is still true to some degree but for sure its not as rural as it us to be. The islands are very relaxed and laid-back but you can easily notice, how they are changing, if you where there more then once. There are increasing numbers of westerners living on the Gilis, and operating businesses ranging from dive companies to resorts. Is it still a paradise for backpackers? Maybe.

There are also some other islands off Lombok called Gili Nanggu and Gili Gede, but these are located to the southwest near Lembar, quite a distance from the “main” Gilis. I will talk about Gili Gede at the end.  The Gilis are noticeably drier and hotter than Lombok, but evenings can still be cool and refreshing. The rainy season is roughly from November to April, but it rains much less than on Bali. The peak tourist seasons are July-August and December-January. Best way to get there from Bali is to take a fast boat. I really liked islands around April but still as soon as I got my backpack jumping off the boat I had to push my way through the crowd. On my First Trip back in 2013 I didn’t have to do that. Few years later… Trawangan was super overcrowded.  34 degrees and 27 kg on my back quickly persuaded me to take a horse chart to the hotel.

What are the CONs:
Very quick development of the island damaged its beautiful coral reefs. While previously most people came to dive, snorkel and party, now a wider spectrum of visitors including families and couples enjoying horseback riding and sunny beaches. The beaches do not take your breath away. I learned a few things about the beaches here in Gili. So apparently People living on the main Island of Lombok,use their rivers as landfills, and when it rains all of that is transferred over to the Little islands. All the broken coral bits floating around beaches are not a natural thing, you can blame over fishing for most of the damage. Sand feels like broken glass. How about Food? There are also many options to wine and dine what is not really a con but its a huge change from the vibrant party scene of the 90s and early 00s. Light surfing may happen but its not the perfect spot for this sport. Best way to get there from Bali is to take a fast boat. Shopping opportunities are very limited. Be very careful with locally produced alcohol, especially Arak. Magic mushrooms are widely available and openly advertised. Small but annoying jellyfish/stingers are common in the waters around the Gilis during certain moon cycles. There are no visible police on any of the islands, however there are undercover agents regularly on the islands. There are also local security guards that patrol the islands (mainly Gili Trawangan). So stay Safe.  All three islands have a small, simple clinic. The nearest hospital is in Mataram, Lombok. Tap water is very salty and not potable the best. Internet cafes are quite widespread but connections are often very slow.

What are the PROs:
Best part of the island are the Views. Nothing can beat those views. No motorized vehicle is allowed in the islands. Your options are horse-drawn carts. Bicycles are available for rent all over. While you sip your drink staring out horizon you can really feel free and enjoy quiet time. Gili Islands have a good weather most of the year, but it is better to go during the dry season, so you can have your Tropical Experience. Peak season is around July-August. There is no Malaria on the Gilis, however there may be in Lombok.

gili map

Gili Air is the closest to the mainland and very quiet. Known as the social backpacker island. It is the most overlooked of the three Gili islands. The white-sand beaches here are arguably the best of the Gili 

Gili Meno Sandwiched between the other Gili islands and makes a good zen like retreat . Island has a lake in the middle of it. You may well have the best quiet stay and enjoyable snorkeling experience here. It is known as the island for couples.

Gili Trawangan furthest from mainland but most popular and well-known for its party scene. Island is surrounded by white sandy beaches, turquoise water and a mesmerizing underwater life. It takes approximately one hour to cycle around it and two hours to walk. The bars and pubs are lively and every night different place have something going on. While I was there I attended yet another Full Moon Party, more quiet then Thai version for sure. My favorite spot for sure was an Irish Pub . If you prefer more quiet time you can go and watch a movie on the big screen at one of cinemas under the stars. If you are not into the party at all you can just go for a walk (1h) or ride a bicycle around the coastline of the island as a leisure. Food stalls are everywhere and delicious For those who prefer cheap food , the alun-alun (town square) just in front of the (unused) jetty. If you’re looking for a great diving experience, Gili islands is perfect for that. There are about 18 or more Dive schools around the island. You can get a cheaper room if you will book it with a diving course. You can see quite a lot of sea turtles if the time is right. Most people I meet here didn’t book accommodation before arriving to the island. It’s very easy to just arrive and walk along the Main Street asking around for a room to rent. But If you want to stay in Gili Hostel it’s better to book it before arriving, as in high demand. I recommend staying there if you are a solo traveler and you would like to meet new people. If you are traveling with the group you can easily rent a beautiful Bungalow and the price will be attractive. I was staying there with Friends in Tanah Qita Bungalows which I loved a lot ! ATMs are everywhere so don’t worry about bringing money. I booked my transport to the island as an open ticket with no date of return so I could decide later when I wanted to go back to Bali. I was picked up by a mini van and it took us to Padang Bai pier.  if you are lucky on your way to Gilis you may see  a group of Dolphins jumping around. By Speedboat it takes around 60-90min to get to the islands. Food – Most meals are between 30,000-75,000 IDR.

Gili Gede is best known as the “Secret Gilis”. Located off the coast of southwest Lombok far lesser known than the Gilis of the northwest. Gede is not a “party” island. There are no bars.  Unfortunately the Beautiful Beaches are only pretty at a distance, but up close you can see how much Reefs are badly damaged and smashed to pieces .  Many people call this part of islands unspoiled Indonesia but they mostly mean just luck of development as there are only a few options for accommodation. Gili Gede is a working island with pearl farming and fishing. Gede will only appeal to travelers looking for a lot of downtime.  I was lucky enough to be staying in pretty lux accommodation Ko-ko-mo. We where staying in lovely two-bedroom Private Villa and we had a lot of privacy with its own private swimming pool. If you are looking for something more then Relaxing you can try Tennis court or Stand-up paddle boarding. 

Things to DO:

Turtle sanctuary, Sunsets and Sunrises, Scuba diving , Snorkeling trip (around $8,3), Rent a bike ($5 per day),  Night market, Going to the movies, Party boats, Yoga, Relax, Walks, Island hopping.

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Gili Islands

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