Gili Islands

Aug 5, 2014
A few hours boat ride away from Bali and just off the coast of Lombok, lay the three little Gili islands- Air, Meno and Trawangan. Islands, that in the past were mainly visited by backpackers and adventurers that were looking for off the beaten path places and untouched maritime paradises. Fast forward a few decades and the reality of these islands has completely changed. Whereas the islands still remains non-motorised when it comes to vehicles, the heavy boat traffic and tourist load have taken their toll on these once paradise islands. Not to say the initial beauty has vanished, but let's just say that the recent popularity comes with a price to pay. 

The rainy season on Gilis is somewhere between November and April, and for us this meant we were right in the beginning of the dry season as we arrived in May. Now, we suspect that our somewhat critical judgement on the Gili Trawangan -the biggest and most developed island of the three- had something to do with the fact that we had gone through so many "paradise islands" in the past month that our expectations were just sky high. However, it was quite hard to ignore the amounts of waste laying on the beaches, on the side of the pathways and particularly inland where they had collected the garbage to flat-out burn it off (our ferry from Bali had to switch off the motor at one point because we were floating through some serious raw sewage released by some big cargo). We then learned that not only the sea brings some of this litter in the end of the rainy season to the shore (which makes the beach extra dirty this time of year), but also there is a huge problem of keeping up with the clean technology and other demands that the rapid development of tourism brings along. On the bright side, there are multiple external investors and professionals working with locals as we speak to facilitate the ecological progress in terms of both- waste collection and revitalisation of the endangered corals. It's a long shot but definitely a step to the right direction. 

Nevertheless, these steps need to be taken now because it's all happening faster than we think - in many places in Southeast Asia. A fellow traveller told us she had visited the Gilis just a few years ago, and couldn't believe how much it all had changed in that short period of time. More boats, less clear waters, more waste, less can see the pattern here. It all boils down to the fact that taking care of environment requires not only knowledge, but also big funds. Funds, that these communities don't necessarily have access to. And lastly...the tourists themselves. Us. What can we do to help? First of all we can start behaving like we would behave at home. Sounds stupid but sadly this is often the case; lot of us think that just because we're in a place far away from Western world (or standards), we can forget our manners and put our brain on a holiday mode. This is where we start contributing to the problem rather than to the solution or prevention of it. Everyone's actions count, no matter where you are in the world.

Underwater life around Gili Meno

Anyhow, back to the Gilis and our time there. Aside from those few negative points, we did have a beautiful week on Gilis, and came to notice that the people here were easily the kindest folks out there! Also the snorkelling around the three islands, the lively nightlife, the food and the sunsets were just as brilliant. And although we were caught up in a tropical downpours once or twice, we had a blast biking around the island, finding lonely stretches of beach that were clean (minus the coral rubble) and perfect to just enjoy the quiet. It's like we went from the initial disappointment to this state where we really rejoiced the stripped-down and laid-back version of the island. 

So regardless if the Gilis are or aren't the paradise it's often advertised as, it still is a very popular destination amongst travellers of different sorts; divers, hikers, surfers and fun-seekers. In fact it's one of the best places to get certificated for diving! Also, it's close location to Lombok makes it a great resting spot after a few days hike to Rinjani (highest volcano in Lombok). Oh, and it's often practically promised that you spot a sea turtle around...well, we didn't but we did see a school of dolphins jumping and swimming alongside our boat on our way back to Bali- which was equally amazing!  

 Gili Trawangan

Great Snorkelling (Gili Meno)

Exploring the Island

Caught in a tropical downpour...

Lively Nightlife

Bintang anyone? 

Gili Air

{All pictures © Voyages of Discovery}


How to get there?
- Any travel agency in Bali / Lombok sells boat tickets w/ transportation to your hotel. Never buy tickets online in advance, because you will definitely get a better deal while in Indonesia.

- Super nice staff & service. Must say that these people working in Samba were just amazing...we left this place every day with smiles on our faces :).
- Nice villas & location!

Restaurants & Bars
- Nice atmosphere and good food.
- The main strip is full of restaurants and bars and you can see pretty quickly if they're popular or not.

Night Market
- Delicious and fresh dishes for cheap & very vibrant atmosphere! Probably best to go early because often quite crowded and hard to find seats.


- The main strip is full of dive centres so there's plenty to choose from! Usually you need about 4 days to finish the licence, so plan to stay at least a week in order to have couple of days for relaxing.

- Best is to get on a tour that takes you half a day around the 3 islands (+lunch in Gili Meno), we got a private boat and did the same spots and in the end just paid more for not much more choice / time for snorkelling.
- We had some good snorkelling spots right off our Samba Villas beach, but I'd still recommend the tour.

- It was an absolute must to be able to rent bikes, because the main strip already is quite long and in case you want to get to more private beaches (and catch the sunset) on the other side of the Gili T., it was just super convenient. Also, take a shortcut through the villages in the middle and see some local "housing"!
- Often you can find bike rentals along the main strip or simply at your hotel / hostel etc.

Outdoor Movies
- Hotel Vila Ombak has a cool outdoor cinema that plays movies twice a night (the schedule is displayed next to the road if you pass it by).

Best Spots on Gili T.
-  Quiet beach spot right before all the hotels and the main strip starts (before the Hotel Vila Ombak).
- Biking along the other side of the island for sunset (click here for pictures) and stopping at this little local stand for a beer...Priceless!
- If you like it fancier, try Aston Beach Resort's Restaurant & Bar (also a stunning sunset watch spot).
- For parties, they switch location every night but you can't miss the party- it's that loud & clear! :)


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