Welcome to tropical paradise. Imagine 3 little islands, sitting in turquoise water surrounded by coconut trees and perfect beaches. A tropical splendor in Indonesia, visiting the Gili Islands is an absolute must.
WHY SHOULD YOU VISIT THE GILI ISLANDS?
If you are looking for a relaxed retreat, then the Gili islands are perfect for you. The Gili islands or simply the “Gilis” are a very popular destination when visiting Indonesia for many travelers. It is also a very famous spot to visit when you are staying in Bali. And there are many reasons why. Relatively easy to reach, surrounded by pure white sand beaches and clear water it is indeed a tropical paradise.
The Gilis archipelago consists of three islands: Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno. The islands are located in the Lombok Strait, on the northwest coast of Lombok.
In recent years the Gili islands became a popular paradise escape from Bali. This is actually how we felt, escaping the craziness of Bali just for a few days and getting a break from scooters and crazy traffic. If you wonder why, on the Gilis there are no cars and no other motorized transport as it was forbidden by local authorities and this what it makes it so peaceful and relaxed. Besides no dogs!
WHICH ISLAND SHOULD YOU PICK?
Many tourists are staying on the biggest island, Gili Trawangan, as it has the most options for hotels. It is the largest, the loudest and the island with the most tourists. So, if you feel like partying, and having more bar options, then Trawangan is for you. I wanted to avoid the crowds and that’s why we decided to stay in Gili Air. Gili Meno has the same atmosphere as Gili Air.
WHEN TO VISIT THE GILI ISLANDS?
The best time to visit the Gilis is during the dry season, from June to September. At this time the sea is mostly calm, which makes the boat ride bearable. Further, you will have the best visibility for snorkeling and diving around the corals.
HOW TO GET TO THE GILI ISLANDS FROM BALI?
There are many possibilities, depending on your budget and of course, location. We were staying in Jimbaran province (close to Balangan beach) in Bali. However, for a couple of days, we went to visit Ubud (very famous for it’s Sanctuary Monkey Forrest and terrace rice fields). That was very convenient for us, as Ubud is close to Padang Bay harbor, where most of the boats leave for the Gili islands or Lombok. From Jimbaran it would be a long 4 hours drive to get to the harbor. Since traffic in Bali is horrendous, it could be even more. We were picked up around 5.30 am from our hotel in Ubud and it took us only around 1.5 hours to get to the harbor in Padang Bay. We booked the tickets online via the company BlueWater Express. This is the first company who organized fast boat trips to the Gilis. There are several other fast boat operators you can choose from.
SLOW BOAT OR A FAST BOAT TO THE GILI ISLANDS?
Which type of boat would you like to go with? Fast boats take usually about 90 minutes. In Ubud, you will see many tourist shops with offers to book a transport to the Gillis, mostly speed boats. We booked the tickets online which was probably a bit overpriced, so I recommend to stop by some local office and get the tickets there 🙂 We even saw one for 200,000 Rp (which is 12 EU) one way, but that’s the slow boat usually. It might take a long time to collect everyone, bring people to the airport and other places. So if you don’t want to waste much time rather go for a fast boat. The boat left Padang Bay harbor at 9 am and we arrived in Gili air as advertised, at 10:50 am. BlueWater Express even provides you with a bottle of water and motion/sea sickness pills. They make you really sleepy but also might save you the trouble scrambling for a bag while on board. I was tired for a few hours after our arrival.
Just to summarise my experience with fast boats. They are crazy, I am not kidding or exaggerating, but it will get really shaky. Every time we hit a bigger wave, it felt like we hit a rock. I felt like we are flying and jumping in the air, for me, it was a crazy ride. I just held on to the chair because it was so bumpy and somehow I thought I will stop the boat with that 😀 Without motion sickness pills, I could have never survived this. My advice, if you usually get sick on boats, take a motion sickness pill 🙂 and you will be all right.
ABOUT GILI AIR
Gili Air is the second smallest of the islands and closest to the much bigger island Lombok. If you are seeking a retreat and would like to enjoy island life without many people, then this is your jackpot. It is a very quiet island with few modest accommodations and small hotels.
In Indonesian language “air” means “water”. The reason why it is called water is that Gili air is the only island of the 3 to have fresh water.
NO SCOOTERS, NO CARS AND NO DOGS
The best thing about it is that there are no scooters, no cars and no dogs. I was so looking forward to comehere. I really needed a break from Bali’s craziness. The only form of transport on Gili Air are bicycles and horses. I also saw 3 electric scooters but only locals use them. I don’t want to recommend taking a horse carriage as I don’t support how the horses are treated. The horses I saw were very small and they probably have to carry/transport way more than they should. Anyways, you can rent bicycles everywhere or just walk.
NO STREET NAMES NEITHER
On Gili Air, there are no street names, but with Google maps, you will see the streets and there are signs of hotels and restaurants everywhere. Our host gave us this cool map 😀 Most locals on Gili Air are Muslims, so you will hear prayers 5 times a day. The first one is starting with sunrise, so make sure to bring earplugs if you are a light sleeper like me.
The island is super beautiful, and from the east coast, you will see Lombok and the sunrise. If you are at the western coast you will see Gili Meno and also parts of Gili Trawangan and of course wonderful sunsets. On the second day, we walked around the whole island and it took us only 90 minutes. Isn’t that cute? Along the coast, you find many cool restaurants and bars with a chill atmosphere or live music, depending on your mood and taste. I really enjoyed sitting comfortably in the booths and staring at the sea while having a drink and food.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ON THE GILI ISLANDS?
Except relaxing on the white sand beaches and enjoying cocktails at beach bars, there are many other things you can do. We did a snorkeling trip around the Gilis and stand up paddling into the sunset. You can also learn how to dive, do yoga (there is also water yoga), go for massages or rent a bicycle and cycle around the island.
PEACEFUL AND BEAUTIFUL WHITE SAND BEACHES
In one word: Paradise. I would recommend going the beach when there is high tide as the water has turquoise color plus it is better for swimming. I really enjoyed the beach which is more on the left side of the harbor. We walked for 3o minutes and there was barely anyone. That was a perfect time for us to take great drone pictures. Peaceful and beautiful. Also around the island, you will see several of the famous swings. So to take a picture on one of the swings is a “must”.
THE GILI ISLANDS ARE A PERFECT PLACE TO DIVE AND SNORKEL
The Gili islands are surrounded by corals and that means they are an absolute paradise for snorkeling and diving. There are also many diving schools on the Gilis. You can do a diving course starting from 350 euros. We did an amazing snorkeling trip for only 90.000 Rp (less than 6 euros). The trip was booked by our sweet host Dwi. We started at 10 am and we came back around 3 pm. We went to 4 different snorkeling spots. First, somewhere close to Gili Air where we saw many fish, the second location, we where supposed to see turtles. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any. Instead I saw and felt lots of jellyfish. They were tiny, and it felt like I am swimming in the middle of broken glass. They were harmless, but still, I didn’t like it that much. After, we went snorkeling around Gili Trawangan. That was really cool. I have never seen so many different types of fish. Different colors and types of tropical fish. The variety was amazing. After, we had lunch in the middle of nowhere on Gili Meno ( best curry I ever had) . The last stop was again somewhere around Gili Air. Here, I saw the most fish. Altogether 5 hours for less than 6 euros. Isn’t that amazing?
WHERE TO STAY ON GILI AIR
I recommend: 3 Angels Homestay
I booked this place via Airbnb. It has a very good location so you are very close to the harbor (it is just 7 minutes walking, so don’t take a horse carriage). Upon our arrival, our host Dwi welcomed us and prepared a delicious welcome drink. Dwi explained us everything about the island, where to go for dinner, which side is better for swimming etc. I have stayed in many Airbnb places but I haven’t met such a caring host as Dwi. The room was clean, you will have a shower without a roof for yourselves, so showering and looking at the moon and stars is possible 🙂 There is also a cute porch on which you can enjoy breakfast every morning. Dwi makes her own bread/toast which is very tasty. I highly recommend this place. The Wifi connection is sometimes weak, but who cares, you are on vacation, take a break from everything. And before you leave, don’t forget to write your names on the cactus. (Our signature: Gretka+Nico)
Enjoy your time on the Gili islands and if you want to see my adventures through out Southeast Asia, go to @mybeach_addiction.