The Gili Islands. They are well known to seasoned travelers in Asia but still not a household name such as Bali. The Gilis are comprised of three islands just off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia. They are popular with young travelers, honeymooners, and families; you just have to find the island that fits your dream vacation. These islands are nothing short of paradise, and personally I enjoyed my time there more than the few times to Bali. They are secluded enough to have a quite and peaceful time, but have plenty to do, eat, and see. There are no cars or motorbikes allowed on the islands, so that cuts down on traffic significantly. Almost everyone walks or bikes everywhere, although you can grab a horse drawn buggy if that’s your style. It is easy to get from island to island so it is more than possible to visit all three.
Gili Air: Gili Air is for the vacationers who are looking to chill out. This island has a slower, calmer, almost hippy vibe to it and can also be a popular choice for families. This island is growing the most in terms of tourism, so it may be on it’s way to becoming more like Gili T, but it remains a hidden hideout as of yet.
Gili Meno: This is the island that is popular with honeymooners and those looking for a romantic escape. Also on the quieter side, it offers all the adventures and activities that Gili T does but without the late night bar scene.
Gili Trawangan: This is the island I was on. Known as the “Party Island,” it is popular with the backpacker crowd. I am by no stretch of the imagination a “partier” so I was a bit nervous that it wouldn’t be my scene, but it ended up being grand. There are tons of restaurants, bars, and shops, but it maintains a quaint and intimate feel. Be sure to grab a drink and find a good spot on the beach for sunset, a few of the beaches feature the “ocean swings” known oh to well to Instagram.
We stayed at the Why Not Bungalows just down from the main rode. Almost every hostel/homestay feature their own restaurant which makes food convenient. Our first day was spent eating delicious food and lounging on the beach. The water is clear and bright turquoise.
Krisanne and I were there primarily to dive, and we settled on Gili Divers, with whom she had done an introductory dive a few months before. We went with five dives over the course of two days, which is a lot, but totally worth it. We were able to request a few dive sites and had the same dive master for all five dives. Once all our equipment was ready and our dive briefing was finished, we headed down to our boat. I saw that our boat was named “Khaleesi,” I knew we had made the right choice.
I was quite surprised at the diversity in diving locations around the Gili’s. The most popular spot with divers and snorkelers is Turtle Heaven, a site that lives up to the name and is home to dozens of sea turtles. We dived this site twice and saw many, many of them. Turtles are one of my favorite animals and seeing a sea turtle was one of my motivations to start diving in the first place. Observing a 50 + year old green turtle is something I will not soon forget. Sea turtle conservation is something that is very important to the people of the Gili Islands and there are multiple conservation centers located throughout the three islands. Here you can make a donation to the cause, view turtles from different stages of young life before the are released back into the ocean, and even help to release them back.
Back to diving, the visibility is wonderful in the Gilis. One one dive we had up to 50 meters of visibility. We also dived Shark Point which yielded one shark sighting but most sharks are seen in deeper waters, available only to advanced open water divers. Other dives we did were Coral Basket and Manta Point. Coral Basket was nice, but I preferred the corals to Turtle Heaven, honestly, and we saw more fish there. Manta Point is no longer a home for Mantas, so don’t expect to see any. This area used to be a hub for mantas back in the 70s, but since dynamite fishing boomed (no pun intended) the manta rays have since vacated. This, however, is still worth a dive for sure. Once below the surface the underwater terrane reminded me of a gloomy, eery, underwater forest. You won’t see as many fish as you do on the colorful reefs, but the atmosphere is truly unique. Many of the plants and corals are a mauve color and the currents push you back and forth like a cradle. Sharks can sometimes be found at Manta Point, however we did not end up seeing any.
Overall, I loved my time on the Gili Islands. The diving is especially stunning and worth a trip. But beyond the beautiful underwater world, the activities on land are plentiful as well. Anything from massages, parasailing, jewelry making, meditation/yoga classes, and so much more is at your fingertips. If you make it to Indonesia, put the Gili’s on your Must-Do list.