Set just off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia, the Gili Islands were a mystery to me until last November. I was planning a trip to Bali and when I asked friends who had been to Indonesia for recommendations, pretty much everyone suggested I spent a few days there. After spending 4 days there, it is now my turn to pass on the message and recommend them to you. They really are like paradise on earth, with an edge.
There are several fast boat companies that travel from Bali to the Gilis, and you get what you pay for. As the boat transport is not regulated, companies often have small old boats that are not that safe. All you have to do is read a guide book or do a quick search on Google to find a few horror stories. There are two companies that seem to have the best ratings and that I’ve heard recommended time after time: Gili Getaway and Blue Water. I used Gili Getaway and although they were more expensive than others, I was happy to pay extra for a safer experience.
The trip takes approximately 2.5h (or 4, if the ocean is rough), and I would recommend going as early in the day as possible, as the water is much calmer in the mornings. Having said that, you will be offered an anti-sickness tablet as well.
Something else to bear in mind is that your price should include a transfer from or to your hotel in Bali. If you are staying in Sanur, Kuta, Seminyak or areas nearby, Serangan Harbour is nearest, whereas Padangbai will be much better if you are staying in Ubud.
WHICH ISLAND SHOULD YOU CHOOSE?
Gili Meno is in the middle and also known as honeymoon island. I only spent a few hours there during a snorkelling trip and it was much quieter than the other two, with hotels looking a bit more luxurious and expensive than elsewhere. If you are looking for complete peace and quiet and you are travelling with your significant other, this might be the one for you.
Gili Air was my favourite by far. It is lively and laid back at the same time. The beach is lined up with huts and bars, but there is a much more chilled vibe about it. You will hear a Bob Marley song at least once a day, you can enjoy dinner, drinks and live music by the sea at night, but it’s still all so relaxed. You can go on day trips from there, you can find cooking classes,... I only stayed for two nights, but if I had had more time on my trip or if I went back, I would definitely go to Gili Air. I also met some great people while I was there, so it made the experience even better for me.
Most of the accommodation on the islands is bungalows, from simple huts to those that are built with bricks and mortar, but they all still retail a rustic feel to them. You will pay more during high season, but if you go outside of it, you can stay in pretty amazing places for under £25 per room per night. I booked my accommodation through AirBnB from the UK, but having been there, I would be totally comfortable finding something there, and it would have been cheaper as well.
Trawangan Oasis, Gili Trawangan
The hotel with the biggest bed I have ever slept in and super cheap bike rental.
Price for a superior bungalow £25
GET ON YOUR BIKE
One of the best things about the Gilis is that there are no cars or motorbikes! It gives them a really chilled vibe, and if you want to explore the island more you can easily rent a bike for £2 per day maximum (I actually paid 50p in Gili T). It takes approximately an hour to cycle all the way around Gili T and 45 mins to cycle around Gili Air.
THINGS TO DO
I know this might sound counter intuitive, but the best thing you can do when you are in the Gilis is relax completely. The pace is quite slow, the views are incredible and the beaches much better than in Bali, so I would highly recommend spending at least one day doing nothing.
If you are an active type, you can still go for runs, go to a yoga class (there are some great ones in both), swim or cycle around the island. I was travelling solo, so as well as spending some quality time on my own, there were times when I wanted to meet new people. In Gili Air I went to a cooking class by Gili Cooking Classes and learnt how to make some of the Indonesian classics, including some delicious sweet dumplings made with rice flour, palm sugar that were bright green! After you finish cooking you sit down to eat your meal with the other people in the class.
Snorkelling is also really popular in the Gilis, excited as we all were at the prospect of seeing turtles. There are quite a few places that organise day trips around the islands on a boat. I can’t remember the name of the company I went with, but your hotel will always be able to recommend someone, or you will usually find them by the harbour.
Indonesian people in general are some of the nicest, happiest I have ever met, and the Gilis are no exception. Whilst most of the population is Hindu in Bali, it is worth remembering that the Gilis are mostly Muslim, so you will hear the call to prayer during the night and even though you’re in a hot island, it is more respectful to not walk around the streets in a bikini.
The day I arrived in Gili T and checked into my amazing bungalow I went for a walk and stumbled across a small hut that sold juices. I ordered a watermelon juice and when I reached inside my bag I realised I had left my purse at the hotel. I was mid conversation with the boy who worked at the hut and when I told him I needed to go and get my purse he looked at me and said: “No problem! You can borrow my bike if you like!” And so I did! He didn’t tell me the brakes didn’t work, which made it an interesting journey, but I think it shows exactly how kind people are there.
I really wish I had had more time to stay for longer, but after 4 days I headed back to Bali for a yoga retreat in Ubud. That is a story for another day!
I hope you enjoyed this type of post and let me know in the comments below if you would like to see more of these travelling guides and what type of information you would find useful.