When traveling Indonesia, there is without doubt a lot to discover. And while every one of the nearly 20,000 islands of the archipelago is probably worth a visit, I would like to introduce you to my personal favourite: the Gili Islands.
The Gilis are three islands within close proximity of their better-known neighbours Bali and Lombok. And although their popularity has risen greatly over the past couple of years, they are still unknown to many travelers and thus overseen- which is really a pity. If you’re planning a trip to Southeast Asia and thinking of including Indonesia in your travels, don’t forget to stop over on the Gili Islands. You won’t regret it!
Why? That’s easy to answer…
1) The beaches
Many countries and travel destinations boast with having the ‘nicest beaches in the world’. And although I haven’t tested every single one, I can honestly say that the Gili Islands fulfill any expectation I would have of the perfect beach.
The water is crystal-clear, nearly turquoise and so warm it feels like you’re floating in a giant bath tub. The fine, nearly white sand is free of litter and cigarette stubs and one of many beach bars always less than 25m away. One part of the coastline will be perfect for floating and splashing about with your pals, while another one further along has waves that make every surfer’s heart melt.
2. No traffic
I always find it incredibly relaxing to be in a place without busy streets, traffic jams and exhaust fumes. On the Gili Islands, there are no cars or motor bikes. In fact, there aren’t any proper paved streets.
On Gili Traganwan, the main road along the beach is home to most restaurants, bars and shops. Smaller side streets branch off the main road and lead to various accomodations.
The only means of transportation are bicycles (which you can rent almost anywhere) and horse carriages called ‘cidomos’. Having said that, none of the three Gilis are particularely large so any destination is really just a short stroll away.
3. Snorkeling & diving tours
Sadly, the increase in tourism has caused some damage to the coral reefs in the area, but the Gili Islands are nevertheless a prime spot for diving and snorkeling. If you book a day in advance, you can customize your own tour that will take you around all three islands and include special spots frequented by sea turtles. Yes, I said sea turtles!
I find it hard to describe the bliss one feels upon descending into the deep blue to swim among colourful fish and other inhabitants of the sea. All I can say is that during our snorkeling tour around the Gilis, I spent a good twenty minutes swimming right above a big sea turtle that was just floating along with the current, minding its own business. It was a truly magical feeling that left me with a big smile on my face for the rest of the day.
Rates for snorkelling and diving tours depend on group sizes, but they are generally quite low. If you pack some drinks and snacks, you’ve got your day planned out to perfection. The short boat rides in between spots are ideal for catching your breath and having a snack. And the cherry on top: all boats have glass bottoms, which means you can check out the sea life even from a comfortable lounging spot on the deck…
Don’t forget to document your underwater experience with an underwater camera– or maybe even with a special diving masks that has an integrated video camera?
Gili Traganwan attract a large number of young backpacking tourists, which of course means the next party is not far away. In fact, its on every second day. The days in between are officially considered ‘days of rest’ during which you’re meant to relax and recover from the previous night’s mayhem… and prepare yourself for the next one!
Currently, the best place to head to is Rudy’s, an open air beach bar with dancefloor, dj and lounge area. Yes, it may not be quite as glamorous as Ibiza, but who cares? Just rock up in flip flops and denim shorts, drink cheap fruity cocktails and dance the night away with the locals…
One of the main reasons nobody should miss out on a trip to the Gili Islands is that its so easy and quick to get there from both Bali and Lombok! If you’re traveling the region anyways, why not plan in an extra one or two days to discover these three islands most people have never heard of before? (A tip to those not so keen on the nightlife, book a stay on Gili Meno instead of Gili Traganwan).
You can reach the Gili Islands either by taking a big “ferry” type boat (cheap, but the journey will take up most of your day) or via speed boat (bit more expensive, but fast and fun!). Most companies operating the speed boats will even pick you up from your hotel/accomodation with a shuttle bus and drive you to the harbour. For an overview of the different ways to get to the Gilis, consult Gili Fast Boat.