Imagine a tiny paradise. It’s called Gili Islands. White sandy beaches with crystal clear water, white hammocks and bamboo swings hanging from the palm trees…
I’m sitting on one of them, a nice man is bringing me a fresh juice-mocktail. I’m taking deep breaths of the fresh morning air, feeling grateful, peaceful and in love with my life. It’s the end of September 2019. A few months before the pandemic takes the whole world into its claustrophobic embrace…
It’s 8am on Gili Trawangan in Indonesia. I’ve been awake since 5.30am because I couldn’t miss the spectacle of the sunrise just in front of my bungalow. It’s still very quiet and peaceful. Young party people are asleep, café owners are opening their little businesses, diving schools are preparing for the first snorkeling trips to watch the turtles. The world is all zen…
This is my third time to the Gili Islands. My friends moved from Bali to Gili T. to open a pizzeria, so I came to visit them seeking a little break from my Bali life.
Where are the Gili Islands located?
The Gili Islands form an archipelago of three small islands between Bali and Lombok. Near the coast of northwest Lombok, to be more acturat. The word Gili means ‘small island’ in Sasak, Lombok’s local language.
The islands are best known for scuba diving, due to the abundance of marine life and coral formations and reefs just offshore. The Gilis attract divers, backpackers and adventures from all over the world. Most Bali-Tourists combine their stay with an excursion to this little paradise.
Not only diving – Gilis diversity is combined on a small area
Gili Trawangan (also known as Gili T) is with its 3 km length and 2 km width, the biggest of the 3 tigny islands and attracts mostly young people, seeking to experience fun squeezed into a small surface of a paradisiac island. Gili T is on the top of the list of any young Bali-visitor.
The island offers a wide range of hotels and resorts, consisting of a collection of huts and bungalows. Depending on your budget and lifestyle you can either book a luxury place or something very simple. There are countless bars, cafés and restaurants. Diving schools are offering courses in all possible languages. And of course, there is nightlife.
Some years ago this was a quiet island, today your choice will rather be one of the two other Gili’s, should you be seeking quality time far from the noise.
Gili Meno is the quietest and smallest of the 3 sister islands. There is not much infrastructure but it has crystal clear water, idyllic, secluded white beaches and a turtle sanctuary (Turtle Point).
Gili Air is basically Gili T’s older sister. It’s less ‘party’ and more ‘hippie’. A super chilled place that attracts yogis, honeymooners and everyone who wants to relax. I love Gili Air. In my opinion it is the best option if you wish to escape the madness of Gili T but you still want to have a nice range of bars and restaurants to choose from. It combines both seclusion and adequate services.
Tiny paradise with hippie flair
There is no motorised transport on the islands, only horse-drawn carriages (cidomo) and bicycles. You don’t find asphaltic roads here. Basically, there is one main road on each of the islands. It’s a circular footpath that takes you around the island.
You can walk around the whole island of Gili T in about one hour. Inland, there are various tracks criss-cross, always leading back to this coastal path. Most of the bars, restaurants, hotels and diving schools are located on the east coast beachfront. The area behind – called ‘the village’ – is where most of the locals live and where you can find less expensive accommodation. I personally love the northern and western part of the island. The places are more secluded and chilled, yet still classy and elegant, cute and pretty.
Characterized by the hippie flair, the Gilis are known for their little alternative beach bars with colourful bean bags, decorated with shells, seaweed, wood, sticks and other treasures coming from the sea. Candles and colourful signs giving them a warm touch.
Funny signboards & sunset culture – the charm of the Gilis
Funny signboards painted in diverse colours are very characteristic for the Gilis. You find here positive affirmations and mantras next to funny lines, next to psilocybin mushrooms signboards (yes they are openly advertised here). Whatever your need to nourish your soul with. If it’s your alter ego, your inner child or the hobby shrink inside of you – you will find an adequate line or message at any step you take around the islands. I love those signboards. They always make me smile (and they look pretty)!
There is a big sunset culture around the beaches of Indonesia. In Bali equaly as in Gillis. You basically drop whatever you are doing and go watch the sun set. I love this tradition. This beautiful routine incorporated into the day. No matter if meeting up with friends for a sundowner in one of the beach bars or having a solo moment sitting on a sarong in quiet contemplation…
Yes it is happening every day – you may say – but believe me, no sunset equals the other. For me it’s always beautiful and I never get bored of it.
On the sunset side of Gili T you will find bars offering live music. On the Gilis you can actually watch the sun rising AND setting only by changing the side of the island. That’s what I love the most about the Gilis.
Well that, and sitting in my bamboo swing with my mocktail in the early hours of the day being perfectly content…
Cute beach bars, breakfast cafés, restaurants & more
As always, I would love to share with you my own ‘best of’ list of places to eat, drink and chillax. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that many of the places will not survive the pandemic.
My Italian friend’s ‘Non Solo Pizza’ was one of the top restaurants on Gili T. Marco had to close it. Bali is closed for tourism until the end of 2020. The Gilis are deserted.
The situation is catastrophic for places like the Gilis, which are living purely from tourism. For me it is hard to see places being shut, not only because I love them or because I have friends running them, but because I’m coming from the travel industry myself. Having represented travel companies and helped develop their businesses, my heart is bleeding when I see the industry collapse. So I can only hope for a quick recovery and wish that after all this is over we will travel again and go out as much as possible !
Our planet is recoverning in the meantime. This is the positive effect of the pandemic. If we remain healthy and strong we should want to see this beauty with our own eyes.
What do you think, is one lifetime enough to see the whole world?! I will try! Are you with me? Maybe one day we can meet up for a coconut in the Gilis?! Please go! It’s just such a cute and pretty spot!
Bea’s useful Tips & Tricks
- Compare the boats, some companies have more comfy speed boats then others. Beware of the fact that they might want to put you on a different boat (cheaper, more crowded) that you have booked. Have a look here: Fast Boat Gili
- Travel with a backpack not a trolley as the boats often ‘park’ in the water and you have to wade the last meters
- Even if you are not a diver, do snorkel with the turles. It is an amazing experience!
- Make the effort to get up early and see the sunrise ! (of course you will also see the sunset! That goes without saying ;))
- Have a morning walk around the island !!!
- Most of the hotels and bungalow resorts will have bikes. They will be old but they’ll do it. Use them
- There is a lot of dust (sandy roads) and horses. If you are allergic, don’t go to Gili T. without an antihistamine
- Be careful of bushes and water plants. On one of my previous visits I got very bad poison ivy burns on the outside of both my legs. It was super painful and looked horrible. I had to go to a hospital (back in Bali)
- Beware of huge spiders in the bushes when sitting in meditation (Gili Meno, Gili Air)
- All 3 islands are a quick boat ride away from each other, so try to visit all of them. They all have their very unique atmosphere
- For information about Bali have a look at my previous articles: A little Bali guide & Bali-Bea