If you’ve been to Bali, the chances are you’ve heard of Lombok. But just 15 minutes from Lombok lies another little slice of paradise, in the form of the three Gili Islands - Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan. Access is easy: take the Gili Cat ferries departing from Bali with a stop-over in Lombok for the fastest service.
On arrival, the first thing that hits you is the lack of motor vehicles. Transportation is via cycles provided by hotels and rental shops, or horse carts (cidomos), which serve as island taxis. The clichéd image of undisturbed white sandy beaches and crystal clear blue-green water suddenly comes to life.
The largest island is Trawangan, where most tourists stay due to the large variety of accommodation, food and activities. Meno is the smallest and quietest, for visitors who want privacy, and Air is a nice mix of the two. The distance between each island is about 15-20 minutes by boat, so none of the trio is ever too far away.
Walking just a few feet into the water at any of the beaches brings you to a mesmerizing variety of coral, fish and yes, even sea turtles—a dream for those who love snorkelling. Along the main shores are numerous snorkelling boat rentals that take you to all three Gilis and their surrounding areas. For a little more adventure, visit any one of the many dive shops such as Dream Divers and Blue Marlin Divers, all fantastic places to get Open-Water PADI, Advanced PADI and other diving certifications—both recreational and professional.
To get some R&R once you’ve seen the wildlife, take your pick of beach chairs lining the beach and join those who are tanning, enjoying a good book, playing beach volleyball or buying trinkets from the local vendors. You can even stop by a spa and enjoy a delightful Balinese massage at surprisingly reasonable prices. If you’re staying on Trawangan, cycle around the island and head up to the Sunset Paradise Bar to enjoy a spectacular sunset with an unobstructed view - while sipping on delicious fresh fruit cocktails. For visitors who have more time, hop on a ferry to Lombok and challenge yourself to an all day hike up Mt Rinjani.
Accommodation on the Gilis used to be focused on the budget-conscious traveller, with lots of guesthouses, villas and rooms across the main beaches, but increased tourism and investment has brought with it luxury boutique hotels such as Kelapa Lombok Villas on Trawangan, each of which has a private pool. No matter where you stay though, the water will probably be saline, as fresh water though daily imported to the island, is an extremely precious commodity.
And then, of course, there is the delicious food. After a few meals on the Gilis, your palate will be saturated by mouth-watering, fresh sea food that you can pick yourself from the fresh catch of the day. Trawangan boasts cuisines such as Indian, Mexican and Middle Eastern, and many restaurants have outdoor cinemas, for some al fresco big-screen action.
WHERE TO STAY Luce d’Alma Resort and Spa This resort has 16 large rooms with views of the pool or the beach. Luce d’Alma Resort & Spa, Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia (lucedalmaresort.com)
Villa Nautilus Located on Gili Meno, the smallest of the three Gili Islands, this resort features several villas adjacent to the Blue Marlin Dive, a popular diving location. Gili Meno, Lombok, Gili Meno, Indonesia (www.villanautilus.com)
WHERE TO EAT Sunset Paradise Bar Right on the beach with a reef that stretches out 150 meters, Sunset Paradise Bar is the only bar/restaurant on the island where you can see the sun hit the horizon. Sunset Paradise Bar, Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia
Blue Marlin Cafe This cafe serves international cuisine during the day and some of the best grilled sea fish on the island by night. Try the salads or grilled trevally in garlic. Blue Marlin Cafe, Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia (www.bluemarlindive.com)
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