There are few places in the world where you can sunbathe on white sand beaches while admiring volcanoes in the distance; where you can snorkel with turtles right off the beach and yet pay practically nothing for your accommodation.
Like the handful of other destinations that fit that description, the Gili Islands are pretty special — which is no doubt why so many of you end up arriving at An Unfamiliar Sky looking for scraps of information about them.
I went to the Gili Islands as part of a six-week trip around Indonesia in 2010 and along with my time in Ubud on Bali and my orangutan trek in Sumatra, my stay there was undoubtedly a massive highlight.
Nestled off the west coast of Lombok, Bali’s less famous cousin, the Gilis are three little Robinson Crusoe castaway islands, each with their own personality and they just beg to be explored. There are no cars on the islands — the only transport is bicycle, or horse and cart if you’re lucky. If you’re in Bali or Lombok, I would recommend making a side trip to the Gilis a priority.
It’s been a little while since I was there now, so things have probably changed, but here is a little roundup of my experience in case you’re dreaming of or even planning a trip.
Affectionately known as Gili T, Gili Trawangan is known as the party island, but don’t let that put you off if you’re not a gap-year backpacker. There are plenty of more chilled spots towards the island’s northern tip, including very laid-back family-friendly resorts and romantic little restaurants that allow you to eat right on the beach.
The western side of Gili T is almost completely undeveloped, so rent a bike and cycle over for spectacular views of Bali rising out of the ocean in the distance.
At sunset head down to the south western tip of the island to drink against the fading sky. A single shack sells ice-cold Bintang and as darkness sets in the fire poi starts up. Strangers chat to strangers over the top of a reggae-heavy playlist. Sure it’s a little clichéd, but you’ll feel so mellow and giddy that you won’t care much.
Make friends and wander back to town, where it’ll quickly become apparent where the party’s at that night.
I only stopped briefly at Gili Air when I was on a snorkelling trip. It’s the closest island to Lombok and seemed to be lively and family-friendly, but lacking the party vibe of Gili T. I get the feeling that Gili Air probably offers the swankiest bungalows and villas of the three too, so if it’s a more rounded, sophisticated island experience you’re looking for, Gili Air is probably the place to go.
If Gili T is the island where people make memories, piggy-in-the-middle Gili Meno is the island where people make babies. It’s rustic to the core — no swanky resorts, or even resorts fullstop — but if you’re looking to indulge in barefoot romance and live out your holidays in quiet, padding between pristine powder-soft sand and your hammock in the shade with only the lapping of the waves to disturb you, this is the place to come. You can walk around the island in a matter of hours and there are only a smattering of places to stay.
Gili Meno is by far the closest thing to paradise I’ve seen with my own eyes.
Have you been somewhere you consider to be paradise? Pop a description in the comments so I can add it to my ever-growing bucket list.