The Gilis of Indonesia: Which One Is Right for You?

| December 27, 2013 | 0 Comments

By Lisa Niver Rajna

After working on a cruise ship for seven years and sailing nearly all seven seas, I am amazed how many beautiful beaches there are all over our planet. The archipelago of Indonesia is vast with over 17,000 islands, and each one is so different. I have been to nearly a dozen, but the place I get asked about most in Indonesia are the Gilis! Some people ask about the “Gili Islands,” but, in Bahasa Indonesia (the official language of Indonesia), “gili” means island! Of course, we do call Indonesia’s neighboring country East Timor when “timor” means “East.” So, go ahead and be redundant if you want, nobody will be the wiser.


Cidomo, public transport on the Gilis

When you are deciding on which Gili to visit, be assured that all three, Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawagen, have lovely beaches and beautiful azure seas. Since 2008, tourists have been able to travel to the Gilis by high-speed boat. So, it’s possible to go for the day, but I recommend staying much longer. None of the Gilis have motorized transport, instead they all have horse carts called cidomos. Some visitors ride bikes, but I have circumvented all three islands on foot. The vast majority of hotels and guesthouses on the islands have somewhat salty showers. All supplies, including water, comes from the neighboring island of Lombok.

Gili Air

After spending two weeks in Myanmar with friends, Anke and Moritz from Germany, I asked them what they thought about their week on Gili Air at a hotel called Lombok Indah. They said the smallest island was a highlight of their year in Asia.

According to Anke, it is a 25 minute walk or 50,000 Rp ride (Indonesian rupiah, roughly $4 USD) on a cidomo (horse cart) from the jetty. Lombok Indah is in the North/ Northwest part of the island and you can rent a bike to get back to town or the other side of the island where most of the guesthouses and restaurants are. The snorkeling on the East side of the island is the best, and I recommend drifting along and getting out before the Boat Jetty in the South. We nearly always saw turtles and once saw five on a single snorkel.

During a Scuba dive with Manta Dive Shop, Anke saw a Manta Ray. She cautioned that it was a rare sighting, but it was memorable day for her! The main village is in the South Center of the island and the main tourist area is in the Southwest, so they stayed further off the track on the North end. In the village, they discovered cheap local food and coconut shakes so superb that they are a must-try. Unlike our experience on Gili Trawagen, they did not hear the daily call to prayer from the mosque at all, and said the island was very quiet. I enjoyed a few days on Gili Air in 2008 and loved the laid back vibe.

While on Gili Air, the price of their hotel dropped from the end of August price of 250,000 Rp (about $25 USD/night) to 150,000 Rp (about $15 USD, but only for the guests who arrived in September.) We heard in October you can negotiate the lowest rates as it is low season until end of November when the tourist trade picks up again.

If you have any concerns about being too far off the beaten path, you should know there is a clinic on the island with a nurse who can provide medical care if necessary.

Gili Trawagen

George and I stayed at Blue Beach Cottages in 2008 and 2012, when we nocticed a considerable difference on the island and in the local reef from the increased boat traffic and tourism.  During our first visit, we strolled the lane easily to select a restaurant, but, on this visit, we could barely walk at all as the area was so mobbed with tourists. During the day, we went to sit on the beach but there were so many towels and people everywhere it seemed more like a sporting event than a relaxing day at the beach. When we went snorkeling, in 2008, we spent most of our time underwater enjoying many turtles and did not have to navigate around boats, but in 2012 there were so many boats in the water, it was challenging to find an area to snorkel, and we did not see even one turtle.

Our friends, Adam and Amanda, who we met in Bali, loved their guesthouse, the Hotel Melati, and their stay on the island. Adam and the owner, Hadi, played guitar at night and they had a clean spacious room with a private bathroom. Since they visited the island during Ramadan, the local pub nearby hosted a silent disco. She explained they watched over 100 people dancing with earphones to music she could not hear.

The West side of the Island is best for sunsets and surfing. Stop by the reggae bar Sama Sama for music and people watching. My favorite thing was meeting Hadi and staying at Melati,”Amanda said. “I actually cried when we left!”

Gili T has earned its title as the party island. This is the place with the greatest selection of restaurants, bars and hotels from budget to high-end resorts like Villa Ombak or Queen Villas. The higher priced hotels even have fresh water showers!

Sunset on Gili Meno

Sunset on Gili Meno

Gili Meno

We stayed for a week in August 2012 at Gili Garden Bungalows, which has four bungalows for 200,000 Rp or about $20 USD/night, which includes a lovely breakfast on your porch. The snorkeling was incredible and every day we saw turtles as well as schools of fish of all sizes, and many colorful hard and soft corals. Once, I saw a lobster wandering about in the sand. I called to George to make sure he saw this incredibly colorful creature! In hundreds of snorkels and over 300 dives, I had never seen such an active and brightly colored lobster. Later that same day, during sunset, I saw dolphins jumping and spinning. The next day, we enjoyed another long snorkel and walked the entire island. During our two days, we saw turtles, dolphins and volcanoes at sunset. I loved that we can walk around the entire island easily.

We’Be Café on the beach has phenomenal chap cay; a traditional Indonesian vegetable stir fry, it was the best of our two months in Indonesia. You can scuba dive, take a boat trip or relax on the beach at all three Gilis, but Gili Meno is my top recommendation. I hope to return this year.

MenoLGLisa Niver Rajna is a passionate writer, speaker and global citizen who has traveled to over one hundred countries and six continents. She and her husband, George, co-authors of Traveling in Sin, are spending a sabbatical year in Asia, follow their journey at We Said Go Travel.

Category: International, Travel

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