Ever since I visited Bali for the first time (and loved it), I was looking for a smaller, less developed and generally less busy version of Bali – trying to keep all the good things without some of the bad things that come with development. I had high hopes for Lombok, but while I enjoyed my stay there, it wasn’t quite that (read Snapshot: Lombok). Fortunately, I made Gili Trawangan a late addition to the ASEAN Explorer trip and it turned out to be a great beach getaway, worthy of my “Dream Destination” tag! With great beaches and lots of diving choices, the Gilis have a lot to offer with very little downside!
The Gili islands are like the three little sisters to Bali. Granted, Lombok is closer in distance, but Bali is “closer” in spirit and in many other ways… There are three Gili islands, each with their own character, so you have a chance to find the perfect spot for your island getaway: Gili Meno is the smallest of the three islands and the least developed. If you truly want to get away from it all, this is your spot! You can enjoy the peace and quiet and walk around the island (2 hours) if you’d like. There are a few independent bungalows and guest houses as well as restaurants. You won’t find any chain hotels or food places or crowds. You do get nice white beach and access to the same dive sites as on the other Gilis. Gili Trawangan is the largest and most developed of the Gilis. You will find a good range of accommodation, from backpacker hostels to – more recently added – villas and upscale resorts. Some of the nicer resorts claim the prime beachfront spots (the newer ones on the very Southern and Northern ends of the East Coast). The cheaper hostels are located on the alleys running parallel to the beach more inland. And there are new developments on the West Coast, facing the sunset, and away from the center of activities. Gili T has developed a bit of a party reputation and there is a nice selection of restaurants and bars along the main beach road – everything from basic, local food places and dive bars (pun intended) to surprisingly sophisticated dining options, so you won’t be bored. While it is lively, don’t expect Ibiza (or Bali) nightlife here – and that is a good thing. Despite being the “most developed” Gili island, Gili T preserves its relaxed vibe! One thing you won’t find here is police – there is none on the Gilis so far. And it is a perfectly safe spot, not really needing police. Gili Air is the third little sister, closest to Lombok and is in between Gili T and Meno with regards to development. It has great beaches (some say the best of the three), and snorkeling right of the beach.
Beyond the beach, diving is the great attraction on the Gilis all three offer multiple dive operators where you can sign up for a scuba diving course or go on dive trips. They are well prepared and some of the hotels have special dive pools to make the training easier. If you are already certified, you won’t have trouble finding a day trip to one of the many sites. The Gilis are easy to reach by speed boat, either from Lombok or Bali, so you can add a visit here to a vacation on either island.
Of all the beaches in Indonesia I have been to so far, the Gili Islands are the ones that make for the best getaway if you want to relax, put up your feet and forget about all the things that might bother you at home! They are as far as you can get away, while still being able to get there with an international flight and a reasonably short boat ride. Pick the one that fits your dream vacation best – depending of how much “Robinson Crusoe” you want! If you have been to Bali before and feel like it’s “not as nice as it used to be” or you are flying a long way to Bali for the first time, you should add the Gili’s to your itinerary – you won’t regret it! And you should go soon – the secret is out and you want to go before it becomes the next Bali!
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