Gili Islands Overview

Lying off the northwest coast of Lombok, just over 2 hours direct from Serangan Harbour on the BlueWater Express, and 1 hour 15 minutes direct from Padang Bai Harbour on the BlueWater Express, is a trio of islands known as The Gili Islands. These idyllic islands have long attracted travellers in search of sea, sun and sand in simple surroundings. On Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno, life is laid-back and full of rustic charm, with numerous little beachside cafes. There are no cars, motorbikes or dogs to disturb the peace; transport comprises bicycles or horse-drawn carts, locally known as “Cidomos”.

Phinisi Hut at Gili Islands

Phinisi Hut at Gili Islands

The Gili Islands were “discovered” by back-packers in the 1980s, when they became popular with the adventurous types who were seeking to escape. The waters are crystal clear and teeming with marine life, the beaches are of pure white sand. Here, you can snorkel straight off the beach and enjoy a timeless paradise lifestyle.

Although the first island to develop homestays was Gili Air (the island nearest to the Lombok mainland), it was Gili Trawangan that subsequently became known as the “party island”. Gili Meno is very mellow and the atmosphere on Gili Air is somewhere between the two. Simple bungalows with generator supplied electricity soon sprang up like mushrooms to cater to a crowd eager to get off the beaten track. In recent years, the scene has changed rapidly on Gili Trawangan, whereas Gili Meno and Gili Air are developing at a far slower pace, but each Gili Island is blessed with its own character and charm.

Trawangan still maintains its timeless tropical paradise allure, but now has a wider range of facilities to suit a broader spectrum of travellers. There are still plenty of back-packer rooms priced at around US$10 per night, but there are also some very chic boutique bungalows, villas and hotels complete with private swimming pools and all mod cons. All have been constructed in harmony with the islands “local charms” natural materials and simple elegance being the dominant theme of most developments. No high rise hotels, and definitely no tour buses or McDonalds, but plenty of dive centres to help you explore the islands – fabulous coral reefs.

Getting Around

 

Cidomo at Gili Trawangan

Cidomo at Gili Islands

Motorised transport is banned from all three islands – you get around on foot, by bicycle or by horse-cart. Bicycles can be hired by the hour or by the day, while the cidomo horse-carts charge according to the distance. Agree the price before you leave with a bit of friendly bargaining.

To get between the islands, you can either charter a local boat or take the twice-daily “Hopping” boat which costs just Rp 20,000 per person. Ask at your hotel or at the harbour for the latest schedules. Despite the fact that the islands are only a few hundred metres apart, and appear to be swimmable, DO NOT attempt to swim between them, the currents are deceptively strong, and a number of people have died trying. This is no problem when snorkelling close to the shore, but further out you can get swept away.

Things to Do

There are plenty of things to do on the Gili Islands. You can rent snorkelling equipment, learn to dive or dive for pleasure, rent a kayak, or go out in a glass bottom boat to view the kaleidoscopic coral reefs and tropical fish. Fishing is one of the highlights, especially deep sea fishing northwest of Gili Trawangan.

Money Matters

There are no banks on the Gili Islands, but there are several ATMs on Gili Trawangan. Most mid-range and upmarket hotels and dive centres take credit cards. There are also various places where you can get a cash advance on your credit card, but there is a standard 10% additional fee for this service. Money changers will change currency and travellers’ cheques, but you’ll get a lower rate than on Bali or Lombok.

Security & Health Centres

The local security force is the SATGAS, whose office is near the harbour on Gili Trawangan. You wouldn’t know they are there unless you need them. There are two health clinics on Gili Trawangan – one at Villa Ombak, and another in the village. For more serious problems you’ll need to get to Mataram on Lombok or Denpasar on Bali.

Communications

The more upmarket hotels have IDD telephones in their rooms, but this is a luxury on the Gili Islands. There are plenty of internet cafes dotted around; connections are slow but perfectly usable. Printing is possible in a few of the internet caf’s and you can even hook up your laptop in some. As in most small communities in Indonesia, there is a WARTEL (Warung Telecommunikasi), which provides full telephone and fax services. This is located near the art market on Gili Trawangan. Additionally, mobile phone towers ensure that you’re never out of touch.

Electricity

The Gili Islands have a very erratic electricity supply; it’s not uncommon for the power to be off for hours at a time. Most upmarket hotels, restaurants and dive shops have generators for the backup.

Parties & Nightlife

Gili Trawangan is still the most popular island, and its legendary parties continue to rock into the early hours. The various bars take it in turns to hold the late night bash, so you can be sure you’re not missing out on a better party somewhere else. Most places close up around midnight, but there’s almost always a venue that keeps pumping until 4 am, with guest DJs making regular appearances. Gili Meno and Gili Air are far more sedate – plenty of beach bars and cafes, and the occasional full moon party, but Gili Trawangan is where you should be if you want to boogie into the early hours.

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