Off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia lie three beautiful islands with white sand stunning beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters filled with corals and amazing sea life, and the most beautiful sunsets I have seen. Pretty much perfect! Called the Gili islands, it is composed of Gili Trawangan, the largest, most populated, the party capital and the most developed of the three; Gili Meno, more cozy, intimate, laid-back and the smallest; and Gili Air, the second biggest, mixture of first two and closest to mainland Lombok.
Most people see Gili Islands as a side trip from Bali, but I think it is a good 3-4 day holiday destination in itself. Slowly, it has earned a reputation of being a party destination especially Gili T, but it still is far more relaxed and laid-back than Bali, something that I really enjoyed. These car- free islands have Horse carts as the means of transport or bikes. One can walk the whole island in few hours and find their own piece of private beach somewhere or the other.
The months of July, August, September are considered peak season because of the good weather. December and January is also a good time because of the holiday season.
GILI TRAWANGAN- Go if you live Partying and also Turtles
The largest and most developed of the Gilis, this one is the party capital here. Filled with much more activities, and partying for sure, one can find good options of places to eat, chill and stay here. Gili T is also the best place to spot some of the amazing turtles. One can rent snorkels and fins for very cheap and head off into the waters to swim with these turtles quite easily.
GILI MENO- Honeymoon Island
The smallest, less populated and quaintest of the three Gilis it is the ideal chill out place being the most underdeveloped and most serene. Because of the peaceful nature of the island, this is the favourite island for couples and honeymooners where one can enjoy swathes of endless white sand beaches lined with palm trees and calm ocean waters. With limited mid-range accommodation options, all action here is around one strip of area.
GILI AIR- MIX OF BOTH
The second biggest island among the three, this has good mix of Gili T and M. I would call it the backpacker island. One can see people hanging out around camp fires on the beach at night drinking Bintangs and strumming guitars 'while in the day it is the perfect island to grab a secluded beach area and laze the day away enjoying the scenery around.
WHAT TO DO HERE- EAT, CHILL, SWIM REPEAT
The waters around the islands are amazingly clear and feature some of the most amazing corals and marine life. Just of the coast of Gili Meno, are sculptures in the water meant as a diving site and home to countless fish. Once you put your goggles underwater, you will discover an entirely new world. It is also one of the cheapest and safest places in the world to learn to dive! The entire northern part of the island is home to sea turtles. So the chance to spot a turtle is high.
Remember seeing those pictures on Instagram and various websites of people swinging on swings in the sea? This where most of those are taken. Have a swing at one of the many swings around Gili Air. They are owned by the beach clubs but don't worry; It is free to swing on these.
The best sunsets are on the west side of Gili Air. During a cloudless day, you could even have Mount Agung from Bali in the backdrop. Grab a drink and just enjoy the natures color play.
HOW TO REACH
The best way to reach Gili is take a flight to Bali and then take a boat. From Bali, take the fast boat to Gili Islands. Depending on the boat company, boats run from the harbors of Serangan, Sanur, Padang Bai, or Amed. Expect to pay anywhere between 50-90 USD for a return ticket to Bali. The price depends on the company, luxury and season. The Boat takes approx 2-2.5 hours to reach the islands.
Getting between each is quick and cheap, the local slow boats taking around 20 mins and costing between 15,000 - 30,000 depending on which islands you are travelling between
Accommodation is widely available on each island. Depending on your budget, there are variety of choices available from backpackers to resorts.
We stayed at Junjungan Serenity Villas at Gili Air which has beautiful views of Mount Agung in Bali.
The Gili islands are quite different to the rest of Indonesia with casual drug use, such as weed and mushrooms, being open and accepted. So don't be surprised if you get asked for "Happy"!
The Gili Islands do leave a lasting impression. Once you visit you will look back on with such warm memories of such a relaxed, beautiful and time you spent there. If you are looking fora budget beach holiday and can't afford Maldives, then Gili might be your option.