Finding the right Gili
For those of you who have not recently been inspecting the map of Indonesia, the Gili’s are three small islands just off the coast of Lombok, the island neighbouring Bali. All three Gili’s have that remote island vibe visitors look for. They’re all scooter and car free -which is very refreshing in Indonesia. The diving and snorkelling trips take you to all the good spots around all three islands, no matter which one you’re residing on. Each one of them has gorgeous white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. Yet they’ve each got a very different and unique personality. With only a couple of km’s apart, you could easily navigate from one island to the other. But what if you don’t have time to search for your perfect Gili? How do you choose the one that suits you best? That’s where this article comes in.
Ini mini miny moe, to which Gili island should I go?
1. Gili Meno- the smallest one
You can jog around it in 30minutes.
First impression- “hmm, this whole island is under construction”
About the beaches- there are a couple of patches of sandy beach, but most stretches have a significant amount of dead coral lying around. The shade is minimal. Using beach chairs is essential for basic comfort. Getting in and out of the water can get tricky as you’ll be walking on layers of sharp dead coral and stones. You can also find a couple of “mangrove-like” beaches.
Development- there is a limited amount of bars and restaurants, but they are definitely numerous enough for you to consume each meal at a different place for at least 7 days. There are sufficient lodging options to choose from, but the island still feels quite empty. At the time of writing, a few new guest houses were being built and the roads were slowly getting paved. There is very little street lighting so once it’s dark, it’s DARK.
After sunset- nightlife here is non-existent. You might find a few locals jamming on their guitars but basically after dinner, all you hear is the sound of clashing waves and chirping crickets.
Perfect for- the traveller who is serious about his/her tan, the CEO who wants everybody to leave him the F* alone, the semi-celebrity who wants to go incognito, the adulterer with his/her mistress/lover, anyone who wants to get off the grid.
A piece of advice- bring a torch. Bring a lot of a cash as there are no ATM’s on the island. A pair of water sandals will come in handy if you plan on swimming a lot. If you’re traveling solo, bring a Wilson.
In a nutshell: the general vibe is very laid back. At times you feel like you’re the only person on the island. Ideal if you need some hardcore de-stressing. Watch out for stones and sharp dead coral in the shallow water. The latter being a result of years of dynamite fishing.
2. Gili Air- the one with a green heart
The only Gili with a fresh water source (‘air’ means ‘water’ in Bahasa Indonesian). Consequently, it’s the greener island.
First impression- “Let the vacation begin”
About the Beaches- take your pick; there are sandy beaches, where you’ll find most people and there are deserted mixed beaches (sand and dead coral mix). The sandy beaches are relatively empty in the morning when everyone is out on snorkelling trips and diving excursion.
Development- one side of the coast is well developed with guest houses, cafés, dive centers, a yoga and meditation center… The other side has little development and is scattered with a few low key establishments. The centre of the island is rural; farms, family compounds, local eateries…
After sunset- don’t count on a wild party. There are however, a few bars offering live music.
Perfect for- the “I don’t really like going to the beach”-types, the traveller who wants the deserted island sensation as well as Western comfort, yogi’s, families, nature lovers.
A piece of advice- rent a bike to explore the island. If you want peace and quiet, look for accommodation on the left side of the island (‘left’ when your back is turned towards the harbour). Go to the other side if you want more human interaction and more swimmable waters.
In a nutshell: the atmosphere is relaxed, the beer is cold and the sun puts on quite a performance every evening around 6.00pm. Cheap and decent accommodation is available and easy to find. It’s the place where you forget about time yet know exactly when happy hour starts.
3. Gili Trawangan- but you can call me Gili T
The most popular one.
First impression– “Oh God, I’m old…”
About the Beaches– FULL. Of people, of bars, of restaurants, of club lounges, of shops, of dive centres, of beach vendors… Full of everything. HOWEVER, if you walk (or take a horse drawn carriage) to the other side of the island, the beaches are serene and empty.
Development- I think the line above explains the level of development well enough. There is a LONG strip by the beach, jam-packed with all that a tourist could ever desire.
After sunset- happy hour, cocktail hour, party, after-party… There are enough places that accommodate all the stages of a pumping party night. Pick up some live music, chill at one of the Ibiza-style beach lounges, grab some popcorn and attend an open-air movie screening or -if that’s your scene- order a couple of ‘magic mushroom shakes’ which are widely and openly available on the island. What ever you do, there is no way you’ll be in your bedroom fluffing your pillow by 10pm. That being said, please note that (during high season) the average age in the party scene is 20-26 years old.
Perfect for- the gap year student; the traveller who has spent several months in a remote area and is looking forward to a juicy steak, a good cup of strong coffee and someone to speak their own language with; the package tourist; the traveller who wants to combine party with some quality beach time; anyone under 24 who’s traveling in Asia for the first time.
A piece of advice- get some dark sunglasses for optimal and most discrete people watching. If you’re looking for a Robinson Crusoe experience, don’t choose this Gili.
In a nutshell: it’s the best imagineable summer camp for youngsters, 24 and below.
Personally, I preferred Gili Air. Although I had a fantastic time in Gili Meno snorkelling with sea turtles, catching up with old friends over a couple cool beers and devouring fresh fish off the BBQ, the island was simply too quiet for me. Gili T on the other hand, I found too busy, too crowded, too commercialised and I could absolutely not connect with the crowd. It’s just not my scene (anymore?). In comparison, Gili air is my kind of perfect. It’s the ultimate island feel featuring the best of both worlds. Of course that’s just my opinion. I’ve heard many travellers claim to have fallen head over heels with Gili Meno and others who swear by the upbeat atmosphere of Gili T. But as the French say, ‘des goûts et des couleurs on ne discute pas’ (there is no accounting for taste)
Which Gili would have your preference?