The Gili Islands, often referred to as just ‘the Gilis’ are three small islands a ways east of Bali and actually quite close to the larger Indonesian Island of Lombok. To get there you can take a slow ferry (several hours) or a fast boat (about 45 minutes) to Gili Trawangan, the first of the three.
Gili Trawangan is very popular with the backpacker crowd and has earned a reputation as a party island (been there, done that, over it). Following the advise of local friends, I stayed on my fast boat and rode another 20 minutes to Gili Air the third and closest island to Lombok. Gili Air truly gives new meaning to the word chill! There are no motorized vehicles, no dogs and no paved roads.
There are three ways to get around the island. 1. You can walk all the way around in about one hour, although you will probably take longer because you will want to stop various times for a cold drink or a bite to eat.
2. You can take a 45 minute horse cart ride around the island for about $10.
3. You can rent a bicycle for about $3.50/day.
As far as businesses go, there are many restaurants and bars. Good fresh seafood is readily and reasonably available. Many restaurants do an evening barbecue where you pick out your fish and it is prepared and served with various side dishes. One night I had BBQ fresh Marlin shish kabobs. The other evening I had the biggest prawn I had ever seen in my life (I think I saw him while snorkeling that morning).
There are also many accomodation choices. Most are in the mid price range US$30-55. Also there are a few budget ones for under US20 and at least one that charges over US$100/night. I checked out several when I arrived and found a terrific place called Unzip Resort. It was quiet, spacious, gorgeous and cost me US$35/night for my two nights and three days on the island including a made to order breakfast at whatever time I wanted it. They were happy to serve it on my private veranda.
The only other business to speak of is dive resorts and there are several. There are many notable dive sites off the Gilis. Dive and PADI dive certification prices are fixed and exactly the same no matter which business you use.
There is terrific snorkeling starting a few feet off the white sand beaches so you don’t even have to rent a boat for that. I rented a mask, snorkel and fins which actually fit well for $3.50 for two days.
From my ‘villa’ I walked about 20 meters to the sand, long enough to work up a sweat, and then into the 80 degree water where I snorkeled for hours. In the past the reefs had been damaged and bleached but they are making a good comeback in recent years due to good environmental management. The profusion of multi-colored, multi-hued reefs and hundreds of colorful fish was amazing.
And in case you get lost, there is this handy tourist information center:
Yusef Islam (aka Cat Stevens) in his song Indian Ocean sings:
‘So we grabbed the kids
And some body lotion
And we went to the middle
Of the Indian Ocean’
And while I do not wish to diminish this powerful and poignant song about the Tsunami (which has a strong emotional effect on me every time I hear it) I can readily see why one would want to come to one of these incredible islands for a holiday.
My mini-holiday within my Bali stay went by all too quickly. I already want to return.