The magic of the Gili Islands

The magic of the Gili Islands

To complete our adventure in Indonesia this year, we decided to spend a few days on the Gili Islands. I heard so much about them and was really curious to see what they were all about.

They are 3 and are located off the northwest tip of Lombok, they are called: Gili Trawangan or Gili T., Gili Meno and Gili Air. To clarify, Gili means “small island” in Sasak, the language spoken by the Sasak ethnic group in Lombok. As a result, most of the islands around the coast of Lombok have Gili in their names.

Our original plan included a few days on each one, but as we all know sometimes plans change. At the last-minute we decided to stay longer on Gili Meno and cancel completely our stay on Gili Air, hopefully we will get their next year!

gili islands
In this shot you can see how close they are one to the other. First on the left is Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air

How to get there

The only way to get there is by speedboat from Lombok, which is closer or Bali. We left from Padang Bai in Bali and it took us almost 2 hours to reach Gili T. The boat ride was pretty bumpy and many people were seasick. It was a pretty rough day!

In Gili Trawangan the boat stops right on the beach. They put the luggage on the sand and you go claim what is yours, something pretty new for us! On the other 2 islands the boat cannot get into the harbor, so there is a transfer boat that picks up the luggage and the visitors. That was a first as well!

arrival to the gili

Once we arrived on the island, we noticed that there were no cars or scooters other than electric ones. The only way to move around was by carriage, also known as cidomo, bike or foot. It was an interesting change of pace, for us from the crazy traffic on the roads of Bali!

When you are leaving the islands for good, I have one recommendation: if you have to catch a plane make sure to leave the island a day before, unless it is from Lombok!

It took us most of the day to get from Gili Meno to Kuta (Bali). The boat makes several stops along the way back. Then there is plenty of traffic on the road which is unpredictable to get to the airport. So you might miss your flight! Our trip back took about 8 hours of travel to do 66 miles from Gili Meno to Kuta. We took: 1 carriage ride, 2 boat rides and 2 bus rides, add moving the bags from one place to the other and you would be wiped out too!

cidomo

GILI TRAWANGAN

This is the biggest island and the most visited of the three. Before coming here I read and heard about this being the party island. It is for sure the busiest and more wild one. However we enjoyed it more than we expected and didn’t really mind the craziness that much. The night life was on the oceanfront but we were staying in the middle of the island where it was much more peaceful, so we didn’t have any sleepless nights. What did we do on this island with our 3 kids?

gili swing

Rent a Bike

A ride around the island takes less than an hour. It is only about 9km long, but you need to walk your bike in a few points due to the sand. A bike is also great for exploring the inland areas, where you can find cows, goats and chickens and see how the locals live.

bike rental
You can rent a bike for only IDR 50 (about $4) a day or in some cases for a full 24 hours. You will have a chance to go through the town see all the shops, restaurants, cafes and beach spots. If you look out you will also be able to find all the different spots where the famous swings are. Most are on the beach but a few resorts also put some in the water! Unfortunately when we were biking around it was a high tide so it wasn’t too much fun going on them!

love bike

Ride a Cidomo

If you have heavy bags and are staying a little further away from the harbor, you will need a cidomo (horse cart) to get to the hotel. They say a short trip should cost about IDR 50 (about $4) but we never paid less than IDR 150 (about $10), I guess we were too many!

Don’t make the same mistake we made when we arrived!  We decided to push our 5 bags all the way to the hotel which was pretty far. We figured we could not all fit on one of those with the bags. You would be amazed by how well they squeeze stuff on them. Of course we would have needed two! Anyway a cidomo can also be a good way of going around to visit the island, they asked us IDR 350 ($25) to go all around. We ended up getting bikes, but this could be an option for who doesn’t like biking.

luggage on cidomo

Snorkel or scuba diving

There are lots of diving schools on the island, most have pools and offer classes to get all levels. We would love to do some scuba diving but there is an age limit. If you are traveling with younger kids like us, snorkeling might be your best option. There are plenty of beautiful fish that you will see as well as turtles!

We did snorkeling directly from the beach. However every tourist place in town offers a 4 hour tour everyday for only IDR 100 ($7) per person, gear included, in glass bottom boats and they take you around all the islands.

We weren’t staying long enough on Gili T to want to spend all that time on a boat. We skipped the tour and simply found a nice spot close to shore and enjoyed some very colorful fish, some beautiful coral and a turtle!

Gili T offers many other water sports options considering all the visitors they have every year, such as: surfing, banana boat rides, parasailing, kayaking and more! It is lots of fun for the older crowd for sure!

Eat out

There are so many restaurants to try that you won’t have a problem eating in a different place every day!
At night there is also a great outside fish market where you will find lots of little booths offering fresh fish that they will cook for you on the spot. It was so busy that we opted for a restaurant instead. However just walking through the market and checking out all the fish was so much fun!

night market

How do you get to the next island?

Our next stop was Gili Meno, the island next door. There are fast boats that will take you there, but they are a little more pricy. In alternative you can take a traditional boat that will be cheaper but it will take longer.

boat

In our case once we realized that our hotel was right in front of Gili T, instead the harbor was on the opposite side. So we decided to hire a private boat to take us directly there. It was easier and faster and I must admit it was really fun to arrive at the shore of your hotel!

gili meno

GILI MENO

This is a more relaxing and quiet island. The only loud noises come from Gili Trawangan at night! Lots of couples like to come here specially for their honeymoon. However we saw a few families as well that wanted to enjoy the peacefulness and the beauty of this area. The main goal here is probably to relax and you won’t find as many activities as Gili T., but here are a few of the things we did.

luca on beach

Rent a Bike

This island is smaller than Gili T. You can walk all around it in about an hour. Riding bikes can give you a chance to explore a bit more in-depth, specially the inland where the locals live.
One day as we were exploring a new path on the way back to the hotel, we found a lake, houses and a bunch of cows, it was fun and unexpected!

luca and daddy biking

You can rent a bike for IDR 50 (about $4) a day. Luckily the hotel we were staying at didn’t charge to use their bikes, so we could around  with them anytime we wanted!

Ride a Cidomo

If you have heavy bags and are staying a little further away from the harbor, like we were, then you definitely need a cidomo!  Or if you simply need to get to the store and are on the other side of the island, that would be a great option too. A trip should cost about IDR 150 (about $10). We were staying on the opposite side of the island so when we were leaving we had to book two to take us to the harbor.

cidomo on gili meno

Snorkel or scuba diving

The area we were staying in was truly magical for snorkeling. I saw so many turtles! We would go snorkeling every time of the day and see all types of fish, it was truly amazing!

turtle

While staying on this island we decided to do a private glass bottom boat tour. It was only 2 hours and took us in 3 main spots around the island. Luca doesn’t snorkel of course, so we thought that this type of boat could be entertaining for him and at the same time it wasn’t a very long ride.

kids swimming
In the first spot we went to, we saw lots of turtles. Unfortunately there were also many small, purple jellyfish that loved stinging us! The only reaction is irritation. The stings don’t cause any serious harm, they were just very annoying. Anyway it was incredible to see how many of them kept on showing up. They would swim up to the surface, get some air, swim around and then go down deeper.

turtles swimming up

The next spot was way on the other side of the island. We saw a shipwreck, but what made the place worth seeing was some beautiful coral reef. Our guide took us a bit around underwater and showed us.

shipwreck

Not too far away was the last stop at NEST the new underwater statue commissioned to Jason Decaires Taylor by BASK. The 48 life-size human figures are sculpted from pH neutral, environmental grade concrete and are based on casts of real people. Within a year, Nest will give a natural home for soft corals and sponges and will encourage other marine life. It should also pave the way for delicate hard corals and eventually a fully established reef will form. Nest symbolises the intersection between mankind and nature. It has been deliberately made accessible to everyone and the hope is to help local community by attracting more people to the island.

the nest

What we learned from being here

Our trip to Gili Meno had a very unexpected turnout. We had planned to stay in one hotel and then realized that it was way too basic for us. Two of our kids got sick the first night and luckily we were able to move in the hotel next door the next morning at 8am. So we decided to embrace the style of the island to relax. We didn’t seek other forms of entertainment. We cancelled our stay at the next island for the same reason. Our kids were enjoying the place, everyone was feeling better and we did not want to disrupt this positive vibe by going in a new place. I recommend the Gili Islands to everyone, beautiful water, amazing fish and turtles, lovely people and so much to do!


Click here to see more of our posts from Bali!!!

Check out the lovely hotel we stayed on Gili T: Soraya Yoga Wellness Center!!!

Check out the lovely hotel we stayed on Gili Meno: MAHAMAYA Gili Meno!!!

glass bottom boat

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