The Gili Islands are comprised of three small islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air – just west of Lombok in Indonesia. They have become a popular destination for tourists who are looking for a relaxing, remote island vacation.
Gili Trawangan is the largest of the islands and is by far the busiest and most developed – has more choice in shops, accommodations, restaurants, and has a bit of a night scene. This island is a good place to go if you want an island experience, but still have a selection of luxuries available to you.
Gili Meno is the middle of the three islands and is the smallest and least busy. This island is great for people who really want to get away from civilization and are looking for simplicity. Since there isn’t much to do on the island, you should come here if all you plan on doing is planting yourself on the beach with a book in hand.
Gili Air is closest to mainland Lombok and is a bit of a mix between Gili T and Gili Meno. This island is a popular destination for couples as it still is quiet and relaxing, but also has a few more options than Gili Meno. You should come here if you are looking for seclusion with satisfactory services.
Many people talk about how heading to one of these islands is a great getaway; relaxing, quiet, romantic, peaceful, and the list goes on. All of my friends who had been absolutely raved about the Gili Islands, so I had extremely high expectations of my time there. Now, don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy my time there. However, I wish I was a bit more realistic and that people were a bit more upfront with the realities of the island.
Here are the five things I wish someone told me before I went to the Gili Islands:
1. It is highly likely you will get soaked on the boat ride over.
As we were waiting at the pier to catch the boat over to Gili T, we watched numerous boats dock with people coming out who were soaking wet and miserable. As they walked by all of us waiting to board, they made comments like, “Goodluck with that boat ride”, “I hope you don’t easily get seasick”, or a sarcastic “Have fun”. That had us all worried about our impending trip. Thankfully going there we were okay as we had a nice boat and taking a Gravol ahead of time definitely helped. However I can’t say the same for the way back from Gili T. We had a pathetic boat with wooden seats where you could feel every wave we hit. There was also no air conditioning, so the windows were open. Therein we found out why people were dripping wet coming off the boats; when we went over a large wave the water came crashing in through the windows and soaked everyone. Remember to put away anything that would break due to water damage.
2. The beach is beautiful. Swimming in the water, however, is not.
I don’t think I’m asking for too much when I say that I want a sandy beach without much coral and rock, as I’d like to be able to get in and out of the water comfortably. Unfortunately, the beach on Gili T was filled with coral right where the water started, which made it painful and awkward to enter and exit. As well, when you finally made it into the water you needed to be mindful of all of the rocks on the bottom. One wrong sway of a foot from the crash of a wave could mean your foot colliding with a sharp rock. You might look like an idiot, but wearing water shoes is a definite remedy to this problem.
3. Horse-drawn carriages and bicycles rule the walk-path.
There are no motorized vehicles allowed on the island, which I initially really liked. Here I was thinking that will make walking around much more peaceful and less dangerous than it was when I was trying to navigate the streets in Ubud and Kutu. The small pathways are brimming with cidomo’s (horse-drawn carriages) either carrying tourists to their hotel or locals carrying produce, building supplies, etc., and bicycles that tourists rent out for the day or that locals are riding as their means of transport throughout the island. This made walking down the main strip rather annoying, as you need to dodge the horse-drawn carriages (as well as the horse shit on the floor) and bicycles, while they rang a bell to tell you to get out of the way.
4. Be prepared to be woken up at 4am each day for morning prayer (and hear it numerous times throughout the day).
This was probably my least favourite thing about Gili T. Now, I understand Lombok is a Muslim country, but numerous times a day the prayers would be blasted throughout the island on a loud speaker. There are three Mosques on the island, making the ear-splitting prayers impossible to escape. Every. Single. Day. at 4am we would be woken up with the morning prayer. Some days it only lasted for 10-15 minutes, which was bearable (barely). However, there were some days that the morning prayer lasted for 45 minutes at which point I almost lost it. A few days on the beach we could hear the prayers as well – some lasting for over an hour. I found this to really take away from the “secluded island experience” that Gili is apparently known for.
5. Gili Trawangan is not as quiet and relaxing as it seems.
Like I mentioned earlier, I heard from many people and read many blogs about how wonderful Gili T was, so I was really looking forward to getting away from civilization for a few days. There is a lot of construction going on throughout the island, many “hipster” cafes and shops that are popping up selling a coffee for $5 CDN, and “party boat tours” that are held once a week. If you do decide to rent a bike or wander into the middle of the island to see some local life, you’ll probably be saddened by the piles of garbage strewn everywhere. Lastly, getting on and off the boat to and from the island is a disaster; people are pushing to get on, they are never on time, locals on the Bali side pressure you to purchase food and drink by hovering around you, and you really just have no clue what is going on until someone grabs your luggage and throws it into the boat while ushering you inside.
If you’ve ever been to Boracay, I feel like Gili T is what Boracay was about 20 or so years ago. I think it’s only a matter of time before the Gili Islands become as commercialized and as packed with tourists. If that is the case, I suggest you go there now if you’re interested before it becomes another Boracay.
Note: My experience in the Gili Islands was only in Gili Trawangan, thus these five warnings may not apply to Gili Meno and Gili Air.