Arriving at the Gili Islands
The Gili Islands are 3 small islands located East of Bali, close to the majestic Lombok island. The islands do not offer any motorized means of transport inside the island, but just carriages with horses and bicycles. The only way to reach these small islands is by boat:
- from Bali by slow ferry from Padang Bai – our recommended option if you come from Bali;
- from Bali by fast boat from Amed – read our previous article to have our opinion on it!
- from Lombok by public boat – cheap and only 20 minutes, that’s the solution we chose to leave the islands;
- from Lombok by fast boat – much more expensive for not such a gain of comfort nor time;
Which island to chose
Gili Islands are a group of 3 tiny islands: Gili Trawagan, Gili Meno and Gili Air (from West to East), near the coast of Lombok Island, all part of Indonesia.
Gili Meno is the smallest island and the more secluded. Perfect destination for honeymooners and therefore developing that way. Since 2017 it has access to running water and electricity allowing the development of fancier hotels.
Gili Trawangan (aka Gili T) is traditionally known as the “party island” because it is the biggest island, therefore the one that developed faster in terms of bars and restaurants. The East side of the island is the most developed in that sense. This is also where boats are arriving and the nicest beaches to swim. The West side is developing slower, which has allowed fancier hotels and restaurants to settle there and offer a more peaceful environment; it is of course the main spot to watch the sunset from one of the relaxing beach bars. The middle of the island is now under development too; mainly split between swamps and the village this is where you will find cheaper accommodations and a more “local flair”. The village is relatively quiet unless you stay next to the Mosque, in which case you can obviously expect an early rise!
Gili Air is the eastern island, offering therefore the best view on Lombok and the majestic Mount Rinjani. Being second in size and number of inhabitants it offers a mix between the development of Gili T and the seclusion of Gili Meno. It is a good spot to see turtles and to dive.
After some hesitation we decided to stay on Gili Trawangan because it seemed slightly cheaper and offers similar diving opportunities, including a famous snorkeling site called The Turtle Point.
Our arrival adventure
In the previous article, we told you about our “wonderful” cruise on the island. But this is not the only thing that went wrong that day! We also had huge issues with our cash at hand due to the ATMs not being functional!
08:00 AM: It all started in the morning when I withdrew some cash at an ATM. All normal so far. Thanks to that money we made the decision to pay the diving club in cash as to save the 3% credit card fees… Well now we know it was a very bad decision.
08:20 AM: Minutes after I went back to the exact same ATM to withdraw money: impossible. We tried then another one. Nothing. At that point our driver was expecting us to get to the ferry “pier”. So far so good and we ask him to stop on the way to some ATMs.
09:00 AM: NO ATM was working for us! Luckily we still had enough cash to pay him! At that point we were left with 150 K IDR, which is about 10 EUR…
11:30 AM: After checking online, we confirm that there are ATMs on Gili Trawangan. After our arrival to Gili Trawangan, we spent half of our day trying to withdraw money from all the ATMs we could find, only to realize that the ATM network in Bali was just completely down! Aaaargh!! Incredible!
03:00 PM: Perine is on fire, this is the moment where she was struck by luck. We managed to find 100K on the ground while walking and contemplating about food!! It is the only time in our trip that we found money on the ground! At least we dared buying water after having skipped lunch! 😉
07:00 PM: In the evening we opted for a “fancy” restaurant with the sunset view just so we could pay by card (it is not the same network as ATM so it was still working). It was actually delicious! Later we tried again to withdraw money, unsuccessfully.
09:00 PM: At one point we realized that a tourist next to us managed to take out cash from the ATM! After some thinking what could be wrong, we realized that the network was back but our cards were both blocked because of the multitude of tentatives… Luckily we solved the problem in the evening and we could release the stress: at least we had now enough cash to pay for our guesthouse and the boat to leave the island (and yes: fooood! :-))
Next time, our margin for cash will be a bit higher. Lesson learned.
Snorkeling and diving
Scuba diving in Gili T
There are many diving clubs and diving options around the Gili islands. The good part is that they all agreed on a common price so the financial aspect is taken out of the discussion; at a maximum some club will offer package including a resort or a discount if we book for 5 dives or more. Otherwise you will find the same offer everywhere, which means your choice will depend on the feeling you have with a particular club or they dive schedule for the following day.
Most of the dives are boat dives. The only shore dive we did was a night dive. Some dives are drift dives so may not be accessible to all levels but can be fun to do. Diving in the Gili offer a 99% chance of seeing marine turtles (Green Sea turtles and Hawksbill turtles). There are also possibilities to see sharks (mainly reef sharks) and beautiful corals full of life.
We did a very intense night drift dive that was more an enriching experience in terms of diving skills than in terms of aquatic life! The current was very strong that night so it was quite impressive to try to swim against the current (in order to make the dive longer) while checking our surroundings with our torches. It was going very fast… and we mean fast! We also got our shot of adrenalinewhen Silviu got stuck in an anchor line… When I say “we”, I mean our master diver and I, because we could not kick back against the current to swim back to Silviu and had no clue what was happening to him (the obscurity of the night didn’t help). Silviu in the meantime was having his alternate air stuck in a rope split and had to pull himself back along the rope to release it. We resurfaced after that to check on him but Silviu was completely fine and did not understand why we would panic… Can someone explain him?!? Anyway since all was fine we decided to dive back and were actually able to finish the dive peacefully protected from the current by a wall.
It was surely a dive to remember and we will have it recorded with bold in our logbook.
Snorkeling in Gili Trawangan
There are quite a few options for people who love to snorkle. There are many boat tours that will bring you in very nice snorkeling spots (I did it with my friend Marie a few years ago). In our case, after a morning diving we went for snorkeling from the shore at Turtle Point, located North East of the island. We must say that the snorkeling was way better than we expected. We saw many, many turtles! Some lying at the bottom, some swimming up to get some air. It was so nice!!
Although we saw many turtles while scuba diving too, the experience is very different while snorkeling and we enjoyed the “freedom” that snorkeling offers you. We even have some attempts to free dive in order to get closer to the turtles…
What else to do on the Gilis?
The Gili Islands are quite small so you can easily walk around any of the islands in 2 hours. The good part is that there is no motorized transport on the islands. Walking around the islands will give you many opportunities to admire beautiful landscapes, find chill bars where to relax or new spots to have a swim!
You can also rent a bicycle or use a “cidomo“, a horse-drawn cart. Beware however: it seemed to us that the horses are poorly taken care of… So we would personally not recommend giving any money to those bad owners. You will see quite a lot running around all day as they are also used to transport the heavy construction materials for the new hotels… Horse-riding is also offered but we had the impression that they didn’t really know how to ride horses properly.
You can book one of the many boat tours: to do snorkeling or go explore the other islands. It’s relatively cheap and well organized. They will often exclude lunch from the package price and bring you to a partner restaurant that is usually expensive: you don’t have to eat there, just go on your own to find a cheap local food stall around there!
In the evening, out of the many bars and restaurants options, you can enjoy an open-air cinema. On Gili Trawangan, there were 2 places that would offer it; check their schedule when you pass in front! Some places might also organize some fire shows or bonfires in the evening.
In terms of security we must admit that the islands are quite safe. We did hear of stories, like everywhere else, but if you don’t get too tipsy and get home at reasonable hours, it should all be fine.