The Gili Islands sit on the coast of Lombok, an island in Indonesia – favourably close to Bali and a hotspot destination for holidaymakers and backpackers alike. Each of the three little islands has its own, individual reputation. Gili Trawangan (Gili T) is the most known and visited. The party island. Cue the devilish grins of backpackers at the fond memories of shroom-shakes and wild nights, starting out at in the club and usually ending up face down in the sand somewhere in the early hours. Gili Air is known for being slightly quieter (my island of choice), with less of a party scene and more lazy days spent sipping cocktails on the waterfront. Gili Meno, the smallest of the three, is the lesser developed, more for family holidays and quiet escapes.
The islands are easily reached from Bali. Some tourists decide to visit all three, and perhaps even Lombok. Some set their eyes on one island and make their way over. The journey is accessible and fairly cheap. All hostels offer some form of inclusive transport, usually the cheapest model, at around 500,000 rupiah, or £30 with a return. The Tripadvisor reviews for the cheapest boat transfers are a little disheartening. Lost luggage, immense sea sickness and broken boats – but I discovered none of these. I ended up booking my transfers online, booking the more expensive Blue Water ride over, and for the journey back not booking at all but rather wandering down to the port mid morning and haggling for a cheap ride back to Seminyak. I would recommend pre booking your ferry to the Gili Islands as both ports are a fair distance from Kuta/Seminyak, but wholly recommend trying to get a good deal and leaving your options open for the journey back; there were plenty of people offering me cheaper deals including hotel transfer on the islands.
No cars are allowed on the island. Or maybe no cars fit (it took me less than two hours to walk all the way around Gili Air). I’m not sure. Either way, the islands are a whole breadth away from the hustle and fumes on Bali’s central roads. Instead, you can rent yourself a little feisty pony and trap to get you and your luggage to your hotel (or, in my case and that of all penny saving backpackers, lug all 20kg through the blistering heat whilst admiring the ponies). I stayed at Bedagang Backpackers, and came upon probably my biggest mistake in booking hostels. Having specified for air con in hostelworld.com upon booking, I was a little confused when shown my mattress on the floor of an open hut, with a little mosquito net to keep the pests at bay. Not quite wanting to embrace the outdoor nightlife, I discovered that they have dorms with actual beds and aircon, or the cheaper mattress option. I spent one very interesting night with some stray cats trying to clamber through my mosquito net and am quite proud of myself for surviving even in the humid heat, before a space in the dorms became available.
Daytime activities include snorkelling, scuba diving, the short walk around the whole of the island, and tasty cafes. Captain Coconuts serves divine health and vegan food; the stuffed tofu was to die for. The Gili Islands are also an area very unlike Bali itself, where you can order a cheap soft drink and be granted access to lounge chairs free of charge, unlike the haggling over commercial sunloungers on the mainland. From your little sun lounging nest, you can watch the sunset on tranquil waters, or access the infamous Bali swings. The waters nearest to the island are incredibly shallow – think knee deep – so paddling is a must.
Whilst I only visited Gili Air, I would wholly recommend several days, if not a week to visit all three of the islands. They capture the picturesque landscape many holidaymakers come to Bali in search of, yet may not find on the mainland. Hidden away from cars and with notably fewer tourists, they offer a serene break from the outside world, with all the bounty of cheap cocktails and flipflop trees.