Lombok & Gilis
The Gili Islands
Near Pemenang a road leads to Bangsal, the embarkation point for the three Gili Islands, which are just off the coast. The public bemo don’t go all the way to the small town, but stop on a side road. There is a money changer and a cidomo is also available.
All three islands have white sand beaches, clear water for snorking and cheap accomodation in bungalows. Most hotels can be found on Gili Meno. You can rent a boat for a trip along all islands. Especially in the main season – June until the beginning of September – this is a good thing, because the available accomodation fills up rather quick. The beach is the only place to sleep then.
The three Gili Islands are a small-scale backpacker mecca and Lombok’s most popular tourist destination. The islands are very relaxed and laid-back, with countless little beachside cafes playing reggae and serving up banana pancakes, and no cars or motorbikes to disturb the peace. The flip side of the coin is that as they exist solely to cater for travellers, they’re also rather anonymous (you might as well be at anywhere) and, aside from snorkeling and diving, there’s little if anything to do. Note that there are no ATMs on the islands, so bring plenty of cash with you. From west to east, the islands are:
Gili Trawangan, by far the most developed with plenty of backpacker options and one swanky resort
Gili Meno, the smallest and quietest, low-key with some simple places to stay
Gili Air, closest to the mainland and with the largest local population
Strictly speaking, the name “Gili Islands” is rather redundant as gili simply means “small island” in Sasak, but the name has stuck and is universally used and understood in Lombok.
Gili Air: Most Crowded
Gili Air is closest bo Bangsal and is the most densely populated island of the three. Most people live in the south, were the most bungalows are as well. The beach runs around the entire island. The best places for sunbathing and snorking are along both sides of thee shop with diving gear with the name Boronang. The shop rents gears and organises excursions to Pak Nasutions favorite diving spot, 45 minutes to the north by boat. There is a hot source about 10 meters under the sea level which produces fresh water.
The water around Gili Air is crystal clear, but there is not much to see for snorklers. The coral has been blown away with dynamite and there is not much fish as well; sometimes there are dangerous jelly-fish which force visitors out of the sea. The best place for snorkling is the edge of the cliff which surrounds the island; the coral descends to about 14 to 20 meters.
Gili Meno: Blue Coral
Gili Meno, the central island, is home to only a few hundred residents. The most quiet and least exploited island of the three, makes Gili Meno also the most attractive. Drinking water is brought in from Lombok. The sources of the island only bring in salt water which is hardly good enough to bath in. Just inland is a big salt lake, which is separated by small dykes for salt mining, which takes place in the dry season (May until October). The dry times are sometimes marked by cholera on the island. The rest of the year there are malaria musquitos; don’t forget tablets and a musquito net.
The hotels and bungalows are located along the southeastern coast. They offer a nice view over Gili Air and Gunung Rinjani in the east. The best place for snorkling is the northeastern coast, near the Blue Coral Bungalow, which has it’s name from the blue-colored corals just offshore. The reef offers a big variety of coral spiecies and small, colorfull fish.
Gili Trawangan: Snorkling Paradise
Gili Trawangan, most offshore, is with 3,5 sq.km. the biggest of the three Gili’s. Many of the residents are, like the other people of the Gili’s, descendants of Buginese migrants from South-Sulawesi. They have interchanged with the local Sasak-population and speak the Sasak language as well.
On the climax of the tourist season, the months July and August, many of the daily flood of tourists which leave from Bangsal find a place to sleap on the beach. All losmen are located along the eastern coast. The young, mainly European tourists which come to the Gili’s, spend their days on the beack, sunbathing.
Snorkling and playing frisbee are the favorite sports. On many places you can rent goggles and other diving gear. The reefs off the eastern coast of Trawangan are reasonable, but beware of the strong currents futher off the beach, they can be dangerous. A walk around the island takes about four hours.
You can find good equipped diving centers on the Gili’s. Most centers also take care of the beginners, but also can provide you with the heavy things, like diving in the strong currents off the west coast of Trawangan, where divers can see huge shells (tridacna), as well as sharks, mantha’s, and blue tailed rays.
How to Get There:
In the Gili Islands, there is no shortage of small local boats willing to transport you, from island to island and back to the mainland. None of boats has any kind of safety equipment and the waters around the Gili’s can be choppy. Regardless, they are a handy form of transport and make exploring the islands easy.
There are regular shuttle services from Bangsal on the main island of Lombok, stopping at all islands. The trip takes about 15 minutes to Air, 30 min to Meno and 45 min to Trawangan. Around Rp30-40,000 one-way, or Rp70,000 if including land transfer from Senggigi. Avoid traveling to Bangsal as captains will wait until the boat is full of passengers before setting off. Book a trip with Parama instead, which will travel to and from the islands no matter how many people they have.
Alternatively, the Gilis can be visited on a day trip from Senggigi, in which case you’ll get your own little boat and crew to take you around. The trip across take 1-2 hours each way and is quite scenic, if a little bumpy when the waves are high. Available from any travel agent, figure on Rp400,000 for a tour for two.
Note that the sea is calmest in the morning and all transport stops running in the afternoon, well before dark.
In a rare display of foresight, all forms of motorized transport are banned from the islands: your only choice is horse-drawn carts, known as cidomo, which are used even to shuttle around diving gear. However, as the islands are only a few km in diameter, it’s entirely possible to just walk instead.
Sea and Do
There are no sights as such on the islands themselves, but the excellent snorkeling and diving all around is a major draw. Sea turtles are also common, especially around Turtle Point just north of Gili Meno. You can rent masks and fins off the beach, or contact any of the numerous dive shops to arrange snorkeling or diving at choice spots nearby.
Gili Trawangan is the largest of Lombok’s Gili Islands and is the only one to rise significantly above sea level. It is 3km long and 2km wide with a population of about 1000. Of the Gilis, Trawangan has the most tourist facilities; the pub Tîr na Nôg claims that Trawangan is the smallest island in the world with an Irish pub. The most crowded part of Trawangan lies on the eastern side.
Generally, Gili Trawangan can be reached by public boat from Bangsal Harbor (located in the northwest coast of Lombok) for a cost of less than IDR 10,000, taking about 40 to 50 minutes. If you wish to arrive in more comfort the dive centre Blue Marlin Dive www.bluemarlindive.com offers speedboat transfers and pick ups from the airport. They will pick you up at the airport in air-conditioned comfort and drive you to Teluk Nara Bay where the speedboat will be waiting for you. The price varies on the number of people. This speedboat journey is 10 minutes to Trawangan.
A typical room (two-bed room with air-conditioner) costs from as little as IDR 80,000 to as much as IDR 700,000 per night, the majority being around IDR 200,000. For those who want to travel cheaply, there are lots of bungalows rented for around IDR 50,000 only, and there are as many cheap eateries and bars around the island as are posh and expensive ones. Top accommodation includes Kelapa Luxury Villas, Villa Ombak and Villa Almarik.
Trawangan has more of a “party” atmosphere, than Gili Meno and Gili Air, with all-night parties that rotate amongst a group of venues each night. The largest of the parties takes place on a monday night at Blue Marlin and a wednesday night at Tir Na Nog. While during the day, the popular activities for visitors are scuba diving (PADI certified), snorkeling (mainly along the northeastern coastline), kayaking and surfing. There are also stalls that offer horseback riding as a pastime activity. As small as the island, you can circle the island with a bicycle within only 45 minutes. Path along the way is very sandy which makes it more difficult to pedal your bicycle.
On Gili Trawangan (as well as the other two Gilis), there are no motorized vehicles. The main means of transportation are bicycles (rented by locals to tourists) and cidomo (a small horsedrawn carriage). For traveling to and from each of the Gilis, locals usually use motorized boats and speedboats.
Some of the first inhabitants of Gili Trawangan were from Sulawesi who are fishermen and farmers. Previously Gili Trawangan was covered in forest and deer lived on the island.