Nestling just offshore from the northern harbour of Bangsal are the crown jewels of tourism – a trio of tiny tropical islands known collectively as the ‘Three Gilis.’ These are three tiny paradise islands that have become synonymous with Lombok’s burgeoning tourism potential. Each is fringed by palm trees, white sandy beaches and clear blue seas filled with an astounding range of marine life. In fact scuba diving is big business and has put the Gilis on the map with some 20 well established dive sites suitable for seasoned diving pros and beginners alike.
Each of the Gilis has developed its own distinct character. Sleepy Gili Meno, the smallest of the three, exudes a real life castaway experience while still boasting a good range of accommodation for every budget. In complete contrast, the ‘party island’ of Gili Trawangan has attracted big money with 5-star villas, boutique spas and late night bars. The middle ground comes in the form of Gili Air, which has a laid back backpacker-friendly vibe and the most authentic local atmosphere of the three islands.
If fabulous diving, snorkeling and pristine tropical beaches wasn’t enough, the Gilis have a unique selling point that really sets it apart. All three islands are completely car and motorbike-free, ensuring a back to basics beach lifestyle that is all too rare nowadays. Getting around is a simple task of getting on a bicycle or taking a ‘cidomo’ horse drawn cart. Each of the islands can be circumnavigated in less than two hours. The Gili Islands can be reached by daily fast boat services from Bali (generally calling at Gili Trawangan only) or by public outrigger boats to all the islands from the port of Bangsal in north Lombok.
‘Gili T’ is the most developed and popular of the three Gilis by far with a vast range of places to stay, dining for every palate and budget, and arguably Lombok’s most vibrant partyscene. The entire length of the east coast is fairly built up with travel agents, convenience stores, homestays and boutique villas. In contrast, the west side of the island offers deserted beaches and very little development, dominated by a hill that doubles as a look-out for spectacular sunsets over Bali. There are around a dozen scuba dive operators based here or you can while a way a day horse riding, fishing, snorkeling, surfing, or choose from a wealth of water sports such as kayaking or wakeboarding. Gili Trawangan is also host to monthly full moon beach parties which attract hedonists from Lombok, Bali and beyond.
Resembling a smaller, quieter version of Gili T, Gili Air was the first of the islands to be discovered and still retains the most authentic local atmosphere. As Gili Trawangan moves ever upmarket, Gili Air has positioned itself as a typical backpacker-friendly tropical beach haven. Development is spread out around the island with bungalow accommodation and restaurants sited on more spacious plots of land where must-have ocean views are abundant. There is superb snorkelling to be had just offshore and the beaches are pristine; you will not have far to go to enjoy a gorgeous stretch of sand all to yourself. It offers the best value of the three islands with a good mix of places to wine and dine cheaply and still retains a very low key pace of life.
Diminutive Gili Meno is in many ways the most distinctive of the three and revels in its tranquil desert island atmosphere and is almost a throwback to a bygone age. You will find no ATM bank machines or late night bars, only picture perfect white sand beaches, often without a single footprint in the sand. Unsurprisingly Gili Meno is an enticing spot for honeymooners to play at being castaway in paradise and there is a handful of alluring boutique villas, all boasting to-die-for views of the ocean. The island is dominated by a salt water lake and has an interesting tourist attraction in the form of a tropical bird park. The waters, particularly on the west coast, are teeming with sea turtles and offer the most spectacular snorkelling. Gili Meno is at its busiest during the day with the arrival of curious daytrippers from the other two Gilis. After dark there is little more to do than linger with a cocktail under the stars, take a romantic stroll through the surf or simply chat into the night by a beach bonfire in the company of the friendly locals.
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