So many people come to Bali and yes they have a fantastic time but they never really find those picture perfect white sands that are often shown in glossy magazines and websites. Bali is really magical and completely stunning but it has over the last few year become a product of it’s very success. That is, it can be over crowded, the traffic jams are seriously insane and the beaches can be polluted int he main tourist areas like Kuta, Seminyak and Canggu. Plus those pristine white sandy beaches that you have been dreaming about can get crowded.
Now I’m not saying all of Bali is like this, there are areas still very secluded and very untouched but these do take time to get to and are off the tourist map. This is where the Gili Islands comes into focus. Most back packers, families and groups make the pilgrimage to the Gili Islands after spending a couple of days in Bali.
They use Bali as a launch point and head off from areas like Sanur and Padang Bai and use the fast boat to get to the Gili Islands within an hour or so. The contrast between the 2 islands is incredible and you notice this as soon as you get off the boat and head up the beach. Bali is fast paced, hectic and super busy, while on the Gili’s they don’t even have cars. You could not get 2 more contrasting islands within such close proximity. Imagine a congested jam packed island like Bali and right next door there’s an island paradise with NO CARS or BIKES!
Bali is all about the shopping, hip bars, nightlife and uber cool restaurants, whilst all 3 Gili Islands are about tranquility, reading books, the marine life and basically hanging out doing nothing.
For those that have never made it to these Islands there are 3 of them; Trawangan, Meno and Air with Trawangan being the most popular and crowded. having said that it’s still pretty laid back. They are all really small and most of the tousrist hotels, bungalows and resorts are located in a very central area, where one is not far from the other. You can get from one side of all of these islands in less than 90 minutes. Most people do the trek around and it’s a good way to see the place on foot. Do it in the afternoon or early morning to avoid the blazing midday sun. In the Gili’s be prepared for some serious down time. My advice is to take a big book and settle in for some serious reading.
Having said that there is still enough to keep those active bodies busy and following are some really cool things to do on the Gili Islands.
Firstly, How do I get to Gilis?
You go by fast boat. This is really the best way to get there. You can take the slower option but why would you when there are cheap sped boats and you can be dipping your toes in the water in 90 min for about a $50 return trip. All boats go to Trawangan and from there you can make your way to Air and Meno for about $10. Make sure you don’t get ripped off by your hotel or dodgy travel operators in Bali who will try to charge you upwards of $100 each way for a ticket. The going price is max $70 for a round trip. Be very careful about this. You can bargain if you like if you think the price is too steep. Head to Sanur as the first point of call and buy your tickets there. Don’t stress about getting a ticket or it being sold out as there are heaps of boats going back and forth.
Which of the three islands to choose?
If you want some action and a bit of nightlife head off to Gili Trawangan. If you are fed up with crowds other tourists and want a very chilled out experience head off to Meno or Air. All islands are similar it;s just that Gili T is the more crowded and popular with more hotel options to choose from and there is also a fairly lively nightlife scene. Heaps of backpackers come here to live cheaply and party hard on the magic mushrooms, full moon parties and drink cheap booze. You can escape this it’s just a matter of staying away from the centre of town after say 10pm.
If you want to scuba dive then all 3 islands offer the same spectacular marine life. In fact some boats from Gili T might end up at part of Meno for the daily dive. It’s sort of interconnected.
Where to stay on the Gili Islands?
There are so many options on all 3 islands. If your on a budget you can stay in a local bungalow for less than $30 per night. These are remarkably quite comfortable and clean considering the cost and most come with air conditioning, private bathrooms your own balcony and you are in a pretty central location not far from the beach. If you have more to spend there is an array of great beach front hotels and resorts where you can be paying anywhere from $100 upwards per night. On average these are roughly $200 per night for a fabulous room right on the beach with a swimming pool. Hotel accommodation on Gili Trawangan is more expensive than the other islands due to its popularity as you would expect.
All hotels, resorts and bungalows over the Gili Islands are really catered for the tourists ( so you do not feel completely isolated) and you will find anyway that you are spending most of your time on the beach swimming or snorkelling. During the peak holiday periods it’s a really good idea to book in advance as places get swamped with tourists wanting that ‘Gili Islands Paradise Experience’.
What to do during your stay on the Gili’s?
This is a no brainer – hit the grab a snorkel and mask and hit the ocean! These islands have incredible marine life with really clear water which makes for unreal scuba and snorkelling. Plus there is an abundance of healthy marine life. This is the place you come to for those magical screen saver photos. The good news here is that most hotels, restaurants and beach side cafes have Wifi so you can post your pics on Instagram at the end of the day to make your mates really jealous.
If you have come to the Gili Islands to scuba dive
there are many schools and charters that will take you out to the reef. If you want to go out to the reef and not dive, that’s fine as well – you can rent snorkel equipment and go with the scuba crew.
Most people that come here are wanting to relax but if you want to socialise, party and meet other travellers then all 3 islands have bars but Trawangan is the place to be. Big nights out are common with the beach littered with hung over bodies the next day.
If your into hanging by the pool and soaking up the sun with a good book then all of the main hotels have a pool and are perfect for this type of lazing around. There is a lot to do on these islands and at the same time there’s not much to do. It’s up to you and your call on how you want to spend you days. Overall the vibe is very relaxed so no matter how hyper you are and how busy you intend to be somehow these islands get to you and you end up becoming very lazy. Perhaps it’s all the hot sun, wonderful sunsets, cool cafes by the beach and very relaxed happy locals.
When’s the best time to go to the Gili Islands?
Any month is a good month – but remember during the Australian holiday periods and mid European winter is can get busy so as advised before book well ahead. It may be the rainy season in Bali (Oct-Dec) but on Gili it is sunny as beautiful blue skies.