I’m adjusting my mask while simultaneously trying not to swallow a pint of sea water when I see something move above the surface. I’m separated from the group because I became distracted stalking a fish that looked like this 🐠, but in the distance I can hear our guide shouting something and pointing in my direction. So naturally, and I suppose a little bit irrationally, I start splashing about thinking there’s a shark with an appetite for short blondes approaching. You’ll be relieved to know it isn’t. Instead I’m extraordinarily close to the beautiful creature we’re all scouring these turquoise waters for…
Sea turtle, Turtle Point Gili Islands
About the Gilis
The Gilis are a short speedboat ride from Lombok or Bali and have been accommodating tourists for decades, after becoming a backpacker mecca in the 80’s and 90’s. These three tiny dots on the map are famous for their bustling coral reefs and white sandy shores.
Sunset Beach, Gili T
We stayed on Gili Trawangan (aka Gili T), the largest and busiest island, but also took a day trip to Gili Air and explored off the coast of Gili Meno. That’s where I came face to face with a majestic sea turtle, as it swam up for air before descending back into the deep.
The snorkelling trip was only 150,000 rp (£7.50) through a company called Lucky Boat Tours, whose HQ you can find along the beach front in the main town. It also included two more stops, starting at the underwater art piece NEST by Jason DeCaires Taylor, and ending at Gili Air for lunch.
NEST, Gili Meno
I was forewarned Gili T was a party island, where dreadlock-loving travellers and YOLO teens congregate in their hundreds. I’d also read it was dirty and loud, so I didn’t expect to stay longer than two days before heading to its quieter and less developed neighbours. We ended up extending our stay for three more days because it was actually pretty awesome.
Gili T Pier
Where to eat and drink
As with many idyllic islands across Asia nowadays, trendy hotels and restaurants are popping up like internet ads on a porn site. This casts a wider net to catch older travellers with deeper pockets, and the result could explain why Gili T isn’t as hectic as it used to be. The main town still has a vibrant nightlife, but there are more chilled out cocktail bars than hedonistic clubs and a refreshing mish-mash of backpackers, honeymooners and families. We loved eating and drinking at the Fat Cats restaurant, which has a beautiful tea-light lit section of beach. Another favourite of ours was the Sama-Sama Reggae Bar, where you can watch a live band play Bob Marley and sip a tasty margarita for 60,000 rp (£3).
Fat Cats, Gili T
Best sunset spots
On the other side of the island, the beach is fringed with laid-back sunset shacks where you can enjoy a breathtaking, unobstructed view of the horizon (minus the occasional Insta-swing). We spent a day at Casa Vintage soaking up the sun with an iced coffee in hand, and in the evening caught this picture perfect moment at the Malibu Beach Club, which has Happy Hour between 6-8pm.
Malibu Beach Club, Gili T
The thriving dive industry has encouraged more and more developers to invest in the Gilis. You can find anything from low-budget hostels to upscale resorts on the islands. We found a happy medium at a hotel called Coconut Dream Bungalows. For around £16 a night, you can retreat to a comfortable, clean double room with an en-suite and air con. The best part was having breakfast on our own private terrace which overlooked the pool.
Coconut Dream Bungalows, Gili T
It’s important to mention there are three Mosques on the island, which although beautiful, may wake you up early in the morning during the daily calls to prayer.
Getting around the island was simple; walk or cycle. There are no cars or mopeds on the Gilis, which add to their natural charm. There are horse and cart rides available, however, the animals looks malnourished and weak so I would avoid using one. Hiring bicycles for the day for 50,000 rp (£2.50) is the most popular way to explore the island. It takes about 2 hours to complete a leisurely lap.
Horse and cart, Gili T
Hidden within this picture-perfect paradise, there’s eye-opening poverty. If you venture further inland down the back streets and alleys you’ll see where the locals live. Understandably, these areas are less attractive with heaps of rubbish dotted about and a rancid smell from decomposing food. As a traveller I think it’s important to see these areas though, as it makes you appreciate the effort this small but kind community is putting in to make your holiday a pleasant one.
Gili T backstreet
Here’s our favourite photos from our time on the Gilis…