Jan 22

Pirate Ship cruising around the Gili Islands, Lombok Over the years, the 3 Gili Islands in the north-west of Lombok have been famous with backpacker tourists.

White sand, crystal-clear cyan-blue waters, no police on the islands and a carefree attitude and tolerance of the locals drew budget tourists in droves.

Recently, the islands also attract a different crowd, disco or party seekers who didn’t find their place at the Full-moon parties of Thailand and even upscale developments change the face of those gems in the Lombok straight.

Is it already too late to let your hair down here?

Lombok as Bali’s sister island, did already many things different. After all, it’s an island mainly dominated by Muslims and the Gili’s (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air) are no exception.

How to get to the Gili’s

Speedboat at East Coast of Gili Trawangan There are generally less people on Lombok then Bali and even fewer find their way to the Gili’s, although travel to the islands has improved a lot lately. There are now at least 5 different speedboat operators (Gilicat, GiliGiliFastBoat, Black Pearl, Mahi Mahi and others), who service Gili Trawangan a few times daily directly from Benoa Harbor on Bali or from Padang Bai in Bali’s East coast.

The prices came down a bit, some can be had as low as 750.000 Rupiah for a return ticket. This improves already a lot the cheap, but long ferry journey from Padang Bai, which goes 24 hours a day, but can take from 4-6 hours, just to get from Bali to Lombok alone. Add to that  the trip from Senggigi or Mataram up the coast and another short boat ride and you can almost loose a whole day, just traveling to and from the Gili’s from Bali.

And of course there is always the option to fly in, for those who don’t like boats at all, have even less time to spend or just have more money and prefer to travel in style compared to us mere mortals.

What’s different here

Arrival on Gili Trawangan, Lombok You won’t find any dogs here (dogs are considered unclean animals in Islam and Muslims are not allowed to touch them), but plenty of cats and the 5-times-a-day call of the Muezzin to the several prayers dictated by the Koran.

There is no natural water on the islands, even a shower has usually salty water, although some upscale resorts use sweet water from a water boat, that comes up to 5 times daily and pumps fresh water into tanks on the island.

Accommodation prices vary from 80.000 Rupiah per night in a small shack up to 150 USD per night in Villa Ombok, Gili Trawangan’s undisputed luxury king with professionally trained staff and almost olympic-sized pool.

Food is generally more expensive than in cheap Senggigi or Bali, with  Nasi Campur or Nasi Goreng starting at 25.000 Rupiah everywhere, a bottle of small Bintang starting from 25.000 Rupiah and with 5-20% Tax and Service Charges generally added to prices.

What’s good

The good things about the Gili’s still remain: the white, powdery sand and the clear, blue water which is so inviting for snorkeling and all other water activities. The marine life is still somewhat intact and you can see muranes, turtles, fire fish and plenty of other creatures just by snorkeling in the shallow waters.

crystal-clear blue waters, white sandy beaches on TrawanganOkay, there are now 2 police men at least on Trawangan – but still you can do what the Gili’s became famous for, relatively unhassled. Smoke is offered to you everywhere and goes for as low as 20.000 per pop or even rolled to finish. Mushroom drinks are widely accepted as an alternative (almost like in Bali) and are offered from 20.000 to 75.000 per cocktail. I would definitely recommend against it, as you don’t know, what quality and how much is used – those drinks can lead you on a very bad trip if taken too much and there are (almost) no available ways of stopping them, once started.

The party life is vary varied, from discos near Villa Ombak or famous Horizontal at the other end (which has sometimes international DJ’s) to Reggaes Bars and cheaper dinking wholes in Trawangan Central, where you can sing along or meet other fellow travelers.

Food options range from Javanese fare, Padang and Seafood to home-made Italian cuisine, Indian to Mexican food options in Central.

What’s annoying

There are also things, that could spoil the image of those pristine islands in the very near future. Mounting heaps of garbage are one of them, growing everywhere and it seems that most people don’t care. Plastic bags are blowing in the wind and starting to pollute the beaches and surrounding waters.

The Cat population (at least on Trawangan) seems to get out of hand currently. They are almost anywhere, begging for food and honestly – the smell of cat piss is literally everywhere, worst felt after a short rain shower.

Constant brownouts will make sure, that you will sweat through your cotton shirt more than once a day. Also during the nights, there is usually less hours electricity than it is. That means, if you paid for an A/C room and the electricity is off, there is nothing you can do – you will still sweat like doing a work out.

Sunrise with Mount Rinjani, Lombok as seen from Gili TrawanganDuring New Year I preferred sleeping on one of the sun beds directly at the beach (as also most local visitors did to save the resort costs), with a fresh breeze and only few mosquitoes making for a light sleep.

So better ask when making a reservation or checking in, if your stay has a generator to kick in when electricity is gone. Otherwise your stay could be a very unpleasant one, if you are not used to tropical nights. Although sleeping at the beach is a good way to check out the sunrise at the Eastern side of Trawangan. ;-)

Now what?

My recommendation of the Gili’s is a clear – Go, do it – now! The positive impressions still outweigh the negative ones, although things are changing fast. The real estate market over there is boiling hot right now. Lombok will probably even get an International Airport soon and things are clearly heating up.

Gili's - here we come Land lots, beach shacks and resorts are changing hands faster than you can keep up with it. Many businesses falter soon as well again, as it also generally seems to be a problem, to attract reliable staff to stay and work a longer period on the islands. Most of the better staff seems to be ‘imported’ from Bali these days.

There is an increasing trend towards more upscale resorts, holiday and package deals, with steeply rising prices as mentioned by many, who come already for years and years.

What are your experiences about the Gili Islands? Have you been there or planning to go? What would you recommend to first-time travelers to the Gili’s?

Please help out other readers by adding your valuable experiences in the comment form.

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written by Chris

19 Responses to “Gili Islands near Lombok – to go or to avoid?”

  1. JurgenNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    One thing I would add are the incredible strong currents just 10 meters from the shore on the north-eastern side of the beach (the most beautiful one!) which kick in when the slope starts. They can make your snorkeling experience a real nightmare. Even a powerful swimmer like me has no chance at all to swim against them. Your only choice is to let yourself float and swim out of it in a 20 degree angle. In this way you will exit the water more or less near the harbor…

  2. dodong floresNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    That’s the problem with every soon-to-be-developed tourist attraction. Tourists will flock the place and appreciate it’s beauty but after that, piles and heaps of trash will be left. I hope this kind of attitude will be changed. I also prefer for any beautiful sites just to be left intact and as it is. That could be better as compared to developing a place and commercialize it…

    Belated Happy New Year, Chris!

  3. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Oh yeah, the currents there are not to be underestimated. I felt them too, Jurgen! Strangely they seem to be stronger the later it is in the afternoon, must be a low-tide/high-tide thing.

    Dodong, we humans are strange creature, longing for unspoiled nature and solitude away from it all, but need infrastructure and comfort at the same way. Trying to combine both, we destroy it all. Thanks for the wishes, I will check out El Nido and Davao when going to your home country in about 3 weeks time for 3 months, just to make sure that I see all the nice sights before mass tourism kicks in. :D

  4. Amanda, traveling wedding photographerNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    Oh man …… I’m in Utah now and I’m just drooling. ;)
    They look amazing. I have United flight benefits now ( which means I can get to Sydney cheap ). That means …. Bali and possibly the Gili’s may become a reality. I hope all has been well Chris!


  5. SergeyNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    my 2 cents.

    1) no problems with muslims calls on gili air. and it is cheaper there.
    2) it is veeery boring. spend 4 days here on nothing just chatting and snorkling. Trawangan are offerring some more antiboring facilities. Reccomend island hoping each day.
    3) sand has a lot of corals there, so you can’t lie directly on it.
    4) turtles and their numbers is amazing there – sometimes you can see them from beach.

  6. CrocketNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    I went to Gili Trawangan 20 years ago and again a few years ago. In 1990 it had the most beautiful corals everywhere (mostly soft corals) I had ever had the pleasure to snorkel. I stayed there for 9 days of simple bliss in a bamboo bungalow, there were not many if any AC rooms in those days. Our room with meals was 8 or 9 US bucks a day. The ocean was a paradise of life, even seen quite a few lion fish. Also Bali at that time had made topless and other forms of nudity forbidden so the flocks who wanted that freedom went to the Gili’s – and lots snorkeling there in the buff. Also the other nice thing was the ease of getting to into the water and the corals could even be seen from the beach – the water was that clear. Currents were strong and we always just went with the flow and then angled in and walked back – often to do it all over again.

    And now, a few years back anyway, that was all gone, and I mean really gone – meaning the clean paradise teaming with fish and corals right there and not have to go to some other island that had not been screwed up (and yes I did not see anyone in the buff either). Some parts of the beach had real nasty sand fleas – as many do with dead corals. I got a bunch of nasties by just walking along the beach on the first night and scratched for days afterwards. There are now some quite big efforts going on for reef restoration – google for that and you will find lots of info. But it will take many years just to get it somewhat back and I doubt it will ever be what it once was.

    I will say though the rooms are much better and food is really good – even wood fired oven pizza’s – one place was even better than Ubud.

    Anyway that’s a snippet of history and made me heartbroken to see how badly the little ocean paradise was wreaked. And most of the people spent time not in the water but lazing during the day and wandering around at night seeking someplace new to get dinner. The whole thing was reversed as before most people were waiting for dawn to get into that fantastical ocean. Cheers !!

  7. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Amanda, yup – all is well here and best regards back to Utah! Great additions about the Gili’s by Sergey and Crocket! ;-)

  8. DmitryNo Gravatar THAILAND Says:

    A few words about Gilis from me.

    I am Russian, live mostly in SE Asia last 1,5 years (and travelled there often another 2,5 years before). Just around 3 weeks ago had finally a chance to visit Gili. Here’s my experience:

    First, we arrived from Lombok to Gili Air, as it’s nearest to Lombok, and seems to get the crown of “party place” which Trawangan previously had. It was low season, so, as my friends wanted to find CHEAP accomodation (and 80-100k is not cheap for them, as they’re working in summer in Russia to get money for their trip, and the salaries in Moscow are neither European nor U.S. ones). After 2 hours we’ve found 2 nice rooms in the center of the village and bargained for 50k each room if staying 5 days, much better than those bungalows offered near the harbor for 70-80k.

    What I can say about Air? Eastern beach with restaurants, bars and even some hotels looks a bit touristic. Fortunately it was quiet also, so we never seen hordes of tourists there, and the weather already good. Other parts are better and quieter. Still easy to find MJ or mushrooms (but if you’re about that, better go to Meno and go to the fields next day after rain :-) ) for sale, but of course many people tried to rip off us. Finally we got quite a big bag (10 grams i guess, or around half a glass by volume) of KILLER buds for 150k from our place owner. Before we were offered 3x or 4x smaller bags for 100k or even 150k, by the way.

    Besides smoking and visiting beaches/snorkeling (bring your own snorkeling mask, don’t support tourist ripoff, it’s not heavy anyway) etc., and, for me, sitting online using my mobile and working – yes, there wasn’t much entertainment on the island. But it’s still very relaxing (except eastern beach), and local people are friendy too. Just some touts on the main eastern beach tried to rip us off for a first day or two, after they gave up. Eastern beach seems to be very popular with drunken bule girls from Bali, who then start to misbehave with local guys there (and they, of course, take this advantage). Beer is not cheap. I spotted Bintang cheaper for 25k only in one place and just in happy hour 5 to 8 pm. They, however, give free snacks with beer (popcorn & kerupuk) – nice value, as no Indomaret to buy bere for 17000-18000 there. And yes, our homestay owner sometimes brought a bottle of Brem (rice wine) and drank it with us, for free. :-D

    And about parties – yes there was at least one. And they even had some trance music… sometimes, sometimes it was a total crap. Was offered Ecstasy for 300k (that’s $33) – hell, it’s cheaper than THAT even back in Russia, not to mention more soft drug-tolerant European countries! Guess they wanted to sell me 1 for the price of 3, and then take 2 themselves :-D of course I refused that. Most of the public was, however, local people, not foreigners. Some were just drinking (as I did), some looked as if they took something else… Closed around 2 am.

    In Space bar on the northwestern beach, I was told told they’ll have party (maybe better one, as away from tourist beach), but only on 8 may – too late for me, I was in Jakarta that day.

    After Air, we headed to Gili Meno. It was quieter (almost totally after midnight), but even better. And i don’t know why Wikitravel says the accomodation there is expensive! Don’t know how about high season, but we got bungalows, for same 50k, not so nice as our homestay on Air, but just 2 min from the beach also. As about food.. well, I never paid anything more than 15k (normally 6-10k) for a single dish on Meno. Mostly dined at warung ya ya just to the right from the harbor.

    In a few days, however, we were slowly running out of cash. As such, one day I went to Trawangan. Got out from the boat and, after 5 minutes walk to the left (people said the ATM’s are there) was really scared! Bcos it felt even MORE touristic than, say, Kuta on last year’s May. Hotels (with pools etc.), travel agencies selling boat tickets to Bali for a crazy price (600000+ for a 50 km trip by speed boat? hm I arrived from Surabaya to Lombok by plane for 319 incl. airport tax, and it’s MUCH more far!!), terrific prices posted on many restaurants (how about 30-40k for a mere 100 grams of FISH… on the tropical ISLAND… is it imported there? :-D ). And the beach… so so, anyway i wouldn’t like to go swim in front of that tourist hell. To the right from the harbour situation is a bit better, but the prices are still 2x than on Air/Meno even in local-style restaurants. And touts approached me quite often, even though normally they see I do not look like a “fresh chicken” just from Bule land with lots of euros or US$ to throw.

    There were some announcements of ongoing parties on many bars – but I guess it’s something like Kuta/Jl.Legian parties, not same that were there before. Neither of the places didn’t make me want to stay overnight on Trawangan.

    So, I even wanted to go back to Meno via Bangsal (to not to wait till 4pm), but unfortunately there were not enough people who wanted to do the same, and if later I just risked to get stranded on Lombok, boats to Meno are not frequent. So, mostly i just sat online drinking overpriced (10-17k depending where) coffee, worked a bit, then finally left to Meno. Sure if I’ll go to Trawangan again – it would be just for the same reason (ATM) as last time.

    In short:

    Trawangan is next to nothing now, I mean if you’re a traveller and/or from the psytrance party people community, not a 2 weeks tourist wishing to drink and pay 3x for everything all those 2 weeks.

    Meno is quiet, but I was not bored there. No parties however, just except one small drinking place near the harbour that was open till 1am. Beaches are the nicest of all 3 Gilis for sure!

    Air is not as much spoiled as Trawangan, and seems to still have some parties (maybe in the high season more/better ones, but afraid more Bali tourists too). Also, the local community certainly outnumbers foreigners (in low season), so you don’t feel like you’re in tourist place. If you’re concerned about that – just stay away from eastern (looking to Lombok) beach.

    And yes, it was a good idea to visit Gilis while it’s low season. If (more correctly to say “when” :-) ) I’m in Indo in high season, probably I’ll avoid both Bali and Gili, and head to some less spoiled places.

  9. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Dmitry, great update about the Gilis. Definitely a different perspective and very detailed. And even on a budget, you can still have good bargains there, that’s good to know. Thanks a lot!

    Regarding the synthetic pills and whatever they sell there, I can only recommend to be cautious and refrain from it. Most of it is probably not real, as they mainly sell pure sugar or pills stretched with flour or whatever. There was even an article in the Bali Times, that police arrested a dealer of that stuff. But he was only fined 5.000 Rupiah (0.50 USD), because all things he sold were made of sugar. Tourists caught with that merchandise routinely pay a fortune in bribes (and I mean tens of thousands of $$ or Euros) or rot in Kerobokan jail for many years to come. Do I hear the words double standard? Lol! Better stick with natural merchandise in Lombok and none at all (maybe only MMs, coz it’s part of the culture) in Bali.

    Remember: 1 joint can get you 10 years in jail here – and they even jailed a 70-year old guy who smoked it against his back pain. :(

  10. Travel Health GuruNo Gravatar UNITED KINGDOM Says:

    Personally I would avoid the Gilis. I went in the 1990s and then again this year in April and I could not believe how much they have changed, it is now just an extension of Thai islands where young people go and drink.

  11. Nice FranceNo Gravatar CANADA Says:

    Hey Chris,
    I am disappointed to hear about all of the damage the influx of tourism has done to this once beautiful island. I think that the heaps of garbage is probably leading to the increases in the cat population (and cat piss smell). It is truly a shame.

  12. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Yup! :-o

  13. tempo duluNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    I was there recently Chris and pretty shocked by what I saw to be honest. I didn’t go to either Gili Meno or Gili Air, but Gili Trawangan is suffering very badly from the effects of excesive mass market tourism. Sad really.

  14. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Yup, doesn’t look good for the few remaining paradise islands, tempo dulu. :(

  15. austynNo Gravatar UNITED KINGDOM Says:

    This is all a bit sad. Me and my great mate Mike were also here in 1990 and remember it as paradise. You could get in the current with snorkel at one end of trawangan and take a ride to the other just going with the flow, above some beautiful coral and hilarious fish. Get out, walk back and do it again. We also foolishly swam to meno (against all advice: this is what we mainly used our guide book for: if it said categorically not to do something that appeared to be something of a challenge) and got lucky. The only thing on meno then was us and a couple of cigarettes we’d waterproofed for the ride. happy, happy days.

    We were probably there at the same time as some of you guys. Glad to share that with you! However, I don’t want to see it now. I think we were very lucky.

  16. chica tumadreNo Gravatar UNITED KINGDOM Says:

    The cool gili of a couple years ago is gone. If you want the pristine tropical island and local people that aren’t totally jaded and eyeing you as a mark then go to the two neighboring islands meno and air, that are still cheap, pristine and cool. Gili is getting gross and gets worse everyday. Not only that it has actually become dangerous which is hard to believe in this little island but horribly true. While i was staying there 7 GIRLS DIED in less than a 3 month period! Actually it was more than that from 7 to 12 depending on who you talked to with the last one being a guy whose girlfriend had been found dead the day before. It was surreal in this tiny community where you knew everything about everyone when this was going on no one would even mention it! The western business owners were only concerned with keeping it quiet so their business’s werent affected. It was sickening, these were young people, peoples kids like 19 to 30 year olds doing their dream vacation and people were acting like it was nothing on an island where if someone got drunk and made a fool out of themselves everyone would know it before lunch yet i dont even know how many people died. you’d here about another one and be like ‘is that the one they found at xx hotel’and theywould be like ‘no that was last week’ etc. That was around may last year and stopped as suddenly as it started after a couple people wouldnt let it drop. It was blamed on the bad batch of liquor that had killed some tourists in bali even tho it made no sense as this struck only one person every week or so who were all young single girls who had become suddenly ill at the bar the nite b4 and been found dead in the morning. After talking to enough people to learn that date rape was a dirty little secret on the island and happened who knows how much in a place where even if there was the infrastructure to report it or whatever, to expect a western response in a muslim country to a western single woman coming in and saying she was at a bar and must have been drugged because she passed out and was raped unfortunatly is unrealistic. Talking to people it became obvious that these people had been killed by a home made date rape drug that was lethal. When thae last couple died in one weekend the island heads obviously had the suspected culprits warned off the island cuz businesses were getting worried. That and divers getting lost and some other drownings and no medical help on the island is a lot and not known. In the last few months I was there were even incidents of people being mugged and robbed on their way home from the bars at night which will change the island. The whole thing on the island is that it safe and there isnt street lights or even electricity and everyone gets wasted and finds their way home in the dark, down deserted little streets where there is no one around. Half the tourists you see staggering home can barely stand up So once people hear that people have gone up to them and taken their money and phones (big things in a poor country) so easily and got away with it will of course spread rapidly and inevitably escalate in violence. I mean theyll be segregated and gated tourist only beaches before you know it.
    I just left after nearly 2 years and couldnt believe the change in even that short amount of time. There were still some cool travellers when i arrived who like myself are gone and wont be back. The tourists that go their now are the grossest kind of clueless yuppie and ignorant bank clerks going wild on vacation and the locals actually hate us and everyone of them is trying to see what they can get from you from your sunglasses to marriage (the jackpot). Its horrible to realise every single relationship and exchange you have from such seemingly lovely, sincere people is totally fake and feels awful to realise people youve hung out with thinking as friends are just working you to see what they can get. Sorry to be totally negative but be forwarned this place has become the new ko samui, mainstream party island. It happens. just a ten minute boat ride away are other perfect island just like gili was and beatiful places everywhere in indonesia, So look around . barbara

  17. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    chica tumadre, there is a lot of truth in what you’re saying here. Although I didn’t perceived it as THAT bad yet last New Year, as you mentioned, I heard also directly from a white girl, who was offered to do Magic Mushrooms for free and was raped by 3 locals in the process. Of course she only blamed herself, being completely wasted and out of control by all the booze and substances she used.

    But it IS an open secret that on Gili T, women go there to get laid easily and those single ones who don’t go there for that reason are pressured or even forced.

    Probably the date rape drugs you mentioned are used to make those things easier. It’s a pity that all this obviously seem to get out of hand and the 3 police men on the island are probably well-paid to not disturb the peace about what’s going on there.

    So everyone who’s reading this: please be aware of shady actions on the Gili’s and make up your own mind. Only travel with friends and have someone staying sober and watch out for what happens with the others. Crime, drownings and those things mentioned happen elsewhere also, but it seems, that those occurrences on Gili T are currently out of hand. :-/

  18. worldcitizenNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Interesting reading , especially those comments from teh guys who went to GT in the 90s.
    I have been especially prviliged to visit GT more than 25 years ago 1984. We realized immediately that this was a paradise which would not stay like that in the future. There was one single guesthouse in the middle of the islaand where you could stay with a local family . They provided food as well because there were no restaurants, no accomodation at the beach, no bar….just a wonderful nature, a completely unbelievable snorkling experience and maybe 6 other backpackers apart from us.
    We stayed for over a week and I decided that I would never go back because that place will stay in my memories the way I had the chance to experience it..
    I am not surprised at all that it is today as you describe it above.

  19. MaretaNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    I will go to gili air next month. I check many sea food stuff there. Do you think a vegetarian can survive with different menu everyday? i will stay a week..
    Any recomendation for veg resto..?

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