The Gili islands are 3 small coral cays a short distance off the north west corner of Lombok - G Air, G Meno and G Trawangan as you go away from the coast.
The Gilis looking back towards the mainland - Trawangan, Meno and then Air. Rinjani volcano is at top left (image Lombok Travel)
(I’ve visited the Gilis 3 times in the past 10 years. Most of this report was written after the April06 trip, but I have inserted UPDATES in both text and photos from my latest May09 visit where appropriate.)
These are ideal places for beach lovers, divers and snorkellers. I visited all 3 for the second time last April. These islands are pretty attractive and laid back (although the party scene in Sentral on Gili Trawangan would keep most ragers happy) - the perfect place for a budget or midrange holiday. Overall, things were very quiet, although last August in high season was not particularly busy either. UPDATE MAY09 - recent travel forum reports indicate the Gilis have undergone a revival in interest, particularly Trawangan. Apparently high season 08 saw a shortage of vacancies and pretty high prices. My May 09 shoulder season visit saw more people on Trawangan than previous trips. Air was still pretty relaxed though. I didn't get to Meno latest trip, but it looked as quiet as ever when my island hopping boat called in to the pier on the way between Trawangan and Air.
All three are great but I enjoyed Air the most. The popular beach section in the south of the east coast was cleaner than Trawangan and had a better range of accom and restaurants than lovely Meno.
If your budget is low end, an outstanding place in this beach area is Sunrise Hotel and Restaurant - tel/fax (0370) 642370). I got a huge lumbung (rice barge type) 2 storey bungalow in a nice garden setting, single, including a simple but nice breakfast for $US 8. In high season the guy told me 10-12 was more likely. They have a big, good restaurant and great bales (sitting platforms) outside overlooking the beach where you can sit and eat and watch the action, including nice sunrises over Rinjani volcano on mainland Lombok. You can also check this from your big upper deck on many of the lumbungs .
The sitting platforms (bales) near Sunrise Hotel on Gili Air's east coast - mainland Lombok in the background (image Panoramio-Lombok Gili Air)
This area has many other restaurants, some bars, shops, internet, a lot of even cheaper accom and is about 10 minutes walk to the right when you get off the boat. Or 3 minutes by dokar aka cidimo - pony cart, which is the island form of taxi. No cars, motorcycles - just cidomos, bicycles or walking. No dogs.
This is a May09 shot of the great bungalows at Surnrise Hotel. The place has moved upmarket a bit but $US18 for a fan bungalow is still not bad for such a nice place in a key position. High season and aircon sees more.
A less expensive place another 10 minutes walk further north in a quite section of the coast which gets very good posts is Santay Beach Bungalows - Google will find its website.
I wanted somewhere nearer the harbour this latest trip and got me a $11 room including breakfast and aircon just to the left at tiny Hotel Gili Indah. This was a pretty reasonable place which also had two fan bungalows with nice sea and mainland views in front for around the same price. Next door was the rather flash Hotel Villa Karang with a nice pool and some good looking bungalows which were being discounted fairly fiercely in what was shoulder season.-----------------------------------------------------------
There is fairly good coral and fish life about 20 m off the beach where the reef drops off into deep water. A feature of all the "best" beach places I mention here is that there is usually a current moving alongshore parallel to the beach - you can fall in the water, snorkel out to the reef drop off, float along with the current for as long as you want, swim back to shore, walk back along the beach and repeat the exercise if you fancy. The perfect lazy person's way to snorkel.
.Like it's counterpart at Trawangan, the nicest beach area on Air now has beach furniture provided free by the warungs who's sitting bales you can see immediately behind. This is a real nice area to spend time. Those boats are 3 island snorkelling craft put in for some eats and beach time (CLICK TO EXPAND IMAGE).
The glass bottom boat trip for about $6 which is available from all 3 islands visits about half a dozen of the best snorkelling spots around the Gilis. I saw some great turtles on the Meno Banks on this good value trip which includes some beachtime for lunch.
Air is not big - I walked around in an hour 40 and bicycled in around 40 with stops, although there are sections of loose sand on the track where you have to walk the bike.
There is an island hopping boat morning and afternoon where you can go across and daytrip or transfer to one of the other islands for less about $2. UPDATE MAY09 - the island hopping boat between Trawangan and Air cost me 23k (around $US2.30) this trip, but buy your ticket at the public ticket office at the harbour - I was quoted 50k and 35k by various tour organisers around the island).
Meno is the quietest, most laid back island. I stayed right opposite the boat landing point at a place called Pondok Wisata (no sign) for $5 - no brekka. This is the place with the great bales overhanging the beach, with good views of Gili Air and Rinjani. Food here is good and sensationally cheap for people staying on Meno (they actually have a higher price menu for daytrippers) - try $1 for Nasi Goreng special complete with a lump of fried chicken.
The drinks/eats bales overhanging the beach outside Pondok Wisata on Meno. Great with a Bintang and a book to while away a lazy afternoon (image Panoramio-matsf)
The beach here is attractive although there is some boat traffic - the beach gets even better 100m south and continues another 500m around the south-east corner, with nice coral on the reef drop off only 25m or so from shore. Last August there were about 30 swimmer/sunbathers maximum at any time along this lovely strip - latest trip, a half dozen. There are some very nice midrange places here (Gazebo is one) and a class budget place called Malia Child. For some reason they wanted $10 with brekka - a Belgian friend of mine paid $7 last high season. Maybe it's my rough head - they only had one other guest.
If you want to get right away from it, I could suggest Blue Coral Bungalows about 20 minutes walk to the north. I stayed there last August - $6 no brekka - nice people, good traditional bungalows across from an average beach, but the restaurant was mediocre and it was a hell of a slog down to the nice beach/multi restaurant area.
Sunrise from Meno near Blue Coral Bungalows - that is Gili Air across the passage with mainland Lombok and Rinjani vocano behind (image Panoramio Cola en Pia)
Sunset from the Sunset warung on the northwest of Meno is pretty special. I walked up from Wisata in about 25 minutes and hitched a ride back with some Brits on their cidomo. The driver charged me $1 and told me he charged the Brit’s a little more each way.
Seems low to me, but it was low season.
Trawangan is the liveliest island and has the most midrange and upper accommodation. Budget places are not in short supply either. I wanted to stay opposite the nice beach area and found a nice place rec on a website - Ozzies. Okay, it had great big tiled rooms and a nice balcony for $8 including brekka. Very nice. The room was so big there was another double matress leaning against the wall and even with this on the floor there would still be plenty of room to move around. So those wanting 3 or 4 to share a room could give this place a look. It is only about 5 minutes walk to the north off the boat and is actually about 100m north of the "in" beach and snorkel spot, although I thought the beach and reef drop off adjacent Ossies were nicer.
This is a May09 shot of the Ozzies block of rooms I stayed at the previous visit. But the place has moved considerably upmarket - these rooms were now 200k (still fan but no doubt flashed up inside as much as these balconies) and there were some new and very attractive A-frame aircon bungalows out front for 350.
This May09 shot shows the main beach area. The beach chairs are new from my last visit, but not as bad as appears - they are provided free by the restaurants and bars along the beach road provided you buy some food or drink (and they didn't seem to be sticklers for insisting on this). It seems sand quality in this area has been adversely affected by dust from the unpaved beach road and crowds began to drop off in favour of nice areas further north - the beach furniture has
certainly attracted people back. I actually think it is now a nicer place to spend time. Note that the beach road has since been concreted - last year according to locals.
There is a heap of restaurants along the beach strip (and plenty of other accommodation) and it is only 10 minutes walk from "Sentral" - the downtown area of restaurants and bars, which is quite attractive and gets a festive air at night. This is party area - but for revellers real late into the night a different place every second night is the venue. Latest info in 2011 is that the real late parties are running Mondays at the Blue Marlin Dive Club, Wednesdays at Tir na nOg Irish Club and Fridays at Rudy's. Lots of places showing latest movies on big video screens, or you can sit back in a bar or restaurant and check the lights of adjacent Meno and mainland Lombok.
Part of Sentral. Some of the restaurants on the left have pretty nice views of the sea and mainland Lombok. Pretty lights and night.
If you want to get away from it, there are some great laid back budget places on the southern end of the west coast about 15 minutes walk from Sentral - Sunset and Bintang Bungalows are two. I stayed at Bintang last high season for $6 incl brekka - nice, big, clean basic bungalows. I just had to ride my hire bicycle around for another sunset show on Bintang's bales this trip - they flag down passersby and invite them to watch sunset over Agung volcano on Bali while they take orders for beers etc from the restaurant. Not a bad way to end daylight. UDATE MAY09 - Bintang is closed! So much more my inflluence. Sunset and its more northerly neighbour Dewi Sri were still going strong.
A May09 shot of Sunset Bungalows - around 100k with breakfast. Unexpectedly about 500m of the sandy coast track has been paved along here - including a separate footpath and set of steps which start the climb up Trawangan Hill in the area immediately on the Sentral side of Sunset.
May09 shot of section of the west coast from Trawangan Hill. Note the triangle of Bali's Agung volcano on left horizon. This coast is still the least settled part of Trawangan with only a few new subdivisions advertising villa sites. The north coast has quite a few new high end places either open or under construction. But the most changed area was the east coast north of the popular beach area where a whole array of mainly midrange places has appeared since my last visit. A lot of these have beach furniture across the road out front, but there is still plenty of beach space to fit your towel. The beach area seemed to be more tidy and manicured, one bonus of midrange development. Sentral seemed to have a few new more upmarket joints and the south-western end stretching towards Sunrise has some new flasher places and a markedly expanded Villa Ombak. Overall, most of the changes on Trawangan seem to have been to cater for midrange and upmarket visitors. There is still plenty of budget accommodation, notably in the lanes of the village but I would say Trawangan is no longer just a backpacker stronghold. And budget travellers will pay more than similar accommodation elsewhere. I grabbed a room right off the boat at Melati Homestay about 15m up the lane opposite the public ticket office in the harbour area - no great shakes and shoulder season - 120k - 30k dearer than similar places I stayed at this trip. More details below.Update - MELATI HOMESTAY - visited April 09
What sort of a place can you get arriving cold and taking the first accommodation offered by a tout on the beach?
Well, in the case of Melati Homestay, not brilliant but adequate.
Perama’s direct boat from Padangbai in Bali had engine trouble meaning it just on dark when I hit the beach at Trawangan. I knew a couple of nice distant lodgings from previous trips but was not in the mood to hike to them. So when a local guy waiting on the beach told me he had a nice room 2 minutes away, I decided to take a look.
POSITION. Melati Homestay is 15m up one of the small alleys off the main around island coastal track opposite the boat landing area - take the alley almost opposite the public boat ticket- office - there is a MELATI SIGN on the corner with several others. This is a very handy location - 5 minutes south of the best beach area, 5 minutes north of SENTRAL, the bustling “downtown” area of Trawangan, and surrounded by a host of restaurants, dive shops and other tourist orientated businesses along the main coastal track. Pretty quiet at night - some very distant thumping of a base speaker, the call to prayers at the mosque a few blocks over before sunrise and a busy community centre across the alley which kicked in after 6am.
THE ROOM. In a block of about 6. Spacious with plenty of room for 2 plus gear. Concrete interior walls, tiled floors, looking a bit used. Big king sized bed, soft slightly saggy but comfy mattress, nice pillows. 2 fans, lights a bit poor. Okay clothes storage, a dressing table, no hooks, no shelves. Big bathroom, western toilet, good water pressure (water pretty salty), no basin/soap/toilet paper. Mirror in main room, not bathroom which is a bummer for shaving.
Spacious veranda with seats/table, clothes hanging line.
STAFF. Very friendly guys with a can-do attitude. One fan stopped working - sealed non-repairable type. Stops working, you throw it away. Guy said it needed oil, unsealed it with a screwdriver, added some oil, reassembled it. Worked a charm.
Gets better - I noticed water leaking from shower connection pipe, so I figured the little tap there needed tightening. The whole fitting broke off in my hand! The salty water had corroded the metal. Water shooting across bathroom from broken fitting and hitting opposite wall. Guy takes 5 minutes to turn water off and them comes in with an a pair of pliers! No pipe wrench which is the minimum I would need with a job like this. Replaces fitting with a brand new one in 2 minutes flat. Where did he get a new fitting at 9pm? Even had some of that special thread-sealing tape plumbers use. I got the impression corroded fittings are not a surprise on Trawangan.
These blokes remind me of my dad’s generation who could fix anything. Had to, they had as little money as the average Indonesian now.
VALUE. I’m not real sure. 125k including breakfast was a fair bit more than I’d been paying for better rooms back in Bali, but I’d seen a few posts saying how dear Gili prices had become. Anyway, 125 is still a bargain by western standards.
Brekka was basic - coffee/tea plus choice of sandwich/pancake/jaffle. But the jaffles were tasty, and I do enjoy that sludgy Bali/Lombok coffee. Phone 0370/642352
FINANCIAL UPDATE - I heard in early 2011 that Trawangan has at last got two ATMs.
Getting to the Gilis:
Lombok’s Mataram airport is international - there is a regular flight from Singapore.
There are very cheap fares from Bali’s Denpasar airport to Mataram on mainland Lombok - at the time of writing Merpati was charging about $US30 one way. Mataram airport is less than an hour by taxi (approx. $6) from the little port of Bangsal***, where motorised praus will transfer you to the islands for a few dollars in around 20 to 45 minutes.
If you are staying in Senggigi, Lombok’s main tourist town, several outfits including Perama run morning boats along the spectacularly mountainous coast and across to the Gilis. This delightful trip takes about 90 minutes and costs about $6.
A cheaper way of getting to Lombok from Bali is by big vehicle carrying passenger ferries which leave Padang Bai on Bali’s east coast hourly and dock at Lembar, a kind of Sydney harbour without the buildings in Lombok’s south west. The trip takes 3 to 4 hours. The cost is about $3, and the 3 hours to Bangsal by local buses, changing in Mataram and Senggigi, will cost about the same.
However a much less complicated way is to use one of the big Indonesian transport companies like Perama or Nominasi. Perama can pick you up at your hotel in Bali and have you on the Gilis for around $15 inclusive, using their own shuttlebuses, and their ferry from Padang Bai in eastern Bali.
Other companies use the big car/passenger ferries from Padang Bai. Unless you leave Kuta Bali really early, you will not make the last boat to the islands - but Senggigi is a nice place to spend the night with plenty of restaurants, lots of accom of all standards and some nightlife.
UPDATE MAYO9 - with so many upmarket travellers heading to the Gilis there are now about 3 companies running speedboats direct from Bali. Some start in Padanbai in East Bali and one starts at Tanjung Benoa port near Kuta. http://www.lomboktropic.com/bali-gili-islands-fast-boat-transfer.htm. At least one outfit will divert to Nusa Lembongan for an extra fee - UPDATE JULY O9 - FARFLUNG JUST GAVE THIS ADVICE: There is now a daily speedboat service between Nusa Lembongan and Gili Trawangan operated by BlueWater Express. It takes just 1.5 hrs. and costs Rp590,000 one way.
FURTHER UPDATE - LEMBONGAN-GILIS
Blue Water Express now has a combination ticket from Sanur to Nusa Lembongan and the Gilis - same return.
Blue Water Express now has a combination ticket from Sanur to Nusa Lembongan and the Gilis - same return.
Perama also has a slow-boat from Padangbai starting early afternoon and taking about 4 hours. This goes direct to the island and then on to Senggigi. The return trip goes direct Senggigi to Padangbai at 9am which is not so great because Gilis people have to catch the very early public boat to Bangsal and then Perama's shuttle to Senggigi.
Gilis ahead. Actually just after I took this shot the boat's main motor blew up! All Perama boats have 2 motors so after a bit of mucking about we motored slowly into Trawangan some 30 minutes late. I travelled over 500km on Perama boats this May09 trip (Gilis and back plus Flores to Lombok) and that was the only trouble experienced. This is actually a pretty relaxed way to access the Gilis - and they feed you! The brekka on the return boat from Senggigi is welcomed by people who have left the Gilis at 7am. The boat has sand spread on a rear deck for sun-bathing and comfortable seats downstairs for shade lovers.
Dokars are the taxi service on the Gilis (image Panoramio Cola en Pia)
***Bangsal, the mainland departure point opposite the Gilis, has a bad reputation for hassle. It is a bit hectic but no real problem. It is only a 400m trip from the carpark where taxis and buses drop you, to the boat - easily walked if your luggage is not huge. Otherwise about one dollar per person for the cidimos seemed to be acceptable, although they will ask for more. Always agree on the price first.
Don't buy boat tickets off anyone in the carpark or on the way down the road, and stay away from the restaurant across the road from the carpark where they will try to sell you half of Gili Trawangan and a RTW ticket for $25 all up. For another $2 they will throw in a night with Miss Indonesia. Go to the boat ticket office right on the beach to the left - a whitish building abt 20m from the water.
Note that if you arrive after abt 4pm you are unlikely to get a boat unless you charter one individually.
Don't allow a porter to grab your heavy bag from the cidimo or boat on return until you fix a price - it seems from discussion that no more than 3000 per item is the go.
Kids will also offer to wash your feet with bottles of water coming off the beach on return - don't know what a fair price is here.
UPDATE - Oct 07.
le, a resident of some years on the islands, has provided some good info on accessing the Gilis:
"Bangsal-gilis - Here's the cheap way:
Walk out of the airport in Mataram and get a blue bird taxi. Tell the driver to go to Bangsal. It takes about an hour and the taxi's are metered and reliable. Make sure the taxi takes you right to the beach front. Do not stop at any restaurants, 'ticket offices' etc on the road. You buy a ticket for the public boat in the building on the beach at the desk. Prices keep changing as fuel goes up but it will be around 10-15,000 rph. There isn't really a schedule. The public boat goes when it is full. Boats go fairly often in the morning but in the middle of the day they won't go as not enough people want to make the trip. A boat will leave from Bangsal to Trawangan at some time between 4pm and 5.30pm. It takes about 40 minutes to get to the island. You can charter a boat but you will have to negotiate hard. Most people get ripped off. Just say no thanks!
The expensive way:
Email/Phone one of the dive shops on Gili Trawangan (Big Bubble, Manta, etc) and ask them to arrange a speedboat pick up from Teluk Nara for you ($25 ++). Go to the taxi desk and buy a voucher to go to Teluk Nara. You will have been told where in Teluk Nara the boat will pick you up and the driver will probably have been there before. Teluk Nara is very close to Bangsal so takes about 1 hour from the airport. Speed boat takes 15 minutes."
UPDATE OCT 08 - how quickly things change. For some time the Gilis were doing it tough with a shortage of travellers even in high season. Now apparantly Trawangan has returned to earlier super busy times - and at the same time is developing more as a midrange destination. Adam recennly gave this very useful information:
I recently spent 2 weeks on Trawangan and have to say that anyone on a budget should avoid Gili Trawangan in August. It is hardly a backpacker place these days as expensive new hotels and restaurants open up at a rapid rate. Hotel room prices at this time bear absolutely no relation to reality in Bali or most other places in the country. A room that would probably cost 50,000rp in most places can go for 200,000rp or more. Even bicycle hire is a whopping 70,000rp for one day, more than a motorcycle costs on Bali and most Thai islands. The best budget option we could find was Pondok Melati in the village for 100,000rp (after bargaining and without breakfast). Not a bad option but the price for other customers was fluctuating everyday like many other places on Trawangan.
As a result of such prices, it is probably best to avoid the Perama boat from Bali as it isn't so cheap (350,000rp), takes 5 hours from Padangbai and arrives around 6pm when it's difficult to get a room and easy to ripped off for a room when searching in the dark. If coming from Kuta or Sanur a better option is a flight with which takes 20 minutes. Indonesia Air Transport offers the best value at 382,000rp for a ride in a clean Fokker 50 prop plane. Merpati costs 416,000rp and Trigana (not recommended, the prop plane was very dirty, old and hot) was 442,000rp. Don't forget 30,000rp airport tax from Bali and 20,000rp from Lombok. A taxi or private car to Bangsal is around 100,000rp, and the public boat to Trawangan is 10,000rp (8,000rp to Gili Air and 9,000rp to Meno).
Whilst Trawangan is a pleasant place, we preferred Gili Air. We stayed at a budget place called Blue Moon Bungalows for 80,000rp inc. breakfast. Very kind staff, and located in the heart of the village so you can watch local life from your balcony. Also, lots of privacy. It is not actually on the beach but very near to the pier where the boats arrive. This island's best stretch of beach is a 2 minute walk away. Another budget option nearer the beach is called Paradiso but their bungalows didn't have much privacy but we met some people staying there for 80,000rp inc. breakfast. In front of Paradiso is some decent snorkelling with both hard and soft corals and the odd turtle. Lots of smaller reef fish too.
Ernie added this:
While walking around the island I discovered an ATM (Bank Mandiri) located in front of the Villa Ombak Hotel on Gili Trawangan island. The maximum withdrawl is Rp 1,250,000
LOMBOK-NETWORK - A GOOD GILIS AND LOMBOK WEBSITE
Rinjani volcano on mainland Lombok is a popular trek - trips are offered on the Gilis although Senggigi back on Lombok has a much wider range of operators (image Bali Cruises)
If you are considering the Gilis perhaps you will be interested in:
PERAMA'S BUDGET CRUISE LOMBOK-KOMODO-LABUANGBAJO
BUDGET SERAYA AND KANAWA ISLANDS
If you have any questions, please ask them in THE FORUM rather than below. I don't get a chance to check all threads daily, but unless I'm travelling I'll try to monitor THE FORUM regularly.Sunset behind low Meno (closest) and Trawangan (hill and headland at left) from Air