Lombok Island in Indonesia is Bali’s closest rival. Lombok and Bali are separated only by the Lombok Strait and are very much alike. Both have amazing beaches and world-class dive sites. What Lombok doesn’t have are Bali’s highly modernized facilities and resorts; what Bali doesn’t have are Lombok’s amazing Gili Islands.
Located just off northwestern Lombok, the Gili Islands (or simply the Gilis) are three tiny islands surrounding Lombok. Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air are Lombok’s most important attractions. They make up the main Gilis: actually, all the other islands surrounding Lombok even those to the southern side are all “Gilis”, since “gili” means “tiny island” in English. In addition to the three main Gilis, Lombok has more than twenty tiny islands (gilis) off its southern and northeastern coasts.
The most highly developed northwestern gili is Gili Trawangan. Just a few years ago, only backpackers visited this island, which was then bare of any form of modern facilities. Today, there are a number of little cafés and restaurants along the beach serving fresh and delicious seafood dishes as well as Western and Asian dishes. More and more Western expatriates are moving into the Gilis and opening food joints and diving companies. Life here, however, is still basically very laid back. There are no roaring and polluting cars or motorcycles.
The Gilis experience the same seasons and weather as observed in the main island of Lombok and the rest of Indonesia. However, people are noticing that the Gilis are drier and hotter than other Indonesian islands. Also, the evenings are cooler and more refreshing, thanks to the sea breeze. Lombok and the Gilis’ peak months are July, August, December and January.
The most important things to do in the Gilis are swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving in several dive sites (such as Turtle Point, Meno Wall, and Bounty Wreck, among others). But the most fun thing to do here is to simply relax and bum around. There are no cars or any other forms of motorized vehicles that can ruin one’s peace. The only way to go around is on a horse-drawn cart called “cidomo”. Life in the Gilis is slow and very laid back, a rare attraction in leading Southeast Asian destinations that are always bustling with parties and all kinds of water fun activities.
Finally, getting to the Gilis is becoming easier by the day since the islands are steadily becoming more and more popular. There are no airports in the Gilis. The nearest and only airport around is Lombok’s airport in the capital city of Mataram. From there, travelers take a ferry ride to any of the three main Gilis. Vacationers in Bali do not need to pass by Lombok anymore since there are now a number of ferry services in Bali that take people and buses all the way to the Gilis. Boats depart daily from Padang Bai in eastern Bali, as well as the Benoa and Serangan Islands in the southern side of Bali to Gili Trawangan. Padang Bai is the most popular send-off point in Bali since it is nearer to the main tourist hubs such as Kuta, Nusa Dua, and Legian.
A much quicker way from Bali to the Gili Islands is the short 25-minute airplane ride to Mataram. Several carriers make this flight, such as Merpati Nusantara Airlines, Garuda (Lion Air), Trigana Air, Trans-Nusa and Indonesian Air Transport.