The Gili islands are three very (seriously, very) small islands east of Bali, just off the coast of Lombok. There are no cars here, just bikes and horse-drawn wagons. Despite being on this Bali adventure for only eleven days, we decided to take an excursion to Gili Trawangan, the biggest of the three islands. (I use “biggest” loosely as you can still bike it around in under an hour.) The island itself is beautiful, but inland is much less developed than the coastline or even Bali. It’s interesting to see other parts of the island and I’m all for adventure, but in the case of a place to sleep and shower, hostels or hotels on the beach are your best option. Trust me.
Leaving Bali for the Gili’s is very similar to going off to your first overnight summer camp. You get a sticker for you and your luggage to label your destination. Then, with your luggage, you scramble around a crowded dock, looking at other passengers to ensure you are at the correct unmarked boat. Upon entry into the boat you are parted with your luggage with little to no explanation as it disappears out of sight and the best you can do is trust that it, and you get to the correct final destination.
I imagined the boat to be all benches around the edge like a glass bottom tour boat but it turned out to be more like boarding a plane without assigned seats. The windows were big and the view was good so you don’t mind. Until you realize that there is an option to sit on the deck. With a Bintang. Little do you know that you have inadvertently just signed up for Magic Kingdom’s Splash Mountain: Salt Water Edition and waived all hope of arriving at your destination even remotely dry. It was 100% worth it.
Upon arrival you just can’t seem to stop staring at that water. It’s just so clear and blue!!! The disembarkation process is quite similar to embarkation however it involves scaling the edge of the boat, a flimsy ladder and a crowd of people on the sand looking for their luggage as it gets passed down a human chain from the boat to a pile on the sand. But you know what, somehow this process works and quite efficiently at that. Also, note that a carry on is key here. You don’t want to be one of those people dragging a very large suitcase through the sand. It’s not pretty. Since there are no cars, your options for transport to your lodging are walking or a horse-drawn wagon (naturally). We were close by so we opted to walk. The AirBnB we initially had booked was not what we expected and it was time for a shower so long story short, we ended up in one of the countless oceanside lodging options. It was time.
After that, the next 30-something hours were full of bike rides around the island, sunbathing on perfectly white sand, writing in an open air gelato shop and adventuring with locals. It seriously looked like I fell into some basic girl’s Instagram. The water was blue like a bottle of hpnotiq, palm trees were scattered around the island and coral littered the sand like frangipani in the streets of Bali. The mountains in the background really threw me because I grew up with the flat horizon of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico but it definitely made the view that much more unique and memorable (and exotic!).
My favorite part of this island was definitely the southeast beach. Just a quick bike ride (yes, you must rent a bike) from the main tourist entry point and I had a good stretch of the beach all to myself. It was the perfect moment to just be – just sit there not planning, worrying, or even thinking. Just being. Looking out at the (ridiculously) blue water, the mountainous backdrop, feeling the warmth of the sun periodically interrupted by the salty breeze, rolling off the rippling crystal water breaking on the shoreline. The prefect moment. Just across the street there was a beautiful strip of low-key insta-worthy shops, cafes and restaurants, perfect for a mid-afternoon stroll to ease up on the direct sunlight exposure. Although swimming was possible, the ocean floor around the island is covered in coral all the way up to the shore which makes it more ideal for snorkeling in water shoes than swimming. You can also see the coral up close in the evenings when the tide is low. It’s really interesting to see the noticeable impact the tides have on the coastline. I’ve never seen such a difference between high and low tide.
The sunsets are beautiful, the flora is tropical and every little tiki bar is offering you a Bintang on a bean bag chair on the beach. Considering how small this island is, there is quite a bit of gallivanting to be done around this little piece of paradise called Gili T.