Three perfect coral islands, fringed with white sands and swaying palm trees, lay in the sparkling ocean just off the north-west coast of Lombok. For many years the Gilis have attracted visitors from around the world for their pristine waters, great diving and snorkelling opportunities, and laid-back charm. The world "Gili" actually means "small island" and so these islands have come to be known as "The Gilis" by travellers, who have long considered them to be at least equal to the appeal of Thailand's and India's south coasts.
The Gilis have sparse vegetation and rainfall, and it can seem much hotter than on the mainland. This means there is sunshine most days of the year, even when it's raining in Lombok and Bali. Water is mainly drawn from wells or shipped from the mainland, so there is a for salty shower's in most of the small hotels and home-stays, although the larger hotels and villas provide fresh water. There are no cars or motorbikes on the islands, and the main form of transport, apart from walking, is by horse and cart (locally called cidomo). There is a good selection of restaurants, bars and accommodation on all three islands, with the biggest range on Gili Trawangan.
Telephone and Internet facilities are available, and most of the normal tourist amenities, although there are no banks and only the larger hotels and dive operators accept credit cards. Moneycharger exchange at a slightly lower rate than the mainland, so it;s wise to change your money before going. The islands provide ample opportunities for visitors to swim, sunbathe, snorkel or scuba dive with the many internationally accredited dive operators based in Lombok. Popular dive companies are owned and operated by westerners with PADI qualifications, and professional standards of safety and environmental awareness.
Blue Marlin Dive and Dream Divers are probably the biggest dive companies, with offices on the Gilis and in Senggigi on the mainland, Manta Dive, Big Bubble, Trawangan Dive and vila Ombak Diving Academy on Gili Trawangan also have good reputations.
Snorkelling is easy in the calm waters directly off the beaches and although much of the coral in the shallow waters has been destroyed, it's still enjoyable, with plenty of fish to see. At greater depths and at dive locations around the three islands, the pristine waters are home to an abundant variety of corals, aquatic life and thousands of species of tropical fish, at least comparable to the top dive locations in Thailand.
All three islands have developed independently and at different paces, giving each a different personality or style, and catering to different types of holidaymakers and travellers. This means that travellers have a good choice, depending on their individual tastes and what type of island escape they prefer.
Gili Air is closest to the mainland and the most quickly accessed of the three Gilis. This island has the largest local population of the three and combines the charm of a tropical island, with access to the people and culture that make Lombok so special.
Diving facilities abound and there is nice snorkeling directly from the shore, particularly from the east and northeast beaches. The south of the island has some good surf, in the right conditions.
Gili Meno is the middle and smallest island of the three, with the lowest population. It is not as developed as Trawangan or Air, but has its own special tranquil style. The pace is a much slower, with the laid-back charm of a true castaway tropical island experience. Small hotels and basic beach-side huts provide accommodation for those seeking a peaceful place in the sun, with unpopulated beaches, clean waters and quiet walks under the star-filled skies at night.
Gili Trawangan is the largest island and furthest from the mainland, but easily reached in less than an hour by local boat or 10 minutes by speedboat. This is the most famous of the three Gilis, with a reputation as "the party island". While this reputation refers to the many fun parties held at different bars and restaurants on the island, it is a misleading description of this lovely place.
There is a wide variety of accommodation on Gili Trawangan, ranging from simple home-stays to up-market hotels and villas with swimming pools. There's a great selection of bars and restaurants to suit all tastes, particularly toward the southern end, known locally as "sentral".
Snorkeling is extremely easy just off the shore and there is still an abundant variety of tropical fish species to enjoy. The island is famed for its vast gardens of coral and is one of the best dive spots in Lombok.