Difference between revisions of "Gili Islands"
Revision as of 08:56, 9 January 2013
Lombok's most popular tourist destination, the Gili Islands (or just the Gilis) came to the attention of the wider world as a backpacker mecca in the 1980s and 1990s. This is still true to some extent, and the islands are still a fixture on the Banana Pancake Trail. But the times they are a changing, and there is now a rash of glamour options on the islands, especially so on Gili Trawangan. The islands are very relaxed and laid-back, with countless little beachside cafes still playing reggae and serving up questionable "energy" drinks, but also at the other end of the scale, elaborate seafood buffets, fresh salads and good quality western and Asian food. Best of all, there are no cars or motorbikes to disturb the peace.
There are increasing numbers of westerners living on the Gilis, and operating businesses ranging from dive companies to resorts. There is a strong environmental focus here as the reefs have been very damaged in the past. While once people came to dive, snorkel and party, a more upmarket tourist is showing up now. It is still all about the beach, there are many more options to wine and dine or hang out and meet new friends.
Strictly speaking, the name "Gili Islands" is rather redundant as gili simply means "small island" in Sasak, but the name has stuck and is universally used and understood in Lombok.
There are also some other islands off Lombok called Gili Something, eg. Gili Nanggu and Gili Gede, but these are located to the southwest near Lembar, quite a distance from the "main" Gilis.
The Gilis are noticeably drier and hotter than Lombok, but evenings can still be cool and refreshing. The rainy season is roughly from November to April, but it rains much less than on Bali. The peak tourist seasons are July-August and December-January.
Alternatively, you can fly to Bali and connect onward with a domestic flight to the new international airport, 40km south of the old location at Mataram, which is a quick and cheap 25-30 min hop. The Bali-Lombok route is operated by Merpati Nusantara Airlines, Garuda, Wings (code shared with Lion Air), Trigana Air, Trans-Nusa and IAT (Indonesian Air Transport).
From elsewhere in Indonesia, Lombok International Airport is served by flights from Jakarta, and Surabaya provided by Batavia Air, Garuda, Lion Air and Merpati. Sumbawa is serviced by Trans Nusa Air Services. International flights are available from Singapore with Silk Air and from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia with Merpati airlines. In December 2011 Sky Aviation introduced scheduled services from Lombok direct to Flores.
Please see the main Lombok article for more details on the new international airport and connecting services to the Gili Islands
Fast boat services are the quickest and most direct way to travel to the Gili Islands from Bali. There are now numerous direct boat services from Bali to the Gilis, all of which continue onto the main island of Lombok, and a few of which also pass by Lembongan en-route. Established daily services depart from Benoa and Serangan Island in South Bali and from Padang Bai and Amed in East Bali. Benoa Harbour and Serangan are around 25 min by car, (dependent upon traffic) from the South Bali tourist hub. Padang Bai is a lot further by road.
You can contact the fast boat companies directly by phone or email, or book via one of the many local travel agents once you are in Bali. Alternatively, the only way to compare live seat availability and book e-tickets online is with Gilibookings, where you can view all routes, timetables and pricing for the most reliable fast boat companies. Prices range from $53 to $75 one way, $98 to $148 return.
A small selection of fast boat companies with a proven track record:
If you are travelling from southern Bali resorts such as Kuta, Legian, Nusa Dua etc., the closest ports are Serangan or Benoa. However, you can depart from Padang Bai if you want a shorter crossing, which is around an hour from south Bali by road (so total travel time will be approximately the same). Also depart from Padang Bai if you are staying in or around Ubud. Amed is only suitable if you are staying in or around Amed, Tulamben, Candidasa or North Coast locations such as Lovina or Pemuteran.
No matter what port of departure you use, with the exception of those staying in Padang Bai or Amed, you will need to use a vehicle transfer for one portion of your journey. Take the weather into consideration when planning your voyage, shorter routes could reduce discomfort for those prone to motion sickness. Fast boat services from Amed and Padang Bai take around half as long to reach the Gilis as the routes from southern Bali. As stated previously, a shorter crossing amounts to extra road time in Bali, unless you are staying in Amed or Padang Bai already.
As of 2012, there are significant differences in prices between operators on all the Gili Fast Boat routes. There are also differences in the standard of the vessels, their operation, crew experience and certfication. The worst offenders for safety standards currently all operate out of Padang Bai. It is advisable to look at more than just price. As competition has increased, so has misinformation about availability of seats or operating schedules. Check the veracity of information directly with your chosen operator if told by a tour desk a vessel is "full" or "bankrupt - not operating" or has "spontaneously combusted." Ensure your ticket states the specific vessel requested. Stated trip times are often misleading and do not reflect the reality of the voyage nor previously achieved average crossing times.
Options to get from Lombok to the Gilis are:
A local agent, Mr. Jamuhur, that has a pickup service in Lombok for transfers to all of the Gilis can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org or mobile: +62 (0)85339715403. For a quote just advise the number of passengers.
The easiest way to get to the Gilis from Lombok's airport or Senggigi is to walk to the nearest travel agent, taxi desk or tout and book a package.
The cheapest way is to take a bemo/taxi to Pemenang, walk or cidomo to Bangsal, and then take the Public boat (ferry) from there. However, this may involve long waits and dealing with a truly unpleasant bunch of touts, so some people figure it's not worth the hassle.
If you want to travel at your own pace, you can charter a boat directly from Senggigi to take you across. Ask any travel agent or simply head to the beach behind the Santosa Hotel in central Senggigi or on the beach at Mangsit at the northern end of Senggigi. At Mangsit most of the charter boats are located between Qunci Villas and the Holiday Resort Lombok (ex Holiday Inn Resort). On either beach you're guaranteed to be solicited by boat operators and guides. The Senggigi article has more information on this. A charter of a regular outrigger (perahu) to any of the Gili Islands can cost as much Rp 500,000, but bargain hard. Some of these boats are pretty basic so make sure you check the safety equipment for yourself, especially if you cannot swim. The better guides at Mangsit beach will provide life vests of their own if the chartered boat does not have them. If there are three or less of you, it is much faster and infinitely more comfortable to arrange a speed boat pickup from Teluk Nare with one of the dive shops or your hotel on Gili Trawangan. A taxi to Teluk Nare from Senggigi will cost about Rp 40,000-45,000.
For organising your trip back to Bangsal, there is a public boat ticket office on each of the Gili Islands.
Note that the sea is calmest in the morning and all transport stops running in the late afternoon, and well before dark. During periods of southerly winds and in July and August especially, the swell can be a bit hairy and you are very likely to get wet on the crossing. It is advisable to place laptops, cameras and handphones in waterproof bags for the crossing.
There is no motorised transport on the islands. Your options are horse-drawn carts, known as cidomo's, or bicycles, which are are available for rent all over the islands. The price for tourists is Rp 20,000-50,000 per head, depending on the length of the journey. To go all the way around the islands could cost up to Rp 150,000. However, as the islands are only a few km in diameter, it's entirely possible to just walk instead.
Travelling between the islands requires either catching the infrequent scheduled Koperasi Island hopping boats, or chartering one to take you across. You can buy tickets from the ticket offices on each island from where the boats depart. Booking through a travel agent just costs more, and you still need to change the reservation to an actual ticket at the very same counter.
The distances between the islands may seem swimmable, but do not attempt it — the currents are fierce and several visitors have died trying.
There are no A grade sights as such on the islands, but the snorkelling and diving all around is a major draw.
There is reasonably good diving here, and the islands are globally known as a teaching center. An impressive array of sea creatures and plant life is to be seen, such as green and hawksbill turtles, bumphead parrotfish, black-tip and white-tip reef sharks, and more. Visibility is commonly in the 15-30 m range. However, due to the exposed position of the Gilis, currents can be quite strong and drift diving is the norm. Some of the dive sites here have unfortunately been heavily damaged by dynamite fishing and the coral reefs are taking a lot of time to recover.
Gili Trawangan has the most dive operators, but PADI and SSI licensed dive operators exist on all three islands. Equipment is kept in top shape, with excellent facilities and (mostly) western dive instructors. Divemasters are more commonly experienced locals. Dive and course prices are fixed by agreement between the dive operators on each island, so there is nothing financial to be gained by shopping around between the operators. A good approach is to settle down on your chosen island, get to know the dive shops, and chose to dive with the one with which you feel most comfortable.
For those interested in learning to dive or advancing existing qualifications, several of the operators now offer both PADI and SSI options. Nitrox and other technical diving options are also offered by operators on Gili Trawangan especially.
All dive shops on the Gili Islands are members of the Gili Eco Trust , a non-profit organisation set up to protect coral reefs surrounding the islands and provide environmental education. There is a one time only reef tax of Rp 50,000 payable by all divers and dive students. This is collected by the dive operator and it is this reef tax that funds the work of the trust. If you are interested in learning more about the work of the trust, or volunteering to help, ask for Delphine at the Big Bubble dive shop on Gili Trawangan.
Dive prices, PADI & SSI courses
All dive shops accept US dollars, Indonesian Rupiah and credit cards, except when the telephone lines are down (in this case, pay using internet banking).
You can rent masks and fins off the beach, or contact any of the numerous dive shops to arrange snorkelling at choice spots nearby. A daily snorkelling programme usually involves a 10AM departure and 4PM return, and includes three or four spots around the three islands and a 2 hr lunch break. The cost ranges from Rp 60,000 to 150,000 depending on the shop and your negotiating skills. The quoted price normally includes the mask and snorkel but Rp 10,000 (or more) may be charged for the fins. Lunch is typically not included.
It's possible to snorkel off some of the beaches, but pay attention to the currents, which can be strong even near the shore. Wear flippers even if you're a strong swimmer, or you'll spend most of your energy fighting the currents.
In the local marine stakes, surfing is a distant third to diving and snorkelling. There are occasionally surf-able waves on the south side of Gili T, however these are few and far between.
One of the attractions of the islands is the ability to do nothing. With no cars on any of the islands and the lower tempo of Gili Air and Gili Meno, there are several bungalow-style accommodations with verandas that overlook gardens of the ocean. The styles of cafes and restaurants involves small open huts perfect for two to four people to claim for a good part of the day. With a good book and your swimsuit, the day passes quickly when you leave your watch in your bag. The beaches are not exceptional. Gili Meno has the nicest beaches of the three islands. Gili Meno and Air have their best beaches on the west side of the islands. The south side tends to be windy and rough and the north and east have a lot of coral on the beaches, making the sand rough. On Gili Air, the only pleasant beach for swimming is really in front of the Chill-out cafe and Sunrise Resort on the main strip.
The perimeters of all three islands are conducive to a 90 min to 3 hr leisurely walk with no strenuous hills. Just follow the coastline, put on your sunscreen and it makes for a nice morning.
There are 10 ATMs on Gili Trawangan, but that's it. Exchange rates offered by moneychangers are noticeably poorer than on the mainland. Credit cards are accepted by some of the more upmarket places and all dive shops, but there will usually be a 3% charge. Some will also arrange credit card cash advances, but with hefty fees in the order of 7-10%.
Shopping opportunities are very limited. There are plenty of kiosks offering tourist staples such as drinks, basic cosmetics, suntan lotion and such, but anything that might be required such as specific medication or items for children/baby's is best brought with you, or alternatively can easily be purchased on Lombok. All hotels and dive centers make regular trips to Lombok and are usually able to help out with any requests.
All the islands feature a myriad of restaurants and cafes concentrated on the beach fronts. The most activity is found on the east side of each island. There are an abundance of cafes and restaurants, both large and small, with the largest concentration on Gili Trawangan. As of late 2012, Gili Air has some new restaurants opening that offer western cuisine. Gili Meno remains limited to more basic food options like barbecued fish or pizza from a wood-fired oven.
Be careful with "fee and tax" especially in "luxury" restaurants, most will charge 21% tax and service, however it can be written in very small font at the bottom of the menu and be from 5 to 25% or more.
Gili Trawangan had a huge reputation in the late 90's as a backpacker party island. This has now developed into a nightlife for all tastes. There are bars playing live music, bars with DJ's, as well as quieter beach front places dotted around the islands. There is a varied choice of venues every night of the year.
Be careful to not leave drinks unattended, as spiking incidents have been known to occur. Be aware that there have been fatal cases involving locally distilled spirits when drunk in large quantities, due to non-standardised production methods.
Demand often outstrips supply, so prices tend to be noticeably higher than on Bali or Lombok. During the peak seasons (Jul-Aug, Dec-Jan), it pays to make advance reservations, as the best places are often fully booked. Arrive early for better chances of getting accommodation without a reservation. Late arrivers need to be prepared to spend a night on the beach (it's perfectly safe though).
There are plenty of largely identical backpacker guesthouses on the islands. The price ranges depending on the season and island. Figure on Rp 100,000+ for a basic room with fan only. Air conditioned rooms are more in the Rp 300,000-400,000+ range. Gili Trawangan especially, has a rapidly increasing range of high end accommodation with prices up to US$500 per night.
Always try to negotiate for the best price, and be clear about whether or not the quoted price includes taxes and breakfast. Most of the larger hotels and dive centres on Gili Trawangan feature fresh water for showering, while other smaller homestays may use salt water. On Gili Air it is best to check with the Hotel you plan to stay at, and on Gili Meno its mostly salinated.
The Gilis may feel like Bali at times but the locals are Muslim, and while they are used to the endless parade of westerners partying on their front lawn, it is good to show some respect. Never sunbathe nude or topless, cover up away from the beach (no bikinis), avoid excessive displays of affection in public, and treat early-morning prayer calls from the mosque as just part of the local character.
Little changes on the Gili Islands during the fasting month of Ramadan, as food is served during the day and bars stay open at night. However, many dive shops cut down the diving schedule to cater for fasting locals, and out of respect you should also refrain from blatantly eating, drinking or smoking in public.
True to the hippie vibe, magic mushrooms are widely available and openly advertised, particularly on Gili Trawangan. Their psychological effects may be heavy for some individuals.
Be very careful with locally produced booze, especially arak. It can contain methanol and has caused cases of serious injury and even death among tourists and locals alike.
Various other drugs and intoxicants are readily available and sometimes flaunted (as is the case of mushrooms and 'power drinks' at parties), and you can expect to be offered everything from marijuana to methamphetamine. Keep in mind you are still in Indonesia, where drug usage and distribution penalties are extraordinarily harsh ranging from 20 years in a dilapidated prison to the death penalty. On Gili Trawangan, there have been a number of busts of high profile local characters resulting in serious prison sentences. On Gili Air, village leaders have been known to banish tourists from the island for drug usage and several signs posted around the island will remind you of their local laws.
Small but annoying jellyfish are common in the waters around the Gilis during certain moon cycles, with July and August getting the brunt, so wearing a full-length wetsuit or surf skin in the water is advisable. The stings can be quite painful, but they're harmless and usually go away within an hour. The welt from bad multiple stings may last a day.
There are massive spiders roughly the size of a grown man's hand scattered about the islands; while not venomous, their bites can result in a painful wound. Thankfully, avoiding them is relatively easy, don't tread through brush and avoid climbing random trees.
There are no police on any of the islands. Crime is largely limited to opportunistic petty theft, and all problems are usually settled by the local islands councils; if you face larger problems or need to make a police report for insurance purposes, you will need to head over the mainland to do it.
[edit from 2012 May] There is as minimum as 5 police units on Gili Trawangan. So - don't do nothing restricted, be smart :)
All three islands have a small, simple clinic. For serious problems, visitors should get back to Lombok (or preferably Bali) as quickly as possible.
Tap water is very salty and not potable. Bottled water is widely available and many cafes, dive shops, and stores will fill up bottles for Rp 3,000, reducing waste and costing less than a new bottle. The refill supplies can be a little erratic in availability at times; however, do not be concerned as drinking water is always available for sale on the Gili Islands.
There are many self-styled gigolos anxious to swoon foreign girls on Gili Trawangan and Gili Air. If you're female and on your own (even temporarily), you will be approached often. If you find yourself swept off your feet, condoms are available at most little stores.
Thanks to the islands' dryness, mosquitoes can be quite rare, but there have been a few cases of malaria and dengue reported, mostly during the rainy season. Mosquito repellent, mosquito nets and long sleeves at dusk are wise precautions. Please see main Lombok article for notes on malaria, dengue fever (DHF), methyl alcohol adulteration of traditional local drinks such as arak, and other tips for your health and safety whilst on the Gili Islands.
The islands have no supplies of completely fresh water, although some is distinctly less brackish than others.
There is a very spotty electricity supply; it's not uncommon for power to be off for hours at a time on a daily basis, and the same goes for water as most is directly fed by electric pumps. Many upmarket hotels, restaurants and dive shops have generators, and there are tentative plans for solar and wind power generation. It is worth checking with your chosen accommodation whether they have a generator.
Laundry can be arranged through most guesthouses, expect to pay by piece rather than by load. The cost can add up quick, you may want to consider hand-washing smaller items yourself, clothes dry very quickly in the equatorial sun.
Several hospitals are located on the nearby mainland in city of Mataram including the islands principal public hospital Rumah Sakit Umun and also the Risa Hospital in Cakranegara near Mataram mall.
Mobile phone towers ensure you're never out of touch. Telekomsel's Simpati SIM card has the strongest and most reliable coverage on the Gili islands.
Internet cafes are quite widespread but connections are often very slow, prices can be Rp 300-400/minute). Free, slow Wi-Fi is often available to customers in restaurants and bars lining the beach on Gili Trawangan. Gili Divers and The Deck has got free Wi-Fi and this connection is very fast. Skype, book tickets or do bank stuff no problems.
Many visitors chose to use a USB modem stick with a Telkomsel Flash SIM card  fitted to it. Reception is reasonable on all three Gili islands but 3G connections should not be anticipated. More likely a connection will fall back to the slower GRPS system. CDMA coverage is also available through the Telko Flexi network . USB modems and SIMs suitable for use on either the Telkomsel GSM/3G network, or the Flexi CDMA network are available from outlets on the Lombok maninland and in Bali.
There is no post office on the Gilis, but William's Bookshop, right behind the Art Market on Gili Trawangan, sells stamps and can mail out your postcards.