Island-hopping in the Gilis
Lombok and Bali loom large as fabled party stops on the backpacker loop, well-trod by scantily-clad twenty-somethings with Bintang vests and nose piercings. Luxury travellers be not afraid – for those in search of chilled-out, slothful days glued to a beachfront hammock in picturesque tranquillity can find the haven they are looking for just a 30-minute boat ride away. The Gili Islands consists of three tropical nirvanas, each with their own distinct personality and oozing with laidback, beach cool. The shadow of tourist super-developments is beginning to gather here though, so now is the best time to visit for the exclusive island experience.
Gili Trawangan – affectionately called ‘Gili T’ by those in the know – is the largest and most popular, and offers something for even the most discerning traveller. Vibrant and unspoiled coral reefs make this a haven for divers and snorkelers, and a slew of diving schools has popped up along the island’s main drag to cater for demand. Glass-bottomed boats take visitors daily to see a variety of species of turtles, black and white tipped sharks and exotic sealife. The influx of an eclectic mix of travellers in recent years has seen a growth in bohemian-chic cafes and yoga studios, but far from soulless gentrification, the islands still retain their ethereal energy and otherworldliness, thanks in a large part to an island-wide ban on motorised vehicles: a haven of hippy sophistication in the heart of Asia. The best spot for a truly mystical evening is the southwest and highest point of the island, where bonfires crackle and the sun sets in a languid trail of velvet purples and blues behind the silhouettes of Lombok’s Mount Rinjani and Bali’s Mount Agung.
Next up is Gili Meno, arguably the most romantic of these three island musketeers, and also the smallest – it can be circumnavigated on foot in less than two hours. Public boats leave Gili T twice a day headed for its two sisters, but you can also opt to charter a private boat for the ultimate in luxury and exclusivity. Gili Meno is a blissful ocean retreat, with the most undisturbed, palm-fringed white beaches of them all – perfect for the traveller who wants to feel like they have a whole island paradise to themselves (and understandably popular with hand-holding honeymooners, due to its propensity for undisturbed sunset walks and laidback beach bars). Gili Air is a happy medium, boasting an alternative hippy atmosphere and the largest indigenous population of all three islands – industrious Sasak people who are proud of their roots and conjure some of the best nasi campur (vegetable, peanut and tofu noodles) in the whole of Indonesia. Friendly locals sat roadside, offering pineapples and coconuts to passing travellers, imbue the island with an authentic, relaxing ambience but with all of the conveniences, facilities and boutique accommodation of much larger tourist resorts. This uniquely blissful marriage of tourism and local culture is the biggest draw for Gili Air, but rest assured whether you’re enjoying an open-air movie on the beach in Gili T, or indulging in some bohemian beach-side cocktails on Gili Meno, the Gili Islands are the definition of fun-loving, postcard ocean paradise.
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