The Gili Islands

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I could barely contain my excitement as our boat pulled up on the shores of Gili Meno island. We’d just spent 2 hours packed into a fast boat traveling over rough seas with a chatty flight attendant from Switzerland who wouldn’t stop taking pictures of us. I could not wait to get off that boat and into the crystal clear turquoise water. Gili Meno is one of three desert islands near Lombok. The islands are ringed by white sand beaches that are shaded by coconut palm trees and just off the shores are some of the best snorkeling and dive sites you could ask for. There are no cars or motorcycles on the islands, only bikes and horse drawn carts to get around, which is a welcome reprieve after the crowded streets of Bali. Jonathan and I both agreed that these islands are as close to paradise as we’ve ever been and we will definitely be back to them one day.

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After dropping the bags off at our bungalow we headed back down to the beach to set up for the afternoon. The beach was long with powdery white sand and it was almost completely empty! We spent the rest of the day swimming, sunbathing and exploring the little island before settling in for dinner. Our favourite restaurant was right on the beach with these little cabanas to lounge in. You could sit for as long as you like with a drink watching the fishing boats come and go. We spent many hours camped out in those cabanas with pizza, Bintang and the most incredible hot sauce I’ve ever tasted.

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The next day we were up early for a snorkeling trip. We met up with our guide Ali at the beach and headed out on the water where it was much cooler. I absolutely love snorkeling and this trip did not disappoint. The water was warm and clear and we saw several sea turtles, interesting corals, and bright tropical fish. We also snorkeled along the edge of the Meno Wall, a popular dive site with a sudden drop off of 22 meters.

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That evening we decided to walk to the other side of the island to take in the sunset. Gili Meno is so quiet and laid back, we walked by lots of empty bars that were lit up with string lights and softly playing reggae music. We kept going until we found a beach bar with bean bags on the sand and settled in just as the sun began to drop below the horizon. The sunset was absolutely incredible. The whole sky was a brilliant shade of orange and the beach was completely silent except for the call to prayer from a nearby mosque. It was peaceful and eerie and magical all at once. It was one of those travel moments I will never forget and definitely one of the best moments on our trip.

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The next morning we got up before the sunrise and made our way down to the beach. There was no one else around except for a few fishermen preparing their boats for the day. We decided to go for a morning swim as the sun started to rise behind the mountains of Lombok. The sky was lit up in shades of pink and gold and the island was quiet except for the tropical birds and a few rowdy roosters. We had the sunrise to ourselves that morning and it was the most peaceful and unforgettable way to start the day.

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Later on that afternoon we caught a boat to the neighboring island of Gili Trawangan. We had decided to splash out on a nice resort on the much quieter west side of the island. We were both really pleased with the resort we’d chosen and spent a fair amount of time relaxing by the huge multi-level pool and utilizing the swim up bar. Gili Trawangan is much bigger than the other two islands and it’s far too hot to walk anywhere in the mid-day heat, so we were pleased to find out that our hotel provided guests with the use of bikes. I hadn’t been on a bike in about 10 years so I was a little bit nervous at first. After a few treacherous minutes of wobbling I regained my confidence and before I knew it we were zipping around the island, speeding past busy bars and horse carts full of tourists.

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One evening Isron, the concierge at our hotel, recommended a hike to the top of a hill that was supposed to be a good spot to watch the sunset. So we took off on the bikes, me in flip flops and a bikini, in search of the hill with Isron’s hand drawn map to guide us. We found the start of the trail just as the sun was starting to get low in the sky and parked our bikes at a busy nearby pier where tourists and locals were gathered to see the sunset. We trekked up the hill, me deeply regretting my outfit choice as I stumbled along in sandals praying that we wouldn’t encounter any poisonous snakes or nefarious characters, and got to the top just in time for the sunset. Only then did we realize that we’d left the GoPro at the bottom of the hill in the bike basket. Not going to lie, there was some pretty serious swearing when the realization dawned on us. We’d left the bikes in a busy area so we thought there was no way the GoPro would still be there. Since this would have been the third GoPro we’d lost and it was already full of footage, we decided it was worth it to at least check. So Jonathan took off running down the hill in the off chance it was still there while I picked my way carefully down the trail in the fading light. About 20 minutes later I spotted a very sweaty Jonathan making his way back up the trail to meet me with a huge grin on his face and the GoPro in hand! This incident stands out to me because it illuminates the true character of Gili Trawangan. Sure, luck and maybe a little bit of good karma probably had something to do with our camera not being stolen, but this sort of laid back trustworthy nature is what makes the Gili islands so special. You feel like you can let your guard down without getting burned, which is not always the case when traveling.

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Some recommendations for Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan:

On Gili Meno we stayed at Tropicana Hideaway. The modest bungalows are a 5 minutes walk to the main beach and are quiet and family friendly. Homemade breakfast is included and the property is well maintained. Something to keep in mind though-not all the bungalows have air conditioning.

If you’re looking to splash out on luxury accommodation Karma Reef is your best bet. The beach front bungalows are two stories, with the bedroom on the second floor and an open air living room on the first floor.

We’be Cafe is the best spot for those magical sunsets. Their menu is pretty big with lots of vegetarian options and cheap Bintang.

Mallias Restaurant was our go to for most meals since it was right on the beach and had those comfy cabanas I was raving about earlier. Their vegetarian menu was a bit limited so I mostly had pizza from this place but Jonathan tried a few Indonesian dishes and enjoyed them.

On Gili Trawangan we stayed at the Aston Sunset Beach Resort. We ate most of our meals at the hotel restaurant and really liked the food. The hotel bar is right on the beach and, as the name suggests, is the perfect spot to watch the sunset with a cocktail.

Kayu Cafe is best known for their huge selection of healthy salads, sandwiches and juices. But wait, it gets better. They have bagels!!

We visited The Pearl of Trawangan bakery just about every time we rode the bikes into town. Jonathan was obsessed with their gelato and I couldn’t get enough croissants. This hotel also has an excellent restaurant.

That’s it for our time on the Gili islands, thanks for reading! Here is a link to last weeks post about Kuta and Seminyak in case you missed it. Next weeks post we are back on Bali in the laid back beach town of Lovina. In the meantime I want to hear your travel stories! What is your most memorable travel moment? Have you ever lost anything valuable while on holiday?