Their name is now unavoidable from that of Bali, the Gili Islands have become a stop not to be missed on a trip to this part of Indonesia. Their notoriety obviously derives from the proximity to their older sister Bali, from which tourists travel in search of flat and white beaches, turquoise sea and tranquility. Let’s see together how to organize a trip to the Gili without bad surprises.
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Organize your trip
In contrast to most of the main sea destinations, for going to the Gili Islands you have to prepare the trip at last second, even in the high season. The main constraint is to find a seat on one of the many fast boats that will take you to your destination in 1 hour and half. You can buy tickets online in advance, you will think. Do not do it. The best thing, in this case, is to get in contact with the locals mainly for 2 reasons:
• if you buy a ticket from a local agency you will pay about a half of the price you find on the websites of the companies;
• there are some unwritten rules that the locals apply that could make you lose your very expensive place on boat.
Before understanding this thing, we have spent a lot of time looking for information on all possible boat companies, we have searched for reviews and information and in the end we decided to rely on the case and plan our little escape to the Gili only once in Bali. Needless to list all the naval companies because they are about 20 different, all fairly equivalent to each other for the level of services offered. For IDR 500,000 (about 30 EUR) per person we purchased from a guy on the street (for “local agency” we mean especially this thing) the return ticket for Gili + the transfer service from/to the hotel to the port of Padang Bai. What you will not find written on the websites is that one day before you have to go to the agency to confirm your seat on the boat, otherwise you will lose it. Afterwards, you can search for accommodation at the Gili Islands and the offer is so wide that you will not have trouble to find one, you could even look for it in person once arrived, without reservation, even in high season.
Take the boat transfer
In this case it is right to dedicate a few lines about how to prepare for facing up the boat trip, since for us was an experience that we do not hesitate to define “thrilling”. We traveled with a Ganggari ship, a large motorboat with comfortable seats, with a capacity of about 90 people and nothing to say about it because the boat was new and comfortable. Generally, the ships make two round trips per day: one in the morning around 9.30 am, arriving around 11 am to Gili, one in the afternoon around 13.30 pm with arrival at 3 pm. Premising that the dock at Padang Bai is only one and that the all companies observe the same time of arrival and departure, be vigilant to follow the instructions of the employees to avoid to mistake ship, due to the great confusion and since the scheduled departure times will not be respected. You will be provided with the stickers with your destination written, which are to be affixed to your baggage, from which you will have to separate because they will be compulsorily placed in the ship’s hold. As many people suggest, the morning trip is to be preferred, not so much for the conditions of the sea, as to avoid incurring the unfortunate situation in which we found ourselves. In fact, in the afternoon the sea is more agitated and, once out of the navigation area below the coast, it becomes rough and the waves become quite large (not advisable to those who suffer from seasickness). That day the winds were particularly strong, the ship was late and due to the low tide of the afternoon, they could not make us land at the Gili but to Lombok, without knowing what we should do. After recovering our luggage, some employees announced that to reach the Gili we had to take smaller boats, moored on the beach, which could accommodate up to 30 people each. There was a panic among all the passengers who feared to remain in Lombok began a desperate run towards the boats, with luggage and shoes completely in the water, through the sea waves. Once reached Gili Trawangan, the main of the 3 islands, we learned with great amazement that in one way or another we would still have to put our feet and luggage in the water because here the berth is on the beach!!!!!! We reached the island at 6 pm, losing the first precious holiday day. At this point, the advices we give you are the following:
• prefer the morning trip, because the sea is generally quiter, you will not suffer the accumulation of ships delays and at 11 am you can start enjoying your first day at the Gili, but above all you will not live our terrible experience;
• travel with the flip-flops, or with sea sandals, or barefoot, in order to avoid ruining your shoes by putting your feet in the water during the docking phases on the beach, since you do not land on a pier;
• carry practical luggage, a small trolley or even a backpack, so you can keep it well lifted up in case you find yourself with all your legs in the water, but also to avoid the clogging of the narrow Padang Bai pier with huge baggage, contributing to ships delays. Given the low cost of housing (less than 10 EUR per night), an idea would be to leave your bulky baggage in a hotel room in Bali, to which you will return after your stay at the Gili, carring with you only the essentials.
How many days to stay
For tourists arriving from all over the world in this part of Indonesia, the excursion to the Gili Islands is just a small parenthesis to spend no more than 2-3 days, in order to return to focus on the main reason of the journey, that is the exploration of Bali. We too have followed this trend, according to what we had read around, regretting it bitterly. Once we set foot in the Gili, we did not want to go back to Bali, and you’ll probably have the same feeling! Forget about the traffic, the islands are on a human scale, here you move only by feet, by bike or by horses drawn carts…the roads are not even paved. The beaches are very white and the nuances of the sea of an intense turquoise. The rhythms are very slow. Here you could be comfortably lying on the sunbed on the beach enjoying the sun and filling your eyes with the beauty of the sea, you could swim with the turtles a few steps from the shore, snorkel, scuba dive, cycle, tour the islands entrusting you to the organized outings or to the fishermen boats, you could also visit Komodo Island with its famous lizards or enjoy the sunset while sipping a drink on the beach. Do you really think that 2-3 days are enough for all this? We recommend 5-6 days, because this will be the only place of your holiday in Bali where you can really enjoy the sea.
Where to stay
The Gili Islands are composed by 3 islands: Gili Trawangan, the largest one, in which tourism is more developed; Gili Air, the most peaceful; Gili Meno, the smallest and wildest. We have chosen Gili Trawangan, as a compromise between nature and leisure, but the other two, being all very close to each other, are easily accessible and can be visited on a day tour. The main street is located on the east side of the island, where boats from Bali dock, and is full of hotels, diving centers, restaurants and places by the sea where to eat, drink coconut milk directly from the fruit’s shell, have a drink or dance in the evening. The opposite side of the island, the west side, comes alive in the afternoon to make an aperitif with a sunset view in one of the many bars, but it tends to remain quieter because there are far fewer facilities and services. On the island there are accommodation for all budgets and you will have no problem finding something for your needs. We decided to stay in a mini villa placed a little more outside the nightlife area (which is the one around the harbor) in order to not be disturbed by the music in the evening, but it takes no more than 5 minutes by feet from the villa to the port. Villa Bella, this is the name of the hotel, we liked a lot and we would like to recommend it. Well-maintained accommodation, equipped with a private pool, full of comfort and privacy, with breakfast served in the room or in front of the sea. Are you asking for the budget? In August, without booking in advance, around 100 EUR per night (per villa), a price definitely above the average of the island.
Where to eat
You will have several options to choose from but the most characteristic thing is undoubtedly that of eating on the beach, with the toes sunk in the sand. One that we particularly liked and that we want to point out is the Fat Cats Bar & Restaurant, that is the Trawangan Dive Center’s restaurant. A wide choice of Indonesian and international cuisine, the salads for lunch are fresh and inviting; prices are quite low, you could pay about IDR 150,000 each (about 10 EUR) for a dinner. It could happen that some nice plump cats walk between your legs while you are dining, as the place name suggests. If you are a bit daring and lovers of street food and you can not avoid to experience all that a place has to offer, including the kitchen, we suggest you take a look at the desks that are set up in the evening near the port. You will find fish or meat, often sold in skewers still raw that will roast at the moment, side dishes based on spicy vegetables and salads of rice or noodles, and the prices are much cheaper than restaurants. We were not so brave to try, but the tourists here were really a lot. Walking through the desks we came across a very special ice cream stand: the ice-cream makers start from a liquid mixture and gradually work the ingredients on a refrigerated plate until solidification; the ice cream is then delivered in rolls shape. Surely an unusual and curious presentation for an ice cream!
Another kind of places very popular on the island is the seafood restaurant on the beach, you will meet many on the seafront. It is possible to order à la carte and choose the fish personally or opt for one of the standard menus divided by price ranges, which vary the type and the quantity of fish served. Generally included in the menu there is also a buffet of vegetables, rice and noodles to freely compose the side dishes. We tried the mixed grill of fish of intermediate price range but unfortunately we were not fully satisfied, because the Indonesians have the particular habit of brushing the fish with an ointment made of herbs and spices so strong (the garlic predominates over all other aromas) that goes to completely cover what is the taste of the fish, which is apparently not as exceptional as one would expect. If you are fun of grilled fish brought to the table as it is, with nothing added, we advise you to avoid these places, you will save easily 800,000 IDR (about 50 EUR).
When planning a trip to a far country it is difficult to take into account all the unwritten rules and unusual habits of the locals, so may happen that things go not as well as we would have expected. In this article we wanted to tell you about our experience, we hope that it will help you to plan your trip to Gili. Now that you know how to move to organize your vacation in the vacation, do not miss our article in which we will show you the beaches of Gili Trawangan!
See you soon
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