Bali has been on the tourist trail for years now and while it’s certainly not a spot to miss, make sure you set aside some time to abandon the crowds and explore Bali’s three little sisters: Gili Trawangan (aka Gili T), Gili Air and Gili Meno, listed in order of size and liveliness. All three are blessed with pure white beaches, some of the world’s friendliest people and excellent food. And if a quick Google image search wasn’t enough to convince you, here’s why you should be heading there.
Blissful massage on the beach 📷: @anes_thetize
There can’t be many pastimes more relaxing than a Balinese massage given as the waves lap the shore and the breeze rustles through the surrounding hibiscus and frangipani. With treatments starting at a few dollars, a massage might even be justifiable on a backpacker budget.
To eat the world’s best mashed potato
Not exactly one for those overly concerned about their beach bodies, but for lovers of cheesy, buttery potato-ey gloop, then the mashed potato at Green Café in Gili T’s night market is the best you can get. Served with a fresh tuna steak and vegetables, this dish is a steal for $3.
To scuba dive AND freedive
Swim with the fishes 📷: @rosellawatee
The bountiful crystal waters surrounding the Gilis provide some of the world’s best dive sites and the cheap, though reputable, instructors mean it’s a great place to learn – chances are you’ll see a turtle on your very first attempt. However, if you’re already over scuba you could always turn your hand to freediving. Gili T is actually home to Indonesia’s first freediving centre and here you can learn to hold your breath underwater for more than three minutes.
To practise responsible tourism
All too often when travelling somewhere new, it can be a bit worrying to see an area or culture being destroyed due to the tourism which you’re part of. But on the Gillis there are huge sustainable tourism programmes and local initiatives for visitors to join in. These range from taking part in beach cleans and sponsoring turtles to simply being made aware of not using water excessively. Obviously the islands will never be returned to their pre-tourism state, but it’s nice to visit somewhere that cares so much about its people and environment.
To sleep cheap
Despite being situated in one of the world’s most beautiful locations, you can still pick up budget accommodation. Gili T has the most choice but you can find a bargain on the other islands if you book in advance. My favourite hostel was Gili La Boheme, which boasts a rooftop sunbathing area, free pancakes and is located opposite a fantastic yoga centre. All that for just $13 a night!
To travel by horse and cart
One of the reasons the Gilis are so relaxed is that all motorised transport is banned which, given you can walk around the whole of the largest island in an hour, isn’t exactly inconvenient. However, if you have a heavy bag or simply want to rest your feet, then a brightly-tasseled horse and cart will take you to your destination for a dollar or two.
To absorb the breathtaking views
You wanted to see a sea horse, right? 📷: @hairbear_
As mentioned and pictured, the Gili islands are astonishingly beautiful tropical islands and Lombok’s imposing backdrop gives the ocean views a dramatic edge. If you’re lucky, a pod of dolphins may even come into shot.
To shop for cheap pearls
The waters surrounding the Gili islands are home to Lombok’s famous pearl farms, meaning you can buy cut-price jewelry on the islands and even visit the farms to learn more about the pearl cultivation process.
To try to discover why the cats only have half tails
No cars or dogs make the Gili Islands a cat’s paradise 📷: @lixsa_
If you have a spare afternoon and an inquisitive mind you can try to solve the age old mystery of where the Gili islands’ cats’ tails have gone. Rather than a full plume, they all have strange mini half tails. The locals’ explanations for this range from a genetic default to the tails being a delicious soup ingredient.
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About the author
Lima Curtis backpacked around SE Asia, examining cats’ tails and eating cheesy mashed potato, before becoming a staff writer at The Monocular.