The Gili Islands are three small islands immediately off the northwest coast of Lombok in Indonesia. A hazy history shows that they only began to be significantly populated from the mid-seventies, and today there are around 1000 local families living across the 3 landmasses. Gili Trawangan, which is the most westerly island, is the largest – 3km by 2km. Gili Meno (the middle island) is the smallest of the three, measuring approximately 2km by 1km, while Gili Air (the most easterly island) is somewhere in between.  Due to the small scale of the three islands, there are no cars. Instead, the only modes of transport to choose from are bicycles, horse-drawn-carts or walking.

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For anyone who has never heard of these little jewels in the Lombok Straight, the idea of their miniature size and tropical climate may conjure visions of desert island paradise. And to some extent, that would be correct. The sunsets are sublime, the ocean is like cyan bath water, and the locals sit out on the sandy tracks and smile as you pass with their chickens clucking around them. However, for anyone planning a trip to the Gili Islands, it is important to understand that over the last 10 years an onslaught of fast boats full of tourists have been coming over from Bali on a daily basis, so there is sadly very little that is ‘untouched’ about them. Almost every inch of the coast is home to a hotel, guesthouse or bar, and if you find a deserted 50 metres of beach, there is surely some building or developing going on near by.

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Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean to say they are not special places anymore. The Gili Islands are a fantastic travel destination for backpackers, couples and families alike, but they need to be visited with an open mind. They are not the desert island paradise that you may have originally been looking for but they still have a lot to offer.

If you want to…

swim with sea turtles…

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make friends with locals…

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relax in chilled beach bars during happy hour as the sun sets…

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listen to live reggae music…

chill on a swing in the ocean…

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enjoy a £5 massage on a beach…

snorkel your way around an entire island…

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sleep in a hammock or live it up in a romantic bungalow…

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do a lap of the entire island before breakfast…

practice fly-high yoga on the beach as the sun sets…

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go barefoot for a week (apart from in the ocean, ironically)….

party….

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have some alone time…

or meet travellers from all over the world…

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you will love the Gili Islands!

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Among traveller circles, each of the islands has been significantly categorised to the point where many people choose which one is right for them before they have even left Bali. Gili T has a rather trashy reputation as the non-stop party island, Gili Meno is quite the opposite – a honeymooners’ paradise, and Gili Air is supposedly where you go if you want a bit of both.

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Before I headed to the Gilis, I had people who hardly knew me telling me exactly which of the islands I would like and dislike. I was warned off Gili T and Gili Meno for completely opposite reasons, and sent by the general consensus to Gili Air as the island most suitable for me. But why? Why would you travel to these islands and not try all three? There is a stretch of just 2km between each island, it costs 35,000 IDR (about 2 GBP) and takes 10 minutes to get from one to another on a local boat. What’s more, due to the size of the islands, it only takes an hour or two to stroll leisurely around one. From my experience, it is important to make your mind up about the islands for yourself, as you will probably find that the one people think you’ll hate, you love, and vice versa.

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In actual fact, Gili Air was my least favourite island. It lacked the upbeat, friendly, chilled party vibe that Gili T brings to the table, and didn’t have as good snorkelling or the less developed charm that Gili Meno has. But…it did have the best stretches of beaches!

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Many of the articles you read online (such as ingili.com) sell them as ‘untouched, unspoiled deserted islands’ with ‘vibrant reefs and desolate white sand beaches (and so, so much more).’ Call me spoilt, but I’ve seen far more beautiful beaches in other places around the world. I’ve also seen incredible technicolour coral that the Gilis are lacking in many parts. The islands have a serious problem with dead coral, largely as a product of rising ocean temperatures. But the result is beaches and sea beds coated in sharp coral that cuts your feet as you walk into the ocean. Litter is also an issue on the beaches and in the ocean.

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Don’t get me wrong, they still ooze a great deal of beauty and charm, but I wouldn’t encourage people to visit the Gili Islands if they are looking for paradise. Instead, the Gilis are fun, diverse, relaxed, and entertaining places for travellers to explore and experience in their own way. Visit all three, enjoy and embrace their differing traits, and form an opinion for yourself!

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