Escape to the Gili Islands


Diving is a popular activity around the islands. Photo by Nicoletta Pavese

Undoubtedly, after spending one day in the middle of the jungle killing time by weaving palm leaves into Hindu offerings, even a bullet trailer in the middle of the Death Valley would have been attractive, but this is not what makes the Gilis stand out in my Indonesian experience.

We spent four days on Gili Trawangan, the most visited of the Gili archipelago (which also includes the more “exclusive” Gili Air and Gili Meno) and the best way I can summarize how I feel about this place is through a mixture of conflicting emotions.

Let’s start with the positive ones:

Gili is a diver’s paradise. Diving, snorkeling and even marine walking (please Google it, it’s hilarious), you name it, anything that has to do with exploring the rich marine life of the area is easily accessible and won’t disappoint. Most of our trip was dedicated to just these kind of activities, and close encounters with marine turtles, giant parrot fish and even a baby shark left me completely amazed and wondering why I don’t do more diving during the year.

Snorkeling is also amazing, especially when you set out to take pictures of amazingly colorful fish with your underwater camera. Let me tell you some of these smalldo not enjoy being stalked in the water. Don’t even get me started on the Trigger fish. A species completely unknown to me (if it’s not on river monsters, I am not interested), they are very territorial, and if you even see one once diving,  swim AROUND IT, not over it. I did just the opposite, and although blissfully unaware for the entire duration of the accident, my diving instructor was pretty amused in describing the scene of the outraged trigger fish chasing me and trying to bite my fins off.

Snorkeling is great here because of the clear water. Photo by Nicoletta Pavese

While there are plenty of opportunities to get close and personal with marine life and be in the water, Gili Trawangan is not the ideal spot for you beach bums out there. Beaches are rare and not the nicest, as most of the water front areas is occupied by bars and restaurants. If you are looking for a beach escape, you are better off booking a hotel in the close by  Gili Air, which has lovely stretches of white sand on which to lounge on and get a sunburn.

Something else that made our visit special in my eyes is our hotel. A little away from the main street, Las Villas Ottalia is a lovely gem hidden away by bouganville bushes in a very unassuming neighbourhood. We booked a private villa with two rooms and swimming pool, and it was wonderful. They might not have the latest technology when it comes to bikes (there are no cars in Gili, so the only way to get around is by horse carriage or by bike) but the beautiful villa and the well intended kindness of the staff more than  made up for that (let’s face it, the Ecolodge has also forever changed my expectation on hotels).

Watch out for certain fish when diving. Photo by Nicoletta Pavese

When all is said and done and you have dived or snorkeled, Gili Trawangan becomes another kind of paradise. The party kind. And this is where all my emotions got all mixed up.
Forget the respectful and well mannered behaviour of the Balinese, locals are a little more, ehm, rowdy in this part of the world, and won’t hesitate to cat call you or offer you all sorts of drugs known to men (mushroom is probably the second word you are most likely to hear after massage, on a daily basis). It does not help that when you look around, the demographic seems to be a little skewed towards young men in their mid-twenties. I am not sure what they do with their women and elderly people. My only advice there is to be respectful of local culture and avoid walking around in your bikini.

As you walk up and down the main road, you’ll see bar after bar after bar, some of which have the most creative names I have ever seen, ranging from the subtle “Horizontal Lounge” to the not-so-subtle “Lick me till ice cream” if you know what I mean. Despite the shock of being catapulted from the cultural nirvana of Ubud to THIS, I have to admit that nightlife is actually pretty decent, and surprisingly beer pong seems to be the national sport, with almost every joint offering beer pong tables. A cool thing is that, given the size of the island and the amount of bars and clubs battling each other for customers day in and day out, there is a rule that only one bar can stay open past 2 am every night, making it pretty stress free to choose where to hang out on any given day.

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