Ever since Julia Roberts ate, prayed, and loved her way across the big screen in 2010, Bali has been billed as the perfect island paradise. While the Indonesian island is not without its charms, the secret’s been let out, and heavy tourism traffic might turn off visitors looking for a remote island escape. Fear not, however – just a ferry ride away lie the three Gili islands, Bali’s cooler, calmer alternative. The Gilis are the proverbial baby bear of Goldilocks’s search for the perfect island – not too much, not too little, but just right. Here are four things you’ll love about this tropical paradise.
Fun, fresh nightlife or a family feel
The Gilis are actually comprised of three separate islands, each with their own strengths. Gili Trawangan is the largest and most popular, becoming a backpacking hotspot in the high season. Everyone on the island tends to congregate together in a different place each night, meaning the party scene shifts but never wanes. For those seeking a quieter scene, however, Gili Meno and Gili Air will provide in spades. Head to Meno for a tiny slice of raw, rugged nature, or take the kids to Air for a family vacation no one will forget.
The Gili islands are a diving mecca – Indonesia’s answer to Thailand’s Koh Tao. They’re billed as the turtle capital of the world, and for good reason – dives without a hawksbill or green sea turtle sighting are few and far between. Between the three islands are over a dozen dive PADI certified shops, all great places for beginners to take an open water or advanced course. If SCUBA doesn’t suit you, there’s also great snorkeling right off the coast, a tiny bit of surf in monsoon season, and plenty of postcard-perfect beaches.
In contrast to the bustling streets of Bali, where motorbikes travel in dozens and right-of-way seems determine more by vehicle size than traffic laws, motorized vehicles are outlawed on the Gili islands. Everything is within walking distance – the largest of the three, Gili Trawangan, can be circumnavigated in around an hour and a half. If you’ve got a need for speed, however, bicycles can be rented for three dollars a day. Or, travel in style on one of the pony-pulled carts that dominate the laneways.
A little bit of luxury without losing the locals
Finding a cheap hotel isn’t hard in Southeast Asia, but Gili takes it to the next level. Basic bungalows can be split between two for just seven dollars a person, WIFI and breakfast included, and twenty dollars more will get you air conditioning, huge rooms, and beautiful stone showers. However, unlike many luxury resorts, Gili’s don’t lose their local flavor. lf you want the authenticity of travel without the bed bugs or loud hostel roommates, the Gili islands are the perfect sweet spot.