WHERE TO STAY
Having returned to Gili twice now, the first place I stayed with my friend Michelle has closed down. Second time round, David and I opted for the North side of the island which is a little more peaceful and relaxing.
Villa Grasia: A short walk from the lively part of the island, Villa Grasia is a comfortable, clean and relaxing option if you are travelling in peak season and need respite from the yahooing travellers downing Bintangs on the beach. Staff are impeccably polite, friendly and hospitable, making us feel warmly welcomed and at home. Rooms are a decent size and very tidy with crisp white linen and frangipani flowers throughout. Relax by the pool or swim with turtles across the road at Turtle Point, and take a stroll to the left of the property at 5pm to watch the sunset.
If Villa Grasia is booked out, there’s Jambuluwuk next door.
Jambuluwuk: A quirky place with the most bizarre animal sculptures throughout the jungle themed garden, is fit out with the most luxurious pool (which is the ultimate drawcard for me), very efficient AC and pristine rooms. Great hang out areas to play table tennis, pool or lie in a hammock and read a book.
Travel tip: I love the Indonesian manner, and many people (including hotel staff) are so calm and genuine. One of my favourite parts about travelling is taking the time to talk with people about their lives and it’s amazing how much they will open up to you. It’s incredible how much you can learn about a place when you get off the beaten track, avoid tourist comfort-zones and take an open mind with you.
WHAT TO DO
The great thing about Gili is that you can relax and do nothing (make the most of island living) – or you can go crazy filling your days with partying, water-sports and adventuring!
Firstly, your main method of transport will probably be by foot.
If you’re looking for a bit more of an adventure, you can pick up a bike for around 5000 rupiah from any local dairy or “car park” to use for the day. Cycling round the island takes approximately 30 mins and is 100% worth doing. I would suggest doing so on day 1 to get your bearings so you can see how close everything really is.
Travel tip: Avoid riding mules. They may look fun, but these poor animals are often hot and tired from charioting around lazy tourists in the heat. Instead show them some love and attention.
Once you’ve got your method of transport sussed, you’ll be able to whizz down to catch the sunset at one of the beach clubs. When we arrived we asked how long it would take to cycle to The Sunset Beach Club… “Oh 40 minutes, 40 minutes! You’ll never make it now! Too far!” – we soon learnt that Indonesian time is very much like “Island time” back home – basically take timeframes with a grain of salt and go with your gut. It literally took 12 minutes at moderate speed so from then on, we dedicated space in our un-planned days to watch the beautiful sunset.
One of the nights we rode a little bit further past Sunset Bar to Ombak Sunset. This bay is famous for the swings in the water. After watching hundreds of tourists pile onto the swings one after the other to take their Instagram pics we decided if there was one touristy pic we were going to take, this would be it.
During the days we explored the island. Here’s a list of what you can get up to:
1. Visit the turtle aquarium
🇲🇨 Swimming with turtles is possibly one of the greatest experiences ever 😍🐢 on Gili they have a turtle conservation centre & once they grow big enough there is a releasing ceremony where all the turtles make their journey to the ocean! So cute and it also means there are loooads of friendly turtles hanging out around the bay 💚 Number one rule though, don't disturb them as we are guests in their home! #OliviaRoundGiliT
2. Haggle for cheap jewellery and crafts
3. Go snorkelling – for $15NZL you can go for a 5 hour boat trip and visit 3 of the Gili Island reefs, and even stop for lunch at Gili air. Great trip and super cheap, would highly recommend.
Travel tip: Don’t get sunburnt. It’s easy to get carried away spotting turtles, but when you’re in the ocean for an hour or more you’re likely to get scorched. The cool water is deceptive.
4. Relax on the beach at one of the many free lounge bars
5. Befriend the local cats
6. Drink fruit smoothies like water
Travel tip: Try to avoid coming across brash. Indonesian people are rather traditional when it comes to manners and cultural communication. Remember your “Terima Kasih” (thank you) which will often be responded to with “Sama sama” (you’re welcome).
7. Look at all the cool crafts and artwork on the side of the road
8. PARTY – didn’t really get any photos of this, but there are lots of great places along the main strip, just make sure to keep your wits about you – don’t take valuables or do anything your parents wouldn’t do. Definitely play music though!
Travel tip: If you get sick at all during your stay, dose yourself up on probiotics (pick up some Kombucha – fermented tea that alkalizes and detoxifies the body. Kayu Cafe, $4NZL); hydrate with water (30cents); refuel your immune system with a cold pressed juice (go back to Kayu for a “Glowing Green” – Wheatgrass, celery, parsley, spinach, romaine, lemon & apple for $3.90NZL); and buy a drinking coconut as they are full of electrolytes ($2NZL).
WHAT TO EAT
Bale Sampan: Fresh salads, black bean falafels, wraps, juices, spinach and feta rolls, you name it, they have it. Delicious, fresh, cheap and healthy.
Pizzeria Regina: I’m definitely a full believer in trying the local cuisine, but when you have a world class Italian pizza chef running a packed restaurant on a nightly basis, you’d be silly not to pay him a visit. To be honest we returned three times.
Drinking coconuts: for only $2 NZD they’re a steal!
Overall I would have to say Gili is one of my favourite places, mainly because the days are long, traffic doesn’t exist and you can live unplugged, not having to worry about checking your iPhone for fear of missing out because let’s face it, you’re where everyone would rather be. If I can give you one bit of advice, don’t skip out this island… even if you opt for Gili Air or Meno (the quieter of the three). Let me know if you’d like any more tips or have any questions I’d love to help.