Escape from one and head for another, we say. Islands—it’s worth remembering—are perfect for enjoying blissful holidays while forgetting all the stresses and strains of urban life. Whether it’s catching forty winks in a hammock under a swaying coconut tree, snorkeling in the middle of nowhere or zipping on a moped past lush plantations on rutty roads, there’s an aura of freedom and innocence that comes with living the classic, island life—even for just a few days. And although package tours, an excess of conveniently placed ATMs and tacky boutique hotels have in recent years blotted the likes of Bali, Phuket and even Cebu, there are still places where you can go to escape the hordes and the mod cons; islands that remain relatively unspoiled, chilled and off-the-stressed-exec trail. So slap on your flip-flops, bring out that thong and leave your iPad behind.
The Gili Islands: Indonesia
The Gili Islands are a seriously chilled-out Bali alternative.
When you step off the boat onto Gili Trawangan and are offered a pony trap (cidomo) to take you to your villa, it’s hard not to l augh. But this inspired banning of all forms of motorized transport has set the tone not only for the islands’ development over the last 25 years but also for what you can expect from your visit. The single-storey, Balinese-bungalow type constructions, coupled with the swaying palm trees, white-sand beaches and cyan-blue waters are what gives the three Gili Islands their character.
The largest and most developed island, Gili Trawangan, is often dubbed rather lazily as the “party island.” In truth, it’s simply the island that has everything. For cheap, backpacker accommodation, try the US$5 per night bunks within sniffing distance of the diesel compressor behind Trawangan Dive. For relative luxury, there is the charming Luce D’Alma Resort (http://lucedalmaresort.com) with its 80-meter pool. You’ll also find plenty of variety in between—try the “close enough” but quiet Kelapa Villas (www.kelapavillas.com) in the center of the island. Further afield, the more remote tranquility of Karma Kayak on North Beach is a great place to watch the sun set behind Bali’s volcanoes with a few cocktails and tapas.
On Gili Trawangan, even the more active pursuits have an undeniably relaxed air. Pay US$2 per day to hire a mask, snorkel and flippers from one of the local beachside shacks and you can drift down the east side of the island with a pleasant current doing all the work as hundreds of different species of fish and numerous turtles frolic curiously around you. Blue Marlin (www.bluemarlindive.com), Manta Dive (www.manta-dive.com) and many other reputable dive-shops offer diving; all safe and at fairly standardized prices. With no dive site more than 15 minutes from Trawangan’s main beach, drifting to and from each site in a relaxing, local long-boat and enjoying the beach and a cold drink in between dives is a very pleasant way to experience the vast array of marine life the Gilis have to offer. If a little more action is what you want then the eight-kilometer jog (or cycle—a little patience and a good sense of humor is required on the sandy parts) around the island can be a good way to take in the sights.
At night, Gili Trawangan has plenty to offer. Just walking past Scallywags’ and The Beach House’s nightly fresh seafood BBQ is enough to make the mouth water. Ice-strewn trestle tables piled high with notably fresh fish at fairly affordable prices make for a delicious dinner. And afterwards, music for all tastes blares from the many bars, none of which are shy about advertising their wares on chalkboards or with vocal shouts from the staff. Choose your poison, and then stay for one—or more. The partying goes on until well into the early hours of the morning.
Gili Meno, the smallest of the three islands, is the antithesis of Gili Trawangan. If you want to grow beards, dress in rags and prance around on the shore waving coconut-leaf flags, then Gili Meno may be one of the last getaways where you can convincingly play Robinson Crusoe during the day before returning to the relative luxury of Meno‘s four-star Villa Nautilus or more affordably-priced accommodation (Good Heart Bungalows and others) for a well-deserved Bintang beer and pizza. Gili Air, the second largest but most populous of the three Islands is billed as the “best of both worlds” and the “in-between” island. A day spent on Gili Air and maybe even a night (Coconut Villas is a popular choice) might add some variety during a longer stay in the Gilis.
When getting to and from the Gilis, do not depend on the arrival and departure times when booking your flights. The laidback island lifestyle makes ferry timetables unpredictable to say the least. Also, be sure to ask whether they have freshwater showers. Every drop has to be shipped to the islands from Lombok, so many will factor fresh water into the price of your accommodation.
More Island Destinations